6 Ways to Prioritize Your Budget

shutterstock_178797656For some people, putting away enough money to go on a vacation is the ultimate luxury. For others, dining out once a week or getting a monthly pedicure is a real treat. Whatever your lifestyle, it’s important to understand how to get the most from your money so you can live comfortably and within your means.

To achieve your financial goals without sacrificing your lifestyle, follow these tips:

1. Determine essential expenses.

The first step in creating a budget is to determine your nonnegotiable or fixed expenses such as rent, car payments and utilities. You also can choose to put things like gas and groceries in this category. Add up these expenses, and subtract the total from your monthly income. The remaining amount is what’s available for discretionary spending: joining a gym, entertainment, shopping, travel and dining out.

2. Keep track.

Many personal finance and budgeting tools are mobile, and allow you to track where your money is going. You can make smart financial decisions such as whether or not to join that after work happy hour. Budgeting is flexible. You can always shift your priorities, saving some of those wants and needs for next month.

3. Keep an emergency fund.

You never know when your car might break down, when you’ll need to take time off from work for family issues or your AC will begin to leak. It’s important to be prepared for life’s unexpected turns by having an emergency fund to tap. If you have three to six months of expenses saved up, you can avoid taking on debt. If you don’t have a fund, start saving now. When something goes wrong, and it will, you won’t have to reach for your credit card or take out a loan to cover the cost.

4. Dine in.

No matter how you feel about food, one thing is for sure – you have to eat. There are plenty of ways to think smarter about what you spend on food. Eating out often costs more than cooking at home, so even if you hate cooking, it pays –literally – to do some reading up on easy, fast recipes. You’ll avoid the temptation of calling for takeout seven days a week. Consider making large batches of your favorite recipes over the weekend. Then, bring smaller lunch portions to work the next week.

5. Evaluate your housing costs.

If you’re paying for digs that are beyond your means, it might be worth finding a roommate to reduce your living expenses. Carefully furnishing and maintaining your home also can cut expenses. Opt for used furniture and appliances instead of new items. Take the time to clean and refurbish them yourself. Extend that do-it-yourself attitude toward maintenance, too. You can solve many household problems without hiring an expensive contractor.

6. Be reasonable.

Don’t plan a budget you will never be able to keep. Just like with a diet or an exercise program, it’s important to be realistic. If you’ve never been able to stick to a savings plan, or are a compulsive spender, don’t expect this to change overnight. Instead, start by setting small goals so you can build the confidence to tackle bigger changes down the road. It’s a marathon, not a sprint!

Above all, know that budgeting doesn’t have to be about deprivation. If you follow these tips, you can easily create a livable budget that will help you achieve financial peace of mind.

This article was written by Holly Perez and originally published at money.usnews.com on February 13, 2014. Read the article in its entirety by clicking here.

School Supplies Collected at Local WESTconsin Credit Union Offices

s.s.drive p.rWESTconsin Credit Union, in conjunction with several area community groups and school districts, is serving as a community collection site for school supply donations to help area families. Donated items can be dropped off at any WESTconsin office location during regular business hours July 21 – August 2.

All items will be accepted, with specific supply lists available from area school district websites, as well as posted at westconsincu.org.

Specific community partners for each office are as follows:

Amery Office  |  Amery School District
Baldwin Office  |  Baldwin-Woodville School District
Barron Office  |  Barron Area School District
Eau Claire Office  |  Boys and Girls Club of the Chippewa Valley
Ellsworth Office  |  Ellsworth School District
Hudson Office  |  The Sharing Tree
Menomonie Offices  |  Operation: Back to School
New Richmond Office  |  New Richmond School District
Prescott Office  |  Prescott School District
River Falls Office  |  Tuesday Banquet Club
Spring Valley Office  |  Spring Valley Food Pantry

This year marks the sixth annual school supply drive the credit union has been involved with. Last year, over 3,000 supplies were collected and distributed to local children in our communities.

WESTconsin Credit Union Announces New Chief Financial Officer, Jerilyn Kinderman

jerilynWESTconsin Credit Union is pleased to announce Jerilyn Kinderman as Chief Financial Officer, working from the Menomonie – East Administration Office. Kinderman’s key responsibilities include oversight of all accounting, audit and compliance, and risk management functions of the credit union.

Kinderman joins WESTconsin from Royal Credit Union in Eau Claire where she most recently held the position of Controller. She is a graduate of University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire with a Bachelor of Science degree in accounting and minor in management. Her community involvements include serving on the Board of Trustees for Eau Claire Interfaith Hospitality Network and Board of Directors for the L.E. Phillips Senior Center in Eau Claire.

“I am excited to join an organization with a 75-year tradition of supporting people and the communities they live in,” Kinderman noted. “I look forward to working with a very talented and caring group of people as we continue the tradition of helping members achieve financial success by offering great rates, products and service.”

Kinderman, her spouse Eric, and son Brayden reside in Eau Claire. She enjoys spending time with family, traveling and volunteering.Kinderman can be reached at (715) 235-3403 ext. 7781 or jkinderman@westconsincu.org.

6 Sneaky Fees That Are Making Airlines a Bundle

shutterstock_142273132Air travel is becoming more frustrating every year, with flight cancellations, delays and long security lines all taking a toll on passengers.

Then there are the fees that airlines apply. While fees have been a boon to the airline industry – U.S. airlines posted record profits of $12.7 billion in 2013, up from $98 million in 2012, in part due to fees – passengers are getting hit on all sides and it’s not uncommon to discover new fees on your bill even as you board a plane.

While 91 percent of travelers say the overall cost of flying is a very important or somewhat important factor in deciding whether to purchase a ticket, 71 percent of passengers strongly agree that airlines fees have become more frustrating over the last year, according to a survey conducted last month by the U.S. Travel Association.

The problem with fees is that airlines lack transparency with most of them, making it nearly impossible for travelers to compare flight options and to accurately budget for trips.

“Travelers have no choice,” said Jeff Klee, CEO of CheapAir.com. “People have come to the point where they accept the fees, so it’s working for the airlines.”

Either way, make sure you’re aware of these six airline fees:

1. Checked-in baggage fees.

“The bag fee is the bad one,” said Klee. “When you’re shopping for a ticket, you don’t see the bag price, so it’s difficult to compare.” Airlines typically charge $25 for the first bag, $35 for the second and more than $100 for the third bag. There’s one exception, though: Southwest doesn’t charge for luggage and lets you check in two bags for free. JetBlue lets you check in your first bag for free, but charges $50 for the second bag and $100 for a third bag.

2. Carry-on baggage fees.

Since it’s becoming more expensive to check bags, travelers are increasingly carrying on luggage – but now the boarding process takes much longer. Some airlines – Spirit, Allegiant and Frontier – have started charging passengers for carry-on bags. The fee varies depending on when you pay. With Spirit, if you pay when you buy your ticket, it will cost you $35, but if you wait until you’re at the gate the airline will charge you at least $50.

3. Preferred seat fees.

“Airlines are increasingly charging for the best seats on a plane,” said Klee. In some cases, all window and aisle seats have an extra fee – problematic for families or other groups who want to sit together. Klee says the fee varies depending on the distance of your flight – it can range from $9 to $80. There are a few perks attached to these fees, though, including the ability to board in the first group and sometimes extra leg room on the plane. “Now, every seat is a premium seat except for a middle seat,” said Ike Anand, senior director of strategy and business development at Expedia.

4. Passenger security fees.

These fees were set up after Sept. 11, 2001, to help cover the cost of the Transportation Security Administration’s baggage and behavior screening programs. Built into the total price of a ticket, these fees are going up later this month from $2.50 per flight to a flat rate of $5.60 each way.

Travelers should research different fees for each airline ahead of time, so they can more easily compare airfares. They should also speak up. “Consumers should object and talk to agents or complain to the airlines or on social media,” said Anand. “Some fees should be basic amenities included in the fare.”

The only services you’re guaranteed to get for free are water and the use of restrooms – but how long it will remain that way is anyone’s guess.

This article was written by Marine Cole and originally published on July 3, 2014 at thefiscaltimes.com. Read the article in its entirety by clicking here.

10 Surprising Facts About Modern Consumers

shutterstock_158368655In consumer psychologist Kit Yarrow’s new book, “Decoding the New Consumer Mind,” she reveals that shoppers are more frantic, narcissistic and empowered than ever before. If those traits sound contradictory, it’s only because consumers are trying to navigate a confusing and overwhelming marketplace. Yarrow offers these 10 facts about the modern shopper to help us understand what’s going on.

1. Shoppers Don’t Realize They’re Being Manipulated.

As shoppers, we make mistakes all the time, but the problem is that we usually don’t realize those mistakes, Yarrow says. “People are less aware they’re being manipulated by bargains or are really susceptible to imagery,” she says. We end up spending more than we want because we’re so eager to get that discount, even if it’s not really a good deal.

2. We don’t like aspirational advertising.

Showcasing luxury and wealth that customers aspired to achieve was once the way to land sales, but it’s not anymore, Yarrow explains. That’s because customers want to feel like products and advertising reflects them – not some third party who’s more successful than they are. That means more successful ads reflect who shoppers are, not who they might want to be.

3. We’re hard to impress.

In the past, retailers could win by simply presenting a great product and describing how wonderful it is. That no longer stands out to consumers, who are used to those kinds of pitches. “It’s so old school to stand there and say, ‘Boy, do we have a good product,’” Yarrow says. Instead, retailers have to show consumers that the product was created just for them.

4. We have short attention spans.

Blame the constant interruptions of text message and Facebook alerts, but it’s hard to keep shoppers’ attention. People tend to flit from one activity to the next, always looking for the next big thing. “That has been the major challenge for marketers,” Yarrow says. They constantly have to find a way to stand above the noise and get shoppers to notice their products.

This article was written by Kimberly Palmer and originally published at money.usnews.com on May 14, 2014. Read it in its entirety by clicking here.