Blog Index

Outdoor Home Renovations? Think Budget and Scope

Many homeowners view their outdoor spaces as their own personal oases, places where they can relax, dine and spend time with their friends and loved ones. In light of this, it makes sense that homeowners consider investing in major features that will transform their outdoor areas into additional living spaces.

Like any home-renovation project, however, outdoor renovations can easily get out of control if you don't have a good handle on how much things will cost, what your goals are and whether you're doing the work yourself or need professional help.

Before you dive into an outdoor improvement, take these key considerations into account to help you stay on budget and ensure that your project is successful.

Match plan to budget

One of the key factors in the success of any outdoor project is determining a realistic budget long before you put shovel to topsoil. Only once you've decided what you're comfortable spending can you define the scope of your project.

The 2016 Houzz Landscaping & Garden Trends Study, conducted among registered users of the residential remodeling website, found that 88% of respondents had done or planned to do substantial renovations or complete overhauls, while only 12% had done or planned to do minor updates. Knowing the scope of your plans in the beginning will help you get a basic sense of what the project will cost you.

In the Houzz study, 9 out of 10 homeowners working on minor updates spent or planned to spend less than $5,000, but substantial updates called for bigger budgets — more than 2 in 5 homeowners working on a complete overhaul spent or planned to spend $20,000 or more.

Having a general understanding of the projects that are most popular among outdoor renovators can also be helpful as you develop your budget and scope. Across all outdoor projects reported in the study, many homeowners were updating outdoor systems such as irrigation and lighting (82%), beds and borders (80%), and structural elements such as patios, terraces and gazebos (72%).

The costs of these projects vary significantly based on a number of factors, such as project nature, scope and professional involvement. For example, while most standard outdoor systems such as irrigation or lighting in medium to small yards can be upgraded for less than $2,000, updates to beds and borders can range from a few hundred to thousands of dollars. Renovation of outdoor structures is typically quite expensive and can easily start at a few thousand dollars and go up based on the type of structure and the extent of upgrades.

Pick your priorities

The next key factor to consider: What are you trying to accomplish with your renovation?

If outdoor living is top of your mind, you might concentrate on adding outdoor furniture, a fire pit or cooking features to enhance comfort. If a low-maintenance space is a top priority, you might focus on adding plants that require little care and are resistant to cold, drought and wildlife.

When it comes to design, outdoor renovators most valued one that complements the style of their home (46%), promotes outdoor living (45%) and is stylish and beautiful (43%).

In terms of function, a space that's easy to maintain ranked highest for homeowners (80%), followed by an area suitable for group gatherings and entertainment (49%).

Beyond creating an outdoor space that is aesthetically pleasing and easy to spend time in, many homeowners tackled specific challenges during their projects. Top issues included drainage troubles, lack of privacy, and drought or water shortages. Identifying your outdoor pet peeves or pressing concerns should make it easier to set project scope and budget. This will help you avoid project-scope creep.

Hiring a professional

More than half of outdoor upgraders in the Houzz study hired a landscape contractor or landscape architect/designer (52%) to help them bring their vision to life — and for good reason. Landscaping professionals can open your eyes to a wide variety of options for your space that you might not be aware of, provide guidance for staying on schedule and budget, and tackle projects for which specialized skills are particularly beneficial. Certain projects also require the hiring of licensed professionals to comply with local regulations.

Once you determine your budget, scope and top priorities, consider meeting with a professional for an initial consultation to discuss what you have in mind for your project. Finding the right landscape contractor or landscape architect can make an entire project come alive. You may be surprised at how reasonable the professionals' fees are compared with their contributions to the project and the quality of the final outcome.

An outdoor makeover can make an enormous difference in how you and your family enjoy your time at home. In fact, after the completion of their outdoor project, 75% of homeowners reported resting and relaxing more often in their yards, 64% did more gardening, and 55% entertained more frequently in their outdoor areas. Keeping these tips in mind will help ensure that you not only complete your project without damaging your finances but also achieve an ideal outdoor space that you and your family will enjoy for years to come.



This article originally appeared on NerdWallet.


4 Ways to Manage the Cost of Raising a Baby

Kids are expensive, and estimating how much you’ll spend on your first bundle of joy is tricky. There are diapers, clothing, furniture, food and toys to think of, as well as costs that may not spring immediately to mind, like life insurance and college savings.

But whether you’re expecting a child now or planning for one down the road, knowing the expenses involved can help you prepare. And a new study finds would-be parents might be shocked by the potential cost of raising a baby during its first year.

According to a new NerdWallet analysis, baby’s first year could set some families back as much as $21,000 — more than four times the amount most would-be parents estimate, based on data from a related Harris poll.

NerdWallet analyzed expenses associated with a baby’s first year for two hypothetical households in which both parents work — one with a $40,000 annual income and one with a $200,000 annual income — to illustrate how families with different resources might navigate the cost of raising a child. We then compared both households’ total first-year expenses with American expectations, as determined by an online Harris poll.

Here are four financial action items for parents-to-be.

1. Get real about the potential cost …

More than half of respondents (54%) currently expecting a child or planning to have one within the next three years believe the average U.S. baby’s first-year costs total $5,000 or less. But even if parents decline life insurance coverage for themselves and wait to start a college fund, they’re likely to spend far more, according to the analysis.

Be realistic about how much you might have to spend in your first year of parenthood. An online baby calculator can help you estimate expenses.

2. … Especially the biggest cost: child care

Unless a friend or family member is willing to care for your infant when you return to work — if you do — prepare to pay handsomely for child care. According to the analysis, full-time, center-based care is the biggest expense of the first year, at about $8,059. If that surprises you, you’re not alone. Just 37% of would-be parents predicted it would be among the costliest factors.

When you’re able, set aside money for high-dollar and ongoing costs such as child care, and make them a line in your monthly budget. The cost of diapers will seem small in comparison.

3. Prioritize emergency savings

People of all income levels struggle to set aside money in preparation for a new baby. Among parents and would-be parents making less than $50,000 per year, 38% said they had nothing saved, or didn’t plan on saving, prior to baby’s arrival; 21% of those making $100,000 or more said the same.

To ensure you’re ready for unexpected costs of all kinds, start an emergency fund. Not opening or contributing more to one was one of the top financial regrets of all parents surveyed. Once that’s established and you have the clothes and other must-haves for baby, consider college savings and life insurance for all guardians.

4. Gauge how much your loved ones can help

Sixty-one percent of people currently expecting a baby or planning to have one in the next three years say they think friends and family will pay more than 20% of baby’s first-year costs.

If you’re unsure what help to expect from your loved ones, ask — tactfully, of course. And you can start by registering for practical items from your baby checklist. Nursery furniture and accessories, diapers and clothing in a range of sizes will help you manage costs far more than stuffed animals.






The article 4 Ways to Manage the Cost of Raising a Baby originally appeared on NerdWallet



How to Reach Your Savings Goals

Saving money is often easier said than done, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. Setting clear goals can motivate you to take action, focus on what’s important and steer clear of overspending.

Here are a few tips on how to set your savings goals.

Map out your goals

Ask yourself, “What do I want to save for?” Your goals may be short-term, like buying a new TV or taking a trip to Europe; long-term, like purchasing a new home or saving for retirement; or somewhere in the middle, like paying off your student loans.

When setting goals, factor in needs — like an emergency fund — in addition to the things you want to save for. Anna Sergunina, a certified financial planner at MainStreet Financial Planning, recommends prioritizing your emergency fund before other goals; otherwise, you can suffer a major setback if something unexpected comes up. “If there are no funds, that’s going to put a break into the whole system,” she says.

After you identify and prioritize your savings goals, you can start to make a customized plan.

Assess your finances

Take a good look at your finances to see if your goals are within reach. Calculate your monthly income based on your paycheck, Social Security benefits or any other money you receive. Then, check your transaction history on your bank’s website, or use an app, spreadsheet or simply a piece of paper to track your expenses. That way, you’ll know where your money is going, how much you have left and what amount is reasonable to set aside each month.

If you want to reduce your spending in order to put even more money toward savings, identify your needs and wants and try to indulge in the wants less. Needs are things you must spend money on — like food and housing — and wants are the nonessentials like entertainment and restaurant meals. If you’re not sure how to budget for these expenses, give the 50/30/20 budget calculator a try.

Do your research

Find out not only how much you can save, but how much you need to save. For example, if your goal is to vacation in Italy, research the cost of plane tickets, a hotel stay and sightseeing. This will give you an estimate of the price tag and, therefore, your savings total. Expand your search to find the best discounts and savings methods.

Pick a time and place

Choose a deadline. You can stockpile your funds as that date approaches.

Once you begin to cut back on or restructure your expenses, decide where to store the money you save until you need it. Consider putting it in a savings account or certificate of deposit, preferably one that offers a competitive interest rate, to keep it safe and help reach your goals faster. It might even be worth creating separate accounts for your individual goals.

An easy way to contribute to your savings goals with little effort is to automate the process. Apps like Digit let you specify your goals and will automatically transfer a certain amount of your funds into a special account.

Follow up

Reminding yourself to track your progress is an effective way to stay on top of your savings goals. Sergunina suggests setting up a “money date” with yourself or your significant other, say once a month, to periodically look over your financial activity. Review your income, expenses and how much you’ve saved so far.

If you’re not quite where you want to be, don’t get discouraged. “We all make mistakes,” Sergunina says. “Life happens. So as long as you check in, pick yourself back up and keep going, that’s what counts.”



The article To Reach Your Savings Goals, Take These Steps originally appeared on NerdWallet.


7 Bad Financial Habits You Need to Break Right Now

Human beings are habit-creating machines, craving any mental or physical shortcut that lets us focus on higher-level thoughts, such as what’s for lunch or developing theories about Netflix dramas.

Bad money habits are more difficult to steer out of than other automated behaviors like driving a car. Why? Financial peace of mind is a much more subtle reward than the satisfaction of navigating a half-ton piece of metal through city streets without death or injury.

Still, every person who is good at money learned good habits, which means you can, too. “What we know from lab studies is that it’s never too late to break a habit. Habits are malleable throughout your entire life,” Charles Duhigg, author of “The Power of Habit,” told NPR.

Here are seven financial habits you should break before you go broke.

1. Stop spending more than you earn

Who do you think you are, the U.S. government? America’s fiscal deficit is projected to be $559 billion in fiscal year 2017, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

How is your own personal deficit? About one in five Americans spend more than they earn and 38% break even, research from the National Financial Capability Study shows. Your goal must be to join the 40% of Americans who spend less than they earn.

2. Stop ignoring your bills

Here’s how not to handle your obligations: When a collection agency calls, you pay the bill. This kind of financial firefighting only guarantees you’ll veer from crisis to crisis as your credit score burns.

Payment history carries huge weight on your financial future; more than one-third of your credit score is judged by your ability to pay your power bill, car insurance and credit cards on time. If you can’t, work out a payment plan with your creditor before it goes to collections.

3. Stop using your credit cards like free money

Credit cards are a weapon in your financial arsenal. Like all armaments, they can be used in strategic defense or to shoot yourself in the foot. Too often, it’s the latter — the average U.S. household with credit card debt has $16,748 of it.

That plastic in your pocketbook is the greatest enabler of bad money habits, allowing you to spend on a whim and forsake all budget plans. Sticking to a budget should be your most faithful money habit.

4. Stop thinking you’re not smart enough

Today, consumers must take control of their own financial lives, whether it’s understanding health insurance or guiding their own 401(k) plans to invest for retirement. Even so, during the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, many consumers struggled to understand basic health insurance terms such as “deductible,” a survey by the Kaiser Foundation found.

Learn the lexicon of finance to manage your money better.

“I used to catch myself saying, ‘Investing is hard. I just don’t understand it.’ This gave me permission to avoid learning how to invest,” wrote Ann Marie Houghtailing, author of “How I Created a Dollar Out of Thin Air.” “Now I say, ‘Investing is a skill. You just have to start small.’”

5. Stop making it hard to save

Old habits die hard, and one of the oldest habits is using checks to pay bills or make savings deposits. “Personal finance habits take longer to change than the way you might switch from one smartphone to another. That’s because money is so important to us,” Fred Davis, a professor of Information Systems at the University of Arkansas, told Marketplace.

Set up automatic transfers for bill payments. Also automatically have 10% or more of your paycheck sent directly to your savings account. These two steps will go a long way toward building good money habits and credit scores with little effort.

6. Stop complaining about your paycheck

Whatever energy you’re spending complaining about the size of your paycheck takes energy away from finding ways to improve your bottom line. Think you’re being underpaid? Negotiate a raise or at least talk with your boss to understand what’s needed to see a bump in pay. If you’re valued, your supervisor will see the implicit threat that you may leave for a higher-paying job. Start looking for that more lucrative gig while you’re at it.

In the meantime, investigate ways to build other streams of income and seek ways to improve your skills.

7. Stop thinking more cash brings happiness

OK, money does bring happiness, but only to a point. Purchasing experiences and giving to charity have a much longer shelf life for our well-being, research suggests.

Replace bad habits with good ones

Breaking your go-to financial routines will take time and effort. Subbing in habits that improve your bottom line — paying bills on time, using technology and increasing your income and savings — will be worth the work in the long run.



The article 7 Bad Financial Habits You Need to Break Right Now originally appeared on NerdWallet.


Ways to Spend your Tax Return

It's Tax Time! Do you know how you are going to spend your tax return this year? As tempting as booking a vacation may be, we know that a strong financial future doesn't build itself! Here are some alternative ways to spend your tax return that will benefit you.

1. Pay off Loans and Credit Cards

Outstanding loan and credit card balances affect your credit score. If you want better interest rates to save yourself money in the long run, keep that credit score high. If you have multiple loans and credit cards, we recommend throwing your tax return at the one with the highest interest rate first.

2. Retirement

Saving for Retirement is extremely important in your long-term saving plan. Without adequate retirement funds, people nearing retirement will struggle when trying to meet their financial needs. When it comes to saving for retirement, the earlier you start, the better! Consider investing your tax returns, or at least a portion, into jump starting your retirement. 

3. Save for Emergencies

It is recommended to save at least six months of living expenses in case of emergencies and unexpected costs like job loss, divorce, or health issues. If you live paycheck to paycheck and find it hard to start saving, our Build it! Certificate allows members to open a 12-month Share Certificate (or CD) for just $25—(regularly $500). This certificate has a higher interest rate than our normal 12-month certificate so dreams can be built faster; savings can grow higher. After direct deposit is established, you can open a Build it! Certificate. The money will be deposited into the certificate with each direct deposit. To create a healthy savings plan, a minimum of $40 a month must be deposited. Little by little, the Build it! Certificate adds up to big savings. The members can add money at any time; there is no need to wait for direct deposit to come in and there is no maximum a member can deposit. Contact us today to get started!

4. Needs vs. Wants

We get it. Minnesota winters are long, cold and harsh and that tax return gets deposited into your account when spring fever is in full force. As tempting as it may be to book your spring break trip, consider using that money to invest in things that will give you a better return on your investment like making home improvements or additional payments on your mortgage. If you swap out 20 of your standard lightbulbs for LED lighbulbs, you can save almost $200/year if you use them an average of 6 hours per day. Making additional payments may save you money by decreasing the total amount of mortgageinterest you pay over the life of your home loan.


Before you book your next vacation or buy the newest iPhone, consider letting your tax return work for you. It's one step close in Building a Strong Financial Future!