Summer Vacation on a Budget

Still want to travel this summer, but wondering how you can make it work in these tough financial times?  Despite the quickly rising costs for food, transportation, etc., there are ways to cut costs without cancelling your travel plans completely.  Here are some tips and suggestions:

  1. Choose a less expensive destination
  2. Take fewer trips or reduce the duration
  3. Choose a location with a shorter distance where you can drive rather than fly
  4. Sign up for price alerts on travel websites – shop around and check travel prices then book when rates are lowest
  5. Take a close to home weekend getaway
  6. Consider trying a staycation
  7. Bring groceries and snacks with you and meal plan/prep rather than going to a restaurant for every meal
  8. Try some cheaper (or even FREE) vacation activities such as local libraries, museums, art galleries, state or national parks, walking tours, etc.
  9. Stay at an Airbnb, bed and breakfast, or with family or friends instead of booking an expensive hotel
  10. Research all inclusive packages
  11. Be aware of any hidden fees
  12. Look into purchasing two one-way tickets rather than one round-trip ticket, as sometimes this may be less expensive
  13. Don’t buy souvenirs and let your photos be your memories
  14. Pull out your tents and air mattresses and try a camping trip
  15. Vacation in an area where summer is not peak season

Whether you use some, all, or none of these tips, the key takeaway is: PLAN, PLAN, PLAN!  Be flexible and creative – think outside of the box!  Set a budget and stick to it.  Research ahead of time.  Decide where you may NOT be willing to cut back and decide how you can cut back in other areas to offset.  Start saving NOW!

To speak with a Certified Financial Counselor and receive guidance and recommendations related to budgeting, credit, savings, debt, etc., please call us at 716-712-2060.  We are happy to help!

The Importance of Budgeting

How many times have you tried to create a budget and stick to it?  It’s something that’s so difficult for so many people, so it can be tempting to stop even trying.  But before you give up… know that budgeting can be critically important to ensure your financial health and stability.  There are concrete ways to make a difficult thing more manageable (and maybe even fun)!


Why is budgeting so important?

  1. Tracking your expenses helps you control your spending, and save more money.  When you manage your finances without a budget, there really isn’t anything preventing you from spending beyond your means.  You may have a general idea about how much money you spend on certain things, but without actual (accurate) numbers, it’s easy to let your spending habits get out of control.  When you live on a budget, it’s much easier to see where you may be frivolously overspending, and when you can see waste that can be eliminated, you now have an ability to put that “extra” money into savings that you didn’t think you had before.  Who doesn’t love saving money?
  2. It helps you make wiser financial decisions and be better prepared for emergencies.  As I’m sure you already know, life comes with all kinds of emergency situations that can many times be very expensive.  If you plan for (and stick to) saving for these potential emergency expenses, you can avoid financial difficulties in the future.  From emergency room bills to unexpected home repairs, without mindful and intentional planning, you put yourself at risk of going into (sometimes significant) debt… that you may not even have the means to pay.  It’s recommended that you have approximately 3-6 months of living expenses in emergency savings.  That may sound overwhelming to many of you, but the good news is you can start small!  $100 is better than $0.  $1 is better than $0.  Focus on what you CAN do, and not what you think you SHOULD be able to do.
  3. It can improve your mental health.  Finances are incredibly overwhelming and stressful for many of us.  How many nights have you tossed and turned worrying about how you were going to pay your bills?  With a concrete plan in place, it takes away some of the headache that comes from wondering if you’ll be able to make it to your next paycheck.  Budgeting may be the unexpected self-care that you didn’t even know you needed.


How can you make budgeting work for you?

  1. Keep it simple!  Track all fixed and variable expenses, but don’t overwhelm yourself with 200 detailed categories.  Know how much you spend on “needs” vs. “wants,” and use it as a guide for where to dedicate your money in a way that helps you work toward your personal financial goals.
  2. Reward yourself!  Sticking to a budget requires consistency and discipline.  It’s an achievement in itself if you manage to do it!  Keep in mind if you DON’T stick to it, there is no need to punish yourself.  Use any setbacks as an opportunity to realize what went wrong, and how to fix it.
  3. Find a system that works for you!  Budgeting is NOT one size fits all!  Start easy.  The NFCC (National Foundation for Credit Counseling) has a simple expense tracker that can be a good place to start – https://www.nfcc.org/resources/planning-tools-and-calculators/monthly-budget-planner/.  There are many budget templates on the internet.  Do some research and find one that you like!


Need some further help with budgeting?  CCCS of Buffalo offers Financial Coaching Sessions, where you would meet one on one with one of our Certified Financial Counselors.  From budgeting advice to suggestions for more positive spending habits, you and your counselor would work as a team to create an individualized budget and determine the best plan of action to achieve your financial goals.  Your counselor would go over your income, expenses, and Experian credit report with you, and even review ways to build on and improve your credit.


Call us today at (716) 712-2060 to schedule an in person or telephone appointment!

Dealing with Inflation

As most of us are well aware, trips to the grocery store and the gas pump are emptying our pockets and draining our bank accounts more than ever before…

 

People talk about “inflation” all the time, but what does that really mean?  In plain terms, inflation simply refers to the increase in prices over time.  The inflation rate is a measure of how quickly those prices go up.  When the inflation rate is high, consumers lose purchasing power, meaning your dollar won’t go as far tomorrow as it did today.  The current annual inflation rate for the United States is 8.6%, up from 7% in 2021 – the largest annual increase since December 1981.  It averaged 3.27% from 1914 to 2022, reaching an all-time high of 23.7% in June 1920, and a record low of -15.8% in June 1921.

 

Inflation can have a serious impact on everyday expenses.  Energy prices have risen 34.6% and food costs are up 10.1%, but most of us likely have not seen wage increases to keep up with those rising costs.  So how can we manage our own financial situations to minimize those effects?  Here are four tips:

 

1. Consider (strategically) downsizing

 

Do you own any assets that may be worth more now because of inflation?  If so, now could be a good time to get rid of them.  Some items to consider could be used vehicles, furniture, equipment, and recreational goods such as toys and games, since these items have all seen major prices increases due to inflation.

 

2. Reduce or delay certain purchases

 

Many items, including everyday essential expenses, have seen drastic price increases.  Here are some examples that you may want to consider reducing or eliminating:

  • Gasoline
  • Cars
  • Clothing
  • Restaurants
  • Hotels
  • Toys/games
  • Furniture/home goods
  • Travel
  • Entertainment

 

3. Keep investing in your future

 

When money feels tight, it’s normal (and easy) to focus only on immediate needs and lose sight of longer-term goals.  You may be tempted to stop saving for retirement.  Even during difficult times, keep in mind that continuing to contribute to retirement and other long-term investments can be one of the best ways to fight the effects of inflation because it helps your money increase in value.

 

4. Review your budget

 

Any time prices go up, it’s important to revisit your budget – which can be as simple as making a list with all of your monthly income sources and current monthly expenses.  Budgeting may feel like it’s all about decreasing expenses, but it can also be a good opportunity to revisit your income and consider ways to bring in more money or resources.

 

Some questions to ask yourself about your expenses:

  • What can I reduce or eliminate?
  • Is there something I can put on hold, even if it’s just for a few months?
  • Am I being charged for services I don’t even use?
  • Can I negotiate or shop around for a lower price on expensive items?  Or perhaps consider secondhand?
  • Am I eligible for any discounts based on my individual situation (income-based, military/veteran, senior citizen, etc.)?

 

Some questions to ask yourself about your income:

  • Is there a way I can temporarily (or permanently) bring in more money?
  • Am I eligible for a pay raise or a promotion?
  • Do I have a product or service I could sell?
  • Am I eligible for any government benefits or other assistance?
  • Can another member of my household earn money or qualify for financial assistance?

 

If creating a budget to fight the effects of inflation seems impossible, you’re not alone!  Only about 1/3 of US adults say they have a plan for how they’ll spend each paycheck.  Instead of avoiding the task, why not get help from a professional?

 

Call CCCS of Buffalo, your Money Mentors, at (716) 712-2060 today to schedule an appointment to speak with one of our knowledgeable certified financial counselors!

Robby’s Budgeting Tips!

 From time to time we like to share some of our staff’s suggestions on the best ways to manage your budget. Today we hear from Robby Dunn, Vice President of Counseling here at CCCS of Buffalo!

Robby’s Five Financial Budgeting Tips

  1. Create a balanced budget – This may seem like very simple personal financial advice, but the road to recovery from debt or the accumulation of savings begins with a balanced budget. This means that you have more money coming in than that is going out every month. Track your income and expenses for 30 days and find out if your budget is balanced!

 

  1. Consider viewing savings as an expense – Is savings an expense? Many individuals may argue that it is not as it is not necessary to save at all times, or every month. But, if you are saving, what are you putting those funds aside for? Home and Auto repairs? Vacation and gifts? Medical expenses? Those all sound like future expenses to us, and important ones at that! Perhaps if you view savings as an expense and make it a necessary item in your budget every month, your savings account may grow faster and you will be better prepared for what the future brings.

 

  1. Prioritize your “wants” – Make a list of all the monthly expenses in your budget that are wants and order them from top priority to the lowest. This can be a clear and concise way to determine what really is most important to you in your life, and what can be the first items to cut back on, or eliminate all together, in an effort to have an improved budget.

 

  1. “Meal prep” and pack your lunch Meal prep has become a fancy new term often used by many athletes, body builders, and fitness competitors, but anyone can do it. Not only does it often lead towards healthier food choices, it is much more cost efficient. If you work Monday through Friday, use Sunday evening as a time to “meal prep” and make up to five lunches for the week in advance. Choose food items that will stay fresh and last the whole week like rice, pasta, beans, baked potatoes or sweet potatoes. Consider making a large batch of soup or chili that will last the week. Cooking in larger quantity always saves money and this will make it easy to pack lunches and avoid going out to lunch to spend up to $10 with relative ease!

 

  1. Remain optimistic!Although at times it can be very difficult and stressful managing our personal finances, try and remain positive and optimistic. Life will throw many things at us, and in our financial lives many problems can arise. Think long term and big picture in order to weather the storm and get back on track.

To speak with a Certified Financial Counselor and receive guidance and recommendations on appropriate steps to take to improve your credit situation, please give us a call at (716) 712-2060 or visit us at www.consumercreditbuffalo.org  We are happy to help!

Vacationing on a Budget!

Many individuals have varying financial goals, but often times an annual vacation or trip with family top the list of most.  Of course they don’t just happen with the snap of a finger. Vacations take financial planning, budgeting, savings, and research and creativity for finding affordable transportation, accommodations, and activities upon arrival. Vacations are well-deserved treats that are the result of hard work, and with the right preparation you should be able to enjoy it to the fullest without financial distress before, during, or after.

First and foremost planning for a vacation should start with setting an overall budget for the trip. This will allow to you determine how much you need to start systematically saving, ideally for several months up to a year in advance of the trip depending on the anticipated cost. The total cost can be the most difficult task to accurately estimate as you have to account for all expenses during your vacation, including and not limited to; Airfare and transportation, lodging, travel documents, food and groceries, dining out, entertainment, activities, local transportation expenses, souvenirs and gifts.

After you have determined your allotted budget for the trip, and most importantly begun saving for the adventure, it’s time to shop around for the necessary and most costly travel expenses; Airfare and Lodging.  One thing that appears not to be changing anytime soon is increasing flight prices.  With continued rising fuel costs, the era of cheap travel is over.  Although that doesn’t mean you can’t find an affordable flight, or perhaps even a “cheap” one at that. The best way to ensure that you do find an affordable ticket is by booking your reservation well in advance.  About 2-3 months in advance used to be plenty of time, but nowadays you will want to purchase your flight as soon as you know you want to go. Also, having some flexibility in your dates of travel can help reduce the cost. Flying on weekends is almost always more expensive, and if you can manage to travel on Tuesday through Thursday you will significantly reduce your cost of flying. You will also want to try and avoid holidays if possible as this is when many people are flying, which drives the prices up.

As for lodging, some of the same rules that apply to flying can be followed in order to find cheaper accommodations.  First and foremost though, you need to decide what level of quality lodging you want. Are you looking for somewhere that is simply clean and has a bed to lay your head at night and take a shower? Or are you looking for somewhere with big TVs, a luxurious pool, and a 5-star restaurant downstairs? Once you decide on the quality of lodging you would like you can begin your research.  In addition to standard lodging accommodations such as hotels and hostels, where you can find potential discounted rooms on websites such as www.priceline.com, take a look at options for renting from owners, such as www.VRBO.com (Vacation Rental By Owner) or www.airbnb.com. These could be great options for saving money, and staying somewhere that will fit your expectations. 

As for tips when you arrive at your destination, whether you are traveling locally or internationally, spending more time at “local” spots you will find that you take less of a hit on your wallet.  For example, you will find in Europe that most restaurants near tourist locations (parks, squares, museums, etc.) tend to have far more expensive prices, and likely a subpar quality of food.  Invest in a good guidebook of your choice, and learn some secret spots so you can go have fun with the locals…and save money. Happy travels!


 

Holiday Spending Plan

 

As the summer comes to yet another close, swiftly approaching is the holiday season. Have you started planning yet? Well… if not, you likely aren’t alone.  In less than 3 months a busy schedule lies ahead; Family gatherings and visiting relatives, attending parties and potlucks, entertaining the kids while they are eagerly home from school, and of course… shopping.  This should be the time of year to enjoy, and with the right planning, of both your time and your finances, you can have a great holiday season!

Like most successful endeavors, this will start with a detailed plan. Ideally this should happen earlier in the year; whether you are putting money aside in a savings club, or purchasing gifts intermittently throughout the year.  Perhaps that wasn’t the case this year but don’t worry! You can still have a great holiday season if you focus your attention on these 5 specific recommendations and tipsto maximize your dollars:

Make a list, and check it twice. Determine the amount you want to spend on each and every person, no matter the price of the gift. Carry the gift list with you so you can keep track of your purchases. This will help to limit your purchases to what you initially planned and eliminate any impulse spending. Don’t give in to discounts and sales if it means you will go over your allotted budget. 

Tame your expectations. This does not mean you have to sacrifice or leave people off your gift list, but more of in-depth look at your current personal financial situation to see what you can comfortably afford. Perhaps you have to reduce the amount you normally spend on your children, your spouse, or your best friend.  You shouldn’t feel bad, as almost certainly your loved ones wouldn’t want you feeling unnecessary financial distress over a few gifts.  If you have children, you can also use this as an educational experience by helping them better understand the importance of family budgeting.

Get creative. Nothing is better than receiving a gift that someone put thought and effort into, and the best way to create that gift could be by making it yourself. This could be artwork, pottery, custom-made playlists, photo albums, or something sweet you whipped up in the kitchen. You could also simply spend quality time with a person by treating them to a concert, ball game, or a movie.  And never forget the emotional value of a hand written note or card.

Shop around.  There are many ways that you can shop in order to save money. If you are comfortable shopping online, you can often find great value through sales or online coupon sites such as Groupon.com.  If you feel it would be worth investing the time and potentially testing your patience to the limits, Black Friday and Cyber Monday could be great opportunities to net big savings. Keep an eye out for sales year round and take advantage…But only if it’s on your list. 

Don’t overextend yourself.  While you may be sticking to your list, you still need to make sure you are spending wisely. Pay with cash as much as possible, and if you absolutely have to use credit, limit to only one card. You don’t want to worry about paying off your past purchases into the following summer, as this could be the time that you are planning for the next holiday season!

Now and go out and execute your plan, and have yourself a wonderful holiday season!

Common Financial Pitfalls… and How to Avoid Them!

It’s so easy for so many of us to fall into the trap of the little things that can set us back financially, even when we have the best of intentions to stay committed to our financial goals.  Here are 3 of some very common financial pitfalls, and even more importantly, tips on how to avoid them!

1. Impulsive Spending

Ever go to the grocery store hungry, and find yourself pulling more things off the shelves than you had initially intended?  Do you get a little click-happy when you’re shopping online, then have 10 items in your Amazon cart when you only planned on buying one thing?  Tempted by all the shiny and fun stuff on store endcaps and in checkout lines?  So much of what we buy is on impulse.  You’re not alone, and there are ways to reduce or even eliminate this!

How to avoid: Have a plan!

Don’t go grocery shopping without a pre-planned list (and stick to that list!).  Turn off “one click ordering” on your favorite online shopping sites, so you have an active barrier to just easily ordering whatever you wish (would you be as tempted to spend so much, if you knew you had to actively log in again and re-enter your payment information rather than just clicking a button?).  Set some time aside and make a budget plan for yourself.  Reward yourself when you stick to it (freely or inexpensively, of course!).

2. Using Credit Cards for Emergencies

As much as sometimes it is necessary to use a credit card for an emergency expense, it ideally should not be our first line of defense.  Credit cards can carry such high interest rates (sometimes upwards of 30%!) and if not paid in full, the balance carried over from month to month can grow very quickly.  It’s far better to use savings for emergencies wherever possible, and then use credit cards as an absolute last resort.

How to avoid: Build an emergency savings!

A good goal is to have 3-6 months worth of your monthly expenses in an emergency savings account, but don’t let that goal scare you.  START SMALL!  Saving just $50 a month into a separate savings account will get you to $1,200 in only 2 years (excluding any interest you may earn).  Once you hit a small goal (say, $250 in a savings account), challenge yourself and up your savings by 10% and see how much more quickly you can hit your next goal.  It may even be fun…!

3. Ignoring Your Retirement Fund

Planning for retirement should be part of your long term financial goals.  It takes more and more money for people to be able to retire comfortably, and if you’re not prepared, you just may end up having to work a lot longer than you had initially hoped for.

How to avoid: Start saving NOW!

It’s never too late to start!  Does your employer sponsor a retirement plan such as a 401(k) or 403(b)?  Start contributing to it TODAY!  Be sure to ask if your employer participates in company matching, and maximize your contribution to get the most out of this benefit.  Every little bit helps.  Don’t fall into the mindset where you feel like since you can’t contribute a high % of your income then it’s not worth it.  It is absolutely worth it, and even 1% of your income is better than 0%.  It helps you get into the habit of saving, and it adds up faster than you’d think!

To speak with a knowledgeable financial counselor about how to make your money situation work for you, give us a call at (716) 712-2060 today!  CCCS of Buffalo is committed to assisting our community in meeting your financial needs!

Budget Friendly Staycation Ideas

 

We all need a break from work from time to time. How do you take some vacation time but not get into debt or throw your budget off? The answer for many of us is to take a “Staycation.” You can have a good time by staying close to home or being a tourist in your own town!

Staycation ideas that won’t break the bank:

·         Check out local parks and trails to hike

·         Plan a backyard camping night

·         Have a movie night complete with snacks from the Dollar Store

·         Have a craft night with supplies from the Dollar Store

·         Wanting to have a swim? Check out local hotel deals for a cheap one night stay somewhere with a pool

·         Plan a picnic

·         Have a beach day if one is nearby

·         Have friends or family over for a potluck dinner

·         Plan a game night/day with cards or board games

·         See a matinee movie

·         Pick a recipe for a new food or cuisine that is not too expensive and make some new food at home

·         Have an at home spa/pamper day – give yourself a manicure, pedicure, face mask, etc.

·         Check out the local music scene – many restaurants/bars and other areas have free live music

·         Look for free events and activities in your area—Google “free things to do in your city”

·         Check out local museums or art galleries—many museums and galleries offer a free day once per month

The possibilities are endless! What budget friendly staycation ideas do you have to share?

Financial Tips from CCCS Staff – Part 1

CCCS of Buffalo provides financial education and financial literacy resources to the community.


  • Our Mission: We provide our community with the best strategies to master their credit.
  • Our Vision: We are the most recognized financial counseling agency in our community that minimizes the stigma associated with debt.
  • Our Values: Integrity, Professionalism, Empowerment, Innovation


Our staff at CCCS are committed to the collective mission of our agency, and we hope that these tips for financial success from our team may help you manage your finances in a better way!

 

“An easy way to pay off your mortgage early is to send in an extra payment each year.  That payment goes straight to principal.  You can save about nine years of mortgage payments!  It works the same way as a bi-weekly mortgage, but without the commitment.”

            ~ Therese Melchiorre, Certified Financial Counselor

 

“Having trouble starting a savings fund?  Why not start little!  If you are a person who uses cash, start putting away $1 bills.  Every time you receive a $1 bill, put it away into savings.  Over time, you will find that the dollars add up!  The next year, try changing it to $5 bills.”

            ~ Krysten Goins-Singletary, Client Support Specialist

 

“Reconcile your checking account each month, especially young adults.  It’s easy to swipe and never look at your statements.  Reviewing these regularly can help reveal patterns of where you may be overspending, and can identify potential errors.”

            ~ Mike Florczak, Certified Financial Counselor

 

“Remain optimistic!  Although at times it can be very difficult and stressful managing our personal finances, try and stay positive and optimistic.  Life will throw many things at us, and in our financial lives, many problems can arise.  Think long term and big picture in order to weather the storm and get back on track.”

            ~ Robby Dunn, Vice President of Counseling

 

“One of the things that I like to do is have a separate account for paying bills and a separate account for fun.  This way I know all the bills are paid and if I have extra money in the fun account we can go out, and if not then we stay home!  I also track all my bills in an Excel spreadsheet according to how I get paid, and this way I know what to pay and when.”

            ~ Jaime Bergeron, Counseling Intake Specialist

 

Call us today at (716) 712-2060 to learn more about the services we offer, or to schedule an appointment with one of our highly qualified and knowledgeable staff!