Tag Archives: budgeting

A Five-Step Spending Plan to Avoid Holiday Debt

The holidays can put a financial burden even on the savviest of shoppers and savers. But like most things, taking time to plan can help you avoid the stress that comes with overspending. Before you hit the mall , keep reading to learn how to make a holiday spending plan that works for you.

1.Set a budget

First, make sure you account for all of your typical expenses so that you don’t come up short on bills or things like rent. Next, think about what else you may be spending on in the coming months. Are you hosting a party at your home, or traveling to visit family or friends? If so, estimate what those things will cost you. Once you’ve subtracted any expenses from your usual budget, you can think about how much you have to spend on gifts. It’s best to start planning this as early as possible. That way you can look at how much you’ll earn between now and the holidays and calculate how much you can save to cover your holiday spending. Being realistic about your budget will help make sure you don’t overspend.

2.Make a list ( and check it twice! )

With all of the excitement of the holidays, it can be easy to get carried away. Make a list of the gifts you need and cross them off as you go. Check your list several times before you go shopping so that you don’t leave anything off. This is when a personal rule may come in handy.  You might set a personal rule for yourself, such as: If something isn’t on your list, don’t buy it. This can get difficult when you see sales and deals pop up—but spending on something you don’t really need can make it difficult to pay for the things you do.

3.Get creative

There may be ways to give a meaningful gift at a fraction of the cost as buying something from a store. This may not work for everyone on your list, but here are some low-cost suggestions :

  • Homemade mixes in a mason jar, such as hot chocolate, bean soup, or cookie mixes
  • You favorite recipes with photos in a custom picture book
  • Knit or crochet scarves, socks or gloves.

4.Decide how you are going to pay

Are you going to use cash or credit cards to pay for gifts? A helpful rule to set for yourself is to only bring the amount of money you plan to spend. That way you can help yourself stay within your budget because once you spend the money you brought, you’re done. On the other hand, using a credit card, like our VISA Platinum Rewards, can put money in your pocket by earning you points for your purchased.  If you do decide buy your holiday gifts with a credit card, make sure you have a specific plan to pay your credit card bill and have set aside enough in your budget to do so.

5.Track your holiday spending

Just like you wrote down your lists to keep track of what you need to buy, you could also keep track of what you’ve spent. Periodically check to see if you are on track and sticking to your budget. Did you spend more or less than you thought you would on certain items? If you don’t keep track of what you spent, you could end up with an unpleasant surprise if you exceed your budget.


Check out our Money Management tool for all your budgeting needs. Questions? Connect with us 503-275-0300 Option 4 or visit our branch on the corner of  1st and Taylor in Downtown Portland!

Money Management – Budget For a Brighter Future

Money Management is a tool in online banking that lets you view and track all transactions from USACU and external accounts — for FREE. You will be able to receive valuable insights and reports about your finances, ensuring you’re in control of your financial life.

ACCOUNTS — Gives you an overview of all your accounts. Not only will you be able to view your USACU accounts, you can also link and view accounts from external financial institutions. Data will automatically update every time you visit the Money Management feature in online or mobile banking.

TRANSACTIONS — Money Management gives you a quick overview of recent spending on all your accounts, and the ability to search or filter for specific transaction. Transactions will be automatically categorized for you.

SPENDING — The spending wheel helps you identify the biggest expenses but also dives into the smallest details, so you can spend smarter.

BUDGETS — Track your budget with color bubbles to help you understand the relative health of your budgets instantly. You can use sub-budgets to track specific spending and see the money you have leftover to put towards goals.

TRENDS — Track spending in each category over time and get you insights of your spending habits.

DEBTS — Prioritize your debts and pay it down faster so you can save the money you would otherwise spend on interest.

Know your accounts. See all your accounts, including those outside of USAgencies’.
Money management - accounts overview

Track your budget. Color bubbles help you understand the relative health of your budgets instantly.
Money management - Budget chart

Watch your spending. Every transaction is automatically categorized so you can spend smarter.
Money Management spending chart


Climb to new heights with USAgencies’ free financial management tool, Money Management. Visualize and interact with your money in the most epic ways. Log in to online banking get started with Money Management today! 

Questions? Connect with us at 503-275-0300 Option 4. You deserve a better banking experience. Get it here.

Affected by the Government Shutdown?

This blog was a combined effort with our friends at GreenPath Financial Wellness.

Over the weekend, the partial government shutdown passed it’s 22nd day, making it the longest shutdown in history. Of the about 800,000 federal employees affected, nearly 380,000 have been furloughed (given a leave of absence) and the remainder continue to work without pay.

While most people affected by the shutdown are located in the Washington D.C. area, workers going without pay can be found nationwide.

For millions of Americans, an unexpected financial setback can make it feel like your world is caving in around you. If you or a loved one has been affected by the government shutdown, it’s important to know that you are not alone and that everything is going to be okay. We offer the steps below to support you in setting a plan for your expenses:

Step 1: List Out and Prioritize Your Expenses

The first thing to do is understand your overall financial situation so you can get an idea of what you need to pay and what you have to work with. Use GreenPath’s budgeting worksheet to list out your expenses and due dates.
When prioritizing which bills you should pay first, begin with basic needs (shelter, food, heat, lights).

Once you’ve taken care of yourself, attend to your debts in order of priority. While threats of a low credit score or calls from a debt collector can be intimidating, it’s important to focus on paying down debts with collateral (something that can be taken from you) such as a house or car payment. After your financial crisis passes, you can work on catching up with unsecured debts like credit cards, internet, and cable bills.

Step 2: Open Lines of Communication

Talk to your lenders or creditors to see if there is anything you can do regarding upcoming bills. Many financial institutions and service providers are offering assistance programs and other freebies to employees experiencing financial hardship during the shutdown, ranging from no-interest loans to refunding normal fees. Many utility companies also offer utility payment plans for people with financial hardships.

Step 3: Look for Ways to Generate Cash, And Cut Spending Where Possible

One additional option for furloughed workers is to apply for unemployment. (Note, those who continue to work through the shutdown are not eligible for unemployment insurance.) It is also important to know that any unemployment compensation given during a shutdown must be repaid once the government reopens. Several federal websites, such as the Office of Personnel Management’s, have FAQs for furloughed workers that include information on how to file for benefits.

In addition to finding additional sources of money, evaluate your current spending habits to see where you may be able to make adjustments to spend less: set a strategy to save money on groceries, see if you can freeze your gym membership, reduce your cable bill, lower your energy usage, and cut any non-essential spending you can such as entertainment and eating out.

Step 4: Call USAgencies Credit Union

Here at USAgencies Credit Union, we pride ourselves on the things we won’t do, and one of those is that we won’t turn our backs to our members when they need us to most. Our hope is to provide our members some peace of mind, however we can. Give us a call at 503-275-0300 so that we can see what we can do to help during this stressful time.

Get Creative! Ways to Lower Holiday Spending

From our friends at BALANCE

Holiday spending is often a budget-buster.

The expenses can be numerous: presents, wrapping paper, cards, decorations, food, and travel, to name a few. Yet in these tough times, few people have thousands of dollars to spend. If you do not have the funds to buy everything you want, there is no need to despair. A little bit of creativity and energy can get you through the holidays without draining your wallet.

Gifts
Why spend $75 to buy a scarf if you can knit it yourself with $15 yarn? Making your own gifts is a great way to save, since supplies usually cost less than the finished product. Not only are homemade gifts cheaper, but many people appreciate them more than store-bought gifts because of the effort that goes into making them.

Are you not an experienced crafter? No problem. Writing a letter describing what the person means to you or framing a memorable photo are ways to give personalized gifts without having to break out a glue gun. Baking is another option that is easy for most people to do. Standard cookies or brownies can be dressed up with sprinkles and ribbons in holiday colors.

Offering your services is a great cost-saving gift, since it only costs time. Why not offer a free night of babysitting to your sister with three kids or a month of lawn-mowing to your parents? Think about what service you want to offer, and create a coupon that the recipient can redeem at a later date.

Gift-wrapping
Now that you have taken the time to choose economical gifts, you probably do not want to spend $50 wrapping them. Skip the fancy wrapping paper and bows, and look around the house to see what you can use. Do you have a newspaper? (The comic section is an especially suitable choice.) Computer paper? Shopping or supermarket bags? Cheap craft supplies, such as glitter and paint, can be used to decorate plain surfaces.

Cards
It is not uncommon for store cards to cost $4 apiece – or more. If you sent cards to 20 people, that would cost you $80, not including postage. Creating your own cards can help you save, but resist the temptation to buy the pricey supplies that pepper the scrapbook aisles of craft stores. If you create and send cards electronically, you avoid spending money completely. You can make your own or use one of the many free services available on the Internet. If sending electronic cards is not your thing, consider trimming your mailing list. You can probably skip sending cards to your third grade teacher and the second cousin who you never see.

Decorations
Like with gift-wrapping, you can avoid buying decorations by seeing what is lying around the house. Making a garland out of popcorn is a classic holiday decoration. Pine cones and acorns – available in abundance in many parts of the country – provide a perfect seasonal touch. If you are really craving store-bought decorations, consider waiting until after the holidays to buy. Most stores will be selling them at a deep discount, and you can use them next year.

Food
If you host holiday dinners or parties, you may find yourself spending a significant amount of money on food. Potluck dinners are an easy way to shift the burden of buying all of the food off of you. However, if you do not want to ask your guests to bring food, there are other options. Consider eliminating a full dinner and just providing appetizers and desserts or avoiding expensive items, like meat and wine. Look for where you can buy the cheapest food. Often bulk stores are cheaper than regular supermarkets, but not always.

Travel
Airfare is generally more expensive during the holidays, since that is when everyone flies. If you want to celebrate with far away family, why not have a “holiday” dinner during an off-peak time of the year, when airfare is cheaper? Whenever you fly, being flexible can usually help you save – you probably won’t have to spend as much if you fly at night or have a layover.

You do not need to spend a lot of money to have a good time. By being creative with your purchasing and not straining your finances, you can not only celebrate during the holidays, but afterward as well.

Steps to Ease Stress in Heading Back to College

Getting ready to head back to college after a long summer break can be stressful on both a personal and financial level.

These tips can help make the transition as smooth as possible for both students and parents.

Calm the countdown
Packing enough for the better part of a year is a major undertaking, so it pays to start preparing three weeks to a month ahead. Break this job into manageable segments by creating a dorm-room checklist with categories such as clothing, furniture, schoolwork and personal hygiene needs. Unused items during the summer months, including fall/winter clothes and school supplies, can be packed up early, while daily necessities such as shoes, socks and a toothbrush may have to wait till closer to departure time. Try to find packing containers that can be stacked for on-campus storage or double as dorm shelves.

Reawaken that school mindset
To make returning to school a bit less jarring, commit to some lifestyle adjustments during the last few weeks of summer. If you’re registered for morning classes, begin to roll bedtime back to a reasonable hour. If you haven’t cracked a book lately, spend a little time each day doing some academic reading, whether this means starting your new textbooks or exploring related articles and books.

Control shopping costs
If you’re not careful, shopping for college gets very pricey, particularly for textbooks, which along with class supplies can easily top $1,000 a year. So set a budget for yourself, and stick to it. Although the college bookstore may be convenient, it’s probably your most expensive option. Instead, order books early from discounted sites such as CheapestTextbooks.com and Chegg, and consider purchasing used or e-book versions. Many websites, including Amazon, now also offer textbook rentals at a dramatic savings over the purchase cost.

Furniture, room decorations and supplies needn’t break the bank either. Take advantage of summer yard sales, thrift stores and dollar stores, and check out sites like eBay and Craigslist for bargains as well. To maximize savings, buy staples like nonperishable snacks in bulk.

Before shopping, gather up pens, notebooks and extra home accessories already on hand, and be sure to look for available discounts through coupon sites, text promotions and social media.

Create a cushion
Summer break is an excellent opportunity for students to find temporary jobs, which provide valuable work experience as well as extra cash to cover miscellaneous campus expenses. To help manage these ongoing costs, it’s helpful for students to set up a budget and open a checking account through a financial institution like USAgencies Credit Union. With the proper planning, getting back to school should be a breeze for all concerned, and students can look forward to a new year of learning and shared times with good friends.

By Roberta Pescow, NerdWallet

Budgeting When Your Income Ebbs and Flows

The foundation of budgeting rests on two main pillars: planning and steady income.

If you’re a freelancer, an artist, or otherwise have an uncertain income, you know both of those can be challenging. Here’s a look at how to establish a budget and stick to it when your income is irregular and uncertain.

Have a baseline
Salaried employees can use their monthly income to determine what they can afford to spend, but freelancers generally have to consider expenditures first and then determine how much work they need to do each month to meet their financial needs. For this reason, it’s smart to keep monthly expenditures stable and predictable. Think about housing, utilities and transportation costs, along with the cost of food, including groceries, restaurant meals and coffee shops.

Track your spending for the past couple of months in several categories to find the average. Don’t forget other living expenses such as medical costs, as well as any auto loans or student loans. Budgeting apps such as Mint or BudgetPulse can help you manage and categorize your spending. Some financial institution provide consumers with customized apps, such as USAgencies Credit Union’s MoneyMark tool for use by members. This app also helps you track your financial assets and net worth.

Get organized
Once you have a clear idea of your monthly expenses, you’re ready to assess a minimum income. If you have a few years of freelancing under your belt, it might be helpful to look back on bank statements to see which months tend to bring lower income and which trend higher so you can plan for periods of feast and famine. For certain months, that might mean planning ahead to pick up extra part-time shifts somewhere to bridge the gap between income and expenses.

Many people with uncertain income are also self-employed, meaning they’re solely responsible for things such as paying income taxes and saving for retirement — hassles that salaried employees don’t always have to worry about. Keeping income organized is imperative.

In addition to personal and business checking accounts, it’s a good idea for freelancers to have at least two separate savings accounts. One should hold money for the quarterly payments you’re required to make to the IRS to cover your income and self-employment taxes. The second should be for your other savings.

Put aside emergency savings
If income is unstable, the best thing you can possibly do for yourself is have at least three months’ worth of living expenses stashed away. That way, if there’s a lull in work, you’ll have enough of a savings cushion to still make ends meet.

Save for your tax payments
Since taxes aren’t automatically deducted from your pay, make sure to send in quarterly payments or April can bring a harsh dose of reality, especially if your tax bill is upwards of a thousand dollars. It’s wise to deduct taxes each month as you go along and place it in a separate account.

Plan for retirement
Since you don’t have the option of a 401(k) plan with an employer match, you must be your own best ally when it comes to funding your future. It’s smart to plan for retirement by setting up an individual retirement account (IRA) to cushion the golden years.

By keeping track of expenditures and having a good backup plan, you’ll be able to stay financially afloat, even in times of instability.

By Cait Klein, NerdWallet