COVID-19: We're Here to Help
Throughout this difficult time, we are here to help you. If your income has been impacted by the current pandemic, we are offering a number of possible solutions to give you time to get back on your feet.
For any loans you currently have with Advantage Financial, we are offering free skip-a-payment for up to 3 months. The number of skip-a-pays will be determined by your ongoing situation. You will need to complete a form each month so we can keep abreast of your situation and look for other solutions that may be better for your circumstances.
All credit card payments, for accounts in good standing, are waived for the months of May and June. Our statement will reflect $0 due. Interest will continue to accrue on any unpaid balance. You may make a payment if you choose.
For those of you looking for payment relief on your Advantage Financial mortgage loan, please contact our loan servicing department directly at 800-231-8855, Option 5.
In the next few days, we will be offering an emergency loan program for those who have been laid off or furloughed. The program will be structured to complement financial assistance from the federal government. Details will be available once the government program is announced.
We also provide a number of online and telephone based financial counseling and debt management options through our partner Greenpath Financial Wellness. Services are confidential and they are available at 877-337-3399 until 10:00 pm ET Monday through Friday.
Financial Counseling and Debt Management from GreenPath
As a valued member, you have access to many member benefits, including – GreenPath Financial Wellness.
GreenPath provides you with access to certified experts to help you eliminate financial stress, get out of debt, increase savings, and achieve your financial goals.
GreenPath Financial Wellness can:
- Explore options for easing financial stress and achieving financial goals
- Discuss your credit and provide tips for improving your credit score
- Look at student loan repayment options, including the pros and cons
- Discuss debt repayment options
- Assist with housing issues, including purchasing a home, avoiding foreclosure, or reverse mortgages
- Provide you and your family with financial education, through online resources and tools
GreenPath can give personalized answers to your individual needs. For issues, ranging from a proactive savings plan to saving a home from foreclosure, advice is only a phone call away.
Contact GreenPath today! Simply call 1-877-337-3399 or hae them call you Hours are Monday through Thursday 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. (ET), Friday 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. You can also visit them at www.greenpath.com.
College Scholarship Opportunity
Published: December 5, 2019
Are you headed off to college or trade school in 2020? Well, Advantage Financial Federal Credit Union is pleased to announce a college scholarship opportunity to make it easier for you to meet tuition costs. The $12,000 Credit Union College Scholarship Program for 2020 is underway now! College-bound members are eligible to apply for one of ten $1,000 essay-based scholarships - one $1,000 video-based scholarship; and one $1,000 photo-based scholarship. And, yes, you may apply in all three categories!
Deadline for applications is March 31, 2020. Scholarship winners will be announced in May 2020 on the Credit Union Foundation MD|DC’s scholarship website.
- This year’s essay topic: "It's ten years in the future - the year 2030. Describe your vision of how you will manage your personal finances then. Include how you will pay for things, save and borow. Imagine how our credit uion will help make that vision a reality."
- This year’s video topic: It's ten years in the future - the year 2030. Create a 60 second video shosing how you will manage your personal finances with your credit union as your financial services partner."
- This year’s photo theme is: “Innovation"
Any member of Advantage Financial who is entering their freshmen through senior year of college or trade school may apply.
“It is great to be able to offer this opportunity to our members as they embark on their college careers" said Don Johnson, CEO/President. "The responses on the applications help us to find new and innovative ways to serve our members."
Applications are accepted online at: www.cufound.org/scholarship
Advantage Financial, the Credit Union Foundation MD|DC, and its generous supporters have partnered to make this scholarship program possible.
9 Awesome Back-to-School Tips and Tricks
Published: August 15, 2018
If your kids are heading to school, you might go into shock when you see their school supply list. After adding up all the expenses you’re probably wondering how to afford it all.
Here are 9 awesome back-to-school tips and tricks you should use when shopping for back-to-school items to avoid breaking the bank.
1. Take Inventory
If you want to save, you need to first determine the items you already have on-hand.
You likely have a few pens, notepads and folders already lying around the house. Go through the supplies you and your kids own before you run out and buy more. Are the crayons in decent shape? Do they own a perfectly fine pencil box?
After taking inventory, look through the back-to-school supply list and determine what you still need to buy.
2. Review List & Stretch Time
The next step is to set your budget. How much can you afford this month on school supplies? If you’ve budgeted the cost of back-to-school into your savings for a few months, you might be able to purchase every item now. If not, decide what items are needed immediately, and what you might be able to purchase at a later date.
Check with the teacher to see what they suggest. Most teachers are happy to work with you on separating immediate needs from those that can wait. Once your budget is set and your list of must-buy-now items is prepared, you’re ready to start shopping.
3. Purchase in Bulk
Bulk buys are a great way to save money on certain items. Purchase bulk packages of snacks such as protein bars, trail mix, etc. for packed school lunches. (And hey, warehouse stores like Costco and Sam’s Club even offer clothes, shoes and other items your kids might need for school.)
Stock up on paper bags and lunch sacks as well. Buy big quantities of nonperishable foods like dried fruit and nuts, and repackage them into smaller quantities. You can even repackage dipping sauces like ranch and hummus into smaller containers. This will help you avoid buying those expensive “snack packs” that are already conveniently packaged. Consider buying drinks, office supplies and more at bulk stores.
4. Save by Brown Bagging
Pack lunches for your kids to take to school and really save money! School lunch programs are often expensive. Plus, it’s always questionable if your kids will like the food. Rest assured your kids will feel full and enjoy a great school day if you send them with a healthy lunch and snacks for fuel.
5. Thrift or Swap
Check out thrift stores for awesome deals on gently-used kids clothing. Kids often grow out of their clothes so quickly it's not worth investing in high-end jeans, shoes, etc. Wardrobe staples like jeans, jackets and even shoes are a great deal at your local thrift store. Also look for uniforms. The material in polo shirts, khaki pants, and standard uniform-wear is made to hold up!
If you aren’t having luck with thrift stores, swap with your fellow parents on Facebook or get a group of friends together to do a clothing exchange. Include items like backpacks, which might get outgrown when your kids move on from favorite characters like Paw Patrol or Spiderman.
6. Customize Items
If your kids still own binders, backpacks, lunchboxes or pencil cases from last year in good condition, extend their life with a little creativity. Use pretty paper, fabric paint, stickers and even patches to dress up last year’s items for this year.
Kids will enjoy getting creative and putting their own personality into their items. It’s much cheaper to give a facelift to an item on hand than to buy new. Not only are supplies cuter than a cookie-cutter store purchase, but since they’re unique your kids will easily identify their supplies and keep track of them. Decorate pens, pencils, notebooks, and folders.
7. Don’t Forget Your Local Grocery Store
One of our favorite back-to-school tips and tricks? A place often forgotten for back-to-school supplies is the humble grocery store. Many grocery stores offer an office/school supply aisle and during back-to-school, they offer super cheap deals on supplies. You’ll save time because you won’t run all over town to buy basics and the prices are usually competitive.
Check the discount aisle at the grocery store as well. Find unique items like ice packs for lunches, bags and other accessories at deep discounts. Stores like Aldi offer special back-to-school deals at this time of year on many items you’ll need.
8. Dollar Store Steals
Another one of our favorite discount spots, your local dollar store sells all sorts of school supplies—containers, paper, stickers, pens, markers, crayons…the list goes on and on. Now, obviously, some stores are offering deals for less than $1 on certain items (so buy the .19 box of Crayola Crayons at the other store) but for most of the basics, $1 can’t be beaten!
Check the $1 bins at Target and the dollar section at other discount stores as well. At this time of year, there are usually great deals on certain supplies we’re all in the market for. Avoid getting wooed by the decorative items you don’t need. Those dollar bins are very tempting!
The dollar store offers unbeatable back-to-school savings on many items, so don’t forget to check out your local dollar shop!
9. Subscribe to Store Emails
Back-to-school is a good time to subscribe to department store emails. Being on their subscription list guarantees you will be one of the first to know of sales and special deals. Unsubscribe later when you’ve finished your back-to-school shopping. Bonus—many stores will offer you a special discount for signing up for their sale alerts and emails.
Typically, you will find deals and get coupon codes for 10-15% off when you sign up. Check sites like RetailMeNot.com to take full advantage of any online specials being offered. Online retailers might offer better deals than brick-and-mortar stores. Be sure to do your research.
It’s easy to save on back-to-school without throwing your budget out the window. Using these back-to-school tips and tricks, and with a little planning, you’ll save plenty of money while still providing your kids with everything they will need for a great school year.
Read the full article via the Busy Budgeter.
3 Healthy Financial Habits to Start Now
Published: August 08, 2018
Write down what you spend
Budgeting is the foundation of personal finance. If you’re new to budgeting, the first step is to write down all of what you spend: it could include the coffee you get each morning, the sofa you purchased for your apartment or house, or your Netflix subscription.
The idea behind a budget is not to limit what you do with your money, but more importantly, to maximize the money you work hard for each and every day. Cutting out even small things, such as the groceries that always spoil before you eat, could save you over $100 per month.
Best of all, technology has made it easier to connect you with your finances and spending habits from the comforts of your own mobile phone or tablet. There are a variety of free budgeting apps available that can track your spending so it’s there to review as needed.
Create clear financial boundaries
Ignoring the “Joneses” can be one of the biggest battles when making practical decisions regarding your finances. Spending outside of what your budget can handle will push you further away from saving money and deeper into debt. “Can I do without this?” is one of the questions you should be asking when making a sizable purchase, such as a new automobile, or buying/renting in the new trendy neighborhood.
Consider implementing the “50-20-30 rule.” Experts state that we should spend 50% of our monthly income on necessities, including utilities, food, and rent or mortgage. The next 20% is allotted to savings and debt, such as paying off loans or student debt. The last 30% of your income is for personal purchases, such as your phone plan, internet/cable/streaming services, clothing, and personal care. Staying within these guidelines can establish financial boundaries that will cultivate a healthy financial future.
Paying yourself is priority #1
When it comes to managing your finances and becoming more independent, you have permission to be a bit selfish. Paying yourself first is vital to having a successful financial future. No one can avoid unexpected expenses or financial emergencies, but you should be prepared.
Many employers make it easy for their employees to save by offering direct deposit options, where a portion of your paycheck is put into a savings or money market account each pay period. You can also set up an automatic transfer from one account to another such as, a long-term savings or investment account.
As you work to achieve your savings goals, keep in mind that you can increase the amount you contribute, while ensuring it works for your budget. It’s also smart to contribute as much as you can to your 403b or 401k employer-sponsored retirement savings plan. This money can be taken out of your check even before you get paid so it’s likely that you won’t even miss it. You will likely experience long-term tax benefits as well.
How to Save $1,000 Before Christmas
Published: July 25, 2018
Yup, it is still hot outside and school hasn’t started yet, but Christmas is coming. Thanksgiving is roughly four months away. If you want to be prepared for the biggest shopping day of the year – Black Friday, you had better start preparing now.
The average American spends $1,000 on Christmas. Why go into debt when you have plenty of time to save that amount? If you haven’t started saving yet, you will need to put away $250 per month. That may seem like a lot but saving extra cash is totally manageable with a little thought and preparation.
Avoid impulse purchases. It happens so fast. You pop into a store to return something and then before you know what happened, you’re at the cash register spending $75 on items you had no intention of purchasing. Avoid temptation by limiting your time spent in stores. Keep a list of items you need to purchase and shop once a month, rather than every weekend. You could also consider shopping for necessities online only.
Adjust your spending. Cut your food budget. Eat at home one more night a week, which can save you $25 per week for a total of $125 a month. Restaurants (even the fast-casual options), overcharge for simple meals that you can make at home. Spend half an hour planning your meals for the week to make certain you have enough options. Also, take your friends and co-workers up on their offers of free zucchini and cucumbers from their garden.
Increase your income. While the weather is still pleasant take on some extra work. Offer to mow your neighbor’s lawn for a fee, sell some items on Facebook Marketplace, or start a pet-sitting service for families on summer vacation. The dog walking app ‘Rover’ is a great place to start.
Start shopping now. Know someone who loves the outdoors? End of summer is a great time to snag garden tools, wind chimes, and outdoor décor. Take advantage of these end-of-season bargains so you won’t be pressured into spending $1,000 all in one month. Buying a gift on sale now is smarter than buying something full price in December.
How Can Money Buy Happiness?
Published: June 20, 2018
Focus on experiences, not things. Ten years from now, you probably won’t remember the pair of shoes you bought for $200 but you may remember that two-day summer get-away with your significant other. So, go ahead and plan a mini-vacation or, a long weekend away. Spending time with family and friends is the foundation for a happier and more fulfilled life. When it comes to happiness, material things just don’t measure up.
Experiences do not have to be expensive. An experience can be as simple as taking a day off of work to visit family out of town. Or rent an Airbnb for a night or two with friends. Just be sure you are investing in an activity that you enjoy doing. Maybe owning kayaks or bicycles will get you out of the house more. Give some thought to when you are most happy. Does spending time outside make you feel fulfilled? Think about the best weekend you can remember, what were you doing?
Being able to understand and distinguish what is actually worth spending your money on is the key to increasing your happiness. And it’s not about acquiring more stuff, like a new car or the latest Adidas sneakers. You have to be willing to invest, even if it’s just $10, in doing something that will feed your soul.
Ways to Save on Summer Fun
Published: May 16, 2018
1. Take a trip to your local library. In addition to books, movies, magazines, and newspapers, the library is a great resource for activities. Check out your library’s event calendar. Many offer free concerts, plays, and activities for kids. Additionally, libraries often offer free or discount coupons for local museums and other attractions.
2. Camp at a local State Park. Most state parks rent campsites that can accommodate up to 6 persons for $30-$60 per night. The rental fee gives you access to all of the park’s amenities, including swimming pools, playgrounds, beaches, hiking paths (that often lead to waterfalls), and more! Camping is a great alternative to an expensive vacation. Who doesn’t love affordable fun for the whole family?
3. Get outdoors. Try an outdoor activity you haven’t done before, such as disc golf or geocaching. Or dust off your bike and hit a local trail or path. The initial investment in these is around $15 or less and they are family friendly.
4. Play in the dirt. If you don’t have space for a garden, plant a tomato plant or a few herbs in pots. For extra savings, check big retail gardening stores for plastic or clay pots that might be headed for the dumpster. Seeds can be collected for free from friends, family, or plants growing in your neighborhood or park. If you are looking for a bigger project, many areas have community gardens, where you can volunteer your time while getting some sun, fresh air, and veggies.
When it comes to summer activities, it’s not about the cost, it’s about the experience, the memories, and enjoying time with loved ones.
Should You Use Shared Branching?
Published: May 30, 2018
Are you familiar with Shared Branching? Shared Branching is a national network of credit unions from all over the country that share facilities to give members convenient locations to perform financial transactions. There are more than 5,000 Shared Branches worldwide. At any Shared Branching location, you can get a copy of your account history, make loan payments, transfer funds, deposits checks, and more.
But did you know, all of these transactions and more can be done from your smartphone or tablet? Take advantage of the convenience of mobile banking by downloading our free mobile app today. Simply visit your device's app store, search 'Advantage Financial FCU' and download.
Here are four transactions that you can do without visiting a Shared Branch:
- Need to Deposit a Check? Simply snap a picture of the front and back of the check, choose your account and amount, and send.
- Need Cash? Get your cash where you want, when you want, wherever you are with Allpoint. With over 55,000 ATMs in the Allpoint Network, your cash is never far away. Just look for the Allpoint logo or, better yet, use our mobile app to find the nearest Allpoint ATM.
- Need to Move Money? Transfer funds to another financial institution by using Bill Pay (Click “Pay a Bank or Credit Union”) or, enroll in our Interbank Transfer service by calling (800)-822-6872.
- Need a Cashier’s Check? Have a check made payable to yourself, mailed directly to your home by using CUCall Telephone Banking. Simply dial (800)-822-6875, press 1 and follow the prompts.
Mobile banking is like having a branch right in your pocket! Download our free app from your mobile phone's app store; available for both Android™ and iPhone® devices. Enjoy a new level of banking convenience, on the go, 24/7.
Please note, if you regularly make deposits in excess of $5,000 you may contact us to request a deposit limit increase. To use the Mobile App, you must be enrolled in Online Banking. Sign in to the app using your existing Online Banking credentials.
Tips for Garage Sales
Published: May 09, 2018
The 5 Best Things to Buy
Every good garage sale shopper knows you need a game plan. You can stretch your dollar to the max by focusing your efforts on the following 5 items.
If you're not a fan of the library, garage sales are the second-cheapest way to score a great read. Before buying, flip through the book to make sure all pages are clean and intact. If you get lucky, you might even come across an early edition of a classic that's worth some money.
If you're willing to put in the time and effort, garage sales are a fantastic place to score a deal on old wooden furniture — i.e., chairs, tables, and dressers — in need of a makeover. Refinish it or cover it ina fresh coat of chalk paint, and you'll have a beautiful, quality item that cost next to nothing. It's a great way to decorate your home without spending a fortune.
Garage sales can make staying in shape more affordable than ever. Items like hand weights, bicycles and sporting goods can be found for a fraction of the price. Steer clear of equipment with an electrical component or parts that could break — i.e., treadmills and elliptical trainers — because it's hard to tell what condition they're really in, and without a warranty, you'll be on the hook for any repairs needed. Grab some weights and download a fitness app and ditch your gym membership.
Designer Clothing and Accessories
If your garage sale circuit includes affluent neighborhoods, you'll likely come across some high-end clothing and accessories. This is a great way to look like a million bucks on a budget, but don't buy without performing proper due diligence — i.e., check zippers, carefully inspect for flaws and make sure
Every household needs a good toolkit, but it definitely doesn't need to be brand new. Seek items like hammers, wrenches, screwdrivers, drills and saws, as garage sale prices will likely be much less than you'll pay in-store. For items with an electrical component, ask questions to learn about its condition, have the owner plug it in to prove it works and steer clear of anything that contains rust.
Be Weary of 0% Down Mortgage Loans
Published: May 02, 2018
Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) is a product that ensures a portion of your loan balance against default. The PMI Company essentially ensures your down payment, betting that you will not default on the loan until you have at least repaid the normally required down payment amount, in other words, you have reduced the loan balance below 75%-80% of the original purchase price. The lender does not require the down payment because the PMI Company will reimburse the lender for the amount of any down payment that would normally be required.
When a loan has PMI, the interest rate on the loan is the current market rate. When the lender is not requiring PMI they add a premium to the interest rate to compensate for the additional risk inherent in a loan with little or no down payment. This is where the advantage of PMI comes in. Although PMI represents an additional cost you are only required to pay the premiums until the loan balance reaches 80% of the property value. In a robust real estate market where property values are increasing, you may request a new appraisal of your home (from the lender. Do not order your own). If the loan balance is less than 80% of the new appraisal you may request the PMI be terminated and the lender must comply.
When you do not have PMI you are paying a premium rate on the loan. This rate is in effect until you pay off the loan. The only way to get rid of the premium rate is to refinance the loan. So that $0 down or 3% down loan with no mortgage insurance could end up costing you considerably more than a loan with PMI.
New Debit Card Scam – Card Cracking
Published: April 25, 2018
The scam is known as “card cracking” or “card popping” and takes many forms but usually involves a fraudster posting ads on social media offering to help you make money in exchange for your debit card and other account information such as your online or mobile banking username and password.
The scammers use fake social media accounts on Instagram, Snapchat or Facebook with screen captures of large deposits in bank accounts saying this is a legitimate way to make extra money.
The fraudsters will offer a lump sum payment and/or a “cut” of checks to be deposited into your account. They deposit bogus checks, usually through the mobile app, and then run up charges or make ATM withdraws from your account before the credit union knows the check is fraudulent. The fraudster will advise you to report the debit card as lost or stolen, telling you the credit union will reimburse the stolen funds and give you a new account. The perpetrator will tell you there is nothing wrong with the proposed activity since you, the debit cardholder, are protected by federal regulations.
Unfortunately, by agreeing to participate in this scam you are helping to commit a crime, a crime punishable by jail time. Recently there have been several criminal cases brought against the “victims” in similar scams. Do not fall victim to this type of scam.
Advantage Financial FCU advises you to ALWAYS protect your debit card information along with the physical card itself. If your card is lost or stolen please contact us immediately.
Never provide your account information to anyone via any form of social media. If you see offers on Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram that provide quick money in exchange for access to your account information be especially cautious. Offers that seem too good to be true usually are. If you have concerns about your account information or think you have been a victim of fraud, please give us a call at 800-822-6875.
How To Avoid Over Spending
Published: April 19, 2018
1. Automate your savings
Tracking your finances can be difficult, so pay yourself first! Step up an automatic transfer to your savings to activate every time you get paid. This is a smart method for making sure you have some spending and savings money available to you after all of the bills have been paid.
2. Cut back on coffee and soda
Did you know the average American spends nearly $2,000 per year on coffee and soda? There are simple ways to cut back your spending on these non-essentials. We recommend that you pick one day a week when you treat yourself to a cup at your favorite café, and brew at home the rest of the time. If soda is your thing, skip it when you’re out at restaurants, and buy in bulk a warehouse store.
3. Pack a lunch
Two-thirds of Americans spend money eating out at lunch, with the average cost of workday lunches adding up to $1,924 per year. You can cut back by planning out your lunches on Sunday and bringing in a packed lunch each day. Consider purchasing a crock pot to make meal planning super easy.
4. Ditch paying retail
When we shop for fun we are susceptible to impulse purchasing, which can severely impact our spending. Before you buy something, determine if you really need it. When buying clothes, look for sales. One way to upgrade your wardrobe without breaking the bank is to focus on mixing different accessories with your current clothes to create a whole new look.
5. Take advantage of free wellness services
Americans spend $700 per year on gym memberships. Do you know how many people NEVER use those memberships? 67%! Rather than throw your money away, you can look into community centers that offer free gyms and fitness classes. You can also get active by running or biking in your neighborhood. Need a class to stay motivated? YouTube and PopSugar have thousands of free videos that can get you into shape from the comfort of your home.
6. Cut the cord
Cable can cost you around $100 per month. One way to cut back is to call your cable provider to see if they have any promotions and ask about more economical plans. Automated services like Bill Fixers can even do the negotiating for you. If there are only a few programs you like, try a streaming service.
Stress and Spending
Published: April 12, 2018
HOW STRESS IMPACTS SPENDING
According to a joint study out of Rutgers and the University of Miami, stress causes people to use their resources to regain a sense of control. In many ways, stress is a response to a loss of control in a particular situation, and one way we cope with that is by spending. The study also notes that stress can lead to both beneficial and reckless consumer behaviors. Perhaps counter-intuitively, stress tends to increase people’s saving habits. This is to ensure that money is available when needed. Saving is always a great idea for establishing financial wellness, so this aspect of stress can actually be beneficial.
Reckless spending in stressful situations tends to take the form of increased spending on things people perceive as necessities. However, stress also alters our perception of what those necessities are. For instance, people who are stressed about a new job tend to overspend on work clothes.
One of the authors of the study says stressful situations lead to an increase in the hormone cortisol. This makes us hyper sensitive to threats, so we work hard to ease that feeling. In short, we enter into survival mode. So how can you cope with stress? The first step is to prevent it before it starts.
HOW TO PREVENT STRESS
While we can’t control every stressful situation that life throws at us, there are two time-tested ways to prevent stress from taking over our mind and body.
Meditation is a powerful tool for preventing stress, and it’s becoming more and more popular in top companies and schools. While meditation has been practiced for thousands of years, it has only recently undergone scientific scrutiny. Researchers found that meditation is a successful tool for reducing anxiety and depression when practiced for as little as 10 minutes per day.
Hit the gym
Exercise and physical activity is another great way to prevent stress before it starts. When you work out, you produce a group of natural painkilling chemicals called endorphins. These help lift your mood and make you feel at ease. Additionally, endorphins help you sleep, which is something that is often disturbed during stressful times.
HOW TO DEAL WITH STRESS ONCE YOU’VE GOT IT
If you are feeling the urge to impulse-shop, try these strategies:
Give It 24 Hours
If you’ve spotted an item you just need to have, stop and say you’ll come back tomorrow to get it. If you still want it, it’s likely a need. If you don’t, you just saved yourself some money and storage space.
Find another Outlet
If you’re using shopping as an outlet for stress, try something different. As mentioned earlier, meditation and working out are great options, but they may not be for everyone. Find something that works for you, whether it’s journaling, reading, gardening, or taking a stroll through the neighborhood.
Remember: The problem with stress spending is that it ultimately leads to more stress down the line.
Published: April 02, 2018
As we move deeper into 2018, now is a good time to refresh some of those New Year’s Resolutions and continue to integrate good habits so they stick throughout the year. One of the most important and fundamental habits for financial wellness is budgeting. By making budgeting a habit now, you will see lots of benefits over the long-run!
What is a Budget?
A budget is a plan for how much money comes in and how much money goes out each month. It’s really that simple. By breaking down your budget into categories such as mortgage, food, and entertainment, you can see where you can cut back, and where you have wiggle room. Creating a budget that factors in things like savings and investments also makes it easier for you to create a solid foundation.
Budgeting will give you clarity into your finances and will help you make more informed choices. You wouldn’t enter a dark room without turning on the lights first, right? That’s exactly what a budget is for your finances: it’s a light that you shine on your financial transactions. By seeing your finances clearly, you may notice where you are overspending. You can set other goals too, such as paying down debt, saving, and investing. By placing these items on your budget, you are essentially making your financial goals a bill that you pay to yourself. This makes it easier for you to achieve your dreams on your journey of financial wellness.
Who Should Budget?
A budget is beneficial for anyone who uses one. Almost every business in the United States operates off of a budget, which allows them to make smart financial choices to increase the bottom line. Families who create a budget also find that they are better positioned to achieve financial wellness and meet certain goals like planning for retirement or building up a college fund. For individuals, the benefits are the same: greater understanding of your finances that enables better choices for how you spend your money.
How do I Budget?
The first step to creating a budget is to list all the money that you have coming in. This includes your paycheck, social security payments, alimony, and money from a side gig or any other form of income you receive. Next, track your spending. Here you want to start with all of your fixed payments—the bills you absolutely have to pay such as mortgage, utilities, car payments, student loan debt, etc. After that, take a look at your last few bank statements and figure out where the rest of your money is going.
Record all of your income and expenses in a place that is easy to access and understand. There are online tools, such as Mint.com, that can automate the budgeting process for you.
When Should I Budget?
You can create a budget anytime! The important thing is to stay consistent and continue to track it. For instance, when you first start budgeting, you’ll want to make sure you are sticking to your budget each month. This will ensure that budgeting becomes a habit and will help you make sure you are staying on track with your financial goals. Once you get into the flow of budgeting, you may decide to refresh your budget seasonally. Updating your budget on a semi-regular basis allows for you to account for changes in income or expenses, such as a raise or unexpected medical issues. Some people think of a budget as the financial equivalent of a strait jacket, but the reality is just the opposite. Rather than constricting you, a budget gives you freedom to spend, knowing that you are able to achieve your financial goals at the same time. Once you know your budget and stick to it, you’ll find a sense of mental clarity on your path to financial wellness.