5 Ways to Use a Bonus, Gift or Tax Refund

5 ways to use a bonus, gift or tax refund

It’s that time of year again. Many people will be getting tax returns (or already have) and are looking for the best ways to use that money as well as other “extra” money they have received.

Many of us hope for a windfall or a large gift or bonus. However,  more than likely, most of us will be hoping for a tax refund this time of year.  Here are five ways to consider using your tax refund (or gift or bonus).


  1. Add it to your Savings.  Whether you are saving for a particular item or event such as a vacation, new baby or retirement, your savings account is a great place for any extra money you receive.  Powerpay.org can help you set savings goals, help you with steps to reach them and also find resources to help you with overall  financial goals.
  2. Reduce Debt.  If you have any debt, this is also an important category to pay attention to.  Powerpay.org can be an especially useful tool to help you power your way out of debt.  There is also an iOS app for PowerPay.  These tools will help you determine which debts should be paid first and outcomes if you pay different amounts on each debt.
  3. Contribute to your Posterity’s Future.  Set up or contribute to a college fund, wedding plans or other event for your children or grandchildren. The Utah Educational Savings Plan can be a tool for college savings.  Be sure you understand the details before participating.
  4. Charitable Giving.  If you decide to contribute to a charity, be sure to check a website such as Charity Navigator or Charity Watch before donating.
  5. Create or Add to an Emergency Fund.  If you don’t have one, do what you can to get one started. This can be a useful tool to help keep you out of debt.  Any amount can be helpful to start with and add to.  A minimum to aim for should be $1,000, and recommended is three to six months of your income.


5 Quick Tips for Managing Money as a Couple


These 5 tips will help you manage money as a team!

The Cost That Money Can Have

Successful couples have learned to blend their money styles by being in harmony with the way they build a budget and spend money. So how do they do it?

Everyone has a money style. Many people love to save, others enjoy spending and unfortunately some just don’t want to be bothered with thinking about money, and they are the avoiders.

Often spouses are opposite in their habits, which can work well; but unless they can discuss it and make a successful plan, it can lead to arguments and dissatisfaction in the relationship.

It may have been learned from parents or developed later in life, but everyone values money differently and has a preferred style for handling it. No style is right or wrong, but how it is handled is critically important.

Some regard money as a security and have a desire to save and protect it. Some enjoy spending money because it makes them feel good, and still some don’t want to even open an envelope that might have a bill inside.

Unless you understand how your partner values money, it can cause frustration in a relationship.

When a couple fails to communicate about how each person values money and there is not a financial plan, arguments often arise. Many unhappy marriages and divorces are a direct result of financial issues.

A strong relationship will put the value of money into what makes family members happy and content. Money will be used for meeting goals and planning ahead for the future. When you can build a financial plan, you will have the freedom to work on areas of need for your family.

Consider these tips for building a financial plan:

1. Discuss how you value money and what is important (saving, spending or not discussing it). Visit Olivia Mellan’s website if unfamiliar with money styles. Take the quiz at https://www.moneyharmony.com/moneyharmony-quiz.

2. Discuss your family goals for this year, the next five years and then for future needs and retirement.

3. Make a financial plan (a budget) where you can set aside money to save and money for charity. If things are tight, start where you can. Most financial planners will encourage you to set aside 10 percent for each of these; however, you can begin with less. Even a little can make a difference because it sets a precedence.

4. Set up a plan for your family needs and wants and review it monthly.

5. Be sure to set aside weekly activity nights for the two of you. Spending quality time together can help you discuss your financial plans in a more direct and positive way.

Couples with strong relationships have developed money management skills that work for them. For example, they set aside time each month to go over finances, talk about how they value money and set goals.

Generally one of the individuals will be the money manager; however, both should discuss and look at the plans each month. Both partners must be happy with the spending arrangement.

Understanding the value each person places on money helps build respect in a relationship. Both partners should have input about where the money goes.

Relationships are fragile, and money is a major issue. It doesn’t matter how much or how little you have, but how you work as a team to plan and be content with your financial decisions.

This article was written by Carolyn Washburn, Utah State University Extension family and consumer sciences professor

Baby Steps to Budgeting

Baby Budgeting

Budgeting can be easy if you take it one step at a time!

Little by Little

Are you feeling overwhelmed by your financial situation? Well you’re definitely not alone! According to the American Psychological Association, money, work and the economy remain the most common sources of stress in Americans.

To help you get back on track and feel confident about your finances, financial expert Amanda Christensen offers three baby steps to budgeting. No matter where you are or what state you’re in, the key to budgeting is taking one step at a time.

Click here or click below to watch the clip from Studio 5!

Amanda Christensen Screenshot

Tips On How To Save For Christmas

Author – Nikki Capener


Christmas spending can be stressful and expensive. When purchased on credit, Christmas spending is often rolled into the New Year; leaving you with bills to be paid for over the next weeks and months. By planning ahead for Christmas, you can save yourself a lot of money, time and headache. Here are some easy steps to help you save:

  1. Create a budget: You can’t stick to a budget unless you have one. Take the time to decide how much you can afford to spend for Christmas and then stick to it!
  2. Start saving: Begin setting aside money now. If you put money aside early, even $5 a paycheck, you can pay for Christmas gifts in cash.
  3. Start a change jar: Throughout the year, dump loose change into the jar each night  and use it for Christmas cash.
  4. Create a Christmas list: If you have a list of gifts to refer to, you can purchase items when you see an awesome sale price throughout the year. Utilize online resources such as Groupon and LivingSocial to find even better deals.
  5. Cut your spending: Consider slashing your morning coffee expense, regular lunch date or weekly theatre visit. Instead, make your coffee at home, bring your lunch or rent a movie. Add the money you saved into your Christmas budget; small saving amounts will add up fast.

Purchasing gifts in advance and using cash to pay for things will help make your holidays less hectic. Remember that meaningful gifts don’t have to be costly. Oftentimes, the most remembered gifts are those that took time and thought rather than money.

Nikki Capener is a student at Utah State University studying family and consumer sciences education. She is the family and consumer science intern in Box Elder County and has loved working with the Extension faculty and 4-H youth. Her experience working with Extension has been incredibly beneficial; she has learned much while working with Ann Henderson. Her hobbies include running, cooking, sewing and making crafts.

Are You Prepared for Financial Emergencies?

Author – Marilyn Albertson

Emergencies Coming Your Way? Are You Prepared?

Have you ever had a major emergency in your household? Did you have the cash flow to handle it? As you move through life, events often come up that you cannot anticipate but that require money immediately. Start now to build a strong financial foundation with an emergency fund.

Emergencies might include personal injuries, auto accidents, natural disasters, loss of jobs, major home or auto repairs, or a death in the family with accompanying expenses not covered by insurance. If your are in the farm or ranching business, emergencies could include  poor crop prices, poor crop yield based on weather conditions, natural disasters, lack of adequate grazing for cattle, higher prices for feed and farm equipment, illnesses in herds or flocks and more.

What should you have saved?

Financial experts suggest having 3 to 6 months of take-home salary or 6 to 8 months of living expenses saved.  (source 1 & 2)  Another way to calculate your needs would be to assess the time it might take to find a new job of equal or higher pay if you were laid off your current job.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics for June of 2014, detailed unemployed persons by duration of unemployment.  The report indicated that 48.5 percent were unemployed 15 weeks or longer, with 32.8 percent experiencing 27 weeks or longer of unemployment.

When should you start?

If you have not started an emergency fund, now is the time to start.  You may feel you have debt you need to pay off before you can start saving.  You might consider splitting your extra funds between the debt and an emergency fund.  Even a little saved will reduce the interest costs at the time when you have to pay for an emergency.  Financial planners advise consumers to wait to invest in retirement accounts, IRAs or the stock market until they have an emergency fund established that is easily accessible for the risks that could come up.

How will you save?

Start by creating a monthly budget and tracking your spending.  Identify areas where you could cut back within your flexible expense category.  For example, to help save you might try the “Step-Down Principle” by Alena Johnson, M.S.  On a piece of paper create a stairway with four to six steps. Write down the way you now purchase the item on the top step.  Then look at ways to step down the expense and keep working down the steps until you get to the least expensive way to purchase the item on the bottom step. Then ask yourself if you can step down one or more of the steps with this purchase.  This idea can also be used for stepping down the number of times a purchase is made.  For example, if eating out daily at lunch, could you cut back to three times a week or once a week and brown bag it the other days?  This could add up to a significant savings over time to build the emergency fund.

Another way to calculate how to save is to use the PowerPay.org website.  Calculators are available to determine how much to save and ways to pay down debt more rapidly to free up money for savings.  You may download the free PowerPay Mobile app by visiting the iTunes app store.  For a more comprehensive version go to www.PowerPay.org.

Where will you save it?

Compare interest rates at your local bank or credit union.  Check out online banks, which also have good service and offer competitive rates.   Some have higher rates but make sure they are FDIC insured institutions. Some accounts can be tied to your checking account so automatic deposits can be made directly from checking to savings.  They may offer money market accounts which are variable and have teaser interest rates for the first 6 months with a guaranteed one-year rate for new customers.   Read the fine print for features and limitations.  It is wise for you to check periodically to see if you are still getting the best competitive rates.  If not, don’t be afraid to move your money to another institution as long as it is insured.

Good luck saving for those unexpected emergencies!

And, for more preparedness information, be sure to come and visit the Utah Prepare Conference & Expo on September 27, 2014.
marilyn-albertsonMarilyn Albertson, M.S., CFCS, has been a Utah State University Extension associate professor in Salt Lake County for 29 ½ years.  She provides family and consumer sciences education with emphasis in money management for children, youth and adults; housing education;  family resource management including food storage and emergency preparedness; and marriage and family relations for teens and adults.

11 Habits of the Wealthy

Author – Amanda Christensen

11 Habits of the Wealthy

Ever wondered how wealthy people got that way? While we don’t have any tips on how to make money quick, we have come across 11 habits of wealthy people that might help us explain what really sets the wealthy apart from the rest of us.

click over to Habits of the Wealthy to learn more.

amanda-christensenAmanda is an Extension Assistant Professor for Utah State University. She has a master’s degree in consumer sciences from Utah State and is proud to call herself an Aggie! Amanda loves teaching and enabling individuals and families to make smart money decisions.

Follow Me:
Twitter: @FamFinPro
Facebook: Fam Fin Pro
Instagram: @FamFinPro

Envelope Spending Tips from @FamFinPro

Author – Amanda Christensen

Envelope Spending Tips from @FamFinPro

Are you looking for a way to budget that doesn’t include spreadsheets and calculators? It’s easy to spend money, but at the end of the month do you forget what money went where?

We’ve come up with an easy way for you to keep track of how you spend your money. All you will need is cash, envelopes and a little self-discipline. While this method is unrealistic for expenses such as a home mortgage or car payment; what about those expenses that we’re trying to control that can easily get away of us? Food? Gas? Personal allowance? The envelope method for budgeting allows you to take a specific amount of cash, stick it in an envelope labeled “groceries,” “gas,” etc. and consistently know how much you have left to spend that month in that category.

My experience: My husband and I recently purchased a new camera. One of the conditions of this purchase was that we would each contribute our budgeted allotment for our individual, personal allowance for the month. This money would go toward the new camera and its necessary accessories (camera bag, extra battery, etc.). At the checkout counter I reached into my wallet, pulled out the cash from the specified envelope (personal allowance) and surrendered it to the cashier. The prize was well worth giving up my personal allowance and the money was right there in my wallet for easy access. (By the way — when it’s gone, it’s gone. NO CHEATING!)

Tip: Sometimes we don’t want easy access to our money. For example, if our rent money was in an envelope in our wallet, we might be tempted to use that money for something other than rent. Not good. This is one reason to leave the rent money in the bank and use the cash in the envelopes for variable, monthly expenses. Then, if the stars lined up and you had money left over in one envelope at the end of the month, you could choose to put that money in the bank and save it, pay extra down on a debt or reward yourself and spend it! No guilt attached!

Tip: Speaking of guilt…variable monthly expenses can be budget busters. Using the envelope method to control some of those variable expenses can be a lifesaver as well as help you feel on top of your money management skills. Here is a list of some monthly expenses that might be good to use with the envelope method:

  • Gas
  • Food
  • Eating out
  • Entertainment
  • Personal Allowance
  • Date night
  • Gifts

Remember, no cheating. You may be tempted to use money in the “gas” envelope for your

“entertainment” envelope, but once it’s gone, it’s gone, no matter what envelope it comes from! Good luck and happy budgeting! How have you used the envelope method with your family?

Here’s a link to some great DIY budget envelopes.

amanda-christensenAmanda is an Extension Assistant Professor for Utah State University. She has a master’s degree in consumer sciences from Utah State and is proud to call herself an Aggie! Amanda loves teaching and enabling individuals and families to make smart money decisions.

Follow Me:
Twitter: @FamFinPro
Facebook: Fam Fin Pro
Instagram: @FamFinPro

Top 2 Popular Options for Saving for Your Child’s Education

Author – Amanda Christensen

Top 2 Popular Options for Saving for Your Child's Education

Does having children worry you about their financial future? You’re not alone. A recent survey by Citi of 1,500 parents found that 56 percent of parents surveyed “are not confident that life for their children’s generation will necessarily be better than it has been for their generation.”

Are you wondering what you can do to help your children now? We’ve put together two Popular Options for Saving for Your Child’s Education.

The first thing families should do is decide where educational savings fits into their overall financial goals. Buying a home, preparing for retirement and providing an education for the children tend to be the three most costly family objectives. Few families have the means to tackle all three at the same time. It’s been said that you can’t get a scholarship for retirement. There are more options to cover the costs of higher education (scholarships among them) beyond having the savings entirely on hand. Given that, I suggest a retirement strategy be in place before establishing a means for college savings.

Here are two currently popular options: a 529 plan and the use of a Roth IRA.

529 Plans

A 529 plan is named after section 529 of the Internal Revenue Code, the provisions of which allowed for their creation in 1996, and each state has at least one. In our state, it is the Utah Educational Savings Plan (UESP) and it is consistently rated among the very best in the nation.

  • A 529 savings account is initially set up for a named beneficiary, however, the recipient can be changed to another family member, with a wide range of people who can be named, including a first cousin. The donor to the account is in full control of the assets.
  • Beneficiaries can attend qualified schools throughout the nation, not just in the state where the plan is held. This includes most community colleges, universities and even some vocational schools.
  • The fees and other maintenance costs associated with 529 plans are generally lower than with other investments. This is especially true for direct purchase plans like UESP. These are self-directed plans.
  • Among the UESP options are an FDIC insured account and a range of investment accounts that adjust with the beneficiary’s age. They automatically shift from aggressive investments to more conservative choices as the child draws nearer to college age.
  • Contributions to a UESP plan (and other state 529 plans) are not tax deductible, but all earnings from investments in the plan are free from federal taxes. The USEP plan is also free from state taxes. This means that when distributions are made to pay for qualified expenses, there are no taxes due. Current Utah law also allows state residents to claim a tax credit based upon USEP donations.
  • If distributions are not used for educational expenses, the earnings on your contributions are taxable and are also subject to a 10 percent penalty.

Roth IRA

A Roth IRA is another savings option that many families are considering for college expense planning. A Roth IRA was developed as a retirement savings program. Contributions to a Roth are not deductible, but earnings grow tax free.

  • While contributions to a Roth IRA can be withdrawn anytime, withdrawals of earnings prior to age 59 1⁄2 are subject to taxes and penalties. That is, unless the funds are used for higher education purposes. This provision means that it is possible for families to use a Roth IRA for both retirement and college preparation.
  • There are two other benefits of a Roth IRA. First, lower income tax filers may get a federal tax credit for contributions to a Roth IRA. Second, unlike an education savings account, retirement accounts like a Roth IRA are generally not considered when applying for financial aid. On the other hand, there are limits to annual Roth IRA contributions. If you use half of your retirement savings to send your kids to school, you may need to bank on them getting a good enough education and career to support you during retirement.

In summary, here are some issues families should consider:

  • Tax considerations are an important aspect, but not the only factor to consider.
  • Risk levels, potential rates of return and the range of investment opportunities will be part of any strategy.
  • The investor must determine how much or how little professional help they desire.
  • Family income levels and the number of children involved are critical components. Well-to-

do grandparents with lots of descendants have different challenges and opportunities than newlyweds expecting their first child.

Which will it be? A Roth IRA, a 529 savings plan or some other option? Think about it now because the toddler munching Cheerios on your kitchen floor today will be off to college before you know it.


amanda-christensenAmanda is an Extension Assistant Professor for Utah State University. She has a master’s degree in consumer sciences from Utah State and is proud to call herself an Aggie! Amanda loves teaching and enabling individuals and families to make smart money decisions.

Follow Me:
Twitter: @FamFinPro
Facebook: Fam Fin Pro
Instagram: @FamFinPro

@FamFinPro’s 3 Baby Steps for Budgeting

Author – Amanda Christensen

3 baby steps for budgeting

The “B” word is not always a pleasant one in the money management world. Honestly, when you read the word “budget,” what’s the first thing that comes to your mind? Unrealistic? Stress? Confined? Restricting? But you have to start somewhere. You might then ask, “What are some baby steps for budgeting?”

First things first: stop calling it a “budget.” Yikes! That word is daunting. Let’s call it a “spending plan” instead, ok?

Next: You have to have the desire to start managing your money. You want to see how much money you spend eating out. You want to cut back on your monthly utility bills. Maybe there is a fun trip you are planning for next summer and you’d like to have a good chunk of money set aside to spend. Or how about a little more Christmas money for that extra special someone’s Christmas gift? Whatever the reason, you have to want to take charge and move forward to make changes.

3 Baby Steps:

1. Automate your savings. This is the KEY to getting off on the right start. Automating a chunk of your paycheck to deposit into a savings account is a fool-proof way to set money aside. You don’t have to remember a monthly transaction, and the money is moved from checking to savings without you touching it. (Less temptation to spend.).

2. Take out your personal allowance in cash every month. Allowing yourself to spend some of your money every month is an absolute must! Decide how much and what the money can be used for (entertainment, fast food, gifts, etc.) and stick to it. Take the money, in cash, out of the bank and when it’s gone, it’s gone.

3. Use PowerPay. Powerpay.org is your new best friend. This is a free website that allows you to enter all your debts and see how long it will take to pay them off. Whatever steps you take to prepare for this holiday season, make sure you take time to manage your spending. Stop in or call your local USU Extension office for more money management tips or check www.usu.edu/extension.

amanda-christensenAmanda is an Extension Assistant Professor for Utah State University. She has a master’s degree in consumer sciences from Utah State and is proud to call herself an Aggie! Amanda loves teaching and enabling individuals and families to make smart money decisions.

Follow Me:
Twitter: @FamFinPro
Facebook: Fam Fin Pro
Instagram: @FamFinPro

USU Extension Faculty Members Develop PowerPay Debt Elimination App

Author – Margie Memmott

The PowerPay debt elimination iPhone/iPad app recently hit the app store, and within the first 11 days of its launch, was downloaded in 11 countries. The app, co-developed by a Utah State University Extension team led by Margie Memmott of Juab County and Dean Miner of Utah County, and a New Mexico State University Extension team led by Barbara Chamberlin, is aimed to help debtors become savers.

The PowerPay app is based on the financial tool developed in 1992 by Miner and former Extension employee Judy Harris. It was first developed as a CD, then a website, then users pointed out the opportunity it had to reach the mobile audience.

Consumers can enter their balances, payment amounts and interest rates for each debt, and PowerPay will calculate the best repayment schedule to save time and money. In addition to helping develop a personalized, self-directed debt elimination plan, the app is unique in that it also provides users the option to simultaneously build up an emergency fund as they continue to follow their debt payment plan and avoid additional debt.

Google analytics reports nearly 105,000 hits during 2012 for the online debt management tool.

Memmott said this is indicative of the need consumers have to get out of debt and customize and manage their re-payment plan to fit their individual circumstances.

“The new PowerPay mobile app can help them accomplish that, even on the go,” she said.

To download the free iPhone/iPad PowerPay app, visit the iTunes app store. For a more comprehensive version of PowerPay and additional debt elimination tools, visit www.powerpay.org.


Margie Memmott has been serving families and communities for over 20 years with USU Extension in Juab County. Margie earned degrees in Family and Consumer Sciences from BYU and USU and loves to teach youth and adults valuable life skills. “What a great reward when others adopt these principles and apply the tools to improve their everyday lives.” Margie and her husband Sam have four sons, three daughters-in-law and two grandsons. In her spare time she enjoys creative textiles/sewing, crocheting, music, technology, four wheeling in the ‘RZR’ and most of all, being with her family.