9 Best Ways to Save Money During the Holiday Season

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Before you hit the mall or organize a big party, it can help to have a comprehensive plan in place so you know exactly where your money is going this holiday season – that way, you can ring in the new year with celebration rather than panic. Here are several ways to keep your spending under control this December.

1. Make a Budget

There are a couple different ways to set a holiday budget. You might want to establish a general spending cap, or try allocating a specific amount to each person on your gift list. Be aware, though, that while making a holiday budget is great, it can go sour in one of two ways:

  • Setting a Budget That’s Too Tight. While setting a tight budget always starts with good intentions, an unrealistic one can do more harm than good. Without a little wiggle room for last-minute purchases or enough cash allocated for your mom’s gift, you can end up very frustrated. In fact, you might get so frustrated that you just toss your budget out the window. To prevent this from happening, look over your numbers. Do you really need to spend $50 on wine, or can you cut back in order to allocate more money to gifts instead? Don’t just pick numbers out of thin air – really think things over to ensure that you make the right decisions.
  • Forgetting the Little Things. Gift giving is a huge expense during the holidays, but don’t forget the other costs you incur throughout the season. Parties, travel expenses, charitable donations, and holiday-themed activities can all add up to destroy a budget. If possible, add some money into your budget for unexpected costs so you’re not left scratching your head.

The way you create your budget is up to you, but one thing’s for sure: you need one. Create yours before the season hits full steam, and revisit it often to make sure you’re spending within your means.

2. Track Your Spending

Your budget does no good if you don’t effectively track your spending. Personally, I keep a separate Christmas fund in a dedicated bank account. This makes it easier for me to separate holiday spending from regular, day-to-day expenses. I also have my bank’s app on my phone, which allows me to check my balance and track my spending anytime, anywhere – even in line for the cashier.

Spreadsheets are also an excellent and accurate way to track your holiday expenditures. By establishing a budget and entering your real expenses, you can easily keep yourself on track. Just be sure to remain diligent. I find that if I can track my expenses in real-time, I’m much more effective than if the receipts are lying around for days before I input them into my system.

3. Cut Back on Extras

Getting lattes piled sky-high with whipped cream, splurging on a pair of shoes for yourself, paying for a photo with Santa – we’re all guilty of indulging a little more than we should simply because it’s the holiday season. However, you can’t get stuck in a trap where constant spending on “extras” eats into your budget.

Cutting back on those extras can have a big impact on your bottom line. For example, if you purchase a $4.50 pumpkin spice latte three times per week throughout December, that’s $162 you’ve spent on pricey drinks. That money could have paid for a few Christmas gifts, enough gas to get to Grandma’s house, or a generous donation to a charity of your choice. Before you splurge on a little treat or “extra” for yourself, be sure it’s really worth the price.

4. Use the “Secret Santa” Method

I have four brothers and one sister-in-law on my side of the family, and three brothers-in-law and three sisters-in-law on my husband’s side. Add in the 11 nieces and nephews, and buying for the family becomes a huge expense – not to mention a major drain on my schedule. Instead of buying for each member of the family or even pulling names out of a hat, we’ve decided to funnel our resources into a Secret Santa experience instead.

Our local church decorates a tree with ornaments, each decoration with the age, gender, and specific Christmas wish of a child in need. Instead of buying presents for my own family members, we choose to purchase gifts for the anonymous beneficiaries. The best part is that each individual family chooses as many ornaments as they can afford – some can buy for an entire family, while others can pick one or two ornaments to fit their budget. In the past, my kids and I have had fun picking out toys, clothes, and books for children of a similar age.

Not only does a Secret Santa experience help relieve some of the stress and financial burden of exchanging gifts with every member of my family, it gives us a chance to talk about the importance of service and giving during the holidays. I love that my kids get a break from the “gimmes” and get to focus on someone less fortunate.

Some other ideas for charity during the holidays include the following:

•Toy drives
•Volunteer work
•Baking treats for neighbors
•Assembling care packages for shelters, hospitals, or the armed forces
•Coat drives
•Donating to charity

Funneling what you would have spent on family gifts to those in need is a great way to give back, have a charitable experience with your loved ones, and relieve holiday stress.

5. Choose Cheaper Traditions

Traditions are what make the holidays so special, but they can be a financial burden. If your traditions include holiday travel, paying for a special attraction, or surprising your kids with extravagant gifts, you might find yourself going significantly over budget in the name of family.

While traditions are important and admirable, they don’t have to be expensive to be memorable. In fact, you might find that your kids prefer the cheap stuff to the grander gestures. So many activities and traditions are inexpensive, or even free – you just have to know where to look. By making cheaper events and traditions part of your celebration, you can save money without skimping on the festivities and memories.

Here are some of my favorite cheap activities:

•Touring neighborhood Christmas lights
•Watching a movie with hot chocolate at home
•Sledding
•Seeing Santa at the mall
•Making Christmas crafts
•Baking together
•Reading favorite Christmas stories
•Seeing a high school production, such as a play or choir performance
•Caroling
•Checking daily deals, such as those on Groupon or LivingSocial, for discounts on local attractions

Teach your kids that traditions aren’t about what you spend, but the time you spend together.

6. Embrace Potluck

We host Christmas Eve for our extended family every year at our home. I love prepping, cooking, and having everyone together for Christmas – but you know what I don’t love? How expensive all the food, decor, and activities always are. Buying food for 30 people is seriously pricey, and if not for potluck assignments, I’d be spending most of my Christmas budget on food and drink.

Now, I’ve learned my lesson – if you’re hosting an event, embrace the idea of potluck assignments. Let everyone know you’re going to make the main dish, but that you’d appreciate help on sides, appetizers, desserts, and drinks. I simply send out an email a few weeks in advance letting everyone know what their assignments are to ensure we don’t end up with five vegetable trays and no dessert.

I also assign Christmas games and activities to some of my teen nieces and nephews. They love being involved, and I don’t have to stress about keeping guests entertained.

7. Take Care Around Sales

Holiday sales can be an epic opportunity to save money – but be careful. Not all deals are created equal, and some may not even be truly discounted, as some stores keep prices the same but simply mark items with a “sale” sign.

Always comparison shop before you purchase an item during a sale. I use the ShopSavvy app – it allows me to scan the bar code of any item and see prices at nearby stores and Internet retailers to make sure I’m getting the best deal. Or, if you tend to fall victim to the festive atmosphere of a store and make unwise purchases, try shopping solely online. You can snag great deals and use coupon codes to get a lot more for your money.

Of course, you never save money by spending, no matter how significant the discount. Sales are great, but they don’t mean much if the money isn’t in your budget. If necessary, bring a printout of your budget so you can check your spending in real-time and avoid being swayed by a screaming deal.

8. Know When to Stop

When your list is finished and you’ve checked it twice, it’s time to stop shopping. Know when you’re finished, and avoid stopping by the mall “just to see what they have” – this can lead to making poorly planned purchases and blowing your budget.

I typically get the itch to shop a few days before Christmas, so I specifically save shopping for stocking stuffers until the last minute. That way, I’m still operating within my budget and purchasing something I actually need while fulfilling the urge to be part of the holiday hustle and bustle. By planning purchases and stopping when you’re done, you can be spared that holiday hangover come January.

9. Get a Head Start

The period right after the holidays is the perfect time to check over your budget and make plans for the new year. How did you do? Did you stay within budget? Were there places you could have cut back?

This is also the time to start planning a credit card payoff strategy if you used plastic to finance your festivities. In a perfect world, you wouldn’t have put anything on your credit card that you couldn’t pay off in a month, but if you went overboard, commit to a payment plan that eliminates your balances within the next three or four months.

If you’re really savvy and have the storage, the days following Christmas are also ideal for getting a jump-start on purchasing decor and wrapping goods for next year. Of course, that’s only if you’ve budgeted accordingly.

Article courtesy of: Jacqueline Curtis via MoneyCrashers.com

What do you call it when it rains Turkeys? Foul Weather!

This year has delivered many days of “foul weather”, but hopefully not the turkey type, unless it’s on your Thanksgiving table later this month.
So far in 2016, we have seen over 36” of rain since April 1st. This is nearly 10” more than the annual average. Not only has Southern Minnesota been stressed by excessive amounts of rainfall, we are trudging through a very stressful time in the agricultural industry.
Many farmers have been riding what has felt like a roller coaster this year. With planting, replanting, hail, resistant weeds, commodity pricing, and excess rain, it sure has been an eventful season. Even after all the storms, most of Minnesota is still left with what is being reported as a “record crop”, which is simply remarkable!
As this farming season gets wrapped up, most producers are already looking ahead to the next one. The dinner table talk shifts from the old to the new, and producers start making some very important decisions which could impact their future.
A few of the decisions being made this time of year are about seed selection and early pay discounts, the impact of fall fertilizer vs. spring fertilizer, grain marketing and carry options, and what seems to be the “Big One” this year – land rent negotiations.
As the year comes to an end, there are many things that need to happen and it may seem like a stressful whirlwind. Producers and farm families alike all have times when they may feel hopeless and the numbers just don’t seem to work. This is where your networks and relationships are essential. Open communication with your input suppliers, your bankers, support systems, and friends will prove to be beneficial.
Growing up on a small dairy farm, it seemed like my father was constantly working with his bankers and Farm Business Manager to figure out what decisions were best. I learned back then that having a strong network and relationships were very necessary, especially in the agricultural industry.
These kinds of networks and relationships can also help discover efficiencies that could benefit your farm. With the technology and complexities in the industry, it’s hard to know everything and what could possibly be missing. Your neighbors, your friends, or someone in your network might have an idea how to help.
Each farmer in Minnesota operates just a bit differently, but most have the same objective: to plant and harvest a plentiful crop along with feeding their families. This sounds simple enough, but it’s easier said than done, especially in recent years. Inflation in input pricing, decreases in commodity prices, as well as family living expectations are just a few of the things that complicate the simple objective.
Although talking farming is usually a natural thing for most producers, there could be some uncomfortable conversations that will need to happen. There are a few things that producers and farm families can do ahead of time to prepare for the coming year and hopefully avoid some of those uncomfortable situations.
Farm families need to talk about cost control, budgeting, and presenting a realistic cash flow projection for the coming year. What will it take financially to get the crop in the field and carry you through until the grain is sold? What are your goals throughout the year as a family and what will it take financially to achieve those goals. Are the goals even achievable under the current situations or will there need to be an adjustment to all expenses, including family living?
Another focus point could be on your Working Capital position. Will you be able to meet all of your financial obligations for the coming year or do you need to restructure your debt?
These are just a few of the questions that producers are most likely already thinking about. Calculate everything out on paper, see how it looks, and consider changes that might need to be made. Open communication with your banker this time of year is essential and could be a game changer.

By: Rose Wendinger, Asst. Vice President

Article published in the November 2016 issue of River Valley Woman magazine

SAFETY TIPS FOR MOBILE DEVICES

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Stay #CyberAware While On the Go

Your mobile devices – including smartphones, laptops and tablets – are always within reach everywhere you go, whether for work, travel or entertainment. These devices make it easy to connect to the world around you, but they can also pack a lot of info about you and your friends and family, like your contacts, photos, videos, location and health and financial data. It’s important to use your mobile safely.

The 1st step is to STOP. THINK. CONNECT.

STOP: make sure security measures are in place. THINK: about the consequences of your actions and behaviors online. CONNECT: and enjoy your devices with more peace of mind.

PERSONAL INFORMATION IS LIKE MONEY. VALUE IT. PROTECT IT.

  • Secure your devices: Use strong passwords or touch ID features to lock your devices. These security measures can help protect your informa on if your devices are lost or stolen and keep prying eyes out.
  • Think before you app: Information about you, such as the games you like to play, your contacts list, where you shop and your location, has value – just like money. Be thoughtful about who gets that information and how it’s collected through apps.
  • Now you see me, now you don’t: Some stores and other locations look for devices with WiFi or Bluetooth turned on to track your movements while you are within range. Disable WiFi and Bluetooth when not in use.
  • Get savvy about WiFi hotspots: Public wireless networks and hotspots are not secure, which means that anyone could potentially see what you are doing on your mobile device while you are connected. Limit what you do on public WiFi and avoid logging in to key accounts like email and financial services on these networks. Consider using a virtual private network (VPN) or a personal/mobile hotspot if you need a more secure connection on the go.

    KEEP A CLEAN MACHINE:

  • Keep your mobile devices and apps up to date: Your mobile devices are just as vulnerable as your PC or laptop. Having the most up-to-date security software, web browser, operating system and apps is the best defense against viruses, malware and other online threats.
  • Delete when done: Many of us download apps for specific purposes, such as planning a vacation, and no longer need them afterwards, or we may have previously downloaded apps that are no longer useful or interesting to us. It’s a good security practice to delete all apps you no longer use.

Article courtesy of StopThinkConnect.org

Created by the National Cyber Security Alliance

Made possible in whole by a grant fron the Digital Trust Foundation

Do I Need Renters Insurance in College?

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Updated: July 2016

When you’re packing for college, you may be thinking about your class schedule and late night pizzas with friends. Someone making off with your laptop or a dorm fire are probably not what you’re envisioning about the campus experience. But since you may be bringing some expensive stuff with you — a television, speakers, clothing and a smartphone — it’s a good idea to make sure these things are protected before you leave home, just in case.

Whether you’re living in the dorm or an off-campus apartment, it’s important to have coverage for all those things that help you keep up with classes and make your living space feel like home. How to help protect your stuff, though, typically depends on where you’re living.

Dorm Life

If you’re living in a dorm or other campus housing, your belongings may be covered under your parents’ homeowners or renters insurance policy. You’ll want to check with your agent to make sure, but the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) says that students who are younger than 26 and living on campus may be covered through their parents’ policy.

It can be a good idea to know the policy’s coverage limits for personal property. The Insurance Information Institute(III) says some policies limit coverage for belongings while they are away from the policyholder’s home. This is often referred to as “off-premises coverage.” For example, if your parents’ policy provides $100,000 worth of coverage for belongings, but limits that coverage to 10 percent for items that are off-premises, it may provide up to $10,000 for items away from their home, including belongings you bring to school.

It’s also important to note that certain items, such as a laptop, may have coverage limits. If the policy’s limits aren’t enough to cover the items you’ll be bringing to school, the III says your parents may be able to add scheduled personal property coverage, sometimes referred to as a “floater,” to their homeowners or renters insurance policy to help cover certain valuable possessions.

Off-Campus Housing

If you’ll be living in off-campus housing, the III cautions that your parents’ insurance will probably not extend to any belongings you bring with you (although you’ll want to check with your agent to be certain). Your own renters insurance policy may be a good way to help protect your belongings should they be stolen or damaged by a covered loss. (Covered events are often described as “perils” in insurance terms. Read your policy to learn what risks it may cover, such as theft or fire.)

A renters policy will also likely provide liability coverage, which may help prevent you from paying out of pocket if you are found legally responsible for someone else’s injuries or accidental damage to their property (including your landlord’s).

The III recommends asking your agent about coverage limits, as well as whether you may benefit from additional coverage for certain valuables.

Hopefully you and your stuff stay safe and sound while you’re running to and from classes, but it may be a good idea to keep a home inventory — it can be a big help if you ever need to file a claim. Knowing you have coverage for your stuff can bring some peace of mind and help you focus on a great college experience.

Article courtesy of: http://www.allstate.com

 

Citizens Relay for Life Team raises $20,699.50

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Citizens Bank Minnesota’s Relay for Life Team was hard at work throughout the past year raising money for the fight against cancer right here in Brown County. Through a variety of fundraisers, including potlucks, a 5K walk/run, a crafters’ retreat, an employee Silent Auction and donations from friends and family, the Citizens team continues to contribute sizable donations to the American Cancer Society every year. This year we raised $20,699.50, putting us in first place in the county. Citizens has been part of Relay for 21 years, with total contributions at $219,546.22.
The money raised through Relay events helps with education, prevention, treatment, and support for all cancer survivors and patients. A large portion of the money raised in Brown County stays in Brown County, helping our neighbors and friends when they need it most. At our local Relay event, we celebrate all cancer survivors, remember loved ones lost and learn how each of us can do more to fight back against this dreaded disease.
If cancer could be cured by energy, commitment and determination, we’d be done with it and no one would ever have to fear this disease again!

By: Barb Marti, Receptionist/Administrative Assistant

Citizens Employees do 37 Random Acts of Kindness at Bavarian Blast

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Some Citizens employees had a ‘blast’ at Bavarian Blast in New Ulm on Thursday, July 14, 2016! They attended the “Fabulous Armadillos” concert at the festival and surprised quite a few concert attendees by doing 37 Random Acts of Kindness!

Acts included buying beverages, corn dogs and bags of kettle corn! Our employees had some great experiences – when a few people in line at the kettle corn booth heard what one employee was doing, they chipped in a few of their food tokens too, and the business owner donated a bag also! One younger teen hugged his bag of kettle corn after receiving it and his mom said that we had just made his night.

Random Acts of Kindness can be done by anyone, anytime and anywhere. You never know the impact you’ll make on someone, so take the time to do one today! The simplest gesture can mean the most!

2016 Citizens Race 2 Raise 5K

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Citizens Bank Minnesota’s Relay for Life team held their 2nd Annual Race 2 Raise 5K fundraiser on Saturday, June 11, 2016.  127 participants came to run and walk the 5K route, which started at Citizens, continued south on Minnesota Street to 16th South, then back along the bike trail, ending at German Park.  The 5K was professionally chip-timed and there were medals awarded to the top 3 males and top 3 females in seven different age brackets.

The 2016 Race 2 Raise 5K raised $3,061.99 for Relay for Life! Citizens looks forward to even more participants in the event in 2017.

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