Home Renovations On A Budget

Is your home in desperate need of a face lift? As you probably know, renovations don’t come cheap. In fact, the average kitchen remodel tops $60,000 and bathroom overhauls can cost $18,000! With some careful planning, though, you can shave thousands of dollars off these price tags. Keep reading to find out how.

1.) Don’t do a complete remodel. Instead of knocking down walls, give the outdated area a fresh coat of paint, new light fixtures and some minor décor upgrades. Potential money saved: $30,000.

2.) Shop around for a contractor. Find someone professional, reliable and willing to give you a decent price. Check out at least three different contractors before making your decision. Ask for references and meet with each contractor in person to get a feel for their professional conduct and character. Also, be sure to sign a detailed contract. Potential money saved: several thousand dollars.

3.) Consider long–term benefits. It often makes sense to pay more now if it’ll save you big down the line. For example, if you’re installing clapboard siding, you’ll save in the long run by paying more for pre-primed and pre-painted boards. Using the prefinished claps means you’ll need half as many paint jobs in the future. Money saved: $1,250 (for a 10×40 area).

4.) Pick decent but midgrade materials. When long-term functionality is not a criterion, choose the midgrade option. One area where you’ll see this at play is in carpeting. Olefin and polyester carpeting will run you $1 to $2 per square foot .while wool costs upward of $9 to $11 per square foot. Money saved: $400 (for a 40-square-feet area).

5.) Bring in natural light without windows. Looking to bring a splash of sunshine into your kitchen? Instead of adding a window, consider installing a “light tube.” It slips between the rafters on your roof and works to funnel sunshine down into the living space below. Adding a double-pane window can run you $1,500; a light tube costs $500.Money saved: $1,000.

6.) Lend a hand. Save big by doing some of the demolition work yourself, painting some walls, or even sanding walls to prep them for painting. You can also lend a hand with the cleanup instead of hiring a crew. Money saved: $200 or more.

7.) Increase efficiency, not size; Cramped kitchen? Don’t assume you need to push out walls to make it work. Instead, reorganize your kitchen for optimal efficiency and save tens of thousands of dollars. Upgrade your cabinets with lazy susans, pullout drawers, dividers and more. Consider hiring a professional organizer to show you how to maximize your space – you’ll still save big overall.

Money saved: up to $60,000. Before making any decisions, be sure to call, click or stop by Insight Credit Union today to learn about our fantastic rates on Home Equity Lines of Credit!

Have you recently remodeled? How did you save money? Share your best hacks with us in the comments!

11 Ways To Scale Back On Food Costs

Next to your mortgage or rent, you probably spend the most money on food. We have some helpful tips to get- and keep that food bill under control.

  1.  Never shop before making a detailed menu for the week.
  2.  Use coupons whenever possible.
  3.  Cook with seasonal produce.
  4.  Use the generic brands for cleansers, shampoos and detergents instead of brand-name products.
  5.  Never buy something just because it’s on sale unless you use that item regularly. You aren’t saving if you got a great deal on something that will just sit in your pantry.
  6.  Whenever possible, make your own instead of buying convenience foods.
  7.  Never shop for groceries without a list.
  8.  Buy in bulk instead of making smaller, more frequent trips to the store.
  9.  Consider having your groceries delivered instead of going to the store to avoid impulse purchases.
  10.  Never shop before taking full inventory of your fridge, freezer and pantry.
  11.  When possible, buy larger containers of food instead of individualized portions. This includes snack bags, yogurts, ice cream, cheeses and drinks.

We want to hear from you. How do you save on food? Share your best tips with us in the comments!

5 Ways To Save Time Without Spending A Dime

People often pair convenience with cost. In other words, if you want to save time, you’ll have to spend money. Here are five ways to prove that isn’t so.

  1. When meal planning, mainstream your salad prep. You don’t have to buy pre-washed and pre-cut vegetables to save time. Simply have a marathon cutting session at the beginning of the week, rinsing, slicing and dicing all the vegetables you’ll want to include in your salads throughout the week. Store in airtight containers in the fridge and enjoy the convenience all week long!
  2. Get your workouts while cleaning. Yes, you can multitask and skip the expensive exercise class! Do your lunges while vacuuming, squat when checking the oven or picking up toys, lift all grocery bags yourself, and – if you need to get from one side of the house to another – jog to get there. And, of course, walk to all nearby errands instead of driving the car.
  3. Don’t buy the frozen pancakes or mix. Instead, once a month, mix up a huge batch of pancake batter and freeze separately in single-breakfast-sized containers. You can do this for nearly everything you make often and save yourself a ton of time.
  4. Skip those annoying runs to the grocery for one missing ingredient by keeping a small marker-board on the fridge and writing down each ingredient you need as soon as you’ve used it up.
  5. Make all your bill-pays automatic. You’ll never make a late payment or be stuck with a late fee again, and you won’t have the hassle of remembering when each one of your bills is due. For the convenience and peace of mind of knowing your regular bills will be paid automatically – even if you forget or go out of town – take advantage of Insight’s Online Bill Pay feature.

How do you save time while spending less money? Share your cost saving techniques with us in the comments!

Protect Yourself Against Card Cracking Scams

In a recent scam targeting millennials, fraudsters are once again cashing in on people’s naivety and goodwill. Only this time, they’re using social media to make it happen.

What makes the scam especially cruel is that fraudsters specifically look for cash-strapped victims who are desperate enough to believe almost anything in the hope of earning a quick buck. This vulnerability, coupled with the broad reach of social media, has made card cracking especially successful.

So what is card cracking? Card cracking scams start with an innocent-looking social media post. It will always showcase some form of quick cash. It might be an easy-to-win contest with a huge cash prize, a dream job that will instantly be yours – as soon as you follow the instructions – or a gift card that you’ll be granted just for sharing information. If you click on the embedded link, you’ll be asked for your checking account information, your PIN or your online banking credentials.

Once the scammers have this information, they can do any of a number of things, from withdrawing large sums of cash from your account to using your debit card number for a massive shopping spree.

In another variety of card cracking, scammers will claim their personal accounts are frozen and they have no access to money. They’ll ask the victim to allow them to access the victim’s account for simple transactions such as depositing checks. The scammers will then cash the checks and, a few days later, when the check bounces, the scammer is long gone. This variation is sometimes played out in person, on college campuses.

In yet a third scheme, card crackers will promise victims a cut of fraudulent funds if the victim allows them to use their accounts. Of course, the victim will be held liable when the scammers are busted.

Don’t be the next victim! Here’s how to protect yourself from card cracking:

1.) Never share personal information with a stranger   

Never share sensitive information with a correspondent whose identity you cannot verify with absolute certainty.

2.) When it’s too good to be true, it usually is   

Free or easy money exists only in fairy tales. Don’t believe social media post that sounds too good to be true.

3.) Never cash a check for someone else   

If someone asks you to cash a check for them, politely refuse. Unless you would trust this person with your life, there is no reason to believe their tale is legitimate or that their check will be honored.

4.) Report suspicious activity   

If you notice any suspicious activity on your account, report it immediately. You may have fallen prey to a card cracking scam and you don’t even know it!

When you’re educated, alert and aware, you’ll spot most scams before it’s too late.

Have you recently spotted any card cracking scams on your social media pages? Share what tipped you off in the comments!

Should I Make A Balance Transfer?

 

Q: I’m considering a balance transfer to an interest-free card. Is that a good idea?

A: Transferring some or all of your credit card debt to one that includes an introductory interest-free period can help you move toward a debt-free life. However, there are some things to be aware of. Consider these pros and cons:

Pros

Interest-free debt
Your biggest push for making a balance transfer is to get a break from the interest that’s added to your balance. Depending on the offer, that may be up to 21 months. Making a balance transfer will allow you to take a real bite out of your debt and make progress toward getting rid of it completely.

Convenience
The more monthly bills you need to pay, the greater the chance of missing a payment. A balance transfer lets you consolidate the balance on several different cards into one, decreasing the number of monthly payments you need to make.

Motivation
Taking this significant step toward paying down your debt may motivate more careful spending habits.

Cons

High interest fees
At the end of a predetermined amount of time with your new card, you’ll be hit with interest rates that are unusually high. While you may plan on paying down your balance before the interest rate kicks in, you may not be able to do so. Also, many balance transfer cards do not offer the same interest-free deal for new purchases.

Transfer fees
Most balance transfer offers charge a minimum of 3-5% of the balance you’re transferring. So, while you may not be incurring interest, the transfer isn’t always free.

You need excellent credit
If you’re considering a transfer, know that you often need to have a credit score of at least 700.

Increased monthly bills
Often, a company offering to accept interest-free balance transfers will only accept a portion of the amount, adding one more monthly bill to track. This increases your chances of missing a payment. If your entire balance can’t be transferred, give priority to your interest-free payment, but don’t neglect other bills.

Negative impact on your credit score
With the recent changes to the VantageScore system, having less available credit while using a small percentage of it is considered the smart choice. Opening a new card without closing an old one means you will have more available credit and may lower your score. Also, having lots of open cards will make lenders view you as a risk.

If you’re sinking in credit card debt but don’t think a balance transfer is for you, we can help! A personal loan might be a solid first step toward debt freedom. Call, click, or stop by an Insight Branch today, to hear about our competitive rates and options.

Have you ever made a balance transfer? Tell us all about it in the comments!

Why Do I Need To Get Preapproved For A Loan?

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Q: Is there any reason to get pre-approved for a loan?

A: For a large purchase, such as a home or car, having that pre-approval in hand before you start shopping is crucial. A pre-approval is a written letter from a lender specifying how large of a loan you will be eligible for. The letter will also detail your estimated interest rate on the loan.

Here are some other key advantages of getting a pre-approval:

1.) You’ll know what you can afford

Having this information in hand will simplify your search. It will also help you avoid disappointment later. Be sure to calculate other monthly costs, such as property taxes, home insurance and increased auto insurance rates when determining the amount of money you’ll need to shell out each month.

2.) Don’t get taken for a ride

When you’re unsure about how much you can spend on a car, the dealer will capitalize on your uncertainty by trying to sell you a car that barely skims the maximum amount you’ve told them you can afford. They may also focus only on a monthly amount you can afford. They’ll then try to inflate the payment with unnecessary charges and fees only because they fit within your named payment amount. In contrast, when you show the dealer your pre-approval letter, they will have to show you cars with price tags that fit within your loan amount.

3.) Be taken seriously

A car dealer will take you more seriously when you walk in with a pre-approval. Having that information in hand shows you’re ready to buy. When purchasing a home, a realtor will be able to assist you more efficiently when you know exactly how much house you can afford. They’ll also give you better service since you’re showing that you’re serious about buying a home. In fact, many realtors will only work with buyers who’ve obtained a pre-approval.

4.) Know you have financing you can trust

When you show up at the car dealership with a pre-approval from your credit union, you know the deal is in your best interest. Many dealers have access to several financing options and they’re almost always going to offer you options that are in their own wallet’s best interests.

5.) Purchase your dream home

A pre-approval helps you stand out from the pack. If you’re house-hunting in a competitive market, having your pre-approval will give you a leg up on bidding wars. A seller will be more eager to work with someone who’s already started the mortgage process.

In the market for a new home or car? Don’t forget to call, click, or stop by Insight Credit Union to hear about how we can help with your mortgage and auto loans!

Based on your own experience, why do you think it’s important to get pre-approved for a loan? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!

Getting Your Finances Ready For 2018

2018 is here – are you ready?

Usher in the new year with plans for financial improvement and resolutions to meet your goals.

Here are some tips to get you started:

Fine tune your budget

It’s great to start off the new year with a plan. A budget is just that—a plan that starts with the income you expect and your fixed expenses such as mortgage payments, insurance and utilities. The plan incorporates your savings goals, and the remaining money is designated for your other expenses. A realistic budget will help you set your financial goals and will remind you to stick to them. Now is the perfect time to assess last year’s budget or create a new one if you don’t yet have one in place.

Reviewing how you spent last year’s money will help you make better financial decisions for the year ahead. While thinking about it, include a method for tracking your spending. You can do this on a spreadsheet or tag items in your checking account. There are also a variety of apps to make budgeting easier.

Even with a solid plan, there can be surprises along the way, so be sure to build an emergency fund into your budget.

Plan ahead to meet your goals

Consider how you will accomplish your goals. You might have shorter-term goals, such as purchasing a new home, as well as longer-term goals, like retirement. Each set of goals requires different kinds of planning and saving.

Financial planners recommend setting up a separate savings account for each goal. This way, your progress toward that goal is clear.

It’s best to work backward for determining how much you need to save for each goal. Determine the cost of your goal and then establish a reasonable time-frame as well as how much you’ll need to save each month to reach it.

Spend mindfully

Make your financial future more secure this year by identifying your wants versus your needs. Your needs are necessary for survival and include food and shelter. Your wants are simply things you desire – like a luxury car. Tend to your needs first. Then, if there is money remaining, consider your wants.

This might sound obvious, but for many of us, the lines between wants and needs can easily become blurred.

Maximize tax contributions

Tax deductions can be a valuable source of savings. If you have employer-matching funds available, take advantage of them. Also, verify with your HR contact and your accountant that you are contributing the optimal amount to your 401K and IRA.

Check your flexible savings account (FSA)

If you have unspent money in your FSA, now is the time to use it. Your pre-tax dollars in such accounts typically need to be spent before the end of the year or they are lost.

Put the brakes on holiday spending

Avoid going overboard on holiday spending or you might spend the beginning of the year trying to pay it all back.

These are just a few of the many ways you can prepare financially for the coming year. With a little attention to some often-overlooked details, a little perseverance and a little mindfulness throughout, you’ll be moving forward with a strong foundation and positive outlook.

What are some of the things that you’re doing to prepare for 2018? Share them with us in the comments!