Woman with money on desk

Your Stimulus Check and How to Use It

Suggestions on How to Spend the Extra Money

Everything will be fine!

The government will be sending financial relief checks to millions of Americans. If you’re expecting to receive this relief, we want to help you with some ideas on how to manage that money.

Establish a plan and take care of your immediate needs

Before you spend any of the money, you need to make a plan and budget. Make sure you have food, rent, bills and any other necessities. These should be your biggest priority and are what many will be using the money for. Once your basic necessities are taken care of, you can allocate money to other things.

Pay off debt

This is a perfect time to pay off high interest credit cards or loans that are racking up your extra funds each month. The average American has $8,000 of credit card debt with an APR around 22%. Once you pay this off, or pay a portion of it, you will have more money for necessities when you’re not paying that high interest fee. If your debt is paid off and you have the ability to save this or put it into an interest-earning checking, savings, or money market account, you could get ahead on your savings goals. Whatever you decide to do, make sure you make a smart financial decision.

Add to or start an emergency fund

A good rule to follow is to have 6 months of expenses saved for. This fund should be easy to access and pull from when needed. For many people, this fund could be in use right now with times being as challenging as they are. For others, this would be a great time to add to it and to create an extra buffer for when things aren’t going as planned. The Coronavirus is a perfect example as to why this emergency fund is so important to have.

Help the community

If you’re fortunate enough and willing to, the community could use your help. There are many people that are struggling to buy supplies and stay afloat. Consider donating to trusted sources such as the World Health Organization, the American Red Cross, and various other nonprofits. You can also check with your local government to see if there are any nonprofits that are directly assisting your community.

We're in this together!

Everyone will have a different plan as to how they are going to use the relief deposits. Figure out what works best for your situation but make sure you stick to a budget. Along with being financially responsible, we need to remain positive and support our community. We are all in this together and will get come out of this stronger than ever!


Frustrated man with head on table and paper all around him

How to Survive a Layoff

Surviving a Layoff

Everything will be fine!

Surviving a layoff can be tough and demoralizing, but there are plenty of strategies to get you through it. Many times, layoffs can be caused by things that are out of your control such as recessions, mergers, budget cuts, etc. These are unfortunate circumstance but are many times completely unavoidable. The only thing you can do is pick yourself up and divert your focus to finding new opportunities. Listed below are 9 items that you should keep in mind when you’re laid off.

  1. Make sure you’re receiving everything that was promised to you. For example, if you’re promised a certain amount of paid vacation days and sick days, check your final paycheck to make sure it’s all there.
  2. Don’t panic! You may even want to take a few days off to relax and clear your mind before you make any decisions. Becoming overly panicked and worried will only stress you out more resulting in poor choices.
  3. Review your company’s policies. Figure out how to file for unemployment if that’s what you decide to do, and make sure to check how long your company-paid health insurance will be in effect. These are immensely important to understand incase there is an emergency.
  4. Make sure to look over your budget and make adjustments. There are many ways to cut costs when you really need to, so revisit and make changes to your monthly expenses. This might be as simple as cutting on grocery expenses. Click here for some tips on how to lower your monthly grocery expenses.
  5. Update your resume! You should continuously be updating your resume even when you’re employed, but make sure you have a current resume to give to prospective employers.
  6. Assess your goals. Are they the same as they were before you were laid off? If they aren’t, make sure your future plan is clear and attainable.
  7. Start applying for jobs! There are many online portals that you can use! For example, Indeed and LinkedIn are great tools that you can use to find jobs.
  8. Your family will always want the best for you. If your family sees you struggling and offers to help, swallow your pride and accept it! There is no shame in needing a little extra help when things go bad.
  9. Don’t get discouraged! It could take some time to find a new job, but you’ll eventually get that offer! Who knows, the layoff could lead to much bigger and better things.

 


Lady looking at her phone while grocery shopping.

Grocery Shop Like a Pro!

Shop and Save!

Don't spend more than you have to! Find out how!

There are a ton of ways that you can save on food every month. The obvious one that people always mention is to not eat out as much. Not eating out will save you a load of money, but here are 12 uncommon ways to save when grocery shopping.

  1. Don’t go shopping hungry. If you do, you’ll want to buy anything and everything!
  2. Make a list before going and STICK to what’s on it.
  3. Shop for seasonal items. Many times, they are fresher and cheaper.
  4. You don’t need brand named food items. Look for generic/store brand items such as those found on this website.
  5. Buy in bulk. It may cost a bit more upfront, but it will end up being way cheaper than buying smaller sizes.
  6. Shop from different stores even if it’s a little inconvenient, because certain items might be cheaper. For example, many items from Aldi are cheaper than items from Publix.
  7. YOU DON’T NEED THAT SALE ITEM. Unless you regularly use it, don’t buy it just because it’s on sale. Many times, these items go unused and are thrown away.
  8. There is absolutely no need to buy precut fruits and vegetables. The markup on those neat bundles of fruits and vegetables will eat a hole through your wallet. (Take it from someone who worked in produce, the cleanliness is often lacking as well!)
  9. Try going to non-grocery stores for certain items. Walmart offers many of the same brands as grocery stores, but at a lower price.
  10. Download the store’s app to look for deals and savings.
  11. WARNING – MATH SKILLS REQUIRED! Make sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck by comparing unit pricing. Different brands might come in different sizes and companies are good at making their packaging look deceivingly big.
  12. Many will say to leave your credit card at home. This is a good choice if you have no self-control, but if you do, then use it to earn rewards! Why not get rewarded for spending your money?
  13. And for the last tip - DO NOT BUY PLASTIC WATER BOTTLES. Doing this not only saves you money, but also keeps our environment clean. The bottled water industry is a billion-dollar industry. The average 16 oz. water bottle costs consumers a dollar. If you drink four a day, you’re spending around $120 a month. Buy yourself a fancy water bottle and filter to save both your money and the environment!


Young woman relaxing on beach, ocean view, Vacation Outdoors Seascape Concept

Ways to Save on Your Next Vacation

Man relaxing on the beach

As the spring and summer months quickly approach, we are all looking forward to some much needed vacation time. There are typically two types of people when it comes to planning for a vacation. Read the following sceneries and honestly reflect on which one relates most to your approach.

Scenario 1:

You and your friends/family decide to take a sporadic vacation to Mexico during March. The timing works perfectly for everyone, so you buy your tickets at a high season price. As the date quickly approaches, you all have completely forgotten about planning or buying a hotel, so you scramble to find a bouge place to stay. You end up spending way more than you should have due to your lack of planning.

As your relaxing on the beach with friends and family, zero thought goes into what you purchase or where you swipe your card. By the end of the stay, you have racked up a $8,000 bill for your luxury 4-night stay. Was it worth it?

 

Scenario 2:

You and your friends/family decide to take a vacation together at some point during the year. Everyone sits down and searches for the cheapest times for tickets, hotels, etc. Once the perfect date is settled and hotels and flights are purchased at an offseason price, you decide to make a daily budget to follow.

On vacation, you closely monitor your spending and aren’t just whipping out your rewards credit card to exercise your wrist. On your budget, you’ve accounted for extra spending each day so even if some days are more expensive than others, you have the necessary funds for it. Once it’s time to leave, you have a $4000 bill on your rewards credit card, but have enough money in the bank to pay that off immediately due to your proper planning.

 

Some tips to prepare for your next vacation:

  1. Budget. BUDGET! The last thing you want to do after coming back from a relaxing stay at the Bellagio is worry about paying off a credit card that you don’t have the money for.
  2. Use a rewards credit card for purchases. There’s nothing wrong with putting everything on a credit card. As a matter of fact, it’s what you should be doing to avoid having your account compromised. Earn extra money, miles, or gifts by putting everything on your rewards credit card and then pay the balance off to avoid high interest charges.
  3. Book in advance and during offseason if possible. Scenario 1 and 2 stayed at the exact same place but paid completely different prices. Booking well in advance will relieve stress as well as get you the best price. It’s recommended to start planning your vacation a year in advance to give you plenty of time to budget and find tickets.

According to CheapAir.com 2018 Annual Airfare Study, they determined that you should book this far in advanced for the following seasons.

  • Winter: 62 days in advance
  • Spring: 90 days in advance
  • Summer: 47 days in advance
  • Fall: 69 days in advance
  1. Figure out local transportation. You can easily save money by checking if there are local trains, busses, Uber, Lyft, etc. Taking a taxi everywhere will cost you an arm and leg.


Girl holding cash

8 Reasons to Create and Stick to a Budget

50/20/30 Rule to Budgeting

Try to budget with the 50/20/30 rule. What this means is that 50% of your income after tax goes towards nondiscretionary things such as: rent, utilities, food, car payments, etc. Next, 20% of your income should go towards some kind of emergency fund. Experts recommend saving a minimum of 6 months’ worth of expenses. Finally comes the fun. 30% of your income can go towards discretionary items like going out to eat, vacations, clothes, and anything else that you want to buy. 

 

1. Peace of Mind

You won’t have to stress about running out of money halfway through the month. Budgeting properly will lay out your weekly/monthly expenses and tell you how much you can spend. You just need to make sure to follow your budget precisely.

2. Helps you prepare for emergencies

Having an emergency fund set up is crucial. You never know when something bad will happen and the last thing you want to do is take a loan or put it on a credit card. It could take years to pay off the loan or credit card, so budgeting for an emergency fund will allow you to handle whatever life throws at you.

3. Shows bad spending habits

Bad spending habits can be seen through budgeting. You might not realize that you spend $100 on Starbucks every month unless you establish a budget. Once you see a pattern, you can change your habits to save more money.

4. Motivation

When your financially stable and have a clear goal, you’re automatically more motivated. Having a budget motivates you to make more, save more, and spend less. Without this, you might notice yourself slacking in your professional life.

5. Indulge in your wants

With a budget, you can slowly save for things that you don’t necessarily need. It’s better than charging it to your credit card and then having to pay interest over several months. Budget accordingly and maybe cut out certain unneeded things out so you can reach your goal.

6. It can be as simple as you want!

Budgeting doesn’t have to be a super complex task. You don’t need a finance degree to make a simple spreadsheet or plan. There are many online budgeting tools that you simply input your expenses and income. Start your kids out on a budget when they are young so they grow up learning how to use it. The sooner you start, the better.

7. Helps you determine how much debt you can afford

Oddly enough, budgeting helps you figure out how much debt you can actually afford. For example, if you’re buying a new car it can help you determine how much you can spend on a car loan each month. This is important to figure out because imagine how bad it would be to buy a car that is too expensive for you to afford. This happens to a lot of people so budgeting properly will make sure that you can afford whatever you end up buying.

8. It’s fun!

Budgeting doesn’t have to be boring! You can set mini goals for how much you want to save and then reward yourself when you reach that goal. It isn’t always easy, but creating a flexible budget will help you enjoy a financially stress free life.


Multigenerational Family

Multigenerational Households

Generational Family

There are many reasons for multigenerational households. It can be cultural, economic situations, or if you have dependents. There can be a lot of benefits with a full house, but it also requires a lot more planning and has its own set of problems.  

 

Create a new budget 

With more people in a household, you will need to adjust your monthly budget accordingly. Figure out who will pay for what and create a budget based off that. The worst thing you can do is to go into a situation like this blindly and not have a solid plan. If your parents are dependent on you, then you should figure out their needed expenses. This will include doctor visits, medication, and any other special care they require. Being open with your parents about money is going to help tremendously with planning. It will help relieve stress and confusion about their money, making everyone feel confident about the overall finances of the household.  

 

Create an agreement 

Even though they are your family, it’s important to create an agreement for financial expectations. Creating a document laying out rules that are agreed upon will help avoid future conflicts. If there is ever a question about certain finances, it will be easy to pull up the document and look at what was originally discussed. Obviously, this isn’t a legal document, so changes can be made whenever a situation arises that warrants a revision.  

 

Have a conversation about extra spending 

Not all spending will be for necessities. Even your parents want to go out and have a good time, so creating a budget for that is important as well. Cutting expenses might not be needed for many families, so just developing a plan for fun activities will be a good way to create an environment where finances aren’t just a bummer to talk about.  

 

Have a plan for the future! 

Your month-to-month plan should be focused towards an even larger goal. Looking ahead will make sure that your long-term goals will be met. Don’t just focus on immediate needs because you might overlook needs that should have been accessed way earlier to plan for. Having the big picture in mind will alleviate stress for both parties involved.  


Holiday Budgeting

Successful Holiday Budgeting

Holiday Budgeting

Successful Holiday Budgeting Tips

With the holiday season approaching quickly, budgeting for those holiday gifts is going to be super important. Not only will you have your reoccurring monthly expenses, but now you need extra money saved to purchase gifts for your loved ones. Here are some tips on how to prepare.

 

 

Figure out your expenses and make a list

Make a list of all your normal monthly expenses and then add all the gifts you intend to buy. Obviously, the monthly expenses should be the top priority, so once you know how much that is you can estimate how much you are able to spend on gifts or events. It’s super important to stay within you budget because nothing is worse than coming out of the holiday season in debt.

 

Set a limit for how much you are going to spend

Once you have a list of all your expenses, make a limit for how much you can spend. Many people don’t make a limit and overspend on their credit cards. This is a great way to end up in debt and paying interest on those gifts. No matter how special the person might be, giving up your financial freedom isn’t worth it.

 

Sales are everywhere

Check out the sales that are happening near you! Stretching your dollar will help you get the most bang for your buck. Huge retailers typically have flash sales or holiday deals. Make sure to have a shopping plan of where you want to go so you can check to see when their deals are. The best way to stay caught up on deals is to sign up for email alerts. It will save you the hassle of looking online every day to figure out if they are having a sale.

 

Don’t use a high interest credit card

Many banks and retail stores will offer discounts if you sign up for their credit cards, but then hit you with high interest rates. Credit Unions will offer the lowest rates available and many times have 0% APR for 12 months. This could be super beneficial when it comes to spreading out the cost of the gifts. Another option would be to go cash-only shopping so you can be sure that you won’t end up in any debt.

 

The holiday season is a fun time to spend with friends and family. Budgeting will help make this holiday season affordable and stress-free if done correctly!

 


Home Equity

What's a HELOC and how do I use it?

What’s a HELOC?

HELOCs resemble a second mortgage and also function like a credit card. You are able to draw from this fund whenever needed. Therefore, you don’t have to withdrawal it all at once. The main difference between a HELOC and mortgage loan is that a mortgage is used to buy a home. You never see the money since it’s given to the seller and you pay monthly for a certain period of time. A HELOC is a line of credit that uses your home as collateral that you can withdrawal from at any time. The interest is only paid on the amount that you use. For example, you could get a $50,000 HELOC and only use $10,000 of it. You will only pay interest on the $10,000 that you borrowed.

Six Smart Ways to Use a HELCO

Renovate rooms

This is a great way to increase your home’s value. One of the best rooms to start with is the kitchen. Many homebuyers look for a modern kitchen that is updated with current trends. Using a HELOC to pay for this renovation is a great way to get the most bang for your buck. After your kitchen, focus on bathrooms and then bedrooms.

Convert unused space into living space

Finish your basement or convert unused space into something cozy and livable. This is a great way to add more space to your current layout and will make potential homebuyers intrigued with the amount of usable area in the home. You could also consider adding a mother-in-law suite somewhere in the layout. Adding something like this has the potential of adding quite a bit of value to your home.

Give your home a makeover

Replace siding, doors, garage, etc. for a better outdoor appearance. Having a nice outside appearance will attract buyers and will allow your home to stand out in the neighborhood. It’s amazing what a fresh coat of paint or a new roof can add to a home’s appearance!

Pay off debt

You can pay off high interest debt such as those typically associated with credit cards. Be careful if you choose to do this because you are gambling your home on it. HELOCs will offer a lower interest rate but have a high level of risk associated with them. Make sure you have a great plan in place to ensure you are able to pay off the HELOC and not default.

Pay for a vacation, college, car, etc.

Along with home improvements and debt consolidation, a HELOC can be used to pay for “fun”. Although this is a very tempting option, make sure you have a solid plan on paying back the loan. REMEMBER… your collateral is your house. If something were to happen and you weren’t able to pay the loan back, you will lose your home!

HELOCs are great tools to use when used correctly. Whether it’s fixing up your home, consolidating debt, or having a little fun; BrightStar CU can get you set up with a low-rate HELOC!


credit cards

What to Look for When Applying for Credit Cards

credit cards

What to Look at When Applying for Credit Cards

There are many different reasons to apply for a credit card. You could be a student looking to build credit, a new parent looking to spread out payments on baby gear, or a smart shopper wanting to receive cash back. It’s very important that you don’t go overboard with charging everything to your credit card. You need to remember that you eventually have to pay the money back.

There are many things to consider when picking the perfect credit card to apply for.

 

Top 4 Things to Know About Your Credit Card

  1. Annual Percentage Rate (APR) is the cost of borrowing on the card. This comes into effect if you don’t pay the full balance each month. Each card has a different APR and is calculated by your credit worthiness and other factors. Having a low APR will allow you to pay less in interest if you’re planning on keeping a balance. We recommend paying off your card in full each month so you don’t waste money on these interest payments.
  2. The minimum payment is the lowest amount that you need to pay each month to avoid a fee. If you plan on not paying off your balance each month, it’s important to understand the minimum payment amount that you are required to pay. You will need to make sure you can afford the minimum payment each month so you can budget accordingly.
  3. Rewards can come in the form of discounts, vouchers or merchandise depending on bank. These points add up after each qualifying purchase until you have enough to cash out on the reward. One important thing to look at is to make sure the card you are applying for has qualifying stores that you use. Otherwise, this rewards system isn’t very useful since you won’t be shopping where you have the potential of earning rewards.
  4. Cash back is an important thing to look at because who doesn’t like saving money? Typical card will offer around 1.5% on qualifying purchases. Again, you need to look at where you will earn cash back. Steer clear of cards that only offer cash back at certain stores. There are plenty of credit cards out there that will give you cash back on ALL purchases.

Now that you know the basic components of a credit card, you’re ready to start applying! It’s so important to start building your credit history when you’re young because it allows you to get lower rates on auto loans, mortgages, etc.


Female holding car keys with car on background

Should I Buy a New or Used Car?

What to Consider When Buying a New or Used Car

 

Wouldn’t it be nice to just snap your fingers and have a new car show up in your driveway? Without this ability, you’re going to need to decide whether or not you want to purchase a new or used car. There are pros and cons to each, so developing a personal buying strategy is key.

 

Advantage of a New Car

It’s never been driven! You know the exact history of the car and know it will be reliable. That being said, you usually receive a warranty for the first few years. This is great because it’s less out of pocket expenses if something was to go wrong with the car. Generally, the first few years don’t see a lot of repairs other than maintenance, but it’s a great thing to have.

 

Disadvantage of a New Car

The second you drive that new car off the lot, the car will lose several thousands of dollars due to depreciation. It will be the most expensive two minutes of your life, so enjoy it. Depreciation has the biggest impact on your car during the first two to three years. This can be a little scary, especially if you’re in the hole with the auto loan. That’s why it’s very important to shop around for the best deals and rates so that you can get equity in your car fast. Buying GAP insurance is another way of protecting yourself when buying a new car.

 

Advantage of a New Car

New cars have the new car scent, fresh seating, and the latest technology. These things are important to many people, so deciding if you want to spend the extra money will be a decision you will have to make. An easy way to do this is to make a list of needs and wants. Once you figure out those two categories you can start looking for a perfect match.

 

Advantage of a Used Car

A used car has already taken the largest hit on depreciation, so you aren’t losing value right away. By not taking the large hit, you almost immediately have equity in the car. This is a huge bonus and will give you peace-of-mind. Provided below is an example of how this would be useful.

 

  • Sarah took a loan out for a new car totaling $20,000. The next week, she decides that she doesn’t like it anymore and wants to sell it. Since the car took a major depreciation hit when it left the lot, its value is now $17,000. In essence, she lost $3,000 in a week.

 

With a used car this hit is much less, and you get equity in the car much faster.

 

Disadvantage of a Used Car

Determining what condition the car is in can be a total shot in the dark. Since the car is new to you but used by someone else, the condition is unknown unless a maintenance check is done. Certified pre-owned vehicles have been tested and checked for imperfections, so you approximately know what condition the vehicle is in. With a new car, you know EXACTLY what condition it is in.

 

Unfortunately, there isn’t a one size fits all answer when it comes to car shopping. When making a decision, you need to determine what you need, want and can AFFORD!