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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.

tax refund

Five Wise Ways to Use Your Tax Refund

If you’re expecting a tax refund, it may be tempting to blow it all on hats or a gold-plated gadget, but there is a better use. After all, this isn’t a bonus from your company; it’s your money that the government borrowed and they’re giving it back to you. Using these funds wisely can alleviate stress and increase your sense of well-being. Here are five smart ways to make the most of your refund.

Invest

This isn’t limited to stocks & bonds, although it’s not a bad idea to enter the market. Investing in certificate accounts is a safe way to earn higher dividends. And even if you already have a 401(k) plan with your employer, you can start a separate IRA to diversify and create a secondary income stream. Alternatively, you can contribute to a new business or you could invest in people by donating to charitable causes—which can also be tax deductible.

Reduce Debt

There is no feeling quite like being debt-free. Why not use the money to lower your credit card balances? Pay off the one with the highest interest rate first, and if you have some money left over, start working on the next. You can also get ahead on your auto loan, your student loans & your mortgage principal. This may not seem as fun as buying things, but owing less to others gives you more buying power.

Build an Emergency Fund

If you don’t have one yet, a tax refund can help jump start your rainy-day savings. Even $500 can help soften the blow of unexpected costs. If you already have an emergency fund, keep working to save three to six months of expenses. Having this cushion will help if you ever suffer from job loss or medical issues.

Repair & Replace

Complete the maintenance projects you’ve been putting off. Fix broken shingles on your roof. Replace your car’s worn tires. Go to the dentist and take care of the tooth that’s been bothering you. Replace an old, energy-inefficient fridge or a malfunctioning oven. At times, spending a little on preventative care now will help prevent bigger bills down the road.

Make Memories

There’s no harm in treating yourself with your tax refund when your other financial responsibilities are handled. However, many people find that purchasing things isn’t as satisfying as gaining experiences. Take your spouse out to a nice dinner. Enjoy a family vacation. Go somewhere fun with your friends. Create memories that will last, instead of buying that quadcopter drone with GPS—after all, it’s likely to break before the month’s over.

move

Pack it Up: How to Save When You Move

No matter what your plans are, when you move it will always come with a price. If you do it yourself, it’s going to cost a lot more time. When you hire professionals, it means spending more money. It’s important to determine what’s of value to you. Regardless of the method you choose, here are some ways to save.

Getting Movers

Create a budget beforehand. Figure out all the pre-moving expenses and what it will take to get your new place up and running. Check prices online and get quotes from at least three companies. Be sure to clarify if they charge extra for long hauls, packing, assembly, stairs and storage. Talk to friends in the neighborhood and speak with folks at your destination about who they use.

Choose the off-season if possible. Most people move in the spring and summer months, since school is out and the weather is nice. However, some movers charge less between September and May. Scheduling for weekdays can also bring savings, since the demand is higher on the weekends.

Taking it on Yourself

First, figure out how much stuff you want to take. Sell things you don’t want to bring along to help offset the cost. Or use what you earned from a yard sale to help pay for furniture or electronics at your new home. Of course, it’s also less expensive to move fewer items—you won’t need an extra-large truck for a more modest set of belongings.

Carefully select the vehicle’s size. A larger one may come with a higher rate, but it will be less expensive than multiple trips with a smaller van. You can also rent helpful items, such as dollies or furniture pads, instead of buying them. And try to time your move directly from one location to another, instead of renting a storage shed.

Search for free boxes at local stores. You can also go online and look around your neighborhood for packing materials from those who have recently moved. And while you’re at it, ask friends & family to help. After all, you can usually pay volunteers in pizza.

If you’re changing cities for a new job, some employers will cover the relocation. Also, you can deduct certain expenses, so keep all related receipts. Please consult your accountant or a tax professional for details. Moving is never a fun experience, but careful planning and budgeting can ease your financial burden.

certificate

Certificate Account Specifics

Savings accounts are good places to deposit your money, especially if you’re with a financial institution that offers competitive dividends. But if you want to take your savings to the next level, consider opening a certificate. These accounts reward long-term planning, and they’re one of the easiest & safest investments you can make.

How does it work?

Certificates are virtually risk free. Funds are insured by the federal government and is held in a similar manner as savings accounts. They are time deposits, meaning you will earn fixed dividends for a pre-determined amount of time, ranging from a couple months to a few years, depending on your preferred investment strategy.

Generally speaking, the longer the term of the certificate, the better the rate. If you make a withdrawal before the maturity date, however, you’ll pay a penalty fee. Make sure you can commit to keeping the funds there before opening one.

You can deposit the monthly dividends you earn on your certificate investment into another account, such as your savings or checking, or re-invest them into the certificate account to benefit from compound interest. As your certificate’s term nears its end, you’ll be notified of when you can take out your money or roll it over into a new certificate account. After that date, the money will stay in the account until the certificate matures again.

What certificates are available?

America First offers many options to fit your financial wants & needs.

  • Regular – Low minimum-deposit levels with higher yields
  • Bump – Provide one-time rate increases
  • Dedicated savings – Set up automatic deposits for future occasions
  • Flexible – Get quarterly access with no penalties
  • IRA – Boost your retirement savings
  • Ladder – Set up periodic maturity dates for consistent access

How do I open one?

At America First, it’s simple. Visit americafirst.com, call 1-800-999-3961 or stop by your local branch—and start letting your money make money.

limit

Raising the Roof—Increasing Your Credit Limit

A credit card is like a chain saw—if used correctly, it can be a great tool. But if it’s mishandled, the results can be disastrous. Increasing your limit is a helpful way to gain more spending power, but it must be done responsibly to gain the benefits.

Why should I increase it?

If you’re a responsible cardholder who regularly pays the entire balance every month, yet still find yourself repeatedly maxing out your card, you may have outgrown your credit line. Increased expenses, after all, are common as people get older, marry & have children. Raising your limit gives you more flexibility with your spending.

Another reason to boost your limit is to cover big expenses, such as a new vehicle or an extended vacation. Increasing your credit line can also be useful in the event of any emergency situations that may arise. Plus, with a Visa® from America First, you will enjoy quarterly rebates on every dollar you spend.

When should I apply to raise my credit limit?

It’s important to achieve financially stability before you request an increase. If your payment history is spotty or your credit score is low, you may not be approved in the first place. While a boost in credit may trigger a hard pull on your credit report, a higher limit could actually help raise your score in the long run. This is because your credit utilization ratio—an element that credit reporting agencies use to calculate your score—measures how much debt you have available, compared to what you regularly tap into. Keeping that percentage of used credit low in relation to your potential will help improve your overall score.

How can I accomplish this?

Raising your limit is actually quite simple. Usually you’ll fill out an online application or contact your financial institution. If you’ve proven yourself as a responsible borrower, your request will likely be approved. And don’t hesitate to discuss your current financial situation with the card issuer to determine what credit card limit is right for you.