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!

Mariner360

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

How to Keep Your Wallet Stuffed This Thanksgiving

Traveling Tips: Keep the Costs Low and the Fun Level High

2nd Annual 5 Things We're Thankful For This Holiday Season

Hurricanes and Halloween. Happy Weekend, Baltimore!

by Stacy Tharp 26. October 2012

Hurricane Sandy Path

Source: National Weather Service National Hurricane Center

As I’m sure you’ve heard by now, we have an angry storm headed our way. Invited or not, Hurricane Sandy is coming to a town near you. According to a recent report issued by WBAL TV-11, Hurricane Sandy’s path is making it a near certainty that it will make landfall anywhere between the Outer Banks and New England. If you know your geography, you’ve probably realized that Baltimore is pretty close to the direct center of that range. According to the article, BGE is preparing for what it expects to be hundreds of thousands of potential power outages.

Luckily, I’m confident that you all read my article from last summer, Heat, Storms and Power Outages: Were You Prepared? So everyone should be prepared as the lovely and talented Hurricane Sandy makes her way towards us.

If we simply MUST be put right smack in the middle of Hurricane Sandy’s path, depending on your thought process, she’s either coming at an awful time, or at a fantastic time. You might be thinking that Ms. Hurricane Sandy will ruin your Halloween in Baltimore! You had the perfect costume ready and were so excited to celebrate Halloween in Fells Point, take your children trick-or-treating in your Baltimore neighborhood and attend the 2012 Halloween Lantern Parade and Festival in Patterson Park.

I, however, say don't let Hurricane Sandy ruin your Halloween; instead, embrace her presence! If you are stuck in your house on Halloween, have some neighbors over and play some Halloween games. If your power goes out, that will only make the games more fun!

As far as your banking needs go, be sure you look into all of your different banking options ahead of time - from being aware of the nearest branches and ATMs to enrolling in Online Banking and Mobile Banking. Using Online or Mobile Banking, you can set up future-dated bill payments and transfers before the storm hits in case you lose your power and are unable to log in to your accounts after Hurricane Sandy hits. You never know where or for how long power outages will occur, so the more banking options you have, the less likely you will be inconvenienced. If you are planning on heading to one of our branches after the storm hits, be sure to first check our News and Updates page to check for any branch closures due to power outages.

Most importantly, make smart decisions and stay safe!

SpOOky Facts Credit Unions Don't Want You to Know

by Stacy Tharp 24. October 2012

People have been complaining about the big banks for years now. When people get fed up and begin to look for other places to put their money, the same two choices are always suggested: a community bank, or a credit union.

So it’s great to know that there are other options, but with community banks and credit unions always being lumped together into one suggestion, it almost seems like they are interchangeable, when really, they are two quite different options. So how do you differentiate between the two?

Of course you know our vote…*coughcommunitybankcough*…but our choice isn’t completely biased. We know some spOOky facts about credit unions that we would like to share with you.

They might not let you in...or out.

Okay, fine…you are always free to leave a credit union, but you have to admit, that added a spooky twist to the heading! Credit unions are, however, selective about who they allow to join. You generally must meet a specific requirement in order to become a member. So maybe once you’re in, you will be reluctant to leave, even if you have a good reason.

They offer low credit card rates...but there's a catch.

Credit unions often advertise low credit card rates. What they don’t tell you is that with these great rates come not-so-great rewards programs. If you are working on paying off credit card debt, then a low interest rate may be all that matters to you. However, if you always pay your bill in full, the interest rate really shouldn’t matter, and your focus should be on what your credit card provider can do for you.

Fees are on the rise.

One of the biggest complaints about the big banks is their constant seemingly exponential increases in fees. Credit unions pride themselves in having lower fees than banks, but what they don’t tell you is their fees are on the rise as well. It is important to note that with both banks and credit unions, fees will never stay constant, for many reasons. Your safest bet for minimizing fees, wherever you put your money, is to make sure you have accounts that are right for you. This may require you to switch account types every so often. Switching to a credit union simply because their fees are lower right now is not a safe bet in the long run.

Your accounts are all tied together.

To protect themselves against risk, credit unions often have cross-collateralization clauses. What does this mean? Any item being financed or pledged as security will also secure any other debts you have or may have in the future with the credit union. For example, if you have both a credit card and a car loan through your credit union, your car will be used to not only secure your car loan, it will also be used to secure your credit card debt. Legally, credit unions must disclose this to you, but don’t expect to find this information on a flashing neon sign. It will likely be disclosed to you somewhere in fine print, so this cross-collateralization clause often comes as an unpleasant surprise to the people it affects.

Your deposits may be at risk.

Unlike banks, credit unions are not regulated by the FDIC. Less regulation means credit unions are able to use your deposits more freely and take more risks than banks. The majority of credit unions are insured by the National Credit Union Administration, but this is not a requirement for state-chartered credit unions. Before throwing all your money into a credit union, make sure your deposits will be insured, and check the insurance limits.

You won't get as many bells and whistles.

In general, when it comes to account features, credit union accounts give you the bare minimum. Simple. Boring. Raise your hand if this was you five years ago: “Internet? On my PHONE? I don’t need all that, I just want a simple, practical phone that allows me to make simple phone calls.” Now, if you are like most people, you look back and laugh at your old credo. You may be thinking along those same lines when it comes to your bank account. You don’t need any fancy additions - you just simply want a safe place to put your money. But why settle for that when you could get more features and benefits out of your accounts?

No matter where you put your money, it is important that you research the facts of the financial institution, and compare these facts with your current financial situation. The right financial institution for your neighbor might not be the right one for you.

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

One Size Fits for Life: Is Your Business in the Right Checking Account?

Top Three Myths About Online Banking Revealed

True or False? Five Myths About Credit Scores Unveiled



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