How I'm Staying on Top of My Finances (and Not Becoming a Grinch) This Holiday Season

by Stacy Tharp 20. November 2012

Year after year I go through the same cycle of emotions during the holiday season. Right around Thanksgiving I start to get really excited about the holidays. This is the time of year that I think I LOVE giving gifts to my family and friends. These are the people that I can't live without, so I just want to shower them with gifts!

Fast forward a few weeks. All of my generosity has been replaced with misery. After spending all of my income on gifts, decorations, charitable donations, etc., I find myself sitting at home eating Ramen Noodles (because that's all I can afford) in the dark (because I am trying to save every penny I can, including on the electric bill).

It's around this time that I begin to realize that I HATE gift giving, and I turn into a Holiday Grinch. I get sick of hearing the same Christmas songs over and over again, tired of the Christmas movie marathons, and annoyed with all of the holiday traffic on the way to the store when I'm hungry and out of Ramen Noodles.

This year I started thinking ahead, and I decided it would be a good idea to try to break the cycle! Using 1st Mariner Bank's personal finance management tool, Mariner360, I created a budget specifically for the holidays that I am determined to stick to so I will be able to actually enjoy this wonderfully festive time of year!

I've decided to begin the gift giving season by giving you a tutorial on how I created my budget to make it easy for you to set up yours! This should surely keep us all in check this holiday season!

Step 1:

Sign into your 1st Mariner Bank Online Banking account (or click here to enroll), then click on the "Mariner360" tab. The great thing about Mariner360 is that it allows you to add all of your accounts from any financial institution, so you can monitor all of your accounts, not just your 1st Mariner accounts, in one place. If you have not yet used Mariner360 within the newly enhanced Online Banking platform, you will be required to enroll. It only takes a few minutes to enroll and add all of your accounts. Once you are enrolled, your Mariner360 Dashboard should look something like this:

Mariner360 Dashboard

Step 2:

The first thing we are going to do is create new spending categories specifically for the holidays. Click on the "Transactions" tab. This should give you a list of all of your recent transactions from all of your accounts. Click on any of the transactions from this list, it doesn't matter which one. I simply clicked on the first transaction listed:

Mariner360 Transactions

Step 3:

A screen should pop up called "Transaction Details." Click on the "Add/Edit Your Categories" button on the bottom left corner of the pop up window:

Mariner360 Transaction Details

Step 4:

Now you will see a list of all of the categories that Mariner360 provides for you. I chose to put my holiday related items as a sub-category of the "Miscellaneous Expenses" category. Click on the category for which you would like to create a new sub-category, then click "Add New Subcategory."

Mariner360 Holiday Budgeting Categories

Step 5:

You can create as many sub-categories as you'd like. I added two: "Holiday Gifts" to track how much I spend on presents, and "Holiday Party" to track how much I spend on the holiday party I am having this year. For each sub-category you create, you must click on the "Save" icon to the right of the text box:

Mariner360 Holiday Budgeting Categories

Step 6:

Once you have created and saved all of your new sub-categories, click "Continue" and you will be taken back to the "Transaction Details" screen. Let's say this transaction that I clicked on, categorized as "Home Improvement, Repair & Maintenance," was actually a gift for my handy brother. I could re-categorize this as "Holiday Gifts" by selecting that category from the drop-down menu.

Mariner360 Holiday Budgeting Categories

Step 7:

After properly categorizing all of the holiday-related transactions that you have made so far, you can head over to the "Budgets" tab on the top menu. If you do not have any budgets currently set up, your screen will look something like this:

Mariner360 Create a Holiday Budget

Step 8:

Click on "Add New Budget," then you will be prompted to select a category and budget amount. This amount is your total spend goal in this category that you do not wish to exceed. Once you have selected a category and budget amount, hit "Save."

Mariner360 Create a Holiday Budget

Step 9:

Create a new budget for each holiday-related category that you created. Since I have two categories, my budget looks like this:

Mariner360 Holiday Budget

The top bar shows all of your budgets combined, and underneath you can see how you are doing with each individual budget. I love this feature because if I find that I have over-budgeted for gifts, I can splurge for my holiday party, and vice versa. Note that these budgets are set up as monthly budgets. If you are an early shopper like me and tend to start your shopping in November, you should subtract the amount that you have spent in November, and the difference would be your December budgeted amount.

I hope you found my tutorial useful. Holiday spending is just one of the many useful tasks Mariner360 can help you with. Here's to hoping Mariner360 will keep me from becoming a Holiday Grinch this year!


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How to Keep Your Wallet Stuffed This Thanksgiving

by Andrew Schreiber 19. November 2012

Thanksgiving on a budgetThanksgiving is a time to spend with the people we love and to give thanks for what we have in our lives. The last thing we want to worry about during this time of year, especially with the gift-giving season around the corner, is the effect Thanksgiving will have on our bank accounts. Here are a few tips that will help us all save some cash and relieve some of the financial stress associated with the holiday season.

Organize a Potluck Dinner

Planning, cooking and entertaining are a lot of stressful tasks for any one individual to take on for a single gathering. So instead of leaving all of the social and financial pressures on yourself, ask each guest to bring a side dish and/or dessert. This gives your guests a great outlet to talk about themselves, which we know so many of us like to do, and their “secret” recipes. The responsibility of feeding a large group of people is enough to keep anybody busy all day in the kitchen, so it only seems natural to spread the workload.

Look Outside for Décor

Fall is one of the prettiest times of the year, and what do you normally associate with Fall? Thanksgiving! So instead of spending extra money on decorations, go outside and gather your décor from your yard or a nearby park. Depending on where you live, you could find an endless supply of pine cones, leaves, and maybe even corn husks right outside your door! This could also be a perfect way to keep your children busy and out of the house. Pinterest is a great resource to use for DIY decoration ideas.


Who likes eating an endless supply of turkey for weeks after Thanksgiving? I know I don’t, but even more, I hate seeing so much food go to waste. So instead of throwing out the leftovers, look up some recipes online that call for your leftover turkey. There are a plethora of delicious turkey recipes that will make the leftovers a little more enjoyable, so you’ll be set for days!

Deviate from the Traditional

Instead of sticking to the traditional Thanksgiving menu every year, don’t be afraid to do something totally different. For example, stay local with your meal. If you’re a Maryland resident, make pit beef sandwiches for dinner, wash it down with Natty Boh and finish it off with a homemade Smith Island Cake or Berger cookies for dessert. If you don’t want to completely stray from tradition, find subtle ways to incorporate the traditional foods. Make turkey burgers, turkey meatballs, or cranberry BBQ sauce.

The holidays have enough pressure and stress associated with them, so don't create more by spending beyond your means. Use some of these budget friendly ideas to alleviate some of the stresses of the holidays and enjoy the season!

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Money Tips for College Students

by Erica Starr 14. November 2012

Money tips for college students

If you are like many young people, going off to college is the first time you begin to feel like an independent individual. Your parents and teachers have taught you all they can to prepare you for the “real world,” and now it’s up to you to decide whether or not you’d like to follow the advice and lessons you’ve learned over the years.

With no one around to scold you or tell you what to do, entering into your newly emancipated lifestyle, it can be tempting to make irresponsible financial decisions; the kinds of decisions that give you immediate gratification without thinking about the long-term effects.

Before you get yourself into a big financial mess so early on in your independent financial life, take a look at these scary stats:
  • According to the 2012 Consumer Financial Survey, 42% of respondents gave themselves ratings of C, D or F on their personal finance knowledge.
  • A recent National Economic Research Associates survey of 6,500 high-debt student loan borrowers found that 65% misunderstood or were surprised by aspects of their student loans or the student loan process. (Source: The New York Times)
  • Approximately one-third of recent grads, if they could do it all again, would have pursued more scholarships or financial aid options, pursued a major that would have led to a higher paying job, or gotten a job while in college and started saving earlier. (Source: Accounting Principals)

Translation: Unless you want to end up grouped into one of these statistics one day, you probably should start getting yourself familiar with the equation of spending less than you’re bringing in. Despite the above stats, oddly enough, personal finance can be fairly easy as long as you are prepared and start the process of saving, prioritizing, and budgeting as early as possible.

It's All About Self Control

For years, I heard from my parents, “Needing and wanting are two very different things.” As with most things, they were right. Just because it’s new and shiny, that doesn’t translate into you being unable to survive without it. Take a few deep breathes and prioritize what you really need to focus your financial efforts on this month. Books? Gas? Tuition? Food? You know, the life necessities when you are a college student. As much as that new COD game or designer outfit may seem like a necessity, you’ll probably discover that you can do without it for awhile.

Where is Your Money Coming from, and More Importantly, Where is It Going?

Repeat after me, “Excel spreadsheets and Personal Financial Management tools like Mariner360 are my friends.” By visually seeing the amount of money you are bringing in versus the amount that is going out, the idea of expenses being less than your income will become a core value in your life. Trust me, once you realize how much a daily Starbucks visit will run you over the course of the month, you’ll start to reevaluate and realize that making small, manageable adjustments to your everyday routine can have as much of an impact as the dent the latte puts on your wallet, but in a much more positive way.

Check out Mariner360, which helps aggregate your expenses and income into one user-friendly platform. You can then slice and dice the information, see trends and even set up alerts (i.e. I only want to spend $50 on dining out a month) that let you know when you are close to hitting your custom set budgets.

Be Leary of Credit Cards

While credit cards are a great way to help you start establishing your credit, they also can be a great way to put you into thousands of dollars of debt. Credit card companies look at college students as fresh meat. They know that establishing credit is important for young adults and so they go to extremes to get you on board early. You’ll see booths at every campus event, and they’ll try to entice students by offering them incentives to open up a card such as free tickets to an upcoming sporting event, or a micro-fiber fleece with your school name on it.

Again, credit cards do help you start to establish credit, but make sure to refer to the “It’s All about Self-Control” tip and pay off your card EVERY month. Use your credit card for only a few specific things such as gas or books. This way, you won’t be overly tempted to put unnecessary purchases on your card and find yourself underwater at the end of the month.

Start a “What If” Emergency Fund

If it can go wrong, it will. It’s Murphy’s Law. The earlier in life you learn this theory, the better. At the end of every month, set aside a few bucks for the “what if” scenarios that you never think, or more importantly WANT, to happen. The more you start getting in the habit of putting money into an emergency fund, the more at ease you will be in the event that you run into some troubles financially.

If you are one of the lucky ones that manage to fly below the radar of good ol’ Murphy and his law, then you’ll have a nice chunk of change to put towards something of importance like a down payment on a house, or that vacation you’ve been wanting to take.

Remember, at the end of the day, managing your finances is a fairly easy process. You don’t need a financial advisor or an advanced degree in finance to establish a good foundation for managing your money. As with most things, simplicity and common sense goes a long way.

If you found this article useful, be sure to check out these related articles:

How I Graduated Debt-Free from College

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