How I Learned About Saving For Retirement (And You Can Too)

coins and time clock retirement

Confession time: Finances have never been my specialty. As a creative professional, sometimes what I dream up and what happens in the real world need to come together for a little tête-à-tête. Now that we’ve gotten that on the table, you may ask, “So why are you writing about saving for retirement?” Fair question. Here’s why: in my quest to crack the “retirement savings code,” I resolved many previous unknowns (to me) and ultimately rethought my personal approach to saving for retirement.

 

I will also conjecture that there are a lot of people who are similarly lost when it comes to saving for retirement. In fact, the numbers support this hypothesis: according to an Economic Policy Institute (EPI) study“nearly half of families have no retirement savings at all.” With that in mind, here are some of the major questions that I had while digging into how I should be saving for retirement.

 

How much do I really need to have set aside to coast through retirement?

AKA, what is the magic number? A seemingly innocuous question, right? Not exactly. Turns out it depends on who you ask. This is where I learned there are many schools of thought on how to best approach your number. Below summarizes the three different methods I found, but you can learn more about each at 3 Ways to Calculate Your Retirement Number by money.usnews.com.

 

Income Method

This involves multiplying your income by a factor to determine how much you need to retire. There’s a little more to it than just that, and exactly how much you should multiply it by is debatable, but the article does a nice job of breaking down the different variables and assumptions you should account for.

 

Expense Method

This method asks you to analyze your monthly budget to arrive at your retirement number. You’ll need to think through what expenses you anticipate having then, what gets added, and what falls off, which brings up the subject of a mortgage… I’ll get into that a little later. There are, of course, a few other considerations which you can see in more detail here, but that’s the main idea.

 

Savings Method

This method involves setting aside a percentage of your annual salary in retirement accounts. This might be the most prevalent approach I encountered in my research; however, the “right percentage” to set aside can vary from source to source. My takeaway: 15% is a good goal on the conservative end and 20% on the aggressive end. Anything beyond that gets you gold-star status.

 

That’s a lot to digest. I get it. Luckily, I stumbled upon this article by CNBC with features a more digestible timeline of savings goals from Fidelity that follows the Income Method. And visuals are always helpful.

 

How much do I need to save for retirement?

10X

Fidelity Investments suggests you should aim to have 10 times your salary in savings.

Here is how much to set aside by age in order to stay on track for retirement at 67.

how-much-save-retirement-380x839

Keep in mind this is a ballpark diagram. Consult a financial advisor for exact numbers.

Epperson, Sharon. “What’s the Magic Number for Your Retirement Savings?” CNBC. 11 Feb. 2016. Accessed 8 Feb. 2018.

Where all will this money come from?

Here are the key players. Getting a general sense of each will help you understand how they all work together. This video from CNBC Money also does a nice job of explaining the differences.

 

401(k) – A 401(k) is an employer-sponsored type of retirement plan. It allows an employee to dedicate a percentage of their salary to a retirement account. Contributions are tax-free and taxes are paid upon withdrawal. Putting money into your 401(k) can be a great place to start, as many companies offer a match program up to a certain percentage. Ideally, you should strive to at least contribute up to the full match since that is free money for you!  Learn more about 401(k)s here.

 

IRA – An IRA is an Individual Retirement Account that can be opened up by anyone, whether they’re associated with an employer or not. There are two types of IRAs — a traditional and a Roth — which have a few differences, but the main one being the time at which you’re taxed. (Roth contributions are taxed the year you deposit them, traditional IRAs are taxed upon withdrawal.)

 

HSA – An HSA or Health Savings Account offers a way to set aside money for your healthcare expenses while receiving some tax advantages. Another nice thing is if you don’t use it all in a year, you can hang on to it and, in some cases, invest it!

 

Investments (other) – Whether it be in real estate, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, or any combination of these and more, this is anywhere you’re setting aside money in the eventual hope of reaping a return on top of your initial deposit.

 

Pension –  Employer-provided retirement income (from companies with pension plans) that requires an employee to work for them a certain number of years. The benefit usually increases with the length of time employed at the company. This often applies to government jobs, like military, police, and fire departments. According to The Balance, “Large corporate employers may also offer pension benefits, but it is not as common as it was thirty years ago.”

 

Social Security – It is hotly debated how much longer we should rely upon this as a source of retirement income. Regardless of its endurance, according to CNN Money, “your Social Security benefits will only replace about 40% of your previous income, which won’t cut it even under the most frugal circumstances.” So the best bet is to think beyond Social Security.

 

Do I count my home equity as income?

You’re right to realize that some of the expenses you have today won’t necessarily be around by retirement age. The amount you’re currently setting aside for retirement is one, ideally your student loans are another, and of course, that brings you to a major investment — your home (assuming it’s paid off).

 

But according to TheBalance, “you’ll also have retirement costs that you don’t carry today, like certain out-of-pocket health and end-of-life care costs. And ideally, you’ll also travel more, enjoy more hobbies, and indulge a bit. As a result, you may want to budget for retirement by assuming you’ll spend roughly the same amount you spend now.” The Huffington Post further supports this outlook in Is Your Home Equity Part of Your Retirement Savings?, saying that “If you don’t plan to sell, then your home equity, while still an important part of your overall net worth, shouldn’t be included in your retirement savings calculation.”

 

Should I focus on paying off debt or saving for retirement?

According to Dave Ramsey, it’s important to start with a firm foundation, and that includes addressing your debt first. In his post on The Truth About Retirement, Mr. Ramsey recommends that:

“You begin investing for retirement after you’ve done two things: you’re debt-free, and you have saved an emergency fund of three to six months of expenses. Three-fourths of the people on Forbes list of the 400 wealthiest people in America say getting and staying debt-free is the most important thing you can do when it comes to handling your money. The full emergency fund ensures you have a cushion in case of an illness or job loss and that your retirement funds stay where they are and keep growing.”

 

When is the best time to start saving for retirement?

The short answer: Now. Or as soon as possible. That’s because there’s also another factor in play that could really work to your advantage — compounding interest — or the interest you can earn on interest. According to Tony Robbins, “by not saving, and by not investing, you are losing out on more money by waiting than you stand to lose by taking a small risk and starting your retirement account.” For a more in-depth breakdown of how compounding interest over time can make a big difference, see Tony Robbins’s article: Create a Money Machine.

 

My final thoughts:

Although I’m no financial guru, I have wised up to a few things over time. First of all: processing your current age never feels any less like an alien/host-type situation; at 7 years old, the coveted teen years felt oh sooo far away, your 20s felt unimaginably grown up (hilarious), and every decade that passes thereafter… more of the same. Second: Seeking the “right time” is futile, because it doesn’t exist.

 

So when you factor in those “constants,” waiting to perfect a master retirement savings plan feels less critical (and daunting) than just getting the ball rolling in the right direction. That’s not to say you should become lax in your research and planning. By all means, get out there and speak to a certified financial advisor (they get paid to do this stuff for a reason). Just try to avoid getting stuck an endless loop of analysis and become your own enemy to progress. That’s not how you’ll make it to that little beach bungalow or another perfect retirement of your dreams.

Source: 

How I Learned About Saving for Retirement (And you can too)

Jaclyn Eickenhorst
Jaclyn Eickenhorst

 

By craft Jaclyn is a copywriter, but she really fashions herself more of an “idea explorateur.” When it comes to working through tasks to arrive at the best solution, she considers herself a purist, aka a compulsive brainstormer. Intervals of staring into space, broken up by a frenetic syncopation of keystrokes — that’s just part of “the process.” No need to call for someone…unless they have cookies. Definitely call then.

3 Questions for Jaclyn:

  1. Favorite hobbies?

    Paying guitar, boxing, finding new ridiculous things to worry about, daydreaming about the next great American novel, and talking to my cat like she’s a human baby (because she is).

  2. What was your very first job?

    A confectionary & culinary artist/customer service liaison within the food and hospitality industry — a.k.a. “counter girl” at Dairy Queen.

  3. Worst financial decision?

    Probably buying a timeshare at the ripe old age of 21. Not only was I gullible enough to attend the spiel, yes, I actually bought into it. Luckily, I read the fine print, found a loophole, and got out within 24 hours! Critical reading skills for the win!

Ultimate Guide to Saving Money at the Grocery Store

Food is one of the biggest expenses after housing, so finding ways to save money at the grocery store can mean the difference between saving and living paycheck-to-paycheck. Here are some of our favorite strategies for saving money at the grocery store.

 

Find the Best Coupons

It used to be that you could only get coupons through your newspaper or mail, and you had to hope that there would be a coupon for something you actually wanted. Thankfully, we don’t live in that world anymore. If you need it, odds are good there is a coupon somewhere online for it. Here are some of our favorite websites to find coupons.

One note about looking for coupons. You might find one and think “What a great deal!” but remember, it’s not a great deal if you didn’t need it in the first place.

 

Shop Items by Unit Price

Looking at item prices isn’t a trick, we all comparison shop, but manufacturers know this and will make packaging that deceives the eye. Heck, we’ve all opened a bag of chips to realize we purchased packaged air.

save money by shopping by unit price at the grocery store

To find the best deals, look at the unit pricing for items. Typically this will be below the price and will show cost-per-ounce. The best deal might be purchasing an item in bulk, so make sure that you know how to properly freeze produce or other goods to make them last.

 

Get Grocery Store Loyalty Cards

Almost every grocery store will offer a loyalty card. These cards will grant you discounts or savings on certain items in order to reward you for being loyal to their brand. The thing is, you aren’t limited to only having one loyalty card. If it is a store that you shop at, get the loyalty card. Keep them all in a drawer somewhere so as to not clutter your wallet and just grab the ones you need before you hit the store.

 

Search for Grocery Store Specials

Grocery stores need to move inventory. If something goes bad or can’t be sold, that hurts their bottom line. In order to help keep merchandise moving, they will run specials. When you are doing we weekly meal planning, check out what specials the store is running and build your menu around them. If you feel like you really can’t use the special this week, ask the cashier for a rain check. This will usually only work when they are out of a given item, but it is always worth a try. You can compound these efforts by finding manufacturer coupons for the item and stack the savings.

 

Don’t Buy Everything at One Grocery Store

Imagine this week you feel like experimenting. You want to make an authentic Indian curry. You might be able to find the ingredient and spices you need at your usual store, but the prices are likely to be pretty high. These items aren’t as popular, so they occupy shelf space for longer and thus need to be sold for more. You’re better off trying to find a specialty store.

 

Avoid These Grocery Store Tricks

save money at the grocery store by looking at the bottom shelf

  • Grocery stores have refined store layouts in order to make it easier to buy the most expensive items and items you don’t need. For example, the most expensive items will always be at eye level, making them the first thing you see. Look at the bottom shelves for the better prices. Stores also put common essential items, like milk and produce, on opposite ends of the store so that you will wander down the aisles. Focus on going directly to what you came for.
  • Going hungry or indulging in samples is a surefire way to end up purchasing things you don’t need. Always eat before you shop, or, if you can’t grab a meal, then carry around a pack of mints. Sucking on a mint while you shop will help kill some of those cravings.
  • Carry the basket. Carts have two tricks that will help you shop. First, they are huge, giving you plenty of room to chuck random items in. Secondly, they are on wheels, so you don’t have the weight to remind you that you’re getting a lot of items. Using a basket will limit both of those and help you to stay focused on your shopping list.
  • Bring your own music. This one sounds like a conspiracy theory, but grocery stores play music with slower tempos to encourage you to stroll leisurely around. Listening to music with a faster tempo will help you speed through.
  • Never shop when you are tired or stressed. We have a limited amount of willpower and we are more prone to caving into temptations when we are tired, stressed, sad, or angry. Spending money you don’t have will only make those emotions worse.
  • Leave the kids at home if you can. Stores position tempting items at child height specifically to trigger the “Mommy, can we get this?” Aside from this being a horrible experience for everyone involved, it also causes you to run the risk of saying “Yes” to something you didn’t plan on.
  • Know thyself. If you’re an impulse shopper, then don’t go to the store. Seriously. If you have a roommate or partner who can go, then send them. Or, if you must, make a shopping list and order the groceries online and arrange for pickup. Searching for the items online will minimize the opportunities to add things you don’t need.
  • Double check the cashier. I’m not suggesting that they are trying to con you on purpose, only that they are humans that sometimes make mistakes. Always look at your receipt and make sure it reflects what you purchased.

 

Buy Produce That Is In Season

When do you think we have more apples, when they are in season or when they are offseason? Easy, right? Obviously, there is a bigger supply of certain products when they are in season. Economics 101 lets us know that when there is an excess supply, prices drop, and when there is a limited supply, prices increase. Buying produce that is in season also guarantees better quality and freshness. It’s an all-around better way to shop and eat.

 

Use Cash Back Apps

There are several cashback apps that will give you money back just for shopping. Wild, right? These apps make their money by earning a small affiliate commission off of the items you buy, showing you ads, or providing your data (like purchasing habits) to companies. Assuming you’re okay with that, then these apps can be a great way to save money at the grocery store.

 

Never Buy These Items At A Grocery Store

There are some items you should just never buy at a grocery store.

  • Toiletries. Drug stores will usually have better deals.
  • Canned beans. Dried beans are cheaper and better tasting. Just soak them in water the night before you want to cook with them.
  • Prepared foods or pre-cut anything. Yes, these things are convenient, but you are paying extra to save yourself how much time?
  • Herbs. Nothing goes bad more quickly than fresh herbs. Make yourself a garden, it’s incredibly easy, your food will taste better, and it will save you money.
  • Milk. Convenience and drug stores, on average, are 30 to 50 cents cheaper.

 

Meal Plan Like A Chef

Chefs have to be master meal planners. If an ingredient doesn’t get used or goes bad, then that is some of their profits wasted. Here are some tips to meal plan like a pro.

    1. Go meatless one night a week. Vegetarians save, on average, $746.46 a year on their grocery bill.
    2. Cook double batches. Buying ingredients in bulk is typically cheaper and then you can freeze a meal for later.
    3. Plan meals with similar ingredients. A couple pounds of turkey can be made into burgers, meatballs, tacos, spaghetti… you get the idea.
    4. Double check your pantry. Sometimes we buy things we already have but have forgotten about. Americans throw away roughly 25% of their groceries every year. That is literally throwing money away.
    5. Look for the deal, then make the meal. Not the other way around.

 

Revise Your Strategies

Now that you have some of the basics down, it is time to tweak these strategies to fit your lifestyle. At the end of the month, look through your grocery store receipts and do the following:

      1. Find the most expensive item on your grocery list and research for a cheaper substitute. This might be another brand, another store, or another ingredient altogether. For example, instead of using pine nuts in pesto, try using almonds.
      2. Look at the items you most commonly buy. For me, that is coffee, bread, and peanut butter. Compare prices at different grocery stores to see who offers the lowest price on your most common items. Saving here will really add up.
      3. Write down the cost of ingredients at the top of the recipes. Add them to a binder of recipes and organize by cheap, moderate, and expensive. Now when you need to find a cheap meal, you will know exactly where to look. Or, if you want to impress, you can go to your fancier recipes.

Do you have a favorite trick to saving money at the grocery store? We’d love to hear it. Leave us a comment or feel free to tweet to us @Kasasa. Happy shopping!

Featured

New Year’s Resolutions You Can Actually Keep

Please enjoy this FREE E-Book from Mutual Credit Union as a gift to Kick Start your Successful Financial New Year in 2019! This workbook is designed to help you set goals, track them throughout 2019 and make your financial dreams a reality!

Click New Years Resolutions_eBook-interactive for the Downloadable Version. Enjoy!

New Years Resolution Workbook

 

WE Can’t Wait To SAY……………………………..

 

Congratulations on a Job Well Done

How Should I Fund My Holiday Shopping?

Q: I’ve made my gift list and I’m checking it twice. But, I’m getting a bit panicky just thinking about how I’m going to pay for all this stuff! What’s the best way to get me through this expensive season?  friends_window_shopping

A: Relax! You can keep your budget and your sanity, too! You can do it without having to dip into your savings or rack up a high-interest credit card bill that you’ll be paying off well into 2019. Instead, learn about your choices so you can spend responsibly and keep your holiday cheer all through the season. 

Let’s explore your options and take a look at why they may or may not be right for you.   

1.) No-interest credit cards 

It’s never a good idea to rack up debt. However, if you can get your hands on a credit card that offers an initial no-interest period, you can borrow the money to fund those purchases without it costing you a penny in interest. 

Nice: This can be a perfect solution for you if you have an excellent credit score and concrete plans to pay back the bill before the zero interest period ends. 

Naughty: Don’t go this route if you have a poor track record of paying down your credit card bills. You might end up carrying that balance well after the intro period ends. You’ll then be hit with super-high interest rates that will make your holiday expenses go much higher. 

2.) Personal loans 

Anytime you need a pile of dough, you can stop by Mutual Credit Union to apply for a personal loan. Our representatives are always happy to help, and you can walk out with the money you need to fund your holiday shopping shortly after starting your application. 

Nice: Like all of our lending products, our personal loans have low interest rates, which makes the payback plan affordable for almost any budget. 

Naughty: If you’re already carrying a load of debt and unpaid loans, don’t take out another one just to get you through the holidays. Consider lower cost gift ideas and focus on paying off debt.  

3.) Skip-a-Payment 

Here at Mutual Credit Union, we understand that the holidays can be super expensive for our members. That’s why we offer you our own gift this time of year: the option to skip a monthly loan payment to give you that extra cash flow. It’s more breathing room in your budget, just when you need it most! 

Nice: When you choose Skip-a-Payment, you’ll be able to pay for those presents with the money your saving by skipping your December payment. No high-interest bills to haunt you through the first part of 2019 because you saved yourself from adding another payment to your credit card!  

Naughty: When you choose to skip a monthly loan payment, you are essentially moving that payment to the end of the loan’s life. Every Skip-a-Payment will make the loan’s term one month longer. Consider this: If you skip just one payment a year on an auto loan, the loan will be six months longer than you’d originally anticipated. 

4.) Christmas Club Account 

Don’t wait until Black Friday to start thinking about your holiday shopping. Pay a little bit toward this expensive season all year long by opening a Christmas Club Account. This way, when November rolls around, you’ll actually look forward to buying all those gifts instead of dreading it. Put the cheer back in your holiday season by opening a Christmas Club Account today! 

Nice: Christmas Club Accounts offer you a way to pay for your holiday shopping ahead of the season, instead of playing catch-up on your bills in the coming months. It’s the perfect way to take the stress out of the holidays! 

Naughty: If you want to open a Christmas Club Account to help you make it through this season, you’re a little late. But, it’s never too early to start thinking about next year! 

5.) Deferred-interest financing 

If you’re buying several large purchases at big-box stores, consider signing up for the retailers’ deferred-interest financing. Many chain stores offer customers this interest-free financing option so they can walk out with their purchase today, and pay for it tomorrow. 

Nice: Deferred-interest financing works just like an interest-free line of credit, only it’s exclusive to the store selling the item. If you don’t like the idea of opening another credit card but you need that interest-free option, this can be the perfect solution for you. 

Naughty: If you neglect to pay off your bill before the interest-free period expires, you’ll be slapped with sky-high interest fees. Worse yet, you’ll have to pay interest retroactively for the entire interest-free period. 

If you’re still struggling to get through the holiday season, we can help! Stop by Mutual Credit Union today. We’ll show you how to stay in the black when your holiday expenses have you seeing red. 

Your Turn: How do you pay for your holiday expenses? Share your method of choice and tell us why it works for you in the comments below.

 

SOURCES:

https://www.thebalance.com/pay-for-big-holiday-purchases-interest-free-4154866

https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052748704782304574541873369727460

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.thestreet.com/amp/story/12808150/1/how-pay-your-holiday-shopping.html

7 HALLOWEEN HACKS YOU DON’T WANT TO MISS

Halloween house.jpgHalloween is coming – and so is the fun! Everyone wants to win the prize for creepiest costume and the most frightening yard décor in the neighborhood.

But all that spookiness comes with a scary price tag. The average American will spend $169 on Halloween costs this year. And, if that’s not enough to terrify you, consider this: Most people spend close to $70 just on their Halloween getups. That’s a lot of money for a costume you likely won’t wear again.

Ready to save big? Read on for 7 awesome Halloween hacks that are just too good to miss. From DIY décor that will scare the living daylights out of your guests to effortless costumes that look great without costing a bundle, we’ve got you covered!

1. Is that real ketchup?

No Halloween costume or party is complete without some sickly-looking crime scene splatter. And there’s no need to blow big bucks on whatever concoction the party store’s got in stock. Make your own fake blood with this quickie recipe. All you need are 3 ingredients:

  • 4 cups corn syrup
  • Red food coloring
  • Blue food coloring

Pour the corn syrup into a large bowl and start adding the red food coloring a few drops at a time. Stir your mixture with a whisk until you reach your desired consistency. To darken the “blood,” add a few drops of blue food coloring while continuing to stir.

You’re all set – now go scare someone silly!

2. Whose hand is floating in the punch bowl?

For a super-scary addition to your Halloween party, fill a rubber glove with water and seal it shut. Stick it in the freezer and just a few hours later, you’ll have an iced severed hand to drop into the punch bowl and really freak your guests out.

3. Stick ‘em up!

For a ridiculously easy costume that will make people laugh, go as a stick person!

Dress in black from head to toe. Use white masking tape to add stick lines to your legs, arms and torso. Put some lines in the back, too. For a full-body costume, take a paper plate and paint it black. Use your tape to draw a stick-face on the plate and glue a popsicle stick onto the bottom so you can hold it up.

Don’t forget to do the stiff stick-walk and you’ll really crack people up!

4. Is that a witch sticking out of your snake plant?

Got some spare pool noodles lying around? Dress them up to go as witch legs!

Take two pool noodles and stuff them into a pair of striped leggings. Top it off with black witchy-looking shoes and you have yourself a pair of witch legs! Stick them upside down into the plant on your front porch, or make them look like they’re coming out of your garbage can.

Now sit and watch your visitors’ reactions and you’ll have the last cackle!        

5Would you like some spiders with that?

Have fun with a cheap bag of plastic spiders! Here are some ways to use these creepy crawlies to add the fear factor to your Halloween party:

  • Stick them in your ice cube tray for floating critters that will terrify your guests.
  • Drop them inside your soap dispenser to frighten anyone looking to wash up.
  • Scatter them inside the popcorn bowl for a scary surprise.

6. Did you really just kill a box of cereal?

Looking for a funny-scary costume you can make yourself? Go as a serial killer! Err … a cereal killer, that is.

Take an old white T-shirt and decorate it to look like your favorite cereal box. Then take a dress-up dagger and carefully cut off its tip. Glue the blunted dagger to the middle of your cereal box so it looks like it’s piercing it right in the heart. Then use your fake blood to add splatters and drippings all over your shirt. Make your face look menacing with some dark costume makeup and add an ominous scar across your cheek, too.

You’re ready to hunt down those no-good cereals!

7. Anyone care for some fresh worms?

Serve up an entrée from the dark side that will have your guests completely grossed out!

Drip a bit of black food coloring into boiling pasta and it will instantly turn your dinner into a dark, horrendous-looking creation. Drain your pasta as usual and then bring it out to the table, asking if anyone would like some delicious hot worms for dinner.

Don’t let Halloween costs scare you. Follow our hacks for a frighteningly fun time that won’t kill your budget and will still terrify the entire neighborhood!

Your Turn: What’s your favorite Halloween hack that’s easy on the budget? Tell us all about it in the comments!

SOURCES:

http://www.the36thavenue.com/halloween-hacks-and-diy-ideas/

https://www.buzzfeed.com/peggy/last-minute-halloween-hacks?utm_term=.oo7EPKBAN#.xn4VMabN8

https://www.littlethings.com/diy-halloween/

CU at the Zoo April 14th, 2018

What is CU at the Zoo?

Mississippi Credit Unions Create Community in a Wild Way

CU at the Zoo logo featuring some of the animals you will see at the Jackson Zoo

Have you seen the posts on social media? Did another parent from your child’s class mention a free day at the Zoo in passing? Maybe you noticed a flyer on the wall about CU at the Zoo posted in your credit union. But what is CU at the Zoo?

Simply put, CU at the Zoo is a way for area credit unions to come together and offer a fun community event while also raising awareness of Youth Savings Month. To say “Thank You” to the community and our credit union members for being a part of the credit union movement.

Beginning in 2013, a group of area credit unions wanted to find a deeper way to connect and give back to their communities by way of physical presence and hands on activity. Through this discovery process some of the best cooperative minds in our community produced the CU at the Zoo Event! By partnering with the Jackson Zoo, area credit unions offer free admission to the first 2,500 visitors and have unique displays and booths set up throughout the Zoo complete with games, crafts, face painting, food trucks, a scavenger hunt, financial education literature and activities, and giveaways galore!

Credit Unions are co-operatives and CU at the Zoo is one more way we embody that philosophy every day. Working together, we can make a difference for even the youngest of members. What better time than April of each year, during Youth Savings Month to focus on healthy saving habits and financial education. CU at the Zoo is an event at which we can all have fun and learn a little more about animals, the zoo, the credit union movement, and of course, saving!

The event is one we look forward to every year. Seeing our members out having fun with their families and soaking up all the Jackson Zoo has to offer is a great treat for us. Don’t forget to join us this year on April 14th from 9:00 am to 2:00 pm. Get there early, there’s always a great crowd! Remember it’s free for the first 2,500 visitors, and only $5 per person for admission after we reach that number.

#CUZoo2018 #CUDifference #OurFocusIsYou #MutualCU

Finding the vehicle — and the lender – that is your perfect match

Mutual-Social-Media-Post-Auto-F1543547

It’s love at first sight…that memorable moment when you spot the vehicle of your dreams. Your heart pounds a little faster, your adrenaline kicks in, and you can’t wait to drive happily ever after into the sunset.
But there’s another important relationship you likely need to consider first: your ideal lending partner. The auto dealer will no doubt offer you a great rate. Wait! Before you sign on the dotted line, be sure to talk to us at Mutual Credit Union – where we will match your rate on everything from a new or used auto to an RV, ATV, boat or motorcycle.*
Why partner with Mutual for your auto loan or refinance?
Because we’re your perfect match when it comes to an attractive auto loan! Our rate match is certainly a big part of that. But it’s actually just one of the many reasons to choose Mutual Credit Union for your auto loan or refinance:
• A rate match (up to 4% lower than the rate you qualify for with us)*
• Great terms
• Weekly, bi-weekly or monthly payments
• Local loan decisions for fast approval
• 24/7 online or mobile loan application and payments
• A free gift with a loan of $10,000 or more**
Most importantly, the very reason Mutual Credit Union exists is to look out for you and your financial well-being. As an owner here, your best interests always come first, even after you drive off the lot. We’ve already earned your trust with your finances, so you can count on us to offer you the same reliable, personal service on your auto loan. We also offer a full suite of affordable protection options for your vehicle.
Car buying tips
Visit Mutual Credit Union to get pre-approved
Before you fall in love with a car you may not be able to afford, come see us. Our lenders can get you pre-approved for financing that fits your lifestyle and budget. A pre-approval not only saves you a ton of time at the dealership, but also shows you exactly how much you can spend – giving you added negotiating power.
Do your research
Informed shoppers are smart shoppers, so gather some information ahead of time. Resources like Consumer Reports (www.consumerreports.org), Edmunds (www.edmunds.com) and Kelley Blue Book® (www.kbb.com) offer helpful vehicle reviews and pricing information that can help you determine a fair price for the car you want.
Negotiate your price
Price negotiation is probably the most overwhelming part of the car-buying process, but it is important for you to stick to your strategy. If you’ve done your research, it’ll be easier to discern a fair offer. Buying a car is a big step and the transaction has to be right for you.
Have questions about our rate match, or about car buying and refinancing in general? Our team is always happy to help make the process easier, and we can get you on the road fast with our local approvals. Just stop by, give us a call or go to www.mutualcu.org.
*As low as 1.49% Annual Percentage Rate. Member must have proof of rate. Rate match applies to autos, RVs, ATVs, boats and motorcycles. All loans subject to membership, credit approval, and other considerations. Offer not valid for refinancing any Mutual Credit Union loans. Some restrictions may apply. **While supplies last. Minimum $10,000 loan to qualify.

Your Credit Score: The (Other) Key To Your New Home

     Each potential home buyer dreams of the day they’ll finally get the symbol of independence, security and prosperity: the key to the front door of their new home. Before you get that one, though, there’s another key you need to craft. Your credit score, a numerical representation of your credit history as an indicator of your ability to pay your bills, will determine a lot about your housing situation, from how much house you can afford to the interest rates you’ll receive.
     Your credit score is determined by three different credit monitoring agencies: TransUnion, Equifax and Experian. Each has its own method for determining which events are most important to your score, so your number may vary depending upon the agency. Paying debts off, making payments on time and using only a small percentage of your available credit make your score go up. Missing payments, opening many credit accounts or carrying a significant balance of debt from month-to-month will decrease your score.
     Less important than the actual score is your score grouping. Lenders tend to lump borrowers into four categories: sub-prime, near-prime, prime and super-prime. Different lenders break these categories down at different score points, but the terminology and treatment are fairly universal. Super-prime lenders get the lowest rates, because they represent the lowest level of risk for the lender. Sub-prime and near-prime borrowers will have a lower cap for the size of the loan they can take and will generally pay a higher interest rate. If you’re working on raising a low credit score, a good target number is 640. This will generally put you in the prime group and ensure you don’t have to pay extra on your mortgage because of credit. If you’re building good credit, 740 is generally the lowest super-prime score, which will give you access to some of the best rates and terms available.
     If you’re going house-hunting in the next year, there are three steps you can take right now to improve the terms of your mortgage. Check your credit score, take steps to raise it and manage your loan in other ways. Taking these three steps will put you on the fast track to affordable home ownership!
Check your credit score
     You can check your credit report for free once a year at annualcreditreport.com. Note, though, that there may be a nominal fee to receive your actual score along with the report. There are many similar websites, but many of them will charge you. Annualcreditreport.com is the site created by the three credit companies to provide consumers with transparent access to their financial information.
If your score isn’t at the level you think it should be, there may be errors or inaccuracies that are dragging down your good name. Look for accounts you don’t recognize or balances that are not up-to-date. You may even catch an identity thief red-handed! The report comes with instructions for challenging any item. In most cases, you can leave a note for lenders in the file explaining the item under dispute.
Boost your credit score!
     There are no simple tricks to bump your credit score in advance of a mortgage. You need to develop a 6- to 12-month plan to boost your credit score before getting your mortgage by making sound financial decisions. Demonstrate to lenders that you can use credit responsibly, and your score will increase.
     One of the biggest drags on a credit score is percentage of utilized debt. If you’re carrying a balance on credit cards, this tells lenders that you may be using credit to pay for your day-to-day expenses, and that lending you more money would not be a smart move for them. Getting balances to zero should be goal number one!
     Also, take care that you don’t make any major purchases using credit right before you attempt to qualify for a mortgage. Even if you’re expecting a major windfall, such as an overtime check or a tax refund, creditors don’t see that on your report. Hold off until you have the cash in hand before you splurge on a new TV or car!
     If it’s a lack of credit history that’s hurting your score, Mutual Credit Union offers “credit builder” loans. These involve borrowing a small amount of money and making regular installment payments on it.
What else?
     If your credit score is low, and there’s nothing you can do about it, you may need to take other steps to get a better position on a loan. You might try boosting your down payment or shopping for less expensive houses, so you’re borrowing a smaller sum of money. A co-signer, another responsible party willing to take on the risk of the loan, can also improve your terms. If your debt is a serious problem, perhaps moving into a new house isn’t a good short-term priority. Focus instead on paying off debt and saving up for a down payment. This can keep you from getting stuck with a house payment you can’t afford before you’re ready for it.

Hosting A Super ‘Big Game’ Party On A Budget

Big brands are paying upwards of $5 million for 30-second Super Bowl ad slots, and the city of San Francisco is forking over $4.8 million to host weeklong festivities leading up to the big game. But when the two top NFL teams compete on Feb. 7 in Santa Clara, California, for Super Bowl 50, thankfully you’ll be shelling out considerably less than that to hold your Big Game party.
Super Bowl parties are among the most inexpensive to host. Besides the traditional chicken wings, tortilla chips and guacamole, and beer–the most important must-haves are adequate seating and a big-screen TV to watch the game.
The most widely watched sporting event of the year last year drew an estimated 184 million viewers to see winning team the New England Patriots take on the Seattle Seahawks. According to the National Retail Federation’s  Super Bowl Spending Survey , viewers spent an average of $77.88, up from $68.27 the previous year. That covered everything from game day food and new televisions to athletic wear and decorations. Food and beverages accounted for nearly 80 percent of the total of $14.3 billion in spending.
Hosting or attending a Super Bowl party in someone’s home was the most popular option. Only 5 percent of viewers opted to watch the game in a restaurant or bar, where loud noise can detract from the game-watching experience.
So if you’re planning to host a Super Bowl party for family and friends, how can you avoid going over your budget? Below are some ideas for throwing an inexpensive event that will still be fun and entertaining.
Keep It Casual
Set expectations with guests that your event will be low key and casual. After all, it’s the game (and the commercials) that will be the star of your event. Nearly half of viewers in the NRF survey say that the game itself is the most important part of the day, followed by nearly one-third saying that the most important parts for them are the commercials and hanging out with friends and family.
Stress in your invitation that you’re just hosting a casual get-together to watch the game. No fancy invitations are required: a simple email or e-vite with time, place, directions, and other details will do. And make sure you ask guests to RSVP so you’ll have an idea of how many people plan on attending. That way you’ll know how much food to buy–and won’t overspend for guests who won’t attending.
Make It a Potluck
People love sharing, and this goes double when it comes to sharing favorite dishes with family and friends. Asking each guest to bring a dish will not only create an interesting array of food and beverage offerings, it will significantly reduce your expenses.
You might say in your invitation that you’ll provide one hot main dish (such as chili or soup) and snacks (such as cheese and crackers or raw veggies and dip) so you’ll have something to serve in the very unlikely event a majority of your guests show up empty-handed. But in all probability, once you ask guests to bring something, you’ll be inundated with food and beverages.
And don’t worry about asking people to sign up to bring a specific type of dish (such as a beverage, snack, entree, or dessert). For some mysterious reason, potlucks always seem to turn out. You may be buried under an avalanche of chips, guacamole, salsa, and beer for a while–but that’s a good problem to have since you can always eat the leftovers or give leftovers to guests.
If one of your guests has a special recipe (such as spicy chicken wings or a football-shaped cake) that you think could be the star of your party, you might reach out privately and ask them to bring it. Once the teams are decided, you can ask people to use the colors of their favorite team in the food they bring (or their serving dishes) to up the fun factor.
In light of people’s food preferences (vegetarian, vegan, low-carb, low-fat) and food allergies (gluten, lactose, nuts), it’s also a good idea to ask guests to label the dishes they bring accordingly. A small card indicating the dish is vegan, vegetarian, or gluten-free, or containing nuts can go a long way to making sure your guests enjoy themselves and don’t ingest anything that won’t agree with them.
Buy in Bulk
Whatever food and beverage items you plan to supply for the party, watch for sales and try to buy in bulk. Your local retailers are gearing up for the Super Bowl and will have an abundant supply (and probable sales) on Super Bowl staples such as avocadoes, tomatoes, salsa, chips, carrots, celery, chicken, and beer.
Watch for the circulars that show up in your mailbox, and take a trip to the local supermarket to see what they have on sale. Now might be a good time to visit a big-box outlet such as Costco and take advantage of savings by buying in bulk. You can always use the party leftovers to feed your family in weeks to come.
Seating Options
You’ll want to make sure you have adequate seating for guests, but you don’t need to go overboard and rent chairs. Clear extra pillows and cushions that might reduce the seating capacity of your TV-adjacent sofa and chairs, and place them on the floor to create comfortable nearby viewing areas.
If your seating options are skimpy, don’t worry. Many people like to stand up to watch the game, freeing themselves for circulating or enthusiastic cheering when their team scores. And if you must bring in extra seating, ask a friend or family member if they can bring over a few folding chairs.
Decorations
It fun to spruce up your home with banners, balloons in team colors, or football-shaped trinkets. Definitely feel free to unleash your inner decorator for your Game Day bash. But your friends are really there for the game, and in all likelihood, they won’t remember your decor. It will be the fun they had, the nail-biting moments of the game, the moments of triumph and defeat as they watch their favorite team struggle for dominance. And thankfully, moments like that cost nothing.
If you must decorate, dig out decorations you have on hand or visit the dollar-store so you won’t break your budget. And as with everything, less is more. A strategically placed banner or a few balloons will go a long way to add a spirit of festivity to your gathering.

Gift Card Holiday Shopping Guide

With Thanksgiving only a few weeks away, 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 $32 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; just ask any 11-year-old who gets a copy of “Triassic World” or “The Revengers” this year.
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 find yourself short on cash, check out Mutual Credit Union’s personal loans that start at $500, or take advantage of the great rates on our credit cards!
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