A Guide to Spending & Living Within Your Means – Early Spring 2014
Living within your means doesn’t have to mean eliminating the things you love in life. Creating a detailed budget, tracking your spending, saving for unexpected expenses, and finding simple ways to enjoy your favorite things for less can help you avoid building up debt and struggling financially.
Be aware of all income and fixed expenses. Evaluate your current financial situation and create a budget containing an itemized list of your income sources and amounts (paychecks, pension, freelance, etc.) and all of your monthly bills (from your cell phone bill to your mortgage payment).
Create a list of essentials. Essentials include expenses that are necessary to live your daily life such as groceries, gas or transportation costs, and personal hygiene and health products. Make sure to separate your ‘needs’ from your ‘wants’ and do not include costs associated with entertainment, dining, or splurges on clothes or electronics.
Set a savings goal. Ensure that you are saving a portion of your income each month to prepare for unexpected expenses, as well as future purchases such as a family vacation or a new car or home. Use our online calculator ‘What will it take to save for a vehicle, home, etc?’ to set a goal and help determine how much you should automatically transfer to your savings account each paycheck.
Track your spending and saving. Track all income, spending and saving contributions to stay on track. First National’s online banking allows you to monitor your accounts 24/7, easily pay your bills, and manage your finances.
Stick to a fixed monthly budget for your ‘wants.' Be smart when spending your discretionary income. Do you really need a latte every morning before work? Maybe cut back to once a week. Or instead of treating your family of four to an afternoon at the movie theater, rent a movie and spend some quality time together in the comfort of your own home. Setting monthly budgets and ensuring you don’t go over will only help you in the long run.
Constantly re-evaluate your finances. Your income, expenses, needs and wants can, and will, change over time. Major lifestyle changes such as marriage, starting a family, buying a home or starting a new job can all affect your finances. Make adjustments as needed to ensure you are still covering your expenses while saving for the future.
Keeping your goals in mind and making small changes to your spending and savings habits can make all the difference when it comes to comfortably living within your means now and providing a secure financial situation for your family for years to come.
Top Ten Tax Savings Tips – Winter 2013
Tax season is right around the corner, so starting to prepare now could potentially lead to a larger tax refund or a smaller tax bill.* Consider the following tax savings tips from the IRS to reduce your taxes.
#1: First National Bank customers receive a discount if submitting their taxes through TurboTax. For more information, visit www.firstnational.com/turbotax
#2: If you are a college student or are the parent of a student, be sure to check if you are eligible to receive an education tax credit to help offset education expenses. The American Opportunity Tax credit can be up to $2,500 per eligible student and the Lifetime Learning Credit can be up to $2,000 for qualified education expenses on your federal tax return.
#3: For those who are paying on qualified student loans, you may be able to deduct the interest you paid and reduce your taxable income by up to $2,500.
#4: Newlyweds should consider itemizing tax deductions. Even if you didn’t qualify to itemize deductions before you were married, you may save money by itemizing rather than taking the standard deduction on your tax return.
#5: If you have accrued job-hunting expenses this year, these costs may be eligible to deduct. The expenses must be for a job search in your current occupation, and you cannot deduct job search expenses if there was a substantial break between your last job and the time you began looking for a new one. You can deduct job placement agency fees, travel expenses related to finding a new job, and the cost of preparing and mailing copies of your resume to prospective employers.
#6: If you are donating to qualified charities, you can generally deduct your cash contributions and the fair market value of the property you donate. Keep records of all donations, regardless of the amount and keep a written record of all cash contributions to claim a deduction, such as a cancelled check, bank or credit card statement or payroll deduction record.
#7: Working parents may be able to deduct eligible childcare expenses. You must pay for care so you, and your spouse (if filing jointly), can work or look for work. You must have earned income and must pay for the care of one or more qualifying children under the age of 13. The credit is a percentage of the qualified expenses and can be up to 35% percent of your expenses, dependent on income.
#8: If you have recently sold your home and made a profit from the sale, you may be able to exclude part or all of the profit from your income. This rule typically applies if you have owned and used the property as your main home for at least two of the five years before the date of sale.
#9: Get free tax helping using the different IRS social media tools available including YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/user/irsvideos), Twitter (@IRSnews, @IRStaxpros and @IRSenEspanol) and the free smartphone app IRS2Go.
#10: E-file your tax return to receive a quicker tax refund. The IRS typically issues most refunds within 21 days via direct deposit. Or, if you owe tax, you can setup easy automatic payment dates before or on the April 15th due date.
*Consult your tax advisor to determine whether or not you qualify for these tax savings.
Start your Holiday Savings Now – Fall 2013
The holidays are right around the corner, which means busy shopping centers, cheerful times with friends and family and, often times, a large shopping and gift list. By planning ahead and saving now, you can lessen the impact the holidays will have on your checking account.
- 1.Review Last Year’s Spending: By auditing your spend from the previous year, you can challenge yourself and set a lower budget goal. Open a First National savings account to use only for the holidays, start setting money aside now and continually monitor your savings’ progress towards your goal.
- 2.Start Shopping Now: Make your gift list and start the search. Shopping a few months ahead will help you avoid seasonal price increases and will give you more time to shop sale and clearance items in order to find that perfect gift. Additionally, if you are doing your shopping online, ordering early will help you avoid expensive rush shipping charges.
- 3.Buy Groceries Gradually: By planning your menu and buying food items that won’t spoil in advance, you can save later. Stock up on flour and sugar now for your baked goods, and watch for sales on ham or turkey that can be frozen now and then used for your holiday dinner.
- 4.Stock Up on Gift Wrap: You don’t need to use holiday-specific wrapping paper for your gifts. Watch for wrapping paper or gift bags with plain colors or simple patterns to go on clearance. Save tissue paper throughout the year and use last year’s holiday cards to make your own gift tags.
- 5.Book Your Travel Early: If you are planning a holiday vacation or visiting loved ones in another city, book your travel early, as prices will typically increase the closer it gets to the peak season. Comparison shop using travel sites to find the best deal.
- 6.Volunteer: As the holidays draw closer, save on entertainment expenses and spend time with your family volunteering for a local charity. This will help you celebrate the season of giving, without spending any money, by giving back to others and enjoying each other’s company.
Five Tips for Creating an Emergency Fund – Summer 2013
Building an emergency fund is one of the most important actions you can take to improve your financial situation. To ensure you are prepared for any unexpected expenses or emergencies that come your way, every household should have a solid savings account. An emergency fund of four to six months of living expenses will help you sustain financial security, and can help you avoid potentially falling behind on paying bills or accumulating credit card debt. The following tips will help you build and maintain an emergency fund.
- Pay yourself first. Setting up payroll deduction or auto contributions from your checking account will help force you to contribute to your savings on a regular basis and reduce temptation to use the funds for "wants" instead of "needs". Take the opportunity to save your tax returns or bonus paychecks instead of spending the extra money.
- Open a savings account that will allow you to access your money, without penalties, in the case of an emergency. While it’s understandable to seek out an account with a high rate of return, it’s more important to open a low-risk account so your money is available when you need it. First National Bank's savings accounts offer competitive interest rates and easy access to your funds. Click here to learn more. Also, ensure your emergency fund savings and any other savings accounts you may have are considered separate. Your emergency fund should not be used for a vacation or a new car.
- Set a goal and monitor your progress and success. Don’t expect to have your entire savings goal accounted for right away. Review your monthly spending and look for opportunities to reduce spending and direct those funds to your savings account instead. It's okay to start small by just saving what you can spare, and increase your contributions as your budget allows.
- Treat your savings contribution as a monthly bill. Add your monthly savings to your list of expenses and budget accordingly. Try saving 5% to 15% of your monthly salary to get in the habit of contributing to your savings plan regularly. After you’ve built up your emergency fund, you will already be accustomed to saving and can continue to build up additional savings for additional goals you may have.
- Save at least three to six months worth of living expenses. Consider how much your current income is and the total of your monthly expenses. Also, consider possible emergency situations your family could encounter and determine how much savings each would require.
Building up a sufficient emergency fund will not only give you peace of mind and help you prepare for the unexpected, but put you in a solid financial position to secure a positive future for you and your family.
Shop Local, Save Local – Spring 2013
During hard economic times and even as the economy is improving, it's more important than ever to support your local businesses. Not only can you save in the short-term by shopping local, but can also help your community save in the long-run. These businesses can then give back to your city through wages and taxes.
There are many benefits to purchasing local products. It can be more cost effective as local products have fewer packaging costs and are often sold directly from the farmer. The costs from wholesalers and retailers are eliminated, and the selling prices can be reduced. Food purchased locally also limits the transportation cost of the product and has an even bigger impact on energy conservation and environmental impact.
You also have the opportunity to purchase seasonal products at a low-cost price in bulk. Stocking up and freezing products such as fruits, vegetable, and meat will save you money and also offer a great convenience. Learn which products are best to buy seasonally, allowing you to stock up and preserve accordingly to save the most.
Local products also have a high nutritional value. Buying fresh products eliminates the necessity of preservatives, and the produce is fresher when it goes to market. Freshness affects the nutritional value of food as nutritional value declines with time. Also, because the products do not have to travel long distances, the chances of contamination are less. These factors will also lead to more nutritional value, less waste and more money in your pocket.
To find locally grown products, frequent your local farmer's market, keep your eye out for food stands, and shop at retailers that support and sell local goods. You can also purchase products from co-ops, organizations that are owned and operated by its members, which support locally grown products and locally made products.
Purchasing products from your fellow community members not only will help you save, but it will benefit your local economy. By putting money back into your community, you are, in turn, helping to create jobs and contributing to the tax money that goes back into your city. First National Bank is dedicated to our community and helping it grow. We offer a variety of checking and savings accounts to help you manage your money and save. For more information, visit firstnational.com or visit a local branch today.
Will Energy Efficient Appliances Really Save you Money? – Winter 2012
If you are considering purchasing new appliances or replacing your current ones, you most likely have already considered purchasing ENERGY STARTM rated appliances. But will they really save you money? You should consider the following factors before making any major purchase decisions.
Energy Guide Label
The Energy Guide label is required to be placed on appliances and will include important information such as the size of the appliance, the estimated yearly operating cost (based on the national average cost of electricity), the estimated yearly electric consumption, key features of the product, and recommended similar products with similar costs, according to Energy.gov. Additionally, the ENERGY STARTM logo can be found on the Energy Guide label on all appliances that exceed the federal minimum standards for efficiency and quality.
Choose the Right Size and Model to Save
Choosing the right size of appliance is an important determination in how much energy you will use. The needs of a single married couple are different from that of a family of six. While purchasing the largest washer with the latest modern technology may seem tempting, be realistic and don't buy oversized appliances that will have greater energy costs than the smaller appliance that will better fit your needs.
Visit Energy.gov/savings to find the latest tax credits and rebates available in your state for energy efficient appliances. These may offset the increased cost of these appliances and help you save at the time of purchase and in the future on energy costs.
Evaluate Your Current Appliances
If you are using a 20-year-old refrigerator, you will most likely save money by upgrading to a newer model. But if your appliances are only a few years old and are still functioning, the cost of upgrading to a more energy efficient model may not result in significant long-term savings.
Reliability and Life Expectancy
Find reviews on the product you are considering to learn more about the reliability and life expectancy of the appliance. If the more expensive ENERGY STARTM product is known to have costly mechanical issues or a short life expectancy, it may not be worth the energy savings you may experience in the short-term.