The Financial Lessons Of James Bond

Everybody’s favorite spy is back in theaters with the release of “Spectre.” To mark the occasion, we decided to take a look at his 50-plus year history to see what lessons we could learn about life and money from the greatest secret agent in film history. 

Develop your revenue streams. The Bond movies regularly earn more than $100 million in product placement, ensuring the profitability of his missions long before you or I pony up $7.50 for a ticket. For instance, in the Ian Fleming novels, James Bond wears a Rolex Oyster Perpetual. It’s a signature accessory, and in one scene early in the series, he drops the watch onto his fist to use it as a knuckle duster when punching a bad guy in the face.  The scene is beloved by many fans of the novel, which is why it was recreated during a scene during the Daniel Craig era. But it’s surprising when Craig’s Bond makes the move and he’s wearing an Omega watch.  Of course, the most famous Bond-worn watch is Sean Connery’s Rolex Submariner, but he’s also worn a digital Seiko and a Tag Heuer.

Bond has also forsaken his Aston Martin in favor of BMWs and Jaguars, while appearing in commercials for Heineken – a beer that should not be shaken or stirred. He’s indulged in Red Stripe and Coke Zero, flown Pan Am, used L’Oreal, and if you want to dress the part, you need look no further than Tom Ford, the luxury menswear designer responsible for providing the suits and evening wear for the Daniel Craig era. 

Do you have enough revenue streams?  Could you find other ways to make money?  There’s never been a better time to develop additional income.  With the prime interest rate so low, you can lock in an amazing fixed rate on a home equity loan to pursue your business idea or side project for building your fortune during the weekends. You can distribute your product, cultivate a customer base and conduct all of your transactions online, leaving a much larger chunk of your capital to produce a high-quality product or service. 

Keep cool.  In “Goldfinger,” or any of the Connery-era Bond films, the climax tended to revolve around an impending countdown to doomsday, stopped at the last moment by Bond.  He’s fought enough odd-looking henchmen to fill a small stadium, dispatching each with a quip that mixed fantastic timing with unflappable calm.  He’s flown airplanes sideways through hangars and driven tanks through Moscow’s rush hour.  Through it all, James Bond stays cool.  The man can scuba dive up to the bad guy’s island hideout, unzip his wet suit and immediately have on a perfectly pressed tuxedo.  Cool.

Are you cool?  Not in terms of driving the carpool and earning the grudging respect of the tweens in the back seat, but in terms of the ability to drop a one-liner in the face of worldwide annihilation. To put it another way, how rattled are you by the rough year the stock market has had? Don’t let a hiccup on Wall Street ruin your retirement. Instead, buoy your investments with our fantastic savings products. You can reduce your exposure to risk, making it easier to take a deep breath, while having easier access to your money in times of stress. 

Keep your house in good order.  The film plot of “Skyfall” was two hours of “The Dark Knight” followed by half an hour of “Home Alone.” The climax of the film involves a return to Bond’s childhood home, which he manages to turn into a fortress with an afternoon’s work. 

If your house isn’t ready to repel invaders, don’t worry.  Home improvement is easy with a home equity lineof credit.  You get all of the spending flexibility of a credit card, so you can use the money you need when you need to on a revolving line of credit, paying it back in chunks when you can afford to do so, but you can do it at a much lower rate than a credit card because you secure the loan with the equity you already have in your house.  And the interest you pay may be tax deductible (consult your tax advisor on this one). 

Don’t be fooled by the luxuries James Bond enjoys.  It might not seem like a path to financial security, but what if you bought all of the luxuries that James Bond buys? In the films, we’ve seen him drive incredibly expensive vehicles in wonderfully exotic locations while wearing fabulously expensive clothes. We’ve also never seen him buy any of them. He’s received them from MI6, which is why it’s so easy for him to blow them all up.

Are you trying to live the James Bond lifestyle?  James Bond doesn’t even live the James Bond lifestyle. He lets the taxpayers foot the bill while he gets by on a public servant’s wage. You’ll be much happier living within your means and finding the luxuries when you can.


Financial Lessons Of The Big Short

A friend of mine teaches at a university where the 2008 financial crisis came up during one of his recent class discussions. He asked his students, “If you had one million dollars and a time machine, could you go back to 2008 and make a profit?” The class replied that they couldn’t.  Not one student believed he or she could have turned a profit from the financial crisis. He was troubled by that, so he asked his other classes the same question and no one indicated that they understood what happened well enough to do so. Finally, he asked his colleagues, and even they were stumped.  A few of them had vague ideas or suggested they would just buy stock in Google or Amazon while it was low. Still, none had a firm enough grasp on the events of that autumn to confidently explain how they could have made money. 

There are financial lessons to be learned from many movies and figures in popular culture, and The Big Short is no exception. Obviously, we haven’t seen the film, but the Michael Lewis book from which it is based, provides the single best explanation of how the financial system crashed. Like Lewis’ other books, including The Blind Side, Moneyball, Boomerang, and Liar’s Poker, it’s an immensely readable book because Lewis is a gifted writer who can explain difficult concepts because Lewis starts with people rather than statistics.  The people in The Big Short are some of the most interesting characters he could have chosen: He profiles the people who made an enormous profit from the financial crisis, even though they didn’t have a time machine.
Here are a few of the lessons the book (and hopefully the movie) has to offer:

Don’t avoid risk, particularly with your home.  While a generation of would-be homeowners let the financial crisis scare them away from homeownership – a surprising number of Millennials say they’d prefer not to own a home, even if they had the money. The real lesson of the financial crisis is that it’s better to be in a home than not.  It’s scary to see people lose their homes; evictions are terrible and it’s easy to see why young people who saw the wave of Americans losing their largest investments, jobs and nest eggs would be spooked.  However, the people who had taken out loans that they could afford didn’t lose their homes.  That was incredibly important, because … 
If you own your home, it’s a lot easier to lose money on paper. Lewis reports that, during October 2008, Americans lost a combined one trillion dollars.  The thing about that trillion dollars is that it was everywhere we looked: The federal government had a shortfall, so it passed it to the states, which passed it to the locals, so it cut back all government services. Look no further than spending on higher education and tuition costs.  People stopped retiring at the rate they had been, which was rough for Boomers, and it also meant that they weren’t opening up spots for Millennials in the workforce.  Even the divorce rate plummeted because people couldn’t afford to split up a household.
In the end, that trillion dollars became three trillion in government spending to start the economy back up. That is an insanely large amount of money.
But, and this is the key, most individuals who kept their jobs and homes didn’t actually lose money. In a lot of cases, they lost future income and they lost some value in their homes, but unless they cashed out of the stock market or sold their homes for less than they put in, they didn’t lose actual money; they lost money on paper.  It’s not like losing money on paper is fun, but in the worst financial crisis in nearly a century, owning a home was still the best way to keep safe.  If you lost some of the value of your home, but waited the recession out, you’re probably back to where you were before 2008, if not ahead. That’s as safe as it gets.
Something that’s equally as secure is saving your dollars at Destinations Credit Union.  We’re insured by the NCUA, so there’s very little risk and your money isn’t being invested in high-risk/high-reward propositions like mortgage-backed annuities, which brought down the economy in 2008. 

One trillion dollars is a lot of money. If you’d like to imagine that, think of a heist movie where the protagonist walks off with one million dollars in a duffel bag.  Now, imagine there are one million duffel bags, each with one million dollars in them.  Or, if you’d prefer, think of the Dallas Cowboys, who were valued at $1.7 billion in 2009, one of the few NFL franchises to gain value during the year after the financial crisis.  That same year, Cowboys Stadium, now known as AT&T Stadium, opened with a price tag of $1.2 billion.  As the most valuable NFL franchise playing in the most expensive stadium in the country, both could be had for just shy of $3 billion.  So, America lost as much money that month as it would take to purchase the entire NFL 10 times. 

Sometimes, it takes a psycho. One of the most striking things about the profiles in The Big Short is that the people involved all made big bets against the entire rest of the world.  They refused to accept common wisdom, they didn’t listen to their colleagues and investors who thought they were crazy, and they bet on an event which had never happened before and required an orchestrated failure at virtually every level of the American economy.  

The kind of person who can make a bet like that is a little bit crazy. Sometimes, that’s what it takes. As we think about The Big Short, it makes sense that all of those professors and students don’t know how they could make money in the recession, because making that money would require major antisocial and counter-intuitive behaviors. That’s why it’s important to believe in oneself, but even more important to look at the cost of being right: No one involved actually seemed to be both happy and well-adjusted. And we have to wonder: what’s the point of making a profit without that?

Three Questions, Then Three Questions

As 2015 draws to a close, it’s time to figure out if you’re in your best possible financial shape.  While performing a self-audit can seem a daunting task, we’ve created a simple way to get started. Below, we ask three questions about where you are now compared to where you were a year ago. Your answers should help you understand if you made the right choices in 2015.  After that, we’ve got three more questions to help guide your 2016. 

2015:  Do you have less debt than a year ago?

2016:  Could you pay off your credit cards this year if you had to do so? 

December can be a rough month for our credit card statements, so you might already be dreading the daily arrival of the mail just as much as your kids eagerly anticipate it.  But debt is part of life, and the kids can’t unwrap a copy of the family credit score, so you grit your teeth and swipe.  Don’t let the fact that you have credit card debt be a source of guilt or shame, and definitely don’t assume that burden even if you are carrying some credit card debt into 2016. Instead, take a look at where you are now, then compare it to where you were a year ago.  Have you reduced your debt in 2015?  If not, why not?  Maybe you had an emergency you needed to cover.  Maybe this was the year you installed the home theater you’ve been wanting.  The important thing to ask yourself is whether you’ve reduced your credit card debt, and if not, is what you bought with that debt worth it to you now?

With other forms of debt, the questions can be more complicated. While you’d like to have a smaller outstanding balance on your mortgage or car note, reducing the amount you owe might not be the best idea.  After all, mortgage rates are incredibly low right now, so turning your credit card debt into a home equity loan is a smart move (provided you don’t rack up new credit card debt!). You might have a new debt balance that you didn’t have at this time last year if you bought a new car, upgraded the kitchen, or went back to school. 

If it’s time to clear up your debt, try one of our home equity or personal loans. Or, if you have higher rate credit cards, transfer the balances to a lower rate Destinations Credit Union MasterCard Credit Card.  If you reduce your rate and make the same payments, your debt will dwindle more quickly. 

2015:  Do you have more money saved than you did a year ago?

2016:  What would happen if you didn’t get paid next month? 

Again, the best way to determine your financial position today is to compare it to where you were a year ago, and savings is important.  If you have more saved this year than you did last year, it means your budget is working and you’re headed in the right direction.  If you have less saved than you did a year ago, try to determine why that is.  Did you have to dip into savings to pay the down payment on a long-term purchase?  Did you have to cover a gap in employment?  Just like with debt, figure out how much less you saved, compare it to what you bought, and determine whether or not the purchase was worth it.

Just like with debt, however, simply looking at the bottom line probably isn’t enough to tell you if you’re making the right moves.  Having an emergency fund that represents six months of your income is incredibly important for easing your family’s mind and protecting them if something unfortunate happens. But having an emergency fund much larger than that isn’t necessarily better.  You don’t want to be a dragon, sleeping on a hoard of gold simply because it’s pretty. Instead, put that savings to work for you in the form of a retirement fund, college savings or even the down payment on a second home to use as a rental property.

If you’re looking to add to your savings, check out our savings plans (hint: if you want to earn a really high rate, attach a Kasasa Saver to a Kasasa Rewards Checking and earn more every month you qualify!). To save for a child’s education, take a look at our Coverdell IRA Plan. 

2015:  Is your credit score higher than it was a year ago?

2016:  What will you do this year to improve your life? 

These questions might not look like they go together, but they do.  This is the section where you take a big-picture look at your financial world. If your credit score is improving, then you’re probably making the right choices overall.  If not, it would be good to find out why that is the case.  Make sure all of the charges on your credit report are accurate, work to tackle your debt, and try to bring in more income.  If you work to improve your credit score, you’ll almost certainly have to improve your overall financial standing. Destinations Credit Union Members can get unlimited free financial counseling to help you with this through our partnership with Accel.

But your credit score isn’t your life.  What are you going to do this year?  Are you going to take a trip to Europe?  Get started in a new career?  Buy a vacation home on the lake?  Learn a new language? What is it you’d like to actually do?

Once you know what you want to do this year, figure out what it’ll take to make it happen.  Can you save for it?  Will you need a loan?  Is your credit score too low for a second mortgage?  Whatever is in your way, make that your next financial goal.  Get your savings and debt into good positions, and then try to live your life.  After all, that’s what the money is for.  

Rogue Access Points

We’ve all been there.  It’s been a long day of shopping at the mall, or waiting in an airport, or driving across the country, and we finally get a chance to pull out our phones or laptops and look for WiFi. Good news: You’ve found one that doesn’t require a password!  Free WiFi saves the day. You click accept and head to your favorite place to watch videos of kittens, or whatever people normally do on the Internet … we mostly watch kittens.

There’s just one problem: what if that free WiFi was a trap?  One of the cleverest phishing scams out there right now is built on the lure of free WiFi using rogue access points, and it has enough variations to stay ahead of the security teams at Apple, Samsung, Microsoft and our own security for one simple reason: The soft spot in your security is you. 

Here’s how phishing on rogue access points works:  The scammer will set up a wireless router offering free Internet, often marked “Free WiFi,” “ATT WiFi,” or “Starbucks.”  Would you be suspicious of those networks?  Many people just look for the strongest “free” network, while most of the rest of us look for a name we trust.  How paranoid do you have to be to not connect to Starbucks WiFi at the mall?  Once you connect, though, they have a variety of ways to get any information they want off your phone or laptop. 

Even scarier, some scammers are using programs that tell your phone that the name of the free wireless available from the scammer’s router is whatever name your phone is looking for, so it can even connect automatically while in your pocket.  You can get phished over your phone just by walking in the wrong area. 

Once you’re on their network, they have a variety of ways to steal your info, from just grabbing your session cookies to using keystroke monitors to get logins and passwords, to the traditional phishing technique of creating dummy sites that look like Facebook or major credit card websites to prompt you for your info. 

Here’s what you can do to stay safe: 

  1. Turn off your WiFi unless you’re at home or work.  I know, I know. The only thing worse than mobile network data speed is mobile data network pricing.  Well, maybe mobile network customer service. Unfortunately, all that WiFi you grab every day can be dangerous.  Even if you’re not running into rogue access points, you’ve still got to hope that the coffee shop or burger joint actually pays attention to the security of their wireless router, which few even think to do.  Even those businesses that do think about security rarely spend money on it – rarely are they bringing in a professional. No, they’re asking a minimum wage employee to “take care of it” because “you’re young and good at computers.”  On a related note, isn’t it odd that coffee shops don’t spend more time thinking about their WiFi?  Isn’t that a core business at this point? 
  2. Even then, make sure your home and work WiFi are safe. Endpoint security, like Norton antivirus, is not as effective as it once was, simply because there are so many more points of vulnerability than there were a few years back.  We’ll have an extended look at securing your WiFi network in a future installment, but for today, set up your password with WPA2 Enterprise encryption.  If your router does not support it, it’s time for a new router. 
  3. Rename your home network something like “This Public WiFi is UNSAFE.”  It might sound weird, but if a scammer tries to use software to tell your phone the name of his network is the same as your home network, your phone will tell you it’s connected to “This Public WiFi is UNSAFE” and you can get off of it. 
  4. Apps are your friend.  Most apps, including ours, use HTTPs security, rather than HTTP. This can actually stop some of the tactics many scammers use.  Remember, they don’t want to beat the best security; they want to do as little work as possible and beat those unwary souls who rely on the worst security.  A simple step up is enough to keep many scammers at bay. 
  5. Get an app that prevents rogue access.  Depending on your operating system (OS), you have different options, but search your app store.  It’s worth the trouble and $4.99. 


Finals Week

Around the country, college campuses are finishing their semesters.  While your families are thinking peppermint mochas and gift wrap, you’re probably running back and forth from the library to professor’s offices, maybe also holding a peppermint mocha.  Finals week is no fun.  It’s an unsanitary, stressful, hectic time, in which the weather is usually either overcast or snowy … or both! 

The worst part is that you know most of it could be better, and you know it’s mostly your fault.  You’d probably made plans to start studying earlier, take better notes and generally act more like those students who have it all figured out.  If you’re being honest, though, are you really going to do all that?  The more complicated your resolution, the less likely it is to occur. 

Here’s an easier solution you can actually accomplish in a single day, which will make every finals week so much easier:  Stack your schedule based on the final exam.  Email some of the professors you plan to take in the spring with a simple question:  What is the format of your final exam? 

Knowing this can help you strategize your efforts. For instance, try not to take classes with all multiple choice exams in the same semester, because there’s only so much cramming a brain can do. Try not to take too many classes in which you turn in a final paper, because you can only format so many citations before your hair falls out.  You can even use this strategy to make the whole week make better sense:  If you have to take two math classes and you hate math, schedule them the same semester as courses with final papers.  That way, you can turn in your final papers before finals week begins, and all you have to do during finals week is math.  No distractions! 

You can do a lot of the same things with your budget.  Just like with finals week, the end of the month is the time you make strong resolutions to make better decisions, even when you know you’ll be going out way too late on school nights next month, too.  Of course, going out late on school nights is how you get into trouble with school and money at the same time. 

So, let’s apply the same principles as we did to finals week.  Go through your budget and find out when your bills are due.  You can often change the date with a simple phone call.  Spend some time this month rearranging your bills to come out the day after you get paid, spread out for each of your paychecks. That way, you never see money in your account that you can’t spend, because the money you need to pay the bills will disappear immediately.

Prep Your Finances for Success in 2016

Brought to you by our partner Accel Financial Services
With 2016 just around the corner, many people will make resolutions to manage their personal finances better.  Whether that means saving more, or setting up a personal budget, the suggestions can get overwhelming.
Here are four easy personal finance goals for you to consider, to start the New Year on the right path:
1. Set up a money management system that works for you

Different systems work well for different folks, but here are a few ideas:

  • Write down your income and all of your monthly expenses. Look for opportunities to trim expenses, wherever you can.
  • Identify the areas where you might overspend, and then decide to use cash for these transactions. Then, limit the amount of cash you put in your wallet each week to the amount you’ve decided to spend. Seeing the amount of money available as a fixed, finite thing can help you control your spending. 
  • Set up automated budget alerts with a service such as our MoneyDesktop financial management program within online banking.

2. Review your credit report 
Visit to receive one free credit report annually from each credit bureau. 

If you’re having trouble understanding how to improve your credit, a free credit report review through the Accel program can help.
3. Begin to save 
Once you’ve got a workable budget, automate the process of saving. Setting up direct-deposit into savings makes it much more likely that you’ll save. Plus, paying yourself first helps the money to be “out of sight and out of mind,” so that you’ll be able to stick more closely to the spending plan you’ve set for yourself.
It’s important to reach a point where you have a balance between short-term savings and long-term (retirement) savings. It should be a priority to try to adjust your budget, so that you can take advantage of any employer-sponsored retirement plan that your job might offer, especially if the employer offers a contribution match.
4. Get serious about reducing debt 
One of the first steps in decreasing your debt load is to stop adding to it in the first place. Begin to get out of the habit of using credit cards for purchases.
If you have consumer debts, look for ways to try to reduce your overall interest costs and fees. Through our credit union’s partnership with Accel, you have access to a Debt Management Plan, which may reduce interest rates, lower monthly payments and waive late fees, for free!  To learn more, call 877-332-2235 or visit

This Guy Paid Off His Mortgage In Three Years. So, Why Does He Regret It And Why Is Everyone Angry At Him?

There’s not much in life that is more freeing than finally paying off a large bill. Suddenly, our checking accounts are flush, the future feels more open, and even our favorite jeans seem to fit better. When it comes to a mortgage, of course, that seems so far down the road it’s difficult to imagine, particularly for those just starting out.  If you’ve always paid rent or a mortgage, it just kind of feels like that bill is always there, the background noise of your life. 
So, when 30-year-old Canadian resident Sean Cooper paid off his mortgage in three years, he celebrated by burning his mortgage papers and found a news crew to film it.  But, here’s the twist: He isn’t happy about it, and judging from social media posts and comments on the news coverage, no one else is, either.  In fact, Cooper seems full of regret and everyone else is full of scorn or pity.  What’s going on?
Cooper sacrificed a lot to pay off his mortgage, and even he admits he focused too much on his financial goals.  He worked three jobs, including as a full-time CAD technician $75,000 (about USD $56,000) white-collar job, a customer service job at a local grocer, and writing freelance articles.  In addition, he supplemented his income by living in the basement of his home while he rented the house to others.  As many commenters note, that’s not a healthy way to live and it’s unsustainable.
Often, we lose sight of what’s around us when we focus on our financial goals.  That moment when the bill is paid seems so sweet that we don’t really think about everything it’ll take to get us there.  If you’d like to make financial headway on your mortgage without making yourself crazy, we’ve collected some tips below.  The key idea among them is finding a balance, so you’ll need to adjust them for your own personal situation.  If you’d like a more personal meeting to discuss your financial goals and finding balance, let us know.  Also, follow us on Facebook and Twitter. 
Take gigs, not jobs.  It’s easy to see why renting out one’s home and securing extra employment are so appealing.  Regular income feels safe and makes it easy to plan ahead.  But extra employment can also be confining; It’s difficult to work full-time and still find time for your hobbies, your family, or the occasional afternoon spent binge-watching Netflix (something everyone needs occasionally).  If you don’t find time for your hobbies, you’ll find that your job has become your hobby.  If you don’t spend time with your family, you just won’t have the bonds that families need.
Instead, look at gig-based jobs like Uber and Air-BNB.  While they might not offer the steady income of a regular-hours job, you can scale your work up or down depending on need and availability. Plus, if you don’t feel like working on a given day, you don’t have to.  With Air-BNB, the owners of a rental property can cancel for any reason with as little as 24 hours notice.  That’s the kind of fantastic option that’s not available if you have renters who are playing their music a little too loud above you. 
Turn your hobby into a gig.  If you want another way to generate income, one that doesn’t require you to do mindless tasks, and you want to keep enjoying your hobby, then it might be time to turn that hobby into a gig.  Do you scrapbook or make crafts?  Open a store on Etsy.  Are you an avid collector? Start investing and re-selling collectibles on eBay.  Do you build or tinker? Time for a workshop. Have a design? Put together a working prototype and take to Kickstarter.  Want to write a novel?  Fifty Shades of Grey and The Martian both started life as fan-made, self-published ebooks. It’s never been easier to find an audience or customer base.
If you’re looking to make the move from weekend warrior to someone who can make money with your passion, get some start-up capital. You’ll need workshop space, supplies or a new laptop.  We’ve got a lot of ways for you to invest in yourself.  Who knows, that investment could be the start of a new path to leaving the rat race behind. 
The goal is financial security, not paying off a single bill. There’s no prize in paying off your mortgage. It’s just one less bill to pay.  Your goal is overall financial security.  That could mean refinancing your mortgage to have cash in hand when interest rates are low, or investing significantly when interest rates are high.  So, don’t pay off your mortgage while racking up credit card debt or neglecting your student loans.  Instead, take a look at all of your debt.  Work from the highest interest rate to the lowest, paying off each in turn, so you can pay as little interest as possible every month.
One of the easiest ways to do this is with a home equity loan.  Using the equity you have built in your home will get you a lower rate than your credit cards or medical bills are charging, and it can even be a fixed rate, so you can benefit if the Federal Reserve raises interest rates.  All you need to do is secure a home equity loan then transfer your credit card balances onto the loan.  Sometimes, simply calling the credit card companies with a check from your home equity loan in hand will get them to drop the rate you’re being charged.  Fantastic! Now you can use your loan on a different card.
Whatever you do, you’ve got to be happy.  It’s difficult to find balance, particularly with debt and obligations hanging over our heads. The solution isn’t to take on more obligations and retreat from humanity. The solution needs to be understanding that money exists as a means to an end, not an end itself. 

Holiday Spending Is Getting Smarter, But You Can Be Smarter Still

The average American will spend nearly $900 on holiday presents this year. If you have two adults in your household, that’s almost $1,800. The odds are good that you’ve already spent a good chunk of that on Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday specials.  In looking at the sales numbers from the weekend, Americans are getting smarter about how they spend that money.  Brick and mortar stores suffered about a billion-dollar decrease in sales from 2014, largely avoiding many of the big-ticket items that lure customers into waiting overnight in cold parking lot lines.  Instead, consumers pushed online purchases to a record high of $4.45 billion, roughly 20 percent more than last year. At the time of this writing, Cyber Monday sales had not yet been released, so we can’t compare those. 
In addition to this, sales numbers indicate earlier spending, more diversified spending and shopping carts that were more full at fewer locations.  All of this points to people purchasing items they had selected before the big weekend sales, then spending less time browsing and far less time in the harsh winter conditions and occasional inhuman violence that only cheap electronics and toys can provoke.
Even with the transition to warmer, quicker and more pajama-clad shopping, the money being spent is astounding.  The odds are also good that you don’t remember everything you bought for the holidays last year, and even if you do remember what you were given, it probably doesn’t add up to hundreds of dollars worth of things you still use.  If you don’t remember or use what you were given, the people who received gifts from you probably don’t either.  So why do we insist on spending so much of our hard-earned money on cheap plastic junk? Is there a better way to spend that money?
Yes, we’re getting smarter about how we spend on the holidays. But let’s set up a plan today to be in an even better position at this time next year. 
Step One:  How much did you spend or will you spend this year? 
Consider how much you’re going to spend this year.  If you’ve finished your shopping, then you can use your receipts.  Otherwise, you can estimate what else you plan to buy or just use the $900 per person national average.
Next, add to that how much you’ll spend in interest on credit cards while you pay off the balances.  If you’d like to avoid the math, you can estimate that the total cost is $1,000, because that’s a nice round number for this exercise. 
Step Two:  Putting away that money for next year. 
To use this money as intelligently as possible, it’s a good idea to save as much as possible ahead of time.  That way, compound interest is in your favor instead of working against you.  Start with one of our savings plans. A great option is our Holiday Club, which offers easy automatic deposits and doesn’t let you withdraw prior to the due date without a penalty. If you are more disciplined and not worried about using the money prior to the holidays, another option is our High Yield Account, which will pay a higher dividend if you’re ready to put the money into savings today.  
Step Three:  Paying off this Christmas. 
It’s time to get those credit card payments down so we can move into the new year with a clean ledger.  If you’ve got the extra income, pay them down with that, but we also know times are a little tighter for many of us.  Luckily, your credit union has a variety of solutions for paying down credit card debt: 
  • Home equity loans are great for high balances, because they turn high interest credit card debt into low interest home equity debt.  Also, if the Federal Reserve raises the prime interest rate early next year, you’ll be protected by a fixed-rate loan.  If you don’t want all the math, a home equity loan reduces the interest you pay, so you can pay off your loan more quickly.
  • If you don’t want a home equity loan, your credit card debt isn’t that high, or you don’t own a home, you could also consider transferring your higher rate balances to a Destinations MasterCard Credit Card.  We offer incredibly low rates, so you can transfer your higher interest balances onto a lower interest card, which will let you pay off the debt more quickly. Plus, there is no fee for balance transfers and no annual fee for the card.

Step Four:  Cutting costs. 

Make a list of everyone for whom you’ve bought gifts and how much you spent or will spend.  Then, go through and imagine what would happen if you got them nothing.  Would life be worse?  Would it be embarrassing?  Do you really need to give everyone something?  For those you feel an obligation to gift, keep them on the list for next year. For those you don’t, send them a card.  For anyone about whom you’re unsure, how about a gift of home baked cookies? Simply cutting out a few people can save you several hundred dollars every year.  Ask yourself:  would I rather avoid a potentially awkward situation or have a new … well, you probably know what you’d rather buy with several hundred dollars.
If you’re worried about last minute awkwardness in case someone gets you something, there’s a really simple solution:  Buy a few cards, write a general inscription inside, sign them, and add a gift card to a big store you’d shop at anyway.  Would anyone be upset at an Amazon gift card?  Then, if you need it, you can write the name of the person in question on the envelope and hand it to them.  If you happen to have any of these standby gifts left at the end of the holiday, the gift cards are yours to keep:  call it profit. 
Step Five:  What will you do with your money? 
At this point, you’ve paid off holiday 2015, and by the time holiday 2016 rolls around, you’ll have saved more money than you need since you saved enough for this year but cut costs for next year. Interest has worked in your favor, and suddenly your next December is one in which your pockets will be full.  That gives you 12 months to decide what to do with your money.  Reinvest it in a savings plan? Buy supplies to open that web store you’ve always wanted? Take a class or learn a language? Maybe your dog needs a little brother or sister.
Whatever you do, it’s probably going to be better than that necktie you got for Bob in accounting this year, and it’s all for you. 

Keep Yourself Safe During The Holiday Season

Every year, we hear about the same holiday safety tips – don’t drive tired, don’t drive drunk, assume every other driver is drunk and/or tired, etc. Those are all good ideas to keep in mind year-round. Occasionally, we’ll hear one that’s specific to the season, like how frying turkey in the driveway is as dangerous as it is delicious, and it’s also not something to try while drinking or overly tired. Unfortunately, this time of year is also one of financial dangers, many of which you won’t hear about on the morning news or read about in the paper.  Take some time, read our tips, and hopefully you won’t be a holiday victim. 

Keep an eye on your surroundings – Crowded malls and shopping centers are a savory opportunity for pickpockets.  You’re expecting to get bumped and won’t notice one more jostle in a day full of them.  If you do recognize you’ve been robbed, the thief can probably get away into the crowd, disappearing like a needle in a haystack.  Purses should be worn across the body, wallets kept in the front pocket or inside a closed jacket.  Consider leaving the house with the bare minimum, such as your driver’s license or ID, health insurance card and our debit card – which offers fraud protection and security features not available with cash. 

RFID, RFID, RFID – Today’s pickpockets don’t need to take your wallet to cause you problems, because many modern debit and credit cards emit RFID signals with personally identifying information.  If any of your cards have a chip, then you need to account for them. Check our RFID wallet guide for some tips. In a pinch, you can wrap chipped cards in two layers of aluminum foil, which will offer you protection from high-tech pickpockets, but you may get some bewildered stares or questions from folks at the register.


Don’t leave checks in the mailbox – At some point, we all learned not to use those colorful envelopes that tell thieves which cards might have checks in them, but we never learned the next step: Don’t put checks in the mailbox at all.  It’s not hard for thieves to grab stuff out of the outgoing mail, whether it has the power company’s name on it or is shaped like a holiday card.  Drop all checks into a big blue mailbox, bring them into your post office branch, or hand them to your postal carrier in person.  By the way, this tip should be followed year-round, and you might want to consider setting up our online bill pay feature to minimize the number of checks you write, as well. 

Understand the dangers of every form of payment – Every form of payment has its dangers.  Cash is portable and untraceable, so it’s a target for thieves.  Cards without EMV chips are in danger from skimmers built into the card reader at registers (like what happened at Target).  EMV cards can be skimmed by people with specialized equipment who bump up next to you.  All cards, cash and mobile phones are in danger of being stolen.  Some experts are even saying that check fraud will be the most dangerous type of identity theft over the next five years.  Even if you attempt to return to agrarian-era bartering, an enterprising thief could run off with the cow you were going to trade for an Old Navy gift card.

Take a breath, recognize the dangers and take reasonable precautions. Do you know what kind of fraud protection you have on each of your credit cards?  Any card about which you’re unsure needs to stay home until you find out.  Unsure about a small boutique’s cyber security? Bring cash. 
Bring your own bag – Shopping bags are a great way for stores to advertise, but they also advertise to thieves.  “This overburdened, overtired, potentially unwary individual is carrying goods from all of these stores,” the bags say “some may even have receipts in them and might have been paid for with cash.” Don’t make it easier for thieves. Instead, bring a tote bag that zips up if you have one, or your canvas grocery bags if you don’t. 
Take a trip to the car – Carrying too much is asking for trouble.  It makes you less mobile, you’re less likely to feel someone remove an item from your bags, and even if no one hassles you, it’s a good way to end up with back pain.  If you’re enduring a marathon trip to the mall, take time every few stores to take your purchases out to the car. Keep receipts in your wallet and take pictures of the bags you put in your trunk (where thieves can’t see), so even in the worst possible scenario, your car insurance can cover the loss of your shopping from a car thief.
Plus, you’ll have less to carry, you’ll get some exercise, and the cold air can help you clear your head to decide if you need to purchase anything else.  Not a bad way to keep from overspending! 
Buy yourself a holiday drink from the coffee shop – You’re probably safer if you’re alert, but that’s just an excuse.  Holiday coffee drinks are delicious, you want one, and we just gave you an awesome excuse to justify the everyday luxury of a peppermint mocha to yourself.  You’re welcome. 
January is coming, be ready – If you’re going to binge on holiday shopping in December, you’ll need to purge in January.  Keep all of your receipts and do an extra-careful reconciliation of your accounts in January.  Be ready to spend a few afternoons making phone calls to make sure every charge is correct and accounted for.  Make sure to check your credit report in January as well.  While you’re checking your credit and your accounts, take the opportunity to start the new year off right:  you have your financial info gathered already, you have your credit report in front of you and your W-2s are starting to show up, so it’s time to do three things:
  1. File your taxes.  Don’t get mad at us, it’s not our fault.  We’re only reminding you to do it early because you’ll already have most of what you’ll need, so getting your homework done on Friday will give you the rest of the weekend off. And don’t forget to have any refund directly deposited to your Destinations account.
  2. Rework your debt.  You have every one of your credit card and other account statements in front of you, so it’s time to make some calls.  For your higher interest cards, it’s time to pay them down, transfer the balances to a MasterCard at Destinations Credit Union or negotiate a lower rate.  This is easier if you’ve got some cash in hand, possibly from the tax refund you now know you’re getting.  You can also take this time to explore using your home equity to eliminate some of the high-interest cards. 
  3. Set up a Holiday Club for 2016.  Alright, you just saw how much money you spent this holiday season.  Next year, resolve to do it all without taking on unnecessary debt.  You’ll save a ton of money and a ton of stress.  The best way to do that is with one of our Holiday Club accounts.  Use this year’s budget as a guide. Next year will be a breeze.

And that’s it.  It sounds like a lot, but it’s really taking the same level of vigilance you would use for normal shopping and increasing it to correspond with the increased spending of the season.  For a good rule of thumb, maybe we should just establish the “3-Mariah” rule:  Once you hear Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” for the third time on any day, you have to go home – you’ve either spent too long at the mall, or your brain has been turned into holiday slurry and you can no longer be trusted to remain vigilant.  Three Mariahs and you’re out.