Analytics

Monday, April 30, 2012

 

Budgeting through a crisis

If your earnings are dropping, or your debt is piling up, bring order to your finances by taking a hard look at what you’re spending and how it matches up with your income


By Samantha Maziarz Christmann
News Business Reporter

There are not many scarier things that can happen to a person. You’re already living paycheck to paycheck, when suddenly you find yourself out of a job.

Unfortunately, it happens all the time. The unemployment rate in the Buffalo Niagara region rose to 8.6 percent in March, up from 8.3 percent during the same month a year ago.

During his nearly two decades as a volunteer budget coach, Patrick Mellody has talked his share of clients down from the ledge, just as someone else dove in to help rescue him when he was drowning in debt years ago.

The Derby-based author put the lessons he has learned over the years into a recently published book called “The Unemployment Budget: Your financial survival plan.”

“I wrote this book to help others as I was helped,” Mellody said. “And many Western New Yorkers need help right now.”

Because so many of us fail to plan for things like unemployment, the loss of a job often puts people into crisis mode.

Carissa DiRado, director of counseling at Credit Counseling Services of Buffalo, has worked with plenty of people in just that frantic situation.

In fact, her advice to people who are newly unemployed is very similar to the advice she gives to anyone who has more money going out each month than coming in: Find ways to spend less or earn more.

“If a person’s living expenses exceed their income, changes will need to be made as quickly as possible to avoid a financial crisis,” DiRado said.

During these circumstances, it’s more important than any ever to track your expenses and create a bare-bones budget. Here’s how to get started:
1) Sit down and calculate your take-home household income–a spouse’s income, unemployment benefits—to find out just how much you have to work with. Don’t include unreliable income, such as commissions or overtime.
2) Calculate your living expenses. You can download a budget sheet online from a number of places (try dollartimes.com/download-and-print) and use it as a guide.
Include:
  • Fixed monthly expenses, the bills that come every month in the same amount and at the same time, such as rent or car payments.
  • Variable expenses, bills that change each month, such as gas and electric bills.
  • Flexible expenses, expenses that you can control or do away with altogether, such as a cable TV bill.
3) Add up your income, add up your expenses, then deduct your expenses from your income.
4) If you have money left over after your expenses are paid, put that money towards paying down debt, building emergency savings and funding retirement.
5) If, as is more likely, you have more money going out that coming in, you’ll need to go through your budget and look for places to trim. This is the painful part.
If you use a debit or checking account for most transactions, the easiest way to figure out where your money truly goes and where you can make cuts is to just go through each of your transactions, which are listed on your monthly bank statement.
Be sure to get the whole family involved in the process. Sacrifices will be easier to make if you’ve all come up with a plan together on how to reduce expenses.
Trim and trim some more. Restaurant dining and takeout coffee are the easiest targets to start with — until you have more money coming in than going out.
• If you get to the point where you just can’t make the numbers work, it’s time for what Mellody calls the “crisis budget.” It’s where you put a priority on your “triangle needs,” making sure what income you do have goes toward basic food, shelter and transportation.
• Once you have stripped those “triangle” categories to the bare minimum— switching to cheap, nutritious foods cooked at home, canceling cable, taking an additional, unused car off the road—be sure you continue managing whatever money you have so that you’ll be able to sustain your family’s basic needs.
• If you can’t afford COBRA from your former employer and don’t have medical coverage through your spouse, securing health care for your family is a priority. Both DiRado and Mellody suggest reaching out to government agencies for help if necessary.

“Don’t feel like a welfare case. When you were working, you paid into these services. If you want to pay them back after you are on your feet again, that’s fine, but they exist to help you through a rough time,” Mellody writes.

The same goes for seeking government assistance for other things, such as help with utility bills through programs such as HEAP.

• Another organization highly recommended by Mellody is something called CredAbility. It’s a non-profit organization that will help you come up with a plan to address any remaining debts you have trouble paying. It is not a credit debt settlement agency (stay away from those!) and charges a flat fee of $35 to $50 for its services. Visit credability.com or call 1-800-251-2227.

Consumer Credit Counseling of Buffalo, a nonprofit agency, offers similar services for debt-strapped consumers. Visit cccsbuffalo.orgor call 712-2060.

• Above all, Mellody encourages, don’t give up hope.
“If I can go from being a guy that didn’t even balance his checkbook to being a guy that currently has no debt, you can too,” he writes.
schristmann@buffnews.comnull

Friday, April 27, 2012

Studies Reveal the Cure for Financial Stress


HOUSTON, April 25, 2012 /PRNewswire via COMTEX/ -- It's no secret that financial education is a good thing, especially in the current economy. What is not common knowledge, however, is that financial education can improve a person's physical health in addition to their financial health.
A recent study by the American Psychological Association found that money was respondents' leading source of stress. And, an Associated Press/AOL, poll comparing those with high debt-stress with those who had low debt-stress, found the following:
Twenty-seven percent with high debt stress had ulcers or digestive tract problems, compared with eight percent with low debt-stress.
Forty-four percent with high debt-stress had headaches or migraines, compared with four percent with low debt-stress.
Twenty-three percent with high debt stress felt they were suffering from depression, compared with four percent with low debt-stress.
The heart attack rate of those with high debt-stress was double that of those with low debt stress.
Sixty-five percent more people with high debt-stress suffered from muscle tension or lower back pain than those with low debt-stress.
Financial Education Can Help!
Research shows that financial education programs can help build confidence by shaping new attitudes and behaviors toward money. In fact, a recent TIAA-CREF Institute study found that people with a high degree of financial literacy are more likely to plan for retirement, and people who plan for retirement have more than double the wealth of people who don't. And, according to MetLife's Tenth Annual Study of Employee Benefits Trends, consumers who attend financial education training programs are 25 percent more likely to feel in control of their finances compared to those with no financial education or training.
Don't let financial concerns burden you any longer! Learn how to take control of your finances and build a healthy financial future. Visit, MoneyManagement.org to find a local financial education workshop in your area, or register for a free financial webinar today!
About Money Management International
Money Management International (MMI) is a nonprofit, full-service credit-counseling agency, providing confidential financial guidance, financial education, counseling and debt management assistance to consumers since 1958. MMI helps consumers trim their expenses, develop a spending plan and repay debts. Counseling is available by appointment in branch offices and 24/7 by telephone and Internet. To learn more, visit MoneyManagement.org or call 800.432.7310.
Contact:Tanisha WarnerMedia Relations713.394.3202Tanisha.Warner@MoneyManagement.org
SOURCE Money Management International
Copyright (C) 2012 PR Newswire. All rights reserved

Monday, April 23, 2012

Youth To Sign Pledge For Financial Literacy Month

Child & Adolescent Treatment Services and Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Buffalo pair up to bring financial literacy programs to Buffalo Public Schools

Thursday, April 26th at 4 pm

School #74

126 Donaldson Avenue, Buffalo, NY 14208


Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Buffalo (CCCS of Buffalo) and Child and Adolescent Treatment Services will have over 25 students at School #74 sign a Financial Literacy Pledge to commit to safe spending patterns and to commemorate National Financial Literacy Month.
 
Most youth experience their first introduction to financial management at home (94% percent of youth cite their parents as primary source of financial education. Youth and Money Survey, 1999).  However, many low-income parents, themselves struggling to make ends meet, are ill-equipped to teach effective financial management skills to their children. This lack of knowledge makes economically disadvantaged youth prime candidates for financial hardship.

In 2010, CCCS of Buffalo and Child & Adolescent Treatment Services created a Youth Financial Literacy Program to work with financially disadvantaged 5-8th graders based on the great need in our community. The program delivers financial literacy education to students in targeted economically disadvantaged communities during non-school hours, connecting youth with tangible skills and giving low-income children an opportunity to succeed in an increasingly complex world. The curriculum provides youth with financial literacy education at a critical juncture in their lives.

Specifically, the program helps students identify money issues and teaches them to create a realistic budget.  Certified financial presenters teach the curriculum which includes the basics of money, personal spending, budgeting, financial goals & priorities, banks, savings, and credit. Without program intervention, Buffalo’s youth may be relegated to a life of poor financial choices. Youth Financial Literacy education stops this destructive cycle which not only harms local families, but decreases economic vitality in our region…a region which desperately needs financial health. 

To recognize National Financial Literacy Month, CCCS of Buffalo and Child & Adolescent Services will have students sign Financial Literacy pledges to create and complete two S.M.A.R.T. financial goals by next year. The underlying goal is to increase public awareness about the importance of financial education in the United States, and the serious consequences that may result from misunderstanding personal finances.  Financial literacy does not focus on income as much as it involves knowing the appropriate steps to take once it is earned. Being financially literate means understanding how to manage money, use credit effectively, build wealth, and make sound financial decisions.
 
National Study Indicates Big Trouble

The recently released 2012 Financial Literacy Survey revealed a disturbing lack of basic financial skills that are critical to building a stable financial future.  Consider the following results in areas such as budgeting, saving, responsible bill-paying, and money management:

           More than half of U.S. adults, 56 percent, admit that they do not have a budget;

           One-third of U.S. adults, or more than 77 million Americans, do not pay all of their bills on time;

           Thirty-nine percent of adults carry credit card debt over from month-to-month;

           Two in five adults indicated that they are now saving less than they were one year ago, and 39 percent do not have any non-retirement savings; and,

           Twenty-five percent of those who do not currently have non-retirement savings indicated that, if they did begin to save, they would keep their savings at home in cash.


CCCS of Buffalo and Child & Adolescent Treatment Services will continue to operate the youth financial literacy program throughout the remainder of the school year and plan to incorporate it into their programming for Summer 2012. For more information, contact Leslie Tunmore at (716) 712-2060 ext. 135 or Scott Laughlin at (716) 712-2067.

About CCCS

CCCS of Buffalo is a non-profit, full-service credit counseling agency, providing confidential financial guidance, financial education, counseling and credit repayment assistance to consumers since 1965.  CCCS of Buffalo helps consumers trim expenses, develop a spending plan and repay debts.  Counseling is available at our Main Office in West Seneca, in one of our Satellite Offices, by telephone and via Internet.

About Child & Adolescent Treatment Services

Child & Adolescent Treatment Services is a non-profit children’s mental health agency that provides innovative, research based preventative and treatment programs that strengthen the emotional health and safety of children in their homes, schools, and our community at large. Children receiving help range in age from toddlers to young adults. Programs and services make it possible for children to recover, regain hope, and become healthy, safe, and thriving adults.


Child & Adolescent Treatment provides programs and services for children and young adults in the areas of:

Disruptive Behavior Disorders

ADHD

Depression

Self-Harming Behavior

Bullying & Cyberbullying

Sexual Abuse

After School Education and Programming

Friday, April 20, 2012

A Simple System to Destroy Debt

A Simple System to Destroy Debt: It's possible to pay off every debt you have in months, rather than years. It's not easy, but it is simple. Here's a five-step process that will work, if you work it.

Monday, April 16, 2012

25 Ways To Get Motivated Today!

By Mikey Rox
Now that spring is here, it’s time to brush off the cobwebs and get back in the game. It may seem difficult at first, but there are many easy ways to get motivated right now. To put you on the right path, here are 25 of my tips that will have you up and at ’em in no time. (See also: My Personal Productivity Rules...What Are Yours?)
1. Drink Coffee: If you find it hard to jolt your body into go mode first thing in the morning, drink a big cup of joe. Coffee has the caffeine you crave to jump start your day without all the calories of energy drinks or soda.
2. Stay Active: A sedentary lifestyle will lead to a lack of energy, which will directly impact your level of motivation. Try to do something active each day, even if it’s a 20-minute brisk walk around your neighborhood. You’ll feel much better once your blood is flowing.
3. Make a List: Having a written list of tasks to accomplish is the only way I get anything done — ever. I spread my work for the week over each of the five days, so I don’t burn out too quickly. When I finish a task, I cross it off the list, which feels oh so good, by the way. Even on the weekends, I create a to-do list that includes chores that I need to accomplish like cleaning the house or going to the dry cleaners. Having those tasks on paper helps me stay on track, even when I want to veer off.
4. Open the Curtains and Windows: It’s hard to feel motivated when you’re in a dark room. When you wake up in the morning, open the curtains or blinds and the windows. The curtains will allow lots of necessary light in to wake you up, and by opening the window, you can hear all of the activity happening outside, which will help you get moving.
5. Get More Sleep: When you’re sleepy, your energy level suffers. Try to get to bed earlier by turning off the TV and putting away the phone and Internet at a reasonable hour.
6. Take a Cold Shower: This may not exactly motivate you in itself, but it will wake you up real fast — and that’s a good start.
7. Have a Goal in Mind: What’s the point of working toward something if there’s nothing toward which to work? Set goals. Also, it will be easier to motivate yourself if the goals are small and achievable. If your goals are major, it will be harder to reach them, resulting in a lack of motivation to do so.
8. Reward Yourself: To keep yourself motivated, promise yourself something special when you achieve your goal. Maybe it’s a nice dinner out or a new pair of shoes. Whatever it is, make it count — just don’t cheat.
9. Ask for Support: Keeping yourself accountable is tough, but when you bring other people into the mix, it’s much easier. Ask a friend or colleague if they’d be willing to help keep you motivated for a short-term project. When you reward yourself at the end, perhaps you can invite your motivation buddy along as well.
10. Move Your Alarm Clock: It’s easy to hit the snooze button over and over and over. I think my husband hits it at least six times every morning — and it drives me nuts. If you have trouble getting out of bed, put your alarm clock across the room. It’ll force you to get up. And while you’re up, you might as well get started on your day.
11. Schedule Early Meetings: I love early morning meetings because they force me to meet the day head on. I’m dressed and ready to go from the start, so the rest of the day can only get better from there.
12. Wake Up to Upbeat Music: Everyone has that special jam that rocks their body. Instead of waking up to whatever nonsense is on the radio in the morning, set your alarm to wake you up to something that makes you want to move.
13. Prepare the Night Before: Being prepared is an essential component to motivation because it cuts down on the anxiety you may feel when diving in. If you have small things that can be done in advance of a big workday, do them the night before. When you wake up, those menial tasks will be complete, so you can head straight into the heavy stuff.
14. Iron Your Clothes: As someone who works from home, it’s important for me to shower and dress first thing in the morning, a major component of which is ironing my clothes. I have to do it. It gives me the confidence I need to meet the day inside and outside — and I’m always more productive when I feel good about myself.
15. Tell People Your Plans: Broadcast your plans on your social media networks. By letting everyone in your life know what you’re doing, you will inherently feel responsible to stay motivated. You’re likelier to complete your goals so you can share with your friends what you’ve accomplished.
16. Eat a Better Breakfast: It’s the most important meal of the day for a reason — it gives you the energy you need to get going in the morning. But be conscious of what you’re eating. Fruits and low-fat yogurt will fuel you better than bagels and donuts. Plus, you’ll feel better about yourself, which is never a bad thing.
17. Think of a Personal Mantra: Spend some time thinking of a motivating mantra to keep you focused. Before I moved to New York City, I would keep photos of the city on my pegboard to keep me motivated to make strides to move here. For lesser ambitions, a few positive sentences about reaching your goals should help keep you moving in the right direction when you feel like you’re starting to derail.
18. Try to Do Less: Are your goals or tasks overwhelming? That can kill motivation instantly. If you feel like what you’re trying to accomplish is bigger than you, scale it back. Spread the tasks out over a few days if you have time and tackle each one in smaller spurts.
19. Sign Up for Motivational E-mails: Sometimes you just need encouragement, even if you don’t know who’s sending it. There are lots of websites that will send you daily motivational e-mails that will make you feel better the second you read the message.
20. Start the Day Doing Something You Enjoy: If you’re looking at your to-do list and just can’t seem to muster the motivation to chip away at it, take an hour or so to do something that you enjoy instead. By getting in your head in a happy place, you’re putting yourself in a better situation to want to get down to business when you’re finished.
21. Set a Time Limit: There’s nothing better than plain ol’ pressure to motivate someone. Set a time limit — and maybe even a timer — to help you stay on track. Watching a clock countdown will give you the gusto to keep going in hopes that you can beat it.
22. Deconstruct Arduous Tasks: Break multifaceted tasks into smaller, more achievable goals that you can cross off more frequently.
23. Cut Back on Alcohol: Alcohol is a depressant. It can cause you to sleep less and give you a hangover. When alcohol is involved, all motivation goes out the window. To stay on the straight and narrow, eliminate alcohol from your diet during the week — or, at the very least, cut back when you know you have to get something done.
24. Think of the End Result: There’s always a light at the end of the tunnel. Keep that finish line in the back of your mind the whole time — then think of how good it will feel when you reach it.
25. Stay Positive: Negativity can eat you alive if you let it. Don't let the little things get you down. Remember that they’re just bumps in the road, and they’ll make you a better person in the long run. You’ll reach your goals faster if you keep your chin up in the face of adversity. You can do it!How do you get or stay motivated? Is there something in particular that works for you? Let us know in the comments below.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Clean Up Your Finances in 7 Easy Steps

Clean Up Your Finances in 7 Easy Steps: Spring cleaning? We can't do your manual labor, but we can save you some time when it comes to going through piles of paperwork deciding what to toss.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

6 Toxic Money Mistakes

By Kathy Kristof
(MoneyWatch)

You think sugar is toxic? These six money mistakes will kill your financial life faster than a couple of gallons of high-fructose corn syrup.

"Consumers who learn how to avoid common financial missteps will be better prepared and have a much brighter financial future," said David Jones, president, Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies.

What toxic money mistakes do you need to avoid?

Failing to save for the unexpected. Everybody needs an emergency fund,
particularly when you're living life on the edge. Emergency savings allow you to survive costly unexpected events, like a car repair, an uninsured medical expense, job loss and even a divorce. Any of these events can throw you into debt or in the hands of a predatory lender. Ideally, you want to have three to six months' worth of living expenses. But if you can't save that much, save what you can. Even a few hundred dollars in the bank can make a difference.

Letting bad habits blow your budget. The term "budget" is often confused with the term "deprive," which is why so many people refuse to do it. Having a budget doesn't mean that you live a life of deprivation. The real reason you make up a budget is to make sure that you are spending your money on stuff you really want. Too often, consumers don't write down where they're spending their money, so instead of spending via plan, they spend thousands of dollars on things like coffee, junk food machines and Happy Meals. Seriously, if you want those things, buy them. But do it consciously, knowing how much you're spending, rather than letting your bad habits take over.
Sure, creating a budget is a little bit of work. You'll need to go through a
year's worth of bank statements and credit card bills and figure out what you're spending on everything from utilities to shoes. If you do that and find there's a black hole between what it seems like you're spending and what you have left at the end of each month, stick a notebook in your glove compartment or purse and start writing down where you're spending your cash. You might be surprised and horrified by how bad habits are gobbling up your money.

Borrowing to buy. Credit cards are awesome. Rewards cards are even better, since they can pay you to use them. But they're only great if you pay off the balance every month. If you don't, you end up spending hundreds of dollars making some fat-cat banker really rich, while you have nothing of value to show for it. Borrowing to buy things, particularly at credit card interest rates, is a great way to make yourself feel poor because you never finish paying for last year's luxuries. If you're in debt now, make a plan to pay it off. If you're tempted to buy something on "sale" that you can't afford to pay for with cash, mentally boost the "sale" price by the credit card interest rate you'll be paying over the next year. The "discount" that's encouraging you to buy now will evaporate in a hurry.

Paying debt with debt. Debt consolidation and payday lenders lure people in with promises that they can solve all your financial woes with yet another loan. Don't be fooled. What they don't say is that paying off credit card debt with a consolidation loan or meeting an unexpected expense with a payday loan does not make the debt or the expense go away. In fact, it's a really expensive short-term fix that can make meeting your next obligation all the more difficult.

Bouncing payments. It doesn't matter whether you use a debit card or write checks - if you bounce a few payments, you're going to pay dearly. The average overdraft fee costs you $35. And since banks still sometimes "reorder" checks, one bounced payment can create a bunch of overdraft fees. Bankers have been encouraging people to "opt in" to expensive overdraft protection plans that allow you to buy things even when you don't have the money in your account to pay for it. A surprising number of people have "opted in" partly because the bankers come up with dire predictions of what might happen if you run out of money at the wrong time. Want a far more cost effective option? Hide $20 in your car for the rare "out of cash and gas at the same time" moment and drop the overdraft protection. Then let your bank "decline" your debit transaction when you're about to overdraw your account to buy a cup of coffee. That latte wasn't worth $40 anyway.

Struggling alone. Ignoring a financial problem doesn't make it better. It almost always makes it worse, since "late fees" and interest charges rack up and push you deeper and deeper in debt. If you find yourself struggling with your day-to-day expenses, get yourself into a non-profit credit counseling office. They're easy to find and usually free. For a certified, non-profit credit counselor near you call Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Buffalo at 712-2060.