Surviving the Holidays Stress Free

With crowded stores and an ever-growing list of people to shop for, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and to overspend on your holiday shopping. No worries, though; UCCU’s got you covered! Read on for pre-and post-holiday tips and have yourself a jolly December without breaking the bank.

Pre-Holidays Tips

1. Revise your gift list

Chances are, lots of the people you exchange gifts with would be relieved to be taken off your list. Talk to coworkers and acquaintances about just exchanging cards this year, or make a deal to only exchange homemade or inexpensive gifts.

This way, you can focus on buying special gifts for those closest to you instead of generic gifts for everyone you’ve ever met.

2. Organize a Yankee Swap or Secret Santa

Still got a mile-long list? Try one of these creative solutions! A Yankee Swap or a Secret Santa activity saves money and stress while adding a bit of intrigue to any party. Everyone involved only needs to bring a single gift – and it’s always fun.

Set a reasonable price cap on gifts so no one walks out with a candy cane while the person next to them hauls off a flat-screen TV.

3. Bake holiday treats

Reduce the financial weight of the season by whipping up your own holiday treats instead of buying gifts.

It’s hard to find the perfect gift, but no one turns down a tin of homemade holiday cookies!

4. Make a budget and stick to it

We all plan to stick to a budget this holiday season – make this the year it really happens.

Set an absolute limit to how much you will spend on the holidays.  This will encourage you to plan your spending rather than grabbing impulse items as you shop.

5. Make use of holiday deals….but don’t get distracted

When prices drop, we sometimes go wild, snatching up random items because we don’t want to miss out on those “crazy, low holiday prices.”

Make use of these deals by buying items on your list at a discounted price – but don’t buy things you don’t need.

6. Rethink giving

Instead of running to the mall again, think of other ways you can give that will make the world a better place and truly brighten someone’s holiday.

It’s the perfect time of year to volunteer at local soup kitchens, homeless shelters and charity organizations.

2 Post-Holiday Tips

1. Use those gift cards

Gift cards are a typical holiday gift, but they’re often forgotten and unused.

Put your gift cards in your wallet and spend them creatively.  If you’re not a fan of on-the-go coffee, use your Starbucks gift card to pick up ground coffee beans to use at home.  Rent a movie with your iTunes card.  Whatever it might be, just use those gift cards!

2. Regift

You’ll probably wind up with a bunch of gifts you don’t want.  Hold onto them; many gifts can be  re-gifted next year or used as birthday gifts throughout the year.

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How Can I Shop Safely On Black Friday?

Most people love the prospect of saving big on Black Friday sales, but are worried about the risks.  Between the danger that crowds pose and the possibility of your credit card being compromised, there’s a lot that can go wrong.  Black Friday does pose some serious risks to shoppers, but with the proper safety measures, you can protect yourself without missing out on the biggest shopping day of the year.

Here’s how:

1.) Plan ahead

Planning ahead means you’ll spend less, be out of line faster and decrease your risks. Sites like BlackFriday.com can help you plan your day and find the best deals.

2.) Credit card only

Credit cards are the best way to shop when there are high risks to your safety. You can always dispute a charge; you can never reclaim stolen cash. Also, keep your card as close to you as possible. If using a debit card, cover the payment terminal with your other hand when inputting your PIN.

3.) Shop with a friend

The mall may be crowded, but a determined criminal can find a way to corner you and empty your wallet or take your bags. Stick with your friends and never enter deserted areas alone.

4.) Keep your cool

Nothing you can purchase on Black Friday is worth your health or safety. Avoid all scuffles with fellow shoppers.

5.) Move your car

If you spend the day at the mall and routinely drop off your bags in your car, it’s best to move your car to a different spot. Thieves watch shoppers leaving the mall with lots of bags and follow them to their cars. If they see you dropping off your goodies and then heading back to the mall, they’ll consider making off with your things. If you drive off, though, they’ll think you’re leaving and won’t follow you.

6.) Online safety

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are notorious for online scams of every kind. Here’s what to remember when shopping online:

A.   Beware of phishing scams

Be alert for suspicious looking emails and links. Delete anything that doesn’t look right.

B.   Make sure your connection is secure

Verify security by looking for the padlock icon on the address bar and by using sites with an “S” tacked on to the “http.”

C.   Pay securely

Only use trusted payment systems like PayPal or GoogleWallet. Shop from sites you trust and make sure they’re legitimate by checking the URL and looking out for sites that end in .org or .net. Never agree to wire money for a purchase.

D.   Strengthen your system

Before shopping online, check that your device’s security systems are updated with the most recent protection and security patches. If you’re using Wi-Fi, make sure the network is secure and requires a password to join.

Your Turn: Do you have any other tips for safe shopping on Black Friday Cyber Monday? Share them with us in the comments!

SOURCES:

https://www.google.com/amp/s/venturebeat.com/2014/11/28/5-things-you-can-do-to-stay-safe-shopping-online-on-black-friday/amp/

https://www.moneycrashers.com/black-friday-tips-for-safe-shopping/

https://www.google.com/amp/www.telegraph.co.uk/black-friday/0/11-tips-for-staying-safe-shopping-online-on-black-friday-and-cyb/amp/

https://www.google.com/amp/mashable.com/2016/11/21/online-shopping-safety-black-friday-cyber-monday.amp

https://www.consumersafety.org/news/safety/stay-safe-shopping-on-black-friday-and-cyber-monday/

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Thanksgiving Costs: 7 Ways To Save

Thanksgiving means giving thanks for all the good in our lives. It also means stuffed turkey and gravy, cranberry pie and mashed potatoes. It’s a time-honored tradition of spending time enjoying a delectable holiday meal while in the company of those we love.

It can also mean spending an awful lot of money.

According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, the average host cooking a Thanksgiving dinner for 10 guests will spend approximately $50 on the dinner alone. Of course, if you’re expecting more than 10 guests or you tend to overspend when hosting, your costs can easily top that amount. Between the turkey, ingredients for that luscious holiday meal and décor to set the ambiance, hosting a Thanksgiving dinner is not cheap.

Looking for ways to cut back without compromising on the quality and festivity of your meal? Look no further! At UCCU, we love to keep your wallet plump. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of seven easy ways for you to save on your Thanksgiving costs this year.

1.) Verify your guests’ attendance

Before you start writing up a spectacular menu or a detailed shopping list, check to make sure you have an accurate head count of the guests and family members who will be joining you for Thanksgiving dinner. You don’t want to end up with a fridge full of leftovers. Verify that all who are invited are indeed planning on showing, and only then begin planning your menu.

2.) Find out what your guests like

While you’re doing your inviting, ask for your guests’ individual tastes. You don’t want to forget that Great Aunt Martha is on a strict gluten-free food plan or that your cousin’s spouse is a vegetarian. Aside from specialized diets, ask about particular foods your guests like to eat and those they won’t touch. If something on your menu isn’t very popular with your guests, skip it – even if you think it’s an “obligatory” Thanksgiving food. This way, you won’t slave over a pumpkin soup that nobody will touch or end your holiday meal with trays full of leftovers and lots of hungry guests.

3.) Make it a potluck

Slash your spending and your stress in one step by answering an enthusiastic “yes!” to every guest who asks if they can bring something. Don’t just say “anything’s fine,” though, or you might have seven desserts. Instead, create a Google Sheet or group message with your planned menu and let your guests input what they’d like to contribute to the meal. This way, they’ll know exactly what you need, you’ll know what they’re bringing, and best of all, you won’t be doing all the cooking yourself.

4.) Serve on smaller plates

Most people will load up their plates to capacity, regardless of the plate’s size. Curb the wasting at your table by using smaller dinnerware. Let your guests load up all the way without leaving half-full plates. They can always refill if they still want to eat more later.

5.) DIY décor

You can set a beautiful holiday tablescape without blowing your budget; all it takes is a little imagination. Shop the local dollar store for discounted décor that still packs a punch, like colored vases, fake flower arrangements, and other centerpieces. Look for easy, inexpensive DIY ideas online. Finally, get creative by using things from around the house – or yard – as your décor. For instance, you can create a whimsical candleholder by affixing cinnamon sticks around a candle or design an autumn-themed centerpiece with leaves and pinecones from your own yard.

6.) Shop the sales

Grocery stores and shopping centers tend to run specials on turkeys and other Thanksgiving staples starting as early as Halloween. Plan your menu several weeks in advance so you can take advantage of these sales. Keep it flexible until you see the circulars and then base your dishes on the ingredients and produce that’s cheapest. Also, be sure to shop around for your turkey! Supermarkets tend to have the best deals on the birds, with some even running free turkey deals when you spend a specific amount on other groceries.

7.) Cook from scratch

Most everything is less expensive – and tastes better – when it’s homemade. Think gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing and apple pie. Start your cooking well enough in advance so you don’t find yourself relying on too many convenience foods and paying the price both in cash and taste. Your wallet and your guests will thank you!

When you gather ’round the table with family and friends this Thanksgiving, you can be thankful for all the good in your life without feeling guilty over how much you spent on the meal. All it takes is a little planning!

Your Turn: What are your best Thanksgiving dinner hacks? Share them with us in the comments!

SOURCES:

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.forbes.com/sites/mayakachroolevine/2016/11/16/9-realistic-thanksgiving-hacks-to-cut-your-costs-this-month/amp/

http://www.chasingfoxes.com/10-super-easy-dollar-store-thanksgiving-decor-ideas/

https://www.money.usnews.com/money/blogs/my-money/2013/11/07/7-ways-to-save-money-on-thanksgiving-dinner

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.thepennyhorader.com/smart-money/save-money-thanksgiving-dinner/amp/

https://www.google.com/amp/s/usatoday.com/story/94074598/

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Investing – Step #2: Start Saving

Don’t invest a penny before you build a substantial savings account.

This might sound counterintuitive to a wannabe investor, but it’s important to have a solid cushion of savings before you start putting your money into the market. Life is full of surprises. You don’t want to be caught in an emergency that leaves you desperate for cash when all your funds are tied up in bonds, CDs and stocks.

This month, work on building up your savings to minimize risk. Here’s how.

  1. Follow the 50/30/20 rule. Financial advisers suggest that 50% of your income goes toward necessities, like your mortgage, transportation and food costs; 30% goes toward discretionary non-essentials, like dining out, paying for a top-tier cellphone plan and updating your wardrobe; and the last 20% goes toward savings. If you begin dividing each paycheck automatically, you’ll launch a habit of saving that will greatly enhance your financial life.
  2. Put away three to six months of living expenses. Now that you are in the habit of saving, the next sensible step is to put that money toward something substantial. Experts suggest the first step of saving is building up an account that is large enough to cover your living expenses for three to six months. This will tide you over in case there’s an unexpected event that keeps you from earning your regular salary. That may be an illness, your company downsizing or anything that leaves you suddenly unemployed. Calculate exactly how much you need to live on each month, and start saving. Then, even if the unthinkable happens, you won’t be up a creek without a paddle.
  3. Build up a series of cash reserves – including an emergency fund. Aside from living expenses, it’s important to have accessible cash for those unanticipated events, like a major household repair or a medical emergency.

Your Turn: What steps have you taken toward building your savings this month?

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Financial Tips For Single Parents


Smart money management is always important, but it can take on more urgency for those who are without a partner. Whether you’re divorced, widowed, or single by choice, single parenting brings unique budgeting challenges.

Marilyn Timbers, a Connecticut-based financial advisor, says of having to raise a child on one income: “Children are a joy, but they do not come cheap.” The U.S. Department of Agriculture notes in a report that it costs an estimated $241,080 for a middle-income couple to raise a child to age 18, and some single parents have to shoulder that responsibility alone. Even if child support is adequate – unfortunately nearly 50% of that support is never paid – you’ll do yourself a favor if you think ahead about financial matters as a single mom or dad.

Estate planning is your first priority, according to Lisa Hay of Ascend Financial. It’s essential to make arrangements for your children should you become incapacitated, and this means spending time on two documents that no one enjoys thinking about: a will, which specifies a guardian for your children and how you’ll pass assets down to them; and a “power of attorney,” which gives someone the legal right to make decisions on your behalf if you’re unable to do so.

You may also want to set up a trust. A trust is a legal structure in which your assets can be held for the children. It is overseen by a trustee. And check with your employer to see if it offers a disability benefit. Generally, you will get a reduced income amount when you claim disability – anywhere from 50% to 70% of your salary. “Your income is your most important asset,” says Tom Morrill, owner of Morrill Insurance Group. Insuring it can be especially crucial for single parents who don’t have a second income to cover a gap.

Hay also says be sure to have life insurance. What you purchase will depend on your finances, but a term policy is most economical because it’s a straightforward death benefit. A healthy 33-year-old woman, for example, would pay roughly $240 a year for a 20-year term, $500,000 life insurance policy. This would get your child through college should something happen to you.

Health insurance is “the number one insurance need for a single parent,” according to Morrill, who considers life insurance a close second. People often complain about the cost, but if you’re uninsured, a serious medical procedure or hospital stay can be disastrous to your finances. And, of course, losing a job or becoming ill is still more catastrophic as a single parent than as part of a two-income couple. A recent Harvard study revealed that 62 percent of bankruptcies were caused by medical debt. You can comparison-shop for policies at your state’s marketplace or at HealthCare.gov.

Along with the rest of your boring-but-necessary financial thinking, don’t forget about tax breaks. If you’re a single parent, you should probably file as head of household (not as single) because you’ll often pay less and get to claim a higher standard deduction. You can also claim exemptions for yourself and each qualifying child. You also might qualify for the earned income tax credit, the child and dependent care credit (if you pay someone to care for your kids), and the child tax credit.

As far as day-to-day household operations, here are a few more things to keep in mind:

  • Credit cards – In The Financial Guide for Single Parents Workbook, Larry Burkett warns single parents that, while credit cards may seem like an easy way to fill in the gaps of a decreased income, it’s wise to avoid using them as much as possible.
  • Shopping in general – Many single parents have to make lifestyle adjustments after a divorce or the death of a spouse. You may need to consider moving or changing your spending habits. Burkett notes that lots of people like to go shopping to cheer themselves up, but the added debt you’ll incur will only make you feel worse. This even applies to groceries, which are an expensive part of the budget. Plan that trip carefully, too, so you can better avoid impulse buying.
  • Holidays – Guilt causes many single parents to overindulge their children, even if they can’t afford it. This is especially true during holidays and birthdays. Be sure to set designated amounts for gifts, and stay within the budget.
  • Ask for help – Check with your credit union for financial advice. And there are many nonprofit organizations with programs specifically designed for single parents.

Whatever your income, it’s important to give yourself a safety net, because emergencies happen. Put aside a little bit of money from each paycheck to set up an emergency fund for car repairs, broken refrigerators and other realities of life. As a general rule, experts recommend having six months’ worth of non-discretionary expenses in an account that is separate from the one you use for daily expenses. That could be a savings account or possibly a low-risk investment account.

Bucket budgeting can help, says Jan Cullinane, author of AARP’s The Single Woman’s Guide to Retirement. That means creating four different accounts: one for fixed monthly expenses such as food and bills, another for long-term expenses like retirement or replacing appliances, a third for emergencies and a fourth for discretionary spending.

“Put the appropriate amount of money into the first three, and whatever is left is your discretionary or ‘fun’ spending,” says Cullinane. “If there is nothing left for that month in the ‘fun’ bucket, you simply go without – you don’t dip into the other buckets. Harsh, but necessary.”

And it’s more doable than you’d think. One study asked people if they could save 20 percent of their income. Most respondents said no. But, when asked if they could live on 80 percent of their income, most said yes. “Be aware of how you frame questions to yourself,” Cullinane says. “You might be surprised.”

Your Turn: Have you faced tough questions and financial circumstances as a single parent? What were the most useful solutions you found?

SOURCES:

http://www.familyminute.com/articles/parenting/single-parenting/financial-pitfalls-for-the-single-parent/#.WTnLa2jyvIU

http://money.usnews.com/money/personal-finance/articles/2013/10/17/the-best-budgeting-strategies-for-single-parents

http://www.cheatsheet.com/personal-finance/5-personal-finance-tips-for-single-parents.html/?a=viewall

https://www.betterment.com/resources/life/family/7-financial-planning-tips-single-parents/

http://abcnews.go.com/Business/top-financial-planning-tips-single-parents/story?id=20906018#

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Your Financial Reality VS Your Financial Priorities

 

Do you ever get the feeling that your financial priorities might be out of whack? Start putting together all your receipts, account statements, credit card bills and other piles of paper that comprise your recent financial history, and try this three-step process to find out.

1. Establish your priorities

Going through the daily motions of life, you may never have time to think about the reasons for which you’re earning money. Very few people are getting up and punching the clock every morning with the hope of building a Scrooge McDuck-style money room. Most of us are trying to put food on the table, keep the lights on and provide for our loved ones. Those things are our priorities.

Write down on a sheet of paper the top five things you want to achieve with your money. Number one will likely be paying bills, but there’s quite a bit of flexibility in the rest of the list. Are you saving for a down payment for a house? Maybe you want to take a dream vacation or start a small business. Perhaps financing your children’s higher education is a priority for your family. You might have charities you like to support, or dreams of retiring early.

Spend some quality time thinking about where you want to spend your money. If keeping to five options feels too limiting, feel free to go beyond that. Just keep the list in order of what you want to do. There aren’t right and wrong answers here. If your priority is owning the world’s largest Barney the Friendly Dinosaur costume collection, that’s fine. What matters is that your list reflects your values and commitments.

2. Identify your realities

This is where that mountain of paper in front of you comes in handy. Take stock of your spending in any given month. For each of your financial priorities, how much of your paycheck goes to each?

Make a list of your top 10 categories of spending. Try to account for as much of your paycheck as you can. Put your biggest expenses at the top, and then list all the way down to the smallest. Feel free to make categories as you go and reshuffle them as patterns become more apparent. Don’t stress too much about where to categorize things. Just go with your gut.

Now, compare the list of expenditures to the list of priorities. Is your money going where your mouth is? Are you spending to bring yourself closer to your priorities, or do they just exist on that sheet of paper you had in step one?

3. Make a plan to fix it

Don’t get discouraged if you find you’re nowhere near your priorities. Remember the statistic in the beginning. Half of Americans usually spend their tax refund on a big-ticket purchase or a vacation, and most of them also say they want to save for retirement and get out of debt. You’re not alone in living far away from your financial ideals.

It might not be a bad idea to revisit your priorities briefly. Perhaps you were too strict when you set your priorities. It might be that you prioritize day-to-day comfort. There’s nothing wrong with doing so, but look where it ranks on your list of priorities. Is the joy you get from your daily indulgences worth the trade-offs it brings? In short, given the plans you have, do you regret any purchases? Those are the ones you want to cut from your budget and lifestyle.

You don’t need to switch overnight from your current financial attitude to one that’s totally in line with what you want your money to do. Making too strict of a plan will make you unhappy, frustrated and more likely to bend back the other way. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.

Pick one action you can take tomorrow to bring yourself closer to achieving your priorities. Cancel a monthly music subscription and put the $10 into a savings account. Cook in one more time next week and put the difference toward your credit card bill. Once these changes start to feel effortless, look for more ways you can tweak your spending habits to make your priorities and realities line up a bit better.

If you need help reaching your savings goals, UCCU can help. There are many ways you can automate your savings and assist in keeping you on the right track. Call (800) 453-8188 or stop by a UCCU branch today!

Sources:

http://moneyning.com/money-management/what-are-your-biggest-financial-priorities/

http://www.forbes.com/sites/maggiemcgrath/2016/03/16/is-your-money-going-where-it-needs-to-how-to-get-your-financial-priorities-straight/4/#f0d85fd1ba22

http://www.bankrate.com/finance/taxes/how-americans-will-spend-their-tax-refund-2.aspx

http://money.cnn.com/pf/storysupplement/tax_refunds/

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How Low Can You Go? Give Your Child The Grocery Challenge

Do you ever feel like all your money goes toward groceries? Out of all the non-fixed expenses a household can have, food costs take the biggest bite out of the average monthly budget. Understandably, trying to trim the family’s grocery bill is an ongoing battle for most of us. Give your kids a leg up on this lifelong skill by challenging them with this fun and educational activity.

Materials needed:
  • Coupon circulars and/or newspapers
  • Writing materials
  • Calculator
  • Piggy bank
Instructions:
  1. Give your child a reasonable budget to be used for a week’s worth of groceries for your family.
  2. Instruct your child to create a shopping list. Let them know they will be tasked with going “shopping” for every item on the list while spending as little as possible. All extra money should go into the piggy bank.
  3. Tell them to be sure to include all meals, drinks, snacks, ingredients, pantry staples, pet food etc. on their grocery list.
  4. Making no mention of the coupons, have your child complete the task with all the materials provided. After creating the list, let them “shop” for everything by adding the costs of each item and giving you a “receipt” for the total sum. If your young shopper is unsure of an object’s price, they can ask you for help.
  5. Stress that the challenge in this activity is to see how far the budget for a week’s groceries can go.
  6. Introduce the coupons, but explain why buying something you have no need for just because there’s a coupon isn’t smart. Let your child decide which coupons are worth using.
  7. Watch your child use their budgeting skills and smarts to “shop” for the family and try to save as much as possible.

When the task is complete, review the results with your child. How much money went into the piggy bank? Were items written on the grocery list because of available coupons, or were the coupons only flipped through after the list was already made? Did your child first create a menu for the week before writing the list? Did they omit anything important? What did they learn from this activity?

Variations:
  • You can do this in real life, having your child create a shopping list and then taking them to the store. Have them actually select the groceries and make the purchase of all the week’s groceries, trying to spend as little as possible.
  • For younger children, you can create a “store,” using fake money, a toy cash register and a play shopping cart. Place a few items on a table, making sure there are clear prices on each item. Have your child “go shopping” with the money that’s available, making sure they are aware that they must have enough money to pay for every object they put in their cart.
Your Turn:How do you teach your kids about saving money on groceries? Share your best tips with us in the comments!
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Holiday Hacks For Traveling College Students



With the holiday season fast approaching, college students across the country are thinking about their trips home. Whether you choose to go home for Thanksgiving or Christmas -or both – if that trip means hopping on a plane, you’re looking at some big expenses.

Can a cash-strapped college student pay for airline flights during the most expensive traveling seasons of the year without going broke?

They sure can! Here’s how:

1.) Start saving now

If you’ve got a part-time job, start skimming a bit off each paycheck for holiday travel costs. You can also skip one pricey indulgence each week from now until the holidays. This small sacrifice will help you save up that extra cash for when it’s time to travel. Every little bit adds up!

2.) Use student discounts

Some airlines understand that you’re a broke college student wanting to spend time with family over the holidays. That’s why some, like American Airlines, offer discounts for students of specific colleges. You can also look for other student discounts on sites like studentuniverse.com and STAtravel.com.

3.) Be flexible

Don’t get fixed on flying out of a specific airport, at a certain time or on your chosen day of the week. You can shave dozens of dollars off your ticket prices by being flexible. Put things into perspective: What’s an extra fifteen-minute drive when it can save you $75? And, of course, you can always catch up on sleep you lose during a red-eye flight when you get home.

4.) Pack light

Airlines are tightening expenses all around, and these cuts are trickling down to customers in a big way. One area that’s come under attack is luggage. Many airlines are charging for each checked-in piece, while others will ask you to pay just to bring a carry-on on board.

Find out what your airline’s policy is before you start packing. If you’re going to need to pay for whatever you stow under the plane or bring aboard with you, pack as lightly as possible. Remember that you’re going home, not headed for the wilderness. Also, most airlines allow you to bring a backpack as your personal bag for the flight, free of charge. You can fit all of your essentials and travel necessities in there, but be careful of liquid restrictions!

5.) Don’t buy anything at the airport

Airport shops, like kiosks at malls, are outrageously overpriced. Window-shop if you’d like to pass the time, but bury your wallet deep in your backpack. It’s also smart to bring empty water bottles and fill them up at the airport so you’re not stuck paying $4.99 for a 16-oz bottle of Poland Spring.

6.) Find a seasonal job at home

If you still find yourself panicking over the money you’ll shell out for holiday travel, see if you can find a part-time job in your hometown. Many retailers are looking for help during this busy season, and if your break puts you in town for a few weeks, you may be able to land a position. The money you earn can help offset your travel costs.

Your Turn: How do you save money on your holiday trips home? Share your best tips with us in the comments!

SOURCES:

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.fatwallet.com/blog/a-college-students-guide-to-saving-money-for-holiday-travel/amp

https://www.fastweb.com/student-life/articles/the-10-things-you-should-do-over-holiday-break

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Gift Card Holiday Shopping Guide

With Thanksgiving coming up, holiday shopping is on the minds of many. You might have gotten off to a solid start but have a few people left on your list that have you stumped when it comes to deciding what to get them.

One of the simplest ways to check them off as complete is to pick up a few gift cards. Clearly, they have become a go-to gift given that Americans spent nearly $46 billion on gift cards last year. So it should come as no surprise that you’ll hear a lot more about gift cards as November rolls on.

This is particularly true of your Facebook friends and family, who are probably choosing sides with one camp believing gift cards to be far superior to traditional gifts and the others finding them incredibly impersonal. This guide will go over the case for and against gift cards and give you some tips on how to save money when shopping for them.

The case for gift cards: Gift cards are more personal than cash because they show some thought about the recipient.

Gift cards are also more secure than cash, particularly when being shipped in the mail system. They also have a favorable impact on your gift budget as opposed to bulkier gifts because shipping costs are much lower.

Gift cards also solve a persistent economic problem that makes an appearance in long-form think pieces within articles in the Atlantic or Slate every holiday season. Those pieces are usually accompanied by a few days of Facebook shares and retweets on the topic: deadweight. This theory states that a gift giver can’t give an economically efficient gift because, if the item on which you spend $100 is worth $100 to the recipient, they would have bought it for themselves. How many times have you received a sweater that doesn’t fit or a new gadget you don’t want? Or how often have you received a gift that is close to what you wanted, but not quite right? It happens.

In fact, an entire market exists for B-movies that are designed to look like the year’s most popular films, mainly to fool the unwary shopper at holiday time. Gift cards solve this problem by letting the recipient choose his or her own gift.

The case against gift cards: Gift cards are impersonal compared to actual gifts.

Nothing shows your thoughtfulness like the perfect gift. If you want to make someone happy, the feeling of opening the big box will always beat out opening an envelope. Finally, it’s really easy to create an awkward situation of imbalance. When you receive a gift card for $100, but you gave that person one for $50, you end up feeling guilty. When the opposite occurs, it’s like you bought them a $50 gift and they got you nothing. Putting a firm price on gifts makes any discrepancy very apparent.

As for deadweight, gift cards minimize the problem, but don’t eliminate it. They still have some value less than cash (whether perceived or real), so you’re not fully realizing the economic potential of your gift. In fact, the only way to fully beat deadweight is by giving a gift. You can get them something they don’t know about, taking advantage of imperfect market knowledge. You can make them something, taking advantage of the value of your time. Or, you can buy them something they wouldn’t buy for themselves, taking advantage of some people’s unwillingness to indulge. By the way, this paragraph is exactly why no one likes economists and why no one ever reads the articles on deadweight: too much rationality and not enough jolliness.

How to buy a gift card: Buying gift cards is easy, of course. But that doesn’t mean you’re doing it right. In fact, you shouldn’t pay full price for a gift card if you can avoid it. Use gift card websites like giftcardgranny.com or giftcardzen.com to purchase gift cards at big discounts, sometimes as much as 50% off. The sites offer protection from scams, and if you end up with a gift card for an odd amount, you can always use that gift card to buy a gift card from the retailer. So, if you want to give a gift card to The Gap for $100, for example, you might find one that’s actually for $112, purchase it for under $100, and save the extra value for yourself. You can often get larger gift cards at even steeper discounts, then turn them into multiple smaller gift cards.

Other ways to save money include looking for promotions. Many chain restaurants offer gift card bonuses. For example, suppose you buy $100 worth of gift cards to a Chili’s. You might be able to get a free $25 card for yourself. It’s never a bad idea to get a free dinner, and during the busy holiday season, it’s even better.

Hopefully, this guide will make your holiday shopping smooth and easy. This season shouldn’t be about stress and pressure. If you find yourself overwhelmed, take a break and drink some eggnog. If you can’t find a good store gift card to get someone, you could always come in and get a VISA gift card from UCCU. Just ask any representative to see the options!

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The Dos and Don’ts of Credit Repair

If you’ve recently been rejected from a credit application of any kind, you may be looking at a poor credit score for any number of reasons. You might have been late with your credit card payments, have an outstanding judgment against you or have even been frauded or victimized by identity theft.

Whatever the cause of the fall in your score, you’re probably looking for ways to get it back on track. Tread carefully! There are lots of dishonest opportunists looking to make a quick buck off your pressing need. Don’t become the next victim of a credit repair scam. In fact, there’s nothing a credit repair company can do for you that you can’t do yourself.

This probably has you wondering how to untangle the legitimate steps you should be taking now from the pointless and costly actions. Look no further! Our handy guide of credit repair dos and don’ts will help get you on the road to improving your credit score.

Do: Determine your actual credit score

If a recent credit application of yours has been denied, don’t take it at face value – find out why it happened. The three major credit reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion – are each required to provide you with a complimentary copy of your credit report once a year, upon request. To order yours, visit annualcreditreport.com, or call 1-877-322-8228.

If you’ve already requested a report from each of the agencies in the last 12 months, you can still get one free of charge; you are entitled to a free report whenever a company takes adverse action against you, such as denying your application for credit, insurance or employment. To qualify, just request a report within 60 days of receiving notice of the action.

Do: Review your report and dispute any errors

Once you receive your report, review it for inaccuracies. If you spot any fraudulent purchases or erroneous information, you’ll need to dispute them in writing. In your letter, identify every item you are disputing and the reasoning behind your claim. Include copies of documents that support your stance and ask that the errors be removed or corrected. It’s best to send your letter by certified mail so you can ensure the credit reporting company actually received it if that is necessary. Also, keep a personal copy of your letter and all supporting documents for your own records.

You’ll also need to dispute the charge with your actual creditor, taking the same steps you did above.

Don’t: Expect any quick fixes

Anxious as you may be to improve your score, know that there is no “quick fix” for creditworthiness. Enhancing your score takes time, lots of hard work and creating and sticking to a realistic debt repayment plan.

If your credit score is poor, you may be bombarded with promotional material from credit repair companies that promise to increase your score by 100 points in less than a month. If you think these claims sound too good to be true, you’re absolutely right. There are some legitimate credit repair companies out there, but as mentioned, there’s nothing they can do for you that you can’t do on your own – and without paying their hefty fee.

Do: Take steps toward fixing your credit

If you’ve determined that your credit report is accurate, you’ll want to take a careful look at the habits that may be leading to your unfavorable score.

Are you timely with your credit card payments? If you’re consistently late, consider setting up an automatic bill-pay system so you never forget to make a payment. Are you making headway on your debt? If you’re paying your bills on time but your debt is not going anywhere, it’s time to rethink your spending habits. Don’t shop with credit cards; use only debit or cash. Look for ways to trim your expenses, like couponing wherever possible, planning dinner menus around sale items, and finding cost-free ways to relax instead of blowing money at a restaurant or on retail therapy.

Are your monthly bills unmanageable? If you can’t make it through the month and still meet all of your minimum payments, your debt may need an overhaul. Consider debt consolidation, in which your debt is transferred to one low-interest account, or a balance transfer to a card that has an interest-free period. Be aware, though, that lots of open credit is not considered favorable by creditors; close as many accounts as you open – but leave your oldest one open as it shows a longer period of credibility.

Also, no card is interest-free forever. When the introductory period ends, you may be hit with higher than usual interest rates. Alternatively, you can contact your creditors and work out a more reasonable payment plan.

If these options don’t sound feasible, try finding ways to increase your income instead, using all extra cash exclusively for paying down your debt.

Don’t: Expect to see any changes immediately

Don’t fret if you’ve made strides toward fixing your credit and haven’t yet seen an increase in your score. Creditors will only report to the credit reporting agencies on a periodic basis, usually once a month. It may take upward of 30 days or more for your account to be updated and your score to improve.

Do: Ask us for help

Here at UCCU, we’re all about helping you manage your finances. If you’re in financial trouble of any kind, we can help! Stop by today to ask about our credit counseling services and assistance with creating and sticking to a budget. We even offer debt consolidation loans, providing you with the opportunity to transfer your debt to one low-interest loan, making the prospect of paying down your debt a lot more manageable.

Your Turn: Have you drastically improved your credit score? What was your secret weapon? Share your success and best tips with us in the comments!

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