Getting Through the Holidays on a Budget: Five Tips You Need to Know

by Cortney Meng

Though we always know when the holiday season falls, it seems as though it approaches faster and faster every year. And with the holidays come a seemingly never-ending list of expenses that includes presents, plane tickets and fancy dinners.

With a finite amount of cash on hand and a stockpile of bills that continues to grow, it can seem quite difficult to enter the New Year without massive amounts of debt.

Don’t sweat it: We’re here to help. Let’s take a look at five tips we hope will help you keep your wallets full this holiday season:

  1. Make a list, and check it twice. When you know exactly how much money you can spend, you’re able to make better informed, more manageable purchasing decisions. Sure, you might want to buy your family and loved ones everything under the sun. But chances are your budget has a ceiling. So consider making a list of who you need to buy presents for and how much money you can spend on each. Worried your list of those you have to give to is getting too long? Why not get a group of family and friends together and opt for a Secret Santa swap instead?
  2. Choose cash over credit. Even though you’re technically spending more or less the same amount of money when you pay for items via cash or credit, it’s a heck of a lot easier to get overwhelmed with debt if you choose plastic as your primary method of payment. By simply withdrawing the amount of money you can spend during the holidays from your savings account, for example, you can be sure that you’re not biting off more than you can chew and instead are living with your means.
  3. Get creative. Maybe you’re an artist. Maybe you’re a handyman. Maybe you’re a poet. Whatever your hobby is, it’s important to keep in mind that you don’t necessarily have to buy the presents you give to your friends and family. If money’s tight, you could very well turn to your own talents and create a gift rather than buying one. Ten years from now, your brother won’t remember the sweater you got him, but he will remember the heartfelt poem you wrote that documents your strong relationship.
  4. Look for coupons and other special deals. There’s certainly no shortage of sales that take place every holiday season. Whether you’re someone who compulsively clips coupons or routinely checks Groupon, if you’re looking to save money as the year winds down, keep your eyes open for any special deals going on. And remember, Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales are actually pretty incredible.
  5. It’s the thought that counts. You don’t necessarily have to buy your friend or family member a Rolex. Oftentimes, smaller gifts can be more impactful, anyway. After all, we all have our collections of trinkets and other charms that carry sentimental value that is truly priceless. So at the end of the day, it’s worth remembering that the thought behind that gift can be more valuable than the gift itself.

The holidays are a stressful time for all of us. But you don’t need to make it any more difficult than it needs to be. By making a serious effort to manage your budget upfront, you can start 2015 off on a financially sound foot!

How to Turn Your Hobby into a Home Business

by Janet Harrison

If you had all the money in the world, what would you choose to do for work?
That’s the question we’re supposed to ask ourselves to identify what we’d prefer to do for a living. Maybe your response to that question indicates that you’d like to become a photographer, for example, or that you’d like to make jewelry. Identifying your dream job is surely encouraged; there’s a good chance, however, that you’re not quite ready to quit your job and pursue your hobby full time. That’s because you likely don’t have all the money in the world to do so.

But there’s no reason why you shouldn’t at least consider whether the possibility exists that you could make money by turning your hobby into a home business. Sure, you can’t expect that such a business would take off overnight. But who knows? Maybe after a few years, you’ll actually be able to quit your proverbial day job and focus your efforts on making a living while doing something you love.

Before you make a decision, you must ask yourself an important question: Are people willing to pay for what I make?

Prior to launching a home business, you have to be sure that there’s a market for the items you make or the services you offer. Ask your friends how much they’d pay for a bracelet you made, for example. Once you’re comfortable with their responses, it’s time to ask a stranger how much he or she would pay. Satisfied with that answer? It might be time to begin looking into starting a business on the side.

In order to establish your business, you need to be able to prove that you’re trying to make a profit. If you lose money year-after-year and aren’t turning a profit, the IRS could very well view your business as a hobby, limiting your deductions as a result. Here are some tips to help establish your profit motive:

• Create a business plan that clearly defines the fact that you are indeed trying to make money.
• Run your business like a business. That is, keep records of all your expenses and all of your sales.
• Make decisions to increase profits. After all, the goal of a business is to make money, so make sure your actions work toward that goal.

If you begin to realize some level of success, you might want to consider incorporating your business or establishing an LLC so as to reduce your personal liability. In doing so, you’re able to protect your personal assets—like your home, your car and your investment accounts—from creditors.

On top of that, you’ll also appear more serious to those on the outside. The IRS will see that you mean business and might be more inclined to view your operation as a business than a hobby. Customers might think the fact that you’ve incorporated or started an LLC lends you more credence. Additionally, it might be easier for you to get business loans, as banks and other investors might also take you more seriously.

Turning your hobby into a business might be a fun way for you to bring in some extra cash. After that, who knows? The sky could very well be the limit.

What are you thankful for?

by Jorge Santiago

It’s hard to believe that Thanksgiving is right around the corner. But 2014 has flown by and, sure enough, turkey will be served on dinner tables across the country within a few short weeks.

This is the time of year when we reflect upon our blessings and show our appreciation to our loved ones and to those who really strive to change the world for the better.

Here at The Milford Bank, we welcome the opportunity to say thank you to the members of our communities who strive to help those less fortunate in the Milford and Stratford locales. And that’s why we established The Milford Bank Foundation in 2003: to support charitable, health, public safety and education initiatives in our area.

To show our appreciation for these organizations, we’re pleased to announce that the foundation is currently accepting grant proposals from 501(c)(3) charity groups that serve our Milford and Stratford communities. The grants will range from $250 to $2,500 for the year ending Dec. 31, 2014. Please keep in mind that submissions must be made by Nov. 15. (Click here for more information and to obtain the Grant Application.)

While it’s important to support our neighbors year round, we particularly enjoy celebrating the spirit of giving at this time of year when the focus is on gratitude for each other and the world in which we live. That’s why we’re excited to be able to offer these grants through our foundation.

If you’re interested in applying for one of the grants, please click here to download the application. From our family here at The Milford Bank to you and yours, a very Happy Thanksgiving!