Why & How to Plan Ahead for Health Care Expenses

Health care is something that most Americans overlook when budgeting. Medical debt child with nursecan get out of control if you don’t have health insurance or you don’t plan ahead for unexpected health care expenses.

But how do you plan ahead for health care expenses?

Here are a few tips that can help you start the planning process:

  1. Research health insurance plans and medical costs. To plan ahead for your health care expenses, you will need to understand what type of health insurance plan you have and the medical costs that you may incur in the upcoming year.
    • Determine how much to save based on your deductible, co-payments/co-insurance and/or out-of-pocket maximums. You can contact your health insurance provider to find out the amount of your deductible.
    • Estimate how much to save based on any medical bills you received in the previous year.
    • Calculate how much to save based on any prescriptions you had to pay for in the previous year.
    • Attend workshops and seminars presented by your employer or health insurance organization to get a better understanding of how to get the most out of your health insurance plan (and spend the least amount of money out of your own pocket).

Everyone’s situation will be different. Use what you think will be best for you to determine how to save money on your health care costs.

  1. Start the planning and budgeting process. A best practice is to use a budgeting tool to outline all of your monthly expenses, including any estimated health care costs. A visual map of your financial plan will give you something to follow to ensure you are meeting your savings targets every month.
  2. Consider Opening a Health Savings Account (HSA) or Flexible Spending Account (FSA). These enable you to save for health care expenses in advance (on a pre-tax basis). Not only are the funds untaxed, they can also be used to cover the cost of co-payments, co-insurance, out-of-pocket maximums, and prescriptions.

The Bottom Line: You’ll Save Money in the Long Run

Ultimately, planning ahead for health care expenses is like planning ahead for retirement. With retirement, you plan ahead to cover all of your bills in the future. The same concept applies for health care expenses. The money you save will enable you to cover the costs of any medical expenses you incur in the future.

Courtesy of Accel Members Financial Counseling, Destinations Credit Union’s partner to provide its members free unlimited financial counseling.

6 Ways To Save On Your Summer Vacation

The ocean is calling – and so is the open road. Your dream vacation awaits! But first, youSummer Beach Scene need to work out the financial details. How are you going to pay for your getaway? How much can you realistically spend? Where is the money for your vacation going to come from?

Ideally, a plump vacation fund that’s fed throughout the year is the way to go. Unfortunately, though, we often don’t think about how to pay for vacation until it’s a few weeks away. To make things even worse, according to LearnVest, an alarming 74% of Americans go into debt to pay for a vacation.

Don’t become part of that statistic! Be proactive in planning your vacation by saving up for it in advance. Forgo some luxuries in the months or weeks leading up to your vacation and save the extra cash for your getaway. Consider running a yard sale featuring all of your forgotten treasures and use the profits to fund your trip. Skip your weekly dinner out for a while and put the money in your vacation budget.

Now it’s time to plan your vacation! When you’ve got the money saved up, create a realistic vacation budget. These six vacation saving tips will help you plan the perfect getaway while staying well within your budget.

1.) Timing is everything

Be a savvy shopper. There is an ideal window for buying everything, and booking airline flights is no exception. Flight prices generally fluctuate until departure day, but experts say the sweet spot is 54 days before your travel date. If you don’t want to be busy checking prices all day, sign up for emails from a savings alert site. Let them know which dates and locations you’re interested in, and they’ll let you know when a flight goes on sale so you can book your discounted tickets before they’re sold out.

2.) Clear your cache

Hotel and airline sites use cookies to determine what you’re shopping for. They’ll see which days you’re searching and raise their prices accordingly. Beat the system by clearing your cache before every new search so they can’t read into your browser history. You might see as much as a 50% drop in prices when searching with an empty cache!

3.) Sweet-talk your way to savings

Just because your hotel room is pre-booked, it doesn’t mean you can’t save. Don’t be shy about asking for an upgrade at check-in. About 78% of hotel guests who request an upgrade at the front desk actually receive one. Some face-to-face schmoozing can go a long way!

Also, by 6 p.m., most hotels know which rooms will be filled for the night. If you check in later in the day, you’ll have a better chance at getting the keys to the room with the incredible view – even with your economy-class price tag.

4.) Never pay full price

You can score a deluxe vacation without the deluxe price tag – all it takes is a little research. Check sites like coupondivas.com, entertainment.com and Groupon.com for amazing deals and deep discounts for local eateries and entertainment centers. You can also find cheaper tickets to nearby amusement parks by looking for sellers on Craigslist. Also, if you’re traveling with kids, don’t forget to look up restaurants with “Kids Eat Free” promotions.

5.) Freebie fun

Challenge yourself to enjoy one day of your vacation without spending any money at all. Search local sites and blogs for write-ups about fantastic free things to do nearby. You might find a charming family farm, a gorgeous waterway, a fun splash pad for the kids or a scenic hiking trail. Or, just spend the day at the closest beach!

Don’t eat out on this day either. Many hotels include a continental breakfast – take full advantage. For lunch, you can picnic on sandwiches. Dinner can be something effortless and delicious that you brought from home or pick up at a local supermarket. Consider packing a travel grill or panini maker for easy meals. You can heat up some hot dogs or burger patties, or bring some baguettes and an assortment of sliced cheeses for fresh paninis. Round off the meal with some pre-sliced veggies.

You’ll be surprised at how much fun you can have without spending a penny!

6.) Save your mega event for the last day

The taste of dessert is what lingers after the meal is through. End your vacation on a sweet note by saving your most exciting event for your last day away.

If you’re unsure of how you’re going to fund your getaway, call, click or stop by [credit union] to ask about taking out a personal loan or joining a vacation club. We want to help you make your dream vacation come true!

Your Turn: How do you save big on summer vacation? Share your best hacks and tips with us in the comments!

SOURCES:
https://www.google.com/amp/www.vogue.com/article/how-to-save-money-on-summer-travel-learnvest/amp

https://www.google.com/amp/www.cbsnews.com/amp/news/5-money-tips-for-savoring-your-summer-vacation/
https://www.google.com/amp/amp.timesfreepress.com/news/business/aroundregion/story/2017/jun/25/how-save-time-work-and-money-your-summer-vaca/434806/
https://www.google.com/search?q=ways+to+save+on+summer+vacation&rlz=1CDGOYI_enUS737US737&oq=saving+on+summer+vaca&aqs=chrome.3.69i57j0l3.11737j0j7&hl=en-US&sourceid=chrome-mobile&ie=UTF-8
https://www.google.com/amp/www.bankrate.com/personal-finance/smart-money/8-last-minute-ways-to-save-for-vacation/%3Famp%3D1

Risking It When Investing

Sometimes one partner is a risk taker and wants to invest in things that aren’t really iniStock_000034071002_Medium the other’s comfort zone. Some generally consider it better to invest where returns are higher, but that also means a higher risk! Is there some sort of middle ground?

It’s a good idea to think (and talk) this through. Many couples face the same question, and while the simplest solution might be to split your funds down the middle and invest as you each see fit, that’s not likely to bring peace or wealth into the relationship. In a marriage, for one thing, whether accounts are titled separately or jointly, they are considered marital assets (even 401Ks). And a healthy relationship depends on working jointly toward financial goals, not going it alone.

One of the most difficult issues for couples to resolve is how much risk they’re willing to take with their investments. According to Fidelity’s 2015 Couples Retirement Study, 47 percent of couples disagree about how much money they’ll need to maintain their lifestyle in their later years. Even more troubling, a Harris survey found that 33 percent of couples weren’t saving anything for their retirement years. And, of those who were, one in five said they were clueless about how much their partner was contributing to their accounts.

Some tips if you’re starting down the investment road together:

  • As in so many areas of a relationship, communication is key. Let your spouse or partner know you’re willing to research options together and come up with a plan. Erica Coogan, partner at Moss Adams Wealth Advisors in Seattle, recommends that each partner complete a risk assessment questionnaire and then compare answers. “It makes a subjective conversation a little more objective,” she says.
  • Remember that planning needs to cover both spouses, not just a breadwinner. Experts advise couples to be mindful of the “It’s my money because I worked for it” syndrome. Couples need to work together on a plan for investing (and spending) their money, no matter who earns it. Apart from any resentment, an uneven divide in the ownership of assets can make a mess of cash flow, estate planning and taxes.
  • Consider transparency. Wherever you stand on risk, consider selecting some investments that are, by nature, transparent. This includes individual stocks, bonds and exchange-traded funds. You can also reduce risk by diversifying your portfolio across asset classes. Ask a financial advisor at your credit union for help in untangling the strands of modern-day investing.
  • Think about your time horizon. Allowing an investment to compound leads to much better returns. So, if you’re the more risk-averse half of a couple, and you’ll need your money within 10 years, say with confidence to your partner: Slow down. Remember that it doesn’t make intuitive sense (but is nevertheless true) that your money doubles in seven years if you earn a compounded annual return of 10%. Don’t let a little fumbled math lead to a rash or risky decision.
  • Keep the goalposts in sight. Your mutual goals will determine how, and how much, the two of you should invest. For instance, when do you want to retire? Do you plan to pay for your kid’s college expenses? Purchase a home (or a second home)? Start a business?

Finances are one of the leading causes of separation. The more ownership and open communication a couple has over this potentially rocky topic, the less likely it is that they’ll panic when there’s a ripple in their plans or something happens in the markets.

Your Turn: Do you and your spouse or partner disagree about investments? Let us know how you’ve smoothed that potentially rocky road and headed for a secure sunset.

SOURCES:
https://blog.wealthfront.com/couples-investing-risk-assessmentwww.gofffinancial.com/investing-for-couples
http://money.usnews.com/investing/articles/2016-09-21/5-common-investment-mistakes-that-couples-make
http://www.bankrate.com/finance/investing/5-steps-effective-investing-as-couple.aspx#slide=2

Common Mistakes During Open Enrollment


Fall is a time of many changes. The temperatures cool, the leaves change color, and the world starts getting ready for winter. With all that change, there’s one thing people often leave the same: their workplace benefits packages.

November is the beginning of the open enrollment period for many workplace benefit plans. It’s also the open enrollment period for insurance policies on the Obamacare marketplace. This makes it an excellent time to review your insurance information and other benefits.  Destinations Credit Union has a partnership with TruStage Insurance which offers members good pricing on plans through the marketplace.  Watch our website for details.

These perks may have been a big part of what drew you to your job in the first place, so it makes sense to get as much out of them as possible. You may be paying too much (or too little!) for health insurance, and now’s your chance to fix it. Be sure to watch out for these three common pitfalls when enrolling in workplace benefits.

1.) The passive opt-in

When starting a new job, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the barrage of paperwork and decisions. Health insurance decisions are just one of the dozen new responsibilities, so they get a fraction of the attention they deserve. For many people, though, those are the health insurance choices they stay with for much of their careers.

There are two key reasons why sticking with the default option may be a poor choice. First, your life situation has likely changed. As you get older, your need for more comprehensive health coverage increases. You may also need more extensive dependent coverage or you may have more disposable income to contribute to an HSA or FSA.

Second, your employer’s offerings may have changed. Most companies renegotiate their insurance rates annually, and may have negotiated for greater flexibility, lower premiums or better coverage. These are only options you’ll discover if you sit down with your HR representative and figure out your coverage for the next benefits year.

2.) Forgetting spousal benefits

Doubling preventative solutions is rarely a bad thing. Having a belt and suspenders seems like the most cautious way to keep your pants up. However, when it comes to health insurance, being covered by both your and your spouse’s plans can be a serious financial hazard.

First, you may be paying more than necessary. Adding a spouse to a workplace policy is usually cheaper than paying for two separate policies. Take a look at both policies and see which one provides the right combination of better prices and better coverage.

More dangerously, double insurance can frequently leave you in the middle of a fight between insurance companies. Both will insist that the other should pay first, and you could wind up buried under a mountain of paperwork for coordination of benefits. This trouble can compound when there are children covered under multiple policies. While you’ll never be on the hook for the whole charge, you may have to work twice as hard to get covered.

If you and your spouse are on different enrollment periods, most companies will provide a preview of the planned benefits offerings outside open enrollment. This allows you and your partner to review and consider the available options. Picking one insurance plan for both of you can really cut down your costs.

3.) Ignoring HSA/FSA options

Enrolling in a Health Savings Account (HSA) or Flexible Spending Account (FSA) can sting at first. Seeing dollars go out of your paycheck before you spend them hurts. Don’t let that deter you, though.

HSAs and FSAs are similar in function, but there are important differences. Both allow you to contribute pre-tax dollars that you can use for health care-related expenses. The difference is that HSAs rollover their entire remaining balance to the next year, while FSAs only rollover up to a certain limit established by your plan. There are other differences, like whether or not the account follows you after you leave the company, but the principle difference is the rollover effect.

Enrolling in one of these accounts requires estimating your healthcare costs for the next year. For most people, the safest assumption is that you’ll spend the same amount next year as you did last year. However, if you’ve got a planned medical expense, such as a pregnancy, surgery or other major issue that will arise next year, you can get an estimate to guide your contributions.

Funding an HSA or an FSA is basically free money off your taxes. One way or another, you’ll have to pay for health care costs. By designating money for it early, you can avoid paying taxes on money you’ll spend for health care.

No matter how long you’ve held your current position, it’s worth revisiting your benefits options once a year. Don’t just throw away the paperwork about your insurance, and don’t skip the informational policy meetings. Be an active participant in your benefits decisions. After all, you’ve earned them.

YOUR TURN: Insurance questions are difficult. What matters most to you when picking an insurance policy? Help your fellow benefit strugglers in the comments with your best advice!

SOURCES:


The ‘Pink Tax’: Does Shopping Like A Girl Cost You Money?

Several economic studies have confirmed the existence of a so-called “pink tax,” an inflated price attached to goods and services specifically marketed to women. While theories abound to explain the pricing discrepancy, its existence seems clear. On everything from razors and deodorant to car repair and haircuts, women are expected to pay more for products marketed directly to them. In many cases, marketing is where the differences stop.

It may seem like pennies, but across the board, these pennies add up. One study by the University of Florida found that women end up paying about $1,400 more per year. This invisible tax is taking money out of your pocket. Want to get it back? Here are some ways you can avoid the pink tax. 

Go Scentless 

Personal hygiene products are among the biggest contributors to that $1,400. Items like lotion are rebranded as “facial moisturizer” and packaging with floral designs. The “moisturizer” sells for 7-8% more than the “lotion.” The functional difference between the two products? In most cases, absolutely none. When there is a difference, it’s usually in perfume.

The worst culprit of the flowery-smelling foul play is deodorant. Men’s and women’s deodorants all have the same active ingredients, usually in the same ratios between brands. A stick deodorant is a stick deodorant until it comes time to scent it. Floral-scented deodorants sell for as much as a dollar more than their muskier counterparts.

No one wants to smell like a man (even many men). So what’s the answer? Look for scentless or perfume-free personal hygiene products. Not only are they cheaper, but the lack of chemical perfumes can be better for your body in the long run, too.

If you miss the floral aromas of your old products, consider purchasing essential oils in similar scents. You can add them to lotions and deodorants yourself at home for a fraction of the cost and keep a closer eye on what you’re putting on your skin.

When in doubt, check the ingredients. Compare your usual to a comparable male product. If there’s a reason for a gender difference, it’ll show up here. In most cases, the active stuff is all the same. 

Ignore the packaging 

The most flagrant example of the “pink tax” has to be in razors. No difference exists between razor cartridge replacements for men and women except the color of the packaging. Yet, a 4-pack of Venus razors costs $4 more than a 4-pack of Fusion razors. They’re the same razor, made by the same company. The only difference is the more expensive one is pink and the cheaper one is blue.

It’s not just razors, though. Toys, like scooters that are marketed to children, can vary wildly in price depending upon their paint job. One retailer listed blue childrens’ scooters for $24.99 and an identical pink scooter for $49.99. Incontinence aids marketed to men contained twice as many pieces as the same product marketed to women. Either in quantity or in cost, pink packaging costs quite a bit!

Women frequently encounter what one economist calls the “pink expectation.” Most products for men are imagined to be the default, so products for women must be modified in some way to make them more acceptable. Even when there’s no difference in the product, the expectation is used to justify the increased cost. Manufacturers have been exploiting that expectation to make money on the backs of women for years.

Where possible, look for gender-neutral or generic brand products. For razors, especially, the only possible differences are number of blades and level of lubrication. If it has the same number of blades as the razor you’re currently using, you can use more shaving cream or soap (another popular target for the pink tax!) to increase your comfort. 

Online services 

Perhaps the most surprising place for price differences to occur is in the service industry. Dry cleaners, auto mechanics and hair stylists are getting away with charging more to women than to men. What can be done here?

For some industries, justifications may exist. Dry cleaners may need to take more care around adornments on women’s clothing, and stylists may have more hair to deal with. In these instances, it’s best to take the justification head on. Women with short hair should ask for the men’s price and cut. Bring a mixture of men’s shirts and women’s shirts to the dry cleaner and ask the counter staff to explain the pricing difference. In many instances, service providers value your business more than they value an artificial markup.

Where possible, though, remove gender from the equation altogether. Buying cars via email using a gender-neutral signature, like the first letter of your first name, can result in more fair haggling practices. Getting quotes and estimates from mechanics via text message can discourage them from attempting to artificially inflate their bills.

Finally, if you see an instance of biased pricing like this, let others know. Let businesses that do these things know that it’ll end up hurting their bottom line in the long run. By frequenting establishments that don’t practice this kind of discrimination, you can help end the “pink tax” for everyone.


SOURCES:

http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/2013/01/gender-equality%E2%80%99s-final-frontier-who-cleans

Brought to you by Destinations Credit Union 

How To Get Your Spring Break On


Spring break isn’t just for party-hearty college students anymore. These days, families are also taking a break from winter and jetting off to sun-drenched climates to frolic on warm beaches. 

Spring break for college students spans the first few weeks of March, while families are more inclined to take their spring vacation to coincide with the long Easter weekend, which runs from April 3-5 this year, orPassover, which is April 22-30 this year. The fact that college and public school holidays don’t overlap should ensure that PG-rated co-eds don’t intrude on a G-rated family vacation. 

Although toasting spring’s arrival goes back to Greek and Roman celebrations, its modern incarnation is blamed on a Colgate University swimming coach bringing his team to Fort Lauderdale, Florida for training back in 1934. 

Sensing a marketing opportunity, Fort Lauderdale organized an annual swim meet, and the rest is history. Buoyed by the 1961 movie “Where the Boys Are,” starring George Hamilton; and the 1983 “Spring Break” with Tom Cruise and Shelley Long, the annual ritual has exploded. The 1986 arrival of the annual “MTV Spring Break” hasn’t hurt either. 

South Florida is still the center of the college spring break universe. So, if you can find a cheap flight and some friends to share in the cost of a hotel room, grab your bathing suit and beach towel and you’re in. Beaches in Florida cities such as Fort Lauderdale and Daytona Beach quickly become oceans of tanned bodies once spring break hits, with crowds as large as 400,000 people. 

While large crowds are considered a plus for college spring break celebrants, they can lead to frustration and annoyance if you’re a family seeking relaxation while having a few young kids in tow. 

Orlando, home of Disney World and other resorts, is a surefire hit with both kids and budget-conscious parents. But spring break is also the second-busiest time of year, behind Christmas and New Year’s. Granted, you cansurvive long lines by arriving early and packing your own snacks. But if you go to Orlando for spring break, be prepared for company. 

One popular strategy for guaranteeing family fun without blowing the budget is vacationing in an all-inclusive resort. Familyvacationcritic.comhas a list of the top 50 all-inclusive resorts for families in the Dominican Republic, Mexico, the Cayman Islands and other exotic Caribbean locales. Rates during peak times start at about $300 per person for a five-day stay. Resorts typically feature pools, beaches, fun-filled activities, and meals-all in a safe family-friendly environment. 

Cruises are another popular option, offering activities and services for the whole family, including movies, swimming, waterslides, varied dining options and more. 

But spring break doesn’t have to be all about the beach, especially for families. Visiting a budget-friendly city with inexpensive airline flights can be both entertaining and an educational option for the entire family. 

Los Angeles was the Fiscal Times’ top family spring break destination due to the number of attractions and places to visit. In addition, airfare prices to the city generally don’t experience a spring break surge due to the high volume of flights. Five new hotels, a strong U.S. dollar and a nearby adventure park helped make Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, the second most popular spring break family destination. 

Las Vegas, Quebec City, Phoenix and New York are other great destination cities for family vacations. Norway also landed on the list due to competition among air carriers that has driven airfares below $200, and Spain was suggested because airfares to Barcelona are on par with flights to South Florida this time of year. 

For college students, eight of Kayak’s top 10 spring break destinations for 2015 are within the continental United States and four of those are in Florida. 

Home to the annual SXSW Festival, down-home rib joints, great Mexican food and walkable avenues lined with jumping live-music venues, Austin, Texas topped the list. It was followed by Fort Lauderdale, with its beaches, beachside bars, warm weather and manatees. 

Los Angeles was No. 3 on the list, with median airfare at just $352 in late April. Southern California is home to magnificent beaches such as Malibu, Santa Monica and Venice. In addition, plenty of culture can be found in downtown Los Angeles. But be advised that spring is the wet season, and a powerful El Nino is in the forecast this year, so your chances of rain falling on your spring break parade are fairly high. 

Miami, or SoBe for South Beach, has a lot going for it as a spring break destination. Its chic Art Deco hotels, fun atmosphere, packed beaches and club culture helped it reach No. 4 on Kayak’s 2015 list. But timing is everything. Median airfares reach a high of nearly $600 in early April, but fall to below $400 later in the month. Try to avoid the Winter Music Conference, scheduled for March 21-24 this year. South Beach hotel rooms will fill up and airfares soar during that time. 

Three other Florida beach towns also made Kayak’s top 10, including West Palm Beach (No. 5); Fort Myers (No. 6), and the family-friendly Tampa (No. 10). 

The two top spring break destinations outside the continental United States were Los Cabos, Mexico, with beaches, bars, and ocean activities; and San Juan, Puerto Rico, which boasts beaches and rainforests. 

Although the typical beach party spring break remains a popular rite of passage for many college students, some are craving alternatives. A group called Break Awayoffers active citizenship and leadership conferences for college students during spring break. Similarly,Projects Abroad promises an opportunity to make a difference by participating in volunteer projects such as rebuilding homes for the poor in Jamaica, protecting endangered turtles in Mexico  or providing educational support for underprivileged children in Costa Rica, Belize, or Fiji. 

One thing is certain: Whatever your preference for marking the arrival of spring, there’s something fun and affordable you can try, alone or as a family.

Winter Weekend Getaways On A Limited Budget


We’d all love to get away for a fun weekend, but don’t want to dip into savings. There are many ways to escape the winter doldrums without breaking the bank. You don’t have to take an expensive ski trip or visit a tropical island paradise to receive the intended benefits-namely getting away for some rest and relaxation so you can return revitalized and ready to face winter again. Here are some tips and creative ideas for planning an inexpensive trip that won’t leave you in the red: 

Stay close to home 
Sometimes all you need is a slight change of scenery or break from the routine to feel refreshed and revitalized. Is there a cute bed and breakfast the next town over that you’ve been meaning to try? A nearby local attraction? If you’ll be driving instead of flying, you’ll have more money in your budget for lodging and dinner. If you can, reserve a room with a fireplace or spa, since there’s little that beats staring into a crackling fire with a glass of wine or relaxing in a bubbling hot tub. Find a bed and breakfast offering specials near you at bnbfinder.com. 
Avoid popular destinations 
Save yourself some time: Don’t even bother thinking about Maui or Cancun. Winter is also peak season for ski destinations such as Aspen, Park City and Jackson Hole. If you want to hit the slopes or bask on sun-drenched beaches at the most popular resorts this time of year, you’ll be paying top dollar. If your goal is a ski getaway, why not try out a resort that’s close to home? Or if your heart is set on a tropical beach, try out one of the up-and-coming areas where prices are still low. Chances are, you’ll have just as much fun. In addition to saving money, you’ll escape the crowds. 
Visit a national park 
National parksare one of America’s most treasured resources. Together, the U.S.’s 400 national parks draw 275 million visitors per year. Summer is peak season in most of them. A visit during winter would let you enjoy nature without crowds of tourists. If you’ve already been to the national parks in your area, try taking a road trip to one in the next state over. There’s a reason these areas have been preserved-they contain some of the most awe-inspiring scenery in the country. Many parks don’t charge admission, and those that do will usually offer three-day passes. You can often find interesting accommodations within the park boundaries, but better deals can usually be found at motels in surrounding towns. 
Do your Internet research 
The Internet is definitely your best friend for finding the best travel deals. Make it a point to bookmark budget travel pages and sign up for their email alerts. Receiving alerts on great deals can fill up your in-box, but you can always set up a special folder for travel planning. Alerts can save you hours of online research, and if you’re lucky, one will pop into your inbox at exactly the right time. Many travel websites, includingBudget Travel, theTravel Channel andKiplinger, have put together lists of the best sites for finding good travel deals. There are new websites popping up all the time to help find the best deals on airfare,car rentals,hotels,bus and traintravel and even all-inclusive packages. It’s just a matter of deciding which ones are your favorites. 
Use your air miles 
If you’ve been saving up frequent-flier miles through an airline rewards program, now might be the time to use them. Often, these programs have expiration dates, so if you don’t use them, you may lose them. And with airfare for your getaway taken care of, that only leaves food and lodging to worry about. 
Take advantage of coupons 
Tons of amazing travel deals can be found through online coupon sites such as Groupon, LivingSocial and Travelzoo. And besides saving you money, they can take you on an adventure. Many merchants who are offering deals through these sites are just getting established or are up-and-coming. They may not have a premier location or a big advertising budget, but since they’re seeking new business, they’ll most certainly appreciate it when you show up. Signing up for multiple online-coupon sites can easily overwhelm your email inbox. Luckily, there are now several aggregators, including DailyDibs, that can compile deals from online coupon sites and send you a daily report. 
Use Airbnb 
Although the hotel industry is not a fan of Airbnb, travelers certainly are. Not only can you save substantially on lodging, but you can stay in a place with all the comforts of home, including kitchens where you can save even more by cooking your own meals. The site offers 1.5 million listings in 34,000 cities and 190 countries, so it’s likely there are available accommodations in the vacation destination you’ve chosen. Reviews of hosts provide a measure of security. Choose wisely however: Airbnb properties range from rooms in someone’s home to short-term luxurious vacation rentals. The plus: most are in desirable neighborhoods and contain all the comforts of home. 
Take couch surfing to a new level 
You can’t get much cheaper than free! Operating on the same principles as Airbnb,couchsurfing.com lets you send out queries to people who might be interested in hosting you in their home for free. Popular among Millennials looking to travel and meet new friends, couchsurfing lets you experience a locale on a local level. Often your hosts will not only put you up for the night and feed you in the morning, but also take you sightseeing and introduce you to their friends. The idea is that if you’re part of this network, you’ll reciprocate by hosting travelers in your home sometime, too. 
Try house-swapping 
Know some friends in another city who may want to escape for a little while, too? Arrange for a house swap. With accommodations taken care of, all you’ll need to worry about is the cost of travel. If you’re flying, you should be able to find a good deal by using one of the plentiful cheap airfare finders. If you don’t have friends interested in switching abodes, you can look for places on sites such as HomeExchange.comand LoveHomeSwap.
Whatever you do, make it a fun vacation. Set a budget and reward yourself for sticking to it by planning your next getaway when you get back!

Hosting A Super ‘Big Game’ Party On A Budget

Big brands are paying upwards of $5 million for 30-second Super Bowl ad slots, and the city of San Francisco is forking over $4.8 million to host weeklong festivities leading up to the big game. But when the two top NFL teams compete on Feb. 7 in Santa Clara, California, for Super Bowl 50, thankfully you’ll be shelling out considerably less than that to hold your Big Game party.

Super Bowl parties are among the most inexpensive to host. Besides the traditional chicken wings, tortilla chips and guacamole, and beer–the most important must-haves are adequate seating and a big-screen TV to watch the game.

The most widely watched sporting event of the year last year drew an estimated 184 million viewers to see winning team the New England Patriots take on the Seattle Seahawks. According to the National Retail Federation’s  Super Bowl Spending Survey, viewers spent an average of $77.88, up from $68.27 the previous year. That covered everything from game day food and new televisions to athletic wear and decorations. Food and beverages accounted for nearly 80 percent of the total of $14.3 billion in spending.

Hosting or attending a Super Bowl party in someone’s home was the most popular option. Only 5 percent of viewers opted to watch the game in a restaurant or bar, where loud noise can detract from the game-watching experience.

So if you’re planning to host a Super Bowl party for family and friends, how can you avoid going over your budget? Below are some ideas for throwing an inexpensive event that will still be fun and entertaining. 

Keep It Casual 

Set expectations with guests that your event will be low key and casual. After all, it’s the game (and the commercials) that will be the star of your event. Nearly half of viewers in the NRF survey say that the game itself is the most important part of the day, followed by nearly one-third saying that the most important parts for them are the commercials and hanging out with friends and family.

Stress in your invitation that you’re just hosting a casual get-together to watch the game. No fancy invitations are required: a simple email or e-vite with time, place, directions, and other details will do. And make sure you ask guests to RSVP so you’ll have an idea of how many people plan on attending. That way you’ll know how much food to buy–and won’t overspend for guests who won’t attending. 

Make It a Potluck 

People love sharing, and this goes double when it comes to sharing favorite dishes with family and friends. Asking each guest to bring a dish will not only create an interesting array of food and beverage offerings, it will significantly reduce your expenses.

You might say in your invitation that you’ll provide one hot main dish (such as chili or soup) and snacks (such as cheese and crackers or raw veggies and dip) so you’ll have something to serve in the very unlikely event a majority of your guests show up empty-handed. But in all probability, once you ask guests to bring something, you’ll be inundated with food and beverages.

And don’t worry about asking people to sign up to bring a specific type of dish (such as a beverage, snack, entree, or dessert). For some mysterious reason, potlucks always seem to turn out. You may be buried under an avalanche of chips, guacamole, salsa, and beer for a while–but that’s a good problem to have since you can always eat the leftovers or give leftovers to guests.

If one of your guests has a special recipe (such as spicy chicken wings or a football-shaped cake) that you think could be the star of your party, you might reach out privately and ask them to bring it. Once the teams are decided, you can ask people to use the colors of their favorite team in the food they bring (or their serving dishes) to up the fun factor.

In light of people’s food preferences (vegetarian, vegan, low-carb, low-fat) and food allergies (gluten, lactose, nuts), it’s also a good idea to ask guests to label the dishes they bring accordingly. A small card indicating the dish is vegan, vegetarian, or gluten-free, or containing nuts can go a long way to making sure your guests enjoy themselves and don’t ingest anything that won’t agree with them. 

Buy in Bulk 

Whatever food and beverage items you plan to supply for the party, watch for sales and try to buy in bulk. Your local retailers are gearing up for the Super Bowl and will have an abundant supply (and probable sales) on Super Bowl staples such as avocadoes, tomatoes, salsa, chips, carrots, celery, chicken, and beer.

Watch for the circulars that show up in your mailbox, and take a trip to the local supermarket to see what they have on sale. Now might be a good time to visit a big-box outlet such as Costco and take advantage of savings by buying in bulk. You can always use the party leftovers to feed your family in weeks to come. 

Seating Options 

You’ll want to make sure you have adequate seating for guests, but you don’t need to go overboard and rent chairs. Clear extra pillows and cushions that might reduce the seating capacity of your TV-adjacent sofa and chairs, and place them on the floor to create comfortable nearby viewing areas.

If your seating options are skimpy, don’t worry. Many people like to stand up to watch the game, freeing themselves for circulating or enthusiastic cheering when their team scores. And if you must bring in extra seating, ask a friend or family member if they can bring over a few folding chairs. 

Decorations 

It fun to spruce up your home with banners, balloons in team colors, or football-shaped trinkets. Definitely feel free to unleash your inner decorator for your Game Day bash. But your friends are really there for the game, and in all likelihood, they won’t remember your decor. It will be the fun they had, the nail-biting moments of the game, the moments of triumph and defeat as they watch their favorite team struggle for dominance. And thankfully, moments like that cost nothing.

If you must decorate, dig out decorations you have on hand or visit the dollar-store so you won’t break your budget. And is with everything, less is more. A strategically placed banner or a few balloons will go a long way to add a spirit of festivity to your gathering.

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. 
Sources: 

Tax-Free Weekend … Every Weekend


Tax-free weekend will end this Saturday (8/15/15) for Marylanders.  It’s a heady rush, getting our Black Friday fix in the sunshine of August  The kids are ready to head back to school with new clothes (that they don’t yet hate) and school supplies (they haven’t yet lost).  But what about the people who missed out?  What about the kids who just need one more thing? What about mom and dad who deserve a tax-free spree, too?  Is there a way to shop tax-free every weekend without ending up with the IRS coming after them?
The answer is yes, you can shop with a 10, 15, or 20 percent discount every day and do it without breaking the law. Some of our favorite tips for keeping costs down are below. They also come with a plan for turning your shopping savings into long-term savings, because it’s not enough to keep money in your pocket, you’ll want to put it to good use, too.
When you’re done reading, hit up our Twitter feed or Facebook page to share your favorite tips and post pictures of your best hauls.
Bring your smartphone.  Don’t buy anything in a brick and mortar store without pricing it online first. If you’re the kind of shopper who frequently buys on impulse, just bring your smartphone and do a few searches of the most likely places you’d find the item you’re looking at, like eBay, Zappos or the website for the store where you’re shopping.  The Amazon app even lets you scan a barcode with your phone’s camera and does the searching for you.  You can save a lot with this simple 30-second step.
Shop for used gift cards.  We all know the feeling of getting a gift card we’ll never use.  Well, a variety of websites offer a place for people to sell their unwanted gift cards, often for well below the face value of the card.  Everybody wins: The seller gets some value out of a gift card that would otherwise be sitting in a junk drawer and the buyer gets a nice discount.
So, before you check out online or in-store, search Gift Card Granny and Gift Card Zen.  They have some gift cards that will transfer to you in five minutes or less, allowing you to save 10-15% right away.  All gift cards are backed by the site, so you don’t have to worry about scams.  For many of the big chain stores like Target and The Gap, those online codes work in store as well, so you can save money while you wait to check out.
Clear your cookies.  Retailers are smart, so they know that getting you to make a quick purchase on your first visit means they’ll probably get you to shop at their store for life.  They’ll offer you a coupon for 10 or 20 percent off of your first purchase if you sign up for promotional emails on your first visit. Those offers often expire within 24 or 48 hours.  As smart as retailers are, their websites are not quite as intelligent.  It’s easy to make websites think it’s your first visit so you can get that coupon every time you visit.  All you need to do is visit the site from a different browser than you usually use.  If you don’t have more than one web browser, you can download Chrome, Mozilla or Opera for free, and use that for this trick next time, too.  Sometimes you just have to use your phone. If none of that works, try clearing your cookies and browser history. Then, all you need is an email address you haven’t used at that site, and most of us have a few of those just waiting to be used.
Turn your everyday savings into long-term savings.  It’s great to save a few dollars every now and then, but it doesn’t always feel like you’re really getting anywhere.  But you were going to spend that money anyway, so if you put it in savings, it wouldn’t be a sacrifice.  You can pull up our website at www.destinationscu.org or use mobile banking and transfer that money to savings before you even leave the store.  If you put an extra $25 away every month, that’s $300 per year … without really trying!
If that seems like a lot of work, you can also work the gift card trick into your monthly budget.  If you normally spend $25 per month on coffee, buy a $25 Starbucks gift card online from Gift Card Zen for $20 at the the beginning of the month, then put $5 into your savings.  Now you’ve got the savings and an easy way to stay on budget.  The gift card can go into their app so the whole family has it on their phones – it’s like Starbucks is paying you $5 to make your life easier.
You can do this for all the places you shop.  For instance, do you budget $100 for clothes, $300 for gas, $50 for eating out, $25 for coffee and $25 for movies each month?  If you get gift cards for those stores at 10 percent off, you’ll save $50 each month, totaling $600 per year.  If nothing else, you can put that in one of our Holiday Club accounts and have it at the ready to take care of your holiday shopping!  
Sources:

http://www.giftcardgranny.com/