Month: August 2018

breakfast

Sunrise Savings: Breakfast on a Budget

Just because breakfast is the most important meal of the day doesn’t mean it also needs to be the most expensive. Whether you’re cooking for one or feeding a horde of children, here are some ways to save some money every morning.

Make a Menu

Grabbing whatever you can find as you’re rushing out the door is not only unhealthy, it can cost you. Create a weekly menu so you’re not buying too much at the grocery store. Identify where you can utilize an ingredient in multiple meals, like spinach for a dinner salad as well as your morning smoothie. Proper planning will save you time, prevent waste, and keep you out of the drive-through.

Buy in Bulk

When certain breakfast ingredients go on sale, get larger quantities and store them. For example, if you buy a whole bushel of peaches while they’re in season (May through August), you’ll spend less per pound than you would picking up two or three at a time during the winter. Chop fruits and vegetables you don’t plan on using immediately to freeze before they spoil.

Go Generic

Many Americans wake up to big bowls of cold cereal. Bringing home box after box of name-brand products can get expensive. Generic versions are a fraction of the cost and usually taste the same. This saving principle can be applied to other items such as cream cheese, bagels, jam, peanut butter, bread and even microwavable meals. Don’t pay extra for the label.

Make it Yourself

You’ll also be charged for the labor that goes into pre-cooked, pre-sliced and otherwise pre-made foods. A box of pancake mix is easy, but purchasing flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, eggs, milk, vegetable oil, and making your own batter will produce more and cost you less. Less processed products are the more frugal choice.

Keep it Simple

When it comes to the first meal of the day, people tend to overcomplicate things. Your kids may be just as satisfied with a hard-boiled egg as they would eggs Benedict. And instead of grabbing a breakfast sandwich from a restaurant on the way to work, bring a piece of buttered toast with jam from home. Substitute simple rolled oats for pricey cereals—you can even mix in those delicious peaches you have in your freezer. Start your day off right by saving!

cryptocurrency

Virtual Money: Understanding Cryptocurrency

The concept of cryptocurrency can be fairly confusing to those who are just hearing about it. After all, words like Bitcoin, blockchain and mining sound like they belong in a video game rather than the financial sector. If you’ve ever wondered what this world is all about, here’s a brief introduction.

What is cryptocurrency?

In the simplest of terms, cryptocurrency, or crypto, is virtual money. It only exists electronically. Bitcoin is the most popular, but there are thousands of others, with names like Ethereum, Litecoin, Ripple, Feathercoin and TRON. Users can’t make their own Bitcoins, but anyone with the know-how can create their own digital currency, so it’s not easy to tell which options are viable for investing. Some digital coins may be worth more in the future, but others may disappear completely, leaving the investors with nothing.

How does it work?

People use digital currency much like they do regular money. If someone can find a person or business that is willing to accept the crypto they have, they can make an exchange, no matter where in the world they are. This system is dependent on a peer-to-peer network with multiple parties supervising what’s going on. While users are anonymous, each transaction is logged and verified in digital ledgers, otherwise known as blockchains. Since there is no overseeing authority for cryptocurrency, these blockchains are monitored by various users around the world.

How do people get it?

There are a couple ways. First, people can purchase it with real money. One Bitcoin, for example, currently costs over $6,000. Interested parties can buy a fraction of one coin, too. Another way to earn some types of digital currency is by putting a computer to work, verifying blocks on the blockchain—a process known as mining. When a computer successfully confirms a logged transaction, the owner may be rewarded with a certain amount of crypto. Some people spend lots of money buying special hardware and software to mine for Bitcoin and other virtual currencies.

What are the risks?

Cryptocurrency has been referred to as the wild west of the financial world, because there aren’t many rules or regulations. Some say investing in it is akin to gambling, whereas others say it’s the future of money. Either way, investors should not convert funds they can’t stand to lose. Since crypto isn’t regulated by any state or government, no one is there to investigate fraud and investments aren’t insured or protected. If the virtual coins in a digital wallet disappear, the money is gone.

There is a lot more to say on the subject, but this article is a quick overview to help you understand what the digital currency trend is all about. In summary, cryptocurrency is a volatile and experimental market and only time will tell how worthwhile such an investment might be.

school

Back-to-School Savings

Kids aren’t the only ones who get anxious about going back to school. As summer winds down, many parents are financially stressed because all of the supplies & extras they’re going to purchase. Here are some tips to save a few bucks this year.

Reading

Research it beforehand. Check out popular sites for discounts on backpacks, folders, laptops, calculators, colored pencils and whatever else you need. Follow your favorite stores on social media to see when deals are available. Sales occur at different times, so keep a list and compare prices.

You don’t have to shop exclusively online or at big-box stores, either. Get your local supermarket’s ads and browse dollar stores for inexpensive essentials. You may even find some great bargains at secondhand stores or yard sales.

Writing

Make a combined list of what each child needs for the upcoming school year. Picking out cute accessories or extras is fun, but they can add up—especially if you have a large family. Stick to what you wrote down and you won’t find yourself surprised by the total tab.

Consider sending an email or group text to other moms & dads about buying school items in bulk. A teacher may request two highlighters, for example, but you can go in with five others and buy a pack of ten, sharing the cost.

Arithmetic

First, do the math to see how much you’re going to spend. You can even involve your kids in this process to teach them basic budgeting techniques. Have them chip in with some of their own money if they want to buy something extra or upgrade to an item that features their favorite movie character on it.

Buying early can also lower your bill. If you know the basics of what your child should have, you can spread out the purchases during the year. Alternatively, since prices are usually lower after classes start, you can stock up on cheap supplies for the following year. A stockpile of school items will make you feel more prepared and you’ll save more, too.

The Cost of Cycling

If you’re searching for a new hobby, cycling is a fun & healthy choice. But if you’re going to take it seriously—even train for races such as the Tour of Utah—you’re going to spend some money. Here’s a brief cost overview:

The bicycle itself ($500 – $2,000)
Absolutely the most expensive component. Road bikes are far more aerodynamic and lighter than those made for trails. High-end models are also more expensive because they have carbon fiber and titanium construction. Those you see in the Tour de France run around $12,000, but that’s certainly not necessary for those on the entry level.

Headgear ($25 – $300)
If you’re going to ride fast, a safety should be your first concern. You can be more frugal here, because all bike helmets must pass standardized safety tests. Those that are the most expensive are usually designed for function and aesthetics. These versions weigh less, provide better venting and are more technologically advanced—yet a cheap one will protect your brain from injury just as well. Most manufacturers recommend you replace helmets every five years.

Clothing ($30 – $350 each)
For casual riding, you can wear whatever you have on. However, if you’re going long distances, traditional cycling gear is more comfortable and effective. You may feel a little self-conscious wearing the shorts at first, but they’ll prevent painful chafing. Moisture-wicking jerseys and gloves help regulate body temperature and keep blisters away. Lots of cyclists also buy cleats to improve their pedaling. Once again, these items aren’t required, but they make a difference.

Misc. equipment ($20 – $200 each)
Of course, you’ll also need glasses to keep the bugs out of your eyes, a water bottle to hydrate on the go, a compact bike pump, a multitool for minor repairs, a mirror, sunscreen, and a pack to store all the extras.

When you start riding, you’ll learn what’s essential and what isn’t. Make your initial investment wisely and you’ll get a lot of benefit in return.

credit cards

Smart Spending: Use Credit Cards Wisely

Credit cards may have an iffy reputation, but the truth is that they’re beneficial financial tools if you make wise choices. They can boost your credit score, bring some cash back, and generate rewards. Use them carelessly and you’ll pay for it—literally. Here are some best practices.

Maintain zero balances

Treat your credit cards like personal loans to yourself. Don’t spend more than you have. Carrying a balance means you’re being charged interest, which is money you don’t need to spend. Pay in full and on time every month to avoid this cost. If that’s not possible, at least submit the minimum or more so you don’t rack up fees. And mark the statement closing date on your calendar so you don’t forget to pay when the bill comes due.

Track your spending

Never treat your card like a bottomless pit, create a budget to track spending. Review monthly statements to figure out how often you’re charging, then determine where you can cut back. Also, look at the transaction history regularly and set up balance alerts that tell you when you’re nearing the established limit.

Don’t max out

If you’re consistently reaching your credit card limit, you’re either spending too much or your available cap is too low. Raising your limit is not a bad thing if you’re sensible about it. In fact, using less than 30% of your total available credit can improve your credit score, while repeatedly reaching a smaller limit can make a dent.

Avoid fraud

When you shop online, only enter your card information on reputable sites. Look for URLs that begin with https:// and have a green padlock icon next to the address bar, which means they’re properly encrypted. At gas stations, look for pumps nearest to the shop. Choose indoor ATMs when possible and always check for signs of tampering before inserting a card. If you suspect your card has been compromised, contact your financial institution immediately.

Get rewarded

Many cards offer rewards. Visa® Platinum from America First, for example, gives you 1.5% cash back on every purchase. Or you can get one point for every dollar you spend, redeemable for merchandise, hotels, flights, gift cards and more.

Using your credit cards wisely means you’ll earn more and pay less.

Security Update: Guarding Against Cybercrime

No matter the season and regardless of the economic environment, there are always criminals looking to perpetrate fraud.

It can happen to anyone at any time, but here are five easy steps you can take to help protect yourself:

  • Don’t include your Social Security and driver’s license numbers on any identifying documents
  • Never write your PIN on cards or papers in your immediate possession
  • Destroy confidential documents—click this link for a free shredding schedule
  • Choose strong passwords with different letters, numbers and special characters
  • Review your America First statements with free online & mobile banking
  • Visit us here for news about safeguarding your financial resources

Ensuring Member Success Creates A Vital Credit Union

By Rex Rollo, Executive Vice President/Chief Financial Officer

In a beautiful poem titled “A Nation’s Strength,” Ralph Waldo Emerson reveals the true measure of any country’s success. His verse, consisting of only six stanzas, has a deep and clear message. Emerson suggests it is the people of a society—not its might, riches or natural resources—that make it strong. Here at America First, we realize our health & stability are derived from the same source: the families & businesses we serve. This knowledge forms the basis of our motto, Members come first.

Further, the credit union’s mission statement declares our commitment to “provide personal financial services of a superior quality to the members/owners; our chief concern is their financial well-being.” The America First membership has been the key to our sustained prosperity for nearly eight decades. Like Emerson, we know the credit union was and will only be healthy and vital to the extent that it elevates the financial lives of those who join.

This can be clearly seen in America First’s operating results for the first half of 2018. We now have more than 960,000 members, all seeking exceptional, convenient, secure products. As the membership has grown, so too has our ability to offer world-class services. Even as assets exceeded $10 billion for the first time, by carefully balancing growth, we can continue delivering personal service of the highest quality, whether through our branch network, industry-leading mobile & online channels, or award-winning contact centers.

If we look at America First’s performance from a traditional financial perspective, we can clearly determine that the credit union is safe and sound, with reserves over 150% of minimum regulatory requirements. Those assets are then reinvested to make America First membership more beneficial. And so it goes, as members, now and in the future, take full advantage of what is offered to them, their position is enhanced and they enjoy greater value. In turn, their collective strength propels the organization forward, allowing us to provide the most advanced financial services available.

At your credit union, we take Emerson’s viewpoint to heart—the well-being of America First is inextricably tied to how well we serve you, which is why we are dedicated to the ideal that members come first.