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November 2019 E-Newsletter

5 Torture-Free Ways to Save up to $1,000 by the Holidays

Couple Paying Bills 
Saving money for the holidays doesn’t have to be difficult, but you’ll want to start now to maximize your bank balance. Start with these simple steps today, and you could be as much as $1,000 richer before the end of the year.

Wipe out bank fees
Many banks charge you $10 to $12 a month just to keep a checking account. If you’re paying a similar amount, give yourself an instant bonus by changing to a bank that charges no monthly fee. It would be like pocketing $30 or more after three months. That may not make you rich, but it would get you started on saving. Check out our Totally Free Checking Accounts with no monthly fees!

Sign up for a bonus
Some banks and credit unions offer sign-up bonuses for new customers. If you’re seeking a new checking account — maybe because of Step 1 — look for an institution that offers an incentive for opening an account. We offer Totally Free Checking AND a Free Gift! Use the gift as a present for someone on your list and save money!

Use a savings app
Automate your savings by linking an existing bank account to a mobile savings app that will stash away your extra change. Apps such as Acorns and Qapital track your everyday transactions and round them up to the nearest dollar, putting the difference in a special savings or investment account. A few transactions each day, to buy a cup of coffee in the morning and a snack in the afternoon, for example, can add up. Even if the app helps you squirrel away just $10 a week, you’d save more than $120 before the end of the year.

Cash in rewards
Have you joined a loyalty program with your local supermarket or clothing retailer? Are you earning points or miles on a credit card? Check with the retailers you’ve done business with recently to see if you’re enrolled in their frequent shopper programs. You may already have a treasure-trove of points that you can redeem for gift cards, just in time for the holidays. If you don’t, you can start now by joining any programs offered by your favorite merchants. The value of some credit card rewards can easily add up to $400 a year, depending on the amount of spending on the card. You may not have had a full 12 months to rack up benefits, but earning a quarter of that rewards amount still can give your holiday budget a boost. You can earn points using a Coulee Bank Credit Card with our ScoreCard Rewards Program!

Set it and forget it
If your employer offers direct deposit, sign up for it. Then, set aside a portion of your paycheck to go directly into a special savings account for holiday spending. (Set up a Coulee Bank Savings Account and Earn Money!) There’s a good chance you won’t miss the money if it’s not in your main account. Say you get paid every two weeks and transfer $75 to a savings account each payday. Think that’s a stretch? Consider this: The average American household spends about $250 a month eating out at restaurants. If you fall into this category but decide to prepare a few more meals at home instead, there’s a good chance you’ll spend around $75 less than usual every couple of weeks. So you wouldn’t miss the money automatically deposited into savings. Even better, your savings would build to about $450 by the time the holidays come around, and you’d be earning interest on the balance. If you don’t have direct deposit, you can set up an automated transfer from your checking account to savings, timed with each pay period.

By following these simple strategies, you can boost your holiday budget. Act now to avoid running out of cash over the holidays or, even worse, racking up credit card debt for the new year.

The article, 5 Torture-Free Ways to Save up to $1,000 by the Holidays, originally appeared on NerdWallet.

7 Tips for Becoming an Ethical Shopper

Woman Shopping 
Sustainability, labor conditions, politics and other issues prevalent in the news have left many consumers wondering how to be socially responsible. For some, this seems like an impossible task.

“Trying to create a perfect world or be a perfect consumer is not at all realistic,” says Dr. Ellis Jones, author of “The Better World Shopping Guide” and assistant professor of sociology at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. “We just have to try our best to practice and get better at navigating this so that collectively, our dollars start moving things in the right direction.”

Shopping ethically starts with educating yourself and supporting the products and companies that align with your values. Here’s what you can do to become a more ethical consumer.

1. Check certifications and ratings
Labels such as “Fair Trade Certified” or “USDA Organic” signify that a product’s supply chain has gone through some level of vetting. However, standards can vary widely.

It’s not that those labels are meaningless, it’s that their meaning has been watered down,” Jones says. “Most consumers don’t have enough information to know whether that particular fair trade certification, organic certification or sustainable seafood certification is a weak one or a strong one.”

Jones considers the B Corporation Certification, which companies such as Patagonia and Seventh Generation have earned, the current gold standard. It takes a comprehensive look not just at products, but at entire companies’ social and environmental impacts. This includes assessing factors like energy usage and workers’ wages. But the rigorous certification process makes this label harder to find.

In general, Jones says the more seals or certifications a product or company has, the better. When in doubt, turn to third-party organizations for guidance. For example, the Cornucopia Institute, a nonprofit watchdog group, rates farms and manufacturers of items like yogurt, eggs and toothpaste.

Shop less often
Overconsumption takes a toll on our wallets and the planet. Before buying something, think about whether you really need it. If you do, look for options that have a lesser impact, says Casey Taylor, a partner in Bain and Company’s retail practice. Investing in reusable, high-quality or easy-to-repair items can help minimize purchases.

“Instead of buying a new shirt from a fast-fashion retailer, you might think about buying used or buying pieces that’ll last longer,” Taylor says.

Seek secondhand goods
When you choose previously owned items, you aren’t contributing to the labor and materials needed to make new goods. Check thrift shops, garage sales and community groups like the Freecycle Network for inexpensive — or free — finds. Another sustainable solution? Rent clothes through services like Le Tote and Rent the Runway.

Choose slower online deliveries
Retailers like Amazon have made selecting fast shipping a reflex, but it’s not always the most ethical option. When shopping online, choosing standard shipping over same-day or next-day delivery can ensure multiple items in an order ship together.

"For the environment, it reduces packaging and the number of drop-offs, and for customers, it’s just one less box that you need to recycle,” Taylor says.

Better yet, shop in person or buy online and pick up in store.

Shop locally
Visit your neighborhood bakery or farmers market rather than a large chain. Supporting local businesses or buying locally grown produce is generally better for the environment because it decreases the distance that products have to travel, Taylor says. It also gives consumers the opportunity to ask merchants directly for details about how products are sourced and made.

Pick a responsible financial institution
Financial institutions and products are part of the equation, too, Jones says. You can search for a bank or credit union that’s committed to social and environmental values. Community development financial institutions, for example, help underserved consumers build credit and acquire loans. Consider applying for one that donates to causes important to you. Check out Coulee Bank's community involvement!

Be prepared
Find small ways to make the ethical choice the easy choice. You can reduce waste by keeping reusable shopping bags or a coffee cup in the car or by the front door. That way, you’ll have them when you need them. “Simple choices add up if you think about the number of times that you walk into a store or pop by a coffee shop,” Taylor says. Developing positive habits takes practice. But with a little effort, shopping ethically can become second nature.

The article, 7 Tips for Becoming an Ethical Shopper, originally appeared on NerdWallet.

Business Corner: 5 Things to Do When Starting an Online Store

Starting an online business might seem like a quick and easy way to make a few bucks, but there’s more to it than plugging photos into a designer web template. The National Retail Federation expects online retail sales to grow between 8% and 12% in 2017, so the industry is a productive space for ambitious entrepreneurs. But without some planning, yours could become one of the countless forgettable online stores. Here are five steps to take to help ensure a successful launch

Paying with phone1. Choose the right platform
Once you have an idea, you’ll have to decide how to create your shop: Use a hosted e-commerce platform; create and host your own site with open-source,
e-commerce software; or sell primarily on third-party platforms.

Hosted e-commerce platforms: You can use the customizable website templates and e-commerce tools — such as shopping carts — on sites like Squarespace or BigCommerce to establish an online presence.

Open-source, e-commerce software: If you’re tech savvy, you can build your own site. This gives you freedom to customize beyond the drag-and-drop of most hosted sites, but you’ll be in charge of security updates, and website maintenance and performance.

Third-party marketplaces: Like Amazon or Etsy, these services let you sell through them. You might get more eyes on your product, but you also give up the opportunity to establish your own internet identity.

Be prepared for the costs
One of the advantages of e-commerce is the low cost of entry. But low-cost doesn’t mean free. You’ll pay for the product you’re selling — or the materials to make it — as well as online-specific costs such as domain fees, commissions for selling on third-party marketplaces or fees for hosting your website. Add that to basic business expenses such as advertising and packaging, and operating costs can stack up quickly. “It may cost only a tenth of what it costs offline, but that is still money,” says Naomi Dunford, marketing and growth coach at IttyBiz. “People really forget that.”

2.Consider shipping details
Free shipping is a boon for customers, but should you make it work by increasing the cost of your products or by taking the cost out of your profit margins? Should you offer it at all? “Make sure you are investing in things that matter deeply for customers,” says Jimmy Duvall, chief product officer at BigCommerce. And if you’re selling internationally, you’ll have to deal with customs forms, exchange rates and higher shipping costs. Strategize before you launch so you aren’t scrambling to fulfill orders.

2. Look for ways to involve customers
The internet is vast, and even if you think your product is unique, it’s likely something similar already exists. But Duvall says offering a common product in a distinct way can help you stand out.

He points to StoreYourBoard, a website that sells hardware for hanging outdoor gear. The company won BigCommerce’s 2016 Innovation Award for encouraging customers to ask questions, write reviews and post pictures of its products in use on its website.

“All of it takes a lot of time and thought, but the results are a feedback loop that makes finding the right product even easier for future customers,” says Josh Gordon, StoreYourBoard’s founder and president.

You can start simple, Duvall says. Having a clean site with useful content, an easy-to-find “contact us” link, and an “About Us” section can help build that relationship from the beginning. And make your return, exchange and shipping policies transparent so customers know what to expect.

Establish expertise
You know your product better than anyone else, Duvall says. Now turn that expertise into reasons why customers should do business with you.

Adding content is one way. Say you sell pet products: What should pet owners take into account when choosing food or toys? Does it vary by breed? This doesn’t mean you need to write regular blog posts — though if you have the time and skills, go for it. You can also add pages to your site with details about why you chose to make or sell a particular product or brand, and why you think that choice is best for your customers.

If you have any business related questions, our Business Banking Team is here to help!

This article, 5 Things to Do When Starting an Online Store,  originally appeared on NerdWallet

Coulee Security Tip: Your Browser is a Gateway to the Internet

Web browsers are gateways to the internet, which is why you should care about how they transmit and store sensitive information. Want to learn more about which browser is safest? 

Microsoft Edge
Microsoft Edge, Windows’ current default browser, is an improvement over its predecessor Internet Explorer (IE). Edge was developed with Windows 10 integration and IE end-of-life in mind, resulting in a powerful and more efficient browser that has Cortana (Windows’ answer to Alexa and Siri) integration and Microsoft Store extensions.

Edge’s main advantage is that it is Windows 10 computers’ native browser, which means it should integrate more seamlessly with the Windows OS ecosystem in terms of power usdomain nameage and data security. Its built-in security features, called the Code Integrity Guard (CIG) and the Arbitrary Code Guard (ACG), prevent malicious codes from loading into a computer’s memory.

Safari is a graphical web browser developed by Apple for its iOS, iPad OS, and macOS. The current iteration is Safari 13, which was released alongside macOS Mojave and macOS High Sierra in September 2019.

Safari 13 is highly secure, as it utilizes Safari 12’s baseline security features such as Automatic Strong Passwords and Intelligent Tracking Prevention 2.0. These features are augmented by a built-in password strength analyzer, FIDO02 USB security key authentication support, “Sign in with Apple” support, Apple Pay capabilities, and increased speed and encryption. Its main drawback, however, is that it is only available on Apple devices, with full capabilities found
only on MacBooks and Macs.

Mozilla Firefox
Mozilla Firefox is a free and open-source web browser developed by the Mozilla Foundation. It is widely available across platforms, even on Unix and Unix-like operating systems such as FreeBSD, OpenBSD, illuminos, and Solaris Unix.

Because of Firefox’s open-source development platform, it can be quite unsecure to use on publicly accessible computers. For personal and single-user business devices, however, Firefox is relatively safe, especially once all security features are activated and tweaked to your needs. Some key features are its “Do not track” privacy feature, phishing and malware blocking features, the Noscript Anti-XSS add-on (so you can determine which sites are allowed to execute scripts), the Noscript Anti-Clickjacking add-on (a detector that reveals invisible, malicious links and buttons), and its renowned pop-up ad blocker.

Firefox is also unique in that Mozilla has a bug bounty program, which offers a financial reward to anyone who can identify gaps and holes in Firefox code, so that it can be patched and improved as urgently as possible. Mozilla also promises no legal action against anyone who complies in good faith under its Bug Bounty program, including any claim under the DMCA for circumventing technological measures.

Google Chrome
Google Chrome is a cross-platform web browser developed by Google. It is the default browser for Google’s line of laptops and Google Chromebooks. Chrome utilizes a process allocation model to sandbox tabs. “Sandboxing” is a security mechanism for separating running programs to keep software vulnerabilities from spreading.

Chrome also regularly updates two sets of blacklists, one for phishing and one for malware, which it uses to warn users of potentially harmful sites. It also touts site isolation and predictive phishing protection features that receive regular and critical updates every six weeks and within 24 hours of a known threat, respectively.

Being aware of how your web browser stacks up against its competitors is only half the battle. WannaCry spread to uninfected systems through a gap in the Windows security framework, and most other ransomware infections prey on human error. 

Coulee Security 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 Center: Check on Your Retirement Savings

Whether you’re 23 or 35, it’s important to know whether you are saving enough for your retirement. There is no time like the present to ensure you are allocating enough funds to your retirement account.
With folks routinely living into their 80s and 90s, it’s more important than ever to ensure your money lasts your lifetime. Millennials have the advantage of time. You can benefit from compounding and the long-term trends that can make a real difference over the course of several decades.
A good savings target is 15% of your income. That’s a very general target, and in many cases, it’s too conservative. That can be a real challenge if you are also saving for a house and/or paying off student loans. The important point is to make a commitment to your retirement savings by contributing a consistent amount with each paycheck (or if you are self-employed, every invoice). The absolute percentage is secondary; more important is to set a goal and stick to it.
How will your lifestyle change? In retirement, you may no longer be drawing a salary, although many folks take up some form of self-employment that brings in an income. It’s up to you whether earnings will be part of your retirement plan. If not, your retirement savings should be robust enough to supplement your Social Security without sacrificing your lifestyle. You can check you projected Social Security payments on the Social Security Administration’s website.
Time may heal all wounds. Millennials may have unpleasant memories of the Great Recession and the family turmoil it could have caused. A conservative attitude toward risk isn’t surprising given those circumstances, but sticking to overly conservative investments has its own risks, such as not keeping up with inflation. You have time to recover from the inevitable ups and downs of the markets, which means you might want to consider adding some aggressive investments to your retirement account.
Figure out how long your savings will last. To get a reasonably accurate figure, you should derive your annual “burn rate.” That’s the amount of savings you’ll need to live on each year. You then see whether it will last for your estimated life expectancy, which you can check with any number of online calculators. If the answer is no, you’ll have to increase the amount you save now and/or cut back on your retirement plans.
Your retirement finances are not set in stone. You have options at any age. Call or email me to review those and decide on the best course of action. Don’t put it off—the sooner you understand your financial alternatives, the sooner you can take positive action to protect your golden years.

Have financial questions? Shari Hopkins, our Certified Financial Planner, will provide you with financial guidance through every stage of your financial journey.
This material was prepared for the Coulee Investment Center and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note - investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty.

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