Financial Education

overspending

How to Prevent Holiday Overspending

The magic of the season tends to end abruptly when your credit card bill arrives. If you have a habit of overspending during the holidays, here are some tips to help you avoid the Christmas sticker shock once it’s over.

Plan Early

The best way to stop overspending is prior planning. Make a shopping list that includes how much you’re going to spend on each person. When you start looking for gifts, take your time and keep an eye out for coupons and special promotions. You’ll prevent the high cost of expedited delivery if you need something shipped quickly.

Begin building your holiday budget early in the year and keep this fund separate from the rest of your accounts. Opening a dedicated savings at America First, for instance, will provide automatic transfers with compound interest each month.

Shop Smart

Don’t use the festivities as an excuse for overspending. Stick to your budget and track spending as you go—a little extra here and a little extra there adds up. And try to not exceed what you can pay off when your credit card balance comes due. Our Visa® Platinum gives you 1.5% cash back on all purchases, so you could even earn a little extra while you shop.

You can additionally consider actually going to stores instead of shopping online so you can save on shipping. However, when you do go out and about, avoid purchasing snacks or dining out. Those incidentals can negate any savings you’ve gained. Also, resist the urge to buy something for yourself when you’re getting things for others. If something catches your eye, put it on your wish list for someone else to pick up.

Travel Wisely

Family & friends enjoy getting together at Christmastime, but many don’t factor the cost of traveling into their holiday budgets. If you’re flying, start looking for deals well in advance. Buy your trip a month or two before leaving to miss the inevitable price crunch. If you’re driving, pack meals to eat along the way instead of stopping for fast food, then stay with your hosts, when possible, instead of getting hotel rooms.

Finally, limiting the time you’re away from home is a great way to stay within your holiday budget. You aren’t required to attend every party or event, especially if you haven’t got the money. Occasionally, even a Skype call will suffice. Careful planning when it comes to shopping and traveling is the best way to keep a lid on overspending.

skip

Sometimes It’s Actually Rewarding to Skip a Loan Payment

It’s always important to stay on top of your loans. Regularly missing payments can negatively affect your credit & harm your financial well-being. Nevertheless, there are times when extra cash for unforeseen expenses or emergencies is needed, which is why America First offers a service where you can skip certain loan payments once a year with no adverse consequences.

How It Works

When you skip a payment, it doesn’t go away completely. You’re still required to pay the full loan balance, but it’s deferred until the end of the term. And it won’t be reported as late or make you incur any penalties.

It costs only $25 for this program, which is much less than most monthly payments. To see if you qualify, log in to your America First account, select the other services tab, and then click on Skip a Loan Payment. This will show you which loans are eligible. You can also visit your local America First branch or call 1-800-999-3961 to discuss it with one of our helpful team members.

The Fine Print

This option is only for personal, auto, and some home equity loans. It does not apply to long-term mortgages, business financing or Visa® credit cards. Members with accounts in good standing can skip one payment every twelve months—not once a calendar year. That means if you skip a payment on December 31, 2017, you can’t do it again the next day. You would have to wait until at least January 1, 2019.

A Holiday Perk

From now until the end of January, we’ll contribute $5 of the $25 fee to the America First Charitable Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping those in need. So, there’s an extra advantage to skipping a payment during the holidays—you’ll be helping the less fortunate in the process.

overdraft

Overdraft Protection—A Financial Safety Net

While paper checks aren’t very common, most people use checking. In these accounts, money is subtracted when a transaction occurs. If there are no available funds and you attempt a purchase, it triggers an overdraft & your card will be declined.

If you have overdraft protection on your account, a financial institution will cover such a transaction and the purchase will go through, avoiding the inconvenience & awkwardness of being declined. Understanding this service and using it wisely can prevent a potentially destructive financial cycle.

Opting In

At America First, checks, automatic debits, and other payments or withdrawals you authorize for checking have automatic overdraft protection. Debit cards, however, aren’t covered unless you specifically request it. You can sign up online, visit a branch or call 1-800-999-3961 to opt in. This one-time step will cover all your debit card purchases and you can always opt out later if you change your mind.

Line of credit versus overdraft service

A line of credit is an open-ended loan, which means it can be used and paid off repeatedly. When it’s attached to checking, charges over your balance are applied to the line. It’s an extra buffer zone between how much you have, how much you can spend, and it helps you avoid overdraft fees.

The Cost of Non-Sufficient Funds

It doesn’t cost anything to sign up for overdraft service & most members never use it, but if your checking balance and line of credit are both exhausted and overdraft protection kicks in, there’s a $25 per-transaction fee. So, if you go to three different stores when your account & line of credit are maxed out and you buy three things, you could be charged up to $75 in fees on top of the purchase costs. It’s safe to say you shouldn’t rely on overdraft service & you should only use it in an emergency.

Keeping an eye on your checking balance, paying off your line of credit and spending responsibly will keep you from needing overdraft protection. However, knowing it’s there for emergencies will give you a little extra peace of mind.

thankful

Being Thankful Can Help You Save

November is celebrated as a time of gratitude—a period to reflect on what we have before the focus shifts toward getting or giving what everyone wants. However, being thankful throughout the year not only improves our well-being, it benefits us financially.

Appreciate belongings

When you first move away from home, resist the urge to have everything your parents provided while you were growing up. It took them time to save up for things like a nice home, washing machine & dryer, and top-tier appliances. Enjoy the struggle of simpler days instead of immediately putting yourself in debt.

As you become more established in life, be satisfied with what you have. This will help you guard against the temptation to buy what you don’t need or can’t afford. Yes, your neighbor’s shiny new SUV may have Wi-Fi and drop-down video monitors, but try to keep in mind that your car still gets your family where it needs to go. Don’t confuse luxury with necessity.

Be thankful for money

Appreciating the cash you do have will help you spend less & save more. When you understand the value of a dollar, you won’t be as likely to decimate your savings to get possessions that don’t really matter. This grateful mentality also demonstrates the importance of having funds for the future. It will inspire you to make wise investments & increase your monetary stability.

Grateful for groceries

Eating out every day can take a big bite out of your budget. Buying groceries and cooking at home is a great way to save, especially during the holiday season. And before you go shopping, take inventory of what’s in your pantry. Use what you already have if possible—get creative.

Appreciate our good fortune

America’s middle class is quite wealthy compared to other parts of the world. Most of us have roofs over our heads, clothes to wear, clean drinking water and, if you’re reading this article, internet access. Keeping this perspective will give you peace of mind when rough financial times come. Plus, you’ll be more likely to give to charity which, as mentioned here, can be both fulfilling and have positive economic returns.

filmmakers

Tips for Filmmakers on a Tight Budget

Most amateur filmmakers don’t have the budget of even the cheapest Hollywood project, but if you’re aspiring to create your own great cinematic experience, here are some tips to help you financially.

Pre-production

If you’ve got a good story to tell, the film might practically write itself. Focus on creating versatile characters, interesting settings, engaging dialogue, and other original themes. Run your script by a few close friends and family to see what they think and incorporate useful feedback. A well-written screenplay is the backbone for a successful movie and all it costs is your time.

When it comes to actors, don’t just cast your friends. Hold auditions and find the right person for each role. Acting is one of the most visible parts of a movie, so having someone who performs poorly can detract from everything else. Regarding payment, let the applicants know up front that your budget is tight. Some up-and-comers will work for free to build their résumés.

Hire a small crew. Once again, be open about your finances—you might even be able to pay in pizza—but having one person run the camera, another to monitor the audio and someone else fix the lighting will prevent you from doing it all yourself and limit any mistakes. Plan your production ahead of time, too. Storyboard your ideas, create a shooting schedule and scout for locations. The more you prepare for filming, the less time and money you’ll spend when doing so. Nevertheless, be flexible. It doesn’t always go according to plan and you may find yourself trying different things to get the scene you want.

Production

You don’t need the latest & greatest camera to get a good shot. An entry-level DSLR device will give your film a professional look. You can also buy a more expensive camera, then sell it online once production wraps. Some filmmakers have even shot an entire movie on their phones, though that’s only recommended if it fits your picture’s style.

Audio is another vital element. Bad sound can kill an otherwise well-made movie. A built-in microphone can only take you so far, so you might want to invest in a lavalier or boom mic. If the shot doesn’t sound right or there’s too much background noise, don’t be afraid to do another take. Use natural lighting as much as possible. After all, it is much easier to darken a scene and it’s cheaper, too. Good filmmakers don’t underestimate the power of good lighting and try to keep it consistent between shots.

Find places that work with your story, but limit the number of locations. More settings mean extra travel, which translates to more money spent. Also, be sure to only shoot where it’s permitted. A police citation can negatively affect your already low budget.

Post-production

Get some inexpensive editing software for your footage. And don’t blow your budget paying royalties for music. Compose your own soundtrack or ask one of your favorite local bands if you can use a few of their tracks for free. As your film nears completion, use social media to market it. YouTube, Facebook and Twitter are all free and they’re a great way to generate buzz. Post your trailer or announce the premiere and get others to share it. You’ll be surprised how effective word-of-mouth can be.

And if you’re an amateur filmmaker who wants to see an example of when money clearly isn’t an issue for a movie, click the link below and enter to win exclusive America First premiere tickets to Star Wars: The Last Jedi on December 15.

http://woobox.com/4h8fjp

military

Benefits for Members Serving in the Military

From America First’s humble founding in 1939 at Fort Douglas to opening three branches on Hill Air Force Base, our credit union has a long, rich history with the U.S. Armed Forces. And one of the ways we can show appreciation, in small measure, to our veterans is with these offers for those serving in the military.

Join us!

If you’re not a member of America First, gain $100 by becoming one. All you need to do is:

Make the most of your membership

If you’re a military member, receive up to $100 when you:

These benefits are valid for active and retired members of any Armed Forces branch, as well as for veterans. Visit your local branch to start or give us a call: 1-800-999-3961. And finally, America First would like to thank you for your service in the United States military.

grocery

Shop Smart & Cut Your Grocery Bill

Everyone knows you’ll save money by making lunch & dinner instead of eating out. However, it’s still important to shop smart when you go to the grocery store. Here are some ways to spend less.

Save By Planning

You can definitely save money with proper preparation. Creating a weekly meal plan, for example, will focus your efforts and prevent impulse buying. You can even check online for coupons or in your mailbox for supermarket circulars and use sale prices to set your menu. Get on a schedule, too, so you don’t find yourself grocery shopping every day.

Once you decide what you want, write it down—a physical list keeps you on track and you won’t forget the important items. Make sure to check your pantry before you go & take inventory so you don’t end up with something you already have. Learn common costs so you know a good deal when you see it. Be sure to compare stores and find the best deals on canned goods, meat and dairy.

Save While You Shop

Never shop hungry—eat a snack or two before going out or you’ll be grabbing things because the packaging looks delicious or you’ll get more than you need. Also, limit your available shopping time. Leisurely aisle strollers usually spend more.

When it comes to produce, buy what’s in season because prices go up when supply is down. Cut items yourself instead of purchasing pre-sliced veggies & fruits that are sometimes twice as expensive. And never pick up the first thing you see. Double-check prices and ingredients to see if you can pay less for the same thing. Get the store brands when possible & always look high and low. The pricey groceries often appear at eye level and sometimes the best bargains are at the bottom.

Use cash whenever possible so you don’t shell out more than you allotted. Additionally, scan the receipt afterward, making sure there aren’t errors, then take note of what cost the most so you can find a way to save on those items in the future.

Save At Home

Instead of making a trip to the grocery store because you’re missing one ingredient, see if you can create something else with food you already have. Use what’s in your inventory instead of letting it go to waste. The same goes with leftovers—plan on using them for a meal or two instead of throwing them out.

If you have the space, grow your own produce and freeze what you can’t eat to extend its life. And always watch for specials when you’re shopping. For a limited time, America First is offering to pay for $100 in groceries when you open a savings and checking account in one of our convenient in-store branches. Head to americafirst.com for details.

costume

Last-Minute Halloween Costumes on a Budget

Believe it or not, there are some people who have their Halloween costume picked out before the Fourth of July. For others, finding something spooky to wear is a last-minute scramble on the afternoon of October 31. If you’re reading this, it’s probably because you’re one of the latter and you need some quick inspiration. Here are some ideas for easy DIY costumes you can make on a budget.

Swamp Creature

Buy some inexpensive green and black plastic tablecloths from your local dollar store. Slice them into strips to wear on your head, shoulders & waist to become a mossy monster. Hey, we told you these costumes were going to be cheap!

Gumball Machine

Cut holes in large, clear plastic bag for your head and arms. Fill the bag with a bunch of brightly colored balloons and then cinch the bottom of the bag at your waist. Wear a long red skirt or pants for added effect. You could also use smaller balloons and become a bag of jelly beans.

Wanted Poster

Take a large piece of cardboard and cut out a large square in the middle. Write WANTED in thick western-style letters on top & your name and whatever you think the reward for your capture should be at the bottom. When someone asks about your costume, hold up the sign and pose behind it.

Flashback

Raid old boxes of clothes lying around your parents’ basement. Find a goofy outfit from the 60s, 70s or 80s or 90s, depending on how old your parents are and dress up as one of them. Or dig out some of your favorite old clothes and go as yourself in the past.

Flash Forward

If you’re not a parent, show people what you would look like if you were. Find a doll or two and borrow a baby carrier, car seat or stroller. Throw a diaper bag over your shoulder. Mess up your hair a bit and use some eyeliner to create dark circles around your sleep-deprived eyes. Add nametags on your fake children if you’re feeling inspired.

Time Zone

Use a marker to write the name of a time zone, such as Central or Pacific, on the back of a T-shirt. Buy a cheap clock, set the dial accordingly, hang it around your neck. If you have a group of friends, you could all dress up as the six U.S. zones.

The Other Holiday

Pull your Christmas decorations out early and wrap yourself in tinsel & lights. Put a star on your head—you are now a Christmas tree. Or find a large box, wrap it like a yuletide gift and make room for your head, arms and legs. You can even hang a tag from the festive box that reads, TOO SOON?

credit union

Credit Union History Steeped in Cooperation

Credit unions began forming in Germany during the mid-19th century. Due to famine and crop failure, Herman Schulze-Delitzsch organized a cooperatively owned bakery & mill so local citizens could buy bread at discounted prices. The operation was so successful that, in 1850, he applied the same idea to the financial sector and created what he called the people’s bank.

Another German named Friedrich Raiffeisen established the Heddesdorf Credit Union in 1864 to give nearby farmers livestock and farming equipment purchasing opportunities. Raiffeisen based the group on philosophies of self-governance, stating that once you defeat dependency, you can fight poverty.

Expansion

This idea of credit associations extended across the Atlantic Ocean and took root in Quebec, Canada at the beginning of the 20th century. A man named Alphonse Desjardins was tired of loan sharks taking advantage of those in need, so he founded the first credit union in North America to make financing affordable for poorer families.

The first U.S. credit union was organized in New Hampshire in 1909. During the 1920s, not-for-profit financial cooperatives became more popular, because these institutions could offer smaller loans to people for things like appliances—the type of lending larger banks wouldn’t address at all.

Regulation

As the concept grew in the 1930s, the government implemented the Federal Credit Union Act to supervise the various cooperative financial institutions that were now spread across the nation. And as membership increased to over 6,000,000 in the 1960s, the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) and the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund (NCUSIF) came about to regulate the industry and protect members.

From the beginning, such cooperatives were founded on the principle of democratic governance, with all members having a say, regardless of deposit size. Members would elect a board of directors, who volunteered their time to help guide the credit union. And with a membership of more than 230 million, we still follow those practices today in 109 countries worldwide.

heating

Stay Warm & Save on Heating Costs

As the weather turns colder, heaters are kicking on and many folks find themselves paying higher energy bills. However, keeping your home at a comfortable temperature doesn’t have to cost a lot. Here are some tips on how to stay warm and still save money on heating costs.

Dress Appropriately

Don’t rely just on the furnace to keep toasty in the winter—dress in warm clothes. Wear socks or a comfy jacket and you won’t have to turn the temperature up as high. Use cushy blankets while watching TV on the couch and put thick comforters & sheets on your bed.

Audit Your Energy

Search for heat leaks. If you feel a cold draft in your home, it means the hot air is escaping. Windows and doors are the biggest culprits. Check the weather stripping and replace if it’s old and worn. Re-caulk your window panes if necessary.

You can also take advantage of the sun. Open curtains during the day to let it shine in and naturally provide heat. And, contrary to what you may think a ceiling fan on a low setting can help circulate warm air instead of making things cooler.

Boost Efficiency

Many professionals recommend a furnace inspection every other year and, if your HVAC system is more than 10 years old, you should get it checked annually. But you don’t need an expert to change your air filter, which you should do every month or two. Regular maintenance will increase efficiency.

Resist the urge to crank up the thermostat when it’s cold outside. Keeping it in the high 60s or low 70s will ensure it’s comfortable without costing you too much. In fact, each one-degree drop can reduce your energy bill by up to 3%. And lowering it when you’re not there or while you’re sleeping can also save money. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that lowering the temperature seven to 10 degrees eight hours a day will cut the bill by about 10% annually. Many modern thermostats are programmable and some smart-home systems will only warm rooms with people in them.

The change in seasons doesn’t have to equal higher utility costs. By dressing warmly, maintaining your furnace and preventing heat loss, you’ll stay warmer and spend less doing it.