Don’t Miss These 5 Opportunities for Automatic Savings

By Janet Alvarez, Wise Bread

Most of us understand that saving regularly is one of the simplest ways to reach our financial goals, but we don’t all take advantage of easy ways to automate our savings. As part of America Saves Week, we’ve devised a list of five automatic savings opportunities that are often overlooked. These go a step beyond mere automatic transfers from checking to savings. They’re easy, straight-forward ways to save money automatically that most of us don’t take advantage of yet, and they increase your chances of reaching your goals even faster.

1.  Direct Deposit Your Tax Refund Into Savings
According to the IRS, the average American’s tax refund now stands at over $3,100. Don’t let that windfall slip through your fingers. Deposit all or part of it into your savings account, instead, and watch your money grow. Plus, the IRS allows direct deposits into one or more accounts, such as a checking and savings account, which means you can choose to spend a portion and save the rest. (I’d recommend saving all you can.) Conveniently, you can also direct deposit all or part of your refund into your Individual Retirement Account (IRA), or use it to purchase up to $5,000 in U.S. Series I Savings Bonds. You can split your refund using tax preparation software, or Form 8888, if you use paper filing.

2. Don’t Forget Bonuses or Commissions
Do you get quarterly or yearly bonuses? Are commissions a part of your earnings? Then don’t forget to direct deposit all or part of these funds into your savings. Consult with your employer about direct depositing the funds into your savings account, or set up automatic transfers from your checking to savings accounts when you expect the funds.

Another alternative? Increase the contributions on your employer-sponsored retirement plan, such as a 401(k), during those times you receive extra earnings. It’ll help you max out your contributions faster and earn any applicable company match to boost your savings even further. Consult with your HR representative or your company’s online retirement plan portal to manage your contributions.

3. Save Your Spare Change
Some banks and credit unions offer programs which automatically round up to the next dollar on any purchases you make, and transfer the spare change from your checking to savings account. These programs are free, and provide a fool-proof way to jumpstart your savings and always pay yourself first. You probably won’t miss the spare change in your checking account, but your savings will sure be glad for the extra boost. Even small amounts saved over time add up.

4. Credit Card Rewards Can Boost Savings, Too
Many popular credit cards rewards programs offer several rewards options, ranging from airline miles or hotel points to cash back. Sadly, many credit card rewards perks often go unused, making them less than rewarding. But if you choose to receive rewards in the form of cash back, instead, many cards will deposit the rewards sum directly into an account of your choice. If you’re limited to receiving the funds into checking, you can always transfer the funds to savings. Either way, you’re boosting your savings painlessly. Don’t forget to pay off the balance on your card at the end of every month to avoid costly interest fees, otherwise you’ll spend more on interest than you’ll receive in rewards.

5. Set Your Savings Rate Higher
So, you think you’re a savings pro now that you’ve got regular transfers or direct deposits into your savings account? Well, you can go a step further still by periodically increasing your savings rate, whether to your employer-sponsored retirement plan or your savings account. Many 401(k) plans allow users to opt-in to periodic increases in their savings rates, such as a 1 percent increase in their contributions per year. If you prefer to contribute to a savings account or other savings vehicle, consider increasing your contributions regularly, such as every time you get a raise.

Having the foresight to automate your savings can help you beat temptation and stay ahead financially. And the techniques described above are easy ways to take your savings to the next level.

Janet Alvarez is the Executive Editor for Wise Bread and a contributor to TheStreet.com and U.S. News & World Report.

Newlyweds and Money

wedby Hope Roush, OVB Financial Literacy Leader

As couples settle into newlywed bliss, one thing that can’t be ignored is money. “For richer or for poorer” means that many new couples must decide how to handle their finances. All too often money is sited as a major problem in relationships. Simply working on a sound financial plan together early on could be the key to a long, successful marriage. Read more of this post

Ohio to Offer Tax-Free Back to School Shopping

Back to school lettering with books, pencils and apple over chalkboard background

It may still feel like summer outside, but area students are preparing to head back to school in a few weeks. With the upcoming school year comes the need for new supplies. To help save on costs, Ohio will be hosting the state’s first-ever tax holiday on back-to-school purchases Aug. 7-9. Read more of this post

Save Money with Summer Staycation

Family laying in tent on lawn

Camping in the backyard is fun, easy, & cheap!

The summer season is often associated with travel. Every year many families pack up and head to the beach, amusement park, or other vacation destination. While vacations are fun, they can also be quite expensive – especially for families.

There are ways to enjoy summer fun without breaking the bank. Staycations are a popular option for both fun and frugality. It might seem boring to not travel far for your vacation, but with a little creativity you could end up having a great time.

Here are some great low-cost ideas to help you save money as well as make the most of your staycation:

  1. Explore your local area or nearby towns/cities. While you may live in and/or work in a town, you might have missed some of its “nooks and crannies.” Even if you’ve lived in the same place your entire life, there could still be some places you’ve never been or didn’t even know existed. Consider it an adventure!
  2. Visit your local parks or outdoor walking trails. This can be a great way to relax and let the kids have some fun. In addition, parks and walking trails enable you to enjoy the sunshine as well as get in some great exercise. To make it a day of fun bring a picnic lunch along.
  3. Check out your town and surrounding areas for museums. Not only are museums educational, but many local ones offer an unique experience. Several museums also offer special events and classes.
  4. Keep an eye out for any local festivals that might be occurring in your area. Many of these summer festivals often offer free concerts, activities for kids, and fun for the entire family to enjoy.
  5. Have a special movie-night in. Allow each member of the family to select a movie of their choice. Pick movies from your home collection or see what Redbox, Amazon Prime and Netflix have to offer. Settle in with some microwave popcorn and have a relaxing, entertaining time in your family room-turned cinema!
  6. Go camping from the comfort of your own backyard. If you have the supplies, set up a tent and spend the whole night under the stars. If you don’t own the necessary sleeping supplies, you can still enjoy the fun parts of camping like sharing ghost stories around the fire pit or roasting s’mores.
  7. Start a new project. Maybe you’ve been wanting to better organize your home? A staycation could be the perfect time to finally do so. Other projects could include taking up a new sport or hobby.
  8. A staycation is the perfect opportunity to take an art class. Many places now offer one night paint lessons, where you not only learn but also end up with your very own artistic creation that you get to take home. This could be a great activity for the entire family to enjoy.
  9. Consider going unplugged for the week. In today’s fast-paced technology savvy society, we often don’t realize just how much time we spend looking at our smart phones or surfing the web. Turn off your devices, except for emergency uses, and just enjoy being together as a family. This could leave you feeling rejuvenated after your vacation and ready to return to work.
  10. Go Geocatching in your local area. Geocatching is a real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices. Participants navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and then attempt to find the geochache (container) hidden at that location. Your local Chamber of Commerce, library, or visitors’ bureau is a great place to get started.
  11. Not into Geocatching? Instead you could create your own scavenger hunt for your family to enjoy. Offer prizes to winners, such as “no chores for a week” or “choose dinner for one evening.”
  12. Have a “theme day” with your family. For example, you could do a tropical theme and decorate for the occasion as well as enjoy a seafood meal.
  13. Check out your local library. In addition to having a variety of books and movies to choose from, many libraries offer special events and activities during the summer months.
  14. Host a family game night. From board games to console selections, you could even turn the event into a tournament with prizes for winners.
  15. Plan to see a sporting event together. While MLB games are always an option, costs can add quickly for a family. Fortunately, there are many minor league affiliates to choose from that offer a much lower ticket price. Research to see which minor league teams are near your area.
  16. Visit an area theme park or zoo. You might have to travel a couple hours to do this, but it would be a wonderful day trip for everyone to enjoy.
  17. Hit up your local swimming pool or waterpark. What better way to enjoy the summer sun than with some water fun?
  18. Go see a local theatre production. This is a great way to spend the evening out as well as support your area arts programs.

These are just a few of many ideas to make the most of your staycation together. Remember a summer vacation doesn’t have to be expensive to be fun!

Making the Most of Your Fair Winnings

by Hope Roush, OVB Financial Literacy Leader

 

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Just like that another fair season has come and gone in a flash. While kids are now moving their focus from fair projects to books and school, it’s never too early to begin thinking about next year’s fair. Read more of this post

Shark Week Rules Can Help You Make Smarter Financial Decisions

great-white

Shark Week is here! The Discovery Channel’s longtime celebrated week of television offers many tips for shark encounters. Much of the advice learned through shark week can be applied to your financial well-being? Say what?

Yes, it’s true. Simple Shark Week rules can be applied to your everyday life, specifically your finances. Many of the tips to prevent beach-goers from experiencing a shark encounter can be easily used to make smarter decisions in general. Consider the following:

  1. Shark Week Tip: Don’t go swimming after dark. This same piece of advice also works when dealing with your money. Financial Tip: Don’t make financial decisions after dark. If you are making a major decision regarding your finances late at night, you might not be in the most alert state of mind. Generally, you are more tired at night and worn out from the stresses of the day. Instead, it’s best to sleep on your thoughts and then make your decision when you are rested and rejuvenated the next morning.
  2. Shark Week Tip: Don’t go swimming alone. Swimming alone and dealing with your finances all by yourself are two choices that aren’t necessarily the best. Financial Tip: Seeking advice on your finances can be very beneficial. It’s good to explore many options when making a major financial decision. There are professionals that are more than happy to guide you on the path to make the best decisions with your money.
  3. Shark Week Tip: Steer clear of murky water. If the water looks grim, it’s probably a good bet it’s not safe. If you receive some type of money offer and it doesn’t quite look legit, it’s likely it would be something unwise to pursue as well. Financial Tip: If you get a “free money” offer in the mail that looks unclear, such as a “sweepstakes” win that you never entered, it’s probably a scam. This type of scam unfortunately affects many people. Avoid this “murky area” and contact your local financial institution if you are not sure what to do with this type of situation.
  4. Shark Week Tip: Stay calm. If you actually see a shark while swimming, the best thing to do is remain calm. Panicking could actually draw more attention to yourself, which could incite an attack. When dealing with your money, it’s best to always stay calm if you notice something wrong. Financial Tip: If you are ever in a situation where you notice suspicious activity on your accounts, the best thing to do is remain calm. Report your concerns and let your financial institution handle the situation. Also, if you are ever worried about your current money circumstances, such as making a payment on time, it’s a good idea to stay calm and contact your financial institution for advice on how to handle this issue.
  5. Shark Week Tip: Avoid swimming in deep water. Swimming in deep water increases the odds of a shark encounter. When dealing with your finances, it’s best to not get in too deep as well. Financial Tip: If you find yourself experiencing a financial problem, such as credit card debt, it is important to not get in over your head. For example, it could be bad and result in poor credit if you try to pay off one credit card with another. If you find yourself confused on how to handle a financial decision, don’t let the stress engulf you. Contact your financial institution for help before things get out of hand.

While it seems odd to compare Shark Week advice with financial tips, as you can see the lessons are often quite similar. The experts know how to handle shark encounters, just like the professionals at financial institutions, including Ohio Valley Bank, can help you make the best decisions regarding your financial well-being.

hammerhead

If you didn’t get enough on the shark-side of things from us, be sure to check out the Discovery Channel’s 27th Anniversary of Shark Week, running from Sunday, Aug. 10 through Saturday, Aug. 16. For a full Shark Week line-up, check out www.discovery.com. For information on financial services at Ohio Valley Bank, visit www.ovbc.com.

Shopping for Professional Attire on a Budget

jackets and shirts

Shopping on a budget can be a challenge. The challenge can be even greater when you are looking to update your professional work attire on a budget.

Many jobs require a professional or business casual dress appearance, and maintaining a work appropriate look isn’t always the easiest on your wallet. However, there are ways that you can look stylish and work appropriate while not breaking the bank. When setting your professional attire budget, you should first read over your workplace’s dress code. Knowing what is and isn’t work appropriate is the first step. Once you have a good understanding of what clothing types are permitted, you can get started.

Taking care of the basics before buying any extra is a good place to begin when shopping for your professional attire. Purchasing the basic clothing items you need first will allow you to better budget for extra pieces, such as ties and/or accessories. Examples of basic professional attire pieces include:

  1. Work appropriate dress slacks in neutral colors, such as black or grey.
  2. Work appropriate dress skirts and dresses in neutral colors, such as black or grey.
  3. Appropriately styled blouses/button-downs/dress shirts in neutral and basic colors, including white, tan, grey, navy and black.
  4. A nice pair of denim jeans for casual work days.

When shopping for your “basic work attire” staples, a good way to save money is to shop in the “off season.” Typically during the autumn and winter months, prices for items such as dress slacks will be more expensive. However, during the spring and summer time these items often go on the sale rack because they are considered “out of season” by many retailers. By stocking up while the items are on sale, you not only save but are able to purchase more items while doing so as well. Shopping during the “off season” for other wardrobe essentials can help you save tremendously.

Once your basics are taken care of, look for clothing pieces that you can mix and match to create different looks without spending any extra money to do so. For women, a good example would be to pair a colorful cardigan with a blouse and dress pants one day and then to wear the cardigan with a skirt or over a dress another day. Men can easily change up their everyday work look by simply wearing a different tie with the same shirt and slacks. In addition, statement pieces, such as jewelry, scarves, ties and pocket squares can be purchased at discount prices for less, but drastically offer your work attire more variety without spending too much money.

Another rule of thumb is to purchase pieces that can be dressed up for work as well as dressed down for more casual functions. This not only cuts costs from your work attire spending, but helps you save money on your general clothing purchases as well. An example would be a nice blouse or polo shirt that could work with both dress slacks as well as a pair of denim jeans. When shopping for work shoes try to keep this idea in mind as well. Make sure that the shoes you choose could easily be dressed up or down depending on circumstance.

Keeping an eye out for sales at local retailers as well as shopping at factory outlet-type stores can further help you save money when building your work appropriate wardrobe. It doesn’t hurt to compare brand prices store to store as well. Many retailers will often match the price of an item to another store that is currently selling the piece for less.

Finally, keeping track of your current work attire can help you save money. If it’s time to purchase new items, consider putting your gently used clothing in a yard sale to help earn extra money to pay for new pieces. This could be done as easily as posting the clothing items you wish to sell on a social networking site, such as Facebook. Knowing what you already have will also help you determine the pieces you need. Remember to always focus on what you need first rather than what you want. It’s also important to keep track of what you purchase, which will help you stick to your budget as well.

Good luck and happy shopping!