Get the Power to Cut High Cable Bills

Tuesday, July 18 at 11:00 AM
Category: Personal Finance

Watching television can be a great way to kick back and relax. But if you're a cable TV customer and overpaying for services, that relaxation can quickly turn to stress once you receive a high monthly bill. You do, however, have the power to reduce or even eliminate your bill. Here are some ways to make that happen:

Review your bill. With electronic billing and payments, many people today don't take the time to open and read their bills. It's important to read the bill and become familiar with the charges. Look for hidden fees as well as fees for services for which you did not subscribe.

Know your payment history. Review your monthly payments and see if there have been increases in the amount you pay from month to month. Also, look to see how long you've been a customer and whether or not you have paid your bills on time. If you're a good customer, you may have a bigger negotiating edge when you call your cable company.
 
Look at competitive offers. Chances are, you've been receiving direct mail or email from other cable providers eager to earn your business. Take some time to review those offers to see if you can save money.
 
Call your cable company. Once you've reviewed your cable bill and looked at what other providers are offering, call your cable company. Explain to them you are considering cancelling your service due to the high cost. Many companies actually have retention departments established for the purpose of keeping good customers from leaving. Don't be afraid to ask for help!
 
Ditch premium channels. When you signed up with your cable company, you may have been offered free HBO and other premium channels for an introductory period. After this period expires, you will be charged for these services. You can reduce your monthly bill by cancelling these premium channels, which can be costly.
 
Purchase your own equipment. Your cable company may also be charging you a set monthly fee for rental of equipment, such as your router. You may be able to save money by purchasing the router outright.
 
Consider cancelling your service altogether. With subscription services, such as Netflix and Hulu, many people are getting rid of cable all together.
 
Take these steps today to put the power to save where it belongs — in your hands.
 
Tags: Financial Education, Savings
 

Make the Grade on Back-to-School Shopping

Tuesday, July 18 at 11:00 AM
Category: Personal Finance

As kids prepare to return to class, it’s the parents who are gearing up for the shopping assignment.

Back-to-school shopping is one of the most significant shopping events all year, second only to the winter holiday season, according to the National Retail Federation.* Last year, total back-to-school spending was estimated to top $75 billion nationwide.

During the weeks leading up to the first day of school, parents generally spend hundreds of dollars per child* on clothing, accessories, school supplies, electronics and more. It’s no wonder that the winding down of summer can be a stressful time for many families. 

That’s why we’ve compiled a list of three easy tips to help you ace the school shopping assignment with confidence and perhaps a little less stress.

  1. Make a list and set a budget
    This step is paramount to your back-to-school shopping success. Gather your child’s school list of needed supplies and take an inventory of any leftover school supplies* that your child may be able to use again this year. Compile lists of clothing items, electronics and equipment that your child will need for the year. It’s also important to think beyond supplies, electronics and clothing—consider upcoming school activities or clubs your child may want to join and the costs associated. Examples could include field trips, basketball uniforms, a musical instrument, or fees for Spanish club. This will help you get the full picture and plan out your budget accordingly. 

    BONUS POINTS: Planning for back to school is a perfect opportunity to talk to your kids about money. Having your children develop and stick to a budget for back to school expenses can help instill good financial habits. Arvest’s Education Center also has a number of online calculators and links to useful articles to help families budget and save for the school year. 
     
  2. Plan ahead and find deals
    Be on the lookout for bargains, especially for big-ticket items that are on your list, like computers and graphing calculators. Experts note that deals on pencils and notebooks are easier to find. Consider following your favorite retailers on social media or subscribing to store e-newsletters to be among the first to learn of flash sales, special discounts and promotions announced via those channels. If you prefer to do your back-to-school shopping online, look for special “online only” deals and free shipping from many of the major national retailers. 

    Also, be sure to take advantage of tax free shopping days, where applicable. Shopping on those days will help you get the biggest bang for your buck on clothing and other qualifying items, even some online retailers participate. Many of the communities Arvest serves are located in states that have tax free holiday shopping days. Additional details are available at the links below.
  3. Spend wisely
    When it’s time to tackle your list, it’s easy to get caught up in the moment, but you should try to resist the urge to splurge, experts warn. Stick to your list and budget and you’ll be glad you did. It’s also a good idea to discuss how your family will pay for the purchases before hitting the store or buying online. Will you be paying with a debit card or charging the purchases on a credit card? If the latter, be sure to factor in the costs and advantages you may have by using the card, including rewards points.
Now that you’ve finished your back-to-school shopping homework, you can make the experience a positive one for you and your family! 

Links marked with * go to a third-party site not operated or endorsed by Arvest Bank, an FDIC-insured institution.
 
Tags: Budgeting, Cash Management, College, Financial Education, Savings
 

6 Financial Tips for Service Members and Their Families

Monday, June 26 at 09:15 AM
Category: Personal Finance
Finances are often identified by service members and their families as one of their most significant stressors – even more than deployments and personal relationships. Financial concerns at home make it extremely difficult for service members to focus on the mission at hand. Planning ahead as much as possible is key for the millions of military families who face unique financial challenges like deployments and relocations.

These financial tips can help lessen the financial burden on military families:
  • Contribute automatically to a Thrift Savings Plan. Military members have access to the Federal Thrift Savings Program, which offers the lowest-cost retirement savings plan available. Have automatic contributions withdrawn from your paycheck. 
  • Plan for deployment. Before deployment, have a family conversation about managing the household budget. Military personnel also receive additional funds while deployed. Decide on the best use for that extra cash, whether it is paying off debt or increasing Thrift Savings Plan contributions. 
  • Meet with your banker before active duty. The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act offers all military personnel entering active duty a variety of financial protections. The SCRA covers issues ranging from interest rate reductions to limits on debt accrual. Ask your banker about the key provisions of this law and how they can help you.  
  • Set up automatic bill pay. Whether you’re stationed stateside or overseas, automatic bill pay will give you and your family one less thing to worry about each month. It can be particularly helpful during deployments in regions where internet access is unreliable and mobile banking isn’t an option.
  • Consider housing options. With mortgage rates at notably low levels, homeownership may seem like a no-brainer. However, service members should consider their options. Frequent relocations and deployments can make owning a home challenging and expensive. Renting may be a smart option for short-term assignments. Decide what’s best for your family and your finances. 
  • Consult a financial advisor. Schedule a visit at a Personal Financial Management Program (PFMP) office, located in your military and family support centers. They offer free one-on-one counseling, as well as other financial education resources. 
Service members juggle a lot of stresses, and we hope to reduce the financial stresses with these tips.
 
Information courtesy of American Bankers Association. 

Tags: Financial Education, Home Loans, Mortgage, Retirement, Savings
 

Trim Your Monthly Expenses

Monday, June 19 at 10:20 AM
Category: Personal Finance
It comes as no surprise summer is a great time to get in shape. But, do you realize there's an easy way to get in great shape without having to put on workout clothes or sneakers or even breaking a sweat? It's called getting into financial shape. And you can accomplish that fairly easily by doing one simple activity — trimming your monthly expenses.
 
Here are some suggestions for losing that extra financial baggage this summer:
  • Get rid of higher-interest debt. If you have credit card debt, you may be wasting a significant part of your monthly budget on interest fees. Try to pay off any debt you can or at the very least, to consolidate higher-interest debt to lower-interest credit cards. To avoid credit card debt in the future, pay for purchases in cash.
  • Lower your cellphone bill. Most of us can't live without our cellphones. We can, however, do without those expensive monthly bills, which can be budget busters. Take some time to review your bill to determine your usage and to see if you can move to a less expensive plan. Or if that's not possible, shop around with other carriers.
  • Share the ride. Gasoline and car maintenance can take a big portion out of your budget. One way to reduce your automobile expense is to carpool with others. Or, if you live close to work, consider walking or riding your bike.
  • Dine in. There is a lot to love about dining out. You don't have to worry about what to cook or spend your valuable time cleaning up. But, dining out frequently can be very expensive. By preparing and eating your meals at home, you may be able to save hundreds of dollars each month. Also, if you work outside your home, pack a lunch and be sure to brew your own coffee.
  • Save energy at home. Put some energy into reducing your utility costs by using energy-efficient light bulbs, turning off lights, and conserving water.
  • Reduce your cable bill. Spending too much on cable? Examine your bill and see if you can get rid of premium channels. Or consider, eliminating cable altogether and using subscription services.
  • Get rid of your gym/club memberships. If you belong to a gym and don't get there often, cancel your membership. It's only worth it if you use it.
The best method for determining ways to save is to record and review your monthly expenses. Then, once you cut your expenses, take that extra money and put it in a savings account. In no time at all, you'll see that you look a whole lot better with trimmer expenses. 

Tags: Credit Cards, Debt, Financial Education, Savings
 

6 Financial Traps New College Graduates Should Avoid

Monday, June 12 at 08:45 AM
Category: Personal Finance
As college students graduate and start their careers, financial responsibility should be a top priority. However, it’s easy to fall into traps that could hinder new college graduates from securing their financial future.
 
New college graduates should avoid the following financial traps:
  • Not having a budget. Simply put, don’t spend more than you make. Calculate the amount of money you’re taking home after taxes, then figure out how much money you can afford to spend each month while contributing to your savings. Be sure to factor in recurring expenses such as student loans, monthly rent, utilities, groceries, transportation expenses and car loans. 
  • Forgoing an emergency fund. Make it a priority to set aside the equivalent of three to six months’ worth of living expenses. Start putting some money away immediately, no matter how small the amount. A bank savings account is a smart place to stash your cash for a rainy day.
  • Paying bills late – or not at all. Each missed payment can hurt your credit history for up to seven years, and can affect your ability to get loans, the interest rates you pay on loans and your ability to get a job or rent an apartment. Consider setting up automatic payments for regular expenses like student loans, car payments and phone bills.
  • Racking up debt. Understand the responsibilities and benefits of credit. Shop around for a card that best suits your needs, and spend only what you can afford to pay back. It’s a great tool if you use it responsibly. 
  • Not thinking about the future. It may seem odd since you’re just beginning your career, but now is the best time to start planning for your retirement. Contribute to your employer’s 401(k) or similar account, especially if there is a company match. Invest enough to qualify for your company’s full match – it’s free money.  
  • Ignoring help from your bank. Most banks offer online, mobile and text banking tools to manage your account night and day. Use these tools to check balances, pay bills, deposit checks, monitor transaction history and track budgets.  
College graduates can find many enticing ways to spend their paychecks from their first “real” job. However, by avoiding these financial traps, the new graduate can make financial responsibility a top priority instead of exceeding their new income.
 
Information courtesy of American Bankers Association. 
 
Tags: Budgeting, Debt, Financial Education, Savings

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