Getting Personal With Your Finances

Do you really know what you own and what it’s worth? And do you know just how much you have in outstanding debt?

If the answer to these questions is “no,” then it might be wise to put together a personal financial statement. This document can give you a good “lay of the land” as far as your finances are concerned. And it’s a handy resource should you decide to retire, change careers, or make some other major life decision that calls for a financial gut check.

When piecing together a personal financial statement, a balance sheet is a critical part of it. A balance sheet essentially shows what’s owned by you and what you owe. It basically is a reflection of your personal net worth.

Setting up a balance sheet can be accomplished with a software program (there are many versions out there that are available for free or to purchase). Or you can just put pen to paper. Create a column on the left for assets, and a column on the right for liabilities. Assets include bank account balances, stock holdings, any property you possess such as real estate, etc. Liabilities, meanwhile, include a mortgage, car loans, credit card debt, and college loans.

By subtracting your liabilities from your assets, you’ll arrive at your net worth.

To complete a personal financial statement, you need to create an income statement. This shows how much you earned and how much you spent in a specific period of time, such as the past month or year.

Setting up an income statement is similar to creating a balance sheet. Establish a column that shows all of your income, including salaries, bonuses, rental income, etc. Then draw up another column for all of your expenses. This would include such things as utility bills, mortgage payments, and grocery bills.

Chances are you will also have income or expenses that aren’t periodic, so you should create a column that takes this into account. Examples would be a significant tax return or a major home repair.

The difference between your income and expenses will give you your net income.

Once you have your personal financial statement, consider running it past a financial consultant to ensure you’ve covered all your bases.

Be Budget Savvy in 2017

Becoming healthier is something lots of people strive for in the New Year. Attaining a leaner physique is a popular resolution, but don’t forget about your financial shape. That’s why we suggested last week that a slimmer, trimmer financial you can be achieved by taking the first step of tracking your spending habits.

Now it’s time to assess those habits in detail and then create a workable, realistic budget based on your findings. Of course, part of your budgeting process includes tallying up your income for the week or month. Once you’ve scrutinized both sides of the ledger, you’re ready to move forward.

Don’t make the mistake, however, of becoming too stingy with your funds. After all, you want to enjoy life while still living within your means. You can have both as long as you take a moderate approach.

Other things to consider when crafting your budget include:

  • Taking the money you save on trimming back on “wants” like daily specialty coffee treats or twice-weekly nights dining out and placing it in a savings account. Tip: use direct deposit to accomplish this goal. After all, if you don’t see the money you’re setting aside, you’ll be less inclined to miss it.
  • Paying down credit card debt. If you have multiple credit card balances, tackle the one with the highest interest rate first. It may mean paying the minimums on the other cards while diverting more funds to the one you have targeted. Once that balance is paid off, move onto the card with the next highest rate, and so on. Debt consolidation loans could also be helpful in managing your overall debt if the interest rate and payback terms are reasonable.
  • Using your debit card instead of credit card to pay for things like clothes, groceries and gas. This helps get you off the credit card/debit card merry-go-round, a ride that makes it too easy to spend beyond your means. Put aside a certain amount of money each month and spend only that.
  • Establishing an emergency fund. Experts recommend setting aside enough to cover 3 to 6 months’ worth of living expenses should something arise like loss of a job, an unexpected household repair, or an extended illness. Creating this fund may take some time if you’re faced with other expenses such as credit card debt. But even if you can only place some money in the fund every other week, it’s better than having no back-up fund at all. Setting up a savings account with small direct deposits or automatic transfers from your checking account is a good tip for building an emergency fund.  Make deposits your budget can handle each week or month and watch it grow.

Once your budget is established, don’t be afraid to make adjustments to it. You’ll probably need some time to tailor it to your needs and ensure it’s a healthier fit for your financial lifestyle.

Knowing Where Your Money Goes in 2017

The New Year gives you chance to make a fresh start, as in “out with the old and in with the new.” And a good place to begin with a clean slate is with a budget.

Knowing where your money is coming from and where it’s going is a great way to restore your financial health. If you already have and maintain a budget, kudos to you! But if you’re like many people, having a budget isn’t high on their list of priorities.

Yet if you really think about it, it should be. A budget helps you learn how to live within your means. It provides a financial blueprint for the present and the future. And it teaches you financial discipline.

So where do you start? The first step is to track your spending. Whether it’s on a daily, weekly or monthly basis, it’s important to record everything you spend your money on. This will provide a baseline going forward.

There are essentially two spending categories – needs and wants. Your needs include food, transportation, housing, utilities, insurance, and clothing. On the flip side, things you want but don’t necessarily have to have range from going to concerts to eating out to weekly outings at your favorite watering hole.

To get a true appraisal of where your money is going, you’ll need to record every dollar spent. Yes, it’s going to be a time-consuming effort, but at the same time it’s going to be enlightening and educational. And you might be surprised at just how much you devote toward nonessential items.

Once you’ve accurately tracked your spending over a set period of time, it’s on to the next step – analyzing your spending patterns and creating a realistic budget. Look for helpful insights to get you headed in the right direction next week.

It’s Time to Look Back and Look Forward

As 2016 quickly becomes a fading memory, are there some things that stick out in your mind from the past year? Like that $1.5 billion Powerball jackpot (a U.S. record) that you thought for sure you would win last January? Or U.S. stocks reaching all-time highs this past month – which is like winning the lottery for your 401k?

Hopefully this past year opened your eyes to some financial insights that could be of benefit in 2017 and beyond. And if you could use some more, it’s your lucky day! Over the next several weeks, we’ll offer several tips to help get you on track. Here’s a sampling:

  1. Set realistic and achievable short term and long-term financial goals.
  2. Maximize your tax return.
  3. Check your credit reports.
  4. Keep your finances safe in the cyber world.
  5. Plan ahead financially for a summer vacation.
  6. Study your spending habits over a week or month, and then decide which are good and which are bad.
  7. Devise and implement a plan to ditch those habits that are bad.
  8. Draw up a personal financial statement – assets vs. liabilities.
  9. Assess and, if necessary, alter your retirement portfolio to make it more profitable.
  10. Review your insurance coverages and make changes where necessary.

We hope these will help you get started off on the right foot in 2017. And even though you didn’t win the “big one” in 2016, maybe your Powerball luck will change in the New Year!

It’s That Crazy Shopping Time of Year!

Want to see shoppers go into a frenzy? Watch them in action during Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Both days are coming up fast, and that means lots of bargains will be up for grabs. Will you be ready to lock onto the best deals?

There are lots of ways to prepare yourself. Here are some that could give you a leg up on the competition:

Be social media savvy. Many retailers will announce or offer special deals via Facebook and/or Twitter, or you can connect with them through e-mail to receive sales alerts and discount coupons.

Use store credit cards for extra savings. Many retailers offer extra discounts or other perks when using their cards, so take advantage of it.

Research before you buy. Don’t get suckered in by a low price for an inferior product. “You get what you pay for” still holds true, so make sure that the item(s) you’re eyeing up are worthy of your hard-earned dollars.

Don’t be late for the party. If you wait too long to pick up on a bargain, you run the risk of not getting it. With more retailers starting their Black Friday sales on Thanksgiving night if not sooner, you may have to readjust your buying strategy to grab the deals before others do.

And don’t ignore the fine print. It’s there for a reason, even though it may be tough to read. We’re talking about disclosures such as “limited quantities” or “limited to store stock.” Another is restricting buyers to one item only.

Be cautious of “too good to be true” deals. Chances are what you see isn’t going to be what you get.

Look for price matching. Many retailers do it these days, including brick-and-mortar stores that will match the price of online retailers.

Take advantage of online comparison shopping sites. They include PriceGrabber.comAs a courtesy, you will be leaving Blog.Bank5Connect.com and going to another website. We have approved this site as a reliable partner, but you will no longer be under the security policy of Bank5Connect.com. Come back soon!, ShopZilla.comAs a courtesy, you will be leaving Blog.Bank5Connect.com and going to another website. We have approved this site as a reliable partner, but you will no longer be under the security policy of Bank5Connect.com. Come back soon!, FatWallet.comAs a courtesy, you will be leaving Blog.Bank5Connect.com and going to another website. We have approved this site as a reliable partner, but you will no longer be under the security policy of Bank5Connect.com. Come back soon! and Shopping.comAs a courtesy, you will be leaving Blog.Bank5Connect.com and going to another website. We have approved this site as a reliable partner, but you will no longer be under the security policy of Bank5Connect.com. Come back soon!. And don’t forget to check newspaper ads, too.

Be careful when shopping online:

      • Stick with trustworthy sites and sites where you’ve shopped before.
      • Don’t shop on a public WiFi network. You could potentially expose credit card and other personal financial information to cyber thieves, since these networks don’t have extensive, if any, security protocols.
      • Be aware that the new “chip” credit and debit cards have made it more difficult for crooks to steal your financial information in brick-and-mortar stores. On the flip side, thieves have shifted their attention to online shopping, since the chip cards don’t offer the same safeguards in the cyber sphere.

Best of luck with your holiday shopping, whether it’s on Black Friday or Cyber Monday or any other time during this holiday season.

A To-Do List Before 2016 Fades Away

Where did the year go? It’s hard to believe that 2016 is going to be nothing but a passing memory in a couple of months. But chances are you have more than a few loose ends to tie up before 2017 arrives.

Not sure what we’re referring to? Here are some clues:

  • If you’ve met your medical insurance deductible for the year, consider making some doctor’s appointments soon to address things you might have put off because of the added expense.
  • On a related note, if you have a flexible spending account, check the balance to see if there’s any money remaining. And evaluate whether you’re putting too little or too much in the account, then make adjustments for next year.
  • Is benefits enrollment time coming up where you work? If so, carefully review what benefits you have and check whether any premium increases are on the horizon. If you’re anticipating a jump in price, consider making some adjustments in coverage to offset the increase.
  • Do you still have vacation time and/or personal days hanging out there? If you have a use-or-lose policy at work, then you probably should schedule some days off soon. Or you may be among the lucky ones who can roll over a week’s worth of vacation into the next year. Of course, if you have more than a week, plan now to squeeze those extra days in during the next two months.
  • If you have a 401(k) retirement account, think about increasing your contributions before the end of the year.
  • Now’s a good time to take inventory of your cold-weather clothes. Do you have items that are worn out or just don’t fit anymore? Are you looking for some new styles? If you have stuff that’s still in good shape, donate it to your nearest shelter.
  • Are you in line for a year-end bonus? If you already know how much it will be, you can start making plans now on how to spend it. From a summer vacation to paying off bills, you probably have plenty of options to consider.
  • Assess your holiday decoration needs. Replace any decorations that are broken or worn out. And look for sales on new ones – they usually pop up around this time of year.
  • Speaking of the holidays, have you prepared a gift-giving list? Now’s a great time to get a handle on who wants what and just how much you can afford to spend this year.

Let Technology Help Track Down College Textbooks

As if college isn’t challenging enough, students are faced with the daunting task of finding textbooks that aren’t going to cost them an arm and a leg. Fortunately, technology is helping give them an upper hand.

Online websites offer various options, ranging from buying new, used or even renting, and selecting print, digital or audio forms of textbooks. Students typically can end up paying a fraction of the cost compared to getting books at the on-campus bookstore. Among the more popular sites are textbooks.comAs a courtesy, you will be leaving Blog.Bank5Connect.com and going to another website. We have approved this site as a reliable partner, but you will no longer be under the security policy of Bank5Connect.com. Come back soon!; chegg.comAs a courtesy, you will be leaving Blog.Bank5Connect.com and going to another website. We have approved this site as a reliable partner, but you will no longer be under the security policy of Bank5Connect.com. Come back soon!; ecampus.comAs a courtesy, you will be leaving Blog.Bank5Connect.com and going to another website. We have approved this site as a reliable partner, but you will no longer be under the security policy of Bank5Connect.com. Come back soon!; valorebooks.comAs a courtesy, you will be leaving Blog.Bank5Connect.com and going to another website. We have approved this site as a reliable partner, but you will no longer be under the security policy of Bank5Connect.com. Come back soon!; amazon.comAs a courtesy, you will be leaving Blog.Bank5Connect.com and going to another website. We have approved this site as a reliable partner, but you will no longer be under the security policy of Bank5Connect.com. Come back soon!; half.comAs a courtesy, you will be leaving Blog.Bank5Connect.com and going to another website. We have approved this site as a reliable partner, but you will no longer be under the security policy of Bank5Connect.com. Come back soon!(an eBay company).

In addition, there are search engines that allow you to compare book prices on different sites, such as bookfinder.comAs a courtesy, you will be leaving Blog.Bank5Connect.com and going to another website. We have approved this site as a reliable partner, but you will no longer be under the security policy of Bank5Connect.com. Come back soon! and campusbooks.comAs a courtesy, you will be leaving Blog.Bank5Connect.com and going to another website. We have approved this site as a reliable partner, but you will no longer be under the security policy of Bank5Connect.com. Come back soon!.

What’s more, free textbooks are available through university libraries, online book exchanges, and Project Gutenberg, the oldest digital library in the world that offers approximately 50,000 e-books. Note, however, that many free textbooks are limited to classic literature.

And then there’s always the old standby – forming a textbook-sharing group with other students, especially those who may be in the same classes you’re enrolled in. This may require studying together from time to time, but it could be a real cost-saver in the long run.

If you decide that online is the way to go, stop by the on-campus bookstore first and locate the books you’ll need. Then jot down the following information: author’s name, the book’s price, the name and volume/edition, and the book’s International Standard Book Number (ISBN), found on or near the barcode on the back of book. Use this information to locate books online.

Before making any textbook transaction, pay close attention to the site’s terms and conditions, such as return policies, money-back guarantee, and whether free shipping is offered both on purchases and returns (that is, unless, you’re buying or renting e-books.)

And compare the cost of buying new versus used, as well as renting. You may be surprised at the difference. If you decide to rent, remember to keep track of the book’s rental expiration date; otherwise you could end up inadvertently buying the book instead. Note: some colleges and universities offer book rental services, so don’t overlook this option.