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!

 

Financial Planning for Single Parents

Single parenting brings unique budgeting challenges. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture it costs an estimated $241,080 for a middle-income couple to raise a child to age 18 – and many single parents shoulder that responsibility alone. Even with adequate child support, it’s smart to be proactive about financial matters as a single mom or dad. Here are a few things to think about to get you started.

First, estate planning should be your top priority. It’s essential to make arrangements for your children should something happen to you. Draw up a will, designating a guardian for your children, and a “power of attorney,” giving someone the legal right to make decisions on your behalf.

Second, consider setting up a trust – a legal structure that is overseen by a trustee, in which your assets can be held for your children. Also, ask your employer about disability benefits. Generally, you will receive a smaller income when you claim disability; however, ensuring even partial income is crucial for single parents who don’t have another source of income to cover a gap.

Next, taking out a life insurance policy is equally important. The policy you purchase will depend on your finances. A term policy is the most economical because it offers a straightforward death benefit.
Health insurance is also essential. Premiums may be high, but if you’re uninsured, a serious medical procedure can be financially crippling. Comparison-shop for policies to find one that fits your needs.

Lastly, don’t forget about tax breaks! If you’re a single parent, file as head of household. You’ll pay less and claim a higher standard deduction – you can claim exemptions for yourself and each qualifying child. You also might qualify for the earned income tax credit, the child and dependent care credit, and the child tax credit. Always be sure to speak to a tax professional for the proper procedures.

Whatever your income, it’s important to give yourself a safety net. Put aside a bit of money from each paycheck to set up an emergency fund for car repairs, broken refrigerators and any other unexpected expenses that might come up. Every little bit helps, and we hope we’ve given you information to get your financial planning moving in the right direction.

 

Tax Free Back to School Shopping

TaxFree blog

With the start of the new school year days away, shopping for clothes and supplies is probably at the top of your to do list. This weekend’s tax holiday is the perfect time to get that task done. You can enjoy tax free shopping on clothing, school supplies, personal computers and much more! The tax exempt sales run from August 4 through August 6.

Sales tax will not be collected on purchases of:

  • Clothing, footwear, and certain accessories priced $60 or less per item
  • School supplies selling for $15 or less per item
  • Personal computers and certain computer-related accessories priced $750 or less per item.

This is a great time to take inventory of your home or office space as well as your closets. Do you need new work shirts or a new laptop? Now is the time to buy

You can certainly use this weekend to grab savings for the entire family or you can purchase items and donate to someone that is less fortunate. There are a number of organizations that will be taking donated school supplies during the upcoming weeks. Check out your local news outlets for school supply drives in your area.

We know shopping for school related items can get expensive; however, you can save quite a bit of money by purchasing them during the tax free weekend. Click here for more information and for frequently asked questions about Florida’s sales tax holiday.

Happy Shopping!

Staycations Are Key to Summer Fun on a Budget

Summer is here, and for most, that means vacation time! Many people travel out of town, or even out of the country, but if you’re on a budget, indulging in a “staycation” may be just the thing for you. In case you’re wondering, a staycation is when you stay in your own city or state and take day trips to local attractions. Here in Florida, there are so many activities to choose from the possibilities are endless. And you can do it all without breaking the bank. We’ve put together a few ideas for you to get your staycation started.

Stop by the beach. Florida is known for its beaches. What would summer be without a trip to one of our sandy shorelines?  If you don’t know where to start, make a game out of it. Make a list of all the beaches in the state you want to visit and assign them a number. Put all of the numbers in a hat, shake it up and pull one out. Whichever beach was assigned that number is your next staycation spot. “Sea” you later!

Visit one of Florida’s many state or national parks. They are filled with tremendous beauty, adventures and new discoveries. Best of all— they’re affordable! Entrance fees to most Florida state and national parks are less than $10. There are about 11 national parks, 160 state parks, and a number of preservation and recreation areas for you to choose from. So you might want to do a little advance planning. Besides the awesome sights, national and state parks are an awesome place to picnic or even camp overnight. So pack up your tents, gather ingredients for s’mores and head out to enjoy nature. Click here to find a park near you!

Get discounted tickets to amusement parks. Most Orlando area theme parks have Florida resident discounts as well as promotions where you pay for one day and get in free the rest of the year! Take advantage of the Florida resident discount to enhance your staycation, and continue the fun for the rest of the year. Click here for a list of Florida resident discounts from Visit Orlando. An added bonus – as an Insight Credit Union member you get discounted tickets to Legoland. Cool, right?!

Catch up on some reading. Find a cute little park, coffee shop or bookstore and let yourself get lost in a good book. This can help with relaxation and transport your mind to another place. You can even take a book to that beach you decided to go to.

Attend a local sporting event. Whether it’s baseball, soccer, golf, bull riding or wrestling, Central Florida has plenty of sporting event options to take advantage of. Get the family out for a fun-filled evening to one of the many Florida Collegiate Summer League baseball games. If you are more of a soccer fan, be sure to check out an Orlando City soccer game! For other exciting sporting events this summer, check out the list that Visit Orlando has compiled for more details.

Visit local museums. History and art museums can be found all over Florida. They may even be a museum celebrating the history of your own city. This is a great activity for both adults and children. You can have fun and learn something all at the same time. Botanical gardens, zoos, and farms that let you pick your own fruit are also great ideas for some summertime fun, not to mention they’re a hit with the little ones.

We hope these ideas can help you maximize your staycation without maxing out your budget! Do you have a favorite staycation spot? We would love to hear more about it! Share with us in the comments below.

 

*This is an updated version of a post originally published on July 28, 2014.

School Is Out! Are You Ready?

Summertime for teachers means a break from students, lesson plans and homework. But it can also mean a break in their paycheck. Some educators have their paychecks broken down into smaller amounts so they get paidGroup-Teacher-Student-000034003840-IS equally throughout the year. Others are not able to take advantage of that same program. When paychecks stop, there are many ways to make sure you are prepared for this change. Here are a few ways you can help bridge that gap in you budget.

Get a Summer Job
It might not sound glamorous at first, but how about trying something outside of the box? Many lifeguard positions are summer only, and who doesn’t want to work on their tan while getting a paycheck. If lifeguarding isn’t for you, tutoring or babysitting are two other great summertime jobs. There are a number of options to help get you through the summer with some extra change in your pocket and maintain a productive lifestyle.

Summer Savings/12 Month Pay Accounts
Many financial institutions offer promotions specifically for school staff. At Insight, qualified educators and school employees can receive up to $2,000 – up to the amount of your most recent net paycheck – and it’s paid back in just 12 months with no interest. These accounts can keep you afloat while your summertime funds dry up.

Good Ol’ Fashioned Frugality
Many school employees find themselves paying their summertime bills and then relying on the few remaining dollars to make it through. This method may work, but it doesn’t leave you much room for the unexpected. Even something like a clogged toilet can become a big deal when your next paycheck is 2 months away.

Whatever your method, you should always take a moment to evaluate your means of budgeting. No one is perfect and you may consider one of the other options for a summer to see how it works.