Financial Education

farmers' market

Farmers’ Market Shopping Guide

Farmers’ markets are a great way to find fresh fruits, vegetables, meats and more in your neighborhood. They allow you to interact directly with the grower, which can also mean lower prices for delicious produce. If you’ve never been to a farmers’ market before, or if you’re only starting to attend, here are some tips to help you get the most out of your time there.

Before you go

Get to know the local fruits and vegetables in your region and find out what grows in which season. This will help you identify the freshest produce. For example, you may see apples in April that you know have been in cold storage since October. Knowing when and what farmers grow locally will also allow you make a shopping plan beforehand for the best buys.

Meal planning before you shop is always a good idea, because it helps you save money. Figure out what you want to buy, but leave some room for a few unplanned purchases, just in case you find a new or unusual vegetable that you would like to try.

Hit up the ATM before you go. Having cash on hand will make it easier to make purchases at farmers’ markets. Don’t expect every vendor to have a mobile credit card reader. Carry small bills and some change to make exchanges go more quickly. Plus, cash can help you with bargaining, as well.

At the market

Go as soon as the market opens if you want to get the best produce. Items like meat and seafood, for instance, sell out very quickly. Going early will also help you avoid the large crowds. However, if you want the best deals, you should go at the end of the day. That’s when vendors are trying to sell off inventory instead of having to pack it up and transport it home.

Bring your own bags. Some, but not all of the vendors will offer a bag, but those bags are usually small and flimsy. Experienced shoppers will bring a backpack or small, wheeled cart to keep their hands free for things like squeezing produce.

Buying in bulk can save you some money. Many vendors are willing to give you a good deal if you’re willing to offload a crate of strawberries rather than just a baggie full, for example. Eat as many fresh fruits and veggies as you are able, and then freeze, dehydrate or can the rest.

There’s usually more than one vendor selling an item. Don’t buy everything from the first booth you see. Shop around. Try samples, if available. Once you’ve made the rounds and weighed your options, you’ll be able to make an informed decision based on price and taste.

Talk to the farmers. They can help you pick out the best items and teach you how to determine ripeness. Discuss how to best prepare their produce, as well. You may find a new recipe that you love.

And finally, stash a cooler in your car if you plan to shop a while or have a long drive home. This will help the produce maintain freshness from the farmers’ market to your kitchen table.

Happy shopping!

financial tips

Financial Tips from Fathers

Father’s Day is approaching, and since we had such a good time talking about money with moms, we decided to ask some local dads for some advice. We hope you enjoy these financial tips from fathers.

Rob

Live within your means — spend less than you earn. Avoid debt like the plague that it can be. Always set aside at least some savings from each paycheck. Learn to be happy within your means — it’s actually quite easy to be happy on any income and it’s nearly impossible to be happy when burdened by debt. You always have a car payment. If not to your financial institution, then to yourself. Cars depreciate and eventually are worth nothing. If you have been making a car payment to yourself, then you can pay cash for your next car. Don’t ever be fooled into thinking that you don’t have a car payment.

Doug

Give 10% to charity. Put 10% in savings. Add 10% to retirement. Live on the rest.

Dave

Buy a vehicle you can afford and do your own auto repairs. Don’t go into a lot of debt.

Spencer

Set aside 10% of your income to invest in a no-load, no transaction fee Index Fund (such as the S&P 500). If you invest just $100 per month at an average of 8% interest over 30 years, your $36,000 investment would be worth $105,761.32. Let your money work hard for you.

Chris

Do not spend it before you have it. Be patient.

Mark

Avoid debt at all costs. Learn how to make and follow a budget early — it will help you understand how you spend your money and assist you with spending and saving goals. Make a commitment early to always save 10%. Set thresholds you will never go below as you meet savings goals.

David

Most children learn by doing. Give them the opportunity to manage their own money. As they grow older, but before they leave for college, they should have more and more opportunities. Give them the responsibility to purchase certain things for themselves, such as clothes and personal hygiene items. If the child does not have the funds, don’t bail them out. Allow children to purchase things even if it looks like a total waste of money. That is how they will learn. Better to let them learn young than when they have a spouse and children of their own.

build a house

When to Buy & When to Build a House

If you want to move, the question of buying an existing home or constructing a new one is probably on your mind. The truth is, there is no quick or easy answer. It depends on many factors, including time, money and your wants & needs. Here are a few pros and cons to help you decide if you should buy or build a house.

TIME

If your schedule is tight because you’re relocating for work or your kids are about to start school, then buying is probably best. Once you find the right place, which can take a while, you can usually close and move in after two months.

Building usually takes six to seven months, but the process can be longer if the land, weather or contractor don’t cooperate. And if you sell your existing house before construction is finished, you may have to find temporary accommodations.

MONEY

Purchasing a home comes with lower initial costs. Plus, you likely won’t pay for expensive landscaping because the grass, rocks & other features are established. Mature trees, for example, add property value and can help with air-conditioning bills.

Up-front costs for new housing are higher than resales in most cases. If you build, however, you’ll benefit from up-to-date wiring, plumbing and HVAC systems. You won’t worry about repairing an old furnace or replacing a roof, as most of these homes are under warranty for years after they’re finished. You’ll also save on utilities with the latest in energy-saving and eco-friendly enhancements.

WANTS & NEEDS

If you build, you can get exactly what you want. There are few, if any, concessions to make or design flaws to overcome — the home matches your personality. Yet when you buy used, you can visualize the floor plan because it’s already there. There’s no need to wait to see how it will all turn out.

Newer construction tends to be in developing areas, so you may be farther away from the center of town and your surroundings will change. There’s also things like water, sewer, gas, electric, cable and internet to consider.

On the other hand, you’re joining an established neighborhood when you buy pre-owned. You can talk to your potential neighbors and hear what they think of the area before deciding.

Whether you buy or to build, America First offers low-rate mortgages, construction, and lot loans to get your dream home going.

credit and debit cards

The Difference Between Credit and Debit Cards

The cards in your wallet may look the same, but there actually are some major differences between credit and debit cards. Understanding the difference between these two payment methods can help you avoid financial issues and even earn some extra money in the process.

Application

A debit card or check card is, essentially, a digital checkbook. It is tied directly to your financial account. When you make a purchase, it is subtracted from the amount you have. Most banks and credit unions will give you a debit card to access the funds in your checking or savings account. You can also purchase prepaid debit cards with a specified amount that you can reload, as needed.

Credit cards allow you to borrow money from the card issuer, which means that your application for a card must be approved by the financial institution. If you have bad credit or no credit, you might not be able to get a credit card, or your interest rate could be higher. Credit cards also influence your credit score — for better or for worse.

Utilization

Most debit cards require a PIN to make a purchase. This is a special code that authorizes the merchant to deduct money from your account. Normally, the only fees you have to worry about with a check card are overdraft fees — which occur when you try to spend more than you have. America First offers a free line of credit with our checking accounts to help you avoid costly overdraft fees.

Larger purchases with a credit card require a signature. And since a credit card is a loan, you will sometimes have to pay annual fees, over-limit fees or late-payment fees. However, credit cards also come with perks such as cash back, discounts and travel points. In fact, because of those types of reward programs, if you use your credit card wisely and pay the required balance each month, you can actually profit from your purchases.

Protection

A debit card offers less temptation to spend more than you have because it’s linked to your bank account. However, this also means that if if your card is stolen and your PIN is compromised, someone could have direct access to the funds in your account. It is important to report lost or stolen credit and debit cards as soon as possible.

If you are responsible in your spending and pay off your balance regularly, a credit card is, essentially, an interest-free loan. Many credit cards offer extended warranties on purchases made with the card. You can also get automatic rental car insurance and life insurance when you use your credit card while traveling.

America First offers zero-liability protection against fraudulent purchases on both our credit and debit cards. We will alert you if we see any suspicious activity on your account and work with you to get problems resolved as quickly as possible. We also offer protective services such as Card Guard® and free identity theft recovery to help you take control and make sure that you feel safe and secure no matter which type of card you’re using.

wedding

Planning a Wedding Without Debt

Priceless weddings can oftentimes end up being, well, pretty pricey. However, it’s possible to create a memorable and beautiful wedding without going into debt. Here are some ways to make your big day special without breaking the bank.

Building a budget

Research the average price of everything you need and want at your wedding. Prioritize your list to determine which elements are most important, what costs less, and which things you can do without.

Vetting the venue

If you’re having a reception, it doesn’t have to be extravagant. Consider an inexpensive location, such as a church hall, the local rec center, a nice backyard, even your home. You can also have the ceremony and reception in one place. Or you can skip it altogether and plan a small dinner with family and close friends.

Considering the catering

Local restaurants are unique and usually more affordable than professional caterers. You can serve fewer courses or choose a different entrée. If children are attending, have dishes like macaroni & cheese or peanut butter sandwiches just be them. They’ll be happier with these options and they’re less expensive!

Finding the flowers

Flowers are usually one of the highest-priced wedding decorations. Instead, use candles or lanterns for your centerpieces or make flowers from fabric or crepe-paper. If you do go to a florist, stay local, choose something in season, and discuss your budget with them.

Inventing the invitations

Rather than hiring someone to design your invitations, look online for customizable designs at reasonable prices. Or create the invites yourself and have an assembly party with friends to stuff the envelopes. Remember, liners and vellum overlays look fancy, but aren’t necessary.

Deciding on the dresses

Check local classifieds to see if there are any used gowns you love. Or think about renting from a bridal shop. You can also look online to make alterations to a dress you have or design one from scratch. Choose a neutral color for the bridesmaids, so they can find something already in their closets.

Hatching the honeymoon

The honeymoon is all about spending quality time with your spouse, so it doesn’t have to be lavish. Try saving on airfare by staying at a nice hotel or resort within driving distance. Make sure you book as early as possible to get the best rates. Wherever you go, let people know it’s your honeymoon, as hotel employees will often go the extra mile to ensure a lovely stay.

America First also offers wedding savings accounts. This are convenient and easy options for your guests and they’ll help you gather resources for your future financial needs as newlyweds.

millionaire

How to NOT Become a Millionaire

Having a lot of money can be a burden. People constantly ask you for it, taxes are more complicated and you need a plan for your wealth when you’re gone. If you’re looking for ways to avoid becoming rich, here is some advice on how to not become a millionaire.

Don’t Think Ahead

If you’re not yet a millionaire, don’t make any dramatic changes — just keep on with what you’re doing. Becoming independently wealthy takes effort, so things like writing down your financial goals will only help those who are looking to make their resources grow. And don’t set small, achievable benchmarks either, because you may find yourself unintentionally achieving larger financial goals.

Limit Your Income Streams

You only need one income to get by. Anything else will only increase your earnings. A job and a single paycheck is the easiest way to maintain your savings instead of building them. Rental properties, side businesses and investments are only for people who want to diversify their revenue opportunities and accumulate money more quickly.

Never Invest

Speaking of investing, if you want to avoid becoming a millionaire, you should always keep your money easily accessible instead of making an investment that generates compound interest. With regular contributions to your America First dedicated savings account, for example, your initial investment could grow at a surprising rate with little effort on your part.

Spend It As Soon as You Get It

Saving is the gateway to investing. Decide how you want to spend your paycheck, tax refund or birthday money before you get it. That way, you won’t be tempted to put some away to build a rainy-day fund or contribute to your retirement. In fact, spend more than you have by maxing out your credit cards. Then you’ll continuously be paying off debt and you’ll also lower your credit score, so you won’t be tempted to take out a business loan.

Say Yes to Get-Rich-Quick Schemes

This may sound counterintuitive, but get-rich scams will actually make you poorer. Usually those who offer “exclusive opportunities” to “get in on the ground floor” with a “small initial investment” are the only ones who benefit. There is no fast and easy way to make money — it takes study, dedication and hard work. Losing money, however, is quite simple — especially with a bad investment.

Go It Alone

If you don’t want wealth, don’t ask advice those that are prosperous. Their words might inspire you to achieve success. Watch out for financial advisers, too. Their expertise will only bring you good investments and help you avoid bad ones. If you’re going to prevent yourself from becoming a millionaire, it’s best to be on your own.

financial tips

Financial Tips from Mothers

In honor of Mother’s Day, we asked some local moms about what they teach their children about finances. They also explain some monetary wisdom they wish had been imparted. We hope you enjoy these financial tips from mothers.

Penny

Dedicate yourself to your education first and find a job in which you can share your best talents — where you can see and feel the difference you make in others’ lives. Start your retirement planning now and build your deposits as you make more money. Choose your spouse carefully. Look for someone [who] has good saving habits. Put away money by being frugal now and you’ll be able to live comfortably later. You only need one credit card, that is attached to your deposit institution, so you can pay it off monthly.

Jennie

It’s important to understand the difference between needs and wants. Normally when a child says, “I need this,” it really means they just want it. Help them understand that sometimes wants have to wait or may never happen.

Kimberly

Hit the clearance racks first. Rarely pay full price for anything.

Karlene

Balance your checkbook. Start teaching your children early about finances. Even though you teach your children about finances, it does not always mean that they will understand. Let them learn from their mistakes.

Laura

First and foremost, try to save at least $10 to $20 every paycheck as a starting point. Don’t worry about coupon shopping—the discounts are often only on name-brand products. Do not encourage your children to think that name-brand clothing is the only way to dress. Have your children do chores to earn things they are aspiring for, even if your child is 18!

Tiffany

From the time you start earning money, have a budget. That way you will always spend within your means, be able to save, and never go into debt.

Alicia

Know the difference between needs and wants. Set a goal for your savings. Sometimes it’s easier to sacrifice with the end goal in mind. You can’t save money by spending.

Jennifer

Live within your means—in other words, don’t spend more than you earn. In our world today, everyone feels like they need everything right now. Young, old, newly married, married forever. I hope my children will understand the key to happiness is being happy with what you have and not always waiting to get more to find happiness.

How to Apply for your First Loan

Whether you’re wading into the world of borrowing with a credit card or diving into the deep end with a mortgage, the process can be daunting for someone who hasn’t done it before. If you’re looking for a lender to meet your financial needs, here are some tips on how to apply for your first loan.

Defining the Terms

In order to feel comfortable when you apply, here are a few common terms:

  • Principal – the actual amount you borrow
  • Interest – percentage the financial institution charges for lending money
  • Term – how long until you pay it back
  • Down Payment – initial amount you put in when buying
  • Collateral – something lenders are offered in case you can’t pay your loan

Gathering Information

You’ll need to provide certain information. First, determine the specific amount you want to borrow, remembering not to take on more debt than necessary. Second, most lenders require proof of income and employment history. Consider how much you make and spend every month, then estimate your monthly payments. When you know this, you’ll get a better idea of how much you can spare. America First offers easy-to-use mortgage calculators and auto loan calculators to help you figure out what your monthly payments could be.

Then, look up your credit score, which is essentially your financial grade. It tells lenders how well you pay debts. A score above 700, for example, is considered good. The higher your number, the more you can borrow — at a lower interest rate, too. America First gives you quick and free access to your FICO® score through online banking.

If you have no credit, you can build it up by using and regularly paying off a credit card. If your score is low, that doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t get a loan, but you may face a higher interest rate. Those with better credit can co-sign for you, but remember their scores could be negatively affected if you don’t make the payments.

Actually Applying

Many people apply for loans at credit unions or banks. However, you can also finance vehicles at the dealership, home loans at mortgage companies, or student loans at universities. Shop around for the best rates, terms and an institution you trust.

There are ways to lower your rate. Besides having good credit, bigger down payments usually bring the interest rate down. You can also extend the term to lower your rate, but that means it’ll take longer to pay back. Most auto loan terms range between five to eight years. Mortgages are 10 to 30 years.

You’ll also need to decide if you want variable or fixed rates. Fixed stay the same for the entire term, whereas variable rates can change throughout. Some people like the consistency of a fixed, while others prefer the flexibility of variable.

If you’re still anxious about getting your first loan, bring an experienced friend or family member with you for advice and guidance. America First also has free financial counseling services and helpful loan officers to help prepare you for your journey into borrowing.

improve your home

Spring Sprucing: Affordable Ways to Improve Your Home

Spring has a way of getting us to tidy up our living spaces. Some might be satisfied with traditional cleaning, while others use a home equity line of credit for major renovations. But if you’re on a budget and still want to make changes, here’s a list of affordable ways to improve your home.

Boost Curb Appeal

  • Add a pop of color to your front door with a bold shade or bright hue, then paint the exterior trim and shutters to match.
  • Modernize your address numbers with a different font, size and color to create personality.
  • Buy a fun new doormat or paint your old one.
  • A mowed lawn, weeded flowerbeds, trimmed trees and watered window box gardens make a world of difference.
  • Give your mailbox a makeover.
  • Add new light fixtures to your porch.
  • Build a pergola over your parking space.

Make Your Bathroom a Personal Sanctuary

  • Bring in flowers and candles to make it feel more luxurious.
  • Replace the shower curtain with a new pattern or color and switch the bathmat to match.
  • Apply a new coat of paint to refresh the area.
  • Hang quirky art on the walls.
  • Update your towel bar and get some new colorful linens.
  • Use ornate glass jars for decoration and organization.

Whip It Up in the Kitchen

  • Paint your cabinets and swap out the old hardware with something more modern.
  • Remove cabinet doors for an open shelving effect.
  • Display decorative plates on your walls.
  • If you have a fridge that doesn’t flow, you can use chalkboard paint to completely transform the look.
  • Check out local thrift stores for vintage light fixtures.
  • Purchase new, colorful small appliances and use them as decorative accessories.

While we don’t expect you to try everything on the list, it’s hopefully helped you realize that improving the look and feel of your home doesn’t have to cost a lot. However, if you want to invest in significant upgrades, you can always apply for an affordable, low-rate home equity loan from America First.

kids financial literacy

The Importance of Teaching Kids Financial Literacy

We all know reading, writing and arithmetic are three essential building blocks of an education. However, it’s also vital to teach your kids financial literacy. Children need to learn how to make informed money decisions to become self-sufficient and contribute to society. Plus, just in case you’re hesitant to talk to your kids about money, remember that financial independence will help prevent them from coming back to live with you after they’ve grown!

Promote Active Instruction

When children are old enough to say they want something, they’re ready to learn about finances. We all form money habits early in life. Don’t force kids to piece together their own conclusions based their limited views — make your instruction intentional. Take advantage of teaching moments when they arise, but don’t turn on information firehose. Financial education isn’t something you can cover in one sitting. It takes time and patience. It’s also important to be positive. Don’t push or lecture. This should be a part of the natural daily discussions you have with your children.

And try to make money real. Show your kids that your Visa® isn’t a magical card full of unlimited funds. Explain how you earn money and discuss how your paycheck is a reward for what you do. And while it’s not a bad thing to explain the finite nature of your checking account, don’t overshare financial concerns. As your kids grow, discuss the difference between needs and wants. Teach them the value of long-term saving versus immediate spending. Give them the opportunity to make financial choices.

Preparation & Planning

Prepare your children for the future by letting them help plan the family budget. Show them how to use tools like Money Manager for setting limits and tracking spending. Let them start by monitoring a discretionary expense. That way, if they make mistakes, it won’t affect your overall plan. Plus, it’s better to have them make mistakes with small amounts when they’re younger than with larger amounts when they’re older.

Opening a youth account at America First, will give your boys and girls a safe place to put their money and save up. They’ll also begin to learn about things like interest and dividends. Additionally, if your children are between the ages of 12 and 17, they can get Fundz cards, which have the convenience and security of Visa without the revolving credit line.

There are also several apps that instruct kids about financial skills. Some teach basic counting and values, whereas others allow users to virtually invest in the stock market. But remember, using an app is only effective if it’s backed up by parental discussion and action.

Practicing Makes Perfect

The grocery store is a great school for basic finances. Start by letting kids help you look for coupons, then find those items on the shelves. As they progress, you can give them your shopping list and challenge them to stay within a certain spending limit. Encourage them to compare prices and look for deals so they come in under budget.

Young kids can learn a lot by running a lemonade stand or candy store for the summer. If you’re having a yard sale, you could put them in charge of the cash box or the mobile credit card swiper. Finally, when they’re of age, encourage your children to get a job. Gainful employment is the best possible way to teach the value of a day’s work. And as they get their first paychecks and you continue your economic conversations, it may surprise you how financially responsible your child can be.