How to Keep A Budget, Even While On Vacation

Everyone deserves a vacation from time to time, so it’s only fair that you treat yourself to one this summer. But while indulging, keep in mind that not balancing your budget while you’re away can really put a damper on your trip. After all, what’s the point in spending a lot of hard-earned cash to decompress if your debt will only stress you out later? Here’s how you can stay within your budget while on your vacation and keep your Zen mind state long after you return.

Calculate daily spending limits
Before you can stick to a budget, you’ve got to sit down and work one out. It helps if you plan out your trip beforehand, so you know which days might demand a bit more cash and which days allow you to be more frugal. For example, one day you may want to visit an amusement park. On that day, you know that you’ll need to spend more money than the day after, which you’ll likely spend resting—perhaps lounging lazily by a pool.

Figure out your likely expenses for each day by looking up typical prices for costs like admission and food, and also set aside a reasonable amount for unexpected expenses. Keep in mind that if you’re traveling abroad, you may find that not every establishment will accept your credit card or you may be charged foreign transaction fees when you go to take out cash. It’s better to have the extra cash when you’re caught off guard instead of feeling helpless or paying fees.

To calculate your daily limit, add your likely expenses plus unexpected expenses allowance. If your total daily limit amounts exceed your total budget, you can use the following strategies to reduce costs.

Figure out the exchange rate
Before you travel, find our what the exchange rate for your dollar is, so you can ensure you’re not getting shortchanged for goods and services abroad. Not only will committing the foreign exchange rate to memory keep you from getting ripped off, it’ll keep you from accidentally exceeding your daily limits. For example, spending Euros like dollars can quickly throw you off track budget-wise. Currency conversion apps for your smartphone, like the XE Currency App (available for iPhone and Android), can help you do the math in a pinch.

Mix restaurants with fresh, local food
Many travel destinations offer cuisines that are unique to that particular region. Of course, that makes going out to eat at restaurants just as much a part of the vacation as checking out the tourist attractions. An effective way to check out the local culture and food on a budget is by visiting the local farmer’s market. While there, you can purchase an assortment of fruits or fresh vegetables to prepare instead of dining out. No stovetop or microwave? Beat the summer heat by making fruit or veggie salads. To cut back further on food costs, be sure to take advantage of free breakfasts in your hotel, if it’s offered, or ask around for restaurants with discounts for kids.

Take public transportation
According to a survey conducted by the American Public Transportation Association, 58% of travelers visiting U.S. cities plan on using public transportation. Almost a quarter of all respondents cited saving money on rentals or cabs as their main motivation. While alternatives to taxis, like Sidecar and Lyft, are more affordable, they’re not available in all cities. Consider downloading smartphone apps that’ll help you navigate the city’s public transportation system. Also look into daily or weekly passes that can save you money and time, so you’re not fumbling for exact change.

Cait Klein, NerdWallet

 

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A Long, Cold Winter? Simple Energy Projects Can Save You a Bundle

With heating prices up, it’s time to consider saving energy with programmable thermostats, insulation, weatherstripping and upgrading windows and doors.

Programmable thermostat
Electronic thermostats that lower the temperature while you are in bed or away from home are the fastest, easiest way to save energy. In a cold climate, you can save about 5% for a 5° setback that lasts for eight hours. Most of these thermostats sell for less than $100, and they’re ultra-easy to install.

Insulation
Floor of unheated attic: Check recommended insulation levels, and lay new insulation at right angles to the old.

Basement or crawl space: Fasten foam or fiberglass panels to the walls and cover with drywall. Either glue panels to the wall or fasten them to furring strips.

Heating ducts: Insulate in unheated attic or basement by wrapping with fiberglass insulation.

Weatherstrip
Weatherstripping is a flexible sealer for the moving parts of windows and doors. Many new windows and doors require a specific type of weatherstrip, which you may locate in hardware stores or on the Web. The generic “V-strip” adapts to many doors and windows and can even be applied in cold weather. The weatherstrip at the threshold often needs replacement. If the door bottom is still leaky, add a door sweep to seal against the floor or threshold.

Caulking
Caulking seals exterior cracks around windows, doors, pipes, and vents. Scrape away old caulking and dirt, then squirt caulking into the crack.

Replace windows
Jamb kits are an easy way to update double-hung windows, with a product that can be installed and cleaned from the inside. You can install a jamb kit in less than an hour without touching the storm window, jambs, or casing molding. Order a kit to match the size of your window. Nail the vertical tracks inside the side jambs and insert the replacement sash.

Replace storm door
Battered storm doors are easy to replace on a standard-size door opening. A wooden door has better durability and will insulate better. Strip off the old door and follow directions while screwing the new one to the jambs, using a drill and other basic tools.

Scholarships Aren’t Just for Athletes and 4.0 GPAs

Scholarships can seems like they’re available only to valedictorians and jocks, but in reality, thousands of scholarship are given away every year that are open to everyone.

Colleges offer scholarships for the arts, academics, sports, and financial need. As long as you’re willing to put in a little time and effort, there are likely numerous scholarships you have a shot at winning.

The most common scholarships are merit-based. Students who excel in high school because of their grade point averages (GPA) or SAT/ACT scores receive these kinds of scholarships. Although harder to receive, you might qualify for a merit-based scholarship for the arts and athletics, as well as for academics.

You can also receive grants and scholarship based on financial need. For these, you will have to fill out a free application for federal student aid (FAFSA). There are also scholarships available for students studying for a specific career, local scholarships from businesses and charitable organizations, and student-specific scholarships based on race and other factors.

When applying for scholarships, don’t discount smaller ones. Though the awards may be lower, those small sums add up, and smaller scholarship can be easier to win. As you apply for scholarship, spend time on writing a well-composed essay. Here are some tips:

• Make sure you are directly answering the prompt given for the essay. Stay away from tangents and come up with a thesis to help you stay on track.
• Add personality to the essay by sharing a powerful personal experience or even a bit of humor. This is what will make your essay stand out from others.
• Build yourself up by talking about the organizations you are involved in without just listing your accomplishments. By simply listing each involvement, you may sound repetitive or dull.
• Have others read the essay so that you are getting input from other viewers’ eyes.

Also, keep a list of mentors, bosses, and teachers who would be willing to write you a recommendation letter, as those can be one of the most influential parts of a scholarship application.

Stay organized to keep on top of the different scholarships you are applying for. It may be useful to create a list of all the scholarships you are interested in so that you fulfill all the requirements on time. On your list, you can include materials like transcripts, letters of recommendation, and the application itself.

Hopewell Federal Credit Union and the Ohio Credit Union Foundation both offer scholarships to graduating students each year.  Take a moment and visit our website at www.hopewellfcu.org and click on the scholarship links at the bottom of the page for details.

Debt Consolidation Loans: Pros and Cons

If you’re mired in debt, you may perk up when you hear about a loan that promises to:
* Save you money by lumping your debts into one loan with a lower interest rate.
* Spare you payment hassles by providing the convenience of making one loan payment each month, instead of multiple monthly payments to numerous creditors.

Maybe you’d be eager to jump at such an offer. But first, ask yourself crucial questions.

What will really change?
You might consolidate your debts into one loan in various ways, if you qualify. You could take out a home equity loan for the total amount you owe in credit cards and other consumer debt. You could put several credit card balances onto only one lower-rate card. Or you could obtain a signature loan, unsecured by collateral, to cover the total debt amount.

But a debt consolidation loan often becomes a Band-Aid, experts say, because people don’t change the behavior that caused their debt problems. Studies show that 80% of borrowers who consolidate their debts end up repeating their mistakes and end up in deeper debt.

Can you afford the loan?
Let’s say you’re determined to mend your ways, and a debt consolidation loan is one option. You’ll replace lots of payments with one bigger payment. But be sure it fits into your budget.

Consider, too, the total you’ll pay over the life of the loan. If you consolidate credit card debts into a 15-year home equity loan or unsecured loan, you’ll be stretching a five-year debt to 15 years. You could end up paying as much or more in total interest and principal. The total payment is key, not just the monthly payment.

Can you trust the lender?
A reputable lender will determine if you can afford to pay it back before giving you a loan. But some lenders give loans to anybody just to make a buck. Work with the professionals at Hopewell Federal Credit Union—a lender you know has your best interests at heart.

Refinance Your Mortgage to Save Big Bucks

Refinance your fixed-rate home loan to a shorter term and see big benefits. Say you have 26 years left on a 30 year fixed-rate mortgage at 6.5% and you refinance to a 15 year fixed-rate loan at 4%. Your monthly payment will drop only about $40—but over the loan term, you’ll be ahead more than $175,000. Or you might choose another option that reduces your monthly payment more, freeing up cash for daily needs. Talk to a loan specialist at Hopewell Federal Credit Union today to review your alternatives.

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5 Steps to Creating a Realistic Budget

ImageBudgets: we all agree that they’re good to have. However, despite our best intentions, they never seem to match up with our real-world spending behaviors. If that sounds like you, keep reading. The key to creating a realistic budget is to work with your habits, not against them. Follow these five steps to understand yourself and your money, so you can create a budgeting plan that really works.

1. Get to know your cash flow

Before you create a budget, you need to know how much money you have coming in each month. You probably have a general idea, but have you taken everything into account? Do you receive a regular paycheck? Are you getting any benefits from the government, or money from your parents? Do you have a deposit account that pays dividends, like a savings account or CD account? Every little bit helps. Don’t include money you might have in the future, like a scholarship you applied for or a promotion you expect to receive. Budget as if these things won’t happen, and if they do, you’ll have a wonderful dilemma: extra money!

2. Determine your priorities

It doesn’t matter how much money you have; when you’re budgeting, life necessities come first. Focus on setting aside money for things like food, housing, transportation and paying down debt before you worry about anything else. Determining your basic cost of living is 100% non-negotiable.

3. Know thyself

What we really mean is “know your spending habits”. You can’t create new habits unless you’re aware of the ones you already have. Pull out all your account statements and start looking for patterns. Are you buying coffee every morning, for example? Are you shopping online more than once a month? Add everything up. If the total amount of money you’re spending is more than the amount of money you have coming in, it’s definitely time to cut back. That being said, it’s also a good idea to leave some wiggle room in your budget for unforeseen purchases. You can’t possibly account for everything. If you leave room in your budget for surprise expenses like car repairs, you can roll with the punches and come out with your budget unscathed.

4. Make it social

Spending is social. When you’re shopping, you’re often buying things for people, or with people. Why, then, wouldn’t you make your budget social, too? Don’t leave it in a dusty notebook on your desk. Talk about it, and ask your friends and family for tips. Or, better yet, ask your spouse or a trusted friend to be your “accountability buddy”. Make a pact to remind each other of your budgeting priorities while you’re shopping together. It’s easy to make an impulse buy when you’re alone, but it’s harder when someone you trust is there to say, “Do you really need that?”

When someone else is helping you make financial decisions, it may be tempting to just accept their advice without thinking about it, especially if they know way more about money that you do. When you’re applying for a loan or a credit card, your credit union representative can make recommendations, but you always have the final say. If you don’t feel comfortable with a particular arrangement, or don’t think it will fit with your budget, say something! Your lender will approve your loan based on your debts and income, not your living expenses. Only you know your living expenses, and these can be a much better indicator of how much you can realistically afford to borrow.

Laura Edgar is a senior writer for NerdWallet.com, a personal finance website dedicated to helping you make smart money decisions.