Tip Your Helpers for the Holiday

The giving season is upon us. For many people that means deciding whom to tip and how much. Plan to include both the service people you tip regularly throughout the year, such as your barber or hairstylist, as well as those you don’t, such as a cleaning person.

How much you tip will depend on how long the person has been doing work for you, how close you are, and the typical amount for someone in that position.

Although we list some suggested amounts, remember that these are just that–suggestions. Give only what you can afford.

During the holidays
* Babysitter: Two to four nights’ pay, more if you use the sitter several times a week
* Barber or hairstylist: Price of one haircut or more if you’re a long-time customer
* Delivery person: $10 to $15 if it’s someone you see repeatedly
* Manicurist: $5 to $15
* U.S. mail carrier: Postal regulations prohibit mail carriers from accepting cash or cash equivalents (gift certificates), although unsolicited gifts of up to $20 in value, such as candy or gloves, are allowed.

Year round
* Babysitter: $3 to $6 for extra service, such as on a night when you return home much later than planned
* Barber or hairstylist: 10-20% of bill
* Pizza delivery person: 10-15% of bill; slightly more in foul weather
* Manicurist: 10-20% of the cost of the service
* Dog groomer: 10-15% of bill
* Hotel bellhop/desk clerk: $5 to $20 for a room upgrade; $1-2 per bag delivered to your hotel room
* Tour guide: 15-20% depending on quality (knowledge, friendliness, etc.)

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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.

Five Things To Do in January

It’s no surprise that January is a big month for making resolutions. And if you’ve been making resolutions for a while, you know how many of them fall by the wayside before February.

These suggested resolutions are different in two ways—they’re in the ‘set and forget’ category, and they can make your life so much easier that you’re likely to keep them:

* Set up direct deposit. Once you arrange to receive regular payments like your paycheck or Social Security and pension checks with direct deposit, you’ll never have to worry about making timely deposits again. You’ll know that your deposit is in your account exactly when you expect it to be.

* Set up automated transfers to savings to pay yourself first. The next smart step, after direct deposit, is to get funds into savings right away so they can begin earning dividends from the get-go.

* Automate your mortgage payment. Even with the typical grace period that most mortgage lenders allow, it’s always a good move to take care of that big monthly payment. Again, you’ll never have to worry about making the payment on time.

* Automate minimum credit card payment or payments. The penalty for a late credit card payment is not pretty. Set up an automated payment to cover at least the minimum due on all your credit cards; you always can pay additional amounts so you retire those debts as soon as you can. Set payments a few days before the due dates to protect your credit score.

* Arrange to have any overdrafts automatically covered from your savings account. Even if an overdraft is rare in your household, it can happen to the best money managers. Make sure you can cover any inadvertent overdraft with a direct transfer from your savings account and there’s another worry you’ll never have again.

If you’ve already managed these resolutions, think of one or two more that could help you get on and stay on the straight and narrow financially. See http://www.hopewellfcu.org or call 740.522.8311 for more ideas.

Shield Yourself From Swindles

Fraudsters take advantage of innocent consumers daily through checks, ATM, and Internet scams, and they’re using the latest technology to pull off their scams. Know the latest trends to protect yourself.

Phishing scams
Phishers send fraudulent e-mails containing authentic looking logos and graphics and ask for financial information. Some scams are activated when you simply open an e-mail, no clicking required. Once infected, the scammers change the IP address in your PC’s hosts file to their choosing, associates the IP address with financial institution websites, and forces your browser to go to fake websites.

Tip: Change online banking and shopping account passwords every three to six months. To avoid being led to fraudulent websites, retype Web addresses in your browser rather than click through e-mail links.

Check scams
Fraudsters increasingly use e-mail to contact victims, and the most common check scam is the “Nigerian Advance Fee Fraud.” You’re told you’ll be sent a check for an extra sum and you’re asked to wire back the excess money. Scammers purport to be from other countries and claim you can collect on a sweepstakes or pay you to work at home. The realistic-looking checks are forgeries, but victims are responsible for money withdrawn against bad checks.

Tip: Don’t send refunds or deliver goods in the time it takes cashiers’ checks to clear.

ATM scams
Skimming is one of the newest ATM scams. Using a skimmer–a card-swipe device that reads your ATM card–the fraudster uses a blank card to encode information from your ATM card and create a counterfeit. Your PIN is confiscated through a small camera mounted on the ATM. You won’t know you’ve been scammed because your ATM card hasn’t been stolen and still works at other machines.

Tip: Be on the lookout for anything out of the ordinary at the ATM, such as odd-looking equipment or wires. Monitor accounts regularly for unusual activity.

If you’ve been scammed, contact the financial institution Hopewell Federal Credit Union and the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov.

Copyright 2011 Credit Union National Association Inc. Information subject to change without notice. For use with members of a single credit union. All other rights reserved.