Are Coupons Really Helpful?

If you have ever tried to start sticking strictly to a budget, you know you will do anything to save money.  Many people use coupons as a way of keeping their grocery and household item budget in check. Coupons can be a great addition to a frugal lifestyle, but when you become too infatuated with getting the best deal, sometimes you end up spending more than you think.  Here are some tips to use coupons effectively with your budget.

Will You Use It?

This is a question you should ask yourself before you load up your cart with the great deal you got with coupons.  Only cut coupons for items that you will actually use instead of just buying it just to get a deal. You are actually spending more money on a great deal with an item you don’t really need than you would without the coupon, because if you didn’t have the coupon, you wouldn’t have bought it at all!  Take time to think this over each time you want to use a coupon.

Time is Money

Avid coupon users can spend lots of time cutting out coupons from the newspaper inserts and magazines.  Sometimes, for the extreme couponers, it can take as much time as a full-time job. If taking the time to cut out each coupon is becoming a burden on your daily routine, try looking for stores that offer digital coupons.  Many grocery stores offer manufacturer’s coupons on special apps and with rewards cards. You can even use third party apps like Ibotta to get cash back after your transaction. Downloading digital coupons can drastically cut down your coupon cutting time.

It’s All About Balance

With anything in life, you need to practice balance with coupons.  Like we mentioned above, only buy the items you need, shop the sales and focus on saving money for your budget.  The goal is not to buy out the “deal of the week” at the grocery store. Get as much as you need, and leave some sales for the rest of the shoppers.  Used effectively, coupons can be a great resource for your budget. Just make sure you don’t get too crazy and let getting the next big deal consume your life.

Financial Goals to Make in the New Year

As 2019 rapidly approaches, it’s time to start thinking about your financial future.  What would you like to achieve financially in the upcoming year? At first, that seems like a silly question–most people just want to make more and save more.  However, you might find broad goals like “make more money” to not be very effective when it comes to actually accomplishing them. If you take the time now to sit down and write out really specific financial goals, it might help you focus on what actually needs to be done instead of just hoping it will happen.  Here are some specific goals that tend to be popular when thinking about the new year.

Save for Retirement

Instead of just having your goal be “save more to my retirement,” think about how much you would like to save.  If you currently only save 2% of your paycheck to retirement, then make it your goal to save 5% in 2019. If you would rather do your goal in terms of amount, make it a specific dollar amount you want to save like $2000 or $5000.  Whatever you do, just make sure that your goal is an improvement upon the past year. It doesn’t even have to be a huge goal, just something better than this year that you feel you could accomplish in the new year.

Add More to Savings

Much like saving more to your retirement fund, a goal of simply saving more probably won’t motivate you to actually save more in 2019.  You need to make a specific goal of how much exactly you would like to save next year. Again, make it your goal to have the amount be bigger than you did the previous year.  If you saved $2000 this year, make next year’s goal to save $3000. It doesn’t have to be a large amount, just as long as you actually have a specific goal to work towards. Having a real number to work towards will be more motivating and help you reach your goal quicker.

Stick to Your Budget

Maybe some of you don’t even have a budget–if that’s the case, that should be your number one goal of the year.  But instead of just saying, “I want to start a budget,” make it your goal to start and stick to your budget each month.  Yes, some months may get away from you, but if you have it your goal to stick to it each month vs. just having a budget in general, you will be more likely to utilize that budget more efficiently.

Tackle Debt

Many people list tackling debt as their number one financial goal in the new year.  That’s great! However, instead of just saying you are going to “tackle debt” make very specific ways you are going to do so.  For instance, your goal can be, “I am going to reduce my debt by $____ amount.” Or, your goal can be paying off a specific credit card, reducing your student loans by a certain amount, or even just sticking to the debt snowball method.  With debt repayment, the more specific the goal, the more likely you are to succeed.

Whatever your financial goals are in the new year, it’s important to make sure that you have a detailed plan for achieving these goals.  The more detailed the action plan, the better. Without a plan, you will find that you won’t have much success with your goals–even if you are extremely motivated to complete them.  So make your plans before the new year begins and you will be well on your way to having a successful 2019!

Stay Out of Debt This Holiday Season


As the holidays quickly approach us, it’s time to take a look at our finances and holiday spending.  One of the ways you can be sure to have a stress-free holiday is to not go into debt buying Christmas gifts.  If you don’t have the money to buy gifts this year, you shouldn’t charge things on your credit cards just to have something to give.  However, with the right planning, you can stay debt-free and give your loved ones something special for the holidays. Here are a few tips that will help you have a debt-free Christmas.

Budget and Plan in Advance

As with most tips to staying debt free, the first thing you must do is make a plan.  Figure up how much money you will need for gifts, events and food this holiday season.  Write down that total amount and divide it by twelve. The total is the amount of money you need to save each month to meet your budget by Christmas.  If you start to plan for the holiday season in January, you won’t have to stress about not having enough money at the end of the year, which is a contributing factor for debt.

Make Your Gifts

If you find yourself in the situation where you didn’t plan ahead and money is tight, then consider hand-making your gifts instead of going out and spending a bunch of money.  The act of giving gifts during the holiday season is just to show your loved ones that you care about them. This can be done through inexpensive homemade gifts like baked goods or crafts.  Remember it’s the thought that counts. Check out Pinterest for some homemade gift ideas.

Sell Things for Cash

If crafting isn’t for you, don’t worry!  There are ways to make some extra cash if you need money for gifts.  The easiest way to do this is to sell items you no longer want on platforms such as Ebay, Craigslist, Letgo and Facebook Marketplace.  You can sell old clothes, books, electronics, kitchen appliances, baby items, etc…there’s a market for most items in your home. Selling those items will give you enough cash to buy gifts if you find yourself in a bind at Christmas.

Pay Off Cards

If you use credit cards for any reason (like gaining rewards points for purchases), it’s important that you always pay off your cards completely when the bill is due.  If you don’t, you will be incurring interest, which will end up costing you a lot of money in the long run if left unattended. If you pay off your cards in full, you won’t have to worry about outstanding debt.

These are just a few ideas of ways you can stay out of debt during the holiday season.  Check out some of our other blog posts in the archives for more debt management tips.

How To Avoid A Financial Crisis This Holiday Season

The holiday season is in full swing!  It’s time to trim the tree, buy gifts and celebrate with family.  However, you don’t have to go into debt and a potential financial crisis to have a happy holiday–there are many things you can do to avoid the ugly post-holiday financial hangover in January.  Here are some preventative tips to avoid a financial disaster at Christmas.

Plan, Plan, Plan

As always, the first step to avoid financial danger is to plan out everything.  Make a holiday budget that includes everything from how much money you have to spend to a breakdown of who you need to buy for and how much you are willing to spend on each person.  If you plan out your purchases, you will be less likely to have any surprises when the bills come due in January.

Avoid Credit Cards If Possible

When purchasing gifts, try to avoid using your credit card.  You don’t want to start the new year off with a high credit card bill and a bunch of payments you can’t afford.  Instead, see if your store offers some sort of layaway program. Many stores offer this around the holidays, and it is a very effective way to avoid debt but still be able to make payments on items you wish to buy.  The store usually requires you to put down a small payment to hold the item. Then you pay on it when you can until the agreed upon date. Once you’ve paid it off, you can take it home with you. If you don’t end up paying it off, you do lose the money you already put on the item and you will not get to take the item home, so be sure of your purchases if you decide to take this route.

Track Spending

When you finally do purchase all of the items from your planned budget, it is always a good idea to keep track of every purchase.  Write down every purchase you make, and keep receipts in case you need to make a return. This will help you see how closely you stuck to your budget, which will help you plan for next year more effectively.

Use the Dollar Store

Once you have all of your gifts purchased, it’s time to make them look pretty!  Instead of going to the Hallmark store (or even Walmart) for all of your gift wrapping needs, take a look at what your local dollar store has to offer.  Most of the time you will find beautiful wrapping paper, bags, tissue paper and bows for a fraction of the price at another store. The dollar store even has scissors and tape to help you as well.  Always check out the options at the dollar store for gift wrapping before purchasing it elsewhere.

Start Planning Immediately

When the holidays are over, start planning for next year’s Christmas budget immediately.  This may sound like overkill, but if you can start saving a little money here and there for Christmas every month starting in January, you will be way ahead of the ballgame next time the holiday season rolls around.  Take a look at your plan from this year and see what worked and what didn’t work and use that to start hatching a plan for the next year. It’s never too early to start a good plan.

If you need help planning out your Christmas money for next year, take advantage of WCU’s Christmas Club where we help you put money back each month automatically.  You will receive the money just in time for you to shop for gifts near the holidays. To enroll in this program, just give us a call at 256-355-5010, and we can get you set up!

Holidays can wreck your finances if you don’t have a clear cut plan in place, so take this advice and have a successful holiday season.

Gift Ideas to Inspire Financial Health

What do you gift a person who has everything?  When it comes to some people in your life, a little creative gift giving might be in order for the holidays.  Why not give your loved one the gift of inspired financial health? Here are some non-traditional holiday gift ideas that can help or inspire people to get in financial shape.

Investment Fun

When it comes to teaching kids about investing and the stock market, why not give them a little hands on experience?  You can gift them a small sum of money that they can invest in a “fun” company of their choice–like Disney for example–that will peak their interest.  Then you can show them the basics of investing and watching the stock market. If they are interested in the company and feel they have “ownership,” they will be more likely to take an interest in learning where their money is going.

Start Retirement Young

Another great gift for teens and young adults would be to start a retirement fund for them.  You can give them a sum of money to start their fund or you can match whatever they put in to mimic an employers match.  Whatever way you decide to do it, teach them retirement fund basics along the way, like how much they can contribute per year and what the different types of retirement accounts mean.  You can never start too young!

Help Education

A great gift for your kids or grandkids is to start a 529 Savings Plan for their education.  This gift may seem boring to the kid at first, but when they are older and don’t have to take out student loans, they will thank you.  This not only shows that you support their education, but you can contribute a small amount to the plan each year as additional gifts.

Personal Finance Books

Books about personal finance topics are a great gift for those in college, just starting out on their own or young newlyweds.  Books such as The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey or The New Retirement by Jan  Cullinane and Cathy Fitzgerald are just a couple to get started with.  Check out our previous blog post about great books on financial topics.

Giving those you care about gifts that help them financially is truly the gift that keeps on giving.  So keep that in mind next time you are on the hunt for the perfect holiday gift for a loved one.