Tag Archives: money

Need a Budget?

You Need a Budget — Here’s How to Make One –
If you’re just winging it financially, that can mean missing out on important opportunities to improve your financial health. Start by learning why you need a budget and how to create one that works.

Why follow a budget?
Budgets have many benefits beyond the obvious one of forcing a close examination of spending habits and determining ways to make improvements. These plans also prepare you for emergencies, comfortable retirement and other financial goals. In addition, budgets prevent you from spending more money than you have so you can avoid excessive debt. All these advantages can add up to the lasting peace of mind that comes with financial stability.

Budget basics
Creating a budget starts with a clear snapshot of your money. Begin by adding up income from salary, investments and other sources. Next total your fixed expenses. These are bills that are about the same each month, such as rent or mortgage, car payments and utilities. Finally add up variable expenses, which may include entertainment, groceries, clothing and incidentals.

Now it’s time to do the math. Subtract expenses from income to see where you stand. If the picture isn’t pretty, examine variable expenses first to see where you can cut back, or try to find ways to increase earnings. You’re then ready to set goals such as saving for a home, vacation or an emergency fund.

Budget tips
To make the most of your new budget:

  • Consider opening a savings account at a financial institution like Harris County Federal Credit Union. Making regular deposits can help you move toward goals.
  • Consider investing in share certificates or opening an individual retirement arrangement, or IRA, to reach long-term objectives.
  • Keep track of cash spending to see where you can cut back.
  • Create goals that are specific, attainable and rewarding.
  • Set specific time frames for reaching each goal.

Budgeting can be much easier these days thanks to free tools that make it possible to manage finances from your smartphone, tablet or other device. Here are just a few of these apps:

  • Mint: Mint can help you categorize and track spending, provide a way to set goals, and view progress using pie and bar graphs drawn from your accounts and transactions.
  • Level Money: Designed for Android- and iOS-powered devices, this app lets you know how much cash is available for the day, the week and the rest of the month, using account links and goals you’ve created.
  • BudgetPulse: Although most of these apps provide secure links, some people just aren’t comfortable plugging personal account information into a networked device. This one offers an alternative by letting users manually import or input banking information rather than requiring a live link. It works with any Internet-capable device and lets you engage your social network to share goals, while facilitating donations from friends via PayPal.

Lastly and perhaps most importantly, remember that you’re human. If you stray from the spending plan, don’t give up. Acknowledge the error and get right back on track. As time goes on, goals that once may have seemed mere possibilities may appear more attainable, and you can begin to consider reaching for even bigger and better things in the days ahead.

Roberta Pescow, NerdWallet

How to Stay Safe When Shopping for Holiday Gifts Online

– Want to avoid long lines and large crowds this holiday season? Shopping online lets you zip through your list with just a few clicks.

Before whipping out your plastic, however, you’ll want to make sure you’re shopping on a secure site. Use these tips to keep your data safe.

1. Look for the padlock symbol

Don’t check out at a website unless you see a padlock symbol on the browser bar of whatever device you’re using. This symbol means that the page has extra security to prevent others from viewing your sensitive information.

Another way to tell a website is secure is that it starts with “https” instead of just “HTTP.” The “s” means the site is secure.

2. Be cautious around public Wi-Fi

If you need to check your online banking account while you’re away from home, avoid public Wi-Fi networks. Many retailers provide free Wi-Fi as a convenience to customers, but you can’t be sure who’s able to see the data you send on the network — including private information.

Instead, consider using a virtual private network, or VPN, a service that lets you encrypt the information you send over the internet. That way, others won’t be able to access your data even if they can access the network. You can also send data over your personal cellular provider’s network, which bypasses Wi-Fi.

3. Use a credit card instead of a debit card

Credit cards offer better consumer protections than debit cards do. If someone steals your credit card information and uses it to make unauthorized purchases, you’ll be liable for $50 at most, depending on how quickly you report the loss.  If your debit card information is stolen, you could lose all the money linked to your checking account.

If you’re unhappy with an item you bought on a credit card — say it was damaged when you received it or it was never delivered — you don’t have to pay until the dispute is resolved. But if you’re unhappy with a debit card purchase, you’ll need to file a dispute with the retailer and possibly your bank to try to recover the money after the fact. That’s because debit card purchases automatically withdraw funds from your bank account.

4. Change passwords regularly

Even if you take steps to shopping securely, a hacker could steal your username, password or other sensitive information from a retailer’s database. Protect yourself by changing the passwords of your online accounts every three months or so. That way, if hackers do breach a retailer’s software, there’s a good chance they’ll have access only to an old password.

5. Update anti-virus software

If you shop from a home computer, keep your security software updated. Anti-virus software companies frequently release security updates to address newly discovered security loopholes.

Follow these tips and you can take advantage of the convenience of online shopping while also protecting yourself from online fraud.

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