Savings and Budgeting


Turbo Tax

Raising Grandchildren Gives Rise To Financial Challenges

Emergency Funds: An Inside Look At How They Work For Us

Ways To Manage Stress Without Spending A Single Cent

It’s Never Too Early To Start Saving For The Holidays

5 Reason Every Child Should Have A Credit Union Account

How To Talk To Your Grandkids About Money

Smart Guide To Regifting

8 Best Money-Related Presents For Children

 


 

TurboTax

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It’s Never Too Early To Start Saving For The Holidays

Holiday Savings

Do you ever get blindsided by your wallet when the holidays come around? We know the feeling. That’s why we prepared some tips you can use now to help ensure that you’re fully prepared for the upcoming holiday season.

Establish how much money is needed.

Make a plan. Write it out. Figure out who you’d like to get gifts for and how much you can afford to spend. Make a budget and stick to it. If you already know what to get for specific people, write that down, too. Are you planning on having a holiday feast at your home? Make sure you have money for decorations, food and desserts! The more detailed your plan, the easier it will be to create and follow your budget.

Set up a Christmas Club account at the credit union!

Did you know we have a Christmas Club account? The Christmas Club is a separate savings account that has dividends paid monthly, based on a daily balance. It only takes $5 to get started and all of your Christmas Club savings will automatically be deposited into your prime share account in mid-November. This means you don’t even have to think about transferring the money yourself. It's like a Christmas gift to you, from you.

Decide how much you want to save and how often.

Once you’ve opened a Christmas Club account, it’s time to start saving money. Use that plan you created to figure out how much money you’d like to put into your account and figure out how often you’d like to make deposits. Once you're ready, set up recurring transfers so you don't have to remember to make transfers. The good news is, with the Christmas Club, there is no minimum deposit, so if you’d like to put $5 in every week, you can do just that! If you want to put in $20 a month, you can do that as well. The options are endless and you can choose what works best for you. To learn more about the Christmas Club account, be sure to give us a call at (713)-864-0959 or stop by one of our branches!

Stick to your plan.

When the holidays finally roll around, make sure you stick to the plan you made. Don’t spend more than you planned, and don’t spend money on things you don’t need to spend it on.


5 Reason Every Child Should Have A Credit Union Account

Kid with a lunchbox

Credit unions have long been the back bone of financial success for many families. You may already enjoy the numerous benefits coming from your HTFFFFCU membership so why shouldn’t your child?
Our Puppy Pak Savings Club accounts are part of the credit union youth savings program. Puppy Pak accounts are tailored-made to suit the interest of children up to the age of 12. We’ve compiled a list of five reason why you should open a Puppy Pak Savings Account for your child or grandchild.

  1. Children will learn about money
    We can sometimes forget that in this day and age it isn’t that strange to find a three year old that can open and use a smart phone with ease. It’s amazing how children can learn valuable skills at the drop of a hat! Here at the credit union, we recommend taking advantage of this and exposing them early to finances.

  2. Quarterly newsletters & birthday cards
    All Puppy Pak members receive a quarterly newsletter known as The Paw Print. In each Paw Print, cool characters, including our Puppy Pak mascot Chief the Dalmatian, teach children about finances in a fun and friendly way. Each issue contains a small article, an activity, and a math brain teaser. Every fall we organize our annual Puppy Pak Drawing Contest which is announced in the fall edition of the Paw Print. Winners of the contest receive amazing rewards.

    Also as an added bonus, all Puppy Pak members receive a birthday card in the month of their birthday! Imagine your kids’ excitement when they open their very own piece of mail!

  3. Puppy Pak Day
    All Puppy Pak members are invited to our annual Puppy Pak Day! Puppy Pak Day is usually held during the summer when children are out of school. In the past we have had a day at the movies with Chief and the gang with lots of yummy popcorn and their very own Puppy Pak goodie bag!

  4. Prizes
    All Puppy Pakers that make deposits into their accounts are eligible to receive a Puppy Pak prize. These Puppy Pak prizes vary depending on the amounts deposited. The higher the deposit, the bigger the prize! Click here to see all of our current prizes!

  5. Saving for their future
    Opening a Puppy Pak account for your child or grandchild is a great stepping stone for their future. You can help them kick-start their savings for college or trade school. Or maybe they’d prefer to save for something else? Regardless of the goal, starting to save today can pay off big when the time comes!

Puppy Pak accounts are an awesome benefit that your credit union is proud to offer. For more information on our Puppy Pak accounts click here and open an account for your child or grandchild today!


Emergency Funds: An Inside Look At How They Work For Us

Emergency Funds

Pop quiz time: If something unexpected happened in your life and you urgently needed $1,000, what would you do?

  1. I would use my rainy day fund to cover the expense.

  2. I would pay for it with my credit card.

  3. I would borrow money from friends or family.

  4. I would cut down spending in other areas to be able to pay for it.

Only 37% of Americans can confidently select A.

Even though we are armed with knowledge on how to save and are aware of technological advances that help with managing our finances, as a nation, we still struggle to build emergency funds to help get us through tough times. We asked three people from the HTFFFCU team about the feasibility, importance and their strategy when it comes to their own emergency funds.

Joe, Melinda and Pam; a records clerk, a financial services representative and our vice president of finance. One part time student and two full time employees. Very different people with different experiences, yet certain similarities are hard to miss. They all have emergency funds and they have all decided to share their savings stories with us.

An emergency fund? Say what?

Even though the idea of having an emergency fund may seem like common knowledge, out of the three interviewed only Pam was taught about the importance of savings. Her father made sure she knew how crucial it was to be prepared for life emergencies. Joe and Melinda weren’t that fortunate. They had to teach themselves.  Joe observed the daily struggled in his family home. Melinda learned about the importance of saving the hard way.

Starting an emergency fund.

Melinda, a financial services representative started her emergency fund in her late twenties. “There were times in my early adulthood that I was living paycheck to paycheck and I didn’t have any leftover money to save. These were hard times,” she admits. “As soon as I was in a position to start saving, I started a ‘rainy day’ fund and I keep adding to it every paycheck.”

Joe, a computer science student and part-time HTFFFCU records clerk, started his emergency fund at the age of 22. It was not a coincidence that he commenced his employment at the credit union exactly at the same time. “It’s ideal to start building your fund early,” explains Joe, “but you cannot do it until you start making money.” For almost two years now, Joe has been faithfully putting away small sums every time he receives a paycheck.

Pam, HTFFFCU’s vice president of finance, started her first rainy day fund when she was still a teenager. Soon, it was used to cover her college expenses. Pam’s second (and current) emergency account was opened when she was the same age as Joe, and not coincidentally, when she started her first job.

Using an emergency fund.

Since its inception, an emergency fund has helped Pam get through tough times without having to sacrifice her lifestyle. “I had a couple of expensive car repairs and had to replace my A/C unit a few years ago. The rainy day savings literally saved me at that time,” says Pam.

Melinda also had to use her emergency fund to cover various car related expenses. Although she occasionally uses a portion of her savings for pleasure. “It’s important to me to find the right balance in life between saving money and rewarding myself. Whenever I am happy with the balance in my emergency account, I am open to spending some money, on a trip for example,” says Melinda. “I’d never deplete this account for pleasure though. I would only empty it if needed, in an emergency. That’s what I opened it for.”

Managing an emergency fund.

Both Joe and Melinda keep adding any leftover money to their emergency funds even after their regular transfers have gone through. They agree that it’s important to save the extra money as opposed to spend it on unnecessary things. In addition to her regular transfers, Pam also adds to her emergency account. She has a different method though. Whenever she receives a pay increase or a bonus, she would add all or most of it to her savings account. That way she ensures that her fund is continually growing. Pam also periodically reviews her emergency account and if she’s happy with the balance, she withdraws a sum of money to invest it. “I need to have a fall back in life and that’s what my emergency fund is for,” says Pam. “But I also want to see my money making more money for me. That’s why I invest a portion of my emergency fund.”

Learning from experience.

If Pam could give her best advice to the readers, she would suggest to start small. “Even if you cannot put away much, put away something,” she says. “You will see that even $5 per month can make a difference when something unexpected occurs.”

“And don’t live beyond your means because this can easily turn into a spiral of debt,” adds Melinda.

“Saving for emergencies is hard,” sums up Joe. “It’s because you’re saving for an undefined purpose, a mysterious emergency that may never happen. But it gives me great peace of mind that should the unexpected happen, I am, prepared, at least to an extent.”


Participants in the discussion:

Joe is a part time records clerk and computer science student by day and an avid video games player by night.

Melinda, a financial services representative, handles delinquent credit cards, legal and repo accounts. When she’s not at work, she loves spending her time fishing and going on long road trips.

Pam, vice president of finance, oversees the credit union accounting and budgeting. She loves to spend her free time with family and friends.


Smart Guide To Regifting

present

Holidays such as Christmas have a tendency to keep you on your toes, don’t they? Technically you know when they are going to happen because they happen at the same time every single year. Technically, then, you should be prepared and anxiety-free because you know what to do. You’ve done it many times before.

Christmas Tree

And yet, when you start seeing Christmassy billboards and listening to Christmas commercials on your way to work, you’re startled and shocked that it all happened so fast. You feel like you haven’t even digested Thanksgiving turkey nor burned those excess calories pumpkin pie has left on you, and now the craziness is happening all over again. Not only will you overeat again, not only will you need to deal with your family again but you are also expected to contribute to that glittering pile of boxes underneath the Christmas tree.

If you and your family have an unwritten rule that you buy presents for children only, we got you covered. Check out our 8 Best Money-Related Presents For Children for ideas on entertaining but meaningful gifts. If you, however, tend to buy gifts for adults too and you are already stretched for money with all your other expenses, check out our Smart Guide to Regifting below and who knows, you might get inspired and spend less!

Regifting describes the idea of giving away unopened or unused items that you already own. Most of those items would have come to you as “white elephants” but some could have been impulse buys that you never got a chance to return. Point is, if you think you might have items like that lying around somewhere, you are on the right track to regifting.

Step 1. SEARCH

Find an hour in your schedule and go through the drawers you rarely open, top shelves you completely forgot about, your pantry, attic, garage and basement. Try to focus on your search for items that have a potential to become Christmas gifts. Don’t start the cleaning process “while you are down there anyway” and don’t go all sentimental because you’ve found your high school photos or your baby’s first tooth. Unless of course you have way more time than an hour.

Step 2. GATHER

This one’s simple. Just try and gather all the buried treasures you have just found in one place. Dust if you must.

Step 3. REMEMBER

Now, that’s the tricky part. Do you remember how you acquired all the items you have just laid out in front of you? No? Not a clue? Forget about regifting this year. You really don’t want to give your auntie the same tablecloth she gave you for your birthday. Search the Internet instead for best gift ideas, go to the shopping mall or DIY your gifts using our ideas.

Or maybe you do remember now how these items came into your possession. That’s great, let’s get the ball rolling.

Step 4. MIX AND MATCH

Obviously you can’t (of course you can but you really shouldn’t) give away something to the same person you received it from. You also should exclude their immediate relatives since the chances are they will remember the gift too. Even the people you might consider distracted or forgetful can prove to have an unexpectedly sharp memory when it comes to presents so don’t try to be smart. Better safe than sorry (not that you should feel sorry when you regift but let’s face it – it might cause an awkward silence at times).

You can’t give away items that have your name or initials on them either (unless you’re lucky to know a bunch of people with the same name) nor the items that have expired (those gingerbread cookies you brought back from Europe also had a best before date). Other than that, you’re good to go. All the funny rules about items that are too personal or not relevant anymore might or might not be applicable depending on your personal circumstances. For example, let’s say you got a pair of earrings from someone that’s not in your life anymore and you have never even tried them on. Jewelry sounds too personal, right? But you might still give it to your close friend or a sister if you tend to give yourselves personal presents anyway. Or let’s say that you have a pile of old VHS movies. Well maybe your granddad or your auntie still own a player?

EXTRA HINTS FOR FAITHFUL READERS

Generally the rule is to regift items that are still in their original packaging and have not been used. There are few exceptions to that rule that might save you a lot of time and money.

Items that have been opened and you don’t have the original packaging anymore can be regifted too, and more importantly you can even openly admit you are regifting them. For example you got a household item like a kettle, frying pan, toaster, fondue set or wine glasses. You have opened them because you wanted to see what they look like, compare them to the similar items you already own and it turned out that they are of poorer quality or that they are way too complex for you to handle. Or maybe they were just fine and you even had an intention to use them but you simply forgot and left them abandoned in your kitchen cabinet. Regardless of why, you realize you are not going to use them. So - regift them. You can, and in fact it would be nice to write a note to the recipient – something simple and funny, admitting your forgetfulness, lack of skills or pointing out why you think this present would suit someone else better. For example:

Dear Mary,
I got this kettle last Christmas and I love it! But after getting married few weeks after and upon receiving other kettles, I realized that I love another one a teeny tiny bit more so I have decided to regift this one to you! I hope you like it and that you’ll get a long life out of it despite of the number of teas I am consuming every time I am popping in “just for a second”

What do you think? Perhaps you will be able to de-clutter your house after all!

Items that have been used can get a second life at someone else’s place if you can find meaning to them. This is mostly applicable to books, DVDs, CDs and games. If you read a book or watched a movie that meant something special to you, share it! Tell the receiver why you’re giving it away and more specifically why you are giving it to them. This may be a very moving experience for both of you. You might also know that someone is just a fan of horror movies, popular science books, strategy board games or jigsaw puzzles – not so much meaning to it but if you know that you can fuel someone else’s interests for free – why wouldn’t you?

Now, stop reading and check if you still have an hour. If so, please proceed to step 1.


Ways To Manage Stress Without Spending A Single Cent

Stress

Stress can be triggered by countless factors: an inability to pay your debt, a job loss, a pay cut. Even events considered "happy" can cause a considerable amount of stress, especially if they are paired with a change. Just think about a costly wedding party or starting college and taking out a loan. Stressful situations take their toll on us. We lose sleep and our appetite or quite the opposite - we sleep a lot and start overeating. You can read more about the causes of stress and how they can affect your body and mind here and here.

Since stress is such an immediate body and mind response to so many life events, attempting to minimize it is easier said than done. You can hardly cut it from your life, yet, you can explore different avenues to minimize its effects. And, since this is a credit union blog, and we’re all about saving you money, our ideas could be implemented for free. We know how irritating it is to hear or read that the best way to deal with stress is to take a trip to a SPA, go shopping or see a therapist. Of course, you can do any of these things but if you’d rather deal with stress in a more economical way, keep reading.

Talking or Writing

Talking is one of the cheapest ways to de-stress. It can be very cathartic and help you move through a problem by verbalizing what exactly is going on in your head. More importantly, talking can be done solo. You don’t necessarily need another person to listen or talk back. Saying aloud your concerns can be action enough to move forward, allowing you to express your emotions.

Writing is another powerful way to deal with your stress, especially if you are uncomfortable with talking. Putting your thoughts into sentences and writing them down can make the problem seem more manageable and can help you realize what you’re actually feeling. For example, knowing you have several errands to run may seem a bit overwhelming. However, compiling your errands into a to-do list means you have created a plan to tackle your work.

Watching TV and Movies

If you find yourself in a stressful situation and need an immediate relief, try watching a light-hearted TV show. It may help you by taking your mind off of things. If you are, however, looking for something more, watching movies or TV series related somehow to your specific situation might be a better solution for you. It can put you at ease with whatever has caused your stress and help you think about it from a different perspective.

Reading

Reading is a similar stress reliever to watching TV but it allows you to use more imagination. After all, it’s a lot easier to let your mind wander when you’re watching something rather than when you’re reading. It might be initially difficult to focus on a story but with a captivating book, you should be able occupy yourself for hours. Not to mention the added benefit of expanding your knowledge, improving memory and increasing your empathy.

Walking

Exercise is one of the recommended ways to relieve stress. Having said that most of us don’t have a workout outfit or gear available immediately if needed. That’s why walking seems like a more plausible idea.

If you are a person that needs to “clear your head” walking is perfect for you.  It allows you to leave a stressful situation and focus on your surroundings so your mind gets a breather.

Achieving Something

Achieving something is my personal top stress relief activity. I am not sure what psychologists say about it but I have tested it many times on myself (I stress easily) and it has worked wonders. The basic idea is, like with the other activities, to distract myself. The underlying message, however, is that I might be stressed about one thing but I am really good at something else. Even if that “something else” is as simple as baking a cake or washing a car. It’s a mood booster that allows me to feel OK about myself despite whatever stressful situation I am in.

Aside from the ones above, there are many other free ways to de-stress. There are various breathing and relaxation techniques, more intense workouts; there is also crying. The most important thing is to be open to testing different methods if you realize that whatever you are currently doing is not working.



Anita Tomczak works in HTFFFCU Marketing Department and she is responsible for social media, market research and a lot of promotional blitz. She loves reading, eating and cycling (in this order) and constantly tries to broaden her horizons, both at work and in her personal life.


Raising Grandchildren Gives Rise To Financial Challenges

Baby grabbing on adult hand

Increasing numbers of grandparents are becoming primary caregivers to their grandchildren, a new role that can be financially challenging.

Because many grandparents are in their 50s or older, it's important to avoid taking on new, large debts or willingly sacrificing retirement savings plans—there's not enough time to recover from major financial setbacks. Legal fees, child care costs, and housing demands can be overwhelming. To make ends meet and stay on track, experts urge custodial grandparents to accept assistance if it's available.

Assistance can come in many forms—grants, child care, and food stamps are a few of the ways government and private programs help custodial grandparents. Exactly what grandfamilies will qualify for depends mainly on:

  • The form of custody arrangement

  • Income and assets

  • The state of residence

A number of tax breaks also can leave more money in caregivers' pockets. To claim most tax benefits, grandparents must qualify under Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rules. That generally requires that grandparents and grandchildren meet the definitions of a primary caregiver and a dependent, neither your income nor the children's exceeds the limits, and no one else comes forward claiming the child as a dependent.

Check the IRS website for information about items that can help such as the Child Tax Credit, Dependent Exemption, Earned Income Credit, Child and Dependent Care Credit, Change in Filing Status, and tax breaks for education.

Taking steps to reduce money-related stress can allow grandparents to savor their new role as caregiver, even if raising a second family was never part of their original retirement plan.

Copyright 2015 Credit Union National Association Inc. Information subject to change without notice. All other rights reserved.


How To Talk To Your Grandkids About Money

Member since 1997 family photo

Unless you talk to your grandkids about money, how are you going to positively influence them? Here are some ways to start the conversation--and it’s not about writing them a check:

  • Tell stories from your own life. It can be as simple as explaining how you saved for your first car or how you managed when money was tight.

  • Talk about how prices have changed. Historical context can be interesting to kids, particularly when it involves how inexpensive common goods or brand names they're familiar with used to be.

  • Bring up savings when you give gifts. Christmas and birthdays can be a good time to encourage your grandkids to save with a money gift.

  • Hire your grands. Create opportunities for them to listen and share in money conversations by offering to pay them an hourly wage to do chores around the house.

  • Listen. If your grandkids are worried about their financial future, they may need an accommodating ear.

Talking about money can be more important than handing it over. Engage your grandchildren in money conversations that help them see how you got where you are today. If you have resources to help out, that’s just a bonus.

Share the credit union difference with your loved ones. Tell them about the advantages of membership at Houston Texas Fire Fighters Credit Union and encourage them to contact us.


Copyright 2015 Credit Union National Association. Information subject to change without notice. For use with members of a single credit union. All other rights reserved.

8 Best Money-Related Presents For Children

piggy bank

There are thousands of options when it comes to buying presents for your children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews; or any child that you may encounter during Christmas holidays for that matter. With such endless choices, it may seem impossible to give them a gift that is entertaining but meaningful; nice but not too expensive.

Well, it is possible. We’ve searched through multiple money-related gifts and narrowed it down to the items listed below. If you are in the market for educational children’s gifts, keep reading.

Piggy Bank

That’s right! The old-school piggy bank can teach kids a lot about savings and in more complex ways than you may think.

Some piggy banks have opening mechanisms to allow kids instant access to their cash. Others need to be shattered before kids can get their hands on their savings.And then there are more modern, digital piggy banks that count all the coins so your child will always know how much money they have saved.

With all these options, you can decide which type will suit your child better. Or you can purchase a few of them and allow your kid to designate each one for a different purpose.

Best for kids aged: 3 – 12

Cost: Range between $5 and $25


Puppy Pak Savings Club Membership

Membership into the Puppy Pak Savings Club is another great gift that instills good saving habits among children. If you are looking for a fun-filled educational program for your child and hassle and fees-free sign-up process for you, Puppy Pak Savings Club is exactly what you need.

Click here to learn how to become a member of HTFFFCU (if you are not one already) and learn how to sign your child up to become Puppy Pak member.

Best for kids aged: up to 13

Cost: No cost but initial deposit of $5 is required


Loose Change | Board Game

Loose Change is an educational card game for counting money. Players try to add up their cards consisting of nickels, dimes, quarters, and half dollars to one dollar without going over. Once they complete one dollar, they earn their cards and start a new round. The player who collects the highest number of dollars becomes the winner! If you are looking for a fast-paced game and you don’t mind joyful shouts filling the house, the Loose Change board game is the right choice for you!

Best for kids aged: 4 – 10

Cost: Approximately $14


The Allowance Game Board Game

The Allowance Game is an exciting and relatively easy game that teaches children how to use money. The winner is the first person who manages to save $20. If you are looking for a savings battle between you and your kids, let the Allowance Game begin!

Best for kids aged: 5 – 11

Cost: Approximately $25


Wallet

A colorful wallet with plenty of zippers and pockets is a great way to introduce the concept of money to younger children. You can place coins and bills inside, family photos or gift cards – it’s all up to your imagination and the receiver’s age. And yes, the wallet could even be firefighter themed!

Best for kids aged: 3 and up

Cost: Range between $4 and $30


Cash Register

A mini cash register is a perfect and versatile gift to introduce the concept of money and cost. It can play an important role in increasing a child’s shopping awareness since adults can point out how much various items cost. Aside from its educational value of building math and calculation skills, a register has the ability to keep children busy for hours as their imagination takes them to the grocery store, post office, clothing boutique or a cinema.

Best for kids aged: 3 – 10

Cost: Approximately $35


Buy It Right Board Game

Buy It Right is another educational game that teaches children math and currency skills as well as making them aware of different shopping choices. The objective of the game is to fill a shopping cart with item cards faster than other players. The game has three difficulty levels which let kids continue playing with it as they grow older and more conscious of money.

Best for kids aged: 5 – 9

Cost: Approximately $20


Money Maze

Let’s say that you want to give your child a gift of good, old-fashioned cash but sliding it in an envelope seems just way too simple. You’d like your child to earn the gift but making them wash your car can seem inappropriate suggestion, especially on Christmas Day. How about purchasing Money Maze, an item that makes children solve the puzzle before they can get their hands on the money?

Money Maze is just a plastic box with a maze inside and it contains a small ball. The ball, when properly placed, acts as a lever to unlock the bank. If you’re brave enough to handle your kids' frustration – Money Maze is a perfect gift idea for you.

Best for kids aged: 4 and up

Cost: Approximately $10