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December: End-of-Year Financial Check-In

Toward the end of the year, people usually look back to see what worked well and what they hope to do differently in the year to come, often thinking about fitness, career, and personal goals. If you hadn’t planned on it, you’re encouraged to make time to review your finances too.

The goal is simply to identify areas that can help improve your financial well-being. To start, examine your income and expenses in order to update or build your budget. Doing so will help you understand how much money is coming in, identify spending leaks, and rework expenses.

The idea is to make additional room for financial priorities, such as paying down debt, building an emergency fund for unexpected expenses, buying a home, saving for a vacation, or other goals toward which you’re working.

Now’s also a good time to review general fiscal matters like your insurance policies, retirement contributions, tax withholding, and your credit report. Making adjustments, comparing premiums, and staying on top of credit can help you better manage what the future may bring.

Not sure where to start? Take advantage of free and confidential financial coaching offered by our partner, BALANCE, so you can enjoy greater peace of mind and focus on more of the things you enjoy.

Additional Resources:

Interested in joining A+FCU? Click here for a special limited-time joining offer.

November: Holiday Spending

According to the National Retail Federation, consumers planned to spend an average of $988 on gifts, food, decorations, and holiday-related purchases last year. In 2021, that number is expected to rise.

If you’re concerned about breaking the bank, it’s best to develop a Holiday Spending Plan ahead of the season. Think back to previous years to anticipate purchases, build a holiday budget, and set limits for different spending categories.

Since gifts tend to be where people spend the most money, focus on keeping costs down in this area. Create a gift recipient list, set individual budgets, and think of possible gift ideas. To help you save, look out for price drops, host a gift exchange, or make your own gifts.

Lastly, don’t let the holidays stress you out. Enjoy time with your loved ones with free or low-cost experiences, such as baking, checking out festive lights and displays, volunteering together, or whipping up hot cocoa. Moments like these make for memorable holidays.

To help you build your holiday spending plan, create a gift list, and prioritize your time, we’re sharing our free Holiday Spending Survival Guide.

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Additional Resources:

October: FAFSA Tips & Tricks

To maximize financial aid for college students, it’s important to meet your school’s priority deadline. In fact, it’s best to apply as soon as possible as some aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is often used for both need-based and merit-based aid, so all students are encouraged to apply regardless of factors like your current household income or grades.

To prepare, students should review this list of things you’ll need to fill out the FAFSA. One item that often stumps students is submitting tax information from two years ago. Locate necessary documents to submit the information manually, or use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to import data while logged in to your fafsa.gov account.

If you’re considered a dependent student, your legal parent will also need to provide personal and financial information then e-sign your application. Here’s some guidance on figuring out whose information to include if you have special circumstances or your parents are divorced or separated.

Finally, if your family is experiencing hardship due to illness, job loss, or a death in the family, reach out to your financial aid office to see if you’re eligible for additional assistance. Should you need to borrow, ensure you fully understand the terms of the loan, borrow only what you need, and choose loans with the most favorable terms. View our additional resources below.

It’s A Money Thing Videos:

Relevant Blogs:

September: Open Enrollment

Open enrollment is an important time of year. Unless you’re eligible for a special enrollment period due to a Qualifying Life Event, this is the only opportunity you have to enroll in or modify coverage. Be aware of upcoming deadlines and give yourself ample time to review options.

Health plans can vary widely, so it’s best to look at available plans holistically to compare. For example, you’ll want to consider whether an employer contributes to a Health Savings Account. This can help cover expenses while on a high-deductible health plan; funds roll over from year to year for qualified medical expenses and can be used for non-medical expenses tax-free after age 65.

A high-deductible health plan doesn’t make sense for everyone though. Individuals or families with significant medical needs, expecting a child, or scheduling costly procedures might benefit from paying higher premiums in exchange for a higher co-insurance and/or lower out-of-pocket costs. If needed, use your insurance provider’s cost estimator tool to help you make a decision.

Also, while you likely have the ability to modify retirement contributions throughout the year, now is a good time to evaluate your progress. If your employer matches contributions up to a certain amount, it’s recommend you contribute at least that amount and bump up contributions a minimum of once per year to reach your desired retirement-ready goal.

Finally, open enrollment often involves selecting more than just a health plan. You’re likely offered life, accidental death and dismemberment (AD&D), and disability insurance, among other benefit options. For this piece, consider the impact you have on loved ones and family. If they rely on you for financial support, it’s ideal to purchase enough coverage to leave them in a secure financial position.

Though you hope you don’t need many of these benefits, they become critical in difficult times. As your situation changes, you’ll want to revisit to ensure your coverage continues to meet your needs. On that note, update your beneficiaries as needed and reach out to your Human Resources department if there are questions.

August: Back to School

As a parent or caregiver, you can help children acquire useful life-long skills and wisdom by talking about money and providing opportunities for them to practice handling money. One simple way to help sharpen your child’s financial skills this summer is by inviting them to help you shop for school items.

Our Guide for Back to School Shopping and Budgeting will walk you through how to involve kids in this hands-on activity, including developing rules, creating a budget, shopping wisely, and evaluating purchases together. We even have a Back to School Budget Worksheet available for you to save or print.

Learning concepts like setting spending limits, differentiating needs and wants, and avoiding impulse buying helps establish a strong foundation for your child’s financial future. As they mature, you can build upon what they know and introduce more complex topics like inflation or when and how to use credit responsibly.

To support your family in that journey, A+FCU invites you to review these age-based recommendations and explore our library of blogs on Raising Money Smart Kids. We’ve highlighted a few resources that could be of interest below.

It’s a Money Thing Videos for Kids:

Relevant Blogs:

July: Financial Freedom

Financial shocks, such as the one we experienced in 2020, can leave many feeling vulnerable and stressed. What begins as financial concern can soon begin to affect our physical and mental health too.

To improve financial well-being, we encourage you to take steps that will help you gain better control of your finances. By developing a plan for current and future needs, you’ll be better positioned to live the life you want to lead and prepare for the unexpected.

The foundation for it all is establishing a budget. Identify income sources and give every dollar you earn and receive a purpose. Making decisions up front can help ensure you have funds to cover what’s most important, including saving for goals.

On that note, it’s wise to build an emergency fund so you have reserves to fall back on when needed. Saving regularly can also help you reach short-term and long-term goals, like preparing for retirement or saving for a child’s college education.

On occasion, there may be a need to take out a loan. Work on improving your credit score to help your approval odds and qualify for better terms – this helps save money on interest and associated costs. That said, have a plan to pay down debt and minimize how long future income is tied to debt obligations.

Lastly, protect what you’ve worked hard to build by having adequate insurance for yourself and your assets. Failing to do so can have a lasting impact on your finances and your loved ones.

Remember – you don’t have to tackle this alone. Thanks to our partnership with BALANCE, you can speak to a certified financial coach for free; simply mention A+FCU referred you.

Helpful Resources:

June: Summer Vacation

A vacation can be a great way to disconnect, relax, and spend time with loved ones. While everyone’s situation, comfort level, and budget are different, we can all take the same steps to ensure the experience is pleasant.

First things first, decide what you’re willing to spend and set a budget to avoid straining your finances. With this in mind, choose a destination or make plans to create a fun-filled staycation.

No matter what you decide, it’s best to establish an itinerary with activities you’d like to take part in. If applicable, make note of the cost per person along with pertinent details to maximize your stay and factor the expense into your budget.

To save money, find discounts on sites like Love My Credit Union Rewards or Groupon, stay with a friend or family member, redeem reward points wherever possible, and incorporate free or low-cost experiences into your itinerary.

Finally, if you don’t have a vacation fund in place, establish one. Set a reasonable goal for your timeframe and contribute regularly. If needed, cut back on unnecessary expenses or find ways to earn extra income to meet your goal.

Helpful Blogs:

May: Buying a House

Since repairing or improving your credit score takes time, it’s important to obtain your free credit report well before applying for a mortgage. Review the report for accuracy, dispute any errors, and continue to maintain your accounts in good standing to help improve your approval odds and qualify for better terms.

Those preparing for homeownership may also find a mortgage pre-qualification beneficial. This initial step will help you understand whether you’re on track to qualify for a mortgage and will give you a ballpark estimate of how much home you can afford, your monthly payment, and the amount of cash that might be needed to close on a home.

When you’re ready to begin your home search, it’s best to apply for a pre-approval. A lender will conduct a thorough review of your finances and pull your credit report to conditionally approve you for a mortgage, up to a certain amount. This pre-approval is usually valid for 60 days and can help you narrow your search, negotiate, and close sooner.

Need helping making sense of it all? Thanks to our partner in financial education, BALANCE, you can take advantage of Homeownership Coaching with HUD-certified counselors at no cost to you. The program will help you prepare for homeownership, set a realistic budget, review your credit report, and understand the homebuying process and lending requirements.

Helpful Blogs:

Calculators:

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April: Raising Money Smart Kids

There’s no better way to learn than by doing. Encourage your child to practice smart money management by starting them off with their own piggy bank, money jars, or youth savings account. In April, A+FCU is rewarding kids for saving with special prizes all month long in celebration of Youth Month.

Parents and caregivers should aim to model exemplary financial behavior and talk to kids about the importance of things they value like setting goals, paying yourself first, prioritizing needs, limiting borrowing, etc. Whenever possible, use tools like It’s a Money Thing to make learning fun and engaging.

While it may be difficult, it’s important for adults to allow kids to make their own financial decisions. Children may not always get it right, but with your help, they can certainly identify what they can do differently in the future to get a better outcome.

Not sure where to begin? Our age-based guidance is great for identifying concepts parents and caregivers can use to help their kids learn as they grow.

Here are additional resources for raising money smart kids:

Kids

Teens

Adults who want to feel more confident about their own finances can also take advantage of A+FCU’s many resources, including our workshops, calculators, blog, and life guidance. We also provide free online financial education and confidential coaching over the phone in partnership with BALANCE for all of your fiscal matters.