Not too early to start holiday shopping

This was originally published on Monday, July 2, 2018, in the Pacific Daily News.  Click here to subscribe to the PDN. 

Believe it or not, the year is more than halfway through, and the holidays are just a few months away. Summer brings some great sales, such as the Fourth of July and Labor Day. Most stores are discounting stock to make room for new items. It only makes sense that you take advantage of the sales and start your holiday shopping.

Shop early. Give yourself time to compare prices; don’t wait until the last minute. Being in a crowded store on a last-minute shopping spree is tiring. If you feel exhausted, you are tempted to just buy anything regardless of the cost, which ultimately will break your budget.

Have a spending plan. Create your “nice” list by separating the list into three parts. The first tier is those closest to you, such as your parents, siblings, spouse or kids. Those in this tier are the ones you plan on spending more. Next tier consists of your close friends, your kid’s best friends, and so forth. In this tier you may not plan on spending as much as those in the top tier.

In the last tier are those that are not as close to you like co-workers, etc. For the top and middle tier, assign each person a dollar amount that you wish to spend on them. For the bottom tier, consider a homemade gift such as cookies, cupcakes or homemade jelly. Put a total amount on how much you plan on spending for those in this last tier.

Budget. How much can you set aside in your budget? Will you need to cut down on your typical monthly spending to save? Can you divert some savings from other goals to fund your holiday expenses? By looking at your budget now, you can spread holiday savings over several months, and make smaller cuts to each month. This is much more sustainable than trying to make unrealistic budget cuts in November and December.

Keep your shopping list with you. Carry it in your purse, wallet or phone. If you know what you want, you can breeze through the store without going off budget.

Be creative. There are many websites that are dedicated to making useful homemade gifts for almost nothing. Take the time and browse these easy-to-make crafts. Start making them before the busy schedule of the holidays kick in. Store-bought gifts are great, but many people appreciate the time, energy and thought put into a homemade gift much more.

Talk to family and friends about holiday spending. If you have looked at the math and realized that you won’t have as much available as you would like for holiday expenses, it can help if you talk to family and friends early. They may be in the same boat, and together you can set limits on the amounts you spend for gifts this year. You can also come up with less expensive, creative ways to enjoy the holidays together.

Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 24 years of experience in retail banking and at financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii. If there is a topic you’d like Michael to cover, please email him at moneymattersguam@yahoo.com and read past columns at the Money Matters blog at www.moneymattersguam.wordpress.com.

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Tips for summer travel savings

This was originally published on Monday, June 25, 2018, in the Pacific Daily News.  Click here to subscribe to the PDN. 

Summertime vacations can be costly. If you are planning on traveling off island, you may want to consider traveling with a group of friends or even extended family.

Traveling in groups opens discounts for groups that may save you money. Group rates are offered with many hotels, amusement parks and museums. If you are planning on traveling as a group, here are a few things to consider.

Budget. Discuss a budget agreeable to everyone. It is very easy to overspend when you are having fun. By planning ahead, you will ensure a dream vacation that everyone can afford. It will also dispel any concerns or disagreements over money. Decide where you want to go and what you want to see. Many attractions, hotels and car rentals have their prices listed online.

Spending habits. Don’t assume that everyone’s finances are the same. Travel with those who think and value money the same way you do. If you are frugal and like to use coupons, you may have difficulty traveling with someone who likes to splurge. If you are with a group that values money, you may be open to more options that will save you money.

Split the bill. Add up the cost of the trip and divide it by the number of people traveling. That amount is then paid by each traveling member. You may want to consider opening a separate bank account that can be used to pay the cost of the trip. You can make direct deposits into the account. The account can be used to pay airfare, hotel stays, transportation and admissions to attractions.

Deadlines. Establish payment deadlines to take advantage of early planning. The closer to the peak summer travel dates, the more prices increase. Be aware of payment deadlines for airfare and lodging. Missing these dates could forfeit your reservation. Some reservations may not be refundable.

Eating. One cost that is sometimes overlooked, but can break a budget, is eating. Decide how many meals you will eat out or cook. If you use a rental property, most likely you will have a kitchen. You can also stay in hotels that have kitchenettes.

Cooking, even if it’s the simplest foods, will help you stick to a reasonable budget. Plan meals out in advance and discuss so everyone is happy with what is cooked. You may also research hotels that offer a meal for each night you stay.

Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 24 years of experience in retail banking and at financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii. If there is a topic you’d like Michael to cover, please email him at moneymattersguam@yahoo.com and read past columns at the Money Matters blog at www.moneymattersguam.wordpress.com.

 

Get your personal finances into shape

This was originally published on Monday, January 1, 2018, in the Pacific Daily News.  Click here to subscribe to the PDN.

Happy New Year’s! Many of us are looking at the first day of 2018 as a fresh start. The No. 1 New Year’s resolution is usually to get physically healthier by losing weight, eating better or to start exercising. As you start to get healthier, don’t forget to get your personal finances in shape as well.

Here are a few ideas to get your wallet and budget healthier:

Get out of debt. Most people think debt is all the same, but it isn’t. Make a list of all your debt and liabilities, including the amount and interest rates. The debt with the highest rate should be paid off first. Once you pay that debt in full, use the same amount to pay toward the second-highest debt.

Think about your retirement. If you haven’t opened a retirement fund, you may want to strongly consider one. If you have one, add a little more to your contributions. If your employer matches your contribution, contribute at least to their maximum match. Take some time and talk to your financial adviser if a traditional IRA or Roth would best suit your financial goals.

Save money. One of the hardest yet most important financial steps to take is saving money. You should have at least three months worth of your living expenses saved in case of an emergency. This includes rent/mortgage, groceries, utilities and loan payments. If you are looking to buying a home or car this year, open an account that is strictly for that goal. One of the easiest ways of savings is using an automated deposit into your account.

Spend less. Take a good look at your spending habits and examine where you can cut back. Find ways ] you can spend less money. Cancel your gym membership and work out at the beach or at home. Look at bundle plans for your insurance and communication needs.

Cutting cable is a big trend in saving money. Many have opted to remove cable from their homes and use online entertainment apps and sites.

Another money saving technique is to commit to a weekly no-spend day. Set aside one day a week where you spend absolutely nothing. No shopping, pack lunch to work and school, use free entertainment. If you spend an average of $20 a day, by the end of the year you will have saved $1,040.

Another money saving idea is to learn how to perform your car and home maintenances. There are many online sites to help you fix and maintain your property.

Make more money. Do you have a hobby like painting, sewing or baking? Or maybe a skill like automotive maintenance or babysitting? Turn these hobbies and skills into making money. Why not get paid for doing something you love and are good at? Consider a part-time job. Even if it isn’t a high-paying job, every little bit counts and adds up.

Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 20 years of experience in retail banking and at financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii. If there is a topic you’d like Michael to cover, please email him at moneymattersguam@yahoo.com and read past columns at the Money Matters blog at http://www.moneymattersguam.wordpress.com.

How to cut your electricity costs

This was originally published on Monday, June 19, 2017, in the Pacific Daily News.  Click here to subscribe to the PDN.

Electricity cost increases are in the news again, prompting some households to take a fresh look at energy consumption. The good news is there’s plenty you can do to lower your bills by changing how and when you use energy.

  • Light bulbs: Technology has revolutionized light bulbs. Have you ever stood next to a lamp with a conventional light bulb? You can feel the heat radiating from it. Newer light bulbs give off much less heat. Although the traditional light bulbs are not as expensive, they use more power and do not last as long.

CFL (compact fluorescent lamp) and LED (light emitting diodes) are more expensive, but use less power and last much longer. In the kid’s rooms and bathrooms, I installed light switches that automatically turn off after a set period of time.

  • Reduce the heat in the kitchen: Avoid using the oven in summer — try salads, smoothies or barbecue. You’ll reduce the heat in your home and save on your home cooling costs.
  • Laundry: Use the washer with a full load of clothes. Save even more power by switching from hot to cold water. The dryer uses more power than your washer. You can use the sun to help dry your clothes. Add a clean dry towel to your dryer to help absorb the wetness. If the clothes dry quicker the dryer will not need to run as long.
  • Prevent cold air loss: Add caulking or weather-stripping around doors and windows. It is costly to cool the air in your house. During the summer, be sure the kids do not constantly go in and out of the house.

Air conditioners are costly, so why let cool air escape between windows and door cracks? Installing weather stripping can keep your house cooler and lower your power bill.

  • Ceiling fans: These are a great way to circulate air in a room and keep you comfortable. A ceiling fan can save you about $15 a year per fan.
  • Paint: A great summer project to do before the rainy season is upon us again is to paint your house a color that is light and will not absorb heat. Concrete retains heat and will warm up a home. Your roof gets the most direct sun and can keep heat trapped in your house. Paint your roof with reflecting paint. This may cost a bit more than your typical white paint, but you will be able to feel the difference immediately.
  • Insulation: If your house has a drop ceiling, consider using insulation between the ceiling and the drop ceiling.
  • New appliances: If you are purchasing new appliances, look for Energy Star products. These products have specifications set by the Environmental Protection Agency or the Department of Energy. Many notable name brands carry models that fall under the guidelines of energy efficiency.

If purchasing a new air conditioner look for the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio, SEER. The higher the unit’s SEER rating the more energy efficient it is. I recently replaced all major appliances and received a rebate from GPA. GPA may still offer energy efficient rebates for new energy efficient appliances.

Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 20 years of experience in retail banking and at financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii. If there is a topic you’d like Michael to cover, please email him atmoneymattersguam@yahoo.com and read past columns at the Money Matters blog at www.moneymattersguam.wordpress.com.

Tips to save on your power bills

This was originally published on Monday, June 12, 2017, in the Pacific Daily News.  Click here to subscribe to the PDN.

It’s summer time and the kids are home from school. It might be time for video games, hours on the computer and time in front of the television. Multiple trips to the fridge to get a drink or something to eat with the air conditioner running all day are typical.

When the kids are on vacation during the hottest days of the year, our power bill increases. Here are a few ways to get your power bill under control:

  • Hot water heater. Hot water heaters are one of the largest consumers of energy. Check your thermostat. Set it to a lower but comfortable temperature. Turn on your hot water heater 20 minutes before your morning shower. Turn it off when you are ready to leave the house. You can buy a timer to turn the heater off or on at times convenient for you.

You can purchase a hot water heater blanket that is fiberglass-filled for insulation to wrap around your heater. They can reduce energy loss by 25 percent to 45 percent.

You may also consider changing out your water heater to a tank-less heater. These heaters turn on only when hot water is being used. Another upgrade of your hot water heater is a solar heater. This heater is stored usually on top of your home to get direct sunlight and solar panels heat the water.

  • Air conditioners. Split and window air conditioners use less energy than central air conditioning. This is because you do not have to cool larger, unused areas. Instead, you can choose to cool the rooms being used. Also, set your air conditioner to a temperature that is comfortable. You also could use a fan to help circulate the air, creating a feeling of the room being a few degrees cooler.

Regularly clean air filters so that air flows effortlessly in and out of the air conditioner. With the kids home during the summer, ask them to keep the room to a comfortable setting and not on Niseko-in-the-winter cold.

  • Shade. Use storm shutters to block the sun from heating windows while you are at work.
  • Phantom/vampire loads. Electronics you have plugged in can draw electricity even when you are not using them — cellphone chargers, DVD/VCR players, gaming consoles, etc. By unplugging these items that use electricity without being “on,” you can reduce consumption equivalent to that of a 75-watt to 100-watt light bulb running continuously.

Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 20 years of experience in retail banking and at financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii. If there is a topic you’d like Michael to cover, please email him atmoneymattersguam@yahoo.com and read past columns at the Money Matters blog at www.moneymattersguam.wordpress.com.

 

Plan to fund your family vacation

This was originally published on Monday, May 22, 2017, in the Pacific Daily News.  Click here to subscribe to the PDN.

Next week is Memorial Day and that officially kicks off the summer travel season. Planning and budgeting the cost of your vacation can vary wildly depending if you are taking a week-long trip to Saipan or flying to Orlando for the whole month.

Once you know approximately how much you are going to spend, the challenge then becomes funding for all that fun.

Sacrifice today for fun tomorrow. Reduce how often you eat out to once a week or once a month. Pack your lunches to work and school. You will be surprised how much you spend on dining out. Cut back on how often you get your hair cut or instead of going to the movie theater wait till you can rent it and watch it at home.

Get everyone involved. Encouraging the kids to help by babysitting for friends or family, washing cars or cutting lawns for the neighbors is a great way for children to earn some extra money to help toward the family’s vacation goal.

 

Holiday spending. There is one time of year that could potentially harm your vacation budget and that is the upcoming holiday season. Talk to your family and remind them of what you want to do. Create a slimmed down version and agree to stay within a certain amount.

Do the same for birthdays and other occasions. For extended family or friends, be creative and make homemade gifts or offer your talents or services instead of material goods.

Tax refund check. If you received a refund you can use it toward saving for your vacation. You don’t have to save it all for the vacation. You can divide the check up many ways.

Extra income. This is a great way to increase your savings for that dream vacation. Extra income does not have to be a formal second job. It could be selling your talents. If you can bake, sell your baked goods to friends or during the holidays. If you are a good seamstress, offer to alter clothing for your friends. Maybe you’re a skilled mechanic and can help with oil changes.

Let others know. Let your friends and family know what you are planning. You may inform them that this year you would prefer money instead of a gift. There are several websites that you can use to ask friends and family to donate. Your friends and family can make a gift or donation to your cause directly online.

Don’t forget to keep track of who helped. While on your trip you can pick up little thank you gifts or create a thank you collage of all the wonderful places you visited.

Stay motivated. There will be days when you are tired of eating that same sandwich you packed for work three days in a row. But before you go out and regret spending the money you are saving, find ways to motivate yourself to keep on going. Put pictures of your dream vacation on your fridge, on your screen saver or even in your wallet next to your credit cards and money.

Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 20 years of experience in retail banking and at financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii. If there is a topic you’d like Michael to cover, please email him at moneymattersguam@yahoo.com and read past columns at the Money Matters blog at www.moneymattersguam.wordpress.com

Tips for saving for your vacation

This was originally published on Monday, May 15, 2017, in the Pacific Daily News.  Click here to subscribe to the PDN.

Another summer is just around the corner. Vacations should be fun and memorable. You wait all year for it to come around.

But going on vacation, especially if you plan to travel to far off locations, can put a good dent on your wallet. You may not be ready to fly off to your dream location this summer, but by saving a little here and there you can start getting closer to it.

Here are some tips on how to save money for that dream vacation.

  • Create a vacation account. This is just for vacation purposes. Just like buying a car or any other high-end purchase, you should always start saving money. The account should be separate from the account that you use regularly. Consider opening the account at a different financial institution from your regular checking account so it isn’t easily accessible or tempting to use.

Read terms carefully. You wouldn’t want to spend vacation money paying fees. If possible, have an allotment or payment directly from your paycheck to the vacation account. That way you aren’t tempted to use that money for anything else. Your vacation account can also be used during your trip as an easy way to track your spending while traveling.

  • Examine your budget. Is there something you can cut out or reduce? Maybe you can reduce your cable bill by removing premium packages, or cut your entertainment expenses. Create a special category in your budget just for your vacation.
  • The spare-change jar. This may sound a little old fashioned, but you will be surprised how much money you can save. How much change do you have around the house? After you purchase something, what do you do with your change? If you put just $2 in change in the jar every day, you will have $730 by the end of the year. Imagine what your total will be if everyone in the family participated.
  • Liquidate. We all have things we no longer need — an old game console, desktop computer or VHS player collecting dust. It can be earning you money instead. Place them on eBay or Craig’s List. There are even websites that will offer you money for your old cellphones. You can have a yard sale or take your stuff to a flea market. Get the kids involved by having them collect their outgrown clothes or toys to sell. Make it a game to see who can sell the most.
  • Pantry meals. One of our biggest expenses is food. How much do you spend on groceries in a week? Most of us never completely empty our pantry of canned or boxed goods. To help save some money, take a week out of the month and use only what is in pantry and fridge. This could save you hundreds of dollars and clean out old cans and food you may have forgotten about.