What are your 2016 Holiday Plans?

Yes, I know we just celebrated 2015 Holidays, but this is a great time to think about what went well, what didn’t, and how to make changes so that our 2016 Holiday can be successful without breaking the bank. While you are sifting through those holiday receipts and credit card statements, think about how you can do things differently or maybe even the same next time.

Who did you buy presents for during holidays? Did you buy gifts for people that were not in your original plan? Sometimes we feel obligated to purchase gifts for people who give us gifts. If this seems to happen to you every year, this is a good time to find bargains on little gifts that can be given as opportunities pop up.

Did you travel? Even trips across town can add up. Plan your shopping trips ahead of time by reviewing store ads for upcoming sales. This step will lower costs while also helping to reduce impulsive decisions while you are shopping.

Consider new holiday traditions. Did you have to buy for everyone in the family? Consider a grab bag gift exchange so that you are responsible for buying only one gift. Remember to set a spending limit.

Make a spending plan. Look at receipts and credit card statements to see where you spent your money. Do you think holiday 2016 will have similar expenditures? If so, now you can save on a weekly or monthly basis so that you can be prepared and not have to put expenses on credit.

Start a holiday planning checklist. It can include everything you need to buy, places you need to go, and people you need to see. The list will help you focus on holiday preparations one step at a time.

The 2016 Holiday season will be upon us before we know it. Starting preparations now and taking small steps will go a long way in helping us to enjoy the season.

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Guest Contributor: Elaine Harrison, AFC®

February 1, 2016 at 9:55 am, by admin | No Comments | Category budget, financial education, General, saving

AFCPE® Membership Spotlight: Erica Tobe

Tobe_Erica_2014Erica Tobe, an Extension Specialist and fixed-term Assistant Professor at Michigan State University (MSU), is passionate about helping to identify the social and economic needs of families. This passion is evident throughout many of her current initiatives, but especially in her current project, Starting over after Foreclosure, an online self-paced course that she developed along with her colleague, Brenda Long. The project was awarded the 2015 Mary O’Neill mini-grant.

Learn more about your fellow AFCPE® member – the initiatives she is working on, what inspires her and what she’d give as her top piece of financial advice.

Congratulations on being awarded the 2015 Mary O’Neill Mini Grant. Tell us a little bit about your project, “Starting over after Foreclosure Online, Self-Paced Course.” What are you most excited to share with our members when you present at the 2016 AFCPE Symposium in November?

Since 2008, MSU Extension has provided foreclosure prevention services to families who are at risk of losing their home to mortgage and/or tax foreclosure. Between 2008 and 2013, MSUE counseled over 6500 clients around this issue. However, our educators quickly noticed that once the counseling sessions ended, and a housing outcome was reached, the need for financial education still remained. Unfortunately, our staff did not have the educational resources to support families in rebuilding their financial situation after experiencing housing instability and many clients did not want to come to an additional class that focused on general money management education.

The Starting Over After Foreclosure toolkit was developed to provide situation appropriate content to meet the unique needs of families. Early marketing efforts with Michigan partners identified an overwhelming need for this material and a need for additional avenues for delivery. To provide clients help beyond the toolkit format, MSUE is also in the process of developing a series of eight, free, stand-alone classes with interactive videos that will be housed on the MSU Desire2Learn course management system. Each class utilizes toolkit content, Reflect and Connect questions and scenarios, downloadable/fillable worksheets, and web-based resources!

Your current development interests focus on family financial health and wellbeing. Are you working on any other initiatives that you are excited to share with our members?

Along with developing the Starting Over After Foreclosure Toolkit and courses, MSUE staff have been involved in reaching diverse populations in the state of Michigan through our money management and homeownership educational classes. In coordination with the MSU Native American Institute and several urban organizational partners that work with Native American families in the greater Detroit area, we recently launched a community needs assessment that is helping to identify the needs of native urban families in Southeast Michigan. An effort such as this has not been done for many years, and we hope this survey will give us a unique insight to the needs of native families who reside in urban settings.

You have been an Extension educator at Michigan State University Extension for 12 years! What inspired you to pursue this career path? Did you have any mentors who shaped your career focus?

As an undergraduate student at Michigan State University, I had the chance to intern at MSU Extension. This gave me invaluable insight into the type of work that extension educators can do and the influence that they can have in the community. Along the way, I’ve had the chance to work with numerous “mentors” both in Michigan and nationally! The biggest influence the past few years, and what really drove me to pursue a doctoral degree, was the impact of the Great Recession in the state of Michigan. Families in Michigan were significantly affected by the recession, most notably due to the loss of the manufacturing industry and the ripple effect that the loss had on communities. Helping to identify the social and economic needs of families has been a huge interest of mine the past few years.

You are a longtime AFCPE member. What initially attracted you to AFCPE membership? What benefits or resources do you find most valuable to your work and your career?

Having the opportunity to connect with financial education professionals across various disciplines (research, practice, military, etc.) is unique to this organization and a tremendous benefit for membership. There are not many professional organizations that offer such a wide of a network of diverse professionals. This past conference was phenomenal – and really hit the mark for many different program opportunities that we have going on in our state.

As an extension specialist and financial educator, what is your favorite personal finance advice?

My best advice is “save early and often.” I teach an undergraduate “Personal Finance” course at Michigan State University that reaches 250 students each semester. With the focus on employer-sponsored plans, as well as being prepared for emergencies, helping young people see the need to save early and often is essential to developing a sound financial plan throughout their life. Many of our college students experienced the recession living in Michigan. Helping them see how they can be prepared financially is crucial in their development.


January 27, 2016 at 12:55 pm, by admin | 3 Comments | Category financial education, General, Symposium

10 Financial Laws for Couples

Young Blog1Just as there are traffic laws to keep cars safe on the road and road signs for clear communication, there are also financial laws which, when followed, will keep financial and relationship patterns open and flowing in a consistent, predictable pattern. But, breaking a financial law may mean getting blindsided, resulting in emotional and financial injuries.

  1. Set a specific time each week to update your finances. Some couples choose a Thursday evening, giving them visibility to their finances prior to the weekend so they can decide whether to go out for a date night or enjoy an inexpensive date at home. Others may choose a Saturday morning before doing their weekly grocery shopping. No matter what day is best for you, do not let more than 10 days go by without updating or you risk breaking Law #3.
  2. Spouse weekly update. One spouse can update the finances and pay the bills if one is better at it or likes to do it (See Law #1). However, both spouses need to participate in a weekly finance update, where both see what bills are already paid, what bills still need to be paid, how much is left over and give input if you are on track with your goals. This can take as little as 5 minutes. This keeps the relationship equal. Otherwise, if one spouse controls they money and how it is spent, the exchange can evolve into a parent-child relationship that jeopardizes a couples’ well-being, as one day the “child” grows up and eventually leaves the home (or in this case, the relationship).
  3. Know your balance before you go shopping. Most couples overspend because they do not realize their balance is low. For large purchases, wait 24 hours first before making the purchase and always compare 3 of the same items before making the purchase.
  4. Young Blog 3Set a cost limit on purchases & consult your spouse if the amount is over your limit. (Example: Limit is $50. If item is over $50, rule is to talk with spouse and come to agreement before purchasing.)
  5. Personal spending money. Each spouse needs to have a personal allowance each paycheck or each month to spend any way s/he would like—even if it is $5 when things are tight.
  6. Housing Rule of 28. Housing will be among your greatest expenses. Set a goal not to spend more than 28% of your gross monthly income for housing, rent or mortgage payments. (Gross amount is all income before taxes are taken out). Do not spend more than 36% of your monthly paycheck for a housing payment; otherwise, you will quickly go into debt with all other expenses. Calculate this amount to know what you can afford in a monthly payment BEFORE you go house shopping. Do not leave this amount for the bank or realtor to decide for you. When we shopped for our first home, we felt a lot of pressure to exceed this amount from sellers, loan agents, and realtors – it almost made me doubt this rule. However, thanks to a confirmation call with my AFC® colleagues, we stuck to the Rule of 28, kept looking for houses in our price range and we found it! Thus, when the torrential waves of economic difficulties came, we could afford our housing payments when so many others had to sell. Stick to this guideline. You will not regret it. (Example: Paycheck= $3,000 gross income per month x .28 = $840 or less for rent or mortgage payment per month. How much gross monthly income do I need to make to cover a $1,800 house payment? $1,800 divided by .28 = $6,430 per month.)
  7. Young Blog 5Car Loan Rule of 10. Do not spend more than 10% of gross monthly income on car loans. This is for TOTAL car loans together.  Example: $3,000 x .10 = $300 or less for one car loan. For two cars, this would be $150 each or any combination to equal $300 total.
  8. Extra money. Have a plan before it comes. Together, write down your larger needs then wants in order of priority. So when extra money comes in, such as tax return or job bonus, you both are on the same page as to where the money goes first. This way, disagreements, high emotions, and power struggles are avoided. (Example: “Our first priority is to save $_____ for an emergency fund, then, to pay off the credit cards 1 & 2 for $_____, then save $_____ for the vacation, then save $_____for down payment on house”).
  9. Reduce or pay off personal debt before marriage. Get out of debt as much as possible before marriage. Work hard to pay off all personal credit cards and debts before marriage. Debt is a heavy liability in a new marriage so consider it very carefully if your future spouse has a lot of debt. Debts such as credit cards and personal loans with few or no assets to show for it may indicate a spending/emotional problem which needs to be addressed before marriage.
  10. Vocabulary and Conversation. When talking to a spouse about finances, never say: “This is my money, I earned it, and I say how it is spent.” How money is spent is decided together as a couple. If spending habits need to change, use words to explain your perspective:
    1. I feel there is something we need to address.”
    2. We might consider waiting 24 hours before making that purchase.”
    3. I wonder what we can do to decrease our expenses and increase our income to find ways to pay down our debt.”
    4. I noticed that you paid for everyone at the restaurant last night, could you help me understand why you chose to take the bill when things are so tight for us right now?”
  11. Young Blog 7Bonus: Overcoming Financial Disagreements. When discussing a financial concern, write the name of the difficulty down on a large piece of paper. Place the paper between the both of you. Now list all frustrations about the problem around the name of the problem. Done? Now turn over the paper and brainstorm ALL possible solutions on the back randomly–the goal is 25. Don’t dismiss your partner’s suggestions, even if it seems ridiculous. Simply list all possible solutions. The paper represents the problem; it does not represent you or the other person as the problem. Direct all focus, energy, solution and even negative emotion to the paper that is the problem, not toward the other person. Then, together, circle the top three (3) possible solutions. Now take a break and let ideas settle and agree on and set a time that you will come back within 3– 24 hours. This will give you time to gather financial or other information to help solidify a solution. At the appointed time, counsel together again to resolve the issue. It may take more than one sitting to reach a solution. An AFC® (Accredited Financial Counselor) is a tremendous resource to offer financial insights that have not been previously considered and can also help keep the conversation focused, open and equal.

Best wishes in all your future financial endeavors!

Guest Contributor: Shara Young is a graduate of USU, an AFC® for the past 15 years and a previous military spouse, contributing to Family Support Centers and financial education classes in Idaho, California, and Virginia. Her At-A-Glance Budgeting Technique is published in Financial First Aid by Alena C. Johnson and helps couples work together to keep finances open, updated and transparent. She currently teaches financial education classes to women, couples, groups and families in Utah, USA.

January 6, 2016 at 1:59 pm, by admin | 1 Comment | Category budget, financial education, saving

Letter of Reflection

Mike Gutter2Dear AFCPE Members and Stakeholders,

As my Board Presidency draws to a close, I cannot help but reflect on the progress we have made as an organization. When I attended my very first conference as a graduate student in 1998, I remember feeling inspired and awestruck by my esteemed colleagues and mentors. I even met the President and the Executive Director–it was great!

Upon completion of my degree, my career took me to the University of Wisconsin-Madison as a faculty member. During this time, I become more involved in AFCPE as a committee member and regular reviewer. While I was not ready to be a leader, I  believed that service to the field should be an important part of any career plan. I also  started bringing my students to AFCPE to share their research and projects.

With each professional move that I make, I have enjoyed sharing and connecting my colleagues with AFCPE. In my work with Extension, AFCPE has allowed me to meet  Extension Specialists and Educators from across the country. Through a diverse community of colleagues, we have been able to share ideas and resources and expand our knowledge and skills. I have made many friends through AFCPE and always enjoy reconnecting with them at the symposium each year. We have watched each other grow both professionally and personally. We’ve seen each other’s children and grandchildren grow through pictures and stories.

Several years ago, I was honored to join the AFCPE Board of Directors. During my Board tenure, I have worked to represent my constituency, guide the strategic direction of the organization and support our outstanding AFCPE Staff, led by Rebecca Wiggins.

As this year draws to a close, I am reminded how important AFCPE has been in my career. I hope that each of you will consider serving AFCPE. Make it part of your career plan and professional growth.

I eagerly look forward to many more years of attending the AFCPE Symposium and continuing to be an active member of this organization. I look forward to seeing old friends and making new ones too! Thank you for a great year, and here is to many more together!


Michael S. Gutter, Ph.D.
Outgoing President, AFCPE

December 22, 2015 at 10:30 am, by admin | 1 Comment | Category financial education, General, Symposium

Timebanking: Serving More Clients Through Alternative Payment Options

The particular irony of working as a financial counselor is that we often come across people who have a critical need for our services, but cannot afford them (because they need financial counseling). While we may be able to donate our services occasionally, it is not something most of us can afford to do on a regular basis.

By offering financial counseling services through your local timebank, you have the opportunity to serve those who may not normally be able to afford financial counseling and still receive substantial compensation.

What is timebanking? Never heard of timebanking? defines it this way: “Timebanking is a way of giving and receiving to build supportive networks and healthy communities. One hour helping another earns one timebank hour.

Timebank hours can be spent on any service that another TimeBank member provides, and all hours are equal. It is kind of like bartering but gives you a much larger array of services to choose from since you do not have to trade back with the same person. Our timebank uses a software program to track and exchange hours.

Through the timebank, I’ve helped a client sift through the 529 savings plan investment choices in our state so she could make an informed decision about which funds to choose for her four grandchildren. I’ve helped another make adjustments to her monthly budget after the birth of her first child so she could avoid overspending. In return, I’ve been able to spend the hours I’ve earned on an excellent Sunday brunch, knitting lessons, and house cleaning services, to name a few.

Some people are working with financial advisors and just want a second, unbiased opinion, while others would not have reached out to a financial counselor if it was not available through the timebank.

Making it work for you: My financial counseling practice is a side business, not my “day job” or primary source of income. For some members of my timebank though, the services they offer through the timebank are the same ones by which they make a living. Our timebank has a part-time paid coordinator, and part of her job is to help TimeBank members figure out how many hours of their services they can afford to offer through the timebank. While timebanking can help you fix your car, build a website, or have meals made, it most likely cannot pay the rent on your working space or cover your light bill, and you still need to provide for your overhead. Your timebank staff (paid or volunteer) may be able to help you find a balance.

Learn more and find your local timebank: You can find more information on how timebanks work, the timebanking movement, and a documentary on timebanking at You’ll also find a directory of timebanks around the country and world. Most states have at least one, and if there is not one near you, you can also find information and support on how to start one.

Guest Contributor: Rebecca Tobin Schrader, AFC®

December 17, 2015 at 10:37 am, by admin | No Comments | Category financial education, General