On Thursday, June 22nd we will celebrate our 3rd annual Community Impact Day by closing at 2PM to enable all 140 employees to volunteer in the communities that they serve. This is an opportunity for us to lend a hand and show our gratitude to some of the remarkable non-profit organizations who work every day for the benefit of others.
Credit unions exist to serve their members, not to make a profit. Our ‘people-first’ philosophy inspires us to get involved in our community and support worthwhile causes. Every year we give back thousands of dollars to our communities through scholarships, donations and sponsorships – Community Impact Day is a way for us to give back by volunteering our time.
Join First Credit Union, First Insurance, and Westview Agencies for Community Impact Day on June 22nd by volunteering for a cause you care about. Looking for volunteer opportunities in your community? Check out Volinspire, an online community engagement platform that connects volunteers with community organizations. http://www.volinspire.com
Cheques hold an odd place in our personal finances. In many ways, cheques seem like relics from a previous era. We maybe write one or two cheques a month (usually for rent or similar bill-paying situations where electronic payment simply isn’t an option). This is vastly different from only a few decades ago, when cheques represented more than
85% of all non-cash retail payments. (Can you imagine whipping out a chequebook in line at the grocery store? Times have certainly changed!)
However, despite their gradual decline in use, cheques haven’t become completely extinct. We still keep our money in chequing accounts, we still balance our chequebooks, and new banking technologies (mobile cheque imaging is one example) are being introduced to improve the process of paying by cheque. Writing cheques continues to walk the line between permanence and obsolescence.
Whether or not cheques are on their way out, there are still a couple of cheque-related best practices that you need to be aware of in order to stay on top of your finances.
Holding periods exist, and you need to keep track of them
Cheques often get a bad rap for the amount of time they take to clear. This is referred to as a holding period, and it can vary anywhere from a day to over a week, depending on your financial institution.
The clearing process itself is made up of several steps. First, the financial institution that receives the cheque for deposit encodes its dollar amount into the machine-readable numbers along the bottom of the cheque. Then the physical cheque is fed through a machine that scans its data. That data is then sent to a clearinghouse, which forwards the information to the financial institution that issued the cheque. The financial institution makes sure the cheque-writer’s account has sufficient funds to make the payment—if it does, the transaction goes through, but if the account has insufficient funds to complete the transaction, the cheque bounces.
Cheque clearing might sound like a long and overly complicated process, but it has come a long way. In 18th century England, the cheque clearing process was considerably less efficient. It involved clerks from each London bank meeting up at a tavern on Lombard Street to exchange cheques and settle account differences—not the most scalable process!
The introduction of mobile cheque imaging (also known as remote deposit capture) and other technologies is helping to shorten the holding period; however, to avoid fees, bad cheques and other sticky situations, it’s still important for you to understand what the holding period is at your credit union or bank.
If you’re the cheque writer: the holding period, combined with some absentmindedness, can create a situation where you’re spending money in your account that you don’t actually have. For this reason, when you write a cheque, it’s best to pretend that the related amount of money is already gone from your account.
If you’re the cheque receiver: keep in mind that when you deposit a cheque and the money shows up in your account, the cheque may not have cleared yet. Your financial institution may allow you to spend a portion or all of that deposited cheque, but if it bounces, you would be the one responsible for repaying any funds you used before the cheque bounced. It’s a good practice to confirm that a cheque has cleared before spending it. When in doubt, you can always give your financial institution a call to verify the status of a cheque.
Balancing a chequebook is still an important skill
The best way to avoid tricky scenarios created by holding periods is to keep track of your transactions with a chequebook register. Traditionally, chequebook registers are those lined notebooks that come with your cheques, but you can use any system that works for you, whether that’s a printable form, a digital spreadsheet or even an app on your phone.
Recording your transactions as you go will give you a more accurate idea of your account balance and help you avoid unnecessary fees or overdraft charges. It also takes the guesswork out of writing a cheque or making an ATM withdrawal—you will know whether or not you have the money in your account to cover it. Comparing your chequebook register to your monthly statements also makes it easier for you to spot any errors or fraudulent charges.
Start by recording all your chequing account transactions in your chequebook register— debit card payments, cheques written and received, and ATM withdrawals. Include online bill payments and direct deposits too—since those are sometimes automated, it can be easy to forget them. When you get your monthly statement, compare each transaction to your chequebook register and put a checkmark next to each transaction that matches your statement. If items in your statement do not match your chequebook register, figure out what’s at cause. Sometimes it’s an entry error or a slip-up in your math, but it could be an error by your financial institution.
Since we are not yet a totally digital society, understanding how to use paper cheques as well as keeping track of all of your transactions will keep your chequing account in the black and your financial matters running smoothly.
Investing can seem like a very risky, complex and fast-moving process. With endless combinations of investment vehicles to choose from, it can be difficult to take your first step as an investor—especially with the knowledge that all investments carry the risk of losing some or all of your money. So why bother?
Well, there are many compelling reasons to make investing a part of your overall financial plan. Investing can help preserve your wealth by overcoming the effects of inflation, help you save for long-term goals (such as retirement or your children’s education) and it can even generate income. So how can you get past all the negatives associated with investing and make it work for you? A helpful first step is to realize that, as a young investor, you have time on your side.
TIME AND LUCK
We’ve all heard the stories (or seen the infomercials, or bought the e-book) about those people who took a chance on a risky investment and by some stroke of luck woke up the next day as millionaires. It’s easy to be drawn to “get rich quick” stories because we all secretly wish we could be the stars of those tales. Those success stories help establish the myth that being a successful investor is a lot like being a hotshot gambler—that you need to risk it all to get a worthwhile reward, and that some people are born with the innate ability to predict the market, make the right moves, buy and sell at the exact right time, and strike it rich.
The truth is that serious investing requires a lot of time. There’s an entire education behind active trading. If you were to invest into the stock market without any prior research, you might as well be playing the lottery. Educating yourself about the stock market is no simple task and it requires ongoing research. It’s not only about understanding the way economies and global marketplaces work—it’s also about staying up to date on what’s happening in our world. Environment, technology, politics and culture all have the ability to influence economic forces. Beyond understanding those interactions, a smart investor also keeps very close tabs on the industries and companies they invest in by monitoring things like performance, governance, public opinion and industry trends. Now, imagine all that data changing and updating daily; suddenly, it’s clear why it can—and should—take so much time to make educated investment decisions.
When we acknowledge that preparation takes an incredible amount of time, it minimizes the role that luck plays in investing. Suddenly it’s less about taking a gamble and more about making calculated and educated decisions, which is a good thing—it means that investing is something you can practise, explore and ultimately improve on, over time.
TIME AND RISK
For every investing success story, there’s an accompanying horror story. This myth comes in different flavours—acting on bad advice, losing every last dime, and getting taken advantage of by an evil or incompetent financial advisor are just some of the common scripts. This myth perpetuates the idea that investing is so scary and so unpredictable that it’s simply not worth the risk.
It can be tricky trying to separate this myth from the truth, because risk and loss are both very real outcomes of investing. No investment is ever guaranteed, meaning your invested money is never absolutely safe. Some investment types may be safer than others, but the risk of losing your money is ever-present.
After making smart, thoroughly researched investment choices, your next best protection against risk and volatility is the amount of time you have for your investment to mature. The narrower your investment time frame, the more vulnerable you are to sudden and often unpredictable changes in the market. By contrast, if your investment is long term (think decades), day-to-day changes suddenly hold less influence. Plus, there is time to recover from market declines; the same cannot always be said for short-term investments.
TIME AND RETURNS
Yet another investment myth is that it’s impossible to find a combination of investment products within your risk tolerance level that will result in a high yield. In other words, playing it safe with your investments means measly returns.
Do you remember learning about compound interest? Time happens to be compound interest’s best buddy. Together, they can really put your money to work for you. This is especially important to note for long-term savings goals (retirement is a good example). Even products with a relatively low expected yield can accumulate a lot of wealth over long periods of time, so do not get discouraged by low interest rates on investment products. Look for opportunities to maximize the effect of compound interest, such as reinvesting your dividends or refraining from cashing out your investment early.
As you can see, time plays a significant role when it comes to investing. It can give you more control over your investments, it can increase your tolerance for risk and your ability to recover from any losses, and it can maximize your returns. By starting early, investing wisely and giving yourself the time you need to reach your goals, you will discover the positive impact that a little bit of planning today will have on your lifestyle
When you start looking for financial advice (or any kind of advice, for that matter), experts will share their take on what’s “good” and what’s “bad”. In personal finance, there are some classifications that we can all agree on: Debt is bad. Emergency funds are good. Overdrawing your account is bad. Earning interest on your savings is good.
Aside from the obvious examples, the guidelines are a bit murky; plus, the financial advice gurus often contradict each other. One expert will tell you that spending money is “bad” and saving money is “good”. The next will say that saving money is “bad” and investing it is “good”. Another might tell you that there are some “bad” investments and some forms of “good” debt.
If you’re waging an inner battle of good vs. bad every time you whip out your credit card or peek at your monthly bank statement, it’s probably time to give your views on budgeting a shakeup. Start by losing the desire to classify everything as “good” and “bad”. There are good and bad ways to spend money, just as there are good and bad ways to save it. Following that logic, there are good and bad ways to budget.
A good budget is one that, quite simply, works for you. It allows you to meet your needs and plan for your goals, and—most importantly—it motivates you to keep on budgeting. Successful budgeting systems vary wildly in their approach and in the tools you need, but they tend to have the same three actions as building blocks:
These building blocks not only help you organize your finances, but they also have the ability to boost your motivation (and there’s real science to back that up). Read on to see if your current budgeting system has all three building blocks in place.
What it means: Prioritizing your goals means taking a little personal reflection time and writing a few things down. Prioritizing your goals should not be confused with categorizing your expenses—we’re not talking about combing through your budgeting spreadsheet and pondering whether “fast food” and “takeout” should be combined into a single category. We’re not even talking about what you think you “should” be saving up for. No, we’re talking about your goals. What do you want your life to look like over the next few years? Is it your dream to train for a new career? To have an adventure in a foreign country? To throw an awesome wedding? To start your own business? To raise a family? Allow your goals to be a judgment-free zone—goals and dreams are as diverse as the minds and personalities behind them. In most cases, goals reach beyond the familiar trifecta of “pay off student loans, buy a house, save for retirement”.
Why it works: Prioritizing your goals gets you buzzing about what your money can do for you. There are a couple of motivating factors at work here. Number one: by prioritizing your goals, you are asserting your beliefs and your values. You are also reminding yourself of why you’re willing to adopt a budgeting system in the first place. Studies show that you’re more invested in activities that you see value in—and although budgeting literally deals with values (the dollars-and-cents kind), including your personal values in your budgeting system is what generates determination and stamina. Creating and sticking to a new routine is a pain if you think you have to or you should do it; it’s a lot easier if you’re mindful of why you want to do it. Number two: prioritizing your goals is a great starting point because it reminds you that you’re in charge. You have a say in where your money goes. Social scientists point to autonomy as being a critical element to sustain motivation—and what’s more autonomous than realizing that your budget is a collection of choices you make in order to create the life you want?
Get started: Grab a pencil and paper. Ask yourself what you want. Think about it for 10 minutes. Write the answers down. Realize they are achievable.
What it means: Tracking your expenses means being aware of where your money is going as you spend it. This is the part where financial advice experts start to disagree again: some swear by tracking your expenses with good ol’ pencil and paper, others swear by budgeting apps and spreadsheets, and some push more unique approaches like portioning your spending money into envelopes. The good news is that it doesn’t really matter how you go about doing it, but just that you do it. When you track your expenses, a couple of things come to light right away. You start to realize that every transaction, no matter how big or how small, is either contributing to a goal or taking away from it. There’s no such thing as “buying a pumpkin spice latte just because”. You will soon see that the cost of your fancy coffee comes out of somewhere—ideally out of your budgeted spending money, but potentially out of your vacation fund or your groceries or your student loan repayment plan. The second thing you’ll notice is that the longer you’ve been tracking your expenses, the more you’ll see evidence of your progress.
Why it works: Yet another critical element in sustaining motivation is competence, or your ability to do something well. As it turns out, we thrive on being reminded that we’re improving. On the surface level, tracking your expenses helps you to identify your spending patterns and to course-correct when necessary. More importantly, by tracking your spending, you’re also tracking your efforts. You’re creating a record of your progress along with a record of your transactions. Before long, you’ll have tangible evidence of how your actions and your follow-through are contributing to a calmer, happier financial life. You’ll see how capable you are of budgeting. You’ll find it easier (and even exciting) to keep your budgeting winning streak going.
Get started: Try out a new budgeting system today. Browse the App Store or do a quick web search, or pick up a book on the topic. Don’t spend much time evaluating or comparing budgeting approaches. Just pick one and try it out.
What it means: Rewarding yourself means encouraging and celebrating your progress as you create healthier financial habits. Don’t be afraid to use some creativity when defining your personal finance milestones and rewards. Milestones can be time-based (e.g., using a budgeting app every day for 30 days), achievement-based (e.g., paying off all credit card debt) or increment-based (e.g., having your emergency fund reach $500, $1,000, $2,000…). Rewards can take on many forms as well; material rewards are the most common, but consider incorporating time- and experience-based rewards into the mix too (for example, you can list “permission to spend an entire day just vegging out” as a reward).
Why it works: Quite simply, rewards feel good. They highlight our achievements and renew our commitment. As kids, we loved earning those gold star stickers, and although that familiar achievement/reward structure practically disappears in later years, it doesn’t mean that rewards are any less effective in adulthood. By assigning rewards to the milestone of any given goal, you’re creating added incentive and boosting your motivation. When you earn, claim and enjoy a reward, your brain gets an extra hit of dopamine, which in turn increases your focus and drive.
Get started: Set a timer for 10 minutes and brainstorm two lists: a list of budgeting milestones and a list of possible rewards. After the 10 minutes are up, assign the rewards to your milestones. They should reward your effort realistically and be super exciting to work toward at the same time. When you reach your milestones, claim your rewards.
The act of creating a budget contributes to your ability to follow it through. It solidifies your values, it promotes competence and it highlights your achievements as you work through it. Incorporating Prioritize, Track, Reward into your budgeting method of choice will boost your motivation while tackling your personal finance goals at the same time.