Easy investing with just a little money

Let’s talk about your investment portfolio. What? You’re not investing!? (It’s okay, no judgment here.)

Most people put off investing because they believe it takes a lot of money or it’s just too complicated. Neither is true. So, here are a few tips for easy investing with only a little money.

andrew-neel-218073Not enough is just enough

You may think your budget is too tight, but it doesn’t take thousands to begin investing. Start with small steps. Save a little at a time. You can start by actually putting $10 a week away in a shoebox, envelope, safe or even a cookie jar. Just don’t dip into it, and in a year you’ll have over $500.

The electronic version of the cookie jar is an online savings account connected to your checking account, such as an MCU Ultra Checking or Checking Plus account. Start small and increase as you’re able. When the stash is big enough, you’ll be able move it into some actual investment vehicles.

Do it on the jobdane-deaner-334260.jpg

As we mentioned in our last “Heads & Tails” post, an employer-sponsored retirement plan, such as a 401(k), is an excellent way to save and invest. The great news is that you can have small amounts withheld, even just 1 percent of your salary, but because of the tax deduction you get for 401(k) contributions, the actual effect on your take-home pay is even less than 1 percent. Increase the amount with pay raises, and if your employer provides a matching contribution, all the better.

Invest your time elsewhere

When you have a little more to invest, you still may not have the time to spend learning about all the options. Stocks, bonds, commodities, currencies, REITs … the list goes on and on. Fortunately, you can do just fine without being an investment expert. Online automated portfolio management services, sometimes called robo-advisors, use computer algorithms to create investment plans based on your answers to a number of questions. They are great for those new to investing without a large amount to open an account and those who don’t want to spend a lot of time picking individual stocks.

jimi-filipovski-189724Betterment and Wealthfront are two sites that offer robo-advising options. Both helped pioneer the industry and are good solutions for many investors. Both also offer low management fees with no, or small, account minimums.

How soon is now?

Your good intentions don’t earn interest or dividends. The most important thing about investing is actually starting. So do it. Start building wealth through good habits – budgeting, saving, etc. Make investing a routine now and you’ll be in a much stronger financial position down the road.

First Paycheck Fundamentals

Getting your first paycheck is a rite of passage. No matter how mature and grown-up you feel, getting paid at your first real job says “I’m an adult now.” If you’re just experiencing this, or soon will be, congratulations and welcome to adulthood. As a new adult, you could probably use some tips for how to get the most out of that first, and future, paycheck.

helloquence-61189Net is not gross

To effectively manage your paycheck, you need to know how much money you really make (tip: it’s not the number you agreed to when you got the job offer). Your net, or take-home, pay is the amount after taxes and benefits are withheld. By the way, the gut punch of seeing the difference between the two is also a rite of passage. Look closely at your first paystub to see where it all goes, and to know how much you actually have left to spend.

There’s a budget for that

Once you know what you’re working with, it’s important to create a budget and stick to it. The 50/20/30 budget is perfect, especially for young adults just starting out, for helping you keep your spending in alignment with your savings goals. Get into the budgeting habit early and it will be a far simpler task throughout your life.

50+20+30=good planninggreen-chameleon-21532

The 50/20/30 budget states you should set aside 50 percent of your net income for essentials, 20 percent for savings and 30 percent for personal expenses. Essentials are generally the same for everyone and include housing, food, transportation costs, utility bills and minimum payments on loans (such as student or car loans). Savings include savings plans, debt payments and rainy-day funds. The personal category is everything else, from totally discretionary expenses like vacations or concert tickets to cellphone and cable plans, which many consider a necessity but are personal expenses. The key is to pay for essentials first, then put money into savings before you get to personal expenses. We know it’s tough, but you can do it.

Saving is fun!

Okay, so we’re more into saving than the average person. But here’s something to get excited about: Get into the savings habit early and you’ll have far more fun later in life when expenses like college educations for your kids and your own retirement pop up. It’s hard to put money toward savings when so many other enjoyable options keep presenting themselves, but the good news is that your employer can often help you save more easily.

Look carefully at your benefits package when you start. If your company offers a 401(k), open an account. A 401(k) is a retirement savings plan that lets workers save and invest a portion of their salary before taxes are taken out. Some employers even offer 401(k) matching, which is like free money. If you contribute a certain amount, the company may match a percentage of the funds. Start contributing to your 401(k) early and get used to having money deducted.

Having a real adult income is exciting (even if you think it’s not enough). If you establish good habits managing your money early, you’ll ensure you get the most out of every paycheck earned.

DIY tips for a cheap Halloween

Halloween ranks on everyone’s list of favorite holidays (okay, maybe not everyone). But as much as we love it, it’s no fun paying $50 or more for flimsy kids’ costumes, or even one for yourself. Fortunately, you don’t have to. Halloween is about showing your personality, and there are countless ways to put together a wonderful costume without blowing a bundle. Here are just a few.

Don’t procrastinate

Starting your costume search two days before is a recipe for disappointment. You’ll be elbow-to-elbow in a panicked frenzy, fighting over what’s left in the costume aisles. Plus, last-minute shopping always costs you more in the end. So get an early start. It also helps to have some extra time to add the finishing touches. You really can’t start too early, so keep your eyes open year-round for the best costume ideas and you’ll be surprised how the ideas appear when you’re not even thinking about it.

levi-saunders-327323Look around you

Start your costume search at home. You probably have more than you realize (for instance, that graduation robe will work perfectly for a Harry Potter costume). Just rifling through closets will give you some ideas, but there are also plenty available online that can spark imagination, especially for timely, current event-related costumes. Pinterest and even YouTube are also great resources for ideas.

Recycle itsaksham-gangwar-159645

Secondhand and thrift stores are Halloween meccas. Vintage pieces, used work clothing and accessories can be mixed and matched in thousands of ways. Remember, a great costume is about the details, but that doesn’t mean getting every detail perfect. Just a couple of well-observed pieces can really turn an outfit into a costume.

Make it a date

Couples costumes are super fun, but let’s be honest – they work best if you assemble them together, right? Isn’t there (wink) far too much risk of mismatch if you don’t do it together? You see what we’re getting at here? That’s right. Turn the couples costuming into a really fun date. And encourage each other to save at the same time.

There’s always a way

Halloween is about being creative. Want to make your own costume/s but can’t sew? Try fabric glue. Making a tutu for one night of trick-or-treating is different from making something that’s going to see the ballet stage. There are hacks available for getting almost any costume through a night. If you have an idea but aren’t sure how to put it together, check online – there’s probably a YouTube tutorial that can walk you through it.

No matter how you do it, Halloween costumes are just darn fun. And now, cost doesn’t have to be prohibitive.

Benefits of Shopping Locally

Everyone knows that local businesses face stiff challenges. Major big-box stores and online retailers are dominating with greater selection and generally lower prices. While that may be convenient for you as a shopper, there are still plenty of reasons to support businesses within your own community.

Better for the communityilham-hanifa-65780

A big reason to support local businesses is that the people who run them are your neighbors. Buying local helps your community because those businesses are more likely to invest profits right back into the community – buying supplies, advertising, using local contractors, and much more. In fact, one study found that for every $100 spent at a local business, $68 remained in the community, versus only $43 of $100 spent at a chain retailer. And, shopping at an online retailer that’s not local returns far less than that. You might not see the benefit immediately, but over time, the community gains from local businesses because those tax dollars go toward better schools and public services. Strong local businesses also make your town a better, more interesting place to live and visit.

raquel-martinez-96648Keep it fresh with farmers markets

Farmers markets are the very definition of local. But when it comes to food, many people often assume terms like “local” or “organic” translate to “expensive.” However, increasing competition, and the lack of middlemen, has made buying local food more affordable. Additionally, local means you’re buying healthier foods for your family because it’s often fresher and more nutritious. Added bonus: It usually tastes better, too.

Local handmade goods can cost lessmike-wilson-263703

Unless you’re buying a car, home appliance or smartphone, handmade can be the way to go. It’s so much nicer to have things like artwork, quilts, candles, furniture and even some clothing, that are unique, and often one-of-a-kind. Of course, it’s possible to find handmade items online, but once again, there are middlemen involved who want their cut. And if you’re buying locally, you can feel good about supporting your talented neighbors.

Thrift stores are nifty

Thrift stores rock. Every trip feels like a treasure hunt. You never know exactly what you’re going to find, but often enough, you find a gem at a bargain price. It’s not uncommon to find designer clothing at a fraction of the cost, and non-designer clothes are always available for very little. Thrift stores also allow you to develop your own unique wardrobe without having to worry about seeing someone else in the same national chain outfit. And when it comes to keeping kids clothed, thrift stores are a lifesaver. You’ll also find tons of options for your next Halloween costume.

dan-gold-272398Room to negotiate

Those big-box stores have low prices but the only negotiating they’ll do is to match another store’s price. Your local business is generally more open to price negotiation, especially on products that have been sitting around for a long time. And, after a couple of visits, they might recognize your face and throw in a freebie with your order. When was the last time Walmart gave you a free pastry?

Banking in your community

You might have heard this from us before, but when it comes to financial institutions, staying local really makes sense, especially at your community credit union. As with retail stores, more of your money stays in the community, but the impact can be immediate in the form of better rates, fewer fees or even member paybacks. And as a credit union member, you generally receive more personal service and have a partner with no ulterior motives in managing your finances.


Tailgating on a Budget

Football season is back. For many, that’s good news. If that’s not you, enjoy your free time not watching games. But if you are excited, chances are you may have some tailgating in your future. It’s a great way to get together with your fellow fans but it can be expensive. Here are a few ways to keep costs under control without sacrificing fun:

Keep it DIY

Sure, it’s easier to pick up pre-made snack platters and side dishes, but you’ll pay for thatEASY-Mexican-Grilled-Corn-with-Sriracha-Aioli-vegan-glutenfree-aioli-corn-recipe convenience. Put in the time yourself and you will save plenty. Don’t go overboard, either. Tailgating is about hanging with friends, not appreciating fine gourmet food. Here are some great recipes you can make for under $1 per serving (it’s easy to find many others online).

Buy in bulk

Visit warehouse stores like Sam’s Club for the best deals, especially if you’re planning to tailgate more than once this football season. Buying items in bulk, especially things like condiments, chips, and disposable utensils can lead to big savings.

Skip the pricey meat

tailgate-food-wings-ribs-shrimp-gluten-free_ttvw2pWe know, it seems sacrilegious to tailgate without some choice meat on a grill, but that can get seriously expensive. You can save a ton by getting your protein in other, cheaper ways. Think hot dogs and brats. And non-meat items, too. If your tailgaters are stuffed to the gills with nachos, seven-layer dip and deviled eggs, nobody’s going to complain. There are plenty of amazing meat-free recipes to add to your arsenal here.

Explore beer options

Nothing against beer snobs, but insisting on only your favorite craft brew is a quick way to run up your tailgating budget. Keep your mind open to some different labels and you’ll find some big savings.

Sharing is key


Consider having a “potluck” for tailgating gear, as well as food. Coolers, canopies, chairs, and portable grills really add up if you’re buying, especially if you have to get them in team colors. Pool resources with your other tailgaters and borrow whatever is left.

No purchases at the game

It doesn’t matter if it’s food, beer, or souvenirs; everything costs more inside the stadium. Fill up at your tailgate and make sure you packed appropriate gear for the weather, so you’re not stuck buying an overpriced rain poncho out of desperation. Remember, too, you don’t need officially licensed gear to be a real fan. A plain shirt in your team’s color shows your spirit just as well. If you must have the jersey, pick up one at a thrift store before the game.

The most important goal of tailgating is to have a good time. And if you’re hanging with friends, enjoying the atmosphere and time together is so much more important than what you’re wearing or eating.

Take Advantage of Labor Day Sales

Well, this summer is almost in the books. Labor Day, the unofficial end of summer, is around the corner. (But don’t worry if you want summer to hang on a bit longer; the official end is the autumnal equinox on September 22.) Either way, this is the last three-day weekend of the summer and that always means big sales. Here’s a guide to finding some of the biggest markdowns.

tim-stief-63912This is one of the best times of the year to buy a new car. Dealers are anticipating the arrival of the next model-year cars and need to make space on their lots. Dealers want that car gone as much as you want it in your driveway. That means great incentives, including aggressively discounted pricing, low interest rates and reduced lease prices to clear out 2017 models. Also in your favor, there are high inventory levels on many models, which means you can probably find a good closeout bargain before choices get lean. Here’s just one list of some great offers. You can also check manufacturer sites, Edmunds.com and local dealer sites for offers.


Most retailers will be running sales, but some of the biggest deals will be on summernvsbl-media-262854.jpg items – all the grills, lawn gear, patio furniture and clothing like shorts and swimwear that need to make way for colder-weather gear. Summer always comes back, so plan ahead for next year and take advantage of the killer buys. And don’t forget Labor Day weekend is also huge when it comes to home appliance deals at places like Home Depot, Sears and Best Buy.

simson-petrol-110900Back to School

Sometimes it pays to procrastinate. With kids back in school you probably have your school supplies purchased, but now’s the time to restock or get whatever was left of the list. Retailers want to unload those leftover notebooks, backpacks and everything else taking up valuable shelf space, so they’re offering deep discounts. You’ll find deals at all the major players like Staples, Office Depot, Walmart and Target.

One of the best times of the year to shop for a new mattress is – you guessed it! – Labor Day weekend, when many local companies run big sales. Great deals are out there, including up to 60 percent off some mattresses.

So go on. Get out there and save this Labor Day weekend. Finding what you need at a discount is actually responsible spending – as long as you avoid that urge, of course, to buy what you don’t need.

Is it time to kill your gym membership?

They’re out there. You might even be one of them.

Do you pay for a gym membership every month and get the full value out of it? Meaning you visit frequently and take advantage of the amenities, classes and training and everything else you signed up for. Most importantly, do you keep yourself fit and healthy as a byproduct of your membership? If the answer is yes, congratulations.

Unfortunately for many of us, the answer is no. An expensive “no” where money drains from our checking accounts as we drive past the gym thinking tomorrow will be the day. If this describes you, it might be time to drop the gym membership and put that money toward a more important household expense.

The good news: There are tons of workout options that won’t drain your bank account.

Use your body

keit-trysh-167890You don’t need specialized equipment to work out. Pushups, situps, dips and lunges are just a few of the ways you can work out using only your body weight (and perhaps a mat). You’ll find tons of other ways online to get a total body workout. Best of all, you can do it at home, or outside, any time you want.

Get outside

Running. Bicycling. Pickup basketball. Frisbee in the park. Running after your dog or kids anywhere. When the weather cooperates, it’s almost always more fun to get your exercise outside. You won’t miss the gym at all.

Columbia, MO is home to the MKT Trail, and Greenway Trail is a great option for anyonekyle-kranz-25026 in Jefferson City. Additionally, both COMO and Jeff City have access to the Katy Trail.

Help is out there

Many people join gyms for the available instruction but you can actually find much of it for free or very cheap. YouTube alone has thousands of video tutorials for everything from yoga to boxing, and Instagram is brimming with creative workout ideas. Many libraries have workout videos you can check out for free, and you can generally find heavily marked-down videos at discount stores and online. Likewise, Pinterest is a great resource and there are plenty of workout apps for Android and iOS.

Build your own gym

Putting together your own home gym doesn’t have to be super expensive. A pricey treadmill or elliptical isn’t necessary when you can get a great workout with much cheaper alternatives. It’s easy to get a fantastic cardio workout with just a jump rope, an aerobic step platform, or even a hula hoop. And for strength training, you can easily train the major muscle groups with some resistance bands, a simple dumbbell set or kettlebells.

kettlebellsSpending your hard-earned money on a gym you don’t use is beyond wasteful. Save yourself and your budget by remembering that a cheap workout is just as good as an expensive one if you’re putting in the work.

Not ready cut the cord?

If you’re willing to try new workout options but still want to have a good old fashioned gym to rely on for your standard workout, then you should take another look into your monthly bill. There are some great ways to cut down the price of your membership:

  • If you’re a student, check with your school. Most colleges and universities include a gym membership, or have discount partnerships with nearby facilities.
  • If you’ve graduated from school, check with your alumni association. Many offer discounted memberships with alumni businesses.
  • Many employers offer health and fitness programs that include free or discounted gym memberships.
  • Some health insurance providers even offer compensated or discounted gym memberships. It never hurt anyone to check.

Avoiding Vacation Envy

We’ve all dealt with it. You’re innocently perusing your social media feed and get hit with photos from someone’s amazing vacation. And with the unrelenting updates from family, friends, former friends and friends of friends, somebody always seems to be on vacation. The water’s so blue, that drink’s so tropical and OMG they went zip lining! They look like they’re having the best time, the kind of time you wish you were enjoying right now. And you begin to think, perhaps it’s time to pull the trigger on that dream trip. The one you can’t afford.

It’s called vacation envy. And we’re here to help you deal with it.

First, don’t fall into the trap of trying to “keep up” with anyone. The worst thing you can do is to feel like you should judge yourself against friends’ vacations, clothes, jobs, etc. You can’t win. Whatever short-term gratification you get disappears quickly. Just like your money will if you act on your envy. Next you may find yourself in a financial hole. To feel better? Do it all over again, right? Wrong.

Spending money you don’t have won’t quiet the envy. Attacking the monster is about actively changing your thoughts and resolving to stop the cycle.

Pretty pictures aren’t everything


Great photos don’t mean happiness. Of course you already know this, but it’s helpful to keep in mind because most people don’t share boring or unhappy moments. In fact, big trips are notorious for causing as much tension for couples and families as relaxation. You may not be missing out on a perfect vacation, after all.

Plan for that vacation

Travel’s a luxury, and of course, luxuries have to go when you’re saving money. But if isolated-vacation-jar_auqvgztravel is something you really value, try to set aside some money each month. Build it into your budget to save for a vacation fund. But remember, once you’ve saved enough, stick to the budget. It’s too easy to say yes to upgrades and extras. Which can eventually tip the scales beyond your budget. Here are a couple of tools to help keep the scales in balance:

If you absolutely must grab your bug-out bag and skip town, at least go about it in a frugal way. Booking trips through the right channels can ultimately save you big bucks. Here are a few of our favorite travel booking sites:

The best vacation is one you can afford

The point is to get away from responsibilities and the everyday humdrum. So what if you can’t afford a trip to Paris or the Bahamas? There are amazing vacation spots everywhere, including close by. Taking a trip you know you can afford is far more relaxing than taking a bigger one you can’t.

  • Wander is a great way to find travel destinations based on your budget.
  • For tips and tools to help you budget for your next road trip, check out Outdoor Blueprint.

So, save up for that dream vacation and post fun pictures, but don’t forget to let everyone know how you planned ahead and made it happen within your budget. Your friends may just envy you for your financial wisdom.

Summer fun in KC for $20 or less

Kansas City’s a great place to visit in the summer. And for visitors on a budget, the best part is that a trip doesn’t need to break the bank, because there are so many free or inexpensive things to do. Here are some favorites.

Commute by streetcar

Travel along the 2.2-mile KC Streetcar line and experience some of KC’s most vibrant neighborhoods. The route includes 16 stops throughout the Crossroads Arts District, Power & Light District and River Market. Best of all, it’s totally free.
Get cultured

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is a world-renowned museum and is home to nearly 35,000 pieces of art, including the famous shuttlecocks on the south and north lawns. Admission is free, as is street parking. Parking in the garage will run you $8.

10-01_Hfest&MiCoSunrise_0003Take a brew tour

Boulevard Brewing Co. has grown from a neighborhood favorite to one of the largest craft brewers in the nation. Take a free 60-minute tour that explores their unique history, brewing process and business approach, and ends in the tasting room where visitors can sample a select variety of Boulevard brews.

Pick up your own bag of money

The Money Museum is part of Kansas City’s Federal Reserve Bank. During free self-guided tours, you can design your own currency, pick up a 27-pound gold bar and see the region’s largest cash vault. Plus, you’ll really love what the museum gives out as a souvenir: a bag of shredded money.

First Fridays

The streets of the Crossroads Arts District swarm with thousands of visitors on the first Friday of each month. They gather for a 40-gallery art crawl with an eclectic variety of sidewalk vendors, live entertainment and food trucks, creating a vibrant street festival vibe. It’s free to the public and food trucks provide cheap options for al fresco dinners.

Get your caffeine onThe-Roasterie

Coffee lovers, this one’s for you. The Roasterie offers free behind-the-scenes tours where you’ll learn all about their cupping, roasting and blending process. Reservations are encouraged.

For the family:

Kaleidoscope at Crown Center is a free creative workshop geared toward kids 12 and younger. The art studio allows kids to express themselves with leftover materials from Hallmark’s manufacturing process – bows, cardboard, melted crayons and more.

It’s free to explore Union Station, a 100-year old art deco treasure. Be warned that some of its attractions cost. One of the most popular is Science City, a science center with loads of interactive learning exhibits. Kids can dig for fossils, ride a bicycle 30 feet off the ground and find their way out of Maze Park. Tickets are $13.25. Costs for other rotating exhibits at Union Station vary.


Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead is designed to depict a traditional turn-of-the-century Kansas family farm. Kids will find tons of animals, a mining camp, a dairy barn, a fishing pond, play areas, pony rides and more. Admission is $2 and free after 2 p.m. on weekdays.

There are plenty of other free and reasonable options, so check out Visit KC’s site for more ideas and useful information. No matter where you end up, a great time in KC doesn’t have to break the bank.

Don’t overpay to celebrate Independence Day

Are you planning to stay home and host a barbecue, or would you rather visit another city to celebrate the Fourth of July? Either way, you can have a special Independence Day within a reasonable budget. So take these tips to heart while you plan your day.


If you’re going to break out the grill and show off a little, have a strategy in mind before you approach the meat counter. You don’t have to treat everyone to a porterhouse. Go for a skirt or flank steak, and skip the boneless chicken breasts for legs and thighs, which have more flavor.

If you’re sticking with burgers and brats, you can jazz them up by putting some bacon into your hamburger patties and pre-boiling your brats in beer.

Think outside the box for the fixings table, too – put some slices of gouda and Swiss next to the cheddar, and let people make a more interesting hot dog with fruit-based salsas and pickled vegetables as a topping.

stephanie-mccabe-92133As long as you’ve got your grill fired up and your marinade game going, you might as well make enough for leftovers. You’ll be tired from the party, so it just makes sense. And you won’t risk running out of food if you get unexpected guests.

Don’t waste fuel by getting distracted. Once you have your coals or propane going, pay attention, keep the grill surface full and get your protein cooked efficiently.


Don’t make your guests honor our great nation with a lukewarm Natural Light. The Fourth of July should feel like a special occasion, so make a signature cocktail or two. Infused vodkas and other spirits are easy to make ahead of time, and you and your friends can be sipping on a strawberry mojito or a frozen lemonade made with blueberry vodka instead of the same old wine or beer you usually grab without thinking. neha-deshmukh-9593A bold, fruity sangria is always a crowd pleaser, too. All the aggressive fruit flavors mean you don’t have to use top-shelf liquor.

For the kids, a simple lemonade with slices of strawberry and blueberries is close enough to red, white and blue to feel festive without getting too complicated.

Be merry.        

If you’ve just got to get out of town, try the cheap options. Stay within driving distance, and crash with friends or family if possible.

The Midwest has plenty to offer for the fourth, all without the financial commitment of flights. Kansas City, St. Louis, Chicago, and Oklahoma City are all short drives away. They also happen to be rip-roaring destinations for patriots on Independence Day.

The Lake of the Ozarks, Table Rock Lake, Grand Lake and dozens of others offer perfect weekend getaways. With five to seven friends you can rent a cabin for under $80 per person. Cozy sleeping quarters will ensure that you get to know each other well – so just consider that a bonus.

Of course, you’re always welcome to join us in Jefferson City for Salute to America. The andrey-larin-29559.jpgweekend includes various family-friendly activities, concerts and great food. The event culminates with a fireworks display set to music on July 4th.

This year’s Fourth of July falls on a Tuesday, which might make for smaller crowds and more muted celebrations whether you stay home or head out. No matter what your budget is, just be sure to grab a few sparklers and gather the people you love, and you’ll have a party worth remembering.