Headed For The Hills: Hocking Hills Tourism Grows During Pandemic

The Hocking Hills is open for business and ready to provide rest and respite for pandemic weary travelers in need of a getaway. In fact, the Hocking Hills region has experienced a surge of visitors even while other tourist destinations continue to struggle.

Hocking Hills Tourism Association Executive Director Karen Raymore has a lot to say about why the region has continued to attract visitors this year, what it means for local businesses and what it could mean for the future of tourism in the area. It wasn’t all smooth sailing though as the early days of the pandemic caused obstacles, the likes of which no one had experienced.

“The first days and weeks were nerve wracking. None of us had ever experienced anything like a pandemic so, just like everyone else, we didn’t know what to expect, how long it would last or how to plan,” Raymore explained.
During those early days, of state issued stay at home orders and business closures, there came other local restrictions including the closure of cabins. “Where better to social distance and ride out a pandemic than a cabin in the woods? So visitors continued to come,” she said.

The Hocking County Board of Health eventually closed the cabins for over a month to slow the spread from a heavy influx of visitors. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources also saw issues with overcrowding in the Hocking Hills State Parks and ordered these parks closed until early July.

“As you can imagine, some cabin owners were unhappy and vocal while others seemed grateful that everyone was closing. It gave them opportunity to regroup and put in place safety measures,” she recalled. “When the cabins were allowed to reopen 41 days later it didn’t seem to matter that the state park was closed. People could escape the monotony of home and stay in nature on anywhere from two to a hundred acres. Some cabins have Wi-Fi for those who need it. Some folks are pleased to disconnect from their troubles. That demand has only continued to grow.”

The growing demand and increased traffic at Hocking Hills State Park over the years has long caused alarm among park officials worried about the sustainability of high numbers of foot traffic on park trails. The three month closure at the park actually gave officials time and space to reconfigure some trails so that they are mostly one way.

“It’s something that Pat Quackenbush, the Naturalist, had been wanting to do for a long time. We want to enjoy our beautiful natural world without doing so much damage. After all, when you are walking both ways and meet a group, someone usually goes off trail to allow the other party to pass and that can do real harm if it happens enough,” Raymore explained.

When the park reopened in July, cabins were inundated with guests who have continued to come without fail. When asked why the Hocking Hills has thrived through the pandemic while other destinations have struggled, Raymore credited three specific factors – accessibility by car, an abundance of free access to nature and a high number of detached lodging options.

Most people are driving rather than flying to the Hocking Hills and a there’s an enormous population within a six hour drive. According to a recent survey, the number one place overnight guests in the Hocking Hills come from is the Cleveland area. The Columbus area ranked second with markets near and far falling in line behind them.

It is this availability of cabins or detached accommodations that make the area more appealing to many destinations that rely on hotel lodging.

“If you fly to Orlando and stay in a hotel, you’re interacting with more people, you’re sharing an elevator with people outside your party, hotel staff is coming in to service your room,” she added. “People who were loyal to their hotel chains are finding it’s nice to have a living space, a kitchen, maybe a fire pit or their own private hot tub. They don’t have to worry about making too much noise or being kept awake by the neighbors.”

While the cabin business has flourished, it has been a journey and challenging time for many businesses that rely on visitors.

David Kennedy, who owns The Millstone Southern Smoked BBQ and the Hungry Buffalo in Logan said his year was marked by adapting to change – changing regulations, changing weather, changing customer expectations and others he never dreamed of facing.

“The one constant in this life is change and you either learn to adapt and be flexible or you won’t be around very long,” he said as he described a tumultuous year. “First we started with carryout and did quite well at the Millstone. Barbeque carries out really well. But when they closed the cabins, our carryout business dropped to almost nothing,” he said, explaining their decision to completely close for a period in 2020.

When they came back, it was with safety and hospitality top of mind. First it was with outdoor seating and, when the weather turned cold, changes to the indoor seating. “We want people to feel comfortable when they’re with us. That’s just being hospitable. So we created plexiglass and wood walls throughout the dining room. Getting rid of the open concept dining room and creating these booths helped us through the winter,” Kennedy said.

They will continue using the temporary walls for as long as it makes sense. “Not every restaurant in town has been so fortunate but we have been proactive in working hard to do what we do best – serving people good food and drinks and offering them great hospitality.”

In the world of retail, the downtown Logan shop Homegrown on Main experienced their best year ever. The store sells locally made items art, crafts, food items and books that were in demand by visitors seeking special souvenirs.

Just down the road from the State Park Visitor Center, Old Man’s Cave General Store has been experiencing a boom as well. Owner Lynn Horn admitted the early days of the pandemic were scary. The store had just ordered a large amount of stock in preparation for spring break. “Luckily we were considered essential because we sell food and we were able to stay open. It was scary because traffic was way down and we couldn’t plan.”

She credits local people for helping them get through these hard days.

Their deli offers quick items like pizza and burgers. Plus, they offer beer, wine and over 100 flavors of soft serve ice cream. “Ice cream sales went way up last year. It’s comfort food and people needed that,” Horn recalled.

Despite those bad days, Horn said that 2020 was a record year for her store. The close proximity to the park is ideal for serving visitors who need a cold treat, souvenir or a meal. Record sales every month made up for those early losses.

Horn reported meeting a lot of first time visitors. “We met a lot of people who would normally go somewhere else like Tennessee. But they found out that it’s just as beautiful here and much closer to home. The people here are friendly, the park rangers are friendly, the businesses are glad to have them here. It’s a good vibe so I know a lot of them will be coming back,” she said. “I’m sure there are good times ahead.”

Her store didn’t even see the normal slowdown that typically happens in the winter. “January and February are always our slowest months. They were slower than the rest of the year but much, much busier compared to other years. It’s amazing how busy it has been!”

What does this all mean for the future of the Hocking Hills and local businesses that benefit from tourism? Raymore said to count on continued growth including more family reunions at area lodges, more quick getaways for remote workers and more vacationers who wish to find both rest and adventure close to home.

“I think the future is bright,” Raymore exclaimed. “We’ve missed traveling, we’ve missed our extended families, we’ve missed so much that I think people will continue to travel more and more. And those who found us because of the pandemic will certainly come back again once everything is up and going full speed. They’ll want to explore more and we’ll be ready to welcome them!”

Learn more about things to do in the Hocking Hills including events and activities for the family, the adventure traveler, the retiree and everyone in between by visiting the Hocking HIlls Tourism Association online. Visitors can even find their ideal accommodations at the HHTA website ExploreHockingHills.com.

Darrell Boggs To Retire Friday

When Darrell Boggs took his first job in banking it was to earn some cash while he studied accounting at the University of Rio Grande. In fact, he never planned for a career in banking and had other plans altogether. Yet, he’s still at it and retiring this week after a lifetime of helping local people achieve their financial goals.

Darrell Boggs

“I honestly didn’t intend to stay in banking. I liked my accounting classes. That work made sense to me but I was tired of asking my parents for money. No young man wants to be dependent on his parents like that so I took a summer job doing something completely different and went to school at night,” he recalled.

When a position in banking became available, he jumped at the chance to work in a finance job where he could continue his education at night and make contacts that would serve him in the future. The year was 1978 and the rest, as they say, is history. He started out as Assistant Branch Manager, working his way up through different positions including Regional Manager and Head of Lending.

Darrell left that job in 2005 and spent six years farming with his dad before resuming his banking career with other banks in the region.

When VCNB was planning to open a loan office in Jackson, VCNB Head of Retail Brenda Doles came knocking. The two had experience working together and she thought he would be a good fit for directing the bank’s entrance to that community. Today he’s the Head of Commercial Lending.

“I have really loved working with Mark and for the company. I couldn’t ask for a better way to wrap up my career,” he said. “I’m thrilled with the staff we’ve developed here. Jackson County needed a good community bank and we’ve proven that time and again with the great customers who have come to us and the bankers that we have attracted to work for us here. I’m really proud of what we’ve built here – the building, the wonderful staff. It’s worked out better than we could have imagined.”

The Oak Hill area resident doesn’t plan to rest on his laurels in retirement. A lifelong farmer, he’s caretaker for a family farm that his parents moved to in 1967. “I plan to keep my cattle and farm as long as I can but I’m looking forward to traveling in the RV too,” he smiled, describing some of the places he and his wife have been with the RV and others he hopes to see.

His wife Marilyn is a retired Oak Hill Elementary School Principal. The couple have two grown children and two young granddaughters who they look forward to spending time with throughout the year rather than just during summer vacation. “We love to take the girls camping and to have them at the farm. We’re talking about getting everyone together for family trips and just look forward to seeing them more, having more time to enjoy our family.”

Will he miss banking? “I’ll miss the people. I’m ready to go but I’ve been fortunate to work with a lot of great people and have a lot of great customers. I’ll miss all the people.”

However, VCNB President Mark Erslan said that Boggs likely won’t be leaving the bank completely. “Given Darrell’s significant contributions to the bank, we’re working on a way for him to stay involved with the bank and enjoy retirement.”

Call, Click Or Come In!

How do you define easy? Here at VCNB we work hard to make it easy for you to get your new mortgage loan. We know that not everyone can come to the bank and that you still need to get your mortgage loan application started and the process underway.

That’s why our mortgage lenders are happy to do business however you like to do business. Want to come inside and sit down with a lender? Do you prefer to do things online? Does a phone call simply fit better with your schedule?

Whatever your choice – call, click or come in and our mortgage lenders will be happy to help!

Call 1.800.542.5004, click on VCNBfamily.com or visit your neighborhood Vinton County National Bank to get started. Member FDIC. Equal Housing Lender.

Meet Your Banker: Sandy Wachenschwanz

Sandy Wachenschwanz was just a teenager when she took her first job in the banking industry. Forty two years later, she has worked in several aspects of local banks and recently transitioned into a new one here at VCNB. She is the bank’s newest Retail Lender in our McArthur location.

Sandy began her career serving in the Operations Department of a bank in Athens where she was a jack-of-all trades in the days before computers. “We did everything by hand. Returned checks, wires, balancing the general ledger. It was all done manually,” she recalled as she reminisced about the reasons she fell in love with banking. “I liked the logic of it all and solving problems,” she said.

Sandy Wachenschwanz is now a Retail Lender at VCNB’s McArthur location.

After nineteen years in that department she moved into mortgage lending and also assisted commercial processors with some duties. She moved up the ladder to work as a branch assistant manager while continuing to hone her mortgage lending skills. Along the way she learned well all sides of banking and the ways banks can help customers.

Sandy came to VCNB’s McArthur location in 2019 as branch Assistant Manager but was pleased this year to move back into her lending roots as a Retail Lender. “I really enjoy helping people achieve their goals and helping people figure out their finances so they can make their lives better. That’s a lot of fun and something I have always enjoyed,” she explained.

She credits having good teachers over the years, other bankers who led by example and helped her be a better lender. The Albany area resident has three children and three step-children. She and her husband Robert enjoy their nine grandchildren and the benefits of having a big family. She is actively involved in her church as a Sunday School teacher and Church Secretary.

“I’m happy to be here in McArthur helping local people achieve their dreams and build better lives. I invite anyone seeking a loan or who is not sure where to start to get in touch so we can talk,” she said.

Reach Sandy in the McArthur office at 740.596.2525, Extension 2212 or email Sandra.Wachenschwanz@vintoncountybank.com.

Three Ways Online Bill Pay Can Help You

VCNB Online Bill Pay can save you time, money and hassle!

VCNB Online Bill Pay was designed to save you time and make your life better. If you haven’t tried it, we have three good reasons why you should!

  1. Stay organized by scheduling all your bills to pay from one place! Set up email reminders when a bill is due so you never miss a payment. If you receive eBills through our Online Bill Pay, you can even receive notification when the bill arrives. Need to know if a bill has paid or how much you paid last month? Search your bill history by company name, status or date to get your answers.
  2. Feel good knowing it’s the cheapest and the safest way to pay. There’s no need to buy checks or stamps when you can send money electronically. This means there’s no worry that your money will get lost in the mail or land in the wrong hands.
  3. Automate your bills or take control of your scheduling – whatever way works best for you! Automatic payments are great for bills that stay the same each month like a car payment or insurance. You can also log in and schedule each payment individually.

Please remember that accounts registered for Bill Pay that do not make at least one payment during the calendar month will be assessed a $3 fee. Want to learn more? Click here for details or log into your account through Online Banking or VCNB Mobile to get started.

Three Steps To Managing A Credit Card

A credit card can be a useful tool when managed mindfully. Setting and following ground rules is a powerful first step to success.

Whether you have your first credit card or have gotten yourself into trouble with several, it’s never too soon or too late to learn good credit card management habits.  Here are some rules to live by.

Know Your Why

If you haven’t already done so, now is the time to set some ground rules for yourself. First, you need to decide why you have a credit card.

Some cards offer incentives for using them. For example, the Visa® Platinum Card at VCNB offers UChoose® Rewards Points for every purchase. These points can be redeemed for incentives like gift cards, cash back and travel. Many of our customers use this card for much of their spending and then pay off the balance when it’s due.

Some credit card holders keep their cards for emergencies. If the fridge dies or you have a medical issue, a card to help you past this bump in the road offers peace of mind. Others use their card only for building credit or for specific kinds of purchases like hotels when they travel or just at the gas pump.

This is a personal decision for you to make and there’s no wrong answer.

Keep Your Debt In Check

We caution customers against allowing debt to accumulate. In fact, we encourage customers to never charge more than they can afford to pay off in a month and to actually pay off that balance monthly. Even a small balance left unattended can accumulate large interest charges and snowball into a massive sum over time. In fact, making the minimum payment on even a few hundred dollars could be costly: added interest could amount to hundreds of dollars over a period of years before the debt is paid off.

Make A Plan For To Pay Off Debt

If you have credit card debt, we recommend making a plan to pay it off as quickly as possible.

For most people, the first step toward paying off debit is making a realistic budget. Click here to read about the basics of building a good budget.  If your budget is tight and you think you don’t have extra money for paying off that debt, click here for some practical ways to cut expenses.

Finally, avoid accumulating more debt while trying to pay off the old. It may be a challenge but you’ll never see a zero balance if you keep charging what you can’t afford. For more on this topic, visit our partners at Nerd Wallet who have a repayment calculator and tips to help you.

31 Ways To Save Money

We’ve talked a lot lately about budgeting and the trials of sticking to a budget. One thing that people usually learn when they start budgeting is that they need to cut expenses. Experts often talk about the coffee effect. Buying a $4 cup of coffee every workday costs $20 a week, $80 a month and almost a thousand dollars a year. A small change like this can have a real effect.

What else can you do?

  1. Shop Car And Home Insurance – You may save hundreds of dollars simply by shopping around. Your current insurance provider may offer a discount for responsible driving or for combining a car and homeowner’s policy. Start with your insurance agent and ask what they can do to lower your rate. If necessary, shop with other agents and companies.
  2. Assess TV Costs – What are you spending on television? Do you have cable, satellite, streaming services or an antenna? What do you use the most? If you mainly watch one streaming service and find yourself watching less cable, it could be time to cut the cord.
  3. Pack Lunch – The cost of fast food is creeping up there and the long term effects on your health can be dire. Save your wallet and your waistline by packing lunch. Invest in a lunchbag or thermos to bring leftovers. Skip the leftovers and buy special lunch foods – it’s still cheaper than dining out every day.
  4. Consider Subscriptions and Memberships – Examine what you’re paying for and not using. Maybe it’s a fitness app, a magazine or club membership you don’t use. Auto payments make it easy to lose track.
  5. Pack Snacks – Avoid the vending machine at work by stocking your desk with snacks. If you crave a snack on road trips, plan ahead and bring things from home.
  6. Bring Your Own Drink – Vending and gas station drinks are expensive. If you love Diet Coke, buy a six pack of bottles at the grocery for $3.50 instead of one bottle for $2. If water or coffee are your thing, try a reusable bottle or mug.
  7. Use The Library – The local library is a spectacular resource for books, movies, music and more! If they don’t have what you want, they can often interlibrary loan it. They usually have free wifi too!
  8. Use Your Kitchen – The kitchen counter isn’t just for mail! Strive to cook your meals instead of picking up take-out. That slow cooker and air fryer are just waiting for you to create a masterpiece!
  9. Shop Sales – If you like chicken and beef but just one is on sale, grab the sale item while it’s cheap. This makes stocking your freezer and pantry affordable and helps you plan meals around what’s on sale.
  10. Shop Your Pantry – That can of beans languishing in the back of the cupboard would work great in a pot of vegetable soup. Use up the open cereal or chips before reaching for new. In other words, use what you have and that could be wasted.
  11. Meal Plan – Those last two tips are optimized when you meal plan. Check your grocery store circular to see what’s on sale and build meals around what you have and what’s on sale. Instead of just grabbing everything that looks good, go to the store with a plan for what you will cook and get ingredients you need to complete the meal.
  12. Shop Your House – Before you run out and buy something you think you need, have a look around your home. Do you have an older version of the item that still works or something else that can be repurposed? Using what you have can be an effective and creative solution!
  13. Know Your Weaknesses – If you know you’re always too tired to cook on Wednesday night, have a simple plan to combat the drive-thru temptation like frozen lasagna or breakfast for dinner.
  14. Pay Bills On Time And In Full – Avoid late fees by paying your bills on time and avoid interest fees by paying them in full. Carrying credit card debt will cost large interest fees, adding up to hundreds or thousands of dollars each year. Use VCNB Bill Pay to save on time and postage too.
  15. Refinance Your Home With VCNB – Rates are low, making it a great time to refinance and save on your mortgage!
  16. Study Healthcare Bills – When you receive healthcare services, ask for an itemized bill and read it. Do you recognize the services and the service dates? Was your insurance billed properly? Mistakes happen and can be costly.
  17. Reduce Energy Costs – Remember when your parents complained that every light in the house was on? Turn off lights and electronics when not in use. Gaming devices, televisions, computers, etc. draw energy even when not in use so invest in a power strip with a surge protector to easily turn off everything at once. Take shorter showers and turn down your hot water heater a few degrees too.
  18. Reinvent Leftovers – Whether you live for leftovers or loathe them, it’s easy to transform them into something new! Roasted chicken and veggies can become chicken pot pie and taco meat can go in chili. There are tons of options if you get creative!
  19. Try a No Spend Challenge – Set a period of time and commit to spending no money. Pay your bills, put gas in the tank and buy groceries you need but commit to no spending on extras. Try it for a day or week and work up to a month.
  20. Audit Your Expenses- Write down all spending for a week. This should include every dollar you put in a vending machine, meals out, online purchases and the big stuff too. Do you see patterns? Add up all those purchases and see which ones you can reduce.
  21. Cold? – Dress for the weather and put on socks or a sweater rather than turn up the thermostat.
  22. Avoid Disposable Products – Single use products like bottled water, paper towels and styrofoam cups are costly for your budget and the environment.
  23. Switch Your Ceiling Fan Direction – There’s a switch on your ceiling fan that makes it go either clockwise or counterclockwise, according to the Hunter Fan Company. In the summer, they say a counterclockwise motion creates a downdraft and a nice breeze. In the winter, switch to clockwise to circulate warm air around the room.
  24. Delay Gratification – When you get the urge to buy, write it down and wait. If you delay some purchases, you may find they aren’t that important. If they remain a priority, start researching what you want and shop sales.
  25. Break A Bad Habit – Most of us have bad habits but some are quite expensive. What’s yours?
  26. Maintain Your Car – Putting off vehicle maintenance will cost you in the long run. Keep up with oil and filter changes. A clean air filter will improve gas mileage by up to seven percent. Properly inflated tires help with this too.
  27. Meatless Monday – It’s no secret that meat is expensive. Trying a meatless meal is a great way to trim dollars from your budget. Start with easy swaps like pasta dishes, soups and casseroles.
  28. Drink Water – Water is good for you and most people don’t get enough. Tap water and jugs from the store are cheaper than sports or soft drinks. Carry a refillable water bottle to kill the temptation to buy costly drinks on the go.
  29. Understand Food Spoilage – Americans waste hundreds of dollars on food every year. Learn to rotate the stock in your pantry and to understand the difference between the terms Sell By, Best Buy, and Use Buy. Prioritize cooking what you need or using leftovers so they don’t go to waste.
  30. Say No To Retail Therapy – Many of us shop when we’re stressed or sad but the anxiety will only worsen when you get the credit card bill. Try some free ways to lift your mood like a walk, a movie or playtime with your kids.
  31. Question Everything – Questioning your bills and habits and applying your priorities will help you make cost saving choices.

What are your tips? Comment and tell us what you would add!

Sticking To A Budget

Earlier this month we talked about how to make a budget. While budgeting can be an intimidating topic, the process of writing a budget is actually quite simple. The hard part is actually sticking to your budget and that’s what we want to talk about today.

Read your budget – Even the best planned budget does no good if you don’t read and follow it. If you’re feeling a desire to spend money, pull out your budget and see how you planned to spend your money. Then decide if that extra purchase is worth it.

Sleep on it – If it’s not something you need, sleep on it before you buy. Do you really need a room sized television? Would you still need it if it weren’t on sale? Give it a few days or a week and see if you still think it’s important to buy now.

Know your weaknesses – What are the budget busters that you encounter the most? What are the weaknesses that you wrestle with the most? For many it’s take-out after work because no one wants to leave a stressful job to go home and cook.

Be prepared – If you know your weakness is eating out on workdays, take time to meal plan or even keep some convenience foods in the freezer to make getting dinner on the table easier. A frozen pizza and a bagged salad are cheaper than fast food and could even be quicker than swinging by a drive-thru. If your weakness is shopping, plan other forms of entertainment than browsing your favorite store. A movie marathon, playground time with the kids or practicing a favorite hobby might be better options than shopping.

Make allowances – Having a budget doesn’t mean you can’t have the things you enjoy. If you don’t want to surrender that fast food habit or have a weakness for new shoes or video games, write those expenses into your budget. Give yourself an allowance for those fun purchases. Reduce your grocery budget and write in a dining out allowance if you know this is a priority.

Make a list – Planning is your friend when it comes to sticking to your budget. Keep a running list of things that you will need to buy and then work them into your budget. Better yet, time those purchases with sales if you can. Don’t discount the importance of taking a shopping list to help keep you on track at the grocery store too.

Reframe your thinking – Before you buy, ask yourself how much you have to work to afford that item. People rarely connect their purchases with their time and labor. How many hours will you have to work to pay for that gaming system, a night out on the town or that plane ticket? You work hard for your money. Is it worth the time you’ll invest to afford it?

Make it a game – Try a No Spend Challenge. You can set your own rules but the most common no spend challenge is to pay bills and buy necessities but nothing else for a month. It’s a manageable way to curb spending for a period of time and see how much money is left after the bills are paid when you aren’t eating out, shopping and making impulse buys.

Avoid temptation – If you know you don’t have extra money to spend, stop tempting yourself. Avoid store browsing, stop perusing all those marketing emails and take away your own credit card. You can’t spend if you don’t have access to money!

Be realistic – You’re going to make mistakes. However, slipping up and spending too much this weekend doesn’t give you license to go crazy and to throw out the entire budget. Just forgive yourself and get back on track. While you’re at it, take a look at how you’re spending your money. Are you spending a lot on wants while struggling to pay for needs? Is there room to trim things that you don’t care about in favor of retirement savings and expenses that are important? Having a realistic view of your money and your habits will go a long way toward sticking to your budget and knowing where your money is going.

It’s true. Sticking to a budget can be hard. It’s also stressful not knowing where your money goes. A little planning and mindful decision making can go a long way toward helping you stay on track. When you do make a mistake, try making better decisions and do better next time. Like anything else, it gets easier with time!

Not sure how to get make a budget? Read about that by clicking here and to find 31 ways to save money by clicking here. Are you a budgeting pro? What are your tips? Comment and share your ideas!

Budgeting 101

The hardest part of any budget is getting started. Gather your income and bills and just dive in!

Whether you are a spender or a saver, one of the scariest words in the English language is the word BUDGET. Where do you start? Is it hard to make one? What’s it really meant to accomplish? More importantly, how do you stick to a budget?

First, take a deep breath and know that there is nothing scarier than not knowing what happens to all your money. Your budget is just a tool to help you determine where your money goes. It’s that simple.  

The best way to get started is to work on one month at a time.

Before you begin

Choose your tools – You need to decide if you want your budget to be digital, say in a budgeting app or an Excel spreadsheet, or if you’re going old school with paper and pen. There’s no right answer to this. Some people prefer the pretty graphs and automated math features found in an app. Others find it grounding to sit down with a piece of paper and a calculator.

Gather documentation – To make an effective budget, you must know how much you make and how much you spend. So take the time to gather up all your bills including utilities, rent or mortgage, car payments, insurances, daycare bills, tuition payments, and anything else you pay. Do you have things that you pay less than monthly? You’ll need to plan for annual property taxes or quarterly car insurance too.

Getting Started

Make a list – Make a list of every bill you will pay this month, estimate the cost and add it all up. Now add up your income and take a long, hard look at how much money is left after you pay your bills.

Non-bills –  What else do you buy each month? You will need groceries and gas for the car. Do you have a gym membership? What about clothes, movies, eating out and other fun purchases?  Don’t forget about birthdays, vacations and holiday gifts. Make a list of everything you spend money on. Are there big purchases that you need to save for every month? Do you even know how much you spend on these things? Look back through your credit card and bank statements to get an honest feel for how much you’re really spending on these extras

Pay yourself –Saving money is important so don’t forget to save for retirement and emergencies. Most Americans are woefully unprepared for even a $500 emergency but tucking away a little each pay will help you be ready.

Add it up – Take a moment to add up all these bills, discretionary spending and saving. How does it look? Is your spending outpacing your income? Are you incurring credit card debt for clothes, dining out and vacations? This can be a sobering moment in the budgeting process and will determine your next steps.

The reckoning – How do you feel about what you’ve learned so far? Did you realize you were spending so much on food? Do you see room for cutting expenses? Are you pleased with where you are? For most first time budgeters, there is something shocking about this complete snapshot of their spending habits. Once you reach this point in the process, it may be time to go back and start making some edits.

Working the puzzle – Most Americans are living at or above their means. If this is the case for you, building an effective budget will be like working a puzzle. You may need to look at cutting some costs to make that puzzle fit together more easily.

Looking ahead – If you have large quarterly or annual expenses to plan for, it’s smart to look ahead and consider the best ways to do that. Often, the easiest thing is to budget a little every month and then use automatic transfers from your checking to savings so that you’re not bearing the burden all at once.

Every month – You will need a budget for every month. Eventually, you may find that it’s easy to simply copy last month’s budget with some small changes while other months require more work. It’s often most effective to budget an entire quarter at once so that you get a broader view of your needs.

The Hard Part

The hardest part to any budget is sticking to it. It’s easy to get carried away on vacation or to forget all about it when the kids need shoes. That’s why it’s important to check in with your budget before making purchases and to make needed adjustments. Remember, your budget isn’t carved in stone. It’s a living, breathing document that is most effective when it’s kept updated and when it’s used.

Are you ready to get started with a budget that will put your money to work for you? There’s no better time to start than today!

We also offer tips for sticking to a budget and ideas for saving money when you need to trim some costs.