3 Signs You’re Better with Money Than You Think

You know what we all need sometimes? A good pep talk! And while I usually rely on the pre-game speech from Miracle (“This your time! Now go out there and take it.”) to motivate me, Herb Brooks’s advice is applicable more to times when I need to convince myself that going to the gym is worth it than to times when I want to cry about the size of my student loan payments.

I paid all of my loans on time?!

I paid all of my loans on time?!

But where are all the inspirational money speeches? If there’s one thing I’ve learned since I started working in the financial industry, it is that there’s an endless list of “mistakes” to be made when it comes to money. I read a lot of articles, blogs, and tweets about financial literacy during my day at work and a solid 90% of them tell me about things I’m doing wrong. The general theme seems to be that there are a million better things I should do with my money rather than spending it on going-out tops at Forever 21. Needless to say, it’s easy to come away from those reading sessions feeling discouraged about my financial situation.

So, I did a little research and am happy to say that I can provide some financial encouragement to you today! Chances are, if you’re doing any of the following three things, you’re on the right track. You might not be a millionaire. You probably still make a financial mistake here and there. But you’re doing the best you can. And you should feel good about that! Money is difficult to manage. So give yourself credit for the things you’re doing well.

Here are 3 signs that you’re better with your money than your think you are:

  1. You Pay All of Your Bills On Time, Every Month - I was catching up with a friend from college the other day and we were talking about my blog when she said, “I don’t have a budget. I’m too poor to have a budget. I pay all of my bills and student loans and rent and then I have no money so there’s nothing to budget.” I think we all know how she feels. Salaries in your early 20’s are the reason the phrase “living paycheck-to-paycheck” exists. But I would like to point out that, if you are successfully paying all of your bills on time each month, you actually do have a budget. And even more impressive, you follow it. A budget is just a plan for how you will spend the money you earn. Not having a budget would mean spending your money impulsively on whatever you want at the moment, disregarding necessities you know you will need to pay for later. And although my friend’s budget doesn’t include a lot of wiggle room for fun stuff like buying new clothes or having a social life, the fact that she manages to pay her bills means she’s doing something right. If you’re paying all your bills on time, you are too!
  2. You Know Your Checking Account Balance - What’s your checking account balance right now? If you could answer that a fair amount of accuracy (let’s say within $5-$10 of the actual balance) you’re doing something right. Even if the answer is that you have $0 in your account, knowing your approximate balance means that you regularly check your account activity. You have an idea of how much you’re spending and where. It also means you would notice if there was fraudulent activity on your account. If you have no idea what your account balance is, you’re in trouble. Avoiding your balance doesn’t make it grow; if anything ignorance about your financial situation just makes it worse. So don’t feel guilty about checking your mobile banking app religiously. Who cares if it’s because you’re worried you don’t have enough money for coffee? At least you’re checking your balance before you spend!
  3. Your Savings Account Has More than the Minimum Balance - Have you put money into your savings account since you opened it? Then you’re doing better than a lot of other adults out there. Studies show that about 75% of Americans do not save money on a regular basis. Even if you’re just taking your spare change jar into your bank every month and depositing the money into savings, that’s better than nothing! Fifty cents here, three dollars there . . . it can start to add up. And at the very least, you are consciously making an effort to save. This means that you value money and aren’t apt to spend it willy-nilly. So keep rolling up those nickels and bringing ‘em in to deposit in savings! Don’t let the haters get you down.

I hope this helps you feel a little better about your financial skills. You might not be doing everything right (like maybe you don’t have a 401K or you’re still not really sure what a 401K is . . .) but having a few of the basics down means that you’re successfully managing the day-to-day aspects of your money well. Go you!

5 E-mail Mistakes We’ve All Made at Work

Let me start by confessing that I have made each and every one of the mistakes on this list, probably more than once. I use smiley faces, I forget to spell check, and I have definitely been known to say a lot when a little would have done just fine. But the key is to recognize your e-mail weaknesses and to work to improve them. Studies show that the average working American sends about 35 e-mails a day, which equals plenty of opportunity to mess up, but also plenty of chances to write better e-mails today than you ever have before! Here are some common errors we all make with our written workplace correspondences and tips on how to fix them:

  • Replying All, All the Time – We all think we’re the main office prankster, but sometimes an awesome joke about that mandatory staff meeting on Monday is better kept to yourself. And no, there’s no one in the office who doesn’t wish Phyllis a Happy Birthday, it’s just that your birthday sentiments would have meant just as much if you sent them only to her and didn’t CC 50 other people.  For the most part work e-mails are meant to be about work, so help your coworkers keep their inbox clean by asking yourself, “Do I really need to reply all?” before you hit send.
Is it necessary to reply all with this hilarious meme?

Is it necessary to reply all with this hilarious meme?

  • Expecting an Instant Response – If you just asked someone out on a first date via text and all you’re seeing are those three little dots that mean they’re typing, it’s okay to freak out and need a response RIGHT THIS SECOND! Otherwise, chill out. The recipient will answer you at their convenience. It’s not that they didn’t see your e-mail, it’s that responding to you might not be their top priority at the moment. General rule of thumb: allow 24 hours for a response back to your e-mail. If you need an answer quicker than that, go old school and call the person directly.
  • Sending an E-mail Too Early or to the Wrong Person – This might seem like a mistake that shouldn’t happen too often, but it does. You meant to forward an e-mail from a client to your supervisor but instead you replied to the sender with a thoughtful “WHHAAAAT????!!” message. Whoopsie daisy. One trick you can use to avoid any e-mail misfires is to leave the “To:” Box empty until you’re ready to hit send. But the real key might be to slow down. E-mail makes communicating faster, but it can also make it sloppier. Better to take the extra 10 minutes to compose a well-written e-mail to the right person than to send a half-finished one to the wrong one; people will appreciate your thoughtful reply much more than your 30 second response time.
  • Forgetting Your Audience – Is this an e-mail to your best friend to her private account? Then include all the emojis, swear words, and gifs of One Direction that you want. Is it an e-mail to your boss or a potential client? Then you should probably avoid all three of those things. Electronic communication provides us with a certain distance from the person we’re speaking to, which sometimes means we say things via e-mail we wouldn’t say in person. You want your e-mails to coworkers and clients to present you in a professional manner. Make sure your grammar, tone, and content reflect that.

And last but definitely not least . . .

  • Not Editing Before You Hit Send – U might b the smrtst person EVAH, but if u dnt type like it no1 will no. If it isn’t an AIM conversation with your middle school dream guy, then no one is impressed by your creative T9- style spelling. Take the extra 5 minutes before you hit send to re-read your e-mail. First check for basics like grammar, spelling, and manners (always say please and thank you). Then do a quick check for more subtle mistakes, like not including a greeting (rude!), coming across as angry or sarcastic when you don’t mean to, or saying way too much when a little would have sufficed. Not every e-mail needs to be edited like it’s the next great American novel, but it deserves more thought than that comment you posted on Tumblr. Speaking of grammar, if you are a super cool English Major like me, you might also enjoy this new Weird Al song “Word Crimes” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Gv0H-vPoDc. It’s pretty funny.

Happy E-mail Writing!

To Shred or Not to Shred: A Guide to Maintaining Documents

In the Gillespie household, we love to shred things. It’s a trait we inherited from my grandfather, who used to wait until you were at the critical turning point of a good movie to wander over to the shredder with 50 pieces of paper he “needed to destroy immediately!” Nothing ruins the climax of a story like the “EGGHHHHHHGGGHHH” sound of a shredder.

While shredding is super fun and an effective way to ruin family movie night for everyone, there are some documents you need to keep on file for longer than it takes to build up a good “To Be Destroyed” pile. Here’s a guide to which documents you should maintain and how long you need to keep them on file.

CLIP ART SHRED PIC

FOREVER & ALWAYS

Documents that you should never shred or throw out:

- Birth Certificates

- Marriage Licenses

- Divorce Decrees

-Adoption Records

- Passports

- Educational Records (diplomas, etc.)

- Military Service Records

- Life Insurance Documents

- Social Security Cards

BUT DID YOU MEAN IT, BABY?

Not to get all T. Swift on you, but you only need to keep the following documents temporarily. After the specified period of time you can shred them.

- Tax Records = 7 years from filing date

- Will = Until updated

- Real Estate Deeds = As long as you own the property

- Home Purchase Documents = As long as you own the property

- Home Improvement Records = As long as you own the property

- Investment Certificates = Until you cash or sell the investment

- Investment Statements = Shred monthly statements when you get the most recent one, keep annual statements until you sell the investment

- Loan Documents = Until loan is paid off in full

- Vehicle Titles = Until you sell or dispose of the vehicle

- Medical Records = 5 years, or longer if medical condition is chronic/ on-going

- Medical Bills = 1 year

- Receipts for Large Purchases = Until you sell or discard the item

- Service Contracts or Warranties = Until you sell or discard the item

- Insurance Records = Until you renew your policy

- Social Security Statements = Shred old statement when you receive the most recent one

- Bank Statements = 1 year, unless needed to support tax filings

- Pay Stubs = 1 year, make sure final stub matches W2 then shred them

- Credit Card Records = Until Paid

- Contracts = Until Updated

NEVER GETTING BACK TOGETHER, LIKE EVER

These are documents that you can shred right away, because you’re so over them.

- ATM/ Bank Receipts = Once you confirm that this record matches your online banking history, chuck it

- Receipts for Small Purchases = Same as above

 

Remember, anything with sensitive information (name, address, social security number, account number, card number, PIN, etc.) should be shredded, not just thrown out. Or if you just love to shred go ahead and put everything in there . . . I wouldn’t judge you. :)

 

Declutter Your Financial Life

Do you ever find it strange that, in an increasingly electronic world, it’s still so easy for clutter to pile up? With so many receipts, statements, and bills stacking up, it can be hard to keep your financial life in order. Here are a few easy tips to help you keep your money world organized.

  1. Stop the Snail Mail – I think the real cause of global warming and deforestation might be credit card offers. I feel good about myself for 0.2 seconds when I see an envelope in the mail that says, “You’ve been pre-approved!” And then I see the other 5 credit card or insurance offers that also came in the mail today and remember that I’m not special. You can actually stop these offers from cluttering your physical inbox by going to OptOutPrescreen.com. The electronic form will stop you from getting offers for 5 years, which is good for you and the environment.
  2. Get a Shredder – Spend $25 on a shredder at Target, it’s a smart investment. Any receipts, statements, pay stubs, or other documents that have your personal info on them should be shredded to help prevent identity theft. Plus shredding things is weirdly therapeutic.
  3. Have a Money E-mail Account – I read this tip in Cosmo, proving that the magazine has more content than celeb gossip and embarrassing moment stories! It can be easy to miss bills or other important alerts in your crowded inbox. Try setting up an account like KelseyBills@gmail.com specifically for financial stuff so those e-mails don’t get lost in the shuffle. You’ll never miss an E-bill again.
  4. “Yes, please e-mail the receipt!” - A lot of retail stores now ask you if you want your receipt printed, e-mailed to you, or both. Take advantage of the bills e-mail you set up in #3 and have the receipt e-mailed. It saves paper, decreases your risk of losing the receipt, and keeps any personal information safe.

You don’t have to be a neat freak to keep your financial clutter to a minimum. What are your tips for keeping your money organized?

Debit Card Travel Tips

Are you traveling this summer? Whether you’re backpacking across Europe or just taking a road trip to a neighboring state, nothing ruins a good summer vacation like debit card problems! Luckily I am here to save the day with these easy tips for using your debit card on the road.

  • Alert your credit union or bank before you leave. Before you leave for your trip, call your financial institution and tell them where you are going (countries, states, etc.) and the dates you will be gone. Now-a-days, every financial institution has a fraud monitoring system for their debit cards; when your card is being used outside your typical area of activity, it can automatically be frozen to prevent any further fraudulent activity. The last thing you want while you’re away from home is for your debit card to stop working without your knowledge! Alerting your credit union to your travel plans before you leave means they can alter settings in their system so that your card will not be shut off for use out-of-state or out-of-country.
  • Give your credit union or bank your phone number. Does your financial institution have your cell phone number? Or do they have your parents’ home number from 15 years ago when you first opened your “Lil’ Savers” account? When fraud is detected on your debit card, your financial institution will try to contact you immediately. If they have the best phone number to reach you at while you’re traveling, that might mean fixing a problem before your debit card gets denied. If they call and leave a message at your nana’s house because that’s the number they have on file, you might be in trouble. I’m sure Nana would let you know they called, but it will likely take her a while to get you the message and in the mean time you might not be able to use your card. Make sure your credit union has a record of the best way to contact you while you travel so you can handle any issues ASAP.
  • Traveling abroad? Make sure your debit card works in the country(ies) you’re visiting. Not all countries accept American debit cards. Before you leave, check with your credit union or bank to make sure your debit card will work in the country you are visiting. If it does, great! But if not, you’ll want to know that beforehand so you can plan to bring cash. You don’t want to wait until you’re at your destination to find out your debit card won’t work.
  • Know your daily limit. Every debit card has a daily limit for how much you can withdraw at the ATM and a separate limit for how much you can spend on POS transactions (Point of Sale or at the cash register transactions). Find out what your limit is before you travel so you don’t get caught exceeding it. In some cases, your financial institution can even raise your limit temporarily while you travel.
  • Debit cards often give better exchange rates than currency exchange bureaus. If you’re traveling overseas, consider using your debit card instead of cash. Often your debit card will have a better exchange rate on foreign currency than you will get at an exchange bureau for cash. Plus, you won’t have to worry about having left over foreign currency that you need to exchange back to U.S. dollars when you get home; paying with your card means you only have to exchange exactly what you needed.

If you plan ahead, your debit card can be your travel buddy not your financial foe. Happy adventuring!

Self-Defense Tips

A few weeks ago, Team Casco had the opportunity to take a Self-Defense Class at a local martial arts studio and it was THE COOLEST THING EVER! We learned so much in an action packed hour and a half class. I think everyone learned some valuable tips on how to protect themselves. Plus it was super fun and you left feeling really strong and confident. I’m pretty much a ninja  now . . . so watch out . . .

Team Casco at Self-Defense Night. Don't we look tough?

Team Casco at Self-Defense Night. Don’t we look tough?

It’s been just about 3 weeks since the class, and though I don’t remember every single technique we learned, there are a few things that stuck with me that I thought I would share with you. Here are the “5 Most Important Lessons I Learned at Self-Defense Class”:

5. Carry One Key at the Ready. That weird thing you’ve seen people do where you put one key in between each set of fingers so it looks like a claw? Yea, that doesn’t really work. It’s hard to get the keys in the right spot, it’s difficult to carry, and you’ll probably hurt your own hand more than you hurt a potential attacker. Instead, Doshu (our teacher) recommends that you get out just the key you are going to need , whether it’s your car key or the key to your front door, and hold it at the ready in between your thumb and first finger. This way, it’s ready to unlock your door ASAP and it’s ready to be used as a tool to defend yourself against an attacker. You can use all of your force to shove that key into the neck or leg of your assailant. One key used correctly and forcefully can be much more effective than a fist-full of keys jammed awkwardly between your fingers.

4. Pay Attention. For me, this might be the hardest tip to follow. I don’t think I’m total space-cadet, but I can be a little oblivious to my surroundings at times. I constantly have headphones in, whether I’m sitting at my desk or walking to my car. And I’m very guilty of talking on or scrolling through my phone while walking somewhere. When I’m traveling from place to place, my attention is rarely on what’s happening around me, which could be very dangerous. I’m so easy to sneak up on it’s not even funny. Not paying attention to what’s happening makes you an easy target; you’re unsuspecting and unaware. Look where you’re going. Put your phone down for a minute. If you see something that you don’t like or makes you nervous, avoid it.

3. Make Direct Eye-Contact. Think someone’s following you? Make direct, sustained eye-contact for a few seconds. Looking a potential predator directly in the eye for a few, continuous seconds with a strong, serious look on your face might be enough to convince them you’re not a good target. Nervous, hesitant glances in their direction show that you’re scared and vulnerable. A strong, fierce stare proves that you’re alert to their movements and you’re ready to defend yourself.

2. Pinching Hurts! For real y’all. We practiced a lot of different self-defense “moves” or techniques for dealing with an attack, but nothing seemed more effective than pinching. During one exercise, I was the lucky demonstrator who got to choke Doshu around the neck while standing in front of him. All he had to do was reach up and pinch the skin of my underarms and I screamed and dropped my hands instantly. It hurt so bad! I even had two little bruises the next day where he got me. Although it didn’t take much strength, it was the most effective move we practiced all day. It just does to show that you don’t have to be big or strong to defend yourself, just smart.

1. Listen to Your Gut. We all have instincts, we just don’t always use them! If something tells you a situation is weird or unsettling, it probably is. If your gut feeling is that you should leave, then do it. Don’t wait for something to wrong because by then it could be too late. Listen to that little voice in your head that tells you you’re in danger. You’re instincts are rarely wrong and, as mom always told you, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Again, this is just a fraction of what I learned during the class. If there are Self-Defense Classes in your area, it’s well worth your time and money to take one. It’s an investment in your safety and piece of mind. I guarantee you will leave feeling more confident and ready for anything.

If you live in the Portland, Maine area check out the Greater Portland School of Jukado. They taught us our Self-Defense Class and they’re awesome.

What Is a Payday Loan, Anyways?

“Need cash now? We can help!”

“$100 – $1,000 approved in just 2 minutes!”

“No credit? No problem!”

We all hear those commercials. They’re everywhere. On TV. On the radio. Online. You can’t escape them. Apparently these people really want to give you cash. And they want you to get it fast! But chances are, unless you’ve been in bad enough financial shape to need one of these loans, you might not know what they are, how they work, or how dangerous they can be.

Loans like the ones in these advertisements are called payday loans. A payday loan is a small consumer loan, usually for under $500, which uses your paycheck as collateral. They’re not offered by traditional banks or credit unions, but rather by Check Cashing Agencies or PayDay Lending Companies.

Here’s how it works. Say you need $400 to pay to get your car fixed. You don’t get paid for another week, you don’t have any money saved, you’ve maxed out your credit cards, and you know your credit is terrible. So you go to a payday lending company and apply for a loan for $400. They won’t check your credit. They won’t ask for references. All they need is your basic contact information, proof of employment, and your checking account number. Then, you write them a check for the $400 plus a loan fee, which is typically around $15 per $100 loaned. In this case, you would write the payday lender a check for $460. They hold on to that check as collateral and then give you $400 in cash. When you get your next paycheck, you use it to pay them back the $400 plus the $60 fee. Or at least that’s what’s supposed to happen . . .

The thing is, most people who use payday loans are doing it as a last resort. Fast cash won’t solve their financial problems, it will just get them through the next few days or the next few bills. That $400 might have paid to fix their car or for groceries for the week, but 2 weeks later they have more bills to pay. Now they need money to put gas in their tank. They need to pay the electric bill. They need to fill a prescription. Basically, they need that paycheck for new expenses when they’ve already spent it on old ones and suddenly they’re right back where they started before they got the loan.

So the payday lender gives them two options. Option 1: pay back the loan in full and end the transaction. Option 2: pay a small fee to extend the loan for another 2 weeks. In our example, that’s a choice been paying the lender $460 today or just $60. To a lot of the customers using this kind of loan, that’s not a choice at all. They need the $400 for other bills. So they pay to extend the loan instead. The paycheck after that isn’t enough to pay for bills and repay the loan either, so they extend the loan again. Unless they get a new job or a major expense magically disappears, they will never have enough money to pay off the loan completely so they just get caught in a cycle of endlessly paying the extension fee over and over again.

unbanked 2

 

Why the P.S.A. about the dangers of payday lending, you ask? Because the biggest misconception about payday loans is that only people who regularly struggle with money need them. You might be reading this post from the comfort of your office at your well-paying job. If so, you’re probably thinking that you wouldn’t ever be so strapped for cash that you would actually respond to those cheesy commercials offering “$500 in just 5 minutes!” But the truth is, a growing majority of payday borrowers are middle class. They were financially stable adults, until one or two things went wrong and threw their financial world into turmoil. As Jonathan Mintz, CEO of the Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund put it, “The picture of the financially unstable is the picture of you and me but for a couple of breaks.” Often people fall into the payday lending trap because like me, they ignored those ads. They didn’t know what payday lending was or how financially harmful it could be, so when they suddenly became strapped for cash the product payday lenders pedal seems appealing, even life-saving.

The good news is, there are alternatives to payday loans available. Many credit unions and small banks offer short-term “emergency” loans, that provide a small amount of cash to a borrower based on their income. For example, here at Casco FCU we offer a Safety Net Loan. Members can borrow up to $1,000 for 6 months. Like a payday loan, your credit score doesn’t matter, approval is based on proof of employment. Unlike a payday loan, however, a Safety Net Loan is repaid in fixed monthly installments over a short period of time. Making payments also allows you to build a relationship with a reputable financial institution and to improve your credit score so you increase your access to traditional loans in the future. And perhaps most importantly, a loan officer will help you go over your monthly budget and give you advice on how to better manage your bills; the Safety Net Loan isn’t just a temporary fix like a payday loan, it’s a solution to help you build a better financial future.

Long story short – stay away from payday loans! They’re never a good idea.