Tips for saving money in 2017

This was originally published on Monday, January 9, 2017, in the Pacific Daily News.  Click here to subscribe to the PDN.

Q: I want to start saving more in 2017, but I always find myself barely making it to the next payday. Living payday to payday is difficult and saving money on a tight budget seems almost impossible. Do you have any tips that you can share to help me find money to start saving?

I commend you for wanting to start saving. You are not alone. Many people find it hard to save money, especially with the cost of living. I’m not going to sugarcoat it — saving may mean having to give up certain luxuries and reprogramming the way you think about spending money.

If you stick to it, you will find that once you get going and see your progress, you will continue to save and eventually it will become automatic and not so tedious. Some of the tips I have may not fit your lifestyle. Pick the tips that best suit you. If it doesn’t work, try something else. The important thing is to keep saving a little at a time.

  • Record your spending. Most people think they know exactly where their money goes. The truth is you will be surprised to learn how much you spend on nonessential items. Save the receipts of all your purchases and expenses. At the end of the month, make two categories: essential and nonessential. In the essential category, include your rent/mortgage, insurance, groceries, loan/debt payments, fuel and any other payments you must make. Under the nonessential category, include your impulse and entertainment expenses such as coffee, eating out, game or music downloads, cigarettes and other items you don’t necessarily need to survive.
  • Credit cards. Credit cards are a great way to build credit, but using credit cards to pay daily expenses can really be draining your savings potential. Most credit cards have high interest rates. Unless you pay your card off at the end of the month, you will be paying hundreds of dollars on a cup of coffee by the year’s end. Use your credit card sparingly and you can save hundreds, even thousands, of dollars.
  • Tax time. Be sure that you are getting all the exemptions for which you are eligible. It may cost a little, but see a financial adviser or tax preparer. You may be eligible for some tax breaks that you didn’t know existed. Use the tax savings to pay down some debt or put it in a savings account.
  • Compare prices. Many people overlook this tip because it does take a bit of time to do your research. Before going grocery shopping, compare store circulars and sales. A little research can save you a few hundred dollars a month. Compare prices for expensive items as well. Home and auto insurance is another expense for which you can compare prices and save.
  • Earn extra money. You don’t have to get another job, but you can use your free time to earn money. Ask your family, friends, or neighbors if they have any jobs around the house that they need done. Baby-sitting, car washing, house painting, yard work, house cleaning and other jobs can bring some additional cash. Put some of the extra money earned in a savings account and use some of it to pay off debt.
  • Think before you spend. It is nice to treat yourself every now and then, but evaluate before purchasing. If you want to purchase a $60 dress and you make $10 an hour, is that dress really worth six hours of work? Sometimes reminding yourself of just how much you work to earn your income can put how you spend your money into perspective.
  • Use cash only. It’s hard to know what you are spending when you use your debit or credit card. If you use cash, you can literally see the cash depleting from your wallet. This can help you break the cycle of overspending.

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

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For added security, put together financial disaster kit

This was originally published on Monday, August 29 ,2016 in the Pacific Daily News.  Click here to subscribe to the PDN.

In Guam we take for granted the safety of how our homes are built, and that major disasters do not happen frequently.  But as we all know, Guam is susceptible to strong typhoons and earthquakes.  Disasters are not only from natural causes.  Man-made disasters like a house fire can be just as devastating.  Being prepared to evacuate your house at any given time is necessary.  In addition to having an escape plan for your entire family, a financial disaster kit is a comprehensive file of what you need to ensure that your recovery process is easier and less stressful.

  • Original documents. Your financial disaster kit doesn’t have to have all of the original documents.  You should secure your documents in a place where they will be safe.  Banks rent safe deposit boxes.  If you prefer to secure them at home, use a waterproof and fireproof home safe.  Many retailers sell different size safes that are affordable.  Keep the safe locked at all times. Tell someone that you trust where the safe is located.  You may also want to give them the combination or the spare key as well.  Make copies or scan your documents before securing them. Do not keep your original will at home. If you die, your family members would want to be able to have access to it. Keep it with your lawyer.
  • Photo inventory.  Go from room to room and take pictures of what is in your house. If you have valuables or antiques, document the condition they are in.  Take pictures of serial and model numbers.  You may even want to take video of your electronics such as televisions to show that they work. Most still and video cameras have a mode to time stamp the photo or video.  Use the time stamp to document when the photo or video was taken.  Do the same with your cars, boat or other personal property.  By having an inventory of your home you can make the insurance claims process go a lot smoother and receive a better settlement.
  • Different formats. Keep your documents in several different formats. Make paper copies but also scan documents to a DVD or CD, a thumb drive or even onto an external hard drive.  This will ensure that any agency you are working with can read the documents. You can also make a copy and give it to someone you trust in case something happens to you. You may consider sending it to a secure cloud where it can be accessed anywhere you have an internet connection. Just be certain that the cloud is secure and that there are safeguards in place to protect your sensitive information.  Keep your scanned and copied documents in a secured location like a safe.
  • Cash. ATMs do not work when the power is off. Keep about $100 to $200 per person using smaller bills, nothing larger than a $20.  Stores will be short on money as well and it will be difficult to make the necessary change for a large dollar bill. Don’t forget to keep a few rolls of quarters as well. They can be used for public phones or to wash clothes at a laundry mat.  Keep the money with your financial paperwork.
  • Letter of Intent. Write down specific instructions on what to do in case you are unable to represent yourself.  A letter of intent is not a legal document but instead includes where your documents can be found, names and numbers of your employer, passwords for online accounts, physician’s name and contact and other detailed information needed to carry out your wishes.
  • Scammers. Unfortunately, there are people who will take advantage of a person’s hardship. Be sure to protect your personal information as much as possible. Do not give out any personal or financial information over the phone or on a non-secure website.  People may come to your door claiming to be inspectors or contractors. Ask family and friends if they have worked with the contractor or company before entering into a contract.  Use your best judgment and listen to your intuition.

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.

Be smart about staying out of debt

This was originally published on Monday, March 28 ,2016 in the Pacific Daily News.  Click here to subscribe to the PDN.

Financial trouble can happen to the best of us. Small mistakes or an emergency can cause our finances to get out of control. Once you pull yourself out of trouble the important thing is to remember how difficult it was to get out of it. Mistakes happen but if you don’t learn from them you’ll find yourself back in that same situation.

Understand what started your troubles: Did you lose a job? Was it due to unforeseen circumstances? Or maybe it was a combination of several catalysts. Whatever the cause, be aware and stay clear from making the same mistakes again. Go back and think what could have reduced the impact? A larger emergency fund? Better budgeting? Or possibly understanding how credit works?

Budget: If you’ve been reading my past articles, you’ll realize I’m a believer in a budget. Think of a budget as the blueprint to your financial health. You build your wealth and security based on these blueprints. Be aware of what comes into the household and where it goes. The goal is to have a little left over every month and put a little away in savings. Prioritize your spending with your necessities first and then work your way through your bills saving the “luxury” items for last. These are the items that bring you joy such as the movies or dining out.

Tailor your lifestyle to your budget: In other words, live within your means. Don’t try to keep up with the neighbors or friends. Be creative and find ways to stay comfortable. If your income is reduced your spending should be too.

Charge no more than what you can pay: Bad credit habits are one of the major reasons people find themselves in financial trouble. If you do not have the money in your pocket or in your bank account, don’t use your credit card. There are some circumstances where you may need it to purchase a vacation or large item. In that case, before you purchase, reevaluate your budget. How will you pay off the balance and how long will it take? What are you willing to sacrifice to pay it off?

Spending is emotional: Whether it’s to ease the troubles of a long, hard day at the bar with friends or purchasing a video console for the perfect birthday gift, our money is usually connected to our emotions. Find out what triggers you to spend impulsively and find a way to stay away from it or ways to cope with the emotion.

Expect the unexpected: Create an emergency fund. Everyone has an optimal amount they want to set aside. The bigger the emergency fund, the better you’re prepared. This fund should be able to cover car repairs, busted pipes, or even the loss of a job for a few months. Whatever your amount is, the important thing is to start.

Get money smart: You don’t have to hire a financial counselor or pay for a lesson. There are many free resources online, in the library or from nonprofit organizations that you can turn to. If you become familiar with money, you will not be intimidated by it.

Enjoy your financial freedom. You worked hard to get out of your financial troubles. Enjoy your new-found freedom. With good planning, you can realize your dreams.

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.

Classic tips for managing holiday finances

This was originally published on Monday, December 2, 2013, in the Pacific Daily News.  Click here to subscribe to the PDN.

Throughout the year I have written several articles about holiday financial tips. This is a perfect time to review a few of my past tips and discuss some new ones.

• Creating a budget is the most useful tool to avoid taking on debt. Decide how much you want to spend. Include gifts, travel, parties, decorations and any other expenses. If you have specific gifts in mind, compare prices and which deal is worth the savings, and your time.

• Go high-tech if you are comfortable with technology. There are several apps that can help with holiday shopping. Most will keep track of your spending and how much of your budget you are using. If your list is always with you on your phone, you are less likely to stray away from it. Consider creating a spreadsheet. You tend to spend less if you can see how much you are spending.

• Avoid impulse purchases. One rule is to walk around a bit before purchasing and think if you really want or need this. In most situations, by the time you’re ready to check out you may have decided that you really don’t need it. If you still can’t decide, walk away and sleep on it. If you still feel that the item is something you must have, then go back and purchase it. Don’t feel overwhelmed by sales clerks pressuring you into buying. If you stay on budget, you will be thankful later.

• Use cash, not credit. You can track how much you spend more efficiently by using money. Late or partial credit card payments can cost you more money through fees and interest.

• Shipping costs add up, whether you are shipping it off or purchasing it online. Some companies consider Guam an international destination. Try asking if a friend or family member back in the states can receive the gift and send it postal mail. Shipping by courier can cost more than the gift itself.

• Holiday utilities can be extra costly, especially if children are home using power-consuming devices, which are usually turned off during the day. Extra cooking and baking for holiday festivities add up along with holiday lighting. Consider buying LED (light-emitting diode) lights to save energy and money. They also burn much cooler than traditional lights reducing heat in your home.

• Food safety can save on your holiday expenses. Party foods are usually left out for long periods of time that can cause food to spoil. Throwing away good food and an unplanned trip to the emergency room can be a budget-breaker and ruin your holidays. Leftovers can extend your food budget. Freeze or go online and find creative ways to use leftovers. For more food safety tips, go tohttp://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/events/holidays/.

• Be creative; not all gifts have to come from the store. Look online for ways to create inexpensive personalized gifts.

• Holiday employment is a great way to earn a little extra cash during the holidays.

• The gift of helping may not be exactly a way to save money, but it sure can help you enjoy the spirit of the holidays. Volunteer to help with the less fortunate with family and friends.

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.

 

Enjoy the holidays without financial anxieties

This was originally published on Monday, August 26, 2013, in the Pacific Daily News.  Click here to subscribe to the PDN.

The holidays bring about great memories, time with family and the dreaded financial stress. You don’t have to go into financial distress to show you care. By starting early, you can enjoy the holidays without the anxiety.

• Use cash not credit. Try your hardest not to use your credit card to buy holiday items. When you use your credit cards, you tend to lose track of how much you have spent. Besides, if you do not pay off your balance right away, those Christmas gifts could end up costing you twice as much.

Many stores offer savings at the register if you use their in-store credit cards. Keep in mind that these cards usually carry a very high interest rate. If the promotional discount is worth it, use the card then go directly to customer service and pay off the balance with the cash you would have used to purchase the items.

• Combine the cost. If you have a large family or group of friends, think about drawing names and create a spending cap. Everyone will receive a gift, but you will only have to buy one. Others in your group will appreciate the money-saving idea.

• Shop online. Shopping online makes it easy to compare prices —- it saves fuel, you can shop at home versus a crowded store and it helps reduce temptation of impulse buying. Be sure you have enough money in your checking account to pay off the balance right away.

• Use layaway. If the store you are shopping at has a layaway program, consider using it. If you start early, you can put a little toward your gifts each month. Plus, it is a great way to hide gifts from snooping family members.

• Big holiday sales. Be careful of those big holiday sales that offer buy-one-get-the-other-half-off deals. If you don’t need the second or third item, then don’t purchase it. It is a marketing tool to get you to spend more than what you really were planning on spending.

• Don’t forget the extras. When creating your budget, don’t forget to include the other areas of holiday spending, not just the gifts. Decide how much you plan on spending on decorations, holiday foods, parties, shipping expenses, your Christmas party dress or outfit, and fuel. Let’s not forget to include the spike in your power from holiday lights and cooking.

• Entertain on a budget. Look for community events that are free, such as tree-lighting or caroling. If you are throwing a party, make it a potluck. Maybe even make it a competition by voting for the best dish, with the winner walking away with a nice gift. Look online for creative games for gift-exchanging or games that keep the holiday cheer going.

• Remember the season. Do you remember your parents saying it is better to give than to receive? What better time to give to your community. There are many organizations that are in need of your skills and time. Make it a family event and feel the spirit if the season.

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 atwww.moneymattersguam.wordpress.com