Credit Unions Vs. Banks: The Choice Is Clear

Obviously, banks and credit unions offer a lot of overlapping services. Both banks and credit unions take in deposits, administer checking and savings accounts, issue credit and debit cards, and provide home loans in addition to consumer loans.

The key difference: Ownership structure

Banks are corporations – owned by their stockholders. Typically, and especially with larger banks, these shareholders are Wall Street institutions. However, there are many smaller neighborhood and regional banks with more local ownership. Credit unions, on the other hand, aren’t owned by stockholders on Wall Street; we’re owned by our members on the local Main Street!

True, neither banks nor credit unions are in business to lose money. We both need to make profits on our goods and services to stay in business. The difference is this: When a bank makes money, they send their profits to their stockholders. When a credit union makes a profit, on the other hand, we pass it on to our members. This can be in the form of a dividend or credit, better rates, technological investments and a variety of actions that bring greater value to members of the cooperative. And because we’re not so focused on pleasing distant shareholders through issuing a dividend every quarter, we can frequently offer services and loans with lower costs than banks.

Our mutual ownership structure gives us another advantage too: Wall Street can’t pressure us to make unwise decisions for short-term gains at the expense of our membership. Every decision we make is solely in the long-term best interest of our shareholders.

For example: In normal economic times, credit union and bank failures are very rare. That story changed during the mortgage crisis of 2008-09. Leading up to the crisis, publicly traded banks were under intense pressure from Wall Street to make questionable loans so they could keep short-term numbers up. Credit unions were free to make sound and rational decisions that were in the best interests of members, not Wall Street. According to information published by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the National Credit Union Association, banks were failing at a rate three times higher than credit unions in 2008, and had a failure rate of five times that of credit unions.

In good times, credit unions have a great track record. And when times are tough, there’s no comparison.

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Learning To Balance Academics And A Social Life

It’s the number one question that separates the super-achievers in college from the party animals: Are you here to earn good grades and learn valuable lifelong skills, or are you here for the active social scene?

If you fall somewhere between the two spectrums, you’re not alone. Most college students want to do well academically – but they also want to have fun!

Think you can’t have both? You can.

Here’s how:

1.) Choose your friends wisely

The people you hang out with are going to influence your study habits. During the getting-to-know-you stage, try to find students who share goals that are similar to yours. This way, you won’t be swayed to skip a study session for an all-night bash. Also, when you’re friends with your study partners, schoolwork can become a social activity!

2.) Eat well, sleep well and exercise

No, your mom isn’t here to remind you to eat breakfast and get to bed at a normal hour, but taking care of your physical needs is one of the best ways to facilitate academic success.

Want to skip the workout for yet another party? Why not bring the party to you? Invite a bunch of friends to work through a fitness DVD with you, organize a morning group jog or pair up with a friend for an afternoon run. You’ll be doing your body and your mind a favor.

3.) Designate study times

Since college means more free time than you had in high school, buckling down to work takes serious discipline. Instead of waiting until there’s nothing going on to do your work, review your schedule and designate specific times for studying, preparing for classes, research and writing your papers. You’ll be more likely to get that work done if you’ve decided when it’s going to happen ahead of time.

4.) Set aside time for social activities

All work and no play makes Jack the dullest student ever. Be serious about your schoolwork, but don’t forget to have fun, too. It’s OK to drop your workload for a spontaneous event or outing. Just make sure it doesn’t happen frequently.

5.) Shut off your phone when studying

You don’t need to be a social media junkie to know that smartphones are addictive. Even if you stuff your phone into a drawer while studying, the slightest beep or vibration will be enough to have you digging it out and checking for missed alerts or updates. To avoid the temptation, shut down your phone completely or leave it in another room (on silent mode) when you’re tackling your schoolwork.

6.) Join a club

The best way to find like-minded peers while in college is to join a club. You can find potential friends who think like you and know how to have a great time without draining an entire keg every night. You’ll get the balance you need for social interaction without letting it take over your college life.

Your Turn: How do you balance the college social scene without neglecting your schoolwork? Share your best tips with us in the comments!

SOURCES:

http://www.collegeconfidential.com/dean/000241/

http://www.mycollegesuccessstory.com/academic-success-tools/college-life-balance.html

http://www.collegexpress.com/articles-and-advice/student-life/articles/college-health-safety/how-balance-school-work-and-social-life-freshman-college/

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Love And Money: Scripts For Talking About Money With Those We Love

Money plays a vital role in relationships. In fact, how you and your partner relate to money can make or break the relationship. It may not sound romantic, but a 2009 study by Jeffrey Dew at Utah State University found that couples who disagree about money approximately once a month are 30-40% more likely to divorce than couples who do not. Those who disagree about finances more regularly significantly increase their risk of divorce.

Not surprisingly, money is one of the most sensitive topics couples face. When “my money” becomes “our money,” a certain level of independence is relinquished by both parties even though the desire to maintain some control is still natural and understandable. Try honest discussion wherever possible and be more understanding of your mate’s idiosyncrasies when it comes to money. With a more open atmosphere, he will hopefully reciprocate and be more understanding of yours.

Communication is key to making sure you’re both on the same page regarding your finances. After all, money is a major part of life. Even if you don’t agree on how money should be spent or saved, identifying your financial values and personalities is one big step in the right direction.

In her book, “Couples and Money: Cracking the Code to Ending the #1 Conflict in Marriage,” relationship expert Jackie Black, Ph.D., states that our beliefs about money are deeply rooted in our past, making conversations about it difficult. How you relate to money reveals your beliefs and values; trust and respect often play a part in money matters as well. Here are some ideas for keeping the lines of communication open with the love of your life.

Before the conversation

Before starting a conversation, see to it that the setting is neutral and friendly. You should both be feeling pretty good, meaning not tired or stressed. It’s a good idea to take a walk at the lake, go for a stroll in the park or have lunch at a restaurant.

If you can, establish a time limit. After 15 minutes, do something fun and completely unrelated. Set that expectation up front and you’ll find that you can really accomplish a lot in a short amount of time without anyone becoming upset.

In most cases, the other person will secretly (or perhaps openly) be glad you brought it up. Once the air is clear, mutually beneficial solutions can usually be found.

How to start the conversation

If you have a financial concern that you’d like to discuss with your partner, start by thinking about what the issue is really about. Are you upset that your partner goes out to lunch each work day, or are you more concerned that your partner hasn’t taken the initiative to cut back on expenses? It’s not about the lunch; it’s about the money.

Use “I” statements. For example, “I feel hurt when our credit union statement comes and I see large expenses I didn’t know about.” Begin the conversation with your concerns, being careful not to place blame on your other half. “I’m concerned that we’re not sticking to the budget like we should,” or “I think we should sit down and take a look at where we can cut out unnecessary expenses,” doesn’t place the focus on one particular expenditure or person. It leaves the door open for discussion in multiple directions. And it doesn’t place blame on anyone, which is key to having a productive and loving conversation.

If the conversation becomes an argument, call a time-out. Say something like, “This is a really important discussion and I’m glad we’re having it. It’s not easy to talk about this. Let’s take a break to think things through and continue talking when we’re both feeling better.”

Joint or separate accounts

Whether to have joint or individual accounts is a personal decision that encompasses factors that are as unique as your relationship. If you and your partner cannot agree about how money should be spent or saved, utilizing one joint account for regular household expenses and individual accounts for your own “fun” money might be a good option. But that doesn’t mean you stop communicating about finances. In fact, it may be more important than ever to discuss how much you’re each spending, earning and investing, and if you’re married, it’s never a good idea to borrow without first having a conversation about it.

It’s a good idea to keep an agreed-upon amount of cash of your own in an individual account. Each of you should have money to spend on small indulgences with no questions asked. Agree in advance on what types of expenses are personal. For example, is a magazine subscription personal or part of your overall spending plan? Deciding in advance will leave little room for argument later.

Never criticize each other in public about money. Keep financial discussions private.

Open-ended conversation starters

It’s difficult to begin a conversation about money. It’s stressful and can cause anxiety about how your partner may react. Here are some tips and conversation starters that will get you on the right track.

  • If you’re in a serious relationship and considering marriage or a permanent partnership, discuss finances before you take the plunge. Start with:
    • “I’ve heard that arguments about money are the leading cause of divorce. I think it’s important for us to be open about our finances as our relationship moves forward. Can we talk about what’s important to us and where we are financially right now?”
      And then offer to disclose your financial situation first. Most important: Be open and honest.
  • For married couples just starting out:
    • “Wouldn’t it be great if we could be debt-free by the time we’re <insert age here>? What do you think are some ways we could make sure that happens?” This leaves the conversation completely open to brainstorming, rather than putting blame or directives on anyone.
  • For couples that have weathered some financial storms:
    • “<Insert year> was such a hard year financially! I learned <insert learning lesson here>.”

This is simply opening a door for your partner to walk through and continue the conversation. If he/she chooses not to, that’s fine. But try this tactic again at a later time, once your partner has had time to mull it over.

  • When you’re concerned that your financial values do not match your partner’s:
    • “I know we come from different backgrounds, but I think it’s important that we create our own financial future together. I don’t feel like we’re on the same page. Can we discuss some ways we can work together and support one another toward a financial goal?”

Again, even if you’re unsatisfied with your partner’s financial behaviors, there’s no blame. You’re simply opening up the conversation so you can work together.

Discussing finances is never easy. Yet keeping the lines of communication open creates the backdrop for a loving relationship without the stress of hidden purchases and unspoken resentments. This Valentine’s day, give your better half more than a box of chocolates and a sappy poem. Give him or her the gift of understanding, acceptance and an open conversation about something that, when all is said and done, isn’t all that easy to talk about.

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How To Shop For Fall On A Budget

That long-anticipated day has finally come and gone. Your kids looked sharp and neat sporting spiffy backpacks and dressed in their spanking new back-to-school clothing. You watched them board that bus and waved them off from your perch at the bus stop until your arm hurt.

Then you breathed a great sigh of relief, grateful that the busy back-to-school shopping season is behind you.

Unfortunately, though, the fun is just beginning!

While your child may be outfitted for the new school year, you might need some warmer autumn clothing for yourself. And of course, if the leaves are starting to change colors, it can only mean that winter isn’t far behind. That brings with it a whole slew of wardrobe necessities and accessories you’ll need to purchase, both for yourself and the rest of your family.

If the dollar signs dancing before your eyes are starting to look frighteningly large, you can relax! As always, UCCU is here to help you navigate this potentially expensive task and show you creative ways to save, even as you bundle up your family for the fall and winter seasons.

Read on for six timely money-saving tips this shopping season.

1.) Layer up

Don’t pack away your summer clothing just yet! The temperatures may be dropping, but you can still find many uses for those tank tops and summer dresses; save them for layering up in colder weather. You can stick a long-sleeved T-shirt under a dress and add leggings and boots to make it warmer. If you’re a genuine fashion guru and will wear any trend, you can even wear shorts in the winter and stick a pair of leggings or warm tights underneath.

2.) Take inventory

You check your pantry before heading to the supermarket; shouldn’t you also take stock of your closets before hitting the mall? This is especially important when shopping for a new season. It’s easy to forget pieces you’ve got hidden in the back of your closet or buried deep in a drawer from last winter. Take a careful inventory of what each family member has and what they still need and write it down. This way, you won’t come home to find that you already have what you’ve purchased.

3.) Shop the sales

Fall has a few observed holidays that bring awesome sales – so take advantage! There’s Columbus Day, Veterans Day and then the markdown day of the year, Black Friday. There’s also Cyber Monday and Small Business Saturday. It’s worth waiting for the next holiday to buy what you need. You’ll save a lot just by being patient!

4.) Shop online – without paying shipping

Online shopping can be significantly cheaper than retail stores – until you need to chalk up $6.99 for shipping, that is.

Beat the system by looking for free shipping on sites like Freeshipping.com, or by taking advantage of the free in-store pickup available at many retailers. Many stores also offer coupons to first-time online shoppers. If you’ve already shopped a store online, you can sign in using another email address and still snag the deal.

Even if you prefer live shopping and like to try on your clothing before you buy, it pays to check out a store’s online inventory before going to the brick and mortar shop. This way, you’ll know what they have and what you like instead of wasting time browsing racks and finding the perfect top with the perfect price several hours later.

5.) Time it right

There’s a season for every purchase. If you wait until a specific item goes on sale, you’ll save big. For example, jeans always get marked down in October and last winter’s boots will show up on the sales racks at the end of September. It’s worth it to wait until these times to buy these items.

Also, winter coats hit the sales racks as soon as Christmas is over. Depending on the climate in your area, you may be able to hold off on buying a coat until after the holidays to await a super deal. Alternatively, if your old coat is in fairly good condition but you’d like a more updated look, consider making do with last year’s coat for now, and buying a new one when they go on sale.

6.) Shop the overstock

Stores that specialize in deeply discounted merchandise, like DSW, T.J. Maxx, and Marshalls, can be a terrific source for name brand clothing at generic prices. You may have to sift through rows of racks until you land a real bargain, but it’ll be well worth your time. These stores are especially beneficial for stocking up on basics.

On a similar note, be sure to check out secondhand stores and sites like Overstock.com for incredible deals on stuff you need.

Don’t break the budget this shopping season. With a bit of planning and strategic shopping, you can outfit your family for warmer weather.

Your Turn: What’s your favorite way to save money when shopping for clothing? Share it with us in the comments!

SOURCES:

http://welcometothefamilytable.com/8-ways-to-stock-up-on-winter-clothing/

http://tiphero.com/how-to-save-money-on-winter-clothing/

https://money.usnews.comm/money/personal-finance/slideshows/10-frugal-ways-to-save-this-fall

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Security Bulletin: Equifax Data Breach

Credit reporting agency Equifax reported on Thursday, September 7 that they experienced a data breach – one of the most significant in history, potentially including Social Security numbers of 143 million consumers.

Equifax said its breach includes names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, driver’s license numbers. Credit card numbers for nearly 209,000 U.S. consumers were also potentially accessed, along with some dispute documents that contained personal identifying information for roughly 182,000 U.S. consumers.

The breach happened mid-May through July and was discovered July 29. Equifax said it has seen no evidence of unauthorized activity on its core consumer or commercial credit reporting databases.

Equifax is offering a free one-year subscription to their Premier credit monitoring package (TrustedID Premier).   You can find more information about this cyberattack and how to enroll in credit monitoring at www.equifaxsecurity2017.com.

What You Can Do

  1. Find Out If Your Information Is Possibly at Risk

Equifax set up a website (www.equifaxsecurity2017.com) where you can see if your information is believed to be compromised. Click on the tab labeled “Potential Impact” in the center of the webpage. Enter your name and the last six digits of your Social Security number where indicated.

  1. Sign Up for the complimentary Credit Monitoring package

Equifax is providing free credit monitoring to all U.S. consumers, regardless of whether their information was identified as being compromised. The complimentary credit monitoring package called “TrustedID Premier” includes:

  • Equifax Credit Report: Copies of your Equifax Credit Report as needed.
  • Three (3) Bureau Credit File Monitoring: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
  • Equifax Credit Report Lock: Equifax will allow you to go a step further and freeze your credit. This prevents anyone from taking out a loan or a credit card in your name. It’s worth noting that this includes you, which means when you need to apply for credit— a UCCU mortgage, a home equity line, auto loan or even a credit card— you’ll need to go to Equifax first and unfreeze your credit before you apply.
  • Social Security Number Monitoring: Searches suspicious web sites for your Social Security number.
  • $1M Identity Theft Insurance: Helps pay for certain out-of-pocket expenses in the event you are a victim of identity theft.
  1. Visit Your Accounts Online – Regularly

UCCU Online and Mobile banking make it easier than ever to check your account balances and activity online. Many members do so daily and we recommend doing so at least weekly. To make it even easier you can establish alerts on your UCCU transaction accounts and credit card, triggered by parameters like your balance going up or the size of the transaction.

At UCCU, the security of your data is a top priority. We constantly monitor threats, like the Equifax data breach, and work to protect our members in the ever-evolving world of digital security.

If you have any questions please call 800-453-8188. Representatives are available Monday through Friday from 8:00am to 6:00pm and on Saturdays from 9:00am to 2:00pm. You can also send us a secure message from within online or mobile banking, or visit your local branch.

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7 Common Life Insurance Myths Debunked

Having sufficient life insurance is important. And yet, so many of us buy into popular misconceptions, convincing ourselves we don’t need to bother purchasing a policy.

But don’t be fooled. Read on to see how seven of the most widespread life insurance myths are easily debunked.

Myth #1: I’m single and I have no dependents. There’s no reason for me to get life insurance.

Actually, there is good reason for you to have life insurance as a single person. First, every person should have enough funds to cover their funeral costs and end-of-life medical bills. You don’t want to leave your family or executor with a legacy of debt and unpaid bills. Second, purchasing a life insurance policy is the best way to be remembered for your generosity. You can choose your favorite cause to be the beneficiary of your death payout, helping improve the lives of others after you’re gone.

Myth #2: I’m a stay-at-home parent who doesn’t earn an income. My partner needs life insurance; I don’t.

Unless you sit at home twiddling your thumbs all day, the tasks that fill your time will need to be outsourced to hired help if you suddenly pass on. Your better half may need to pay for cleaning help, a cook or a nanny – or maybe all three! All that costs money, and that money can come from the insurance payout from a homemaker’s policy.

Life insurance policies protect families.

Myth #3: Why would I waste my money on an insurance policy when I can invest that same money and earn higher returns?

Are you sitting on millions? Unless you can honestly answer that with a “yes,” you’re better off putting your money somewhere safe with a guaranteed payout – like a life insurance policy. Investments are never 100% safe, and you don’t want to leave your dependents with an iffy source of funds. The only exception to this rule is for the truly wealthy who have more than $1 million in liquid assets and have their funeral costs and medical bills covered. For the rest of us mere mortals, though, life insurance is the way to go.

Myth #4: Life insurance is too expensive. I can’t afford it!

The idea that that life insurance is too expensive is just hogwash. A recent Life Happens study revealed that 80% of uninsured people who claimed life insurance was too expensive had overestimated its cost. A 20-year level term policy for a healthy 30-year-old usually falls in the ballpark of $150 a year. That’s peanuts compared to the benefits of having life insurance and the security of knowing your loved ones will be taken care of after you’re gone.

Myth #5: I’m too young to worry about life insurance.

Actually, there’s no better time to purchase a life insurance policy than when you’re young and hearty. The premiums are far less expensive for those under age 35, and most people in that stage of life do not have sizable assets to pass on to their dependents. The longer you wait to buy a policy, the bigger chance you have of developing a medical condition that will significantly raise your monthly premiums. Most importantly, dependents of the 25-35 age group will definitely be too young to be financially independent and will need the death payouts for basic survival.

Myth #6: My children are independent adults. Why would I need life insurance?

There’s an old bit of advice claiming that parents of adult children should keep their mouths shut and their purse strings open. It always feels good to provide for your children, regardless of their stage of life. Leaving your dependents with an inheritance that helps them purchase a home, start a business or even put some money away for a rainy day will keep you in their thoughts long after you’re gone.

Also, you don’t want to burden your children with funeral expenses and medical bills when they’re grieving. Just the cost of a funeral and burial can top $8,000! It’s always best to have these expenses covered before it’s too late.

Myth #7: My job offers a life insurance policy for all employees. If I leave my job, I can always take the policy with me.

Unfortunately, this is false. Most employer-offered life insurance policies are not portable. If you leave your job, for whatever reason, you’ll also be leaving your life insurance plan. No one can predict the future, and there’s no way to know you’ll remain at your current workplace forever. That’s why it’s best to purchase a separate life insurance policy, even when your employer provides you with one. Plus, buying your own policy will allow you to choose one that best suits your needs.

It’s never fun to think about what will happen after we’re gone. Taking the time to plan for end-of-life expenses, though, and leaving loved ones with enough to live on when we’ve passed, is the responsible thing to do. Don’t let a life insurance myth keep you from buying a policy!

Your Turn: Which of the above myths did you always believe to be true? Can you identify any others? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!

SOURCES:

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Book Review: The Recovering Spender by Lauren Greutman

For far too many people, being rudely awakened from the American Dream is synonymous with being mired in debt.

But it doesn’t have to be like that.

In The Recovering Spender, Lauren Greutman draws on her own life experience to teach invaluable lessons about living within your means.

To outsiders, Lauren and her husband, Mark, appeared as though they were living a charmed life. As she says, “On the surface, we had it all. Custom home, luxury cars, beautiful babies, and all the bells and whistles…” But disaster lurked beneath the surface.

Though the Greutmans seemed like they had more than enough for all their necessities and many luxuries, they were living way beyond their means simply to keep up with the neighbors. Too soon, they found themselves with a mortgage that had not been paid in months, their car seized and sky-high debt that reached $40,000.

Their dream had become an awful nightmare.

Through a long journey of recreating their relationship with money and spending, the Greutmans arrived at where they are today: back in the black and fully committed to spending less while living within their budget.

In The Recovering Spender, Greutman details the steps she and her family took to pull it off. She shares her hard-earned tips and practical advice to help others who find themselves ending each month with a deficit that keeps growing.

Lauren also shares many of her personal struggles in ways relatable to readers to help them learn from her mistakes. It’s easier for an over-stressed mom who never feels like she can stretch the dollar far enough to take tips from another mom who’s been there, than it is to heed advice from a financial expert who’s never experienced anxiety about being able to pay for groceries.

The book also takes readers through the process of going from being in the red to living completely debt-free, offering a step-by-step guide with actions readers can take immediately as they work their way through the book.

Some of the actionable chapters in the book include:

1. Take an Inventory of Your Spending.

2. Declutter Your Finances.

3. Do an Expense Audit.

4. Curb Your Spending and Define Your Values.

Most importantly, The Recovered Spender is a guide for getting off the path of debt, and living happily within your means.

Your Turn: Do you overspend in order to keep up with the Joneses? Have you successfully changed your spending habits? Share your success with us!

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vCita: The all-in-one app to help your business flourish

Do you feel bogged down by the details of managing your business? Are you so busy with the nitty-gritty that you can’t concentrate on helping your company grow? Some high-tech help can free up your time and bring your business to the next level.

VCita is a powerful app created with small businesses like yours in mind. It’s designed to help you with all aspects of business management, including scheduling meetings and appointments, interacting with clients, streamlining payments and more. Using vCita can save you valuable time, allowing you to focus on growing your company.

Here are some of the features you’ll find on vCita:

1.) Online scheduling

No more back-and-forth emailing. Say goodbye to telephone tag. With vCita’s online scheduling, your clients can now schedule consultations, book and pay for services and register for events all on their own. Clients can access your company calendar from any device with internet access, any time.

Customize vCita’s scheduling page to your liking, updating it with your availability as it changes. You can also add a vCita calendar to your website, emails and social media – you’ll get double the bookings with half of the stress.

2.) Personal client portal

Set up a personal portal for each of your clients through vCita. Clients can use their portals to reschedule appointments, pay for services, fill out forms, send reviews and more.

3.) Client management

Keep your clients at your fingertips with vCita’s client management features. Download the app’s customizable widget for your website and use it to communicate with all potential clients. No more promising leads getting away from you!

Also, vCita allows you to organize your communications with clients, initiate new conversations with a simple click, review client history, track appointments, add notes, automate follow-ups and more.

4.) Payment collections

Collecting payments from clients is now simpler and more secure than ever. You can easily add payment buttons and forms to your website, emails and social media accounts. When a client uses those buttons to pay for a service, the funds will be automatically deposited into your checking or PayPal account with no additional transaction fee. An easy-to-use dashboard will also allow you to view a client’s payment history, issue invoices and track payments in real time.

While vCita may be a wonderful business tool, some users have sharply critiqued its customer support. Many also find that its competitors, like ScheduleOnce, outdo it in features offered and in efficiency. So, be sure to research vCita and similar options carefully before signing up.

Also, vCita is not a free app. After a complimentary one-month trial, you’ll need to shell out a monthly fee for the service. Prices start at $12.45 a month.

If you’re drowning in the details of managing a business and the all-in-one app seems like the right fit for you, vCita may be just what your business needs!

Your Turn: What’s your favorite scheduling app and how does it help your success? Share your secret weapon with us in the comments!

SOURCES:
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Can Frugal Living Make You Happier Than Lavish Living?

Do you believe money is the key to happiness?

Somewhere deep inside, we all know that money cannot buy happiness. Many people overspend and rack up thousands of dollars in credit card debt to live a lifestyle they believe will make them happy, only to discover they are living beyond their means. This, in turn, adds stress and worry … causing unhappiness. Believe it or not, living frugally can actually make you happier than living lavishly.

Living a frugal lifestyle isn’t necessarily about pinching pennies and denying yourself things you want. It’s about making your life easier and worrying less about money.

If you’ve decided it’s time to start living more frugally, ask yourself why you want to do it and establish a goal. Without a reason to change your spending habits and a goal to work toward, it’s easy to fall back into old habits. Maybe you’d like to retire early, or travel the world or buy your dream home. Maybe you’d like to work less and spend more time with your family. Whatever your reason, write it down. Place reminders of your goal where you’ll see them often.

Once you’ve started your new frugal lifestyle, you may be pleasantly surprised at your newfound happiness. Below are some benefits of living the frugal lifestyle that can lead to more happiness and better money management.

  • You’ll learn to appreciate what you have. You’ll become thankful for your resources and learn to make the most of them. Rather than throwing away old items, you learn to repurpose them and let little go to waste.
  • You’ll tend to choose experiences over objects. Rather than going to the mall and purchasing a new outfit or the newest video games, you’re more apt to go for hike, to the lake, or play board games with friends or family. These experiences provide memories and happiness that can last a lifetime. Conversely, that new outfit or video game will provide only temporary happiness.
  • You’ll start to notice your debt diminishing. The burden of debt often ties people to jobs and locations that they hate because they feel they have no other choice. Once your debt disappears, you’ll have the freedom to choose a profession and location that makes you happy.
  • You will have more leisure time. Once you’re able to pay down debt, you won’t need to work as many hours to make ends meet. This will give you more free time to spend on hobbies and other leisurely pursuits.
  • Living frugally may put you on the path to early retirement. Rather than spending your golden years working, you could be gardening, traveling, enjoying your grandchildren or any number of more pleasurable things. Being able to put more funds away for retirement will help you reach a financially comfortable level long before many of your colleagues.
  • You might find joy in helping others. By reducing your own expenses and saving money, you are able to give more to others and support social causes that are important to you.

Now, you may be thinking – the frugal lifestyle doesn’t sound all that bad, but how do I get started? The key is to start small. Make a list of what you’d like to accomplish, how much money you’ll need to achieve it, and formulate a plan. Figure out expenses you can live without. Instead of buying breakfast on-the-go at a drive-thru in the morning, cook your breakfast at home. Brown bag your lunch rather than eating out. Make a weekly meal plan and cook your meals at home. These items alone can potentially save you hundreds of dollars a month.

If you’re paying down multiple credit cards, look into consolidating them into one loan or to a single, lower-interest credit card. This can give you significant savings on interest charges. Check out UCCU’s low-rate credit card options and apply at www.uccu.com/visa. Once you’ve consolidated your credit card debt, keep your your oldest credit card, but use it infrequently and close all others. Keeping your oldest card open may positively impact your credit score. Leaving the others open, though, may lead to a temptation to use them again, thus defeating the purpose of paying them off.

Learn to stretch your money as far as you can. When purchasing groceries, clip coupons and look for sales. When purchasing clothes or other non-grocery items, check thrift stores, yard sales and clearance racks for the best possible deals.

Look for ways to lower your monthly bills. Are you paying a huge bill for cable TV? Could you live without it? Many people pay a large cable bill and only watch a handful of channels. Check to see if there is a cheaper package available. Is your electric bill higher than it should be? Try hanging your clothes outside to dry rather than using your clothes dryer whenever possible. Also, washing your clothes in cold water instead of hot will save your hot water heater from working as hard – and your clothes will still get cleaned. Another good habit to get into is unplugging electronic devices when you’re not using them.

Give frugal living a try! You have nothing to lose but debt and can gain some unexpected happiness along the way.

Your Turn: Does saving money make you happy? How do you save – and enjoy the process? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!

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AroundMe: Local Attractions With Just One Click

Looking for a great new restaurant near your home? Traveling and wondering what attractions are nearby?

Look no further! The free AroundMe app is here to take the stress out of your search. With a cleaner and clearer interface than other attraction search engines, like Google Maps and Apple Maps, the app makes finding local hotspots easy.

In the app’s home screen, you’ll be asked if you want to use your current location. By clicking “yes,” you’ll unlock the app’s real power. You can now search for local attractions wherever you’re located.

Next, you’ll find a large menu of nearby spots you might need, from pizza shops and park-and-rides to museums and movie theaters. Tap the category you’re looking for, and the app will bring up a list of local places matching your choice. You’ll also be shown where these locations can be found on a map. If you choose one of these options, the app will pull up details for you, including a phone number, street address, reviews and hours of operation. Another tap will bring you to the business’s Google Details page.

You can take your search up a level by tapping on the eye icon toward the top of the app’s screen and then holding up your iPhone or iPad 2. You’ll be shown a virtual view of the location of nearby attractions. This will help you see exactly how far you are from each place.

You can use the AroundMe app to search for a wide range of local spots, including the most often searched-for options, like restaurants, movie theaters and gas stations, and the less-searched for places, like hospitals and pharmacies. Whatever you need – it’s there!

Critics of the app complain that banner ads can block up to 25% of the screen. While ads are built into most apps, Aroundme is designed for use on the road, making the ads really intrusive. There is an option to upgrade to an ad-free version, but it’ll cost you $2.99 a month. For that price, you can find something even more user-friendly in the AppStore.

Other unhappy users claim that star icon doesn’t save a location’s info as would be expected; it only saves the number in your contacts. Still, more critics say the app doesn’t offer enough improvement over Google Maps or AppleMaps to make it worthwhile to install.

Try the app to judge for yourself. It can make attraction-searching simpler and fun!

Your Turn: What’s your favorite way to look for local hotspots? Share your best search app with us in the comments!

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