Tips for Saving for Your New Car

Hands holdinga jar of moneyIdeas for affording that hot ride you have always wanted
It’s a common situation: your current car is on its last leg and you have your heart set on a new model that will last longer, look better and have more features. Unfortunately, your bank account isn’t on your side and is limiting your options. Instead of disregarding your financial limitations, find ways to overcome them by saving money and shopping wisely so you can eventually afford that dream vehicle.

Determining your financial goal
Before you establish a plan of action, it is vital to fully evaluate your current financial situation and what your goal is; a clear understanding will help you effectively plan how to reach your goal.

Once you identify which vehicle you want, you can estimate how much a down payment would cost. Ronald Montoya of Edmunds suggests that 20% of the total cost of the vehicle should be your down payment (resulting in a lower monthly cost), but that if you cannot comfortably afford that amount, a 10% down payment with GAP insurance mitigates risk while keeping money in your pocket.

Jamie Page Deaton of U.S. News & World Report emphasizes the importance of considering the ongoing price of monthly vehicle costs, such as repayments, insurance and maintenance. Depending on your cost of living and pre-existing debt, these expenses should not exceed 15-36% of your monthly take-home pay. Ensure you have a secure income to afford these monthly costs after you drive the car off the dealership lot.

Saving money on daily expenses
Now that you’ve established a target amount of money to save for both the down payment and monthly fees, you can analyze your current spending habits and find ways to trim your daily expenditures and divert the difference into a savings fund.

Trent Hamm of The Simple Dollar outlines dozens of methods for cutting expenses. For instance, consider using public transportation or carpooling to work. Cancel your unnecessary memberships, subscriptions or paid services. Buy bulk, generic, non-perishable items from the grocery store and make your own meals instead of eating out. Other ideas include shopping at thrift stores, selling unused items, consolidating your loans, lowering home thermostats, unplugging electronics and pausing your travel plans.

Getting the best deal on the car
Saving money isn’t just about having enough cash in your bank account; it’s equally imperative to ensure you’re getting a deal on the vehicle you are purchasing. There are methods for knocking some numbers off the sticker price to ensure you are paying the lowest possible amount rather than simply handing over your hard-earned money at the first price presented.

Kerry Hannon of Forbes offers nearly a dozen ways women can save on a new car; all of the methods can be used by men, too. Time your purchase so that you can take advantage of a seasonal sale, a reduced price on last year’s model or a rebate program. Do your research and have a clear idea of what the car’s value is and what competing dealerships in the neighborhood are offering for the same model. Don’t be afraid to negotiate; hold firm on the target price and don’t get drawn into add-ons or upgrades.

Another way to get a better deal on your car is by improving your credit score and thus receiving a better deal on financing. Investigate all your financing options and find the best loan offer that is best for you, whether that’s through your bank, a local credit union or the dealership.

With a solid plan and frugal spending habits, you will eventually be able to afford that new car without putting your finances at risk.

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Cool Ways to Save Extra Money

A little creativity and thought can save you a lot of money
Couple Saving MoneyThere are many ways to save a little extra money each month, some of which have added benefits beyond financial ones. Have a little fun and get some great additional perks with these five out-of-the-ordinary ways to save extra money.

Forgo cable
With the popularity of Hulu, Netflix and other streaming services, cable isn’t considered a necessity anymore. These streaming services even produce their own shows that you can’t watch anywhere else. Plus, their fees are just a fraction of the average monthly cable bill—services like Apple TV only cost a flat fee up front for the device.

Another way to get media on the cheap is to dust off that old library card. Many local libraries are part of a network from which you can rent a vast selection of DVDs, TV series boxed sets, CDs and books. Even better, it’s absolutely free—as long as you return everything on time.

Socialize cheaply
Instead of going to the movies on date night or heading out for drinks with your pals, look for free activities happening in your area.

“Many cities offer a host of free activities, especially in the summer months. Use social media tools and the web to find listings for community activities and make your date night a little cheaper,” wrote money blogger Nicole Graham on LifeHack.org. “This will also push you to do something new or different, which will broaden your horizons and help you meet new people.”

You can also host your own social events. Save on menu items, tax, tips and parking by hosting a potluck supper. Or organize a clothing swap—it can be a fun, intimate event; and you can all get some free new outfits out of the deal.

Eat at home
Maybe your apartment is too small to host a potluck, but you can still plan your meals ahead and cook at home for yourself in order to pocket some cash.

“Taking a few hours every weekend to grocery shop and meal plan for the week will definitely save you money, as dining out is the No. 1 expense for most households,” said Brittney Castro of CNBC. “By eating at home, you save money that would otherwise be spent on tax and tip—and you usually save calories, too.”

If you do eat out—maybe it’s a special occasion or a reward—at least try to order take-out rather than dining in or getting food delivered. You won’t have to pay the double-fee of tipping the driver AND paying the delivery charge.

Get crafty
Take to Pinterest, beauty blogs and more to find cheap, easy-to-make and oftentimes eco-friendly cleaning or beauty supplies. These online resources can also give you cool ideas for repurposing items around the house or crafting in general, so finding a new hobby out of the deal is yet another advantage.

Charge yourself for bad habits
Quitting vices, such as smoking, can save you a ton of money. But the actual process of kicking the habit can save you some money as well. On LifeHack.org, Graham recommends labeling a jar with your designated bad habit and placing a certain denomination of money in the jar every time you find yourself partaking in said bad habit.

As if watching exclusive media content, hanging with friends, helping the planet or bettering yourself could get any better—with these tips, you can save money while you’re at it!

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Best Ways to Save for Your Mortgage Down Payment

Four simple methods to get the ball rolling on your down payment savings
Buying a home is ajanuaryfeatured_saveforhome huge step in life and begins with a huge hurdle: the down payment. Fortunately, by starting early and thinking things through, you can get a solid jump on saving. Here are some easy ideas to get you started.

Automate Your Savings
At your usual financial institution, open a savings account specifically designated for your down payment/mortgage. Not only will this allow you to conveniently transfer funds from one account to the other, it will also allow you to automate transfers or directly deposit part of your paycheck into the specified account.

Make a Budget
Create a spreadsheet that lists all of your monthly expenses and monthly net income. Not only will this tell you how much you can put into savings, it can also help you discern what monthly mortgage payment you can afford. If the buffer between expenses and income is already too small, this is an early red flag that you will have to start doing some things differently to afford your mortgage.

“Given that income and expenses are closely matched in many households, the only way to get ahead is to bring in more money or change your spending habits (meaning spend less) and avidly look for new savings sources,” says Peter Miller, The Simple Dollar contributor.

Invest Your Funds
If you are looking to buy a house within the year, Kathryn Vassel of CNN Money recommends keeping your money liquid; but if your plans are more long-term, it is a good opportunity to invest in order to boost savings. If you are looking at a 10-year time frame, stocks could be a good option for you, Vassel writes. If you think you’ll buy a house in five to seven years, consider investing in bonds: 50 percent in longer-term bond funds or individual bonds and 40 percent in short-term bonds that mature in one to three years, plus 10 percent in cash. Finally, try higher-interest CDs if you are still two to four years from buying a home.

Research Home-Buying Programs
One of the first steps toward saving for a mortgage is setting a goal. A general rule of thumb for the down payment is 20 percent of the home’s selling price, but many available government programs also offer lower down payments, down payment loans or grants, or housing discounts. For lower down payments, look into GSE loans or loans through the FHA, VA or USDA.

Whether you choose one of these savings methods or all of them, they will help you come up with the down payment for the home you’ve always wanted.

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The Power of Compound Interest

Why it really pays to invest early in a retirement account
Money in a savingsjanuaryfeatured_compoundinterest or retirement account grows over time as it earns interest. But the interest rate isn’t the only factor that determines how much it grows; compounding interest helps your funds grow faster because it lets you earn interest on the money you deposit plus previously earned interest.

Compounding interest gives young investors great power to save for retirement, even if they don’t currently have much to save.

People in their 20s and 30s who are working to build their careers are often tempted to put off investing in retirement for a time when they are more established financially. By doing so, however, they miss out on the big advantage they have over older, wealthier savers: time.

“If you invested $10,000 in a mutual fund and the fund earned a 7% return for the year, you’d gain $700,” according to NerdWallet. “Over the years, that money can really add up: If you kept that money in a retirement account over 30 years and earned that average 7% return, for example, your $10,000 would grow to more than $76,000.”

To test out the power of compound interest for yourself, try the Compound Interest Calculator from NerdWallet. It can show you exactly how far your money could go if you started saving today. Just plug in hypothetical savings amounts at https://www.nerdwallet.com/banking/calculator/compound-interest-calculator.

The earlier you start investing, the more time your money has to compound, and when you do the calculations, it becomes clear that saving a little bit of each paycheck today can add up to a much bigger sum at age 65 than if you wait a few decades to start saving, even if you can afford to save more each month when you’re older. The bottom line is that to truly take advantage of the power of compound interest, you need to start saving as early as possible, and the advantage you gain by doing so cannot be overstated.

Business Insider calculated how much you would need to save each month to reach $1 million by age 65 at a 6 percent return rate, and the results are astounding. If you start saving at age 20, you only need to invest $361.04 each month, while starting at age 30makes the required monthly savings nearly double to $698.41. If you wait until you are 50, you need to put away $3,421.46 each month to end up with the same amount at age 65.

You can see a chart that illustrates the calculated monthly savings required for each age group at http://www.businessinsider.com/compound-interest-monthly-investment-2014-3/#.U6xcEI1dWVh.

“When you start saving outweighs how much you save,” says Business Insider contributor Libby Kane. “Retirement accounts such as 401(k)s and Roth IRAs aren’t just savings accounts-they’re actively invested, and therefore have the potential to make the most of this benefit.”

If you’ve been inspired by the mathematical magic of compound interest, harness that motivation by talking to your financial institution about opening up a retirement account or by committing to making regular contributions to your existing savings and retirement accounts.

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Investing vs. Paying Off Debt

Deciding factors include your financial resources and goals

Some people willinvestvsdebt_featured decide to pay off all their debts before ever investing money, while others will say it’s better to carry livable debt and be able to grow your savings over time. There are pros and cons to either option, depending on your financial situation.

What to consider first
According to an October 2014 article in U.S. News Money by contributor Joanne Cleaver, paying off debt first means losing potential compound interest earned on any investments you would have made during that time. On the other hand, investing first means having to manage your debt and pay more in interest over time. And if you’ve invested your money, you likely have fewer funds to make payments toward your debt.

Cleaver says that understanding your financial situation and what you can handle is the largest determinant. She suggests you find your tipping point for affordability by looking at the interest rates of your loans and calculating how much it will cost you on a monthly basis to maintain the debt. If the number doesn’t fall within your affordability parameters, consider paying off the debt before doing any investing.

To do this, Paul Heising, a financial adviser with California-based investment firm Smarter Decisions, recommends “[organizing] consumer debt accounts according to their interest rates so you can see which are costing you the most,” and to “pay back loans with the higher interest rates first, especially if those rates are over 10 percent annually.”

Advantages of doing both
Other experts recommend striking a balance of paying off your debt and investing, but only with certain, less-risky investments at first. Joshua Kennon, author of Investing for Beginners, suggested such a balance in a January 2016 article on the financial resource website TheBalance.com.

According to Kennon, you should fund any workplace retirement accounts, like a 401(k), and start an emergency fund using an FDIC-insured institution while paying down any high-interest rate loans, like student loans and credit cards. Then, he advises to circle back to investing more money into such savings vehicles as an IRA or Roth IRA, and begin building assets in mutual fund and brokerage accounts.

He listed three main points in his reasoning:

  1. “You minimize your tax bill, both from earned income and on investment income, which means more money in your own pocket.”
  2. “You create significant bankruptcy protection for your retirement assets. Your employer-sponsored retirement plan, such as 401(k), has unlimited bankruptcy protection under the current rules, while your Roth IRA has $1,245,475 in bankruptcy protection as of 2015.”
  3. Reducing debt over time allows you to build up while you pay down, so that when you are debt-free you suddenly have a major stream of cash to do with what you want.

An article by CFP Nick Holeman for investment management firm Betterment suggested a similar plan to pay off debt while investing in certain funds.

Holeman advised making at least the minimum payment on your bills, on time, while taking advantage of any employer retirement savings as you pay off major debt. Then you can build your emergency fund and finally invest further for retirement and savings.

Contributing to your company 401(k), even with debt, is important, said Holeman. Especially if your employer has a match contribution, making your contribution maximum to earn the match can yield a higher return on your investment than can many other investment alternatives.

“If you have debt that’s costing you over five percent in fees, pay it off as fast as you can. Start with the highest-interest debt first,” Holeman suggested.

In the end, the decision between off all your debts first, investing all your money first or balancing a plan of both depends on your financial risk-taking and resources.

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The Secrets to Saving More Money

Knowing which accounts to use can help you save more

Today, there are manysavingsecrets_featured options for where to put your money. From using regular checking and savings accounts to deciding whether to open a money market account or a CD (certificate of deposit) to even opening an account for holiday savings — each offers something to help you save a little more.

Money market accounts and savings accounts
In an article in the Houston Chronicle, finance contributor Leigh Anthony compares these two types of accounts. Both offer interest on all deposits made and are insured by the federal government, making them safe, low-risk investment options.

Both account types also have a federal limit of six transfers per month out of the account. However, money markets act more like checking accounts, giving you the ability to write checks, make electronic transfers, and withdraw money with an ATM or debit card. With savings accounts, you can transfer money, but you may or may not be able to withdraw funds directly without talking to a bank teller, depending on the institution.

“Interest rates on savings account[s] are typically very minimal as there is not a minimum balance required,” reports Anthony. “[W]ith a money market account, the interest rate is higher and may fluctuate based on a schedule posted by the [financial institution].”

A savings account would therefore be more appropriate for putting away cash that you want to save for emergencies or a future large purchase, whereas a money market account would be better for savings that you need to access more often, such as for major home renovations.

CD accounts
Anthony also discusses the difference between a CD and a money market account. Unlike money markets, a CD account has a set interest rate that doesn’t change through the investment term. You can set this term from anywhere between 30 days and five years — and then sit back as your money grows.

Furthermore, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal, CDs are reported as low-risk savings accounts with an interest rate that could be higher than a money market account. The money is (probably) federally insured, “and you’re guaranteed to get back what you put in, plus interest once the CD matures” through its predetermined term. But make sure not to withdraw funds before the maturity term ends, or you’ll face a hefty penalty.

Holiday savings accounts
While some institutions offer actual “holiday savings accounts,” this term is broad enough to encompass savings specific for holiday spending. Many people spend a lot of their money during the holidays for gifts and family meals, and a great way to make sure you have funds set aside for these purchases is to open an account just for holiday savings.

“The key is to think about holiday spending the same way you would other recurring, non-monthly expenses, like annual insurance premiums, quarterly tax estimates and home maintenance. Set up an account, and automate deposits from your paycheck like any other bill,” says CFP® Tom Gilmour of LearnVest Planning Services in a November 2014 article in Forbes.

If you need more guidance on what type of savings account to open, contact us and we’ll be happy to help.

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Saving Versus Investing Over Time

Does one take precedence over the other?

It’s the age-old questionSaveVsInvest_Featured to which everyone wants an answer: Is saving over time or investing your money more likely to make you the big bucks?

While both strategically saving and investing will make you money, investing is more likely to up your financial game over the long term, and is best for helping you reach those faraway goals, such as saving for a wedding or a child’s college education. Savings accounts work better for goals in the near future, such as going on vacation or making a large purchase.

While investing over the long term certainly has its advantages, it can pose many more risks than saving accounts do. With funds ensured by the federal government, money up to $250,000 would be restored if anything happened to your financial institution with a savings account. In addition, savings are ready at hand in the event you need money quickly — a possibility investing doesn’t always provide.

Investing, however, offers the potential for major profit and a higher return than a regular savings account. Over time, your investment may appreciate, which will increase your net worth. So if you sell what you invested in for a higher price, you make a profit. With a savings account, you can earn interest, but that’s generally much less than an investment profit.

Of course, when you invest money, you risk losing some or all of it. The key with investing is focusing on the things in your control.

“The only thing that you can control is the amount of capital you invest. Even during periods of low market returns, the frequent addition of investment capital can have a lasting effect,” says Director of Investor Education Bob Stammers of the CFA Institute. “Consistently adding capital to your portfolio, [when combined with] the long-term returns earned on that capital, is an excellent way to steadily move toward your overall financial goals.”

Even if you’re investing your money, it’s still important to be good at saving as well.

“An average saver will do better than a great investor who doesn’t save,” says CFP Professional and Principal David A. Schneider at Schneider Wealth Strategies in New York City.

In addition, whether you save or invest, it’s best to start sooner rather than later.

“The sooner you start saving and investing, the easier it is on your budget,” says President Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz of the Charles Schwab Foundation. “The sooner you start, the less you have to save because you have time on your side.”

“Every $1,000 saved in your mid-20s grows to over $10,000 at retirement, assuming 6 percent growth every year. But waiting until your mid-30s means that same $1,000 will only grow to $6,000,” explains Chartered Financial Analyst and CEO Shane Leonard of Stockflare. Think of it this way: Investing a mere dollar at age 25 could be more than five times as valuable as doing so at age 45.

Stop by to see what kind of investment and saving options we have for you today.

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