Financial Education

freezer meals

Freezer Meals: Store Up Some Cold, Hard Savings

Freezer meals are becoming an increasingly popular way to save time. But did you know that they can also save you money? If you’ve ever thought about freezing your meals, here are some way to get the most out of your efforts.

What are freezer meals?

When we say freezer meals, we’re not talking about store-bought TV dinners that heat up in the microwave. These are home-cooked breakfasts, lunches and dinners that you make and store for later. A surprising variety of foods can be frozen to feed your family, including soups, sandwiches and casseroles. You can also freeze partial meals or ingredients for future courses.

Freezer cooking can save you time on decision-making and cleaning up. Some people will cook a month’s worth in one day, while others will simply double or triple a recipe and freeze the extra. Find the method that works best for you.

How do I save?

When dinner’s ready to go, you won’t grab grab some take-out on the way home after a busy day or when you just don’t feel like cooking. Plus, you’ll be eating healthier for less money. Freezer meal prep goes hand-in-hand with meal planning. By determining what you’re going to have beforehand and setting limits, it’ll mean less time at the store and fewer impulse buys. Freezer cooking also helps decrease the unplanned shopping trips that can kill your monthly budget.

Your frozen dishes can also be made with whatever’s on sale. Look for discounts on more expensive ingredients like meat and divide it into manageable portions before freezing. Buying in bulk can also generate savings and food that’s frozen doesn’t spoil as quickly.

Freezer cooking tips

Don’t do all of your shopping and cooking on one day—that would be exhausting. If you’re new to the process, start small with a handful of meals you can pull out when needed. And make sure to let the food cool off before you freeze it so that you don’t thaw out other items.

Air is your enemy when it comes to these meals—it’s what causes freezer burn. If you’re using gallon or quart-sized bags, squeeze out as much air as possible before sealing them. Some people even use straws to create a vacuum in the container. And freeze things flat whenever possible so the bags stack easier.

Use labels with dates and descriptions. You’re less likely to eat a freezer meal if you don’t know what it is or how long it’s been in there. Keep things organized and maintain an inventory sheet, rotating through it regularly. These time & money-saving meals aren’t for long-term food storage, after all, they’re quick and easy sustenance solutions.

dads

More Financial Tips from Dads

We learned so much from last year’s post, so here’s another round of financial wisdom from local dads just in time for Father’s Day.

Tyler

Finances can be scary and intimidating if you don’t take the time to acquaint yourself with them. While sitting down each month and setting your budget doesn’t sound fun or enjoyable, it makes a big difference. The more you do it, the more comfortable you’ll become and the more confident you’ll be. Understanding your limitations is important, because it allows you to know your financial flexibility. Make a budget each month and push yourself to stick to it so you can reap the rewards down the road with a fun trip or exciting adventure.

Bob

Break down everything you’re looking to buy as wants and needs. At a young age, wants seem a lot more like needs, so you have to really separate your heart from the equation. Make sure your needs are met and you’ve got enough to fall back on, then you can let those wants have a little more room in your budget.

Cameron T.

It’s not what you make, it’s what you save. Live within your means. Invest early. Stay out of debt.

Jud

Don’t waste your money on worthless things. Work hard and earn your money. Make sure the things you buy are worth what it took to get them. Don’t spend everything, save something.

Brett

Money often costs too much. Be careful about what you are giving up to get it. Everything has a cost. Don’t spend money on something you don’t love at the store. The opportunity for wealth is often disguised in overalls and looks like hard work. Money is a terrible master, but an excellent servant.

Kent

It’s just fine to be seen as the cheap friend. Once you’ve set that standard, it will be a running joke and it will be assumed that you’ll always be that way. You’ll save plenty of money. Once you save and build a foundation of financial security, be generous and pay it forward.

Cameron M.

Sound financial management can help you avoid a heavy burden. Decide what you want most, instead of what you want now.

Rick

Get out of debt and stay out of debt. Never spend money you don’t have. Put money aside for a rainy day. Don’t invest anything you can’t afford to lose. Don’t plan on an inheritance, but be grateful if you receive one. Don’t involve yourself in any get-rich-quick scheme, as they rarely do anything but put you in a worse position than you were before. It doesn’t matter what job you have or what it pays, as long as you can be disciplined to live on the wages.

check

The Write Way to Fill Out a Check

With today’s quick ways to pay, such as credit cards & online transfers, writing personal checks is like a lost art. However, on the rare occasion you need to use a paper check, here are some tips on how to do it correctly.

Date

Being consistent will help identify check fraud, should it ever arise. When it comes to dates, some people put the month first, while others use the day. To avoid confusion, spell out the month in that field. Also, double-check the year during the first few months of the year, when you’re still getting used to the date changing.

Payee

Use full names and avoid acronyms whenever possible. If the check is to more than person—a wedding gift, for example—put the preposition or between the names. If you write Jon Snow and Cersei Lannister as payees, both must endorse it. If you write Jon Snow or Cersei Lannister, then either party can. Also, if it’s for a soon-to-be-married couple, use the names from the invitation. Even if one spouse is going to take the other’s last name, that process may take a while. The same principle applies to children who don’t have accounts—write their names followed by or and the parent’s name so the check can be cashed. And always use a pen to prevent any unauthorized alterations.

Amount

The two amount fields confirm one another. For the number in the box, start at the far left and fill the entire space. Make clear distinctions between dollars and cents with decimals. Clearly spell out the intended amount. Add a horizontal line through any empty space at the end to prevent unauthorized additions. If you make a glaring error, write VOID in big letters across the entire check and start a new one.

Memo

It’s optional and mostly for your records. However, it can help you avoid payment disputes—if your landlord says you didn’t pay your rent in June, but you have a carbon copy of the check that reads June rent payment on the bottom, you’ll be in the right. If you have an account or invoice number with a utility company, putting it on the memo line will help connect the check and the payment stub if they get separated.

Signature

These have power, because a check isn’t valid until signed. Complete all other fields first and then write your signature when you’re ready to give it to the payee. With joint accounts, either party can sign. Once again, consistency will help prevent fraud.

reverse mortgage

Understanding a Reverse Mortgage

If you’re approaching retirement and find yourself with less cashflow than anticipated, you may want to consider a reverse mortgage. Home equity conversion mortgages have been around since the 80s, but have recently gained popularity as a way for senior citizens to supplement their income.

What is a reverse mortgage?

A reverse mortgage is essentially the opposite of a traditional home mortgage. Instead of paying principle & interest to a financial institution to gain equity, the bank or credit union gives the homeowner access to their equity without the obligations of a monthly payment.

How does it work?

A reverse mortgage allows an eligible homeowner to convert their home’s equity into cash. The amount which can be borrowed is dependent on the value of your home as well as the borrower’s age. You may choose to receive those funds as one lump sum, in monthly payments or as a line of credit, which you can draw from as needed.

Once a reverse mortgage is granted, the homeowner no longer needs to make monthly mortgage payments. Their primary obligations are to maintain the home and to pay property taxes and home owners insurance. The homeowner retains ownership until the home is no longer owner occupied for a year, the homeowner sells the home, or they pass away. The debt is paid from the future sale of the property. The heirs of the estate will never have to pay more than the value of the house.

What are the requirements?

You don’t need an amazing credit score to qualify for a home equity conversion mortgage. To qualify for this alternate stream of income, you must:

  • Be a homeowner
  • Be 62 years of age or older
  • Use the home as your primary residence
  • Have equity in the home
  • Continue to pay property taxes and homeowners insurance

Is a reverse mortgage right for me?

Reverse mortgages are intended for those who have substantial equity in their home and are in need of additional cashflow. They are also designed for people who have long-term plans to stay in their houses. To set up a consultation and find out if a reverse mortgage is right for you or a loved one, please call 1-866-224-2157.

barbecue

Hosting Your Backyard Barbecue on a Budget

Getting friends and family together for a barbecue is a staple of summer. However, trying to feed & entertain large groups can get expensive if you’re not careful. Here are some ways to grill up some fun without going broke.

Trimming the Bill

You don’t have to wow guests with fancy Japanese wagyu steaks—simple burgers work just fine. Chicken legs & thighs also have a lot of flavor and are usually less expensive. Additionally, good marinades give cheaper meats tender textures and flavorful character. Even low-priced hot dogs can please a crowd when dressed up with delicious toppings & condiments.

Establish a budget and design your menu around what’s on sale. Buy items in bulk when they’re discounted, then freeze them until needed. Take inventory of what you already have before shopping so you don’t double up and waste money.

Sharing the Sides

The host of a barbecue doesn’t have to provide everything. Ask guests to bring side dishes and desserts. Make specific assignments, though, or you could end up with 20 bags of chips. And you’ll need ice—stock up from your own fridge by putting it in plastic bags beforehand. Organizing a pot-luck-style meal also helps you count how many people are coming.

Sides will also reduce the need for costly meats. People will fill up on chips, dips and veggies instead of seconds of the chicken, burgers or steaks. And if you’re asked to bring a side dish, avoid purchasing pre-made food. Make your own pasta salads, rolls or baked beans to save cash.

Finding the Flatware

Most dollar stores have plenty of colorful plates, utensils, napkins, and decorations. If you’re having a smaller gathering, consider using dishes and silverware. Yes, it will make for more work afterward, but it only costs time. You could also invest in reusable plasticware specifically for barbecues.

Planning the Party

Inexpensive activities can also make for a memorable barbecue. Water balloons are a cheap, entertaining way to beat the heat. You could run a three-legged race, set up a simple obstacle course, or stage a watermelon-eating contest. A neighbor might have a volleyball net or horseshoe set that you can borrow. You can also keep kids (and some adults) entertained with a box of sidewalk chalk.

Regardless of what you do, remember that when it comes to backyard barbecues, people tend remember the socializing more than the food. A simple get-together is sometimes the best way to create lasting memories.

senior trip

Graduation Vacation Education: How to Spend Less on your Senior Trip

If you’re wanting to go on a senior trip, but you don’t have quite enough money for an exotic all-inclusive resort, here are some ways you can save some cash while still celebrating your graduation.

Plan it Out

Instead of going wherever the summer wind takes you, make a detailed plan of what you would like to do. This will help you create a budget and determine the most affordable vacation option. Additionally, doing research ahead of time will allow you to compare prices and find the best deals—cutting the cost of travel, food and entertainment.

Stay with Family

If you want to get away for your senior trip, visit a place where you’ve got close friends or family. Staying with relatives will help save you some money, and they can also be a guide to you about where to visit, what to eat, and must-have experiences while you’re there. Just make sure to be a polite house guest, otherwise you may not be invited back.

Be a Local Tourist

Sometimes we don’t appreciate the sights that are in our own backyard. Is there a place of interest within driving distance that you’ve always wanted to see? Is there a nearby tourist attraction that you’ve neglected to visit? Checking sites about your city or state can help you discover new experiences and local events you may not even know about. Seeing your home town from a different perspective can make it feel like a whole new world.

Go Camping

If you and your friends don’t mind going without some creature comforts, travel to the great outdoors for your senior trip. Camping is much cheaper than staying in a hotel, after all, and it can be fun to get away from everything for a while and enjoy nature. You can spend your days in the mountains hiking, swimming, fishing and relaxing in the open air, at little or no cost to you.

Build Your Savings

If you’re graduating this year, then this may be a little too late. However, you can still pass this advice along to your younger siblings: start putting money away as soon as you start getting a paycheck. It doesn’t have to be much, but save something. Building your savings will give you the financial freedom to do things, like have a fun senior trip, and still have money left over.

moms

More Financial Tips from Moms

Since we enjoyed gathering wisdom imparted by the most important people on earth last year, we decided to do another round. Therefore, in honor of Mother’s Day, here is some financial advice & guidance local moms have given or will provide to their kids one day.

Renae

Watch what you are spending. Don’t hamburger-and-French fry your money away. Big spending can happen with lots of little purchases. Know where it’s going. Also, save more from each paycheck than you think you need. Some expensive repair or replacement will always come up when you own a home or a car.

Aimee

For about six months now, I have been putting away about $10 a month into an account for my baby. It’s not much and I really don’t have to look far into my budget to save that amount for her, but my plan is to surprise her with that money several years down the road and show her the importance of saving.

Kelsi

Just because it’s on sale doesn’t mean you should buy it. And make sure to budget for fun. It’s easy to put all of your money toward paying off things like student loans, but then you also have to reward yourself for hard work.

Bethany

Don’t spoil your kids. It’s better for them and it’s better for your budget.

Lisette

You’re never too poor to give. Truly, I have witnessed how generosity has rewards of its own. I believe that hard work makes your dreams possible, but I don’t want you to try to keep up with the Joneses—it’s just not worth it. I want you to be content with what you have, avoid excessive debt, find happiness in living within your means, and commit to saving and preparing for a rainy day.

Tammy

Always keep $20 in cash in your wallet in case of emergencies. Learn how to use a check register—it’s too easy nowadays to just swipe and forget! Establish a savings account and never let your balance drop below a semester’s worth of tuition. And always ask questions if you don’t understand something financial, such as what a W-2 is or how credit works.

Lisa

Save money wherever you can so that you can spend it where you need and want. It’s good to learn to go without things that you want in life if you don’t have the money to pay for them. Things can’t make up for the burden of debt.

Allyson

Take care of your stuff. Always save, budget, and work hard to have enough money to take care of yourself, your family, and to bless other people. Never be in a rush to make a big purchase. Plan and save for those big items you need to buy one day like a car, house, or family vacation, and be willing to wait for a good deal to come along before purchasing it.

Monica

I have always shared with my kids the joy that comes from saving money with a plan to do something fun and exciting for someone else. You can save up and buy yourself whatever it is that you want and it always feels good to get things after saving for it. However, the thrill of watching someone receive something they wouldn’t or couldn’t buy for themselves is better than anything you could ever buy for yourself. Saving money and being smart with financial blessings in life is wise and if you share the wealth, it’s magical!

Han Solo

Financial Lessons from Han Solo

Han Solo is one of the most iconic characters to come from the Star Wars universe. And while we certainly don’t advocate every action of this famous fictional smuggler, here are some financial lessons we can learn from the captain of the Millennium Falcon.

Pay Your Debts

When we first meet Han in Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, he’s already in trouble. He has a price on his head because he owes a lot of money to the infamous gangster, Jabba the Hutt. Han is constantly looking over his shoulder, worried that one of Jabba’s bounty hunters will find him. What we can take from this is that excessive debt and living outside your means will weigh you down and can cripple you, financially. When you borrow money for large expense, such as a house or a car, calculate the monthly payments beforehand to make sure it’s one you can afford. Then, once you’ve taken out a loan, make sure that you pay your installments on time and in full.

Performance Precedes Promotion

Han Solo is initially hired to take Luke Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, C-3PO, and R2-D2 to the planet Alderaan. However, when they finally get there, they discover that Alderaan is missing. When Luke asks for additional help to free Princess Leia, Han is able to renegotiate the terms of his contract due to his excellent performance up to that point. At your place of employment, follow through with each of your assignments. As you successfully do your job, you’ll gain the trust of your employer and have more leverage when it comes time to ask for a pay raise.

Buy Used

As many of you already know, Han Solo wasn’t the first owner of the Millennium Falcon. He got that “piece of junk” from his friend, Lando Calrissian. There’s no way that Han could have afforded a YT-1300 Corellian light freighter brand new off the lot, so he had to find another way. When you purchase a vehicle, consider buying a used one. Used cars will cost less up front, of course, but they also don’t depreciate as quickly as new cars and they’ll save you additional money on insurance & registration.

Get Advice from Friends

Even though Han is a notorious loner, he still maintains a close friendship with his co-pilot, Chewbacca. When Han needs to make a decision, he’ll usually discuss it with Chewie first. As the Star Wars saga progresses, Han expands his small council of trusted friends to include Luke and Leia. When you have to make a big financial decision, don’t do it alone. Counsel with those that you trust and consider their feedback. After all, wise financial advice from a friend can help you avoid doing something you’ll regret, such as becoming indebted to a Hutt crime lord.

gems

Six Powerful Financial Gems

In the Marvel film Avengers: Infinity War, a team of superheroes must try to stop the evil Thanos from finding and collecting the six infinity stones: space, mind, reality, power, time & soul. Each of these gems has a special power that gives the holder certain gifts. And if all the gems are combined on the Infinity Gauntlet, the wearer will be virtually unstoppable.

Therefore, in the spirit of comic book lore, here are six financial gems you can wield to gain ultimate power over your money.

Space

In the comics, the Space stone allows the user to teleport themselves anywhere in the universe. In this article, the Space gem translates to being frugal in your travels. Pack some lunches on your next road trip instead of eating out. Visit tourist locations during their off-season. Use public transportation or split the cost of a rental car with your friends. Savvy travelers save money on the necessities so they can spend a little more on the fun stuff.

Mind

The Mind gem lets those in the Marvel universe access the thoughts of other people. In the financial realm, this gem refers to pondering purchases before making them. Impulse buying is a quick way to spend more than you have. Plan your grocery shopping list in advance and stick to it. Give yourself a waiting period for larger purchases. Your mental efforts will pay off in monetary rewards.

Reality

When Thanos uses the Reality stone, he can defy scientific laws and create alternate realities. In our world, this gem simply refers to being realistic with your finances. Don’t spend more than you have. Living within your means will give you a sense of freedom. Additionally, don’t plan a budget that sets you up for failure. Set realistic goals and keep them on the forefront of your mind to ensure success.

Power

The Power gem increases the strength of any character that holds it, and it boosts the power of the other gems as well. You can increase your buying power by improving your credit score. In order to improve it, however, you first need to know it. You can view your FICO® score at any time by logging in to free online banking from America First. After that, paying your bills on time, reducing your debt and correcting any errors you find on your credit report will slowly, but surely, increase your score.

Time

In the movies, Dr. Strange uses the Time stone to travel to the past and the future. While we can’t predict the future, investing your money in a certificate account is a safe and easy way to grow your funds. And the longer you set the terms of your certificate, the better the rate of return will be. It takes patience to leave funds untouched for an extended period, but the benefits of compound interest are worth the wait.

Soul

The elusive Soul stone gives Marvel characters control over other people’s lives. In real life, donating your money to charitable causes lets you influence others’ lives and help the world be a better place. Additionally, there are financial benefits that come from donating to charity. Donated cash, as well as the value of clothing, furniture, vehicles and more can be deducted from your tax return.

Once you have acquired all of these financial gems, you may not have all the power in the universe, but you’ll find that you have much more control over your money. You’ll be spending less, saving more and feeling much more confident about your decisions.

stolen

Here’s What to Do If Your Credit Card Is Stolen

If your credit card is stolen, don’t go into a panic. It’s normal to feel angry or vulnerable, but keeping a level head and acting quickly will lessen potential financial injury. In fact, America First members have zero fraud liability if you quickly let us know about the situation. Here’s what to do if your credit card is missing.

See if you can find it

First, determine if you’re the victim of theft or you just misplaced your card. Retrace your steps and think of the last place you used it. Log in to your account and look at recent transactions. Pat down recently worn outfits, check under couch cushions, call any stores or restaurants you visited, and ask your spouse about it. Because when you report a card as stolen, it will be deactivated and replacing it may take a few days.

Turn It Off

If you have free Card Guard® mobile security from America First, you can turn off your Visa® as soon as you notice it’s missing. That will give you time to search those couch cushions one more time. If you find it, just press a button and turn your card on again. If your Visa doesn’t turn up and it’s off, whoever has it can’t use it.

Contact the card issuer

When you determine that your card is lost or stolen, contact your financial institution immediately. Have the following information ready to speed up the reporting process:

  • Your name
  • Which card was stolen
  • When it was stolen/lost
  • When and where it was last used

If your PIN was compromised, report that as well. Once reported as stolen/compromised, your card/PIN will be cancelled and new items will be issued. As previously mentioned, creating & delivering replacements can take a couple days, so be prepared to use another card or cash until then.

Review & update

Look over your monthly statement for unauthorized charges. If any appear that weren’t previously reported, let your institution know. Under federal law, if the transactions occur after the card is reported stolen, you cannot be held liable. And for those that took place before then, the maximum liability amount is $50.

And finally, when your new card is in your wallet, make sure to update your payment information for automatic transfers, such as your Netflix or cable bill. Not doing so can interrupt your movie, which could also induce panic attacks in some people.