Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Fitness For Your Body And Wallet: Shedding Pounds Without A Gym Membership


New Year's resolutions can be fantastic motivating tools, and many of us use that motivation to improve our health. Thirty-seven percent of Americans resolved to lose weight, while another 32% resolved to stay fit and healthy in the New Year. No one knows that better than the weight loss industry, which ramps up its marketing this time of year. You've no doubt seen offers for free months and other discounts at local and national gym chains. 

What these advertisements leave out is that gym memberships are still very expensive. Nationally, gym memberships average $58 per month. That's bad enough before you start adding in contract initiation fees and other upfront charges. If you want to get fit, but don't want to pay those exorbitant fees, there are a few strategies you can try. Give these budget- and body- friendly ideas a chance. It might help you along the path toward a happier, healthier 2017! 

1.) Diet

Honestly, it doesn't matter how much you work out if you're not eating well. You won't lose weight. You'll still also suffer the side effects of a poor diet, like low energy and high blood pressure. Trying to get healthy with just exercise is like trying to fix a heater by changing the thermostat. 

According to nutritionist Shawn Talbott, weight loss is 75% diet and 25% exercise. The biggest factor in losing weight is your basal metabolic rate (BMR), which is how much energy your body burns throughout the day. This is usually in the vicinity of 2,000 calories. Running a mile burns about 100 calories, or 5% of your BMR. Worse yet, exercise can have a paradoxical effect with a bad diet. After a vigorous workout, you're more likely to snack. It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking you've "earned" an indulgent reward after a run or bike ride. You can easily wipe out all the good you've done with a bowl of ice cream.
Use a calorie tracking app like Myfitnesspal to get a sense of where your calories are going now. You might be surprised at how much you can save with a few easy cuts! Diets don't have to be extreme or restrictive to result in real, lasting changes to your body.
2.) Body weight exercise
One of the biggest reasons people give for joining a gym is access to strength training equipment. It's true that cardio alone won't help as much as strength training. It's not true, though, that you need expensive machines for it!
Three simple exercises can help tone trouble spots and reshape your body. Planks work your core, arms and shoulders. Squats work your glutes and legs. Toe raises work your calves. You can find tutorials for these and countless variations online. The challenge is to pick a routine and stick with it.
Another direction for body weight exercise is yoga. You can find tutorials online for strength-building yoga you can do in your home at your own pace. This can be a lot less intimidating than a class because no one can see if you mess up. Lots of yoga poses work on muscle building and flexibility. These can help tone and shape your body, ensuring your weight loss focuses on fat, not muscle.
3.) Make your own groups
One appeal of a gym membership is the camaraderie formed by group exercise classes. The scheduling of a class forces accountability, and working together can make the exercise seem less taxing. You can get these benefits outside the gym as well!
If you have several friends also interested in fitness, start building fitness activities, like hiking, bike riding or running, into your regular social time. Instead of going out for coffee, go for a run together!
If you're on your own, you can still find others who share your fitness goals. Use sites like Meetup to look for exercise groups that work at your skill level. If you're completely new, now's a great time, as there will be plenty of other people also starting a new fitness journey. If you're looking to take your fitness to the next level, challenge yourself by joining an advanced running or biking group. You can get fit and make new friends at the same time, without spending a big chunk of change on a gym membership.
Your Turn: How are you going to meet your fitness goals in 2017? Share your best tips on how to beat the gym and get fit!

Friday, December 30, 2016

What To Do After Getting A Raise


This is the year you finally got that raise! What should you do with the extra money?

Beyond the money, getting a raise is a rewarding recognition that the work you're doing for your employer is valued. It means you're on the right path in your career. This should be one of many such events in your life where your hard work and dedication finally pay off.
 
Let's not overlook the money, though. This can be a real boon to your financial stability. You could look back a year from now and see how much better off you are with a little more budgetary breathing room. It's also possible that the money can blow right through your checking account, leaving you worse off than you were before you got the raise.

The difference between these two outcomes is planning. If you don't have a plan for your new income, it can be difficult to resist the impulse to spend lavishly because you "deserve" it. Making a plan to invest your new bounty responsibly will keep you honest and ensure you spend in ways that match your values. Here are three steps to making a plan for your post-raise finances.

1.) Stay off the treadmill

If you started from the bottom, you probably remember a time when you had little in the way of luxuries. You went to work, came home, ate whatever was cheap and went to bed. As you started to pull yourself up, you might have added the occasional luxury: better food, a nicer car, some entertainment or comfortable furniture. While the added luxury might have been a thrill at first, it probably soon became nothing more than the new normal.

This is what psychologists call the hedonic treadmill. With greater salary comes greater lifestyle expectations. It's impossible to get ahead if you're always chasing the life you think you "ought" to have.

In a sense, all you're doing by getting a raise is turning up the speed on the treadmill. You're not actually making more progress toward your goals. To do that, at any level of income, you need to spend prudently, not emotionally.

So, when your first paycheck comes in, avoid thinking about things you "deserve." Try to keep your non-discretionary spending, or the amount of money you have to pay for basic goods and services, the same. If you want to take your family out to dinner to celebrate, that's fine. If you want to buy a new luxury car to reflect your new status, that's just running faster on the treadmill.

2.) Fix the basics

There are three very obvious places to put your newfound money: paying down debt, building an emergency fund and saving for retirement. If you don't have an immediate plan for your new income, you could do much worse than putting your money in one of these three places. This isn't a flashy way to spend your money, and it won't make you happier in the short term. However, it will make your life easier in the long run.

Depending on the timing of your raise, you may need to make some paycheck adjustments. While you're increasing your 401(k) contributions, you might also want to withhold a little extra in taxes. Your old withholding was done assuming you would earn your old salary all year. If you don't bump up your withholding a little, you might end up with a nasty surprise at tax time. That's another reason to make tax-deductible investments in your retirement accounts. You'll get to keep more of your hard-earned raise!

3.) Save for your values

Getting a raise is a great time to pull out your dream list. What would you do if money was no object? Would you take a trip to Tahiti? Start a small business? Whatever your dream is, you probably need some capital to get it started.

Fortunately, you're about to get some more capital each month thanks to your hard work. The best way to get to your "money's no object" goals is to save a little bit each month. You can do that with the nice bonus offered by your raise. In the long run, you'll be happier with the investment in your future than you will with the little luxuries you might be tempted to splurge on today.

Your Turn: We all want to make more money. What would you do with a little extra money each month? Let us know in the comments!


Wednesday, December 28, 2016

7 New Year's Resolutions For A Richer 2017



The New Year is a great time of renewal. That makes it a good time to make bold, decisive changes in your life. Leave behind the baggage that was 2016 and start fresh with a blank slate in 2017. If you're looking for some resolutions to improve your personal finances, we're pleased to offer seven ways to make 2017 the year of the dollar!
1.) Track your spending
If you're looking to take your first steps toward financial literacy, figuring out where your money goes should be at the top of your list. If you don't know where your money goes, it's going to be tough to follow through with any other money plans. You may have a general sense of how much you spend, but after a month where you've recorded every dollar, you'll have a much better picture. Using apps like Mint or Personal Capital can automate the process. You might even find that keeping track of what you do with your money encourages you to spend a little more judiciously.
2.) Make a budget
About 70% of Americans live financially spontaneous lives. They don't make a plan for spending or saving. When asked why they chose not to do so, the most common response was that the family spent all the money anyway. This is a circular problem. If you don't have a budget that includes setting aside money for long-term expenses and savings, you'll end up spending all your money on unplanned things and events. The best way to stop the cycle is to sit down and make a budget that modifies your spending to be more in line with your priorities.
3.) Get out of debt
Easier said than done, right? However, there's no bigger stumbling block to financial security and wealth building than debt. It's hard to save for long-term goals when so much of your monthly income gets eaten up by interest and fees. There are a variety of methods you can use to help accelerate your payoffs. For instance, you can add an extra $50 or $100 to your credit card payments. Or, you can focus all your payment resources on the highest interest debt until it's paid off and then move it all to the next highest for snowballing your way to freedom from debt.
4.) Start an emergency fund
The best way to avoid going into debt is to have some money on hand to handle the occasional, yet inevitable, emergency. Most Americans, though, can't come up with $500 in such instances. Set a specific goal, like adding $10 per month to a savings account. At the end of the year, you'll have more than $100 available in case something goes wrong.
5.) Start a retirement account
You can't save for what you don't think about. When retirement is years or decades away, it's difficult to incorporate thinking about it into your daily routine. If you have a retirement account open, you'll get monthly statements, which serve as reminders. The challenge, though, is taking that first step. Don't let perfect be the enemy of good. While there are important differences between Roth and Traditional accounts, either one is better than no retirement savings at all. If your job offers a 401(k) matching program, sign up to get at least the full matching funds amount - it's free money. Do a little bit of research, then open the account that seems like the best idea.
6.) Automate your savings
Saving money takes willpower. Because it's hard to practice self-denial on a constant basis, that extra $5 you've earmarked for savings can very easily turn into a mid-morning coffee. Fighting that impulse is a constant struggle. That's why it's easiest to avoid the decision altogether. Change your direct deposit to put some of your paycheck directly into a savings account, where you won't even think of spending it impulsively.
7.) Get educated
Knowledge is power, and that's especially true in the world of personal finance. What you know about your money goes a long way toward determining how much of it you get to keep. There's a lot to learn, but you've got a wealth of information at your fingertips. Resolve to read one personal finance article a week (subscribing to this Blog can be a great start). Not only will this give you good ideas for improving your personal financial situation; you'll also spend more time thinking about your money. That will lead to positive results down the line!
Happy New Year from all of us at Destinations Credit Union. We hope you have a safe, happy, and prosperous 2017!
Your Turn: What resolutions are you making this year? Will 2017 be the year you join a book club, quit smoking or spend more time with your family? Let us know in the comments!.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Help! I Overspent On Christmas!



It's so easy to go overboard on Christmas. If you have kids, you want everything to be perfect for them. You want to build priceless memories, so spending any amount seems worth it. If you're just getting started, you want to impress your family with how together you have things. Giving extravagant gifts to your family members seems like a great idea ... until you're staring at a huge credit card bill in January.

However it happened, it's important to approach this problem rationally. Constantly blaming yourself won't fix the problem. The important part now is to right yourself financially. You can't take back gifts and return them at this point. You have to deal with the situation that's in front of you.

Fortunately, you're not alone. Destinations Credit Union is here to help. Check out these four ways you can patch up your finances and have things right before summer.

1.) Budgeting advice

It can be very tempting to make only the minimum payments on the credit card you used to buy Christmas. Unfortunately, it's also the best way to ensure you're in debt for all the Christmases from here on out.

Making minimum payments on credit cards prolongs the length of time you're in debt. It also makes the total amount you pay for your debt skyrocket. Making just the minimum payment adds an extra $175 to a $10,000 balance at 21% APR.

What you need is an aggressive debt repayment plan. The question you should be asking yourself isn't, "What's the least I can pay on this debt?" Instead, identify the most you can afford to pay. Destinations Credit Union can help with informative guides and worksheets on household budgeting.

Making an extreme budget is usually not a good choice, but in this case, it's essential until you get yourself out from under that holiday-fueled debt. Make some sacrifices and get ready to tighten your belt for a little while. Yeah, coming up with an extra $35 or $50 a month is tough, but it's the easiest way to get things moving.

2.) Refinancing major purchases

If you went overboard on one or two major purchases, like a car for a teen, it may not be credit card debt you need help overcoming. Slick dealers offer crazy-sounding incentives like zero down and zero percent financing on cars to entice people to give cars for Christmas. Unfortunately, once you've signed on the dotted line, you may see you're in for more than you can handle with a car payment.
Destinations Credit Union can help. Our auto and other major purchase loans often feature rates that are better than dealerships. You may need to finance over a longer term to manage the monthly expenses, or you may just need to restructure to pay less now. Either way, you'll find more favorable and flexible terms with us than you will at the dealer. 

3.) Debt counseling 
Does reading those credit card statements fill you with a dizzying sense of despair? Destinations Credit Union can help you make sense of them.

Make an appointment to speak with a debt counselor.  Through our partnership with Accel, Destinations Credit Union offers free unlimited debt counseling. You'll gain a better understanding of your rights and responsibilities. You can also come up with a realistic plan to pay off your debt and avoid falling into the same trap next year.

4.) Personal loans

Instead of making dozens of minimum payments, wouldn't it be nice to focus your debt into one manageable plan? A debt consolidation loan can do just that. Best of all, it can save you money in the long run by lowering your interest rate and monthly payment commitment. Rather than paying a credit card APR, you can get the low fixed rate on a personal loan.

Although collateral, or something to secure the loan, can help get you a lower interest rate, it isn't necessary. All you need is some basic personal information and a willing partner, like Destinations Credit Union. Our loan specialists can help you organize and simplify your payments, working toward a debt-free life.

Your Turn: Feeling buyer's remorse after a big holiday spending spree? Let us know about it in the comments. If you've got a system to stay on budget, help your fellow members and share your wisdom!