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December 2018 E-Newsletter

Three Simple Ways to Boost Your Savings

Growing your bank balance sometimes can be as simple as relaxing and letting your money work for you — as long as you have the right tools in place. If you want to build a cash cushion without breaking a sweat, try these three methods.
 
1. Put your money in a high-yield savings account
The interest rate offered on savings accounts at most brick-and-mortar banks is less than one-tenth of a percent. If you put your funds in a high-yield account, you could earn over 20 times more.
Having $5,000 in an account that earns the average interest rate, for example, makes a few bucks after a year. But if you deposit that same amount into an account that has a 2% annual yield, you would earn nearly $100 more, not counting any extra deposits. Online banks and some credit unions tend to offer accounts with higher rates, and the basic checking and savings accounts generally don’t have monthly fees.
 
Get started: If you have your existing bank account and routing number handy, along with your Social Security number, you can usually open a savings account at a financial institution’s website in about time it takes to check your news feed. Click the link to apply, then enter your information. In many cases, you can fund the account by electronically transferring money.
 
It takes no more effort to deposit money into high-rate savings than into a low-yield account, and the difference can be worth hundreds of dollars over time. Use a compound interest calculator to figure out how much you could save with a higher rate.
 
2. Use ‘set it and forget it’ transfers
Once you have a savings account that earns a good rate, set up an automatic payment plan to make regular deposits. Say you get paid by direct deposit to your checking account every two weeks. If you set up a $40 transfer to savings each pay period, you’ll stash away over $1,000 by this time next year. That’s not counting the additional interest your savings will earn. Bonus: Since the transfer whisks money from checking to savings, the cash won’t be as easily accessible with your debit card, so you may not be as tempted to spend it.
 
Get started: Log into your checking or savings account online and select the option for bank transfers. You’ll typically choose the amount of the transaction, frequency and length of time. Although the sending and receiving accounts don’t have to be at the same bank, make sure your financial institutions don’t charge transfer fees. Click the confirmation link and you’re done.
 
3. Earn rewards from checking accounts
A savings account isn’t the only way to boost your balance. Some checking accounts, particularly those at online banks and credit unions, offer rewards — including cash back on purchases, good interest rates and new customer sign-up bonuses — that you can use to score extra money.
 
Get started: Search online for rewards checking accounts, then check their terms. Some offer cash back for purchases up to a certain amount monthly. Others might require that you make a certain number of debit card transactions — usually around 15 — to get a high rate. This can be OK if the purchases are part of your regular spending budget, but avoid making extra purchases. The sweet spot is an account that matches your current spending activity. So you’re doing nothing new — and getting rewarded for it.
Let your money work hard so you don’t have to. With a little set-up work and the right accounts, you can sit back and watch your money grow.
 
More From NerdWallet  
Margarette Burnette is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: mburnette@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @Margarette.
The article 3 Simple Ways to Boost Your Savings originally appeared on NerdWallet.

Smart Ways to Rein in Holiday Spending

The holidays are a huge deal in the Weston household — and every year, the expenses threatened to gallop out of control.
 
Keeping the holiday joyous and less stressful means keeping a firm rein on our spending. Here’s what we do, as well as smart frugal tips from others:
 
Budget for every expense
By early November, I set up a spreadsheet with budgeted amounts for:
  • Gifts, with names and how much we expect to spend on each person.
  • Holiday tips, again with names and amounts.
  • Travel expenses, including gas, hotel and meals.
  • The tree, lights and other decorations.
  • Food, drinks and treats for holiday gatherings.
  • Holiday cards, postage and wrapping supplies.
Spreadsheets aren’t exactly warm, fuzzy and cinnamon-scented. But they allow us to see our total expected holiday spending and to make adjustments as necessary. (Adjustments are always necessary.)
 
» Track all your spending with this free budget calculator
 
We’ve used various ideas over the years to curb expenses, as our fortunes and the size of family gatherings change. One year the adults drew names for gifts. We’ve also asked friends and more distant relatives to exchange cards instead of presents. We set an overall budget for our daughter’s presents, then have her prioritize her wish list. Learning to prioritize is an important life skill, so this exercise does double parenting duty.
 
Check the ‘cushions’
Remember the days when you ransacked the couch cushions for loose change? There are better places to hunt for forgotten money. Some places to look:
 
Your gift card stash. Pass them along, use them to buy presents or cash them in at sites such as Gift Card Granny or Raise.
 
Credit card rewards. Rewards points can be used to buy gift cards and merchandise. We typically use our rewards for travel, but I sometimes turn points from little-used or orphaned accounts into gift cards.
 
The coin jar. Some banks and credit unions will count change for free, or you can use the CoinStar machines found at many grocery and drugstores. We avoid CoinStar’s exchange fee by opting for electronic gift cards from Amazon, Starbucks and other retailers.
 
The gift stash. Surely I’m not the only person to tuck away the perfect gift for someone, only to find it years later. Now I keep a bin in the closet to stash presents year-round. The bin also includes some all-purpose gifts (candles, scented soaps, fancy corkscrews) that can be used to thank a hostess or give to the friend who ignored the “no gifts this year” agreement.
 
The heirlooms. Consider passing along a treasured object while you’re still around to enjoy the recipients’ pleasure. It could be something you inherited or that the other person admired: a piece of artwork or jewelry, a beloved toy, a musical instrument, a grandparent’s toolbox or baking supplies.
 
Take a hatchet to other expenses
Our holiday spending surge requires cutting other expenses to keep our budget in balance. We:
  • Eat out less and plan meals that mostly use items from our pantry.
  • Scour our recurring bills for possible savings, such as pausing subscriptions or canceling an unused gym membership.
  • Look for cheap entertainment, such as free community concerts or baking cookies with friends.
We’re also changing how we make charitable donations, since the 2017 tax overhaul likely means we’ll no longer get a tax deduction. Instead of rushing to make big year-end contributions, we’ve set up monthly payments to our favorite charities. That provides them with a steady source of income and avoids another big December dent in our budget.
 
Keep the budget updated
A budget should be a living document, regularly updated and adjusted. I log our spending every week or so and use apps such as Santa’s Bag or Christmas List that I can update on my phone.
 
This approach does more than keep us honest about our spending. At the end of the season, I have a realistic idea of how much to save for next year. I divide that total by 12, and set up a monthly transfer to an online savings account labeled “Christmas.” Having the money to pay for the holidays in cash every year may be the best gift of all.
 
This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press.
 
More From NerdWallet Liz Weston is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: lweston@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @lizweston.
The article Smart Ways to Rein In Holiday Spending originally appeared on NerdWallet.

Business Corner: Got an Awesome New Business Idea? Here's what to do Next.

Do you constantly have great business ideas which fall to the wayside because you just don’t know how to turn those daydreams into reality? If you’re stuck in the brainstorming stage, that's probably because you don’t know what to do next.
 
Around 550,000 people, according to the Kauffman startup index, become entrepreneurs each month and you could be one of them. While there’s no guaranteed formula to starting a successful business, there are steps to take in the planning phase that will not only help you determine if your business idea has what it takes but help you get the ball rolling, too.
 
Sound like you? Here’s what to do next.
 
Determine the “why” and the “who.”
The first step to take after you’ve come up with a new business idea is to concentrate on the “why” and “who” of it. You may think you’ve thought up an awesome idea, but your business won’t be successful if you don’t know the real reasons behind why it’s a good solution, and whom it would be a good solution for.
 
Start to really think about what problem your business idea solves. Your business may solve a problem for you, but does it solve a problem for others? If nobody else has the problem that your business proposes a solution for, then who will buy that solution?
 
After you’ve taken a deep dive into why your business is needed in the first place, determine who will be the target audience of your business. Think about the demographics of your target audience, what’s important to these people and how you will reach them. You can use a free tool like Hubspot’s Make My Persona to get detailed about who your ideal customers are. A business isn’t a business without customers, after all.
 
Search for similar solutions.
No business idea is 100 percent unique; there will always be businesses out in the world that are similar to yours. So, don’t sweat it if there are companies doing what you do; in fact, that proves there’s a market for what you do. What you do have to think about is who your competition will be, what exactly they are providing and what you will do differently or better than they do.
 
To stand out from the competition, you will need to know what sets you apart. Start doing research on the companies that could become your competition. Look at how much they charge, who their target audience is and how they market to them, to name just a few research points. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel, but do look at what these companies are lacking in and how you can improve upon those areas in your business, so that you capture their customers.
 
Talk to your potential customers.
Similar to your efforts to study your potential competition should be your effort to study potential customers. Get out there and start talking with your target audience. See if your product or service is something they would use, find out how much they would pay for it and ask what comparable product or business they’re using now to solve the problem.
 
You could even get super in-depth and ask people to fill out a survey providing answers that will help you get to know your audience even better. Even negative feedback about your business idea can help you refine your idea.
 
Lock down the details of your business.
Coming up with a new business idea is exciting; your mind is probably buzzing with lots of plans and designs -- maybe too many. So, sit back and lock down the finer details of your business. Will you be offering a product or a service? How much will it cost? How will you be marketing your business? You need to know your new business concept inside and out before you launch. A great and easy way to organize your thoughts is to use a business plan software like LivePlan.
 
Also, if you haven’t named your business yet, now’s the time to do it. Do some brainstorming and come up with a name that no one else has already taken.
 
Determine the “how.”
After you’ve worked out all the details of your future business, the next step is to figure out how to turn your dream into a reality. Obviously starting a business costs quite a bit of money, so that’s one of the major “how” factors you need to consider. Decide if you’ll talk to investors, take out a loan, or maybe even start a Kickstarter campaign.
 
Determine everything you’ll need to get your business up and running. For instance, if you’re offering a product, how will you build it and how much money will it cost? This last step is one of the most important in order to take your business from out of your head and into the real world.
 
Over to you.
What are you waiting for? By following these tips, you’ll be well on your way to starting your very own company. If you take the time to plan out your new business idea, you won’t just build a business, you’ll build a successful one.
 
This article Got an Awesome New Business Idea? Here’s What to Do Next originally appeared on entrepreneur.com. 

Coulee Bank Q-Tip: Best Services for Online Security

Security failure, password breaches, phishing attacks and phone scams -- if you follow the news, these can seem like the unavoidable pitfalls of life today. But there are plenty of tools out there that can will give you the tools to protect you and your family from digital crime. We've assembled some of the most trustworthy services that won’t empty out your wallet in the process.
 
VPN Service
When using public Wi-Fi, virtual private network (VPN) services can shield your computer’s IP address as you surf the internet, encrypting your browsing information and preventing most (though not all) would-be snooping. IVPN, with broad platform support and fast internet speeds, is well worth its $100 annual fee, and discounts are common.
 
Password Manager
Keep all your accounts safe and sound with a service that will generate strong, individual passwords that it stores for you, all secured behind a single master password. LastPass is affordable ($24 a year for the premium plan), easy to use and supported across nearly every major platform. The company has stepped up in recent years by making some formerly paid features—such as synchronization across all your devices—free.
 
Instant Messaging
When it comes to privacy, not all instant-messaging platforms are created equal. If secure communication is a must, consider Signal. With end-to-end encryption, the free-to-use, ad-free app locks down everything about your conversations, from the words you use to the people you’re contacting, using a lock even the company can’t break. Messages can also be sent with a self-destruct timer, deleting themselves after an interval you choose.
 
Ad Blocker
 
The free browser extension uBlock Origin prevents the bits of tracking text commonly known as cookies from latching on to your browsing history so that advertisers can’t create a profile of your preferences as you browse. UBlock makes it easy to allow, or “whitelist,” ads from sites you’d like to support or sites that require showing ads to function, like Hulu.
 
Q-Tips are provided by Coulee Bank's IT Network Risk Manager, Quentin Fisher. He is always on the lookout for ways to keep our customers' information safe, here at the bank, at work and home.

This article Best Services for Online Security originally appeared on kiplinger.com.