College Grads, Get Ready for Real World Finances

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The party’s over, you’ve graduated and it’s time to get ready for your financial future. Don’t wait. Start growing your financial future now. You’ll be glad you did. Here are some steps every graduate should take the first year out of college.

Establish credit.
A great credit score doesn’t just happen. You have to build it. Get in the habit of paying your bills on time every time and spending below your credit limit. When the time comes to finance a car or a house, your credit score can help you get a lower interest rate and save money.

Live with a little less luxury.
Your parents worked hard to finance their home, buy their cars and pay for some of life’s luxuries. You’re not there yet. Spend a little less on going out to dinner, fancy coffee, and expensive movies. Cut the cable cord and find other ways to save some cash. Luxury can come later.

Create a budget.
And stick to it. Determine how far your paycheck can go and find ways to put a little aside for emergencies. The more you earn, the more you can add to your savings. Every time you get a raise or earn a little extra cash, add some to your emergency fund.

Take advantage of employee benefits.
If your company has a retirement plan, take advantage of the tax-free savings option. At the very minimum put in the amount your employer will match. The employee match is part of your benefits and it’s a big one. If you can, contribute 10 percent each pay period. This money adds up quickly. And if your insurance program has a health savings account, add to that, too. This money builds up as savings but also is there for you if you have unforeseen medical expenses.

Set up a ROTH IRA or another savings plan.
If your company does not have a retirement plan, check into a ROTH IRA. You can contribute up to $5,500 a year, and it can serve as a great savings account, as well. Talk to a financial planner about your options.

Pay your student loans on time.
Student loans will come due six months after you graduate. Check out payment programs to see if there are any that can help you pay your loans off efficiently and effectively. Like other bills, do not miss a student loan payment.

Find a side gig.
Need more money, want to pay off bills faster, or want to save more faster? A job waiting on tables, bartending, working at a carwash on weekends, or walking dogs can help. Don’t let your new 9-5 job limit your financial aspirations.

Get a roommate or two.
Life’s expensive. Share living expenses with a roommate or two. Even if you can afford to pay the rent on your own, having a person to share costs with will help you to save for your future. Take the money you are saving in rent and put all or some of it into your savings account.

These are just a few ways to put yourself on the path to financial success after college. Have a goal in mind for what your future looks like. Do you want a house? A new car? To pay off your debts faster? To build your savings? Keep this in mind and you’ll be well on your way to reaching your success. Journey on, graduate!

Saving for a Down Payment: Save More and Save Faster!

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Whether you’re planning to buy a house in a few months or not for a few years, you’re probably thinking about how you’ll save for a down payment or you’re already saving. No matter where you are in the process – or even if you’re already a homeowner and just want to save more – some reminders on how to save money are always appreciated. The biggest thing to remember is that saving takes time and discipline – and it means re-thinking your budget and maybe even earning additional money.

Remember: You may not need to put 20 percent down for your home. In fact, you may only need to put down 5 percent or 3.5 percent. Saving that amount will be a breeze! Your mortgage loan officer can share information with you about loan options and down payment assistance programs.

Get started saving today:

Transfer a fixed amount of money to savings automatically. Set up a savings account that has money automatically transferred into it each month, every two weeks or every week. Every time you get a paycheck, some of that money should be automatically deposited into this account – no questions asked. Your bank can set this up for you, but you have to be disciplined enough to not withdraw from the account!

Bank any extra unexpected income. Get a tax refund? Put it into the savings account. Get a gift of cash? Put it in the savings account. Bonus or large commission? Savings. If this adds up to hundreds or even thousands of extra dollars a year, good for you!

Lower your expenses. Get an antenna and get rid of cable. Stop buying fancy coffees and reduce your trips to restaurants. Lower your data plan on your phone. If you pay your own gas or electric bills, lower your heat in the winter and raise the temperature on your air conditioner in the summer by three degrees in each direction. Wherever you can make a small change, make a small change.

Monitor your online spending. With online shopping at your fingertips and online sellers that generously store your credit card for you, it’s easy to click and spend without even thinking about how much you’re spending or if you really need what you’re buying. Track this spending with an app or keep an old-fashioned spending ledger.

Shop your insurance. If it’s been a while since you checked rates for your car insurance, renter’s insurance, health insurance, look into those costs. You may be able to save hundreds or even thousands of dollars by making a few small changes.

Save your change! Save your pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters. Never spend your change. Get glass jar and start saving. When the jar is full, put the money in your savings account. This will add up fast!

Skip vacations for a year or two. Check out what’s happening in your community, your state and your neighboring states. If you can’t stand the idea of not going away for a year, plan a camping trip and borrow your friends’ equipment. Take the money you would have spent on vacation and add it to your savings account.

Sell things. You’re probably going to purge before you buy your home anyway, so why not sell some things now. That bike you never ride? The extra set of pots and pans you never use? What do you have that has value to someone else? Sell it on Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, Ebay… wherever there is a buyer for what you want to sell. Put anything you make into your savings account.

Lose the high interest credit card debts. If you’re not paying off your credit cards each month, you’re probably paying a lot in interest. Pay off your credit cards and either stop using them all together or use them minimally. Paying credit card interest will seriously cut into your savings. If you simply cannot pay them off, transfer your balances to a card with the lowest possible interest rate.

Get a second job. Earnings money working a second job can help you save money a lot faster. Even if you’re bartending or waiting tables 10 hours a week, driving for a car service, pet sitting or working in retail, if you take every dime of what you make working a second job and put it into savings, you’ll see your money add up quickly.

Refinance your student loans. Do some research and see if you can get a better interest rate on your student loans. You just might be surprised at what you can save. Whatever money you do save with the lower payment goes into your savings account.

Celebrate your savings successes. Create a savings graph and put it somewhere that you see it. Add to it regularly – at the end of every week. The more you see your savings grow, the faster you’ll get to your down payment. And we think you’ll want to continue making saving something you do regularly.

Do you have savings tips you want to share? Add them to the comments below!

Keep Your Cool All Summer Without Running the Air Conditioner

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It’s hard to keep your cool when the electric bill comes in the summer. Running the air conditioner every day can really take a bite out of your extra cash. Here are some tips to help keep your home cool and save money.

Close your blinds.  A lot of heat comes through windows when the sun beats down on them. You can lower the temperature in your home by keeping the blinds closed, especially for south- and west-facing windows.

Let the night be your air conditioner. Open your windows at night – but only if it’s safe to do so. That is, if your bedroom windows are on the second or third floor, you may choose to let fresh, cool air in at night. You can even create a cross breeze with fans. In the morning, before the sun is hot, close your windows and seal in the cool. Cool the whole house by opening some more windows while the cool air is flowing in the morning. Never leave windows open when you are not home and never leave windows that will attract burglars to easy access open when you are sleeping.

Grill out. Rather than using your oven or stove, cook outdoors or eat light. The last thing you want to do is turn your home into an oven of its own by cranking the appliance up to 400 degrees.

Change your ceiling fans to rotate counter clockwise. Did you prep your house for winter and turn the fans on to clockwise? It’s time to turn the fans back again. By setting them counter clockwise and running them at a higher speed, you’ll create breeze that feels cooler. Save more money by turning your fans off when you leave the room. Fans don’t cool the room; they cool the people in the room. A fan that runs when no one is around provides no value.

Close some doors. If you have rooms you don’t use, closing the doors keeps the cool air from being wasted in those rooms. BUT remember to open those doors when you’re letting the evening air cool the house.

Get new light bulbs. Incandescent bulbs burn more heat than the newer energy efficient bulbs. All you have to do is walk near a lamp when the light bulb is on to feel the heat.

Run the dishwasher and do laundry at night or early in the morning. These appliances generate heat. Keep the house cooler by running them during cooler hours.

Grow some trees. If you’re in your home to stay, plant some shade producing trees near the house. It’ll be a while to get the best benefits, but soon, you’ll have some nice, natural shade.

And if you’re going to run your air conditioning, get it checked out by a professional. You want to make sure it’s running efficiently and safely.

Remember: when you’re a homeowner,  it’s important to keep your cool without breaking the bank.