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November 2018 E-Newsletter

What to Buy (and Skip) on Black Friday 2018

With huge sales at nearly every retailer, Black Friday — the day after Thanksgiving — has long been touted as one of the best times of the year for buying just about anything.
But it won’t be all discounts and deals during the 2018 post-Turkey Day shopping bonanza. Use this guide to steer clear of the duds and get only the best bargains this Nov. 23.
Buy: Apple products
Traditionally, major retail stores such as Best Buy, Target and Walmart discount Apple products each year on Black Friday, and previous-generation models usually see the most dramatic deals. These offers may include price cuts, free gift cards with purchase or a combination of both. This year, look for deals on MacBooks, iMacs, iPhones, iPads, Apple Watches and Apple TVs.
Target devoted an entire page of its 2017 Black Friday ad to Apple. The Apple Watch Series 1 started at $179.99, and the 10.5-inch iPad Pro started at $529.99.
Skip: Toys
Toys are one of the seasonal purchase staples, but you might want to think twice before checking them off your list on Black Friday. Historically, it’s best to wait until closer to Christmas to purchase dolls, action figures and play sets. You run the risk that certain items will sell out, but you may also be able to find bigger savings on what’s left.
In past years, select toys have been on sale for as much as 50% off in the final days before Christmas.
Buy: Gaming system bundles
Black Friday is for gamers just as much as it is for shoppers. This year, look for savings on video games and video game systems from retailers such as Best Buy, Walmart and GameStop. Last year, Best Buy sold the Microsoft Xbox One S 500GB console for $189.99.
You’ll also find particularly great offers on gaming bundles. Traditionally, these include the game console plus a combination of accessories and sometimes games.
Skip: Christmas decorations
You’ve likely seen the blowout post-Christmas clearance sales every year on Dec. 26 as you made your way to the store to return that gift that missed the mark. That’s when Christmas decorations, wrapping paper, tinsel and other seasonal trimmings reach super low prices (for obvious reasons).
If you can’t wait until after Christmas, hold off for a little while. Sure, you’ll see plenty of deals on artificial trees and rolls of wrapping paper on Black Friday — especially at home and craft stores — but retailers are particularly eager to slash prices closer to Dec. 25.
Buy: Electronics (TVs, tablets and smartphones)
Electronics deals are a Black Friday staple. In 2017, Amazon sold a 49-inch 4K TV for $159.99. Walmart discounted a 65-inch Samsung TV by $300.
No matter where you choose to spend your Black Friday (or Thanksgiving), you’re almost guaranteed to find TV doorbusters. Other electronics deals to keep an eye out for are tablets and smartphones. Last year, some retailers offered free gift cards (in amounts as substantial as $250) with a qualifying phone purchase on an installment plan.
Skip: Bedding
You’ve got the entertainment center covered, but you should hesitate before stocking up on supplies to refresh the look of your bedroom this Black Friday.
The lowest prices on bedding and linens have been known to appear in January during what are called “white sales,” so hold off until then if you can. Discounts at this time can hit 70%. January 2018 white sales took place at retailers such as Overstock, Pottery Barn and Sears.
Buy: Video games, CDs, DVDs
If you’re in need of some affordable stocking stuffers, look no further than the video game, CD, DVD and Blu-ray department at most major retailers this Black Friday.
You’ll find films and gaming titles deeply discounted from their original prices. In 2017, Walmart had select DVD titles for $1.96 apiece.
Skip: Outdoor essentials
You won’t see too many grills or patio furniture sets plastered on the front pages of Black Friday ads this year. That’s because, not surprisingly, outdoor products and patio furniture are deeply discounted immediately after summer ends.
If you didn’t pick up these products at the close of this summer, wait until Labor Day sales roll around next year. Can’t wait until then? Another viable option is the Spring Black Friday Sale that home improvement store Lowe’s usually holds each year.
Buy: Home appliances
No secret here. Black Friday is well-known for its offers of huge savings on washers, dryers, refrigerators and major kitchen appliances. Look for similar deep discounts again this year.
Last year, J.C. Penney took up to 40% off select major appliances. Best Buy, too, offered up to 40% off appliance top deals. The retailer also gave away a Samsung Powerbot vacuum and $100 Best Buy gift card with qualifying appliance purchases.
If you’re in the market for smaller appliances such as coffee makers, mixers, blenders or vacuum cleaners, expect deals this year from department stores such as Kohl’s and Macy’s.
Skip: Winter clothing
Fall and winter clothing generally isn’t the best value on Black Friday. Jeans, for instance, see big sales in October, and retailers frequently offer big clearance sales on jackets when winter gives way to spring.
Of course, if you need something to keep you warm before then, you’ll be able to find some bargains this Black Friday. Year after year, department stores have offered doorbuster deals on women’s boots. In the past, select pairs have been just $19.99 each.
Buy: Travel deals
Whether it’s hotel rooms, ski lift tickets or airfare, you can expect bargains on travel this Black Friday and Cyber Monday (Nov. 26). Check for deals from online travel sites and major airlines. In the past, most of these promotions were available for a very limited time. You’ll likely have to book during that window and travel during an allotted period.
Skip: Mail-in rebates
If you want to avoid some of the hassle related to Black Friday shopping, resist deals that require a mail-in rebate. Unless you’re disciplined enough to fill out the form and wait to receive the rebate, you could end up paying more than you intended. And even if you do follow through with a rebate, you’ll have to shell out a higher price at the register before getting some money back.
Always read the fine print; some kitchen appliances, electronics and other popular items may require you to fill out a mail-in rebate to achieve the advertised price. In the past, Kohl’s, for example, offered some small kitchen appliances for $9.99 — but that was after a $12 mail-in rebate.
Buy: Online doorbusters
Finally, for the ultimate combination of convenience and savings, spring for online doorbusters this year. Plenty of big box retailers will be bringing their doorbusters online this Thanksgiving and Black Friday.
That’s good news for shoppers. But you have to take precautions when shopping on your phone or laptop, such as making sure you’re not on public Wi-Fi.
More From NerdWallet Courtney Jespersen is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: Twitter: @CourtneyNerd.
The article What to Buy (and Skip) on Black Friday 2018 originally appeared on NerdWallet.

Spend Money Guilt Free - Even with Student Loans

“Ask Brianna” is a column from NerdWallet for 20-somethings or anyone else starting out. I’m here to help you manage your money, find a job and pay off student loans — all the real-world stuff no one taught us how to do in college. Send your questions about postgrad life to
Earlier this year, total outstanding student loan debt surpassed $1.5 trillion.
For those with loans they can’t afford, the news was a large-scale confirmation of a small-scale truth: Student loans have gotten out of control, and they leave a smoking crater in the place where a thoughtful budget should be. Seemingly endless and urgent new priorities compete for your attention and limited income after graduation: housing, an emergency fund, paying off those loans.
Here’s one more you shouldn’t ignore: yourself.
“If you’ve got a financial plan that includes no money for fun, it’s unrealistic. It’s not going to happen,” says Matthew Angel, advice director of personal finance at USAA, a financial institution for members of the military and their families.
Managing your money well is about creating balance, which you’ll have to do over and over as the shape of life changes: You may change jobs, get married, have kids or go back to school. Learn how to keep your big expenses low, get serious about setting aside “fun” money and pick activities that will bring you lasting joy, and you’ll be able to repeat the process when new priorities edge their way in.
When you lead a life that’s more than the sum of your financial stresses, you might even feel motivated to pay off your student loans faster.
Compartmentalize your cash
Budgeting meticulously isn’t for everyone. But no matter your personality, you should have a general idea of where your money goes.
Start with this method:
  • Add up monthly fixed expenses, like your rent, transportation, utility bills, student loan payment and average grocery bill.
  • Decide how much to save per month to build a solid emergency fund, which will eventually include at least three months of expenses (it’s OK if it takes time to get there).
  • Use a retirement calculator to see how much you should save per month now to get a head start on retirement, even if it’s just a little.
  • Take a look at your high-interest debt, like credit card balances, and come up with a plan to pay it down. Put even $10 more than the minimum toward your debt each month.
The money left over is where fun money will come from.
All these expenses might seem overwhelming, and I wouldn’t recommend putting off saving for retirement or letting credit card balances linger. But you can chip away at them slowly rather than throwing all your cash at one goal, giving you the freedom to set aside cash for nonessentials.
You can also save money by making smart decisions about the big stuff. Buy a used car, or sign up for a federal income-driven student loan repayment plan, which keeps your payments from exceeding 10 percent of income.
Pick the right ‘fun’
It’s worth making the effort to earn a little extra if that’s a quicker path to building discretionary cash than cutting expenses, Angel says. You can easily sell unwanted items online, he says; you can also tutor, freelance or open a shop on Etsy.
Once you set aside the cash, spend it well. You’ll likely feel more fulfilled gaining experiences, pouring money into hobbies and socializing with friends than buying new clothes or technology. Money should make you feel freer and more like yourself. If you’re spending in a way that feels empty or hasty, pause and consider whether you’re getting the most out of the money you’ve worked so hard for.
Go in with a goal
To stick to spending only the fun money you’ve decided you can spare, make a plan beforehand, Angel says. Say, “I’m going to spend $100 at most with my friends tonight,” not, “I have $500 in my bank account, and we’ll see how much is left tomorrow.” If you have access to credit cards, setting that limit internally is even more important.
Especially when you’re with friends, it’s easy to apply a “you only live once” mentality. But think of controlling your spending as an investment in going out with them again and again. You won’t accrue so much debt that eventually you’ll have to go on an even harsher spending fast to fix it.
This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press. 
More From NerdWallet Brianna McGurran is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: Twitter: @briannamcscribe.
The article Spend Money Guilt-Free — Even With Student Loans originally appeared on NerdWallet.

Business Corner: Four Smart Investments for Small Business Owners

The lean startup movement seems to be popular with entrepreneurs today. However, a business plan is still an important tool for starting, managing and growing a business. A well-designed plan will lay out a vision of growth and the many steps required to get there. A business plan is also an essential communications tool for deciding where entrepreneurs should invest their money to help their firm grow.
I've started numerous businesses myself and have come to believe that the four most important aspects to invest your time and money in are people, process, technology and branding.
I believe these are the four areas that could help separate you from your competitors and set you up for long-term success. Let’s look at these four important investments further.
1. People
At the core of almost every successful business venture are talented people on your team, including strong leadership. As a business owner, I believe your initial investment should be in hiring people and leaders who bring skills, experience and a winning attitude to your team. Ensure that these employees have the passion for your product or service and can support the vision and direction of the company. In my experience, entrepreneurs tend to be more timid and short-sighted in this area and don’t want to make that investment early on because of the expense. Years later, they may regret not making the hire quicker.
As your business grows, I also find it important to make the investment in retaining these key employees. Some ideas for retaining key employees include setting up a profit-sharing plan, a matching 401(k) or retirement plan and other key benefits, such as life insurance and a strong health insurance program. In addition, an investment in employee development -- such as training and mentoring -- is a great way to retain top talent. Having talented people on your team, protecting them and cultivating them can only provide success.
2. Processes
Another investment I find important is spending time to develop and document your internal processes. This important investment will help your internal controls, should streamline your work and will identify who is responsible for what. When we start a business, we tend to “just get things done.” That is fine for the moment but, in my experience, is not a good long-term solution.
I recommend investing time and money wisely to document important areas such as business development, payroll, accounting, onboarding, employee retention, firm policies (such as expenses, paid time off and grievances) and quality control for your service and products, to name a few. By making an investment in your business early on to develop and document your processes, you also have the opportunity to reduce stress and anxiety within your team. This process can also provide clarity on how the business will be run, and when you take a long vacation, you’ll be able to leave your laptop at home without the company missing a beat.
3. Technology
Another smart investment for a business can be adding technology to the company's processes in order to streamline and improve your operations. There is technology available for all areas of your business, including sales and marketing, accounting, payroll, inventory and human resources.
There are platforms and solutions for all business sizes, from startups to Fortune 500 companies. Some suggested technology investments could include Customer Relationship Management (CRM) for your client and pipeline management. There are many Human Resources Information Systems (HRIS) that can provide automated onboarding, payroll, and performance evaluations, and can manage and protect confidential employee data. I believe technology investments like these can be important for the success of many businesses.
4. Branding
The final investment I suggest is to develop and protect your corporate brand. As the owner of your firm, you need to ask yourself "how unique is my brand, and what differentiates me from my competitors?” Investing in an outside consulting firm that specializes in marketing and corporate branding can help build your unique recognition and brand. By conducting customer surveys, gathering consumer data and creating a strong social media presence, a business can evaluate and build its own brand. Making this investment early on can be a smart decision for your business.
No matter what stage you are at in your business, there are many smart investment choices you can make to help build a successful company. In my experience, investing in areas like people, processes, technology and branding are key. Make the choice to invest and protect your business.
The article Four Smart Investments For Small Business Owners originally appeared on

Coulee Bank Q-Tip: Top Five Reasons Why You Need to Backup Your Data

There are all sorts of “backups” that help get you out of various situations. Think of the spare tire in your trunk or the extra pieces of webbing in a climbing anchor. If you’ve ever been rock climbing, you know that it’s essential to build redundancies into your anchors, that way if one part fails, you’ve got another part as a backup.
There are various reasons for having backups. In climbing, a backup can save your life, but with data, a backup can save your business. That said, let’s step back and count down the top five reasons why businesses need a proper data backup solution.
Simple Recovery
People are not infallible. They make mistakes, and actually, they make them quite often. Emails containing viruses are accidentally opened every day and important files are often mistakenly deleted. There’s no reason to fear these issues if you take frequent incremental snapshots of your systems. You can simply restore to a snapshot taken before the virus happened. Or you can recover the file from a time before it was deleted. It’s really easy to protect from the little things and there’s the added benefit of being ready for the big things as well.
Audits, Taxes, and Archives
Many, if not most businesses are required to keep business records for an extended period. This is either for tax purposes or because of various regulations. You might just need to look at what was going on a few years ago. It’s easy to assume that your computers have you covered just because they’ve got your last few years’ worth of information on them. But as you might know by now, having one copy is generally a huge mistake. Insuring that you’ve got an offsite backup of critical client information can really save you if something goes wrong locally. The IRS and regulatory commissions really don’t care that you had a data disaster. All it means to them is that you’re not compliant and they can fine you.
Competitive Advantage
In a previous article, we discussed the ways in which backups can actually be a competitive advantage. In the untimely event of a disaster, the first business to get back up and running will take all the business of those that aren’t back on their feet. As we’ll discuss in a moment, not having a plan can mean your doors close for good. Proper planning means that your doors stay open to those that worked with businesses that couldn’t survive data disaster.
Deadly Downtime
A 2007 University of Texas study showed that 43 percent of businesses that suffer major data loss never reopen. Many of these companies end up closing their doors for good within two years of a major data loss. And even large data loss scenarios aren’t always the result of a disaster. Human hands are very capable of destroying a business through silly mistakes or oversights. Don’t think Mother Nature is always responsible. Simply backing up data and having an effective backup and disaster recovery plan in place can help mitigate these types of threat. You can be one of the surviving businesses if you think ahead.
Doing Work Twice
The first rule of doing work is “do it right the first time.” If you suffer a minor failure and don’t have backups, you may be able to recover certain things, but you never know what those “certain things” will be. In almost any case, you’ll have a boat-load of work to redo whether it’s setting systems up all over again or recreating spreadsheets you or your employees have been working on for months. Worse yet, if you suffer a major data loss, you could feasibly end up re-doing everything you’ve ever done—that’s a situation few companies survive.
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.


Coulee Investment Corner: Is Long-Term Care Insurance a Good Idea?

There is a good possibility that you or your spouse will eventually require some form of long-term care (LTC). According to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, at least 70% of people aged 65 or older will require some form of long-term care services and support during their lives.1
Whether you or your spouse will be among this group is impossible to predict. But it is wise to consider how you might pay for long-term care and whether long-term care insurance is a good idea for you.
Cost of Care
Perhaps the first consideration is determining the potential cost of long-term care. Below is a summary of current costs according to the Genworth 2017 Cost of Care Survey.
Median costs in the United States:1
  • $235/day for a semi-private room in a nursing home
  • $267/day for a private room in a nursing home
  • $3,750/month for care in an assisted living facility (for a one-bedroom unit)
  • $135/day for a home health aide
  • $131/day for homemaker/companion services
With health care costs rising every year, these expenses can be expected to grow substantially over time. Furthermore, neither Medicare nor Medicare supplemental coverage, also known as Medigap insurance, typically cover long-term care. Medicaid will cover a large share of such services but only if you meet stringent financial and functional criteria. What's more, most employer-sponsored or private health insurance plans follow the same general rules as Medicare. Therefore, most people who need long-term care must pay for some or all of it on their own.
Cost of Insurance
Like life insurance, long-term care insurance policy premiums largely depend on your age and health. If you take out a policy when you are young, you can expect to pay comparatively low premiums during the life of the plan, while starting a new policy when you are older will entail significantly higher monthly premiums. 
Most long-term care policies sold today are federally tax qualified, which means the premiums paid and out-of-pocket expenses for long-term care may be applied to the medical expense deduction of the federal tax code. (For tax year 2018, seniors may deduct the portion of medical and dental expenses that exceed 7.5% of adjusted gross income.) Additionally, long-term care benefits received are not taxed as income up to certain limits. Consult with a tax advisor to learn more about the tax implications of long-term care insurance.
Long-term care policies are complex and vary widely. But in general, long-term care insurance typically covers the following:
  • Nursing home care
  • Adult day care
  • Visiting nurses
  • Assisted living
  • In-home assistance with daily activities 
LTC includes a range of nursing, social, and rehabilitative services for people who need ongoing assistance due to a chronic illness or disability. LTC insurance can be used by anyone at any age who suffers an accident or debilitating illness, but it most frequently is used by older adults who need assistance with essential physical needs, such as bathing, dressing, or eating.
Other Considerations
Deciding whether to purchase long-term care insurance will depend on your personal situation. You may want to consider your family health history, your level of assets to potentially pay for long-term care, and your feelings about relying on family members for support. Probing these and other individual circumstance can help you make a well-informed decision.
1Source: Genworth, 2017 Cost of Care Survey, 2017.
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Because of the possibility of human or mechanical error by DST Systems, Inc. or its sources, neither DST Systems, Inc. nor its sources guarantees the accuracy, adequacy, completeness or availability of any information and is not responsible for any errors or omissions or for the results obtained from the use of such information. In no event shall DST Systems, Inc. be liable for any indirect, special or consequential damages in connection with subscriber's or others' use of the content.
© 2018 DST Systems, Inc. Reproduction in whole or in part prohibited, except by permission. All rights reserved. Not responsible for any errors or omissions.

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