Business Book Review: Finding Your Why

Simon Sinek’s bestselling book, Start With Why, has inspired millions of readers to rethink their life goals and their daily choices.

In his more recent release, Finding Your Why, Sinek speaks more directly toward business owners and continues where Start With Why left off. It’s an actionable guide that will show you exactly how to apply the author’s powerful tools in your business, company and work life.

Start With Why encouraged readers to think about the forces driving them to lead the life they live; Finding Your Why teaches readers to use that “why” for creating a better business and workplace.

Co-authored by Peter Docker and David Mead, this book serves as a dynamic, resourceful guide for giving your business your all. That’s because Sinek believes everyone is entitled to wake up each morning and feel inspired to go to work. Every person also deserves to return home later feeling fulfilled and accomplished. There’s no place for the humdrum in his world!

According to Sinek’s philosophy, the only way to reach that point of constant inspiration and fulfillment is to have a full understanding of WHY you do everything you do. Identifying the underlying objective of your company, and your own personal ambitions, will allow you to fully focus on bringing your business to the next level and surpassing all of its goals.

Packed with detailed exercises, illustrations and actionable steps for every stage of the process, Finding Your Why will help you address and resolve many common concerns, including:

  • What if my WHY sounds identical to my competitor’s?
  • Am I allowed to have more than one WHY?
  • If my work doesn’t match my WHY, what should I do?
  • What if my team can’t agree on our WHY?

Whether your business is long-established, is still in its starting stages or simply needs a boost, the exercises in this book will lead you along a path toward long-term success and fulfillment — for you and your team. Never have a dull or unproductive day at work again!

The engaging stories sprinkled throughout the book will keep you turning those pages and make it into a quick read. Released late in the summer of 2017, Finding Your Why is enjoying strong popularity. Critics, though, find that some of the book’s steps can be difficult to process and integrate into real business life.

Do you know your WHY? Find out by picking up your copy of this book today.

Your Turn: Do you leave for work each day feeling inspired? What keeps you going? Share your own WHY with us in the comments!

SOURCES:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/29496432-find-your-why

https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/0143111728/ref=pd_aw_sim_sbs_14_1?ie=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=4JHYAMFYA1ZYNC4YFY1K&dpPl=1&dpID=51HLRbWW%2BeL#productDescription_secondary_view_div_1506310859752

https://www..waterstones.com/book/find-your-why/simon-sinek/9780241279267

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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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TrueBill: Never Pay For An Unused Service Again

In this age of super convenience, subscription services are a popular choice for many consumers. From gym memberships to Netflix, automatic monthly payments simplify getting the services we want and take the hassle out of paying yet another bill.

But, when those payments are being withdrawn from our accounts for things we never use, that convenience can quickly turn into an awful nuisance.

That’s why, when Yahya Mokhtarzada discovered he was getting billed for a monthly subscription fee to an airplane Wi-Fi provider, he was so annoyed that he launched a company. His brainchild, TrueBill, has only one goal in mind: to save you money.

How do you keep track of every free trial you sign up for and remember to cancel them before you start paying? How do you prevent yourself from getting hit with fees for services you never use? The answer is TrueBill, which offers a free service to keep track of every subscription you pay for.

All you need to do is link your credit card account to their secure site. Within days, TrueBill will send you an email that lists every automatic payment you’re making. Prepare to be surprised! It might be Amazon Kindle you once signed up for but never use or a Wi-Fi service you once needed on a trip abroad. TrueBill nearly always unearths an unused subscription.

Unfortunately, too many companies make signing up for free trials and paid services extraordinarily easy, but make cancelling them super complicated. That’s why the app is more than just finding ongoing payments; TrueBill also cancels them for you.

The app will notify you about price increases for services you actually do use, since companies too often neglect to inform you about price changes. In addition, as a Truebill member, you can feel free to try out new services and complimentary trials without fearing you’ll forget to cancel your subscription. You can count on TrueBill to do it for you.

Mokhtarzada claims that TrueBill saves its members an average of $512 a year. That’s no small change! With TrueBill, you’ll save money and never pay for something you don’t use again.

Your Turn: Did you ever find out you were paying for a service you don’t use? Share your experience with us in the comments!

SOURCES:

https://www.truebill.com/

https://www..google.com/amp/s/amp.cnn.com/money/2016/04/21/technology/trim-truebill-subscriptions/index.html

https://www.google.com/amp/amp.timeinc.net/fortune/2016/03/29/subscription-startups-truebill/%3Fsource%3Ddam

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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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Advice From The Bottom: What Losing A Million Dollars Taught Entrepreneurs About Finance

A million bucks sounds, to most people, like absolute security, because being a millionaire seems like it would put you in a strong financial position for life. If your car were to break down or you lose your job, a million dollars could solve those problems pretty easily.

Unfortunately, there are no guarantees in personal finance. Even a million dollars can go away quickly through a string of bad luck or poor decisions. Learn the lesson from these ex-millionaires to keep a tight grip on what you have.

1.) A million dollars can’t sustain a millionaire’s lifestyle

When most people think of a million dollars, they usually don’t think of the money in their accounts. They think about big houses, flashy watches and fast cars. Those things are part of the lifestyle, and they’re part of what makes the dream of a million dollars so desirable. The problem is, a million dollars disappears pretty quickly when it’s being used on those things while trying to grow a business.

Take the example of Joshua Lee, an internet entrepreneur from Texas, who had accumulated that coveted seventh figure at the young age of 28. Like most 28-year-olds with extra cash, he bought cars and watches, treated his friends to expensive nights out and did all the other things millionaires are “supposed” to do. His first million didn’t last him long at all.

Lee was able to recover, thanks to hard work and good fortune, but he offers a valuable piece of advice on the topic. Once you’ve decided on a goal, whether it’s having a million dollars in your account or getting debt-free, think about the parts of that goal that make it desirable. Once you’re 80% of the way there, take some time to re-evaluate. Figure out if the properties of that goal are sustainable. A million dollars looks and feels a great deal different coming from $800,000 than it does from $20.

2.) Keep an eye on the people keeping an eye on your money

Most people who get a million dollars do so by doing something other than working with finances. Even those who do, like successful investment managers, probably have someone else looking out for their money. Top earners in most industries have IRAs and other long-term investment accounts that are watched over by a third party. When there’s that much money, a professional can be indispensable in tax planning and long-term return maximization.

A millionaire can be too trusting, though. Millionaire retiree Jay Cee, a California resident, found out the hard way that not everyone who claims to be looking out for your best interests really is. He transferred his 401(k) from a previous employer and worked with a financial professional to do so. She encouraged him to put his money in a specific set of investment vehicles as part of an IRA rollover. The deal looked incredible, since there was no line on the contract for a commission. When he asked about her compensation, she told him that the company took good care of them.

That part was certainly true. The investment company charged nearly 3.5% in management fees, while earning a return of less than 4%. Jay’s retirement nest egg was growing at less than half a percent. He would have been better off putting his money into a basic savings account. Over the course of the year that his IRA was held by the company, they made $12,000 from his account, after just one 30-minute meeting. Talk about expensive advice!

Remember the golden rule of economics: If you’re not paying for a service, you’re not the customer; you’re the product. Make sure you know how everyone who gives you financial advice is compensated, and insist on seeing a detailed breakdown of fees before you sign any investment agreement.

Of course, the proper lesson isn’t one of exclusive self-reliance. Most people aren’t financial professionals. They don’t have the education or experience necessary to make expert, long-term financial plans. Yet people who make a great deal of money tend to see themselves as invincible. That’s how someone like former Major League Baseball pitcher Curt Schilling went broke shortly after leaving baseball. Schilling invested his money without a proper understanding of risk, then lost everything when the one company he’d backed went bankrupt. Getting advice is indispensible; just make sure it’s advice you’re paying for up front.

3.) Keep an eye on risk

There’s a certain glamour in having nothing to lose. When you’re starting a small business, you can throw caution to the wind – to a certain extent. After all, if your new business goes belly-up, you haven’t lost more than you’ve put into it. It’s fine to swing for the fences when you’ve got a fledgling start-up. That changes a little bit once you’ve experienced some success. You need to take steps to protect what you’ve got.

Part of protecting what you have is realizing that it can be lost. If you’re a successful entrepreneur, you have to realize that success took hard work to build, and without that hard work, it’ll go away. Risks to your business are always present, and you have to work hard to minimize those risks.

That’s one of the lessons to be learned from the bankruptcy of rapper Curtis Jackson, III, known by his stage name, “50 Cent.” Jackson was one of the most successful figures in the music industry, yet his stage name became equivalent to his net worth in 2015 as he filed for bankruptcy. One of the reasons behind the loss was his repeated entanglement in lawsuits. Jackson never stopped acting as though he had nothing to lose, picking fights with other performers and business owners who would then take him to court. Even if he won most of the legal battles, he’d still suffer the slow loss of money in legal fees and settlements.

Once you’ve “made it,” you need to change your strategy. You can’t afford to take those same wild risks. You need to find safe investments and know when to back away from a challenge. Slow growth is better than losing it all.

Sources:

https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/249881

http://www.financialsamurai.com/how-to-lose-a-million-dollars-and-live-to-see-another-day/

http://www.financialsamurai.com/recommended-net-worth-allocation-mix-by-age-and-work-experience/

https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/248863

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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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Investing– Step #1: Get Your Finances in Order

When you invest in your future, tomorrow will always be bright

Congratulations! You’ve made the important decision to invest some of your money this year, and it’s your first time ever. You’re eager to get your money into the market, yesterday.

But where do you start?

Lucky for you, UCCU has decided to make this the year of guiding new investors. So, even if you don’t know a merger from an ETF, and your finances are a mess, you’ll find clear, concise instructions for making your money grow in a safe, responsible way.

For the next 12 months, UCCU will provide you with 12 easy-to-understand steps about investing, making you a savvy, confident investor by the time the year is out.

Step #1: Get Your Finances In Order

Jumping into the market without first taking careful stock of your finances is like asking for seconds at the dinner table before finishing your first portion. Though you can technically invest before your debts are paid off, financial planners advise strongly against this move, as it is somewhat irresponsible. So, before your money gets near the market, it’s time to kiss your debt goodbye!

To live completely debt-free, examine every aspect of your financial life. Here’s how, in four easy steps.

 

  1. Track your expenses. Save every receipt. Hold onto every grocery bill and each restaurant check. Keep the tabs from the dry cleaners and the gas station. Everything counts – even the 5 bucks you blew on a grande latte. At the end of the month, add up your total living expenses and see where you can cut down. Any money you can save by trimming your expenses is earmarked for paying down debt.
  2. Increase your income in any way possible. Now’s the time to ask for that raise you’ve been wanting, freelance whenever possible, or even seek better or more employment. All extra income goes toward getting rid of that debt.
  3. Get rid of all credit card debt. Examine every credit card statement and begin paying them off, starting with the one that has the lowest amount. Don’t concern yourself with interest rates unless two debts have similar payoffs. In that case, start paying off the higher interest rate debt first. Your goal is to get rid of these bills completely, one at a time.
  4. Pay off all personal and student loans. You don’t want to owe anyone a dollar, so pay back all money you’ve borrowed as soon as you can. If possible, consider shortening your mortgage or, if you have the means, even paying it off completely.

Be aware that this process may take a while. What’s important at this point is that you have a plan to become debt-free. While your debt is slowly shrinking, you can follow UCCU next few steps toward investing. And, if you begin aggressively paying off your debt today, you will be ready to invest sooner than you think!

Your Turn: Have you taken real steps toward putting your finances in order and paying off your debt? Share your success with us in the comments!

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