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Understanding Debt



From Emily Rienhardt, blogger for Mid American's Money Matters finance blog


Many Americans are very used to their debt, often times with thousands of dollars owed to creditors. Between mortgages, student loans, and credit card debt, it’s become very common for people to be in debt. Sometimes the debt problems are bigger than just a couple of thousand dollars, and suddenly you start to wonder, how much do I really know about debt and credit?

There are so many common misunderstandings when it comes to debt, and we should dive into a couple of them and see what we know. It’s quite normal to have the personal finance waters get a little murky at times. We just have to take the time to better understand it.

If I’ve co-signed a loan for a friend and they’ve suddenly stopped paying, it’s their problem, right?

Only partially right, because it’s actually your problem now too. Co-signing a loan is essentially the same thing as taking out the loan yourself. You’re signing your name, saying you’ll be a responsible party as well. If the person you co-signed with stops paying, it could do real damage to your credit score, and creditors won’t care if the loan wasn’t exactly yours, or if your friend let you down. This will look like your problem, and creditors could potentially come after you for collections, fines and penalties.

It’s incredibly important to either NEVER co-sign a loan with another person, or to really know you trust that other person (like maybe with your life, or your CREDIT SCORE). My father had to co-sign on my car loan, and I’ve never taken a bill more seriously in my life. There’s a lot of pressure not to default in any way on that loan. Not only for my own credit score, but for his too. You need to make sure that the person you’re helping takes this responsibility as seriously as you do.

Debt affects my credit score, right?

Yes, it sure does. It’s smart to keep your debt low or nonexistent for your own bottom line, because holding on to high balances will have a negative impact on your score. For credit cards especially, your account balance should remain under 35 percent of your available credit limit. This is important for keeping a high credit score. Beyond the practice of not maxing out your credit cards, it’s essential for you to pay back your repayments on time and to be making payments above the minimum requirement.

If you aren’t paying careful attention to your credit card usage and the spending you’re doing, you could suddenly notice that you’ve gone overboard. If you ever catch yourself asking, “What did I buy? Why did I do that?”  you’ve probably gone a little too far, and you might need to take a closer look at your habits. A lot of people will gradually start to overspend with their credit cards. Their limit starts out relatively low, and as time passes, the spending limit is increased and slowly, their spending habits could increase too. As the balance climbs, the interest compounds and the payment amount grows.

Is there any kind of debt that’s considered “good” debt?

Good debt is considered an investment that will grow in value or will generate long-term income. Student loans are often considered a good example of this – you’re taking out money to grow your education and in the end, hopefully will result in better jobs for you, and better income. The phrase gotta spend money to make money kinda fits right here. Real estate, small business ownership, student loans, and wise investments are some great examples of this.

A few years ago when I was just starting out as an adult on my own, I had no credit at all. I signed up for my first credit card, got my first $1,000 loan from my bank, and bought a car (with the help of a co-signer, as mentioned above). It was a lot of firsts and I handled all of them responsibly. They aren’t necessarily the best example of good debt, but I needed to take them on in order to start building a credit history for myself. Depending on your own circumstances, taking on small, new lines of credit can be a good thing for you and will help you grow your credit profile. Starting small, and taking it slow is a good way of doing this.

My spouse has terrible credit. Does their credit score affect my credit score?

You are not responsible for your spouse’s bad credit or their debt. Unless you’ve applied for a loan or a line of credit together. Even if your score is spotless, you could be turned down for credit you apply for as a couple, depending on the seriousness of their credit problems. Applying for loans together will mean that a creditor will take both of your financial histories and your income into consideration.

Finding out how and why your spouse got into the credit problems is a good exercise. It helps you determine how the two of you will handle the loan or line of credit together, from here on out. You are also free to consider keeping your loans and lines of credit totally separate. Some couples never merge their financial lives when they get married, and you definitely do not have to. Take time to work through the credit issues together, and don’t be afraid to find advice and assistance where you need it. Financial advisors can help the two of you create a plan for working through some of your credit issues as a couple.


For more articles on personal finance, visit Money Matters



Living beyond your means



From Emily Rienhardt, blogger for Mid American's Money Matters finance blog



Are you certain that you can afford your lifestyle? Living beyond our means is easy to do these days. We’re surrounded by temptations to spend and opportunities to break your budget. If you’re too focused on spending, and you’re suddenly concerned that your financial future may be in danger, you probably are caught up in a lifestyle that you can’t actually afford. If you’re feeling this way, you probably know that your finances need some help. Here are some major warning signs that you need to recognize…

Your credit score is low. Credit cards are everywhere, and our world has adopted plastic as a major way of spending money. If you’ve gotten caught up in the habit of using credit cards too much, you might have noticed some damage to your credit score. Credit bureaus are keeping close track of your spending history, your payment records, and all outstanding loan balances. All of this information makes up your credit score and you could suddenly discover that your score isn’t very strong. If you’re wanting to improve your credit score, focus on paying down your debt, discontinuing the use of cards and stop applying for new ones too. A lot of handwork and dedication will go into improving your credit score, so get ready.

You are highly motivated to spend by your “fear of missing out." None of us want to miss out on the great parts of life due to our financial circumstances. If you catch yourself breaking your budget to take part in excess social activities or to maintain a certain lifestyle that your social circle holds, you’re being motivated by the wrong things. Getting caught up in a few moments of overspending is one thing, but constantly doing so, and constantly making excuses for it too, is a bigger problem. You can find inexpensive ways to hang out with your friends, and maybe you’ll inspire your social circle to start finding ways to spend quality time together without spending too much money. Also, be sure that you don’t feel the need to purchase excess “stuff” just to feel you’re caught up with your friends or your social media following or your coworkers and the people in your life. The feeling that you need to be “on trend” or own the latest gadget isn’t as important as the need to build your own personal wealth.

Your credit card balances continue to rise. It’s normal to use a credit card as a regular form of payment, but maxing them out or carrying your balance over month to month is a problem. It’s also a sign that you’re unable to support your lifestyle. You’re relying on borrowing more money than you actually have, and you’re digging yourself a big hole full of debt, deeper and deeper, with every swipe of the card. Carrying a balance from month to month is a sign that you’re spending more than you can afford to spend. Get a grip on your spending problems – identify what it is that makes you overspend, figure out how to get back on a tighter budget, and set aside more money for your savings instead of unnecessary spending. Ideally, you should only be using a credit card if you can pay the balance off in full each month. If spending with plastic continues to be a problem, you might want to switch over to a cash-only spending system for yourself. Sometimes the act of paying with credit cards doesn’t really feel like spending money. But if you’ve over spent with your cash, you notice when some of it isn’t there.

You’re not saving enough money. Creating a savings system for yourself is so important. And if you haven’t done it before, now is as good a time as ever to start. Paying off your debt should always be a high priority, but paying yourself first is equally important. You may not be able to save the full recommended 10-15% of your income right now, but you could always adjust while you’re working on getting rid of your debt and reorganizing your monthly budget system. If you’re overspending on credit cards and living beyond your means, chances are you are not saving any money for yourself. Build your emergency savings or even your retirement savings now, and you won’t be disappointed. Your savings shouldn’t be dipped into, so if you breaking your budget means that you’re dipping into savings, chances are you’re doing something in your life that you don’t need to be doing. If you can’t save any money at the end of the month, chances are you’re buying more than you need and living a lifestyle you can’t support. Pay yourself first!

You don’t have any money left at the end of each month. This is a huge red flag, and perhaps the most obvious. You’ve overspent. Even if you’re living paycheck to paycheck, chances are there’s a small way or two that you can cut back each month. Even a Hulu account or a magazine subscription  would count as an extra, unnecessary expense if you’ve run out of money each month. A great way to jump start a savings plan is to take a month and have absolutely no extra spending. A spending fast will stop the bleeding so to speak, and you’ll be able to set that money aside for savings instead. Cutting all spending means dining out, entertainment and extra activities, trips to the coffee shop, no clothes shopping, no cable – cutting back will be hard, and if you can make an effort to do it over an extended period of time, you can use the money you would have spent on other things to build your emergency fund, or to tear down your debt.

If you aren’t willing to cut back in the short term, chances are you won’t make it in the long term. Stability won’t build itself, it’s your job to make sure you’re able to create a life that you can afford to keep up and that can withstand the long haul.



For more articles on personal finance, visit Money Matters




Convenience can be costly




From Emily Rienhardt, blogger for Mid American's Money Matters finance blog


Our lives are continually speeding up and becoming busier and busier, making all things that are convenient more and more appealing. These days, we can order just about anything from any room in our home, we can pay for things with the click of a button, and we can have just about any purchase delivered to our front door. Convenience is no longer just an appreciated thing among people, it’s become something we all expect and sometimes demand.

Convenience plays a factor in all things from our health, to our food, to our savings, to our payments, to our travel, to our time. But at what expense is convenience coming to us?

Our health: In some ways, convenience has drastically altered our health. Think about how often we opt for the drive-thru at a fast food place, or pre-packaged foods at the grocery store. These are often times unhealthy options compared to fresh, seasonal food that we must prepare and cook ourselves. Grocery stores seem to have more packaged food products than non-packaged food options and these things are marketed to us and shoved in our faces so that we’ll feel the pull to choose the easy option over anything else.  These foods contain preservatives and unnatural ingredients that over time can have huge impacts on our weight and our overall health. Not only that, they’re often over-priced food options.

Quality: Sometimes, the more expensive and convenient items are higher quality purchases, and “totally worth it”. But how many times have you gone out to eat or grabbed that cup of coffee and thought to yourself, “I could have done this at home for much cheaper, and I probably could have made it better”. We’re often made to think that these fast, easy, mindless, convenient options are the better way to go, but sometimes we’re fooled by the choices available to us. Sometimes the quality is much lower, and we’ve just spent money on that.

Our environment: The cost of convenience has had a huge toll on the environment. Think of all those prepackaged foods, home electronics, single-serve products, (among so many other things) and how many more resources they require. The rise in production of these convenient items requires more energy to produce, more materials to package, and more effort to transport. With all of this extra effort to make things more convenient for humans, we’ve created a lot of waste and a lot of additional changes to our planet. We should always keep this in mind when we’re faced with choosing the convenient option.

Overconsumption: By having so many easy options out there, we’re often picking out more than we need. A lot of goods and foods are becoming easier to produce and manufacture, giving a change in prices, and encouraging us to buy more. But just because these things are cheaper to produce and purchase, doesn’t mean we need more of them. Not only that, but these things are readily available all over the place for us. Online, and on every corner, we’re forced to see and notice these things all the time and it makes us buy more than we need, and more often than we really need it. We know what overconsumption can do to our budgets too. Too many convenient options can make consumption way too convenient also.

Convenience comes with many hidden costs when you look at the whole picture. It’s easy to make the choice when the convenience is too good to pass up. But when we factor in all of these other ways that convenience eats away at us, how can we turn “inconvenient” into smarter habits and more rewarding work? Cooking a quality meal leaves you feeling great, even if it took four times as long and made such a big mess. Trying to switch the way we feel about convenient vs. inconvenient is the key. Convenience can quickly turn into what we’d consider a bad habit too. When I catch myself ordering food for delivery out of convenience, I get into a spiral of more decisions that cost more and leave me doing less work. I get into the habit of it, and then it’s harder to break.

Every spending decision should be a conscious one, not one we make out of habit or laziness or lack of motivation. It can get easy to justify spending more money on convenience, and it’s pretty amazing what we rationalize to ourselves as we do this. Being careful to plan ahead on a regular basis will help us with making a smarter decision when faced with choices to be made out of convenience.

Are you in a place where you need to reevaluate the choices you’re making based on convenience? 


For more articles on personal finance, visit Money Matters



Create a savings goal



From Emily Rienhardt, blogger for Mid American's Money Matters finance blog


 We all have different reasons to save our money, and we all have different amounts of money we need to be saving. If you’re walking through life without a solid savings goal or a savings plan (or without savings at all!), now is as good a time as ever to get yourself ready to build your savings. The best way to start (when you don’t know where to start) is to create your top savings goal. 

Your savings goal is going to be different than your mom’s and different than your best friend’s goals, but the beauty is, you get to build it. You get to set your parameters, and the best part…you get to build your wealth!

Step one: What are you saving for? What is your savings goal?

Sometimes the goal is just building a general savings, sometimes you’re saving for something. Identify your true motivations for your desired savings. People who set a real, attainable savings goal save faster and save more each year than people who don’t! Try to be as specific as you can, if your goal is just to build a savings account, try to set goal numbers that you’d like to hit. Adding specifics like dollar amounts and dates you’d like to accomplish things by will make tracking your progress and reaching your goals much easier. Grab a pen and write down your savings goals.

Step two: Work out how much you’ll need to save month by month.

There are a lot of factors to work into this part. It’s all going to depend on the amount of money you need to save to hit your goal, it depends on just how much spare cash you have at the end of each month, and it depends on your timeline for reaching your goal. It’s a delicate balance between how much you can set aside each month and how long you can save for your goal. If you’re trying to save up for a new $600 computer, depending on your abilities, you could either save $100 each month and reach your goal in 6 months, or you could potentially save $200 each month and reach your goal in half the time. It will require you to sit down with your budget and dig in deep to see what kind of savings you can set aside with all of your other monthly financial commitments.

Step three: Make it automatic.

If you’re able to set up a new sub savings account with your credit union or bank, set things up to move into savings automatically. This way, you will never forget to set the savings aside, and you’ll continue to stay on your savings track to reach your goal in time. Better yet, give your sub savings account an inspiring name like, “My First Home” if you’re saving for a down payment on a house, or “Dream Car”, if you’re hoping for that new car. “Emily’s Rainy Day Fund” sounds way better than “Sub Savings 1” on my online banking accounts list. If I have the inspirational push each day or each week when I check in on my savings, I feel way more likely to stay positive and focused towards my goals. If you don’t already have a savings account open, start one online or head into your bank or credit union. They’ll get you set up! Set up your automatic savings to come out of your spending account on payday. The best time to set money aside for savings is the moment you get paid, that way it doesn’t sit in your account tempting you to continue to make purchases, instead of investing in your future.

Step four: Adjust your budget wherever necessary.

When creating new saving goals and new saving habits, you might need to tweak your budget just a little. If there’s room to wiggle a bit, change some of your categories. Chances are you’ll probably have to cut a few things from your entertainment or your “fun” categories within your budget. Maybe you won’t be able to get that bi-weekly latte you’ve built into your budget originally, or maybe you’ll have to cut your internet TV-streaming accounts.

Step five: Small things add up fast.

Whether it’s small purchases here and there that throw you off track of your savings goals, or small amounts of savings you’re able to add to your savings goals, don’t forget how fast the small things add up. Things like using the wrong ATM and incurring fees, or going out to eat on an impulse decision, these small missteps can add up quickly and can really throw you off track of your desired savings goals and even your monthly budget. If you save regularly, even small amounts here and there, you’ll notice how fast things can add up. Getting into the habit and continuing to see growth will only excite you and keep you wanting to work on growing things even further.

Step six: Stay motivated.

Visualize yourself reaching your financial goals and dreams. Keep that picture very close in your mind. Plan out all of the work you’ll need to do to get to your goals, and accept the fact that there will probably be some missteps. There will probably be a few moments where you fall out of your healthy habits and you mess up. That’s totally ok. It just means you’re human! Focusing on your small steps, and the small ways you can get closer to your goals will be really helpful day to day. Get rid of your negative thoughts and focus on thinking positively while you reach your goals. And be sure to not give up!

Creating savings goals leads to you reaching those goals, and that will lead to a more stable financial life for you! If you don’t create the goal and stick to it, you won’t reach it. Share your savings goals below, and bring your friends on board! There is strength in numbers and having a solid support system only gets you closer to your desired goals.


For more articles on personal finance, visit Money Matters





How much rent can you afford?



From Emily Rienhardt, blogger for Mid American's Money Matters finance blog



 When faced with the task of finding a new place to live, there are a lot of factors to consider. When renting, (or buying) you’re looking into what neighborhood you need, whether you want an apartment or a house, if utilities are included or not, and most importantly, how much you can afford to pay in rent each month.

Other than safety, I would assume the cost of rent is the most important factor to consider when you’re looking for a new place to rent. Here’s how to determine what you can afford each month on your rent.

Decide what you can budget each month for your rent and your bills. Renting a home or an apartment will definitely require more money each month than just the rent itself. Make a solid list of all the required payments and bills you’ll need to budget for your move and your new place. These are things like gas and electricity bills, water bills, service charges and internet or cable install. If you live in a place in the city, you might have to budget money for parking whether it’s through a permit with the city or paying extra each month for a spot in a parking garage. You can ask the landlord or the previous tenant for estimates on what these bills could cost you each month when you go to look at the place for the first time.

Work up a budget of all your costs. In addition to your new rent payment, and the new bills and payments you’ll need to make a brand new budget for your new place. Not only listing the bills and your monthly expenses, try to estimate how much money you’ll be realistically spending each month on other day-to-day expenses and purchases. You’ll want to factor in things like your cell phone bill, your credit card payments, your loan repayments, food, car insurance, clothes, the gym or other hobbies you have, childcare or pet care and other deposits, and even some maintenance expenses. Maybe you’re moving to a new house and now you have the responsibility to tend to a yard. You’ll either need to buy a lawnmower or hire a lawn mowing service. Do whatever you can to make a detailed list of all the things you’ll be spending money on each month. If you’re ever in doubt on some of these payments, you should over-estimate rather than not setting aside enough money in your budget.

Once you sign a lease, you’re agreeing to stay there for a period of time. You’ll want to be sure you’ve factored in all costs so that you don’t end up going into debt trying to maintain your lifestyle in your new place. When you’re creating your new budget, factor in all of the money coming in each month and all of the money going out. Once you’ve figured out the sweet spot, you’ll have the peace of mind of knowing that you will have enough money to live on once you’ve paid your rent.

Don’t forget about the initial upfront costs, the annual costs or the one-time fees, etc. Before you sign the lease agreement, don’t forget about those upfront costs that you’ll incur. The rental deposit is usually one month’s rent. This is likely to be hundreds of dollars, if not up over $1,000. Make sure you have this money available before you commit yourself to a lease. As long as things go well in your lease, you’ll probably get the deposit back at the end, so there’s not a huge loss here, but getting the money upfront can sometimes be a challenge. Furniture and furnishings are another thing you might need to factor in unless your place comes furnished, or you’ve already established yourself in a home previously. These things can often go beyond a couch and a bed. You’ll probably need new curtains or blinds if the new place needs them, new trashcans for the kitchen or bathrooms, rugs, bedding etc. Sometimes these soft furnishings aren’t something you’ll need if you already have plenty of things, but the costs of these are often forgotten when factoring what you’ll need to spend to move into your new place.

Consider signing up for renter’s insurance. Renter’s insurance covers you when you’re not yet a home owner. You’ll want to read up on what your insurance provider is willing to cover with your rental insurance agreement, but the coverage can save you when you’re hit with a problem three or four months into your lease agreement that your landlord isn’t going to cover.

If you’re moving in with roommates, consider your budget and the expenses you’ll get to split with that roommate. You’ll want to work out a fair system with your roommates on how to handle the payment of your bills and renter’s expenses. You want to make sure that if the bills are in your name, you and your roommate have worked out how you’ll pay. Paying your bills and your rent on time is crucial, so you and your roommate need to both know that things will be taken care of. In a lot of cases, it’s best to sign an agreement that will hold you both responsible for specific costs and responsibilities in the household. Work out these agreements before you move in with your new housemate.

A new house or apartment (even if you’re only renting!) is an exciting thing. Don’t let the excitement rack up your purchases in an unnecessary way, and don’t allow your new expenses to break your budget.


For more articles on personal finance, visit Money Matters


Now make online loan payments from other credit unions or bank accounts



For members with loans who want to make payments from a financial account at another institution quickly and securely, they can now do so with our Web Payment Center using funds from checking, savings, debit card or credit card. Members do not have to call in to make a payment.

When using the site, registration must include the primary member’s information.

Members can pay on any qualifying loan, but cannot pay on bankruptcy, charge offs, repossessions, family first loans, and MACU credit cards.

Payments are applied in nightly processing on the same day. Payments made on Friday after 5pm will post on Monday evening’s file.

There is a $10 convenience fee for using the service.

The link to the Web Payment Center can be found on our Member Services page, or by clicking here: Web Payment Center.



Easy credit card mistakes



From Emily Rienhardt, blogger for Mid American's Money Matters finance blog


Credit cards can be a convenient and safe way to purchase things and build your credit. That is…if you’re using them right. They can also become a nightmare and damage your credit score and perhaps put you into massive amounts of debt. 

But that’s not how you’re using your credit cards is it?

I hope not. It’s not all about the cards we use, it’s about how we use these cards. If we aren’t careful to reexamine our behaviors around our credit card usage, we could be putting ourselves in some trouble without even knowing it.

Strategically use your credit cards. I was always a debit card fan. It helps me keep a more accurate view of my spending, and I think, keeps me from overspending on the regular. The problem with debit cards is the direct link to your bank account, if any fraudulent activity ever occurs. Massive retailers in the past have even dealt with huge security breaches in their systems, leaving tons of debit card purchases out in the open for fraudsters to access. I’ve had my own situation with fraudulent charges on a debit card and it required a lot of work on my end. Getting the cards cancelled, getting the new cards, finding just which charges were fraudulent…and all with an out of town bank. It was hard to navigate. Credit cards can offer us better protection in the case of fraud, and they can also act as the negotiator or middle party if you need to dispute a charge with a retailer or other company. Your credit card can be a safer option for making major purchases, and for online purchases especially.

Missing a payment. This mistake, might be an easier one to keep from making. It’s hard to miss my payments now that I’ve set up automatic payments. But if you’re really looking to see that credit score drop drastically, go ahead and miss a payment on your credit card. A late payment means you’ll have late fees, but a missed payment, by 30 days or more, will show your credit score that you’re not in the best place right now. Even if you didn’t mean to miss it. Even if you’re not that kind of person! Forgetting a payment won’t be fixed with an apology to your credit card company I’m afraid. You could even see your interest rate increase if your payment is missed by a lot.

Only hitting your minimum payments. There were a few months in a row for me where I could only pay off my minimum ($25…yes, you read that right) payment towards my credit card balance. It doesn’t feel like you’re making a dent at all, and really, you barely are. Even your credit card company isn’t impressed by this action. It shows that you’re so close to defaulting on your payments that you can only shell out what’s necessary. Doing this means you’ll likely pay a lot more in interest than you’ve actually even put on the card. Meaning, you’re paying for everything twice!

Maxing out your credit cards. It took one bad purchase for me to get into a bad, bad cycle of credit card bills. ONE silly bag I bought that was out of my budget. And it threw me off track for a long time, making the things I normally use the card for, near impossible since it had already been maxed out. A big part of your credit score comes from the amount of your available line of credit you’re using. Even if you’ll pay it off in full a little bit later, maxing it out shows that you need every penny of that borrowed credit limit to get by, and that can show credit scoring companies that you’re not borrowing their money wisely. Spread your charges around so that you’re only using a small percentage of the available credit on each of your cards. If you’re really working to have a better credit score, try keeping that small percentage of usage of your available credit to 10% or less.

Ignoring your credit card statement. When was the last time you looked through all of the individual charges on your credit card statement? Have you combed through it before? Never? I will be honest, it’s not something I practice each month. (And the statements aren’t even that long on my end!) Mistakes made by merchants you frequent can happen more often than you think. If you aren’t catching them in a timely manner, you might have a harder time getting reimbursed or resettled from these card companies. Promptly reporting fraudulent activity means you’ll have to catch it promptly too. Make it a habit of checking your statements, and if you’re only using 10% of your available credit, then hey, this practice won’t even take that long!

Taking advantage of rewards programs. There are lots of credit card options out there. Finding some cards with special rewards and advantages is a huge bonus! I’ve recently started a card account with my favorite airline, and the points system is really wonderful. Since I’ve been traveling more often for work, this allows me to cash in on some of those points instead of spending extra money. These rewards programs are often a little bit complicated, with all of the rules, regulations and fine print, you might rather opt in for a cash-back rewards program. Whatever you find is your ideal, smartly taking advantage of these perks is a good thing. And ignoring them seems like a mistake to me! The key is to understand yours really well, and only spend what you would normally spend, so that you don’t go into a purchasing frenzy thinking that you’ll get a ton of rewards if you do.

Have you caught yourself making some of these mistakes? Sometimes the fix is as easy as calling your credit card company to get a few questions cleared up. But sometimes the fix requires a little more work and some habit changing. Being aware of the risks involved with regular credit card usage is a big part of having credit cards.


For more articles on personal finance, visit Money Matters


Prepping for a frugal holiday season



From Emily Rienhardt, blogger for Mid American's Money Matters finance blog


A lot of us  feel the pressure around the holiday season. It’s an expensive time of year, and just like any other expensive life event, planning and prepping are important so that you and your budget will make it through with little to no financial stress. The less time you give yourself for holiday spending, the more money you’re likely to spend. You’ll be in such a hurry to make it happen fast that you’ll spend whatever it takes just to get it finished. It’s never too early to start planning and getting prepared, so here are some things you can do right this minute to start preparing you and your family for the expenses that come with each holiday season.

Start forming your budget right now. You need to solidify what financial commitments you’re giving yourself this year. There are a lot of holidays that fall in this second half of the year, so be sure you’re accounting for each holiday that you’re celebrating. Will you need to pay for travel? Will you be in charge of cooking meals for multiple people? Will you be purchasing gifts for people? This is just your first rough draft, so don’t focus too hard on the exact amount you’ll have to spend for each item. Just outline all of the events and plans you have and build those things into your budget over the next few months. Once you have a rough list of your financial obligations for the holiday season, you can fine tune it over the next several weeks. Set up a spending maximum for yourself, and try to build everything into this.

Set your mind on not using credit cards this holiday season. If you’re planning things out in advance, you’ll be able to consciously sock away any extra cash you come across. Set up a sub savings account for all of your pre-holiday savings. Try skipping lunches out for a few weeks and set aside that money into your holiday savings instead. Or skip your morning coffee run and transfer that money to savings instead. If you start right now, these seemingly small steps will really add up. You don’t want to create extra debt for yourself for the sake of the holidays. You’ll feel the brunt of paying that off for months and months afterwards.

Spend strategically and not impulsively. If you are relying on your credit cards, do make sure that your credit limit can handle the extra charges. Be diligent about paying down your balances now, so that you don’t max everything out when you add purchases for the holidays. Time your purchases out by making a few of them at a time and starting now. You’ll take advantage of any seasonal deals and you won’t have to spend long days having a marathon mall shopping session. By spacing everything out week by week, you’ll spread your spending out instead of being hit all at once. That means when it comes time to pay down your balances, you won’t be breaking your monthly budget and you won’t miss any payments. Do your research on finding the right credit card for your holiday spending too. By strategically using a credit card that offers travel points, or cash back, you could set yourself up for better bonuses if you know you’ll have to be using credit cards a little bit here and there this season.

Thoughtful gift giving doesn’t have to cost a lot. You can make time for people, you have have an experience together, you can make them a special gift…you don’t always have to spend money on someone to let them know that they are cared for and loved this holiday season. Discuss some alternative gift giving with your family and loved ones. They might be on the exact same page as you this year if your top priority is saving some money this year.

Don’t forget about the little extras. They add up fast! Things like wrapping paper, bows, a Christmas tree, grocery lists for extra batches of baked goods, holiday party host gifts, holiday party contributions, charity donations — the list goes on! These things may not be on your radar as boldly as the list of gifts and travel you have to do this year, but they’re important to think about if they’re things you’ll need to add to your spending this season.

Make and book your travel plans as early as you can. If you wait until the last minute to book flights or plan your travel, you could be paying way more than you would if you plan ahead. If you can, plan your travel outside of the busiest travel times during the holidays. If you’re willing to be flexible on your travel times and plans, it could save you lots and lots of money.

Keep track of all your receipts and all the spending you’ve done for the holidays. If you plan things out really well, you could educate yourself on how to make next year even more frugal. You can save and track what you’ve spent this year, and calculate how to make it better next year. Where did you overspend? What did you forget to calculate? How much travel did you really do? Try to track everything you’re spending on this season, and learn a little more about your holiday shopping patterns.

Try starting your 2017 holiday prep the week after this year’s holiday. That sounds too early right? But maybe you could snag the deeply discounted items that follow a holiday that just passed. Imagine you got all of your wrapping paper and your decorations and even some of the gifts you need for next year right away. You’d be pretty proud of yourself! Future you would thank you!


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