Gloomy Day Fun for the Budget-Conscious

You made it! It’s finally the end of the work week, you can’t wait to do anything that doesn’t involve sitting in an office. Maybe you can get that hike in you’ve been thinking about all week. Disappointment sets in as you peek out the window to gaze upon a blustery, cloudy and plain gloomy day. And as misfortune would have it, there isn’t room left in the budget this week for a trip to the movies or an indoor game park.

 

However, this doesn’t have to call for an uneventful day. Raccoon Valley Bank is here to give you some options to make the most of your day off! Here are some great low-cost activities you can do now.

 

Local Adventures

While you may not want to spend the gas money traveling out of town, this is an opportunity to explore places in the community you may not normally think of visiting. Local museums are typically low-cost and if you make it on certain days, they have discounts for the kiddos! You’d be surprised at how entertaining local history and innovation can be. Bring some friends with you so you can discuss what you learn.

Let’s not forget about the neglected library. They may even have free events going on! Join a book club, rent a book or take a free class about computer literacy. Nothing is easier on your wallet than the library.

If the library is closed on your gloomy day, check out local department stores. They may have a free class for you to take to learn about a DIY home improvement project. They teach a variety of classes from how to install a home security system to woodworking projects.

 

Host an Activity

Can’t go out? Bring people to you! There are probably others who are not digging the gloomy day, so invite them over for a game night. Everyone can bring their favorite board game and an appetizer to share.

What’s your favorite movie? Host a movie night or show marathon to watch with your friends. If you have kids, you can have two different movies playing. You can center your snacks around the theme of the movie with what you have in the pantry, or buy some generic items from the store. With a little creativity, you can make this a memorable event.

 

Plan a Vacation

“But it’s not in the budget.” This day is the perfect opportunity to not just daydream about a vacation, but get the wheels turning for how to practically get to the white sand beach or ride that elephant in Thailand. Break down what you want and how much you need, so you know what you need in savings to get there. Research average flight prices and best places to stay for the price – don’t forget to read those reviews! Maybe look around your place to see if there is anything worth selling that you are willing to part with. Once you have where and how, build an itinerary of everything you want to see while you are there! Adjust the budget sheet accordingly. Making your travel dreams become a reality is sure to boost your mood.

 

Any of these activities will be kind to your budget, and hopefully, boost your mood on this not so bright day.

 

Common Cyber-Security Threats While Traveling

Whether you are traveling for work or pleasure, the last thing you want to battle with is having your cyber-security compromised. If knowledge is power, Raccoon Valley Bank has created a list of potential threats to your private information and steps to prevent damage while away from home.

Before You Go

Along with remembering to pack a toothbrush, you should also prepare your devices for travel. You should ensure all updates are completed. This will make your systems harder for hackers to penetrate.

You may consider backing up your information on cloud storage. You would hate to have forever lost important documents and photos. Should your information become compromised, having these copies of your private information will be useful. We would also recommend changing all of your passwords prior to leaving and again when you return. It is also extremely important, especially when traveling abroad, to let Raccoon Valley Bank know where you will be traveling and when.

While You’re There

Unfortunately, you are at higher risk the more you travel and use the internet abroad. However, this shouldn’t stop you should you use the proper precautions from these threats.

While convenient, public wireless networks are not secure. Nevertheless, if you need to connect, be sure it is a legitimate network by verifying the account with employees. However, your mobile connection is going to be more secure. You are going to want to turn off auto-connect for wifi and Bluetooth as well. If you are able, purchase a VPN  (Virtual Private Network), so you have peace of mind while surfing the web. We would recommend staying away from public computers-even the hotel and library. You cannot trust that these are on secure networks, and that Keylogger Malware is not present.

To many people’s dismay, you are being watched in ways like never before. You should get into the habit of guarding yourself at all times. When traveling to fun places, it is tempting to share your location. But waiting to share this information is best, so hackers don’t follow where you are, and maybe even make their way up to your hotel room to take your computer when they know you’re away. This is another reason why you might consider eating meals outside the normal hours, as that is when most hotel thefts occur.

You can’t avoid purchases while on the road, but be aware of ATM skimmers, point of sale compromises and hidden cameras. ATM skimmers have been on the news frequently. If you can avoid using this altogether by sticking to credit cards or Apple Pay on the road, it may make the experience easier. Business card readers may be compromised or a hidden camera could be tracking your pin input, so it’s important to always be aware.

We hope that these tips have informed you to be a cyber-secure traveler. For more information about anti-fraud services, please stop by and speak with our helpful staff!

 

The Riches Reset: 30 Day Cash Only Challenge

You may have heard the suggestion, but in a day where even plastic purchases are becoming irrelevant, how can paying with cold hard cash be feasible or helpful? We challenge you to find out by going plastic-free for the next 30 days in order to shake up your spending habits for the New Year.  We will begin by informing you on some of the disadvantages you may experience, followed by the surprising benefits.

Cons of Cash

Safety

Carrying cash can be a safety concern. You may feel more exposed to not only being pick-pocketed, but to lose the cash altogether.  When your credit card is stolen or lost, you have an inconvenience, but not a loss of protection. Check in with a member of our team at Raccoon Valley Bank to learn more about the safety features of our credit cards.

Inconvenience

Unless you write down all your purchases, you will have no way to track spending. You’ll need to ensure you have receipts printed or emailed to you if there is a chance of return. Cash takes up a lot of room, especially if there are coins. This becomes consistently challenging if you only carry a wallet. You don’t want to be THAT person who spills their clanging change all over the floor. To say nothing of the inconvenience you will cause others in line behind you, as their plastic taps impatiently on the counter. We recommend using all of the coins you can first, so you’re not weighed down with change.

Credit Benefits

One of the primary reasons many utilize credit cards is the rewards.  With cash, the only reward you can hope to receive is a punch card for your next visit. You also lose out on the opportunity to build your credit. Additionally, an obvious downside would be you are unable to purchase items online or make travel plans. This may be an economic imperative that you cannot accomplish with cash.

Pros of Carrying Cash

It’s Painful

Leaning into the pain of cash-only can be good for you. Research shows that the act of spending cash is emotionally more painful than it is using a debit/credit card. Because of this, you may, in fact, spend less. With each purchase you make, you see your cash value deplete. Unlike a credit card, the effects are immediate. You don’t need to wait until the end of the month to feel the pain, when it is most likely too late.

You Become a Budget Master

Some people have had success with the envelope system in their budget planning. It is a way to limit your spending to a predetermined amount allotted in each envelope. They are separated into different categories such as grocery and gas.  It helps you to be aware of how quickly that $4 latte takes away from your “fun money”. This is more hands-on than establishing multiple savings accounts.

Appreciation

Research shows that you also have more of an appreciation for your things when you buy them with cash. It’s an aesthetically pleasing reward as you are seeing what your money can get. You are better able to see your hard work pay off. Moreover, if you find yourself taking better care of your belongings, don’t be surprised.

While it may not be possible to go cash-only forever, your Riches Reset will help to cleanse you of negative habits to start fiscally strong in the New Year. Afterwards, come see us at Raccoon Valley Bank to see what products can help you reach your financial goals. Best of luck!

First Steps to Financial Fitness

Starting a Financial Fitness routine may be one of the best things you can do for your health. You may not realize it, but financial stress can take a toll on your physical and emotional well-being. If you are one of those who has or is experiencing financial stress, you are not alone. In fact, the leading stressor of Americans is related to finances. Stress, if left unchecked, can lead to changes in your body and mood such as:  heart disease, obesity, headaches and depression. Whether you are unemployed, have a growing stack of debt or simple poor money management, you can start working your way to a healthy lifestyle starting with these five steps!

“You can always improve your fitness if you keep training.” -Pastor Maldonado

  1. Assess Your Fitness Level

In order to know where you’re headed, you need to have a full understanding of where you are starting. Know what you spend, what you have, and what you owe. The first month, simply track what you spend. You may be surprised at how many unnecessary purchase habits you make daily. Take note of what you are taking in post-taxes so you have a baseline of what you have to work with every month. Of special importance is investigating all of your debt. Find out your credit score, and all debts that may have even gone to collections. This is the most overwhelming step, but don’t fret – you are on the right path. If you would like assistance with this, feel free to reach out to Raccoon Valley Bank so our team can help you along in the process.

 

  1. Decide Your Fitness Program

What are you training for? This is where you map out where you would like to go. Create short and long term goals and what time frame you would like to achieve them. We suggest starting out with eliminating your debt, paying off the lowest one first. What habits and routines do you want to establish? What do you want your budget to look like? You can build activity and goals into your daily routine. One aspect to understand is that this is not a quick-fix process. It will take time, so keep your activities simple and progress slowly into building habits. Building financial strength takes time.

 

  1. Assemble Equipment

Now that you have an understanding of where you are and where you want to be, you can put it to paper! Investing in a journal or a simple pad of paper is a great way to organize your daily routines and financial flexors. Additionally, there are many free apps such as: Fudget and Level Money. However you prefer to track it, make it practical and enjoyable!

 

  1. Get Started

Now that you have completed the first few steps, you are ready to begin! You have your well thought out plan, so now it is time to execute. You can be creative with your routine; if you want to find savvy ways to save on basic needed items – do it. Whether that be cooking a meal at home, or learning how to change the oil in the car, it is your plan to tailor.

 

  1. Monitor Progress

Lastly, we recommend that you monitor your progress every month, as needs change frequently. It will also help keep you in check and encourage you from straying far from your goals; you will know them by heart. If you need a Financial Coach to hold you accountable, reach out to a friend or trusted advisor. As your fitness level increases, you may find yourself able to be flexible and switch up your goals or create new ones.  Training takes time, energy and self-control, but by following these steps, you are well on your way to being fit!

Giving back in the New Year: Practicing Selflessness

Many individuals have goals and resolutions they are striving for in the new year. They are fostering hope for a better tomorrow and realize they need to add or dilute some of their habits in order to have the life they envision. Many, if not most of these resolutions fail for lack of motivation. In fact, only about 8 percent of individuals end up sticking with their resolutions and that could be attributed to the type of goals made.

 

A majority of resolutions are self-focused. Very few of them strive for the betterment of others, which could be one of the underlying reasons for failure. While it may not be for lack of trying, goals crafted that solely benefit the self, have less success than those that are other oriented. Although, practicing selflessness can indeed improve your own happiness and household economy in other ways.

 

Tax Deduction

When you decide on a charity, you want to be sure they are reputable. Check out Charity Navigator to find out if you should be giving to a certain organization. Giving to these organizations may enable you to deduct from your income tax if you itemize deductions. Be sure to do your research before giving if you would like to take advantage of this benefit.

 

Better Money Management

Deciding on wanting to give monetarily to a cause will encourage you to monitor budget. Don’t have a budget? Now you have another reason to make one! Do you need to make cuts elsewhere to excessive spending? Having another reason to review your monthly statements can only help your finances. Come see us at Raccoon Valley Bank to set up an automatic withdrawal to your savings account for your giving, we want to make it easy for you! When you are able to focus not only your money but attention to those in need, you are investing in yourself emotionally and financially.  Even if you are only able to give your time through volunteering, it may give rise to gratitude for what you have; decreasing your desire to purchase items you do not need with money you do not have.

 

What Goes Around Comes Around

Although your primary goal in helping others isn’t to help yourself, getting involved can create opportunities for you and even your children. People in need will remember those who helped them at their lowest, maybe someday you will be in need of a favor and they will happily assist you. It enables you to make connections with others, which can help you to better establish yourself professionally.  Is your child socially anxious? Kindness has been shown to reduce social anxiety and can help set your children on a stable track for the future including scholarships and job prospects.

In whatever capacity you have to give and whatever your goals may be for the new year, selflessness will branch off to help you, your community, finances and family. What better resolution is there?

 

How Reading Can Improve Your Financial Well Being

Does being a reader make you more of a leader? Well that might be the case in life and the financial world.  When infamous Warren Buffett was asked about his success he pointed to a stack of books and said, “Read 500 pages like this every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.” Most likely if you’re reading this article, you already see some value in the declaration and are here for affirmation. However, for those of you who still aren’t convinced and maybe even guffawed at the notion of fitting in that much reading into an already hectic schedule, let Raccoon Valley Bank give you some insight to consider.

 

It’s a Low Cost Investment

Instead of taking an expensive flight to an expensive conference, you might consider swinging by your nearest bookstore. Because there is no limit to where knowledge can take you, investing in books is a low investment, with an infinite ROI. You can learn from the best in your business field, or pick up a novel.  The jury is still out on whether memory or comprehension is better with print vs. digital, so get what works best for your lifestyle. Owning the book is preferred if you want to become more engaged by writing in the margins, but stopping at your local library another great option!

 

Makes You More Employable

You can make a great difference in your success by expanding your education. Generally, knowledge cannot be lost. What you learn from reading a few books will set you apart, in that you already know something that has taken others years to learn from experience. Unfortunately, only 42% of adults will read a book after they graduate from college-just think about how much of an advantage that can give you! You will be a great resource for your team and have a greater ability to think on your feet because of the reading vitamins you consume. This makes you more desirable to potential employers and encourages a higher salary because of the value you bring to the workplace.

 

Boosts Brain Power

You’ve heard it said, knowledge is power. Are you unhappy about your financial situation? Pick up the Wall Street Journal or the financial matters section in newspapers. You are sure to gain a wealth of information to help you out of your current situation. Some studies show reading will help strengthen your analytical skills, increase your vocabulary and help you to prioritize goals. Your knowledge of the world will be stronger, and you may just notice your financial skills sharpening as your mind is being refined. This is especially true when you read chapter books, as it encourages deep reading and assessment.

The majority of what you read will not only make you a more rounded individual, it will help you to make more sound, financial decisions. You will be a greater financial asset to your company, and yourself. So grab a book, a hot cup of coffee and settle into your next lesson!

Tips to Reduce Financial Stress – From Panic to Plan

If you are feeling overwhelmed and losing sleep at night because of your finances, you are not alone. There are many factors that can contribute to financial stress such as: kids, marriage, debt, pregnancy, job status and physical health.  According to the American Psychological Association’s 2015 survey, 64% of stress is attributed to money. If you are experiencing a creeping sense of panic over your finances, take a deep breath and exhale. We are going to walk you through a simple plan to get you back in control.

 

1). Identify Stressors

Take time to write out a list of everything that is weighing on you. This can be financial burdens or anything that adding to your anxieties. Maybe you are struggling to meet your mortgage payments or taking care of an aging parent. Maybe it’s an addiction to spending with a mountain of debt surrounding you. Everyone has a story and struggle. Listing out and identifying these is not only therapeutic, but will be the start to knowing what you can and cannot change. What are the problems, and what are your realistic goals? Take this financial stress test to get a better understanding of where you are at and where you would like to be.

 

2). Create a Budget

This will be the map to the end of your tunnel. Doubtless, you have heard the importance of budgeting. Now it is time to heed those words into your plan. There are many financial gurus out there with their preferred budgeting outlines. We would recommend speaking to one of our financial advisors at Raccoon Valley Bank, or learning more about people like Dave Ramsey and his program. When you are crafting your budget, keep in mind the goals you have created and the daily habits you want to create. This is how you learn to make the most of your income. By adding a goal of establishing an Emergency Fund, you will help to eliminate future stressors should and when misfortune occurs.

 

3). Stay Positive & Get Help

The key to staying on track, is staying positive. Once you have your budget set, you are able to track your spending. You may fall off the wagon a time or two, but don’t let shame keep you from starting over. Reach out to a trusted friend or join an accountability group like Shopaholics Anonymous. Be sure to let them know your goals, and your struggles. Having someone to keep you accountable will help you to not only relieve current stress but prevent future panic.

What Mad Money is and Why You Need It

Paying off debt can be daunting, and budgeting for it even more stressful. In order to be a winner with your budget, you must add Mad Money to your life-and no we aren’t talking about the TV Show. Mad Money is, “A small sum of money carried or kept in reserve for minor expenses, emergencies, or impulse purchases.” There is no restraint to what you can purchase with Mad Money, but only that you spend the allotted amount. This should be a small percentage of your monthly income.  Here are three simple reasons why you need to have some undefined fun with your budget.

1). It Incentivizes Your Budget.

So you’ve created your tight budget that you plan on sticking with in the New Year. As you work on creating new purchase habits, you may find yourself quickly becoming deprived of spontaneity and a social life. Some of you may already have a large portion of debt paid off, and room in your budget to go out with friends or establish spa fund. However, you need this money too! This is not to be spent to fill in the gap of any other category, but only for you to splurge. It can help incentivize you by cutting back in other areas of your budget, in order to make room for even more madness!

Having the ability to be “mad” will give you the encouragement needed to stick to the rest of your budget. Want that morning pick me up from your favorite coffee shop? Go for it! You will feel satisfied that you were able to have some fun, but none of the buyer’s remorse.

 

2). It Fosters Creativity.

While the goal of fun money is to enable yourself the freedom to think less, you may find your craft wheels turning before you make a purchase with the fun money. You may be surprised how many items you can DIY that will bring so much value in the long run. Instead of that morning coffee splurge, you might discover a way to make a copycat recipe at home that guests will LOVE you for! This madness is already helping you save.

 

3). It Can Reduce Stress

The importance of budgeting cannot be ignored. If you want to decrease your financial stress, one of the best things that can be done is to craft a budget. However, we recognize the realities of what comes with always saying “no” to purchase desires. Adding Mad Money into your monthly budget will help to remind you that splurging days are not over. You can still “treat yo’self.” This will help to reframe your mindset from deprivation to occasional indulgence. You have the security of knowing you are building yourself a strong future, without the baggage.

Be sure to contact Raccoon Valley Bank to set up a checking or savings account for this allowance. Only YOU are in control of your madness. Have fun with it!

Tips for Cyber-Security When it comes to Your Mobile Device

Odds are you’re probably reading this blog post on your cell phone, which you found through an app on your smartphone and then used it to get directions to Raccoon Valley Bank. Seventy-seven percent of Americans now own a smartphone and use it on a daily basis. With so many people accessing, searching and downloading things on their cell phones, are we really using the same caution and protection we would use when it comes to our computers? Odds also are, you’re not. With a few tips, you can start better protecting your smartphone from things like data theft, malware and privacy invasion.

Needed Protection: You may be wondering what exactly needs to be protected when it comes to your smart phone. Luckily, they can be broken down into three categories.

  1. Device Protection – In case your phone was ever stolen, this kind of protection would wipe all information and data from your phone, which is beneficial if you utilize mobile or online banking.
  2. Data Protection – This protection was designed to keep work information from place of employment from being spread to your personal apps.
  3. App-Management Security – Having login information, credit card information and other personal information within apps should be protected from falling into the wrong hands. App-management security does just that.

Trusted Apps: Not all apps are created equal. Since it’s becoming increasingly easier for third-parties to create apps this means there are more apps out there than there’s ever been. One way to help protect yourself is to only download apps from the trusted app store. You should also review existing apps’ privacy policies and settings for permissions.

Public Wi-Fi: One thing you should know is public Wi-Fi is generally not secure. Hackers can get in-between you and the Wi-Fi connection point and when you’re submitting information on your phone you’re actually sending it to the hacker. It’s recommended to protect yourself using a VPN, which encrypts your data, essentially scrambling the information.

Jailbreaking Phones: While it may seem like the cool thing to do to format your phone without the factory standards, you’re actually setting your phone for several security risks. One of those risks is Malware and loss of personal information.

We hope these tips can better protect you and your smartphone. There are several companies that can protect your mobile devices, including Norton Mobile Security and McAfee Mobile Security. If you have any questions or concerns about you protecting yourself, we encourage you to contact us. Our team would love to assist you.

How to Get Smart with Your Credit

Today, practicing the simple credit concept of “living within your means” can be extremely difficult due to medical and housing costs growing more rapidly than the income in many American households. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t manage your credit and debt responsibly.  Here are a few tips to get your credit on track, even when times are tough.

 

  1. Understand what credit is.  According to Finance Solutions Credit 101, credit is your “promise to pay in the future for purchases made today.”  You may be aware that when applying for credit with a lender, your credit report will be pulled to determine your payment history, amounts owed, new credit and types of credit, which is all taken into consideration when determining your credit limit.  Understanding the terms and fees associated with your credit will help you make more educated decisions in terms of lenders, especially if you were to become overextended.

 

  1. Maintain healthy debt.  Maintaining healthy debt is all about making good choices.  This means developing a happy medium in terms of credit history, exercising timely bill payments and managing a variety of credit accounts.

 

A good example of this is the attractive additional 25% off at your favorite store in exchange for signing up for their store credit card at the moment of purchase.  Doing this once or twice is harmless enough, but if you are maintaining credit cards for a variety of stores, this can negatively affect your credit score by repeated hard inquiries and hidden terms not discussed in the rushed sign up process.  Overall, the potential damage to your credit may not be worth the immediate savings.

 

  1. Stay out of the credit danger zone.  Similar to points made in the previous two tips, you need to make good choices when it comes to purchasing on credit.  Watch your accounts carefully to avoid overextending yourself, keep your balances low and always pay your bills on time.

 

If you are in a position where you can’t pay your bill on time, communicate with your lender to make them aware of the situation and determine an alternate rate of payment. While emergency expenses do come up, you can handle them by preparing in advance.  If you don’t have an emergency savings fund built up, start one today and prepare yourself for the unexpected.

 

Managing your credit responsibly can be extremely difficult, and due to unforeseen circumstances you may already be in over your head.  Reach out to us to discuss your financial management needs today.  We are here to help you get on track!

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