12/31/2010

New Year Financial Resolution

The New Year gives us all pause to consider where we have been and where we are going.  2010 has been a hard year for many economically.  In Virginia many jobs have been lost and many more families struggle with reduced salaries. Others have stable income, but their finances have spiralled out of control.  At Virginia Saves we encourage you to put the past behind you and take control of your financial future.  You can find lots of help on our website http://www.virginiasaves.org/.

As you resolve to make 2011 a better year for yourself, look for updates to our website and blog to help you get started.  Here are some actions you can take today to get started on your new course toward financial freedom:

1.  Get organized: put important papers in their proper place so that you can locate them when you need them.  You will soon be receiving tax statements, so you will want to have a file for those.  Monthly bills should have a place to reside as they arrive in the mail (or email).  As they are paid, they can be filed away for future reference if needed.  Look for a future blog post on organizing paper.

2.  Financial Checkup:  Now is a great time to do a financial assessment.  You can get one for free by contacting Virginiasaves@gmail.com.  A financial assessment will help you to document your income and expenses as well as establish a net worth statement so you can have a clear picture of what resources you have available.  Many people don't know.  Now is the time to change that for yourself.

3.  Make a plan:  Virginia Saves operates in partnership with the Financial Planning Association.  FPA  has pro bono financial planners who can help you get started on a financial plan for yourself.  Also, FPA has a free online financial planning tool at http://www.boulevardr.com/.  There is no better time to establish your financial goals than the new year.  FPA can help you create a plan that will allow you to achieve those dreams.

4.  Measure Success:  It isn't enough to make a plan, you need to take those positive actions that lead to success and measure your progress along the way.  Get the tools you need to evaluate your progress using the planning tools available at http://www.fpaforfinancialplanning.org/.  There is a free budgeting and planning tool that can help you measure success at http://www.mint.com/.  Can't beat free to start the New Year off right!

5.  Begin Saving:  Your future financial success will depend on having a savings reserve to cover the unexpected expenses of the year and to provide for those additional costs through the year like vacations, new purchases etc.  You can become a saver today at http://www.virginiasaves.org/.  There is no cost and no catch, just great resources to help you begin saving.  By the way, resolve to make that saving automatic this year so that it doesn't become the last priority but the first!

There you go!  As you start to implement your financial plans for 2011, make sure to take advantage of all the free resources available at http://www.virginiasaves.org/.  We are here to help you acheive your dreams.  Tell us about them by writing to us!

12/08/2010

Saftey Tips to Remember Through the Holidays

We all know the the holidays are a fun and festive time. However, it is important to keep your family happy, healthy, and safe. The best way to avoid having to use an emergency fund and save money is to prevent accidents from happening. Here are brief safety tips to keep you all safe around the home, while shopping, and traveling this season.


Home:


General Decorating:
  • Be sure to inspect all tools and materials before starting with the installation process.
  • If using a ladder, check the condition of rails, rungs, and brackets before positioning or climbing it. Be sure to have a spotter to steady the ladder and to pass materials and tools.
  • Holiday decorations should not block exits.
  • When setting up a tree, keep it away from fireplaces and space heaters. Be sure not to block any exits and keep the tree out of the way of traffic.
  • Unattended cooking is the leading cause of home fires in the US. Be sure to keep an eye on the holiday cooking while attending to your guests.  
Lighting:
  • Take the time to unroll/untangle and inspect each set of lights new or old for  bare/frayed wires, broken or cracked sockets and loose connections. If you find them, don't try to repair them. Throw them away or return them to the store. They are an electrical and fire hazard.
  • Be careful not to overload electrical sockets
  • Turn off or unplug your indoor holiday lighting whenever the decorated area of the house is unattended -- not just when going to bed or leaving the house.
  • Never use electric lights on metallic trees. The tree can become charged with electricity from faulty lights, and the person touching it could be electrocuted.
Children's Safety:
  • Keep young children out of areas where decorations are being installed.
  • Avoid ornaments that resemble candy or food that may tempt a small child to eat them.
  • Make sure to read the labels for age appropriate toys. Look for toys that have parts which cannot be removed easily
  • Beware of balloons! Small children can choke or suffocate from the balloons being inhaled.
  • Watch children and pets around space heaters or the fireplace. Do not leave a child or pet unattended.
Shopping:


General Shopping:
  • Shop during daylight hours whenever possible. If you must shop at night, go with a friend or family member. Stay in well populated areas. If you have a cell phone make sure that it is charged and carry with you in case of emergency.
  • Dress casually and comfortably and avoid wearing expensive jewelry. Not only will you feel more comfortable shopping, but you will be less of a tempting target for thieves. Leave the bulky purse at home.
  • Always be aware of your surroundings.  Flustered, angry, tired, or people who are rushing don't have an eye on what's going on around them. Your packages or the next big thing on your list may be important, but pay attention! Avoid overloading yourself with packages so that you have free range of motion and visibility.
Shopping Online:  


  • Shop at secure sites-




  • Research the websites before you order




  • Read the websites privacy and security polices




  • Be aware of cookies and behavioral marketing




  • NEVER give out your social security number




  • Disclose only the bare facts when you order




  • Check the website address




  • ALWAYS print copies of your orders




  • Learn the merchants cancellation, complaint, and return polices




  • Use shopper's intuition




  • Be wary of identity theft




  • Travel:


    General Travel:


    • Make sure to plan ahead before you travel anywhere. A good thing to have in your car is an emergency kit. A few are pre-made and on the market, but you can easily make your own. Include: 
    1.  Fire extinguisher
    2.  First aid kit,
    3. Jack and lug wrench
    4. Jumper cables
    5. Disposable flash camera
    6. $10-15 dollars in small bills and change
    7. Gloves
    8. Pen and paper
    9. Food and water
    10. Rain poncho and blankets
    • Matain at least half a tank of fuel when traveling. It may seem like a lot, however if you can't stop for gas it's a lifesaver.
    • Develop the habit of scanning while driving and being aware of potential problems.
    • If involved in a property-damage collision in an unfamiliar or potentially unsafe location, do not open or exit your vehicle. If you have a cellphone, call the police. If not, acknowledge the accident by hand signal, and motion the other driver to proceed with you to a safe location (where there are other people and light) to exchange information.

    12/06/2010

    11 Tips for Saving on Travel

    It is important to visit friends and family during the winter season. However traveling can get very expensive, especially around the peak time of the holidays. Add the expense of getting there with the temptation of visiting all of the attractions with your family and friends and suddenly the cost doesn't make traveling so appealing. Even so, traveling can be done on a budget if you know where to go, and how to save. Here are eleven tips to help you save a little cash as you travel.

    1. Manage your money and understand how your debit and credit cards work from area to area ahead of time. Some ATMs charge a fee in order for you to withdraw your money. Other places may charge you a fee for using your card inside of their store rather than paying with cash. Review your account policies before making the trip.

    2. Driving isn't bad. You might have to do some calculations but weigh out the pros and cons when it comes t how you travel. A bus trip to the NY round trip may cost $60 instead of a plane ticket for $250. Plan in advance when purchasing airline tickets. You might find that it is a pain to book a connecting flight, but connecting flights are often cheaper.

    3. Travel light. Most airlines charge for those extra bags. That doesn't mean to be using an oversized one. Remember, you will have to haul it around once you get to where you are going. Try to keep most of your items in one or two. Save money by pre-paying your baggage costs online.  According to AOL Travel, checking your bags in advance online can save between $3.00 - $5.00 per bag.  Check to see if your airline offers this service.

    4. Try cooking for yourself. Not many people do this, but it's very cost effective to think about cooking some of your own meals. Most rooms come with a microwave and a small refrigerator. Even if it is just making a few sandwiches for lunch, you're making those lunches for about $3 a person instead of $10. Lunches often cost less than dinners do.

    5. Plan your meals when going out. Figure out where you are going to go and eat before you and your family feel like you are starving. Most restaurants offer their menus and pricing online. When your not starving, you can make better choices about the prices, find local favorites, and also not have to deal with the pressure of the bill.

    6. When renting a car think about what size, model, and where you are going to be located. It pays to be specific. One way car rentals (when the pickup and drop off locations are different) are sometimes more than twice the price of standard rentals, especially if the two locations are in different states (or country). Also look for coupon codes, many which can be found online.

    7. Ask questions. Sometimes smaller hotel chains are willing to give you free upgrades if you switch to them. Hotels compete with each other, but you have to ask for what deals they are willing to provide. If you already have a reservation booked elsewhere, see if they will be willing to give you a free night for switching.

    8. Carry a guidebook. These are worth their weight in gold. Travel guides can cost about $20-$30 dollars, however, they will end up saving you cash by offering tips on places to eat, attractions, local customs, and cheap places to eat and sleep. They often have metro routes, bus routes, and detailed maps located inside of them as well.

    9. Tourist spots might not be that hot. Sometimes visiting the local areas may bring more spice to the trip than visiting the tourist traps. Sampling small local restaurants, walking or using public transport (like the metro), and traveling around home can save you a ton of money.

    10. Be flexible with travel days. Many prices are based on supply and demand. Look around the dates of your travel plans and see if spending an extra day is worth it. This makes a difference especially around major holidays.

    11. Don't give up looking for deals. Reservations can often be canceled with a full refund. If you find a last minute deal that fits into your plans, take advantage of it. Also, age, membership, and student discounts are offered nearly everywhere. If you're traveling remember totake your ID cards along. Also team up with a few friends to get group discounts

    12/01/2010

    Information on Savings, Bonds, and CDs


    A savings account is a banking account used to hold money. When you have your money in a savings account, that money earns interest. Your bank savings account pays a rate of return on all the money in the account (your APY). That means that you get "paid" for keeping your money in the account. Savings accounts also offer a safe place to keep money. Your bank is responsible for safeguarding that money. Sometimes, but not always, banks charge fees for having a savings account. The fee may be or it may be higher, or it could even be based on your balance. For this reason, you should always shop around and compare what different banks are offering.
    When you open your account you’ll get a small booklet called a register for tracking your savings.
    Remember:
    • Don’t forget to write down withdrawals and deposits.
    • Each month, your bank will send you a statement via mail, or e-mail. Make sure to go through these on your statement and make sure that the transactions match up. If not, review your register.
    Bonds are essentially loans. When you buy a bond you lend money to a company and the company in return pays a certain amount of interest on your bond called the coupon. When the bond reaches maturity the company pays the original amount on the loan. Bonds often have a fixed interest rate, but there are also floating-rate bonds which interest changes with the market.
    Bonds fall mostly into three categories:
    • Government
    • Municipal (issued by states, cities, counties, and districts)
    • Corporate
    CDs (Certificates of Deposit) are a great step after some savings have been established and offer higher interest rates than savings accounts. However, there is a drawback—you can look but can’t touch these savings, at least not without an early withdrawal fee. These savings are long term, some lasting three months, and others for a period of years.
    This is a good step if you are saving for retirement or any other long term goal. Also like savings accounts, CDs earn compound interest. Remember to shop around when considering depositing your money into a CD. If that seems too long to wait, or you want more access, money marketing accounts are also offered by some banks and credit unions. They work like regular savings accounts and have higher interest rates. However, the minimum balance also is higher, and this account only allows a few withdrawals per month.
     A bond differs from a stock because it is a loan. Instead stocks represent partial ownership in a company and the profits that a company has made. 

    The“Balancing” Act: Keeping Track of Your Spending


    Balancing your checkbook is one of the most basic skills for good money management. And yet millions of people don’t do it. Balancing your checkbook is a good way to cover the W's when figuring out your expenses: The Who, what, when, where, and how.
    Balancing your checkbook is important for:
    • verifying that your records match the numbers on your bank statement
    •  correcting mistakes before the end of the 60 day correction period
    •  avoiding bouncing checks.
    Remember that balancing your checkbook also applies to ATM transactions. Make sure that you are also tracking when you are taking out cash or using your debit card on purchases. Also, pending items for cash or debit may not always show up on a banking statement and may still need to be processed. Remember to track them! The fees for a bounced check or overdraft can be $25 dollars or more.
    Here's how to ballance your checkbook:
    Track your progress. By enrolling as a Virginia Saver, you can utilize the Virginia Saves Savings Tracker for free to record deposits and monitor your progress.

    For more free budgeting tracking softwear, click here for a Minty way to get started. Mint has worksheets, tips, and tricks and signing up is free.
    • Keep a check register and write down all transactions not just checks. Make sure to include deposits, ATM withdrawals, and debit card purchases.
    • Remember that there may be checks or electronic debits that may not have cleared with the bank, so recording every purchase is important.
    • Make sure to check your balance often. Read your statement carefully to determine any transactions that you might have missed such as ATM charges.
    •  Record everything, as well as bills paid online. If your service gives you a confirmation code, write that down next to the payee information. Remember to regularly recalculate your balance in your account and correct your mistakes.
    • Record where you have spent your money. If you spend it at the grocery store-- write it down, if you spend it at the mall-- write it down.
    • Check your math and look for missing transactions, and bring errors to the attention of your bank. Be wary of misplaced decimals while calulating
    • Last, remember to finish balancing.