Improving Financial Literacy

Each year, the National Financial Educators Council releases a National Financial Literacy Test, which is taken by Americans of all ages, financial positions, and backgrounds. The test measures participants’ knowledge as it pertains to earning, saving, and growing their money.

As of 2020, the average score of 15- to 18-year-olds who took the test stood at 68 percent, just shy of a passing score. In fact, of the 60,813 people who have taken the test since it began in 2015, only 59 percent received a passing score of 70 percent or higher. Additionally, the National Financial Educators Council also released results which found that poor financial literacy contributed to Americans losing an average of $1,634 each in 2020. That is a cost of about $415 billion to the country at large.

Those numbers may seem a tad apocalyptic, but there is a silver lining. Younger generations of Americans appear willing and able to learn more about financial literacy. The National Financial Educators Council asked 1,101 young adults ages 18 to 24 what high school-level course would have benefited their lives the most. The majority (51.4 percent) responded with “money management.”

It appears financial literacy classes really do help. The FINRA Investor Education Foundation’s State Financial Education Mandates study found that Georgia, Idaho and Texas all saw increased credit scores and lower delinquency rates on credit cards three years after implementing a financial education mandate in public schools. Additionally, all three states saw significant improvements in participants’ scores on the National Financial Literacy Test with an overall 8 percent rise in score among 15- to 18-year-olds.

 

How to improve your financial literacy

April is Financial Literacy Month. Both a celebration and a challenge, this month is a chance for your members to reflect on the state of their personal finances and an opportunity to improve their financial well-being, one step at a time. Help your members along their financial literacy journey with some suggestions from Athene:

  • Subscribe to financial newsletters – Financial newsletters from trusted sources can put free financial news in your inbox. To start, try Athene’s Smart Strategies, designed to help you take your financial journey to the next level with expert advice on finances and lifestyle.
  • Listen to financial podcasts – Podcasts can help you brush up on financial information while you are on the go. For ideas, check out S. News and World Report’s Best Personal Finance Podcasts to Listen To.
  • Read personal finance books – Explore Insider’s 17 best personal finance books for 2021 to get you started.
  • Start keeping a budget – All the general financial know-how in the world will not mean much if you do not know where your own money is going each month. Start tracking your spending and set up a budget using a simple spreadsheet or applications.
  • Talk to a financial professional – Sometimes, you just need to ask an expert. Financial professionals, like those at ProMedica FCU, can help you assess your current situation and help you stay on a track that works best for you.

Financially Recovering From Job Loss…

Many Americans have spent the last several months getting back into the workforce after being laid off due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Recovering from the financial fallout can bring turmoil, but there are also silver linings.

American workers became familiar with stories of job loss and salary cuts as the pandemic ravaged through 2020. According to Charles Schwab’s 2020 Modern Wealth Survey, 25 percent of Americans said either they or a family member have been furloughed or laid off during the pandemic. Another 30 percent of respondents said they or a family member have experienced a salary cut or reduced work hours.

Unfortunately, in many cases, these COVID hardships stacked on top of existing financial woes for U.S. consumers. Even before the pandemic hit, a majority of Americans, or 59 percent, were living paycheck to paycheck, according to Charles Schwab’s 2019 Modern Wealth Survey. On top of that, the 2020 Modern Wealth survey found that Americans are nearly 15% more financially stressed today than they were before the COVID-19 outbreak.

But it’s not all bad news. The hardships of 2020 have served as a wake-up call for many consumers. The 2020 Modern Wealth Survey found that 36 percent of Americans said they are now more likely to maintain savings to cover emergency expenses, 40 percent said they are likely to save more in general compared to before the pandemic, and most consumers surveyed stated that relationships now drive their overall happiness more than twice as much money. In 2020 alone, Americans paid down $60 billion in credit card debt inherently allowing monies once used to pay burdening debts to now transition to rebuilding up their financial security.

 

How to recover financially from losing a job

Being laid off is a scary time and can leave the individual impacted feeling alone, especially in these isolating times. So, how can you recover from job loss? Here are some tips from The Dave Ramsey Blog combined with some personal insight to get started in the right direction:

  1. Connect with family and friends – This may be the most important tip. Let those closest to you know you’ve fallen on a hard time and will need encouragement. You can’t recover financially if you’re not recovering mentally – and nothing helps an emotional recovery like a strong support system.
  2. Figure out what immediate benefits you have – If you’ve been laid off, it’s possible your employer offers severance pay. That could come in the form of a one-time payment or several payments spaced out over a few weeks or months. You may also want to consider filing for benefits through the Employee Benefits Security Administration.
  3. Tighten up your budget – Create a new budget based on your new income. Consider pausing non-essential spending, including gym memberships and monthly entertainment charges. Television has filled the void of social interaction – and streaming apps, when added up, can become a significant monthly expense.
  4. Hone your job search – Brush up your resume and begin your search by making a list of the people in your immediate circle who can help you get connected in a certain field. Reach out to them and explain your situation. Meanwhile, be sure to keep up with online job boards – persistence is key. Consider taking contract or part-time work even temporarily. Ways of connecting professionally, once thought to be taboo like using social media platforms, are now acceptable in an ever-changing social and professional landscape.
  5. Maintain a positive, long-term mindset – Stay determined and positive. Remember: this won’t last forever. The more positive you remain, the more motivated you’ll be to keep searching for new opportunities.

 

A few additional tips to help:

  • Treat finding a job like a job – staying in a familiar routine can provide structure. Plan your day. Set a schedule – do not forget to schedule lunch – and be sure to “clock out,” putting the computer away until tomorrow.
  • Remember, you are not alone – The pandemic has affected everyone. Most likely, you know a friend, family member or community member enduring the same struggle as you. This moment in time does not define you – try to not take the unexpected job loss personally. You are more than your job, and now is the time to remind yourself of that.
  • Do not forget self-care – Do not get consumed with self-pity. You can visit pity-city, but do not call it home. Take a walk, go for a run, put on a face mask, or relax in a bubble bath – do not forget about you.
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Paying Down Credit Card Debt

Just when you thought 2020 was devoid of good news for Americans – here is a small financial reason to smile! U.S. consumers paid down a record amount of credit card debt this past year.

However, that does not mean American consumers now harbor less credit card debt. According to a report from the Federal Reserve, Americans began 2020 with $1.09 trillion in credit card debt – an all-time high. That number came about from a $76.7 billion net increase during 2019, according to a WalletHub study.

Surprisingly, the global pandemic did not cause a continued dramatic increase of credit card debt. In fact, a downward trend was almost immediate. A slight paydown of consumer credit card data is normal in the first quarter of any year, according to the WalletHub study. However, in the first quarter of 2020 consumers paid down $60 billion in credit card debt – the biggest paydown ever.

The WalletHub study found that consumers continued paying off credit cards throughout 2020. In Q2 and Q3 combined, consumers paid down $58.8 billion more in credit card debt. That is the first time in more than 30 years that credit card debt has dropped from April through September in the U.S.

It is not that Americans stopped using credit cards in 2020, they simply reprioritized their household budgets. According to a Money.com study, 70% of U.S. consumers said they have no plans to cancel or close existing credit cards because of the pandemic. Instead, Americans have begun reducing discretionary spending during the pandemic, taking advantage of lifelines offered through the federal CARES act, like stimulus checks and additional unemployment compensation , to pay down credit card debt.

Whether you are interested in reworking your budget or simply want to reduce debt in 2021, there are a few immediate benefits to lowering credit card debt:

1. Reduce stress – Finding room in a budget to pay bills on-time can keep a person up at night. Paying down, and eventually, paying off that debt will alleviate additional stress.
2. Start next year debt-free – Beginning a new year with a fresh outlook can be liberating. Set an appointment now to meet with a credit counselor and get the guidance you need to start next year debt-free.
3. Reduce the number of bills you pay – Less bills to pay means your hard-earned money can go toward other things, like saving for a new home, a new car, or a special gift.
4. Take that much needed vacation – Paying down or paying off debt can make taking that trip you have always wanted a guilt-free reward.
5. Pay less interest – Paying your credit card debt down can save you excessive interest payments, reducing the total amount you owe over time.

As you are paying down debt, it is important to remain realistic. While it can be tempting to throw as much money as possible at outstanding credit card debt, it is important to properly budget for daily, weekly, and monthly necessities (food, clothes, rent, etc.). Be realistic about how much you can put toward your credit card debt each month by deploying the helpful tips below.

Tips to paying down credit card debt
Paying off credit card debt can seem daunting – especially if you have compiled quite a bit. Getting out of credit card debt is not a sprint – it is a marathon. With determination and some solid advice, living credit card debt free is possible. Here are some tips from Credit.com to get started in the right direction:
• Get organized – Gather all the information for every card with a balance. Make a list of the amounts, interest rates, due dates, and minimum payment for each card. Add up all the minimum payments on each of your credit cards to determine how much you must pay each month just to stay on top of credit card bills.

• Create a budget – You can follow every tip for paying down credit card debt, but if you are not spending within your means, you will likely settle into the same repetitive cycle. Create a budget that works for you, leaving wiggle room to pay down that credit card debt.

• Paying off the card with the highest APR first – Paying off the highest interest rate first makes the most monetary sense because it cuts out spending on a larger chunk of interest. Try boosting your payments on the card with the highest APR and paying the minimums on the remaining cards. Once that card is paid off, move on to the card with the next highest APR.

• Paying off the card with the lowest balance first – This method may not make as much monetary sense as paying off the highest interest rate card first. However, this may be a method that is easier to stick to for those who have a difficult time staying motivated without quick gratification. Enjoy the endorphins that come from paying off that lowest balance – then keep paying off from there!

COVID-19: We’re Going to Get Through This – Let Us Help Where We Can

Now that we’re near the end of the second week of Ohio’s state-wide “Stay at Home” order we wanted to take a moment to give an update on the services we at ProMedica Federal Credit Union are committed to continuing to provide to all of our Members.

For now, we will continue to offer extended hours of operations through our drive-thru service at the 2301 W. Central Avenue branch. Monday – Friday 7:00am-7:00pm. Due to low demand we will be ending our temporary Saturday hours of operations. We will continue to review this on a week by week basis.

Outside of this, our Members can always access our services and their accounts through other safe and secure methods – please be sure to contact the Credit Union if you need help accessing any of the following:

  • ATMs: We will make sure our ATMs continue to be stocked and in service. You may also use this Co-Op Shared Branching Locator to find other fee-free ATMs wherever you are.
  • Mobile Banking: Our Online and Mobile Banking allows a full range of services – including: Account Inquires, Mobile Check Deposit, Funds Transfers, and Electronic Bill Pay.
  • Electronic Account and Loan Processing: We are fully capable of receiving, processing, and completing applications for new Membership, secondary accounts, and loans without the need to meet face-to-face. Look here for our full suite of options at our Online Application Portal

Don’t forget we are your Credit Union – the wellbeing of our Members will always be our top priority. The current crisis has created difficulties and, with more uncertain times possibly ahead of us, we’ve rolled out a series of programs that you can look into to gain a little breathing room.

  • Emergency Loans     A $1,000 Emergency Loan will be made available to our Members in need of short-term financial assistance at only 5.99% APR* and a 12-month term. Members may make no payments for the first 90 days. Apply, get approved, and sign online at our Online Personal Loan Portal
  • Payment Deferments     Members in good standing will be able to defer payments on any existing ProMedica FCU Consumer loan for up to 90 days. This will be offered, with no processing fee. Contact us by phone at 419-479-4040 or by email at MemberServices@promedicafcu.com for instructions and details.
  • VISA Skip-a-Pay     We will help facilitate a Skip-a-Pay for qualifying cardholders that will run April 1 through May 31, 2020. Look to your next VISA statement for more details.

These assistance programs are another area we are always looking to review and improve. If there is some way we can offer better service please let us know by email at: MemberServices@promedicafcu.com

Lastly, we want to warn our Members to be careful and cautious of bad actors looking to take advantage of people during situations like this. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has compiled tips for avoiding and dealing with recent and emerging scams, including:

  1. Avoid phishing scams by keeping your anti-malware and anti-virus software up to date on your computer and never click on links from sources you don’t know.
  2. Go directly to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) for the most recent information on the coronavirus, rather than obtaining information from emails and other sources that may not be legitimate.
  3. Watch out for advertisements or “investment opportunities” around coronavirus prevention, treatment, or cures. Consult a medical professional for questions about prevention and treatment.

Always stop and think critically about what is being asked of you – especially if you are being asked to give any personally identifying information (SSNs, Account Numbers, etc..).

We do our best to keep our Members up to date on potential scams by sharing consumer alerts from the FTC on our Facebook page. Another great resource to help you keep your money safe, especially with the Federal Economic Stimulus checks due to start going out soon, is the IRS Corona Virus Center where you can find a wealth of information straight from the source.

Remember, we’re here to help. Be kind and be safe out there!

*APR = Annual Percentage Rate. Credit subject to credit approval. Terms and conditions apply. Programs, rates, terms, and conditions are subject to change without notice. This credit union is insured by the National Credit Union Administration.

 

Tips and Tricks to Help Manage Your Holiday Expenses

With the holiday season right around the corner, consumers are often unprepared for the additional expenses for those special presents and occasions and exit the holiday season with debt—a gift that unfortunately keeps on giving.

According to the annual survey released by the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics, consumers expect to spend an average of $1,047.83 this holiday season, which is a 4 percent increase from the $1,007.24 they said they would spend in 2018.

Research shows that many Americans who rack up holiday debt do so on high-interest credit cards, averaging $1,230 in 2018, according to an annual survey conducted by Magnify Money. This notes an increase from $1,054 in 2017, and $1,003 in 2016, in holiday spending.

A lack of preparation could be the problem. According to a 2017 survey conducted by mobile startup Varo, 74 percent of Americans say they often fail to budget properly for the holidays, forgetting to take into account the full range of holiday-related expenses such as last-minute gifts, food, decorations, and holiday outfits.

And then there’s always peer pressure. According to a 2018 survey by Bankrate, two in five Americans feel pressured to overspend during the holiday season, with parents and middle-income earners feeling the greatest burden.

Even after the decorations are stored away, debt on credit cards tends to linger beyond the holiday season. According to a Magnify Money holiday debt survey, 49 percent of holiday shopper respondents said it would take five months or longer to pay the season’s debt off of their credit cards. That means in 2018, those shoppers were still paying off their holiday debt into May of 2019.

The statistics are even more alarming for holiday shoppers who are planning to make minimum payments on their debt. For example, it would take more than five years to repay a debt of $1,230 on a card with an annual percentage rate of 16.5 percent if the cardholder was making minimum payments of $30 each month. That shopper would not be rid of the 2018 holiday debt until 2023.

Despite holiday spending pressure, consumers can still enjoy the season’s festivities and manage to avoid a lump of debt through these following spending tips:

  • Look for travel deals. Book your travel early and use online tools such as Expedia or Kayak to comparison shop. Try carrying on your luggage to avoid excessive fees and avoid peak travel dates where possible.
  • Make a gift list. Make an extensive list of all family members, friends, teachers, and more that you need to purchase gifts for so you can accurately define your budget, then set a specific amount you want to spend for each category of recipients.
  • Track your spending. Return to your gift list and budget after each purchase to track your spending and make sure you’re staying within your financial limits.
  • Pick a payment. Plan the way you’ll pay; cash or credit. If cash, start setting aside savings for your spending now. If credit, make a repayment plan to avoid carrying unnecessary debt into next year. If you need a new source of funds for the holidays, consider a seasonal job or suspending certain luxuries for a couple of months.
  • Do it yourself. Get creative and make your gifts. From pictures of the kids to holiday treats, candles and crafts, there are a lot of easy DIY options.
  • Shop the deals. Pay close attention to sales ads and take advantage of big sale days such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Sign up for email lists of your favorite retailers, so you receive notifications of exclusive discounts.
  • Share hosting responsibilities. If you’re hosting a holiday get together with family or friends, consider asking guests to each bring a dish and if sharing gifts, consider drawing names instead of buying for all.
  • Start saving earlier next year. In January, open a specialized savings account at your credit union. This will let you easily set aside money each pay period throughout the year, so you’ll be ready to shop more efficiently next season. To find a credit union near you, visit YourMoneyFurther.com
Heat in the winter

Winter is coming—save on energy costs

Ohioans are spending a significant chunk of change on household energy costs, yet most have not evaluated potential savings opportunities.

According to the 2018 Ohio Utility Rate Survey conducted by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, Ohio residents spend, on average, between $2,000 and $3,000 per year in household energy expenses.

This range is slightly higher than the national trends. Each household in the U.S. uses an average of 77.1 British thermal united (Btus) each year, costing each household about $1,856 per year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Heating, air conditioning, and water heating account for more than 74 percent of the energy consumed per household nationally and for 60 percent of the household energy dollars spent, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. With its population, industrial economy, and seasonal temperature ranges, Ohio is one of the top 10 states in total energy consumption.

Heating costs may be more dramatic in Ohio than the national average. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, heating accounts for 15 percent of each U.S. household’s energy expenditures. In Ohio’s residential sector, nearly 7 out of 10 households use natural gas to heat their homes and accounts for almost 30 percent of the state’s total consumption.

The U.S. Energy Administration data mirrors Ohio and other states because it costs more money to heat than cool. According to the data, Midwestern states spend $1,695 per year in energy expenditures with $681 dedicated to heating costs. Meanwhile, households in Southern states spend $1,917 per year in energy expenditures at $465, surprisingly attributed to heating costs while $392 covers cooling. 

The Ohio Consumers’ Counsel calculates Ohioans spend more than 7 percent of their household income on energy costs and encourages consumers to make small home adjustments to reduce the financial burden on consumers.

With winter coming, now is the time to start saving on energy costs through these helpful tips:

  • Conduct an energy audit. Conduct a professional or DIY energy audit on your home to identify savings opportunities. 
  • Use the sun. Open the curtains during the day to allow sunlight to heat your home. Then close them at night to prevent losing heat through the windows.
  • Check window coverings. Cover drafty windows with a heavy-duty, clear plastic sheet on a frame during the cold winter months. Make sure the plastic is sealed tightly to reduce infiltration.
  • Be smart with the thermostat. Adjust the thermostat as low as is comfortable when at home and awake. When away or asleep, turn the thermostat back 10 to 15 degrees and save around 10 percent a year on your heating and cooling bills.   
  • Spot and seal leaks. Seal any air leaks around utility cut-throughs for pipes, gaps around chimneys, recessed lights in insulated ceilings, and unfinished spaces behind closets.
  • Tune-up. Schedule a routine tune-up on your heating system to ensure peak performance.
  • Clean air ducts. Clean your air ducts to ensure fresh, allergen-free air flows through your home.
  • Go LED. Use LED holiday light strings to reduce the cost of decorating your home for the winter holidays.
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Vacation

Planning a Vacation? Make Sure Your Expenses Are Covered

Summer vacation will be here before you know it. And if you’re planning a family trip, you might want to make sure all your financial ducks are in a row so you can relax about money and just enjoy your time away from home.

First, make sure you’re getting the most cost-effective deals. See if you can use credit card rewards to cover part of your family’s air fare or hotel stay – like with our VISA Platinum with ScoreCard® Rewards. And when you’re choosing a hotel, look for one that offers a variety of freebies, such as discounts on food or hotel amenities, so your hotel funds will go farther.

Also check your organization memberships to see if they offer discounts on the activities you want to do on your trip.

Next, if you plan to use a loan to help pay for the vacation, get that taken care of now. You can choose a personal loan with fixed payments or a home equity loan or line of credit. That way you’ll be set with the funds you need when you’re buying your tickets, plus you’ll have what you need when you start your travels. And you’ll have time to decide exactly how much you’ll need to borrow so you will have enough for all the things you want to do. Give us a call at 419.479.4040 to find out more about the options we’ve got to help you fund your vacation.

Finally, decide how you’re going to pay for things while you’re out of town. It can be a good idea to have a mix of cash and credit cards. Some establishments might take cash only, especially if you’re at an open air market or small mom and pop shop, so having a small amount of cash will help you make sure you’re able to pay no matter where you are. But credit cards offer fraud protection, and if they are lost or stolen on the trip, you can call and have them cancelled and replaced — if you lose cash, you’re usually out of luck. Having one or two credit cards also means you’ve got the means to pay if there is an unplanned expense — and you can earn more rewards to use on your next trip.

One important tip — give us a call and let us know what dates you’ll be travelling and where you’re going. That way, we can alert the fraud monitoring serve we use to keep your funds safe so they will allow the charges. (There are certain countries where U.S. credit cards cannot be used, and we can help guide you on payment methods if you plan to travel to one of these.)

Happy travels!

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Home Improvements

Home Improvements That Matter

When you’re looking to upgrade your home, tapping into the equity with a home equity loan or line of credit makes a lot of sense.

In some cases, the interest on the loan might be tax deductible — and even if it isn’t, home equity loans typically carry a lower interest rate than credit cards or other types of loans. And if the upgrades increase your home value,  you may end up with more equity than when you started.

But, a lot of upgrades don’t appreciably increase your home’s value, and they might be better paid for with savings or by earning extra money to cover the costs. Another option would be to trade services with a contractor, if you’ve got skills that can earn money.

Wise Home Improvements

Certain home upgrades tend to provide more value than the actual cost.

Kitchen upgrades can offer great value. New lighting, modern appliances, and better storage can really increase your home’s value while also making your kitchen easier to use.

Bathroom renovations can also be a safe bet. Tile, a tub refresh, and, again, new cabinets, are great options. Fresh paint is also useful.

Paint in any room — or on the exterior — can offer good return on investment if you’re covering a funky or outdated color, especially if you do a lot of the work yourself rather than paying a professional.

Outside, you might want to invest in landscaping or patio or deck upgrades.

Home Improvements That Are a Bust

Trendy upgrades that may be out of fashion in the next few years don’t tend to be a good bet.

Wall-to-wall carpeting can also be a bad investment, as many buyers may plan to rip it out and replace it with an easier-to-clean laminate or wood floor.

Expensive upgrades, even in the kitchen or bathroom, might also be a waste of money, if they don’t fit the style of the home or offer the type of experience that is out of step with the home values in your neighborhood. For example, a full spa shower in a 1,000 square foot ranch home in a modest neighborhood might be nice, but these upgrades are not likely to bring you a better sale price. Same with a commercial grade stove or $10,000 refrigerator may not be a great value.

Now, if you’ve got the money for these upgrades and would love them, by all means go for it, especially if you plan to be in your house using them for a long time. But don’t go into debt or decrease your available home equity for them.

Got more questions about smart ways to use a home equity loan or line of credit? Give us a call at 419-479-4040. We can’t wait to talk to you about your needs.

Credit Union Difference

Do you know the real credit union difference?

Here at ProMedica Credit Union, we talk a lot about the “credit union difference.” But what does that mean?

Ownership Matters

First and foremost, the ownership of a credit union differentiates it from other types of financial institutions. Rather than a for-profit organization run by a paid board of directors who report to shareholders, a credit union is a not-for-profit financial cooperative. That means you are the owners. And our volunteer board of directors — who you vote for — work to ensure that the credit union continues to meet the needs of all its member-owners.

You Benefit from the Profits

When ProMedica Credit Union makes a profit, we are able to give you a better deal. We keep our loan rates and fees low, and we pay higher interest rates on deposit accounts.

We also reinvest profits into the credit union to ensure that you have access to the financial products and services you need. And we provide educational opportunities to ensure that every member has the information they need to make smart financial decisions.

The Local Economy Grows

Most important, though, the money you entrust to us at ProMedica Credit Union stays in our area. Our staff and leadership lives in this community, and we make all our lending decisions locally.

So every time you walk into a branch, use your debit or credit card, or take advantage of our low loan rates and fees, you know you’re helping the local economy thrive. The American Independent Business Alliance gathered various studies of the economic impact of local businesses, and on average, locally owned businesses recirculate 48% of the funds spent there, as compared to 12% from non-local stores.

So, your deposits can help your fellow members buy their first house or car, start a business, or fund their education. And when you use our auto lending program to buy your next new or used car, you’re likely to go to a locally owner car dealer. The salesperson will earn a commission that helps support his or her family. The owner will use the funds to keep the dealership open and pay non-sales staff. The owner will also advertise on local radio an in local newspapers. The salesperson and staff will spend their salaries at local grocery stores, shops, and restaurants, keeping those business afloat and the employees working.

If you like to buy local, you’re going to love banking locally at ProMedica Credit Union, too.

Healthy Eating

How to Eat Healthy on a Budget

When was the last time you tried to eat cheaply? You probably focused on a lot of ramen, maybe some potatoes and rice, and occasional trips to the dollar menu. Although these foods are cheap, they are lacking in nutrition — and loaded with sodium.

Healthy food has a reputation for being expensive. And you may need to spend a little more than on a five-pound bag of potatoes and 25-cent packs of salty noodles.

But with a little careful planning, you can eat well without breaking the bank.

Here’s how.

Focus on fiber

Fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains are super-healthy — and cheap. Make these the centerpiece of your meal to save money. You don’t have to go meatless if you don’t want to, just cook smaller portions of meat and larger sides.

Want to get the best deals on whole grains and beans? Buy dry beans — these cost a fraction of the price of canned beans. And use the bulk bins to stock up on grains.

Skip pricey organics

If you prefer organic foods, make sure your organic dollars go to the most important items. The Environmental Working Group puts together an annual list of the Clean 15, fruits and vegetables that have the least pesticide residue and are safe to buy in the cheaper conventional version.

Buy in season

Why buy a pale bland tomato in the middle of winter — especially when it costs about four times as much as it would in the summer. Seasonal produce will be the best bargain.

Not sure what’s in season? Eat the Seasons posts a list of fruits and vegetables that are in season by month. You can also tell by seeing what’s got the lowest price in the product section at the store.

Want bonus points? Try shopping at your local farmer’s market or through a community-supported agriculture cooperative. Not only will your food be in season, it will be super-fresh.

Learn to preserve

If you’ve got a freezer, you can turn some of that in-season bounty into off-season delights. You can blanch (lightly boil) and freeze many fruits and vegetables. You can even make your own freezer tomato sauce and salsa so you can enjoy fresh tomato flavor in mid-winter. And your homemade frozen items will be much cheaper than the bags you find in the freezer section of the grocery store.

And consider buying meat in bulk and freezing it in meal-size portions. You can typically save more than a dollar per pound, depending on the type and cut of meat, when you buy the family packs. Ensure it will stay fresh longer by investing in a vacuum sealer. This affordable appliance will pay for itself easily — and you can use it to seal your frozen vegetables and fruits, too.

Stay home more

If you’ve been spending on eating take-out and sit-down restaurant meals, you’ll be amazed at how much money you can save by cooking at home. (As a bonus, many meals take less time than calling ahead and driving to pick up your dinner.) Can’t bear to part with your favorite take-out? Try a web search for “RESTAURANT NAME DISH copycat recipe.” You’ll be amazed at how many great recipes you can find that way.

Now, what will you do with all the money you saved on food?

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