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    Christmas in July: How to Create a Holiday Budget + Stick to It

    Preparing yourself to get through the holiday season without going deeply in debt can be done. Start thinking about these steps (and acting on them ASAP) and you’ll come back home from holiday shopping madness with a little more leftover in your wallet!

    Photo credit: lexingtonlaw.com

    Photo credit: lexingtonlaw.com

    Determine Your Holiday Budget

    Hopefully you’ve got your regular month-to-month budget figured out before making a holiday budget. (No? Find out how to create a budget here!)

    Once that’s done, have a look at what your monthly disposable income is (how much you have leftover to spend each month after paying the usual bills and expenses.)

    Determine how much of that leftover amount you’re willing to comfortably set aside in one month, and multiply it by however many months there are until your holiday shopping kicks in. Make a point to transfer that amount (say it’s $50 a month) into a separate savings account or use it to buy a gift card at the store you plan to do most of your shopping each month leading up to the holidays. (If you started now and saved through November, you’d have $250: $50 x 5 months!)


    Also, consider what you can cut back on in the coming months that may help you save up and consider ways to supplement your income. | RELATED: Save $1,000 By December

    Make Your Lists + Check Them Twice

    Before you even start browsing the stores for holiday gifts “just to get an idea” (we all know how that ends up), make a list. Actually, make a few lists and keep them with you AT ALL TIMES from now until your last holiday shopping day. Start taking note of what your niece is into right now or when your grandma says, “I’d really like a new bathrobe.” Keep that list with you, in your car, wallet, purse, or on your phone and pull it out while you’re out and about to help stock up gradually.

    Holiday Gift List

    • Who to Buy For: Do you typically buy for people you hardly know, just because you feel obligated or see something that reminds you of them while you’re out? Stop. Make a list of those people you absolutely must buy something for and stick to it. If you want to surprise your co-workers, youth group, or another larger group of people you’re involved with, try doing a Secret Santa or bring in baked goods for the entire crowd instead of buying something special for each individual person.
    • What to Buy: Next to each individual listed, jot down a gift that they’ve told you they want or need, or a detailed description of what you should be on the lookout for. Having a solid idea in mind instead of just strolling through the stores and waiting for the perfect thing to jump out at you will save lots of time and money.
    • A Price Limit: Create a price limit per-person as well, especially if you have a lengthy list of people to buy for. By giving yourself a dollar amount for each person and sticking to it, you’ll know just how much you’ll spend at most and not go into complete shock when you review your receipts afterwards.

    Holiday Food List

    It may sound silly to have a list for holiday food necessities when you don’t really need to buy ingredients or platters until the week of or night before, but how many times have you gone out a couple of days before a holiday gathering only to have to research a new recipe in the middle of the fifth store because every place is out of EVERYTHING? It happens. And it stinks. Big time.

    If you start stocking up on less-perishable food and baking items that you know you’ll need now, and constantly see that list up to the last minute, you’ll likely be far better off and remember to grab what you need with time to spare. Plus, it leaves a little extra time to catch onto which stores have the best deals on particular ingredients, and will allow you to bypass the crazy holiday mark-ups.

    Holiday To-Do’s

    Those little things like driving through the park to see the holiday lights and donating to your favorite charities are what make the season bright, but they likely also sneak your money away without you even realizing it.

    Make a list of the typical things you do during the holiday season – from taking part in your company bake sale to dropping change into the red kettle, from buying a Christmas tree to getting holiday portraits taken and paying extra to mail them out – so that you’re better prepared to budget for these little joys and not be left wondering where those extra few dollars escaped to.

    Don’t forget about travel expenses, too. Start thinking about how far and how often you’ll be driving, or if it might be cheaper to take a flight to your holiday destinations. | RELATED: Top Ten Money-Saving Travel Tips

    Do Your Research

    Great, now you’ve got your lists. But WAIT! Before you leave the house for the stores or Proceed to Checkout from your online shopping cart, make sure you’ve found the best deal on the items you know you’re buying for sure.

    Research the item online and see if places like Amazon or eBay have it for a lower price than mass-retailers.

    Also, when November rolls around, see if any of what you’re buying is included in the much-loved (or loathed), upcoming Black Friday sales (don’t worry, you don’t have to brave the crowds… many stores offer online Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales, too!)

    Sign-Up for Member Rewards, Use Discounts + Clip Coupons

    Start signing up for your pharmacy rewards or other store memberships and mailing lists – this can really pay off come December. Make sure you’re checking your mail and e-mail, as well as your mobile apps for any and all stores you’ve subscribed to in one way or another and see what kind of deals they’re offering.

    If you start scanning your member rewards cards while making purchases now now,  leading up to the holidays will help to build points and get you extra offers.

    Don’t forget to scour the Internet as well as newspapers and magazines for coupons!

    Withdraw Cash + Ditch the Card

    When your holiday shopping finally begins, it may seem way easier to just swipe your card from purchase to purchase instead of handling and keeping track of bills and change, but taking out a set amount of cash and using only that to shop for the holidays will help you to stop and think before grabbing “just one more stocking-stuffer” or taking advantage of all of the “cheap deals that won’t do much harm.” Oh, the lies we tell ourselves while behind a shopping cart!

    It might seem like quite a bit to do and plan for before even getting around to the actual shopping part, but if you make sure you’ve taken all of these steps before diving into the holiday spending craze, you’ll find that you can save much more than you ever thought possible during gift-giving season.

    Christmas in July: Save $1,000 By December

    It might seem a little early to be thinking about the holidays, but once the first of December rolls around and you’re scrambling to decorate, think of unique gift ideas, and round up the money to pay for those many, many holiday expenses, you’ll be muttering, “I wish I would have started all of this months ago.”

    So, while we’re not suggesting you break out the tinsel and turn up the holiday tunes (but, by all means, go for it if you wish), we do recommend that you keep up with us during Christmas in July this week to get a financial head start and some ideas forming early on. We promise that doing so now will help December be a much less stressful and much more enjoyable month!

    Photo credit: newcastleairport.com.au

    Photo credit: newcastleairport.com.au

    First up in our Christmas in July series: How to save $1,000 by December.

    Open a Savings Account

    Maybe you already have a savings account, but do you find yourself dipping into it from time to time to help pay for non-necessities? Not helpful. Go ahead and open another account and make it untouchable until the appropriate time comes.

    What makes saving up your dollars in this type of account versus a standard checking account better, is that the money you put in will gain interest at a certain percentage month to month, so it’ll grow without you having to do anything extra!

    RELATEDSaving at 3Rivers

    When it comes to making deposits, try starting the 52 Week Challenge now or create your own challenge – maybe it’s $5 a week that goes towards this account. With the added interest, you’ll be surprised at how quickly it can add up! (Toss in $25 a week starting now, and you’ll have saved $550 by December 1!)

    Take Advantage of Automatic Transfers

    Don’t let yourself forget to deposit your set amount into savings week to week! Sure, making a transfer is easy, but if you forget one week, chances are, you won’t remain consistent.

    Set up an automatic transfer and it’ll take care of itself. You can have a certain amount of money pulled from one account and placed into another, then you get to pick the date when you withdraw funds.  This is great for people who have a little trouble keeping their hands out of their savings accounts!

    RELATED | Pick-Your-Date Savings at 3Rivers

    Save Money on Your Cell Phone Bill

    Being on the wrong plan for your lifestyle, and sneaky texting and service fees, can add up quick and clear out your savings even quicker. Take a step back to reevaluate your plan and mobile habits to cut costs.

    RELATEDHow to Cut Costs on Your Cell Phone Bill

    Find Cheaper Internet Service + Ditch the Cable

    Shop around and compare Internet providers in your area, along with their packages and prices. Chances are, there’s something cheaper available and still suitable for what you need. If not, see what kind of specials your current provider is running and if they’re better than the plan you’re on, request to take advantage of those particular deals.

    Also, if you’re paying extra for cable, cut it out. Unless you rely heavily on television shows that just can’t be found anywhere else (read: NetflixHulu, or the network’s website), then you probably don’t really need to be forking over so much money for something that plays such a little role in your life overall.

    RELATEDQuick Money Tip: Cut the Cable

    Raise Insurance Deductibles

    If you feel confident in the amount you have saved up in your emergency fund for any unexpected occurrences, raise the deductible on your car and homeowner policies. This can save you anywhere from 10-15%.

    RELATEDHow a $1,000 Insurance Deductible Can Save You Money

    Do Away with the Gym Membership (You Can Still Workout)

    There are plenty of video workouts and fitness resources available for free online so you can sweat it out at home. Plus, there’s no better time than now to take advantage of getting your workout in outdoors.

    RELATED | How to Exercise Without Joining a Gym

    DIY Home Repairs

    Make sure you’re taking care of your home to avoid any unexpected costs due to damage. That is, change your furnace filter monthly, seal up any drafty windows or doors, repair leaky faucets, and so on. Take care of your home so you don’t have to pay the experts to do it for you.

    RELATED5 Home Repairs You Really Should Know How to Do Yourself

    Brown Bag It

    Grabbing a cheap, fast-food lunch each workday? Let’s do the math. Even just $2 spent 5 days a week over the course of 10 weeks is a costly $100. Bring your lunch and enjoy the savings (and health benefits!)

    RELATED | 9 Brown Bag Lunch Tips for Grown-ups

    Skip the Starbucks

    See above. That morning coffee might only be $2-3 (or, if you go for the fancier stuff, $4-6)  but it can add up to huge amounts by week’s and month’s end. Start brewing your own or substitute juice or water for big savings.

    RELATED| Saving Pennies or Dollars? Making Your Own Coffee

    Spend Less Out on the Town

    Save on entertainment and eating out costs, even if you only indulge once a week. Skip the standard theater and visit the dollar theater or Redbox. If you’re going to the arcade, a local event, or a sit-down restaurant, research any coupons your destination may have floating around, and be sure to sign up for any free memberships or mailing lists that might get you deals.

    RELATED20 Ways to Save Money on Entertainment

    Save on Your Grocery Bill

    There are plenty of ways you can cut your grocery bill in big ways week to week. First, make sure you go in with a list and stick to it. No fluffy extras in the candy aisle or checkout lane. Take advantage of coupons, coupon mobile apps, and retailer mobile apps that offer rewards (MeijerTarget, etc.) Another great way to save? Leave your credit and debit cards at home and shop only with cash. You’ll be surprised at what, suddenly, you can live without.

    RELATEDQuick Money Tip: Buy Generic

    Host a Yard Sale

    Now’s the ideal time for a yard sale, and with the right preparation, you might make more than you’d expect. Not big on yard sales? Then sort your items into appropriate categories and sell to secondhand shops (like Plato’s Closet for clothes and Half Price Books for books, music, and magazines) or try online outlets, like eBay.

    RELATEDHow to Host a Successful Yard Sale

    Find Alternative Means of Transportation

    If you can walk or bike to wherever it is you need to go and the weather agrees, then do it. Also, consider the idea of carpooling. If a co-worker or gym-partner lives near by, craft a schedule that allows for one person to do the driving and split the cost of gas.

    RELATEDHow to Carpool

    Supplement Your Income

    An obvious way to do this is by getting a second job. But time and stress levels don’t always allow for that. There are plenty of other ways to supplement your income, though, like babysitting, tutoring, taking your crafty hobbies to the next level, donating plasma, and more.

    RELATEDHow to Supplement Your Income

    Break Up with Your Debt

    Does it seem like your credit card, car, and house payments, student loans, and other debts are setting you up for saving failure – or making it impossible to even consider saving money? Then it might be time to break up… with your bank and with your debts. 3Rivers offers a ton of solutions and we want to get you on the right track so you can manage your debt and start saving for your future.

    RELATEDWalletCare by 3Rivers

    Work hard and keep focused on these money-saving steps and habits. Make sure you’re allocating as much of the extra money you see as a result to your holiday savings account and you’ll be breathing a major sigh of relief come December!

    Most tips found at Money Talks.


    How to Save Money on Your Electric Bill | 8 Small Steps for Big Financial Gain | Try This: Take a Staycation | 25 Tips to Improve Your Finances | 10 Ways to Improve Your Finances in Just ONE Hour


    Happy Independence Day: Area Fourth of July Festivities

    Can you believe it’s already time to celebrate the Fourth of July?! Make your holiday memorable by taking part in one of the many, many activities our communities have to offer. Here are a few to keep in mind.

    Photo credit: country-magazine.com

    Photo credit: country-magazine.com


    Fireworks at One Summit Square | Tincaps vs. West Michigan Whitecaps | VisitFortWayne.com


    Auburn Kiwanis Fireworks | Garrett Heritage Days | DeKalb County Visitors Bureau 


    Bluffton Community Fireworks | 4th of July Celebration | City of Bluffton Website


    Columbia City Fireworks | Columbia City Website | Columbia City Events


    Kendallville Fireworks Display | July Fourth FestivitiesCity of Kendallville


    Huntington Fireworks Show | Salamonie Summer Festival | Huntington County Visitor & Convention Bureau


    St. Marys Fireworks Shows | Events in St. MarysCity of St. Marys Visitors Bureau

    Click here for a more detailed list of fireworks displays in our region.

    In observation of Independence Day tomorrow, Friday, July 4, 2014, all 3Rivers branches will be closed.

    Keep in mind: Should banking needs arise, you’ll still have access to Online Banking, Mobile Banking, and our ATMs.

    Wishing you and yours a very happy holiday. Enjoy!

    Pick Your Date for a “Surprise” Deposit in Your Account!

    As a parent, I’ve experienced those instances of a child rushing into the room gushing about something they’ve seen advertised on TV or heard about from friends. And as my kids have grown, so have the prices of the toys, gadgets and games that are garnering their attention.

    At my house, on top of Christmas, two of my three kids have December birthdays – so you might understand when I tell you there is not a lot of breathing room in the budget during that time. It seems like we just recover from back-to-school shopping and then there is the December drain on our wallets.

    That being the case, preparing now is the best way to keep us from an unpleasant financial situation later in the year. Many Americans don’t plan ahead and end up putting a big chunk of their holiday spending on credit cards. That’s why ABC News reports that credit counseling services see a 25% increase in new customers during January and February.

    Pick Your Date Savings

    One great way that I have personally found to help with the early planning is the Pick Your Date (PYD) Savings Account.

    It lets you save a little bit on a regular basis (such as $20 of every pay period) in a savings account. It then gets transferred to your checking account (or other predetermined account) on a date that you predetermine. For me, it’s at the start of the holiday season. Until then, I slowly build my savings and it earns a little bit in dividends every month too.

    Photo credit: kanoocurrency.co.uk

    Photo credit: kanoocurrency.co.uk

    If this sounds a lot like the like old-fashioned Holiday Club Account that became popular during the 1970′s, that’s because it pretty much is. Our members continue to make great use of this solution and have taken even more to it since we’ve opened it for other times of the year. With this new flexibility, members are using them to save for taxes, insurance premiums, vacations, and the aforementioned back-to-school shopping.

    The account is there to help you plan and budget by setting aside a little bit of each pay period to achieve the amount you’ve set as your goal. And, if you get a sudden windfall of cash, it’s a great place to stash some or all of that away before you spend it. The money stays safe, so you’re less tempted to use that extra $5 to splurge on a cup of coffee or a fast food lunch.

    Easy as 1-2-3: How to Make the Most of Your “Pick Your Date” Savings Account:

    1. Set a Target Amount: There are two ways to do this. If you have a good ballpark estimate of anticipated amount needed, that’s your goal. Or, use prior spending as a guide, figuring you’re going to spend about 10% more this year than you did last year. Don’t account for dividends right now. The amount you’ll earn isn’t incredible so it’s better to consider as a nice personal bonus than part of your plan.
    2. Calculate Your Periodic Contribution Amount: This is easy math that even I can do. Take the number of pay periods between now and the date you’ve picked and divide your goal amount by that number. That’s your regular contribution. If there’s no way you could make that amount work, consider revising your cost estimations. But resist the temptation to scrap the project. Even if you’re only able to pay for half your eventual spending with a Pick You Date Savings Account, it’s 50% less that you’re forced to put on a credit card later… and therefore 50% less to pay interest on later!
    3. Open Your Pick Your Date Savings Account: No matter how far away your anticipated date, the phrase “better late than never” applies quite well here and there’s still plenty of time to build up a good balance before the holidays arrive (if that’s your savings goal). The sooner you start, the less you’ll have to put away each pay period. And guess what, you can open your account online in just a few minutes.

    Student Life: The REAL Cost of a Student Loan

    The average American who takes out student loans will have accumulated just over $24,000 in debt by the time they graduate. However, that is not the amount they will be paying back to the financial institution that they borrowed it from over those 5-25 years of repayment. The real cost of a student loan can be complex and difficult to grasp, but I am here to try and break that down for you today.

    Let me tell it to you in a story.

    Ashley is a senior who just graduated high school last month. She is really excited to attend Indiana University in the fall, but she is nervous about the cost of attending college, so she decided to make an appointment with the financial aid office.

    Photo credit: uscollegesearch.org

    Photo credit: uscollegesearch.org

    After an hour long conversation with the financial aid director she found out that she would need to take out $6,000 per year in private loans for the next four years. So at the end of it all, she would have $24,000 in private student loans. Or would she?

    Let’s break it down. Let’s pretend like she took out the whole $24k to fund the rest of her four years of education as an incoming freshman (don’t do that by the way). She went through 3Rivers CU Student Choice (of course) to fill that gap in funding and was approved at a 6.25% interest rate (for this scenario let’s pretend that her rate stays the same throughout the life of the loan). Because she is such a great student, she will graduate in exactly four years in May of 2018. She doesn’t plan on working at all while she is in school, so she set up her loan to be totally deferred until six months after graduation. By the time November 2018 rolls around (after graduating and the six month grace period) she will have already gained $7,280 in interest on that loan, bringing her private student loan debt total up to $31,280.

    Because she plans on taking a basic level job in a corporate office post-graduation, she plans on setting up her loan on a graduated repayment plan to help ease her into those loan payments. This will allow her to make lesser payments for the first two years after graduation, and then it will be re-amortized to meet the original 20 year repayment plan she was on. So for the first two years she only will pay around $178 per month and the subsequent years she will be paying around $239 per month. If she does this for the whole twenty years of the loan term, the total amount she would have paid back on the loan would be approximately $55,819.

    This wonderful little calculator on our student loan website is a great tool to help you figure out how much a student loan could cost you over the life of the loan.

    However, there have been plenty of studies done to prove that getting a higher education, even If you have to take out some student loans, is well worth it.

    Photo credit: brookings.edu

    Photo credit: brookings.edu

    Statistics show that not only does a college education make you a better candidate for obtaining a job- you will qualify for significantly better paying jobs. According to the Brookings Institute, “on average, the benefits of a four-year college degree are equivalent to an investment that returns 15.2 percent per year. This is more than double the average return to stock market investments since 1950, and more than five times the returns to corporate bonds, gold, long-term government bonds, or home ownership.”

    Photo credit: brookings.edu

    Photo credit: brookings.edu


    If the return on your investment in your college degree is almost double than that of investing in stocks and bonds, you have done something right. So don’t look at what your student loans won’t allow you to do, look at what they WILL allow you to achieve. Below are a couple of charts that will hopefully help you to truly make peace with your decision to invest in your higher education.

    So don’t write off student loans, just because they are intimidating and accrue interest. It definitely pays off to attend college.

    Stick around for my next guest blog where I will help you learn how to write a great scholarship essay, so that you – ideally- don’t have to take out large student loans!

    More information here.