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Balance Fun and Funds with Budget-Friendly Summer Vacations

A smiling family waving from their car as they drive to their summer vacation destination.

Just because the summer is winding down doesn’t mean there’s still not plenty of time and opportunity to make the most of the sunshine. Whether you’re trying to plan for family travel on a budget or looking for a budget-friendly option family vacation that’s close to home, having fun doesn’t have to equal spending a lot of money. In fact, there may never be a better time to explore your own city. Let’s look at some of the many ways you can make the most of your summer break without breaking the bank.

Explore your city.

Cheerful parents with two kids running with kite in the park on a sunny day.

There’s no time like the summer to explore your city, especially if there are local attractions or institutions like museums to support. Make day trips to parts of town you don’t regularly get to visit and choose to eat at new restaurants. Plan outdoor activities in city parks, visit your local pool, and don’t forget the best part: saving cash by not having to pay for travel or lodging.

Stick close to home…more or less.

Staying home during the summer can be a great way to save money, but you shouldn’t feel trapped by your surroundings. A great way to break up time spent at home is to plan a series of smaller getaways. Look for nearby cities and places of interest that are less than an hour or two from your home. Day trips can still offer a lot of enrichment for your family. Some of the pros of these “hour away getaways” include less money spent on gas or lodging. Plus, you don’t have to budget an entire day for travel.

Consider camping.

A happy family camping and looking birds with binoculars.

For those who want to embark on an outdoor adventure, camping can be a great way to see nature, spend time as a family, and save money. While there’s no shortage of high-end gear to be purchased for a camping trip, you can still have a good time with a tent, some sleeping bags, and a nearby campground. To make the most of the experience, look for campgrounds that offer staple amenities such as showers and bathrooms.

Out of State Travel

If you really need a change of scenery, you can still find ways to maximize your budget and travel out of town.

Seek discounted flights.

The best way to save money is to shop smartly, and that means looking outside the box for affordable flights. Expedia, Travelocity, and other popular sites are all owned by the same company. Opt instead for Google Flights, which aggregates pricing, or Kayak. Pay attention to the best days to shop for flights, too.

Check tip sites and discount ticket brokers.

If you’re looking for ways to save money and visit a theme park, tip sites such as Undercover Tourist are a great way to find discounted tickets. In many cases, these sites will offer the same tickets that you could buy at the gate for lower rates.

Also, unless you’re truly going during a peak season, you can probably skip the ride passes. Getting to the park early, parking, and walking quickly to your favorite ride makes a lot more sense than shelling out hundreds of dollars for the chance to stand in a shorter line for rides.

Stay in a rental and buy groceries.

One of the most expensive things during a vacation is food, and most of that cost comes from dining in restaurants. If your family is staying in a condo or rental with a kitchen, it can make more sense to purchase groceries for your stay. Lunching on sandwiches and eating fast breakfasts, such as oatmeal or fruit, can help save money and free up funds to really splurge at dinner (or on souvenirs).

Resist the temptation to go overboard on souvenirs.

There is a good chance that the t-shirts or hats you buy from the gift shop will disappear in six months. The memories that come from spending time together, however, will linger much longer.

If you’re concerned about overspending while on vacation, mobile banking options from Landmark National Bank can help you keep track of your money while having plenty of fun.

Plan ahead for your next adventure with Landmark National Bank.

If you feel like you’ve missed the chance to head out on that big family vacation this year, don’t let it get you down. Spur-of-the-moment trips are great, but with money management tools and savings accounts at Landmark National Bank, preparing for your next adventure is simple. We’ll help you save for your dream vacation, whether that’s an RV trip across the western United States or a week at an all-inclusive resort in Florida.

To learn more about how to start saving for your financial goals, visit your Landmark National Bank branch today.

How to make a budget plan from scratch and stick to it.

Young couple creates a budget plan to manage their monthly expenses.

Making a personal budget plan has never been more important, especially on the heels of the pandemic. From staying prepared for a potential layoff to reaching important financial goals, creating a budget is the first step to establishing financial security and stability. But just how do you go about setting up a budget? And how do you stay motivated to stick to it?

Whether you are just getting started in your career or you’re simply looking to manage your money responsibly, this guide from Landmark National Bank is here to help. Below, we will debunk common misconceptions about personal budgets, as well as teach you how to make a budget plan from scratch while providing you with tips on how to stick to it.

What is a budget plan?

A budget plan is a comprehensive summary that tracks and compares your income and expenses over the course of a month. Simply put, a budget shows how much money you expect to make each month and compares it against your fixed and variable expenses.

Fixed expenses typically include things like your rent or mortgage, car insurance, and phone bill. Variable expenses typically include things like gas or groceries, as well as “fun money” for things like restaurants, clothing items, or non-essential shopping.

Debunking Budget Misconceptions

 When people hear the word “budget,” they automatically think about restricted spending or being “broke.” Fortunately, establishing a monthly budget doesn’t mean you have to hoard all your money or cut back on spending drastically. A budget is simply a tool that is designed to help you reach your financial goals, and that means your unique budget doesn’t have to be overly restrictive to work.

The Importance of Starting a Budget Plan

Although creating your own personal budget might sound like a drag, doing so will help you keep your financial health in tip-top shape. With a budget at your disposal, you can easily plan for and track how much money you will spend and save each month. This process allows you to do things like establish an emergency fund, create a savings account for a big purchase, or invest in your financial future without guesswork.

How to Make a Budget Plan: 6 Easy Steps

 Getting started with a budget plan is as simple as following these 6 steps:

  1. Select your budget template or application.
  2. Collect all your financial paperwork or electronic bill information.
  3. Calculate your monthly income.
  4. Establish a list of your monthly expenses.
  5. Categorize your expenses and designate spending values.
  6. Adjust your budget accordingly.

1. Select Your Budget Template or Application

The easiest and most efficient way to set up a budget is to use a premade spreadsheet in Excel or Google Sheets (many sources offer free versions), or via a handy mobile application. These tools come fully equipped with fields for your income and expenses in a wide range of categories. Additionally, if you choose to use a premade spreadsheet, it will come with built-in formulas that allow you to do things like calculate your budget surplus or deficit with ease.

2. Collect all your financial paperwork or electronic bill information.

Once you have your budget template or application selected, it’s time to collect all your financial paperwork or electronic bill information. This includes things like:

  • Bank account statements
  • Paystubs and W-2s
  • 1099 forms
  • Mortgage or rental statements
  • Utility bill statements
  • Credit card statements
  • Auto loan statements
  • Student loan statements
  • Phone bill and car insurance statements
  • Childcare expenses
  • And more

During this step, you want to find as much information about your income and fixed expenses as possible. The more thorough your budget is, the more accurate it will be as you sit down to plan each month.

3. Calculate Your Monthly Income

Now it’s time to calculate your monthly income. If you’re a full-time employee and collect regular paychecks, you can use your net monthly income (the amount of money you take home after taxes) for this. Happen to have a side hustle or alternative sources of income? Don’t forget to add these to your total monthly income, as well. If you’re a freelancer or a seasonal worker, you should base your total monthly income on your lowest-earning month over the past year.

4. Establish a List of Your Monthly Expenses

After you have calculated your monthly income, it’s time to create a list of all your monthly expenses. Aside from the fixed expenses you collected in step 2, this list should also include variable expenses like:

  • Groceries
  • Gas or public transportation fees
  • Entertainment
  • Restaurants
  • Non-essential shopping
  • And more

Because many of your variable expenses can fluctuate month-to-month, it’s important to calculate the average of all your expenses over the last 3 months. Make sure to use any relevant bank statements, printed receipts or e-receipts, or credit card statements to get the most accurate amount possible.

Landmark’s Spending Category Report

When you use Landmark National Bank’s online and mobile banking system, you have access to a spending category report. From the account summary page, choose the account you want, and then click the “Categorize” button from the options menu. You can then choose the timeframe you want to see, and you can even edit individual transactions to categorize them according to your personal preferences.

Once you have your timeframe and transactions categorized, you can select “Report.” You’ll then see a helpful chart that shows you the categories of all your expenses for the time period you selected.

Landmark Spending Report

5. Categorize Your Expenses and Designate Spending Values

Now that you have all your fixed and variable expenses documented, you can begin to categorize them within your spreadsheet or mobile app. If your goal is to establish an emergency fund, increase your savings, or pay off a certain amount of debt, make sure to include these individual items in the fixed-expenses list of your budget.

Note: Remember, your fixed expenses are expenses that require you to pay the same amount each month, while variable expenses are those that can fluctuate month-to-month.

Once your expenses are categorized, it’s time to designate spending values. Starting with your fixed expenses, make note of how much each one costs per month in the appropriate spreadsheet cell or mobile app field. For your variable expenses, make note of your 3-month spending average for each in the appropriate spreadsheet cell or mobile app field.

6. Adjust Your Budget Accordingly

With your expenses categorized and your spending values set, you can start to get a better idea of your financial well-being. For example, if you are making more money than what you are spending each month, you are in a good position to start setting aside money to reach your goals.

In this scenario, a good rule of thumb is to follow the 50/30/20 budget rule. This means that 50% of your budget should account for your essential expenses, 30% should account for non-essential expenses, and 20% should account for savings and paying off debt.

If you happen to make less money than what you are spending each month, you need to go through your budget with a fine-toothed comb. Where possible, try to cut back on unnecessary variable expenses. This includes shopping for non-essential items less, eating out less, and more.

If you are unable to balance your budget by cutting back on variable expenses, you might have to cut back on some of your fixed expenses (i.e., moving to a place with lower rent or mortgage payments, canceling your streaming service subscription, etc.) or figure out a way to increase your income.

Using Your New Budget

The only way your new budget will help you reach your financial goals is if you stick to it! That means you need to monitor, track, and plan for expenses in each category of your budget. Ideally, you will want to track and record your expenses daily rather than doing it all at the end of each month. Fortunately, many budgeting spreadsheets or mobile apps allow you to track your daily expenses or income totals with ease.

This type of granular expense tracking will help you uncover any negative spending patterns you might have, as well as help you keep track of all the purchases you make. If you happen to reach your spending limit in any of your categories, you will need to stop spending in that category or move funds from another category to cover costs. However, your goal is to keep your expenses equal to or less than your monthly income.

How to Stick to Your Budget Plan

Sticking to a budget can be a challenge, especially if this is your first time keeping track of every purchase you make. But rather than feeling overwhelmed or defeated from the get-go, just remember that the purpose of your budget is to help you reach your long-term financial goals. With a little practice and these tips below, you will become a budget master in no time:

  • Think Deeply About Big Purchases – Feel like splurging on a non-essential item that doesn’t fit into your budget? Rather than making a snap decision and falling behind in your monthly financial plan, take some time to think about it. Is it a necessity in your daily life? Does the value outweigh the financial stress it could cause?
  • Avoid Going Into Credit Card Debt – No matter how big your credit card limit is, it’s important to avoid going into debt whenever you can. If you make a big purchase on your credit card but you don’t have enough money to pay it off at the end of the month, you will spend more than your budget allotted on interest alone. Set up savings plans for the big-ticket items you want, instead.
  • Plan Out Your Weekly Meals – If you’ve gone grocery shopping on an empty stomach, you know how expensive it can end up being. Rather than spending more money than you have to at the grocery store or on takeout food, try to plan out your weekly meals. Find recipes you like, make a grocery list, and shop once a week to keep your spending in check. Grocery shopping online can also prevent those spur-of-the-moment purchases!

Take Control of Your Finances with a Comprehensive Budget Plan

When it comes to taking control of your finances, establishing a budget is the first step. With a monthly budget handy, you can monitor what you are spending and saving closely—and that gives you the chance to reach your long-term financial goals faster.

If you’re ready to make a budget plan, you need a bank that makes it easy to access and keep track of your finances. At Landmark National Bank, our personal checking accounts and online banking tools give you the flexibility to manage your money no matter where you’re at. Discover how we can streamline your budget plan with Landmark today!

 

New Year, Safer You: Why Creating an Emergency Fund is a Top Priority

Woman holding glass jar full of cash for her emergency fund.

“Life comes at you fast.”

A quote many of us are all too familiar with due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

From small businesses permanently closing their doors to workers being laid off across the country, the ripple effect of COVID-19 sent financial shock waves through American households for months on end.

Fortunately—due to recent vaccination approvals from the FDA and a second economic stimulus package distributed by the federal government—the country is finally on a slow road towards recovery as we head into the new year.

But, as we reflect on the financial hardships faced by so many individuals and families throughout 2020, there has never been a better time to reevaluate your savings goals and start planning for the unexpected.

Enter: emergency funds.

Establishing an emergency fund separate from your standard savings or checking account helps you stay prepared for life’s unexpected moments, such as your car breaking down, home or appliance repairs, and worst of all, unemployment in the wake of a pandemic.

But how do you get started building an emergency fund when your bank account is stretched thin? And just how much do you need to set aside in this account to be safe should things go down an unexpected path in the future?

At Landmark National Bank, we’ve created this guide to help you get started with an emergency fund. It details what type of bank account your emergency fund should be in, how you can budget for this extra account and everyday tips and tricks on what you can do to ramp up your emergency fund as quickly as possible.

What is an emergency fund?

 An emergency fund is a separate savings account for unexpected expenses or financial emergencies. Unfortunately, in a recent survey conducted by Bankrate, researchers found that 21% of Americans say they have no emergency savings at all.

Why should creating an emergency fund be a top priority?

Creating an emergency fund provides you with a safety net when times get tough. Unlike taking out a high-interest loan or using a credit card, emergency funds allow you to pay for life’s necessities interest-free. Additionally, an emergency fund is important to maintain if you are already in debt (e.g., student loan debt, credit card debt, and more), as it can help you avoid borrowing more money.

How to Start an Emergency Fund: 4 Steps

When it comes to starting an emergency fund from scratch, one of the most important things to understand is that saving takes time, commitment, and self-discipline—especially if you are strapped for cash. However, with a solid plan in place, you can start to build your emergency fund without unnecessary stress. Just remember, your emergency fund is for real emergencies only, so avoid the temptation to spend it unless absolutely necessary.

1. Create a Budget

If you haven’t done so already, creating a budget is one of the most important steps to establishing an emergency fund. Calculate your monthly net income (or the amount you take home each month) and deduct all your fixed expenses and variable monthly expenses from that amount.

Fixed expenses include things like:

  • Mortgage or rent payments
  • Student loans
  • Car payments
  • Insurance
  • Utilities

Variable expenses include things like:

  • Groceries
  • Eating out
  • Gasoline
  • Clothing
  • Entertainment

If your income is higher than your expenses, you can easily allocate extra funds towards a new emergency fund. If your expenses are higher than your income, you will need to find variable expenses you can trim down, such as eating out less or canceling unnecessary memberships.

2. Choose the Right Bank Account

After you’ve created your budget and calculated how much money you can set aside for your emergency fund, it’s time to choose the right bank account. Your emergency fund should be easily accessible, which means a savings account—such as an Optimum Money Market Account—is your best bet. Because these types of savings accounts are interest-bearing and allow withdraws, you will be able to passively grow your emergency fund while you add your regular contributions.

Note: To help you stay motivated and eliminate the temptation of withdrawing your emergency funds, our online banking setup allows you to “hide” accounts from your home page.  This will keep your emergency money out of sight and out of mind until you need it.

3. Set Up Automatic Contributions

Once your emergency fund budget and bank account have been established, consider setting up automatic contributions. For example, if your employer offers direct deposit, you can likely request for your paychecks to be distributed among multiple bank accounts. By having your emergency fund contribution automatically withdrawn from your paychecks, you won’t have to worry about falling behind on your savings goals each month.

4. Establish Micro-Goals

According to most financial experts, you should have somewhere between 3 to 6 months’ worth of basic living expenses in your emergency fund. While these amounts are great in theory, the thought of saving that much for an additional emergency fund can feel overwhelming for many—especially for those who are paying rent or a mortgage, credit card bills, student loans, car payments, and more.

Rather than setting unrealistic goals for yourself from the get-go, start off small and set a manageable benchmark goal. For example, start off with an emergency fund goal of $500 and work your way up to it. Once you reach that goal, set your next goal to $1,000. Follow this pattern until you reach an emergency fund amount that equals 3 to 6 months’ worth of your living expenses.

Tips on Growing Your Emergency Fund Faster

It’s important to remember that emergencies happen when you least expect them, so try to stay disciplined to grow your emergency fund as quickly as you can.

If you happen to find extra wiggle room in your budget at the end of each month (e.g., you spent less money on variable expenses than you estimated), make sure to push that money towards your emergency fund. This goes for your tax return, too. Because your tax return is outside of your budgeted expenses, consider it extra income and use it to boost your savings quickly.

If you’re interested in contributing even more additional income to your emergency fund, consider picking up a part-time side job. From food delivery to ride-sharing services, there are plenty of opportunities in the gig economy to help you grow your emergency savings quickly.

Start Your Emergency Fund with Landmark National Bank

Establishing and maintaining an emergency fund will not only provide you with a safety net during financial emergencies—but it will also help you shift your mindset on saving money.

If you’re ready to get started building your emergency fund, check out Landmark National Bank’s Smart Savings account or Optimum Money Market account with tiered interest. Both accounts can help your dollar go further as you contribute to your emergency funds each month.

Have any questions about setting up a new bank account with us? Don’t hesitate to find a Landmark National Bank branch near you to chat with one of our friendly team members.

How To Stay On Budget During the Holidays

Man shops online using laptop next to Christmas tree.

From Thanksgiving to Christmas, the holiday season is one of unconditional giving. But, no matter if you’re traveling to spend quality time with loved ones or exchanging gifts with friends, all of that giving normally coincides with one thing: spending.

Between buying groceries for holiday feasts, shopping for gifts online, and more, the average American is set to spend $998 this year on items like presents, food, decor, and other holiday-related purchases.

While the pandemic is certainly bringing about challenges to in-person holiday traditions, socially distanced gift-giving and meals are still on the agenda for most families across the country—which means it’s more important than ever to make a holiday spending plan.

Without a holiday budget in place, you can easily overspend, rack up debt, and start the new year off in a tough financial spot. Fortunately, learning how to stay on budget during this unusual holiday season is easy with these quick tips.

Make a List, Check It Twice

The first step to staying on budget during the holidays is making a comprehensive list of all your expected expenses. From pricey gifts to inexpensive greeting cards, make sure to document all your planned purchases early on—as this will give you a general overview of all the things you need to buy along with their price tags.

Other easily overlooked holiday-related purchases include:

  • Shipping costs
  • Travel expenses
  • Grocery store trips
  • Wrapping paper and packing supplies
  • Holiday decor
  • Charitable donations
  • And more

Whether you use a hand-written list or an Excel spreadsheet, documenting your holiday purchases prior to the season will help you stay on track with your finances and prevent overspending.

Set a Spending Limit

Establishing a secure holiday budget means setting a spending limit within your means. Although you might want to splurge on certain items or give gifts outside of your immediate family circle, it’s important to focus on what your current budget will allow. Calculate a reasonable spending limit outside of your monthly bills or fixed expenses and stick to it.

If you want extra holiday budget wiggle room, try to cut back on those morning coffee runs or take-out orders. Also, don’t go overboard on who you are buying presents for. If you want to give gifts to loved ones outside of your immediate circle, consider baking holiday-themed cookies or creating personalized greeting cards with supplies you already have.

Note: When making holiday-related purchases, it’s best to focus on a cash-only approach rather than opting for a credit card. Racking up credit card debt can leave you in a bind as you approach the new year, making it difficult to start off on a clean slate.

Track Down Seasonal Deals

The holiday shopping season is filled with deals around every corner, so choose where you are buying gifts wisely. With Black Friday, Cyber Monday, e-coupons, and more, you can shop around to see who is offering the best deals on the gifts you plan to buy. Found “doorbuster” deals for Black Friday or Cyber Monday but have to wait to access them? Make sure to note or bookmark websites that are offering these deals and mark your calendar for easy planning.

Plan Ahead for the Next Holiday Season

Creating a holiday budget will not only streamline your expenses this year, but it will also help you plan for the next holiday season. Starting in January, you can reference last year’s budget to see how much you spent. Once you have your total, you can divide that number by 12 to get a rough estimate of how much money to set aside each month. Although your shopping needs might change, this strategy will help you prepare for a financially sound holiday season in the new year.

Stay On Budget During the Holidays with Landmark National Bank

The holiday season is meant to be filled with joy and fun—not financial stress. Thankfully, with a little planning and budgeting, you can prepare for all your holiday-related expenses and stick to a budget that works with your lifestyle.

If you need extra help managing your finances throughout the holiday season, Landmark National Bank is here to assist. With our selection of personal checking accounts, you can easily keep track of your finances with our online banking tools as well as earn rewards while using a Landmark Visa® Debit Card.

Give us a call to learn more about our convenient personal banking tools, or open your totally free checking account online today!