Wednesday, July 29, 2015

E-MAIL- the Do's and Don'ts

Email has become one of the primary ways we communicate in our personal and professional lives. However, we can often be our own worst enemy when using it. In this blog post, we will explain the most common mistakes people make AND how you can avoid them in your day-to-day lives.


Auto complete

Auto complete is a common feature that is found in most email clients. You know, when you start to type the name of the person you want to email and their address automatically comes up? It's handy because you don't have to remember the email addresses of all your contacts, just their names. The problem with auto complete comes when you have contacts with similar names. It is very easy for auto complete to select the wrong email address for you. For example, you may think you are sending an email with all of your organization’s financial information to “Fred Smith,” your coworker in accounting. But, auto complete selects “Fred Johnson,” your neighbor. As a result, you end up sending sensitive information to unauthorized people. (Not good!)  Always double check the name and the email address before you hit send, just to be safe.


Usually, you'll have two options besides the “To” field: Cc and Bcc. “Cc” stands for “Carbon copy,” which means you want to keep people copied and informed. “Bcc” means “Blind carbon copy.” It is similar to Cc, but no one can see the people you have Bcc’ed.
Both of these options can get you into trouble. 
When someone sends you an email and has Cc’ed people on it, you have to decide if you want to reply to just the sender or reply to everyone that was included on the Cc. If your reply is sensitive, you may want to reply only to the sender. If that is the case, be sure you do not use the “Reply All” option, which will include everyone. A Bcc presents a different problem. When sending a sensitive email, you may want to copy someone privately using Bcc, such as your boss. However, if your boss responds using “Reply All,” all of the recipients will know that your boss was secretly Bcc’d on your original email. That doesn't leave you looking too good in front of everyone else. 

Distribution lists

Distribution lists are a collection of email addresses represented by a single email address, sometimes called a mail list or a group name. For example, you may have a distribution list with the email address When you send an email to that address, the message gets sent to everyone in the group, which could be hundreds or thousands of people. Be very careful what you send to a distribution list, since so many people may receive that message. In addition, be very careful when replying to someone’s email on a distribution list. You may only intend to reply to the individual sender, but if you hit “Reply All,” you will have included the entire distribution list. This means that hundreds (if not thousands) of people will be able to read your private email. Another problem with autocomplete is that it could select a distribution list instead of a single recipient. You may think you are emailing coworker Carl at, but autocomplete might accidentally send it to a distribution list you subscribed to about cars.


Never send an email when you are emotionally charged. An email written in an emotional state could cause you harm in the future, perhaps even costing you a friendship or a job. Instead, take a moment and calmly organize your thoughts. 
If you have to vent your frustration, open a new email, make sure it is not addressed to anyone, and type exactly what you feel like saying. When you are done, get up and walk away from your computer, perhaps make yourself a cup of tea. Once you've calmed down, delete the email and start over again. Even better, pick up the phone and talk to the person, as it can be hard to determine tone and intent with just an email.


One last tip: Remember that traditional email has few privacy protections. Anyone who gains access to your email can read your messages. In addition, unlike a phone call or personal conversation, you no longer have control over an email once you send it. Your email can easily be forwarded to others, posted on public forums and may remain accessible on the Internet forever. If you have something truly private to communicate, pick up the phone. It is also important to remember that email can be used as legal evidence in many countries. Finally, if you are using your work computer for sending email, keep in mind that your employer may have the right to monitor and read your email. If you use your work computer to access your personal email account, this could include your personal email. Check with your supervisor if you have questions about email privacy at work.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Back to School Savings

It's that time of year again… 
While back to school shopping can be hard on your kids (because it means summer is nearly over), it doesn't have to be hard on your wallet. Families with children in elementary through high school plan to spend an average $687.72 each on back to school (supplies, clothes, electronics, etc.) according to the National Retail Federation. However, creating a strategic budget and planning ahead can help you keep your family's costs down. Here are a few simple tips to help you stick to your budget during this year's trip through the "back to school" aisles. 

1. Make a list (or get one from the school). Just like having a list for grocery shopping can prevent buying items you don't need, starting your back to school shopping trip with a complete list of items your child needs for the upcoming school year will save you time and money. 

2. Take inventory of what you already have. Once you have the list, check off any items you already have. That notebook from last year with only 7 pages used? Recycle it for one of this year's classes. Pens, pencils and markers don't have to be brand new, either. If they still work, wait to buy until you actually need new ones. This tip also applies to clothing. Basics never go out of style, so you don't need to buy your child a whole new wardrobe every year. When you do need to get them new clothes, buy sizes they can grow into.

3. Check sale ads, use coupons and compare prices. There's no rule that says all your shopping has to be done at one store in one day. Look for sales throughout the year on school supply staples like notebooks, backpacks and planners. Compare store prices to make sure you're not overpaying by buying everything at the same place. Also check for ads saying the store will match a competitor's price. That can save your a trip out to the competitor to buy the same item. Outlet malls and consignment or resale stores are great places to get quality clothing for less money. 

4. Decide how to pay for everything. The temptation is simply to charge everything to your credit card, but this isn't always the best method. Buying some items - like pens, pencils, markers, etc. - with cash, checks or a debit card will keep your credit card bill from skyrocketing. Big ticket items like laptops or tablet computers can often be bought on layaway or a payment plan from the store. Look for low- or no-interest plans to keep the total cost of the item down. 

Finally, use this opportunity to teach your kids about personal finance. Go over your budget with them in advance, then take them shopping with you and let them help decide which items to buy. This real-world practice helps develop budgeting and problem-solving skills early.

Did we miss something? Share how you keep back to school expenses down!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Budget-Friendly Summer Fun

The temperature outside is climbing, kids are out of school and the family needs something fun to do! However, keeping everyone entertained can put a strain on your wallet. Water park excursions, grill-outs and Fourth of July parties can all add up to an expensive summer! Here are a few ideas from the Wisconsin Bankers Association to keep your budget from exploding this summer: 

Create a spending plan 

 As with any budget, creating a plan for how you will spend your money is critical to enjoying a cost-effective summer. Maybe that means allotting each child a specific amount of "fun money" for each week. They will have to determine how they want to spend their portion and learn good financial habits at the same time! A spending plan also helps reduce spontaneous purchases that can add up throughout the summer. For example, planning meals for the week can prevent the potential cost incurred by ordering pizza or fast food as a last-minute dinner.

Create your own summer camp

 Get the neighborhood families together to create a mini-summer camp for the kids. The adults can rotate taking the kids out to do something fun once per week, whether it’s a visit to the park or the library. Choose a couple of free activities and a couple of activities at a reasonable cost like a water park or the science museum.

Research budget-friendly activities

 Many towns and cities in Wisconsin offer inexpensive or free activities during the summer. Your city's Chamber of Commerce or Travel & Visitors Bureau should have a full list of movie theater specials, park activities, and outdoor concerts. Have a good ol' fashion water balloon fight, visit a local lake or river and let the kids splash around, or hook up the sprinkler as a fun (and cheap) way to keep everyone cool! Many local libraries also have free reading sessions for kids on weekdays during the summer, which can be a nice break from the heat if the rest of your time is spent outdoors. 

Have potluck celebrations

Throwing summertime parties can get expensive very quickly, especially if you’re getting food catered or hosting at a restaurant. To keep costs under control, organize potluck dinners so each attendee only has to bring one item to share.

With a little research, careful planning and some creativity, you can have an exciting and enjoyable summer without squeezing your budget.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Student Loans: What to Consider?

If you are looking into student loans, make sure to meet with the financial adviser at your school to review your options in detail. Just remember the more money you borrow now, the higher your monthly loan payments will be after you graduate.

 After comparing your options, choose the student loan that best suits your needs. 

 Federal Loans: These loans are through the government and you may need to qualify for them. The interest rate will usually be fixed. If it's a subsidized loan, the federal government will pay the interest on your loans until you graduate.You may be limited on the amount of money your can borrow with federal loans. Want more info on federal loans?

Private Loans: The most common private student loans are offered by banks. Their interest rates are often variable, which means your interest rates and payments could go up or down over time. Private loans might not be as flexible when it comes to reducing or postponing payments.     For more information on private loans, visit your local bank.

You will want to look into both federal loans and private loans carefully before making a decision.

Advantages of a federal student loan: may be subsidized, may have a more flexible payment plan, and more likely to have a low interest rate. However, you may not be able to borrow the full amount needed, may not qualify, and if you do not pay it back, a portion of your wages and tax refunds could be taken by the government.

Advantages of a private loan: you can borrow larger amounts and if you have a good credit score, you may be able to find low interest rates. However, you may need a co-signer and payment options are less flexible.

When you are looking at different schools, don't forget to compare the costs, including: tuition, living expenses, school supplies, and, if it's far from home, travel expenses.The little things will add up and can make a considerable difference in your financial situation. Before getting started, talk to your financial adviser about applying for grants and scholarships.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

6 Financial Traps New College Graduates Should Avoid

As college students across the nation graduate and start their careers, financial responsibility should be a top priority, says the American Bankers Association (ABA). We would like to share with you six traps ABA has identified that could hinder you as a new college graduate from securing your financial future.

“College graduates can make their future even brighter with an early focus on sound financial planning,” said Frank Keating, ABA president and CEO. “The financial lifestyle and habits they establish now will go a long way toward deciding their financial future.”
Here are six traps that you should avoid:

·         Not having a budget.  Simply put, don’t spend more than you make. Calculate the amount of money you’re taking home after taxes, then figure out how much money you can afford to spend each month while contributing to your savings. Be sure to factor in recurring expenses such as student loans, monthly rent, utilities, groceries, transportation expenses and car loans.  
·         Forgoing an emergency fund.  Make it a priority to set aside the equivalent of three to six months’ worth of living expenses. Start putting some money away immediately, no matter how small the amount. A bank savings account is a smart place to stash your cash for a rainy day.
·         Paying bills late – or not at all. Each missed payment can hurt your credit history for up to seven years, and can affect your ability to get loans, the interest rates you pay on loans and your ability to get a job or rent an apartment. Consider setting up bill pay for regular expenses like student loans, car payments and phone bills.
·         Racking up debt. Understand the responsibilities and benefits of credit.  Shop around for a card that best suits your needs, and spend only what you can afford to pay back. It’s a great tool if you use it responsibly. 
·         Not thinking about the future.  It may seem odd since you’re just beginning your career, but now is the best time to start planning for your retirement. Contribute to your employer’s 401(k) or similar account, especially if there is a company match. Invest enough to qualify for your company’s full match – it’s free money.  
·         Ignoring help from your bank. Most banks offer online, mobile and text banking tools to manage your account night and day.  Use these tools to check balances, pay bills, deposit checks, monitor transaction history and track budgets. 

Remembering to avoid these six things will  establish good financial habits and make your future even brighter.