Packing For College: What Should Stay and What Should Go?

college blogAre you heading off to dorm life soon or know someone who is? Well, it’s good to make a plan before the packing begins. Don’t waste precious space on stuff that isn’t needed. We’ve put together a helpful post on what to bring – and what to leave at home.

Do not bring: A television.

Chances are, your school will provide internet TV access, so you can stream your favorite shows. On the same note, don’t pack more than a few books to read or DVDs to watch in your spare time. Your schedule will be fuller than you can imagine and space is tight.

Do bring: Noise-canceling headphones.

As considerate as your roommates may be, they’ll sometimes feel like chatting when you most need to concentrate. Noise-canceling headphones will help you create that quiet space you need.

Do not bring: A ton of food and stockpiles of toiletries.

Unless you’re heading into the wilderness, you can fill up on what you need as the year goes on. It also makes sense to wait until you adjust to dorm life and can realistically determine what you will need.

Do bring: Several weeks’ worth of easy-to-prep food and basic toiletries.

We’re looking at you, ramen noodles. During those first few crazy weeks, you won’t want to bother with complicated food prep or shopping trips to town. Same goes with toiletries – bring enough to last a few weeks.

Do not bring: A mini-fridge.

Your dorm may have one in the common room.

 Do bring: Energy superheroes.

Think portable power banks, power bars and a nifty gadget called BedPower.

Dorm rooms, especially in older colleges, can be skimpy on outlets. Make sure your technology always has enough juice by outfitting an outlet with a power bar.

Similarly, you never know where you might be when your laptop is suddenly low on battery. A portable power bank can really come in handy.

For a power bar that also saves space the BedPower attaches right to your bed! This can be helpful for freeing up desk space and for providing you with that nighttime charge so your phone is powered up to wake you in time for class.

Do not bring: A lot of wall decorations and furniture.

Contrary to what college commercials will have you think, you cannot decorate your room to your heart’s desire. You’ve got your roommates to consider, as well as what are usually tight quarters. Your dorm room probably won’t be able to fit a futon, chair, end table, ottoman and bean bag. You also won’t have the wall space for 500 photos of your besties.

Do bring: A few photos and things from home, as well as space-saving furniture and necessities.

When homesickness strikes, it’s helpful to have something from home to help ease the ache. Photos are also great – as long as you don’t overdo it.

With regard to furniture, shop smart. An ottoman that doubles as a storage container will help you maximize the space you have. Bed risers that double the available under-bed storage are a smart choice. Huggable hangers will let you fit more clothing into your dorm closet.

Do not bring: Textbooks.

Before you buy any textbooks, find out about your library privileges. Chances are, you can borrow the books you need instead of purchasing them. Renting textbooks has also become a popular option.

Do bring: School supplies!

It may sound obvious, but it’s often overlooked with everything else you need to pack. Some super helpful supplies that you may forget to bring include: adhesive page markers, highlighters, citation style manuals and student planners.

Remember: If you have to ask yourself whether you really need to pack something, then you should probably leave it at home.

 

What do you think is the number one essential when packing for college? Share with us in the comments!

 

The Recovering Spender – Lauren Greutman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In The Recovering Spender, Lauren Greutman draws on her own life experience to teach invaluable lessons about living within your means.

To outsiders, Lauren and her husband, Mark, appeared as though they were living a charmed life. As she says, “On the surface, we had it all. Custom home, luxury cars, beautiful babies, and all the bells and whistles…” But disaster lurked beneath the surface.

Though the Greutmans seemed like they had more than enough for all their necessities and many luxuries, they were living way beyond their means simply to keep up with the neighbors. Too soon, they found themselves with a mortgage that had not been paid in months, their car seized and sky-high debt that reached $40,000.

Their dream had become an awful nightmare.

Through a long journey of recreating their relationship with money and spending, the Greutmans arrived at where they are today: back in the black and fully committed to spending less while living within their budget.

In The Recovering Spender, Greutman details the steps she and her family took to pull it off. She shares her hard-earned tips and practical advice to help others who find themselves ending each month with a deficit that keeps growing.

Lauren also shares many of her personal struggles in ways relatable to readers to help them learn from her mistakes. It’s easier for an over-stressed mom who never feels like she can stretch the dollar far enough to take tips from another mom who’s been there, than it is to heed advice from a financial expert who’s never experienced anxiety about being able to pay for groceries.

The book also takes readers through the process of going from being in the red to living completely debt-free, offering a step-by-step guide with actions readers can take immediately as they work their way through the book.

Some of the actionable chapters in the book include:

  1. Take an Inventory of Your Spending.
  2. Declutter Your Finances.
  3. Do an Expense Audit.
  4. Curb Your Spending and Define Your Values.

Most importantly, The Recovered Spender is a guide for getting off the path of debt, and living happily within your means.

Can you relate to Lauren’s experience? Have you successfully changed your spending habits? We want to hear from you. Share your story in the comments!

 

Tax Free Back to School Shopping

TaxFree blog

With the start of the new school year days away, shopping for clothes and supplies is probably at the top of your to do list. This weekend’s tax holiday is the perfect time to get that task done. You can enjoy tax free shopping on clothing, school supplies, personal computers and much more! The tax exempt sales run from August 4 through August 6.

Sales tax will not be collected on purchases of:

  • Clothing, footwear, and certain accessories priced $60 or less per item
  • School supplies selling for $15 or less per item
  • Personal computers and certain computer-related accessories priced $750 or less per item.

This is a great time to take inventory of your home or office space as well as your closets. Do you need new work shirts or a new laptop? Now is the time to buy

You can certainly use this weekend to grab savings for the entire family or you can purchase items and donate to someone that is less fortunate. There are a number of organizations that will be taking donated school supplies during the upcoming weeks. Check out your local news outlets for school supply drives in your area.

We know shopping for school related items can get expensive; however, you can save quite a bit of money by purchasing them during the tax free weekend. Click here for more information and for frequently asked questions about Florida’s sales tax holiday.

Happy Shopping!

10 Ways to Make Extra Money From Home

Whether you’re saving for a vacation or just want to have a little more cash in your rainy day fund, we want to offer ideas to help you reach your goals. We’ve put together a list of easy ways to make extra money at home so a lack of funds doesn’t keep you from achieving your objectives. Keep reading for more.

Tutoring

The school year will be starting before we know it and with that comes students needing assistance with a variety of topics. From math and reading to helping with instruments, your expertise is valuable. Utilize your skills to help a student learn.

Photography

Another option for creative types is photography! Submitting your pictures to stock photo sites is a fun and artistic way to make some extra cash. If you want up to brush up on your photography skills to make this an option, visit your local public library to see if they may offer free classes.

Baking

If family and friends always rave about your cookies and cakes, why not take what you’re naturally good at and turn it into a business? You’ll be immersed in something you love and can make money doing it. Make sure to look up your county’s rules on food based home businesses before you get started.

Online surveys

If getting paid to share your opinion interests you then online surveys may be something to try. Many companies look to shoppers for feedback on the products and services they offer. Providing your thoughts can help improve a service, and you’ll get compensated for doing it.

Freelance writing/editorial work

If you’re the creative type and are good with words, freelance writing and editorial work may be right up your alley. There are many opportunities to be found from ghost writing blogs and articles to editing manuscripts. You can even take a look at your favorite magazine’s editorial calendar and consider submitting articles to be published.

Childcare

This option is great if you’re a stay at home parent. While you may have your hands full with your own children, watching after a few more for a fee can help bring in some much needed extra cash. If you have the space and energy, this is a lively option that will ensure you stay busy throughout the day.

Online jury

Did you know there’s such a thing as online jurors? As part of an online jury you provide opinions and feedback on potential cases that attorneys are working on. If you’re interested in the legal system this may help provide a little insight into the jury process.

Crafting

Are you a master crafter? If you are skilled at making clothes or jewelry, knitting, embroidery, crocheting, monogramming or any other craft, selling your creations can prove to be a worthwhile endeavor. The website Etsy is a great starting point for a side business like this.

Customer service

Many companies hire home based service representatives to provide assistance to their customers. This is a common way to make extra money from home. Before you sign up for a gig like this be sure to check with the Better Business Bureau for additional information on the credibility of the company.

Garage Sale

What better way to make money and get rid of stuff you been meaning to clean out than a garage sale? The saying goes, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” You may have some hidden gems in your home that neighbors and visitors will be willing to dish out cash for.

Now that you have some ideas on how to add a little extra cash to your wallet, you can put the extra money you make aside in one of our savings accounts. You can establish any number of *share savings accounts at Insight Credit Union and watch your money grow for whatever purpose you choose such as a vacation, new car, or holiday shopping.

Have you had success with any of the options above? Share your story in the comments below.

*Federally Insured by NCUA

Staycations Are Key to Summer Fun on a Budget

Summer is here, and for most, that means vacation time! Many people travel out of town, or even out of the country, but if you’re on a budget, indulging in a “staycation” may be just the thing for you. In case you’re wondering, a staycation is when you stay in your own city or state and take day trips to local attractions. Here in Florida, there are so many activities to choose from the possibilities are endless. And you can do it all without breaking the bank. We’ve put together a few ideas for you to get your staycation started.

Stop by the beach. Florida is known for its beaches. What would summer be without a trip to one of our sandy shorelines?  If you don’t know where to start, make a game out of it. Make a list of all the beaches in the state you want to visit and assign them a number. Put all of the numbers in a hat, shake it up and pull one out. Whichever beach was assigned that number is your next staycation spot. “Sea” you later!

Visit one of Florida’s many state or national parks. They are filled with tremendous beauty, adventures and new discoveries. Best of all— they’re affordable! Entrance fees to most Florida state and national parks are less than $10. There are about 11 national parks, 160 state parks, and a number of preservation and recreation areas for you to choose from. So you might want to do a little advance planning. Besides the awesome sights, national and state parks are an awesome place to picnic or even camp overnight. So pack up your tents, gather ingredients for s’mores and head out to enjoy nature. Click here to find a park near you!

Get discounted tickets to amusement parks. Most Orlando area theme parks have Florida resident discounts as well as promotions where you pay for one day and get in free the rest of the year! Take advantage of the Florida resident discount to enhance your staycation, and continue the fun for the rest of the year. Click here for a list of Florida resident discounts from Visit Orlando. An added bonus – as an Insight Credit Union member you get discounted tickets to Legoland. Cool, right?!

Catch up on some reading. Find a cute little park, coffee shop or bookstore and let yourself get lost in a good book. This can help with relaxation and transport your mind to another place. You can even take a book to that beach you decided to go to.

Attend a local sporting event. Whether it’s baseball, soccer, golf, bull riding or wrestling, Central Florida has plenty of sporting event options to take advantage of. Get the family out for a fun-filled evening to one of the many Florida Collegiate Summer League baseball games. If you are more of a soccer fan, be sure to check out an Orlando City soccer game! For other exciting sporting events this summer, check out the list that Visit Orlando has compiled for more details.

Visit local museums. History and art museums can be found all over Florida. They may even be a museum celebrating the history of your own city. This is a great activity for both adults and children. You can have fun and learn something all at the same time. Botanical gardens, zoos, and farms that let you pick your own fruit are also great ideas for some summertime fun, not to mention they’re a hit with the little ones.

We hope these ideas can help you maximize your staycation without maxing out your budget! Do you have a favorite staycation spot? We would love to hear more about it! Share with us in the comments below.

 

*This is an updated version of a post originally published on July 28, 2014.

Preparing For Hurricane Season

If you’ve lived in Florida for any period of time, you know what comes with summer —hurricane season. Often times Florida residents become a little relaxed with regards to preparing for storm season.  At Insight, we have come up with a few easy tips that will help you get prepared and still leave time to soak in the sun!

  • If you own property, take a weekend or a week day evening to trim the trees and bushes, and clear clutter from the yard. When a hurricane comes, you don’t want to worry about an overgrown tree meeting you in your bedroom or your bicycle meeting your car windshield.
  • Consider investing in hurricane shutters or purchasing window-sized wood panels with all the necessary hardware to hang them so that you’re ahead of the game if a hurricane approaches.
  • Purchase water now! You know how it is when we hear that a hurricane is coming, don’t you? Everyone waits until the last minute and then boom! Chaos. Get your water now, and while you’re at it, pick up flashlights, batteries, non-perishable foods, candles, and matches. Do you have pets? Better get some extra food for them too.
  • Stock up on medications. The last thing you want to be worried about after a hurricane hits is when the pharmacy will be open again. It’s best to stock up on some of your must-have medicines so you have peace of mind!
  • Create your emergency plan now. Have one point of contact outside of the home that you can call and update. This person can then assure your family that everything is okay if phone lines are too busy to handle the load of incoming calls. Make sure this trusted friend or family member has the contact information for those you want informed of your situation. Additionally, plan an emergency route in case you need to evacuate on short notice. Make sure everyone in the family knows it. It also helps to have a rendezvous point in case you’re taking multiple cars.

We know that living in Florida has its perks. With all this sunshine there is the threat of hurricanes and we want you to be prepared.

Do you have any tips to add to this list? Share them with us in the comments below.

 

 

5 Tips to Host Thanksgiving on a Budget

Thanksgiving Dinner.jpgThere’s no doubt that the holiday season can be expensive, and maybe a lavish Thanksgiving feast just isn’t in the books for this year. If you’re not riding the gravy train, it’s still possible to cook a delicious Thanksgiving meal that doesn’t cost you an arm and a (turkey) leg. Here are some easy as pie tips to help you host a wonderful Thanksgiving on a budget!

  1. Make it a potluck. You don’t have to tackle the whole menu by yourself! In the true spirit of Thanksgiving, get everyone involved and ask them to bring one of their favorite dishes. Just keep a list of everything that everyone is bringing so you can make sure to have all of the Thanksgiving staples on the table.
  2. Stick to your shopping list and budget. Create your menu and budget well in advance. Bring your Thanksgiving shopping list with you on your regular grocery store trips to pick up non-perishable and frozen items when they’re on sale. You can also check your grocer’s weekly ad for current sales.
  3. Start from scratch. Pre-made items are often full of preservatives and seldom taste better than homemade items. Instead of buying powdered mashed potatoes, make delicious mashed potatoes with this simple recipe. You can also make a yummy stuffing with this easy recipe.
  4. Buy a frozen turkey. The turkey is usually about 40% of the cost of the meal. Opt for a store brand frozen turkey instead of a fresh one. Just remember to allow ample time for thawing. Click here to see how you can safely thaw your turkey.
  5. Find decorations at the dollar store. Believe it or not, the dollar store has some great decorations for the holiday season. Check out your local dollar store to see what you can find! Click here for 70 cheap DIY fall decor ideas.

We hope these tips help you stress a little less and enjoy time with your family during Thanksgiving! Do you have any other great tips? Comment and share them with us!

How to Protect Yourself From Cyber Attacks

iStock_000030693124_Large.jpgOver the past 25 years, technology has truly changed the way we live. We pay bills online, access bank and loan accounts online, and make purchases online. While this has created a convenience we have never experienced until recent years, it’s also opened up a lot of opportunity for identity theft through cybercrime. We want to make sure you’re aware of common cybercrimes and how to protect yourself. Here’s some basic information you should know.

Phishing: Luring victims to click on a link to get sensitive information or plant a virus.

Have you ever received an email that only has a link and no other copy? Perhaps you already knew this was some kind of scam and immediately deleted the email. Great job! Clicking on that link could take you to a fake website where criminals ask for personal information. Clicking on the link could also automatically give criminals access to your computer, where they can look for sensitive information, watch your internet habits or plant a virus on your computer. Phishing can be used alone or with spamming and spoofing to steal your identity.

To avoid falling prey to this type of technique, NEVER click on a link from an unexpected sender that you are unfamiliar with. Check to make sure the URL matches with the content of the email by hovering your mouse over the blue hyperlink. Make sure to look at the details. Does the email say it is from Facebook? Does the link say facebook.com or facebook.net? Little details like this will save you from falling prey to phishers.

Spamming: Sending the same unsolicited email to a large group of people.

Spamming can be hurtful in several ways. A great example of this is a “spam scam,” where a criminal sends an email indicating you have won the lottery and requests that you send a payment to cover taxes in order to get your winnings. Unfortunately, the lotto payment is never received so whatever amount was sent “for taxes” is lost to the victim. Below is an example of this type of email. There are several variations, and this is just one example of how a spam email can turn into fraud. Notice how the crook is using a spam (undisclosed recipients) with phishing (the link)?

spamming-email

To prevent this kind of fraud, never open emails from strangers or click on links in an email like this. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

Spoofing: Using a fake website, email address or other identifier that looks legitimate to trick a victim into responding with an action that may benefit the spoofer.

An example of this is using a fake website that looks legitimate to trick someone into submitting financial, personal or password data into a fake website. To avoid being spoofed, check websites for security measures such as a padlock in the url and https:// rather than http://. The padlock and the s indicate the website is a secure site.

Additionally, use email spam filters and do not click on links that indicate you need to update personal or financial information. Call a verified number from the company’s website and verify the email is legitimate.

Click the following links for more details on the above cybercrimes:

Phishing
Common Scams
Scam Alerts

10 Easy Ways to Save on Groceries

ShopMedium.jpgWhether you’re cooking just for one or a whole family, you probably find that you fork over a decent amount of your paycheck for groceries. Well, that stops now! Gone are the days of spending a fortune on groceries. Cook delicious meals at home and trim down your grocery bill with these great tips!

  1. Inventory your pantry and fridge before you head to the store. Make a note of what you have so you don’t accidentally buy something that you already have at home.
  2. Shop around for the best prices. Compare prices of the items you most commonly buy at a few stores in your area, such as Walmart, Target, Costco, Publix, etc. Find out if you’re actually shopping at the store with the lowest overall prices for your needs.
  3. Plan meals from the weekly ads. Check out the weekly deals for your grocery store online and build your meals around the items on sale.
  4. Buy dried herbs instead of fresh. Dried herbs are generally more concentrated and last longer than fresh herbs so you’ll use less and they’ll last longer.
  5. Take advantage of BOGOs for non-perishable items. Take advantage of BOGO deals for non-perishable items that you know you’ll always use.
  6. Earn cash back on groceries. Apps like Ibotta, SavingStar and Checkout51 offer weekly cash back deals on a variety of items. All you have to do is submit a photo of your receipt verifying that you bought the items.
  7. Compare unit prices, not just sticker prices. The unit price is the price for one unit (pound, ounce, liter, etc.) of the item you’re buying. Knowing the unit price can help determine if an item is a good deal or not.
  8. Print online coupons and use them wisely. Get printable coupons for a variety of items from sites like, coupons.com, smartsource.com, redplum.com and coolsavings.com. Use coupons when the items are on sale to save even more!
  9. Buy in season produce. You can save 30-50% on produce by buying what’s in season. Click here to see what fruits and vegetables are currently in season.
  10. Ask for a rain check for out of stock sale items. A rain check is a slip of paper that honors the sale price once the item is back in stock, even if the promotion is no longer running.

Do you have any other great money saving tricks? Comment and share them with us!

10 Ways to Avoid Fraud

PiggyBankShield-small.jpgFraudsters use clever schemes to defraud millions of people every year. From skimmers to phishing emails, they will stop at nothing to steal your personal and financial information. Protect yourself and keep your hard earned money in sight with these helpful tips!

  1. Only open emails from people you know. Fraudsters often send emails that ask you to click on a hyperlink or open an attachment and enter your personal or financial information. Ignore any emails that make these requests.
  2. Don’t pay upfront. Fraudsters may ask you to pay in advance for debt relief, credit and loan offers, mortgage assistance or a job. They may even say that you’ve won a prize, but need to pay taxes or fees first. Don’t do it! Chances are they will take your money and disappear.
  3. Avoid sharing your personal or financial information in an email, text or over the phone. You never know whose hands that information could fall into.
  4. Shred everything. Shred all documents that contain personal information, including your address, telephone numbers, account statements and other sensitive data.
  5. Create strong passwords and change them at least every six months. Use a unique password with a mix of letters, numbers and symbols for each of your important accounts. Don’t use names, birthdays, common words or sequential patterns.
  6. Monitor your accounts weekly. Keep an eye on your accounts to catch any fraudulent charges as soon as they happen. It’s also a good idea to save your receipts and check them against your statements.
  7. At the gas pump, inspect the card reader and PIN pad. Before you swipe your card, study the card reader and give it a good tug or shake. If it moves, it probably has a skimming device on it. Check the PIN pad as well to make sure it hasn’t been tampered with.
  8. Consider the payment method. Not all forms of payment are alike. Credit cards have significant fraud protection built in, while other payment methods don’t. Wiring money through services like Western Union or MoneyGram is risky because it’s nearly impossible to get your money back. You should also avoid using mobile payment apps, such as Venmo, with people you don’t personally know.
  9. Check your credit history and score regularly. There are a variety of ways you can access your credit report for free. With Credit Karma, you can view your scores and reports anytime, get useful tools and tips to help you understand and improve your score, and get credit alerts to help you spot fraud.  Many credit card companies, like Discover and Capital One, offer free credit tracking tools and send you monthly/weekly updates of your score.  You can also order a free credit report once a year from the three credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com.
  10. Talk to someone you trust. Fraudsters want you to make decisions in a hurry and they may swear you to secrecy. Before you do anything, check out the story, do an online search, or consult a friend or expert – like a Financial Services Representative at Insight!

We hope these tips help you stay one step ahead of fraudsters! Click here for more fraud prevention information.