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Here we are in the midst of our biggest spending season. Last year the average American spent $835 on Christmas purchases, and it took them until mid July to pay them off.

Along with those urges to buy more, come the bills after the New Year. January thru March can be cold and bleak outside but it doesn’t have to be when you sit down to balance your checkbook and pay your bills.

For some, getting a part-time job to pay for the holidays may seem a bit stressful before Christmas. However, it will be very satisfying when the bills don’t pile up afterwards.

Give yourself a limit and be realistic about that limit. Some of us have been setting aside money all year in a Christmas Club or stashing it away into a savings account. If you have this much discipline, you can probably stick to spending that money and not a penny more. For the rest of us, we need to figure out what we can afford and stick to the plan.

Make a list, check it twice, and stick to it!
Figure out exactly what you can spend on each person and everything else on your list, use “My Christmas Budget” sheet on the back page of this newsletter. You may want to cut it out and take it with you when you go shopping.

Paying cash for your purchases is a good way to hold back on the impulse spending with a credit card. Keep a log of all the money you spend and save your receipts.


Instead of putting yourself in Scrooge mode, be creative with your gift ideas this year. Go to the library and look at the magazines for ideas. Make up your mind on what you want to do, make a list, and spend as little time in the stores as possible. It’s also a good idea to go shopping alone.

Try going with a personalized theme this year. Perhaps a family calendar, if you have access to a computer and printer. Grandparents always appreciate a picture of you. Keep your eyes peeled during the year for inexpensive frames at yard sales, thrift stores, and dollar stores. There are always gift baskets and homemade baked goods in tins. Get the kids involved in making cards.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the commercialism and materialism of Christmas. We urge you to try and remember why we celebrate Christmas and that it’s not just a spending spree. Take time to relax and enjoy your family and friends.


 

   
 
 

In many areas of the United States it’s cold, chilly, and we are thinking about those upcoming heating costs. It’s a guessing game when it comes to Mother Nature, but the cost to heat a home this winter is expected to be higher than last year. Along with the Christmas season, and the rising energy cost upon us, we really need to think about our budgets, and make the needed adjustments. We can also think about how to make our homes more efficient and come up with other energy saving ideas.

Insulate your ceilings, and, if possible, your walls. You can lose 30–35% of your room heat through the ceiling, and 15–20% through the walls. Ceiling insulation can save 20% on summer cooling energy, and 25% on winter heating.

More Energy Saving Tips:
Using a microwave oven can cut your costs by 70% and you get your meal much faster!
Boil water in a fast boiling electric kettle or jug instead of using a saucepan and hot plate.
Don’t overload or use too much detergent in the washer, it uses more energy and does not clean efficiently.
Try to use either cold or lukewarm water when washing clothes.
Dry your clothes outside as much as possible.
Do not overload or underload the dryer. Separate clothes according to weight, it takes less to dry the lightweight stuff together.
Clean the filter in your dryer at every use to ensure maximum efficiency.
Take a shower instead of a bath—an ordinary shower will use only 2/5 of the water.
Fix leaky faucets, this is money going down the drain, especially if it’s the hot water dripping.
Although the cost to switch is high, switching light bulbs to energy efficient bulbs can save money in the long run. Compact fluorescent “energy efficient” light bulbs, or CFL's, which are simply miniature versions of full-sized fluorescent. You can save up to 75% in energy costs and they last up to 10 times longer.
Compare not only the purchase price on a new appliance, but the efficiency, cost of repairs, and maintenance as well.

If you are overdue on paying a utility company, watch out! In some states they can and will turn off your service no matter what time of year it is! It’s a state-by-state issue. Some states will not turn off utilities during the winter months. If your having a problem making your payments you can contact the Public Utility Commission in your state. The PUC is there to help you come to terms with your utility company and help you stay warm and keep the lights on.


     

 

 

 

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What is a Credit Score? Creditors use your credit score to evaluate whether or not you are a credit risk. Basically, if they lend you money, can they expect to be paid back? It may also determine your individual credit limits and interest rates with each of your creditors.


Where does it come from? Credit scores are compiled by using software developed by a company called FICO or Fair Isaac Corporation. You should check your credit once a year with each of the following agencies which use this software to see what changes have taken place.

Because creditors can report on the same information differently, it’s best to check all three. If you are planning to make a large purchase it’s best to check your credit 6–12 months ahead of time. This will give you time to clean up your report and improve your score. If you find anything that is not correct, you need to respond and have it investigated and corrected.


What is the score based on?
The information used comes from many areas of your financial activity. Most creditors take into consideration many aspects, not just your score. The largest percentage of your score, 35%, is from your payment history and 30% from amounts you owe. At least 15% of your score is based on accounts established and how long since you have used those accounts. Lenders also look at how much debt you are able to handle, how long you have had credit,
and may look at your employment history. Of course they also look at public records such as bankruptcies, foreclosures, lawsuits, wage attachments, liens, and judgments. Besides outstanding debts they also look at the positive credit history. The more positive history you have, the higher your score!
The process is fair since the creditors are using other criteria and not race, religion, gender, nationality, or marital status to make their decisions.


How can mistakes happen?
• Mistakes can be made by the person who inputs the information. Or you gave them inaccurate information.
• You may have applied for credit under a different name, example; Tom or Thomas.
• Perhaps payments were applied to the wrong account.

How do I get a better score?
Don’t be discouraged by a lower score. They can change over time. As you recover your financial health the positive information will overshadow the credit problems you’ve had in the past and it will show that you are handling your credit well.

What are the benefits to a better score?

Your credit score doesn't just affect whether or not you get a loan; it also affects how much that loan is going to cost you. As your credit score increases, your credit risk decreases. This means your interest rate decreases. In addition to banks and lenders, there are landlords, merchants, and insurance companies that also check credit scores. This can determine whether or not you get that place to rent or how much you pay in car insurance.

What is a good credit score range? 

It depends on what you are trying to obtain
credit for and it depends on the criteria set by the lender.
• The scores range from 300–850.
• A score of about 620 is frequently cited as a “cutoff point” for loans which can be funded by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. Below 620 is the higher risk and higher rate market. You can see the difference a good score can make in the example below.

How can I raise my score? 
• Pay your bills on time!
• If you have missed payments, get current and stay current.
• Don’t open new credit card accounts just to increase your available credit, it could actually lower your score. If you open too many accounts too fast it can make you look like a high risk, especially if you are new to the credit game. Only open new accounts if you are going to use them responsibly and pay them
off on time.
• Don’t have high outstanding debt.

 

 

 

 

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Money can be an emotionally charged subject and is the cause of 90% of divorces. It doesn’t seem to matter if you have a little or if you have a lot of money, couples still fight over this subject. There are some steps you can take to lessen the bickering and find harmony when it comes to your finances.

Men and women usually have a different attitude about finances. You should both start by evaluating just what your individual attitudes are about money. Have the two of you sit down with a cup of decaf and start the dialogue by answering the following questions:

• Are you a spender or a saver?
• Do you watch your balances and know exactly how much money you have everyday, or could you care less?
• Do you both pay the bills? Or who is the designated bill payer? Does the other person know exactly what the up-to-date figures are?
• Does shopping make you feel good or do you buy only what you need?
• Are you a risk taker? Or afraid to make decisions about money?
• How much debt are you comfortable with? Would you rather be debt free?
• Do you panic or stay calm when a bad financial situation has occurred?
• Do you feel in control of your debts and your spending? Or are you out of control?
• Do you both spend money in the same way? Or do you have totally different behavior with your money?
• Do you buy on impulse? And if you do, does your partner know?
• What do you consider an extravagance? How much? For what?


The important thing is to start a dialogue between the two of you, at a time when it is not an emergency money situation, but rather in a calm setting. Talk about both the similarities and the differences in how you view money. Don’t use this time to find fault, but use it to find out the truth. Perhaps you might find that you can work off of each others strengths that you never knew existed and help the other with a weakness they have. In other words, try to work as a team. Most likely there are goals and dreams that you share. Talk about your goals and about how you think you can achieve them. Have a calculator, paper, and pencil handy and go over some figures and different ideas on how to achieve your goals.

When the man or the woman makes substantially more money than their partner, the relationship can turn into a power struggle. Couples need to break that connection and not see money as a way to control or manipulate their partner.

Remember, if you try and cannot come to terms with one another, get help!

Contact a Certified Credit Counselor, Accredited Financial Planner, or a Marriage Counselor who has experience helping couples resolve their monetary differences.

Although we have addressed more of a “couple relationship” in this article, there are many kinds of financial relationships among people. For example: perhaps it’s a young adult who is still living at home with their parents, or simply roommates. For every situation there needs to be fair rules set by all involved and rules that everyone agrees on. The first step in these situations is the same for all couples, communication. Sit down and discuss what the facts and figures are and come up with a plan. It is wise to have something drawn up and signed when your dealing with a roommate situation.

Tips
1. Decide whether to use joint or separate accounts. Think about having a joint, as well as your own separate accounts.
2. Think about how you split the costs. You could pay for only what you use, down to the food you eat and long-distance calls you make. Or you can go half and half—splitting everything down the middle, regardless of different incomes or spending habits.
3. A third approach is to pro-rate according to income: If you make twice as much as your partner, you pay twice as much for bills and rent.
4. Don’t begrudge your spouse small indulgences. Always agree to consult each other on big ticket items, and define what your definition of a big ticket item is.
5. Don’t criticize your spouse about money in front of others.
6. Whatever the plan, make sure you both agree to it and you both feel it’s fair and works well. Make it a team effort.

 

 

 
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Learning how to be a responsible and independent adult is one of the most important gifts a parent can give to a child.
It is also a great gift to give to ourselves. As parents we all want our children to be able to take care of themselves. If you have a teen living at home and they are working and going to school, or just working and looking for the next direction, give them some lessons in the “real world” of survival. Charge them rent. Don’t charge them so much they start to look for a cheaper place to live! Just a small portion of what they earn. For example, $25 or $50 dollars every payday. Take the money and stash it away for them. Depending on the teen you may tell them you are saving it or keep it as a nice surprise for them in the future. You may choose to use some of the money for living expenses as well. If you do, lets say you use the money to pay the electric bill or the phone bill, tell them about it. Let them know they are making a contribution to the household and let them know it is appreciated.

Teach them that money doesn’t just come to them when they hold out their hand and ask for it. You have to teach them that money comes to them as an “exchange” for something they have done. Teaching them this most basic lesson will make them much happier in the “real world”. They will feel a sense of accomplishment when they make and reach their own financial goals. When they can see how their money can grow, they can make good decisions about what to do with their money. This is a transition time for you and your teen. Use it wisely and they will become happy adults in the long run and your hard work of teaching them financial responsibility will certainly pay off.

Once the teen is ready to strike out on their own, leaving for college, or finding their own place to live, you can give them the money that you stashed away for them. Just think if you save $25 dollars a week, that amounts to $1300 in just 1 year. Even $50 a month will equal $600. That’s a nice gift to help them as they embark on their new life experience.

 

 
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This is certainly a fun time of year for the kids. The anticipation of Christmas morning, snow (if your in the right geological area), parties, and cookies. The holiday can bring out the kid in all of us. It’s fun to take the kids to the store to see just what new toy they might be thinking that they just can’t live without this Christmas. It can also be a challenge! Here are some tips for parents to keep in mind when venturing out to stores with the kids.


Involving the child in shopping is a good way for them to feel important. Have them carry the list and cross off the item after they put it in the cart. Or have them pick something in the produce isle according to color. You can have them count items. Talk to them about the prices of things. Even if they don’t understand what your saying, your still giving them attention and involving them in the process.


Don’t ever give into whining. It’s also not good to mock or ignore them, this might only make them angry and make matters worse. By giving into whining you are only reinforcing the bad behavior and shopping can be a horrible experience. This is especially bad when parents give into young children and they grow up to be spoiled and remain demanding. You have to teach them that if they want to get something they see, they have to ask for it in a reasonable tone. They need to understand that when Mom or Dad say “no”, it means “no”, and “yes” means “yes”. Stand your ground! Remember you are the teacher of our future generation. The younger we get kids to differentiate between their needs and wants, the better off we will all be. Who wants to work or be married to someone who whines and throws tantrums for everything?!

 
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You don’t have to spend a lot of money for the perfect gift. You need to think about who you are buying for and be
creative. The earlier you start the process the better! You will actually save money if you start early, and you will free-up your schedule to enjoy some of the many fun events.

Here are some smaller gift ideas for less than $10:
Head to your nearest Dollar Store for some nice little gifts, candles, dish towels, etc
Gardening gloves with a plant or flower seeds
Movie theater gift certificates
Colorful Post-It notepads
Puzzles
Special soaps and bath puff
Picture frames, buy them on sale!
Special coffee cup filled with candy
Child's artwork, framed

Of course there is always the homemade gifts, cookies, and bread. Why not give some doggie cookies to the people who love their dogs. Here’s a recipe:

Doggie Goodies
2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
3/4 cup nonfat dry milk
1 egg
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 beef bouillon cubes which have been dissolved in 3/4 cup
boiling water
2 tablespoons brown sugar

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl, stirring until well blended. Knead dough for about 1 minute. On a floured surface roll out dough to about 1/4" thickness. Cut out bones and place on greased cookie sheet. Bake for 30 minutes. Cool before placing in a jar.

Perhaps this year you would like to give gifts that have more meaning. You can give to a charity in the name of the person you are giving to. There is something for just about any personality. Check out this site, www.justgive.org to see the wide variety of charities to choose from.

Put on seasonal music and have a relaxing time decorating for Christmas. Some hot chocolate, or spiced tea, and the boxes of Christmas items from previous years, and your good to go. Even if your not a crafty person, you can use your imagination and spruce up and combine some older decorations you might already have. Having inexpensive tools such as a hot glue gun and scissors can make a world of difference. Gather pine cones, twigs, and greens from outside if you can. Use some old ribbons and bows, or even some old Christmas cards to make interesting decorations. You might choose to use some old Christmas cards you received, years before, as postcards for this year. Just cut the front of the card off and you have a postcard. They are much less expensive to mail than regular cards.

You can also use the greens you cut from under the live tree to decorate around the house. Although, if you find an artificial tree for a great price at a yard sale, it could save you money for years to come.

There are many ways to avoid overspending this Christmas. The best way is to give the people on your list something that truly comes from your heart. These are the gifts that will be remembered. Give them gifts that let them know you had them in mind when you came up with the idea for their gift. Those gifts, given by children, (that they made with their own little hands) always tug on our heart-strings!

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

 
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