Halloween Party Hacks

tray of halloween candies and cookies looking festive
tray of halloween candies and cookies looking festive

Halloween Party Hacks

Are you tired of experiencing the same Halloween parties over and over — and spending a lot on them? 

 

You might have searched here and there to find budget-friendly Halloween ideas, but you don’t have any luck. If you see something that interests you, it might be so expensive that you have to put it on the back burner for another year.

 

Honestly, the answer is as simple as making it yourself. So let’s give your home the Halloween look you want to have this year — but on a budget. 

 Halloween Party Ideas On a Budget

 

It’s not a holiday season without at least one Halloween party! Trick or treating is still a couple of weeks away, so hopefully, you haven’t already exhausted all of your brilliant ideas for decorations and activities. 

 

If you’re looking to get creative this year but don’t have the time or money to hire fancy caterers or set up elaborate decorations, these quick and easy tricks will get you the best results on a budget.

DIY Halloween Decorations

 

DIY projects are inexpensive, easy to make, and customized, unlike store-bought decorations that look the same every year. It also gives time to strengthen your family bond as you spend time together creating your decorations. You can try the following ideas below.

 

  • Halloween Scarecrow
  • Spider Web Decorations
  • Paper Ghost Lanterns
  • Wooden Planks
  • Twirly Ghost

Make a Halloween-Themed Bento Box

 

If you’re planning a party for a group of kids, it’s a good idea to have Halloween-themed bento boxes. Kids love eating their favorite foods in new ways, which can be a great activity to keep them entertained.

 

In case you don’t want the bento box, there are other food ideas that you can try. You can check the list below for some fantastic food recipes that you can use: 

 

Halloween Photobooth Props

 

Taking pictures is part of every human being’s life, so why not make props for a Halloween photo booth? It’s not just one of the Halloween party ideas, but it also adds to the fun! It’s also a great idea to make some fun props for the kids. There are some ideas below.

 

  • Ghost Face Photo Booth Props 
  • Witch-Themed Photo Booth Props
  • Pumpkin Photo Booth Props

Haunt Your Kitchen with Spooky Foods

 

For this idea, you need some spookier food that you can find in your kitchen. However, making weird, creepy Halloween food doesn’t have to be that difficult or time-consuming. Just add some homemade Halloween props to your dishes, and you can instantly spruce up your dinner table.

 Takeaway

 

It’s not necessary to go to a specialty store to get Halloween-themed props or decorations for a lot of money. Sometimes a simple yet detailed idea is enough to thrill the party. Use the above tips to make your own Halloween party decorations and snacks — for a low budget!

3 ways to save on back to school expenses

school supplies arranged artistically
school supplies arranged artistically

3 ways to save on back to school expenses

“The second busiest retail season of the year, next to holiday shopping.” That’s what one National Retail Federation report had to say, noting that back-to-school expenses would hit a record high for the 2021-2022 school year, averaging $789.49 per child. That’s up from the average of $696.70 last year.

 

If that number gives you heartburn, here are a few tips to help get what your kids need without the financial stress.

 

  1. Take inventory at home, first: More often than not you have many of the school supplies your kids need at home already. See if you have highlighters, pens, pencils, notebooks, and other school supplies saved up from prior years before buying more of the same. The savings may seem small, but it will add up and every little bit helps.
  2. Take advantage of the “loss leaders”: Wait, what? “Loss leaders” are items that stores advertise at low prices (or even at a loss) to lure you into their stores hoping you’ll buy more. Big box stores like Walmart and Target usually offer deep discounts on school supplies starting after July 4th and these discounts last through September. Be on the lookout for weekly deals at stores like Staples, Office Depot, and even Walgreens or CVS where they will highlight a small handful of products each week, sometimes as low as 25 cents.
  3. Don’t use those store credit cards: If you are offered one while checking out, politely decline. Sure, those sign-up bonuses can be great but if you carry a balance on one of these cards, the interest you pay with those high APRs (averaging 24.24% APR) will easily exceed what you saved with that initial discount the store offered you.

If you do find yourself needing a little extra to cover the costs of back-to-school shopping United Community can help. Here are some of the ways you can cover back to school expenses:

APPLY NOW or CONTACT US and allow us to review your specific situation and make a personal recommendation that will fit your budget.

The Stimulus – Round 4

stack of 20 dollar bills and an hourglass with black sand
stack of 20 dollar bills and an hourglass with black sand

The Stimulus – Round 4

Will there be a fourth stimulus check sent out?

 

A group of lawmakers is starting to call for the fourth round of stimulus checks, just as the final payments from the third round are starting to hit mailboxes.

 

On March 30th, a few U.S. Senators wrote a letter asking President Biden to consider both recurring direct payments as well as automatic unemployment insurance extensions as part of his Build Back Better economic plan.

 

Also known as the American Jobs Plan, the bill doesn’t yet mention a fourth stimulus check similar to those millions have received throughout the pandemic. Rather, it’s a long-term initiative to rescue, recover and rebuild the country’s financial standing.

 

In short, President Biden has not indicated publicly that he supports a fourth stimulus payment, rather, he is focused on passing the Build Back Better plan that aims to improve transportation infrastructure and affordable housing, among other things.

Why is everything so much more expensive than it was a year ago?

7-11 gas station at dusk
7-11 gas station at dusk

Why is everything so much more expensive than it was a year ago?

Houses. Cars. Gas. Why is everything so much more expensive than it was a year ago?

 

If you think you’re spending more on things like gas and food than you were at this time last year, you’re right. That’s because we seem to be reopening to a more expensive economy than the one that existed pre-pandemic.

 

It’s not necessarily price gouging. In fact, it has a lot to do with a shortage of materials that manufacturers need to make their products. When supply is low, prices climb for manufacturers, and consumers end up paying more for the end product. It seems silly, but even things like the cereal, Grape-Nuts, has been hard to come by.

 

Kristin DeRock, the Grape-Nuts brand manager, said in a recent interview that making the unique breakfast cereal involves “a proprietary technology and a production process that isn’t easily replicated, which has made it more difficult to shift production to meet demand during this time.”

 

It’s also been hard to get your hands on things like fitness gear, sofas, and lumber. The shortages and price increases have to do with several factors. The work-from-home economy put never-before-seen pressures on companies that both struggled to estimate demand and were forced to halt production for safety reasons.

 

As imports have picked up speed on the back of surging (and erratic) consumer behavior, US shipping ports have become unusually congested. The early 2021 freeze in Texas compounded these problems, suspending oil production and impacting the manufacturers who rely on it.

 

Tight capacity, low inventory, and fiscal stimulus have created the “perfect storm” causing both big-ticket and everyday items, from hot tubs and bikes to meat and cheese, to cost a whole lot more because of the unusual conditions created by reopening.

 

“So how long will these high prices last?”

 

Experts agree and anticipate these disruptions lasting until early 2022. Until then, the stimulus will continue to drive demand and the pandemic will continue to rattle the movement of everyday goods, keeping prices higher into early next year.

Don’t let Amazon become Scam-azon

person delivering brown box package on doorstep
person delivering brown box package on doorstep

Don’t let Amazon become Scam-azon

“There’s something wrong with your Amazon account.” It could be a suspicious purchase, a lost package, or an order they can’t fulfill. If you’ve received one of these calls and hung up, you did the right thing.

 

Spam calls are running rampant right now from scammers pretending to be companies like Amazon and Apple trying to convince you that there’s an issue with your account and they just need a little information from you. The problem is, that little bit of information they are requesting could cost you big time. In fact, one credit union member who encountered this kind of call unknowingly gave up their information to the scammer and lost $7,000!

 

“While some departments at Amazon will make outbound calls to customers, Amazon will never ask you to disclose or verify sensitive personal information or offer you a refund you do not expect,” Amazon said in a recent response to these bogus calls. Amazon advises that you report any suspicious or fraudulent correspondence by visiting Report Suspicious Emails, Phone Calls, Text Messages, or Webpages for more information

 

In most of these scenarios, callers are being directed to push certain numbers for assistance.

If you get an unexpected call or message about a problem with any of your accounts, hang up.

  • Do not press 1 to speak with customer support.
  • Do not call the phone number they gave you.
  • Do not give out your personal information.

If you feel you have fallen victim to one of these scams, please contact the credit union immediately. We can assist you in proactively securing your accounts to try and avoid any losses.

 

Contact us today!

Five ways you can spring clean and make money

vases and glassware on a table with price stickers at a yard sale
vases and glassware on a table with price stickers at a yard sale

Five ways you can spring clean and make money

While your idea of fun probably isn’t cleaning out the garage, closets, and kitchen all weekend spring cleaning, as the weather warms up, can be shockingly refreshing. Not to mention, you could also make some money in the process and find some cool stuff.

 

Did you know 78% of people get into spring cleaning every single year while 7% have admitted to never doing spring cleaning? Closets, bedrooms, and kitchens were some of the most popular rooms to start in according to that survey, with the home office following closely behind.

 

“It’s hard to get motivated and get started,” said one expert. If it’s been on your to-do list you would probably agree with that statement, but what if you could get paid for getting up and starting that spring cleaning ritual?

 

Here are five tips to help you get motivated, and could help you make a little extra money for the effort:

 

  1. Make a “yard sale” pile: It is officially yard sale season. There is no better time than now to pop open your foldable table and start throwing all the stuff you don’t want onto it for your neighborhood’s annual yard sale. Others will find value in your old glasses, video games, and decorations. You may not rake in $1,000, but even an extra $100 is a win. Here are some of the most popular yard sale items: kitchenware and dishes, gently used clothes (the trendier the better), tools, old furniture, games, DVDs and books, exercise equipment, and televisions.
  2. Donate what’s left: Whatever you don’t sell at your yard sale, load up the car and head to Goodwill or other local charitable organization and donate whatever is left over. You’ll not only donate to a good cause, but there may also be tax benefits to donating used goods. Spring cleaning does wonders for clearing your mind and your space but can also help someone else out! The tax write-off won’t be a game-changer, but every little bit adds up in the end!
  3. Sell your textbooks: If you’re a recent college grad, think about selling your used textbooks on Amazon or websites like Book Scouter. It may be tough to just get rid of a book that you recently paid $300 for, but what are the chances you’ll be using that book again? Be sure to analyze if the hassle is worth the money as some textbooks are worth more than others. Remember, like the yard sale a few extra bucks for spending or saving is better than nothing!
  4. Set aside items of value: Things like electronics, rare collectibles, jewelry, and nice clothes can go into separate piles aside from your yard sale pile. These higher-value items might be worth selling online instead of the yard sale. If you have an old Apple Watch, iPhone, or collector’s items that you don’t want, see how much they go for online!
  5. Hunt for coins and gift cards: If you added up all the nickels, dimes, and quarters you found around the house during spring cleaning you may be rich! The average person finds $8 in coins and cash during spring cleaning. Check those pockets and cushions! It may not be much but that $8 is good for at least one Chipotle chicken bowl. And don’t forget about gift cards. Check the balances before you toss them, so you don’t lose out on the value.

Thinking about spring cleaning can be overwhelming. If you start with just one room, you’ll feel some accomplishment and might even move on to a second, third, or fourth room when you’re done!

Why couples fight over money, and how to prevent it

young couple putting money into a piggy bank
young couple putting money into a piggy bank

Why couples fight over money, and how to prevent it

A recent survey of nearly 1,000 couples who are married, engaged, or in a relationship found nearly 75% said they had gotten mad at their partner because of a financial decision they made without talking about it first. The majority of those decisions were a big-ticket purchase made without discussing it first. Other financial decisions that irked spouses were:

 

  • Hiding debt
  •  Not saving enough for future big purchases or agreed upon financial milestones
  • Spending money from savings

 

“You can’t have a great relationship until you can communicate and agree about money. Money is either the best or the worst area of communication in our marriages” says author and long-time financial counselor, Larry Burkett. Many finance and relationship experts agree: money arguments aren’t really over money at all, they are about our different value systems and that translates into how we spend (or save) money.

 

 

If you find you are at odds with your partner over finances more often than you would like, here are three tips to help spark meaningful conversation and get to the bottom of the problem and find solutions:

 

  1. Discuss your lifestyle choices: Maybe you’re the one that is perfectly content shopping at Goodwill for your new spring outfits, but your significant other only goes for the name-brand items at full price. If you have an income that doesn’t support expensive taste, that’s going to be a problem. Relationships are all about compromise. If one of you has more expensive taste, you don’t have to go without. Consider shopping at an outlet mall to snag those name brands you want at more affordable prices.
  2. Understand the differences in your personality: Opposites attract, right? Chances are, one of you loves working with numbers and balancing your accounts to the penny, and the other one would rather spend until that card is declined and then figure out what to do. One of you might be the saver and the other is more inclined to spend. Sure, personality differences are the cause of some relationship problems, but it isn’t the real root of your issues. The source of the problem is whenever one person chooses not to hear the other’s input, or when one person is cut out from handling the financial decisions altogether. Remember, in the end, you’re both on the same team and you need to use your difference in personalities to meet in the middle.
  3. Keep purchases out in the open. Remember how this article started? The majority of money fights are when you surprise your significant other with a financial decision you made without their knowledge. That savings account you have on the side, the credit card you opened without their knowledge, the big tv you bought on a whim… even with the best of intentions can usually the start of a good fight. If it’s too late, you need to work toward establishing financial trust again. Recommit to your shared financial goals and remember why you’re doing it. You’re in this together!

In the end, remember why you chose this person as your significant other. In the heat of the moment, you may not realize it but you need their skills, insight, and perspective—especially the ones you don’t have (and they need yours!)

Your Credit Score and How You Can Improve It

a gauge from red to green showing credit score
a gauge from red to green showing credit score

Your Credit Score and How You Can Improve It

Maybe you’ve applied for a loan in the past and the loan officer gives you your credit score. It may be high, it may be low, but you’ve probably wondered how exactly is it measured?

 

First, credit scores are usually used to differentiate the likelihood that you will pay back a loan, or not. The main consumer credit scoring models, FICO® and VantageScore®, rank consumers using a 300-to-850 score range. The lower the number the more risk a lender sees. The higher the number the less risk there is of you defaulting.

 

Second, how is this number calculated? FICO® Scores are calculated using several different pieces of your credit history in your credit report. This data is grouped and weighted into five categories: payment history (35%), amounts owed (30%), length of credit history (15%), new credit (10%), and credit mix (10%).

 

It’s important to know that your FICO® Score is calculated only from the information in your credit report. However, when you apply for a loan, loan officers may look at many things when making a decision, such as your income, how long you have worked at your current job, how long you have lived at your current address, and the kind of credit and amount of credit you are requesting.

 

Many members ask us “how can we improve our credit score?” Dialing that 800 number from a roadside sign promising to give you a better credit score fast is not only expensive but rarely do they work. Here are three things you can do right now that will help you earn a better score.

 

  1. Pay Your Bills on Time. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s one of the most important. You’ll want to pay all bills on time—not just credit card bills or any loans you may have, such as auto loans or student loans, but also your rent, utilities, phone bill, and so on. It’s also a good idea to use resources and tools available to you, such as automatic payments or calendar reminders, to help ensure you pay on time every month. Behind on some payments now? Bring them current as soon as possible. Although late or missed payments appear as negative information on your credit report for as long as seven years, their impact on your credit score declines over time: Older late payments have less effect than more recent ones.
  2. Dispute Any Inaccuracies on Your Credit Reports. Check your credit reports at all three credit reporting bureaus (TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian) for any errors that may be unnecessarily bringing your credit score down. Verify that the accounts listed on your reports are correct. If you see errors, dispute the information and get it corrected right away. Monitoring your credit regularly can help you find the errors before they do damage.
  3. Don’t Apply for Too Much New Credit, Resulting in Multiple Inquiries. Opening a new credit card can increase your overall credit limit, but the act of applying for credit, especially with a new lender creates a hard inquiry on your credit report. Too many hard inquiries can negatively impact your credit score, though this effect will fade over time. Hard inquiries remain on your credit report for two years.

 

A low credit score won’t just potentially keep you from getting a loan, it determines the rate you pay when you do get a loan. The lower the credit score the higher your rate, which means a higher payment and more paid interest over time. A low credit score can also increase your insurance premiums and potentially keep you from renting a home.

 

Want to learn more about your credit score and get tips from an expert on how to improve your credit score, and ultimately your finances?

 

United Community wants to help. Reach out and schedule a time to meet with us. We promise we won’t judge you. Our job is to give you a proper perspective and help you achieve a better financial life.

What is Credit Disability Insurance? Do You Need It?

young couple signing an insurance document
young couple signing an insurance document

What is Credit Disability Insurance? Do You Need It?

If you’ve ever applied for a loan, there’s a good chance you’ve been asked about adding credit life or credit disability insurance to your loan. Your response? “No thanks.” In some cases, you don’t need it. But in some cases, it’s worth a second look.

 

Before you can decide if it’s right for you, it’s important to understand what this coverage is and how it could benefit you.

 

If you pass away and your claim is payable, credit life insurance will pay off or greatly reduce your eligible loan balance. This leaves less financial stress for survivors who may be left having to figure out how to pay off your loan balance.

 

With Credit Disability Insurance, if you’re disabled from work due to injury or illness, your monthly loan payments will be made, up to the monthly benefit maximum, until you’re no longer disabled, your loan is paid, or reach the policy maximum.

 

“That’ll never happen to me.” Perhaps not, but over the past year, we’ve seen a huge uptick in members who have been injured on the job and who have contracted COVID-19, leaving them

unable to work for some time. Many who opted in for insurance on their loan benefited from the protection during the time they were unable to work. Sadly, others did not opt-in and were left with just one more financial stress to navigate.

 

What about worker’s compensation, that should cover you, right? You’re 66% right. Keep in mind that worker’s comp only pays a portion of your paycheck. Could you cover your living expenses and pay all of your bills on just 66% of your income? You may also have short term and long-term disability coverage, but keep in mind that the waiting periods and percentages paid are similar to worker’s comp.

 

We’ve often seen members who have been told that these are required of their loan from other financial institutions. It’s important that know that you’re never required to purchase credit life insurance to obtain a loan. If a lender ever tells you that this extra protection is required or tries to include the cost of credit insurance in your loan without properly disclosing it to you, you should report the company to the Federal Trade Commission.

 

When opening a new loan, reviewing insurance products offered in conjunction with the loan you should always ask yourself “What does this product do for me?” If you have a loan and opted to not receive coverage, it may not be too late to add it. It’s only too late when you need it and don’t have it. Often you can add coverage after the loan is closed. If you still have questions about these options or if it’s right for you reach out to us at the credit union. We’ll walk you through the benefits and help determine if it’s right for you.

Expensive car repairs: Fix it or trade it?

lens flare hand with a wrench under the hood of a car

Expensive car repairs: Fix it or trade it?

Every time your dashboard lights up with a mechanical failure, your mind instantly wonders, “what’s wrong this time?” Your next thought is realizing that you have to decide — repair it or not. Depending on the age of your car, what you paid for your car versus what it’s worth now, and the type of repair, sometimes the fix is worth it. Sometimes the repair is worth more than your car. But how do you know when it’s best to just cut your losses and sell?

 

Here are some of the most common major repairs, and questions to ask yourself to help decide if the repair is worth it:

 

Major engine repair

“Engine problems” are two words that you never want to hear. If you’re still protected by your warranty, often an engine replacement is covered. If not, that means your car is most likely more than five years old and/or has more than 60,000 miles on it. In some cases, some manufacturer powertrain warranties last up to 10 years or 100,000 miles. If your warranty will cover these repairs, you should take advantage of that. If your car is out of warranty it makes repairs that cost as much as a down payment hard to justify. On average, engine replacements cost $3,000 to $4,000 in a shop and near $7,500 at a dealership.

 

Blown head gasket

Your first question might be: “What the heck is a head gasket?” A head gasket is a component that creates a seal between the engine block and cylinder head that keeps combustion gases, oil, and coolant from leaving the engine. Still confused? Here’s what you need to know: it’s usually an expensive repair that can range from $1,200 to $1,500. Before you opt to repair a blown head gasket, think about this: it’s work that usually takes place as part of an even bigger, more comprehensive, and more expensive repair. If that $1,500 is going to turn into more expansive repairs, you may want to evaluate if it’s worth it.

 

Heater core

This isn’t the time of year you want your defroster to give up on you. if you’re noticing moisture buildup and your coolant is constantly disappearing, you likely need to replace your heater core. According to Consumer Reports, this repair can cost around $1,000, depending on the make, model, and year of your vehicle. Seems like a simple fix, but if your heater core has failed, more than likely other related systems were damaged as a result, which will send you back to the mechanic soon after the core is fixed.

 

Air conditioner compressor replacement 

When summer temps heat up and your air conditioner compressor goes, not only will you be mighty uncomfortable, but you can expect to shell out upwards of $1,000 to repair or replace it. Much like the heater core replacement, that repair usually comes as part of a larger, more expensive list of repairs. It’s also one repair you can simply put off if money is tight. It’s not unsafe to drive, just uncomfortable without one.

 

There’s no easy answer to the question “repair or trade it in” but it’s always worth getting prices on the repair and consider how much you’ve already spent on repairs, and how much more you’re willing to spend on your vehicle versus what it’s worth.

 

Whether it’s covering a repair or financing a replacement, United Community can help.

We have plenty of options to help cover unexpected car repairs that go beyond your savings and offer affordable payments to fit almost any budget. Need to talk it out? CONTACT US and we can help review your options before you make an expensive mistake.

 

Considering a vehicle purchase soon and want to protect yourself from huge future costs? United Community offers extended warranties on vehicles financed and can be included on your loan.  These warranties can prove invaluable when costly repairs are needed.  Unsure if you purchased a warranty when financing? Call us today to discuss your options!