Are You Still Paying For Christmas?

Note with words pay off debt concept.We have a question.

Are you still paying for Christmas?

If you’re like millions of Americans, the answer is yes – you are still paying for the joy and excitement of this last Christmas morning and maybe even a few before it.  Allowing credit card debt to add up is a common mistake and, sadly, reducing debt is always a lot harder than allowing it to accumulate.

If you want to pay off your credit card but aren’t sure where to start, we have some basic steps to get you on the right track.

  1. Face reality – How much do you really owe? Do you have one credit card? More than one? Add up those balances and keep that total in mind.
  2. Make a budget – No one enjoys the ‘B’ word but a budget or a spending plan is the most effective way to get your financial house in order. Not sure how to budget? We wrote this guide a few years ago.
  3. Study up to lower expenses – Study your budget and consider how you spend your money. Are you living within your means? Are you spending too much on impulse shopping or on weekend entertainment? Are there big ticket items like car insurance that you could save on with a little comparison shopping? Save money where you can and apply the savings to your debt. Click here to read about saving money even when you think there’s nowhere to cut. 
  4. Be timely – Each time your credit card payment is late, you face a late charge. Pay at least the minimum payment on time to avoid those charges.
  5. Pay extra – With online payments, it’s easy to make an extra credit card payment. So if you have a windfall –some unexpected overtime, a tax refund or some garage sale earnings – make an extra payment.
  6. Stop adding more debt – This should go without saying but you’ll never pay off that card if you keep adding to the balance. If you must use it, be sure not to charge more than you can pay off that month.
  7. Stay motivated – Staying focused on a budget and debt payoff is hard work. Look for inspiration anywhere you can find it. Hang a debt payoff thermometer on the fridge, read success stories on Pinterest or talk to like-minded friends who are also focused on financial goals. Another great motivation tool? Dream about how good it will feel to not have credit card debt hanging over your head.

 

Finding Money To Save (Even When You Think You Can’t)

expenses cut.jpgIt’s that time of year when we all resolve to put a lid on our spending and save more money. The internet is full of articles like “Five Ways To Save $1,000 This Year” and advice for folks to save $30 just by cutting back to eating out just three days a week.

But what if you don’t eat out every day and you’re sure there’s not hundreds of dollars in savings to be found in your budget? We don’t claim to have all the answers in this one little story but we do have some things for you to think about and maybe kickstart your way to savings this year.

Think About Your Spending
We all spend money on things we don’t need and sometimes on things we don’t really want. The first thing you need to do is study how you’re using your money. Do this however you like. An easy way is to save your receipts and keep a slip of paper to jot down every time you drop a few bucks in the work vending machine because you’re craving Diet Coke and Peanut M&Ms. Then study your habits and think about ways to cut costs or change behaviors. If you’re buying candy and drinks every day, it might be smart to bring a snack from home.  This is an easy behavior change that could save several dollars a week.

Once you know what you’re spending money on, ask yourself some questions. What are you buying that you don’t need or that you buy out of habit? Are you actually using what you buy? Is it truly a need or a want disguised as a need?

When our bankers visit third graders to talk about spending and saving money, they typically understand the difference between a need and a want. For example, you need shoes but you want Nikes. However, when we talk to teens, we find they think they need Nikes and that no other shoes will do. What do you truly need?

Food is a major money leak for many American households as so much of what we buy spoils before we use it. If you find yourself throwing away most of the celery every week, it might be time to ask yourself if you’re buying celery because you like it or because you always buy it (or because it just looks good in the cart).

Plan, Plan, Plan
Planning is half the battle when it comes to spending and saving. How many times have you gone to the store and couldn’t remember what you need to buy so you just buy a bunch of stuff that sounds good? Whether it’s school clothes, groceries or holiday shopping, make that list and stick to it.

Also, be sure to research your purchases ahead of time. Find out what’s right for you, what’s most economical and what’s most likely to last so you’re not buying a replacement next year.

Planning a purchase also may involve delaying a purchase. In this world that delivers up to the second news and overnight packages from across the country, delayed gratification is becoming a lost art. Do your research and think about how badly you really want or need what you wish to buy. How many hours must you work to pay for it? This question alone may impact your views.  Sleep on it and revisit the purchase later. You may find you were more excited about buying something new than you were about the thing itself.

Don’t Overlook The Big Stuff
You need homeowners insurance but when was the last time you read your policy or comparison shopped? You need a car but can you afford your car when you consider the cost of insurance, maintenance and monthly payments? You need a place to live but could you downsize or find a more affordable neighborhood?

These changes may seem drastic but if you’re serious about saving money, the effort could be worthwhile.

Once you’ve found ways to plug those money leaks, both big and small, be sure to actually have a plan in place to save that money and make sure your budget reflects any changes in spending. If you are saving $50 a month on your insurance, why not set up an automatic transfer from your checking to your savings account?

Saving money isn’t always about the obvious advice to avoid the expensive cup of coffee. It also involves some thinking, research, planning and maybe even a little soul searching to figure out what’s best for you and your finances.

Do you have tips to share? How are your savings efforts working out in this new year? Tell us about it in the comments below!

Prepare Now For Happier Holidays

There are about 22 weeks until Christmas.

You’re probably wondering why your bank wants to talk about Christmas during the hottest days of summer but there is one really good reason: we want to see our customers have a nice holiday season without accumulating a mountain of debt.

Calculating the Cost of the HolidaysLots of folks wait until November to start thinking about what they’ll buy and how they will fund it. Others just buy without thinking and worry about it when the credit card bill comes in January. We would rather see you start planning and saving now and we’ll tell you why. Without the stress of money worries weighing you down, the holidays will be much more enjoyable. It’s that simple.

Luckily, there are still almost six months left to prepare.

How Much Will You Spend?
First, you need to know how much money you will want to spend. Make a list of each person you buy gifts for as well as other expenses related to the holidays. Do you host a big Christmas Eve bash or do you travel to see the in-laws? Do you make charitable donations during the holidays or send Christmas cards? List all those things too.

Then assign an estimated dollar amount to each person or category and add it all up. That’s the amount you need to aim for saving. If it sounds like too much, you might need to adjust your spending expectations.

Create a Savings Plan
Take your budgeted amount and divide it by the number of pay checks you will receive before Christmas. That’s the amount you need to save each pay. For example, if you plan to spend $500 on Christmas this year and are paid weekly, that means you would need to save about $23 per pay to be ready in time for the holiday.

Think you don’t have extra money to save every paycheck? Keep reading.

There are sneaky ways you can save money. If you budget $100 for your electric bill and it’s just $95, then save the extra $5 instead of spending it. If you have a vice like drive-thru lunches, pack your meals occasionally and save the extra. Save your change and bring it to a VCNB location with a coin machine for easy counting. Be intentional with how you use any extra amount of money, no matter how small it may be, and save it.

Automate That Savings
Whether you join the VCNB Christmas Club or just schedule automatic transfers, automate your savings plan. Schedule an automatic transfer of that $23 every single payday. It will be just like any other bill and you won’t have to lift a finger to make it happen. And while we’re talking about savings accounts, you may choose to open a savings account just for your Christmas spending. You’ll have easy access to your cash when you need it and can just transfer it back to your checking account when ready to spend.

Think Ahead
Stores and online retailers are filled with clearance racks and good sales every day of the week. Keep your eyes peeled and you may be able to pick up a few gifts long before the Black Friday frenzy begins.

Also, if you do travel during the holidays, nail down your travel days and start looking for deals on flights and hotels.

If you have a big family, it may be time to have a conversation with your siblings about gift giving. Do you want to buy gifts for everyone or just for the kids or maybe gifts for couples rather than individuals? We aren’t telling you to be stingy but you may find that some people in your life are relieved to have less shopping to worry over.

Reward Yourself
VCNB offers a Rewards Checking account that literally rewards you for spending your own money. Saving these points throughout the year to redeem before the holidays is another great way to save! Customers who use Rewards Checking receive one point for every $3 spent and 200 bonus points when they have 21 or more transactions per statement cycle. These points can be redeemed for cash back, gift cards, travel and more!

There is a coordinating Visa® Platinum Card that allows you to earn one point for every dollar spent. These points can be redeemed for exciting merchandise, gift cards and travel. Customers who use both Rewards Checking and the Visa Platinum Card can link their points in one account to make redemption a breeze.

Ready to get started? Open online or learn more about Rewards Checking or open that new Passbook Savings to get started with your holiday savings today!

Resolving To Budget In 2016

In 2013, Forbes Magazine reported that just eight percent of people will achieve their New Year’s resolutions. Eight percent. That number seems depressingly low. So we want to take a look at common New Year’s resolutions and things that you can do to insure you are part of that eight percent. This week we will feature a different resolution every day with some helpful tips and hints for sticking to it.

Since we’re a bank and we think money is pretty important we’re going to start with the dreaded “B Word.” That’s right. Today we’re talking Budgets.

People are often intimidated by the idea of a budget. The truth is, you work extremely hard for every penny you make. A budget is an easy way to know where your money is going and that it’s working for you.

One of the first steps to taming your finances is knowing where your money goes. Making a budget helps you to know where your money is going and will, if used correctly, help keep you on track. Budgets can be made with a spreadsheet on your computer, a mobile app or just a pen and paper.

Sadly, making the budget is the easy part. What trips folks up is sticking to their budget. And that’s what we’re here to talk about today. Anyone can make a budget but it’s an altogether different thing to stick to it for more than a few days, much less a month or year.

Here are some thoughts to help you stay on track and loyal to your budget in 2016.

Look at it daily – This may sound like a nuisance but it is vital that you keep your budget at the top of your mind so that you’re not tempted to go off script, spending money you don’t have. Hang a copy on your fridge, keep it in your handbag, your dayplanner or on your smartphone. Then take a moment every day to look at it and remind yourself why it’s important to stick to it.

Keep visual reminders – Is there a reason that budgeting is important to you right now? Maybe you are trying to pay off a mountain of credit card debt. Make a chart of your debt so you can see the balance decline each month. Are you saving for retirement or for a big family vacation? Place an image representing that goal somewhere you will see it every day. Study that image and imagine how following your budget will help you reach your goal!

Identify and eliminate weaknesses – Are you an Amazon impulse shopper? Are you a sucker for a Kohls sale or for a bargain at the grocery store? Stop and think about the places and things that trigger unplanned spending. Stop going to the mall every time you’re bored if you are an impulse shopper. Delete your credit card info from Amazon to slow down when buying all those “Lightening Deals.” If you horde food, take a detailed list to the grocery and don’t buy things that aren’t on the list.

Give yourself an allowance – A lot of parents give their kids an allowance to teach them how to handle money responsibly. Why not do the same for yourself? Give yourself a reasonable amount of money each week that you can use as “play money.” This play money will give you a little freedom to have some fun without damaging your budget. If you want morning coffee and lottery tickets and you blow your weekly allowance in two days, you will know it’s time to reconsider your spending habits.

Think before you spend – Remember when we told you to look at your budget daily? We also suggest you look at your budget every time you’re thinking about spending money. Whether it’s a trip to the grocery store or an online shopping spree at home, look at your budget and consider the repercussions before you buy. It may feel good to buy that Blu-ray today but where will the money come from? Is it worth taking the money from your grocery budget or your retirement savings just to watch a movie? Thinking about your money and your budget and how they work for you are half the battle. Having the strength to actually do what your budget says is the other half.

Set rewards goals– Following a budget sounds like an easy thing to do but it is actually sort of tough. That’s why it’s important to treat yourself once in a while. Is there something you especially enjoy? A manicure or bubble bath? Maybe an evening in front of the tv or at a favorite restaurant would make you happy. Reward yourself each week or month that you follow your budget!

A few final words –

Remember, a budget is a living organism with potential to change regularly. The cost of gas increases sometimes and your heating bill fluctuates with the weather. It’s important to adjust and recover as needed. If you spend too much today, that’s no reason to become discouraged. Just make the necessary adjustments to cover the cost of groceries and move forward.

It sounds cliché but budgeting really is mind over matter. Mental presence, awareness of goals and willpower go a long way toward helping you be true to your budget. Be strong and you can be among that eight percent!