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Life Hacks and Other

Good Information

Everyone knows how important it is to regularly put money into savings, but research shows that 25% of Americans have no emergency savings at all.

Don’t let this be you! If you’re ready to start saving, but you don’t know where to begin, can help. Here are seven simple steps that can get you on the fast track to building your nest egg today:

Step 1: Set a goal

It’s always a good idea to work backward when setting up a plan.

Take a few minutes to think over your long-term and short-term savings goals. These can include saving for retirement, a dream vacation or covering a large purchase like a recreational vehicle or a new phone. Make sure to assign a dollar value for each goal.

It’s important to note that, when you actually start putting money into savings on a regular basis, it’s best to start with building an emergency fund that includes three to six months’ worth of living expenses before moving on to other saving goals. Outlining your more personal goals before you get started will help motivate you on your journey toward saving.

Step 2: Start tracking your expenses and income

Determine exactly how much money you need to get through each month. For three months, keep a paper or digital record of each of your expenses and all streams of income.

As you complete this step, be sure to include seasonal and occasional expenses. Calculate an estimated annual expense amount for these costs and then divide it by 12. Add this value when factoring your monthly expenses.

At the end of the three-month period, review your expenses and income to see how much money you really require living on each month.

Step 3: Trim your expenses

If you find that your income exceeds your expenses by a generous amount, you’re in a good place and you can skip to the next step.

If your expenses are greater than your income or the numbers are too close for comfort, it’s time to scale back. Look for ways to trim your expenses without feeling the pinch. Start with your biggest non-fixed expense, and move from there, cutting costs wherever you can.

The money you trimmed from your expenses can be used for savings.

Step 4: Create a budget

With your newly trimmed expenses, you’re ready to create a monthly budget. Using your list of monthly expenses and income, designate an appropriate amount for each monthly expense. Be sure to include savings in your budget — as if it were actually an expense.

When working through this step, you can go the old-fashioned route and use pen and paper for a detailed budget. You can find a digital budget also. 

Step 5: Choose your savings tools

With your numbers all worked out, you can move on to choosing a place to park your savings.

It may be a good idea to choose a separate location for your long-term and short-term saving goals.

For long-term savings, look for a savings option that offers an attractive interest rate, like a share certificate at or an IRA for retirement savings. Keep in mind that you may not be able to open a long-term savings account immediately if you don’t have the amount of funds required for your minimum initial deposit.

Short-term savings are better off in an account that allows for easy access and some monthly transactions if needed, like a checking account or money market account at .

Step 6: Make it automatic

You’ve got your numbers worked out, and if all goes well, your savings should start growing today.

Unfortunately, though, impulses can sometimes get in the way of our best intentions, holding us back from reaching our goals. Keep this from happening to your savings by making them automatic. Ask us about setting up an automatic transfer from your checking account to your savings account so you never forget to feed your savings again.

Step 7: Review and adjust as necessary

Your savings plan is good to go! Remember, the earlier you start, the more interest your funds will accrue.

While you may have automated your savings, that doesn’t mean you can set it and forget it. Be sure to review your budget every now and then and to check whether you should adjust the amount allocated for savings.

If you need help getting started, call, click, or stop by today. We can help you choose a savings account that best suits your needs.  

Get a Head Start on Your Next Vacation                                  

Going on regular vacations is essential for your mental health. A relaxing break in your day-to-day routine soothes the soul and reduces stress. However, if you pay for that vacation with credit, especially at a cost you can’t comfortably pay off in 1 or 2 months, then the vacation could cause even more stress.

Here’s a great idea one credit union member, Steve N., and his family uses to pay for a vacation. It enables them to save up money before the trip and save them from financial stress after the trip. He writes:

“Every year we start saving for our next vacation as soon as we return from one. Each month we transfer a fixed amount out of our checking account into a credit union money market ‘vacation account’ that receives a higher rate of interest. My wife and I agree to use this account only for vacation savings.”

Steve emphasizes getting agreement from the family. For any successful family budget goal, you must have buy-in. He continues:

“In addition to our monthly transfer, we have an agreement to deposit every gift of money we receive—from Christmas, birthdays, whatever—into this account. The same goes for any rebate checks we receive from product purchases during the year. Basically, every little ‘extra’ check we receive goes directly into this account.”

Every so often, Steve and his wife pull money out of their money market account and put it into a short-term share certificate/CD (certificate of deposit) to get an even higher yield. He says they have CDs maturing almost every month that they can then deposit into their money market vacation account.

Steve and his family are doing several smart things that you can apply to any savings project:

  • They have a goal—to vacation without borrowing money.
  • The goal has a deadline—the date of the next vacation.
  • They automate their savings—it’s easier to save when it’s done automatically and not randomly.
  • They agree on the strategy and work together.

This is just one way to save for a specific goal. If you’re interested in learning other ways to reach your savings goals, stop in at one of our branches or call us at 402-494-2073.

As you’re probably already aware, your credit score can impact your financial picture across several categories. Lenders evaluate your score in determining whether you’ll be approved for a loan or credit card, what interest rate they’ll charge, and even whether you’ll be eligible for job or security clearance. If you need to give your credit a boost, we have five suggestions for helping you get back on track. But first: the basics.

What is a Credit Score?
A credit score uses historical information about a person’s past use of credit to calculate the likelihood that they will pay back what they owe on time and in full. Ranging from a low of 300 to a high of 850 (sometimes referred to as “perfect credit”), credit scores are calculated based on payment history, amount owed, length of credit history, types of credit used, and new applications for credit.In general, a score of 660 and above would make a borrower eligible for credit with favorable interest rates. A score below 600 may result in difficulty getting approved for credit and is likely to be subject to high-interest rates.If you don’t know your credit score, you can contact one of the three major credit bureaus; Equifax, Experian or Transunion.
1. Be punctual with payments
Paying your bills on time is the biggest single factor used to calculate your credit score. Late payments, past due accounts, and accounts in collections have a negative impact on your credit. Always aim for consistent, timely payment (even it’s the minimum amount). Punctuality pays off: a positive payment history across 18 months or longer increases the likelihood that you’ll receive more favorable loan terms from lenders.If you’re falling behind, be proactive in your financial planning. Create a realistic monthly budget that accounts for bills and everyday expenses like gas and groceries. Struggling to keep track of multiple bills? Consider automation. Automated payments can minimize late fees. If you know you will miss a due date, call your credit card company or lender. They may be able to help by moving your due date out.
2. Pay down your debt
How much you owe is another big factor when it comes to credit score calculation. If you have a large amount of debt or are carrying balances on credit accounts for extended periods of time, it can negatively affect your score.Make it a goal to pay down your debt. Take inventory of any categories where you can reduce non-essential spending so that you pay a little extra on your credit accounts. A credit counselor can walk you through different options for dealing with debt and may be able to help you pay it off more quickly.
3. Don’t max out your credit limit
The amount of credit you use (also called credit utilization) also affects your score. Our financial counselors suggest using less than 30 to 40% of your available credit. Spending above that threshold or carrying high balances relative to your credit limit will cause your score to fall. If you are using more of your credit limit than you would like, consider making adjustments in your budget and spending choices to reduce your overall reliance on credit.Keep in mind that regularly utilizing small amounts of credit (and paying it off) will increase your score. People without established credit history typically receive lower credit scores.
4. Maintain good habits
Your credit score is built on patterns over time, with an emphasis on more recent activity. Improving credit and rebuilding a credit score that has fallen will take some patience, but it can be done! Credit scores can and do change. A history of timely payments and accounts that you have held for five years or longer have a positive effect on your credit score. Quickly opening multiple accounts, carrying high balances for a sustained period, or even closing unused accounts have a negative effect on your score. Events like foreclosure and bankruptcy, while they serve an important purpose for those with severe debt, have a significant and lengthy impact on your credit score. (We are not lawyers, and this is not legal advice. If you are considering one of these options, we encourage you to consult a legal professional and to investigate other alternatives as well.)
5. Chat with a credit counselor
While talking to a credit counselor won’t have a direct effect on your credit score, you can gain valuable insight and information. We will work with you to understand your financial situation, explore different options, and make a personalized plan. We can help you review and understand your credit report. If debt is preventing you from making progress, we can help you explore debt management plans and other options that can accelerate your path forward.

Train Your Kids to Save

Getting financially fit isn't easy. But teach children how to save and they’ll have one of the most difficult aspects of finance mastered by the time they're teens—being consistent savers.

Here are a few ideas to help your kids get money fit:

  • Have young children—preschool age—sort different types of money into piles by color and size.
  • Play store. Help them use a pretend cash register.
  • At the grocery store, let children of all ages help you shop. Teach them how to comparison shop—for example, show them that for every $5 box of cereal, there may be similar brands on sale for half as much.
  • As children get older, let them know what things cost. Share sales receipts and bills that you receive for items or services you've purchased for them.
  • If you decide to pay your children an allowance, include them in the decision. Discuss allowance amounts and what they should use their allowance for. The amount is your call but allow their input. One idea is to have children set aside part of their allowance for spending, part for saving, and part for sharing. Explain what you'll pay for and what they should be responsible for. For example, when you're at the movies, maybe you agree to pay for the movie ticket, but the Milk Duds are on them.
As your kids reach high-school age, clarify what you will pay for and what your teens are responsible for. For example, they may want the newest cellphone that comes with a high price tag. Establish your spending limit. If they still want the more expensive version, have them make up the difference. Often, once the responsibility of paying for items is on them, the "latest and greatest" aren't as important

You might be reluctant to make upgrades when you’re ready to sell your house. After all, you won’t be in the house to enjoy them for long. But did you know that most projects recoup an average of 60% of their costs, according to the 2023 cost versus value report from Reporting magazine. 

But complacency can mean your house stays on the market for months—time that costs you money. That’s why these seven updates that rank high on buyers’ wish lists, from the National Association of Home Builders’ (NAHB) "What Home Buyers Really Want" report, are worth considering:

  1. Laundry room. 63 % of buyers prefer the washer and dryer on the first floor.
  2. Energy-saving features. Not surprisingly, many home buyers are concerned about the environment as well as saving money. They look for Energy Star-rated appliances, ceiling fans, programmable thermostats, and energy efficient windows.
  3. Roomy garage. Many buyers want garage space that’s accessible, big enough for two cars, and has cabinets and shelving to keep things organized.
  4. Open-concept kitchen and dining room. About 85% of respondents said they prefer these areas to be completely or partially open.
  5. Walk-in pantry. Many are looking for pantries with built-in organization systems to keep food and preparation items out of sight. It’s a bonus if your pantry doubles as a broom closet.
  6. Smart-home features. Buyers are looking for a wireless home security system, video doorbells, and security cameras.

Home improvements can be a great way to increase the value of your home but keep this list in mind, so you spend your money on the right renovations.