Wednesday, June 28, 2017

5 Tips to Save Money While Traveling Abroad

At your trustworthy local bank at the Lake of the Ozarks, we care about your savings. Traveling abroad can be costly but there are certain measures you can take that will save you money. In this blog, First Bank of the Lake will give 5 tips to save money while traveling abroad.

1. Choose your airfare carefully.

The cost of an airplane ticket will vary based on the time of the year and day of the week. You can typically find cheaper flights that depart on a Thursday and return on a Monday. In the travel industry, you can also find periods referred to as "shoulder periods," which are basically "off peak" times. For example, in September when kids go back to school, early January after most travelers get back home after the holidays, or early April just when spring break has ended. Airlines are known to offer large discounts during these times. Travel experts recommend buying your ticket 50-100 days before your departure. Don't forget-bring your own airport snacks and refillable water bottle. This will save you money as well.

2. Choose your lodging wisely.

If you are traveling with adults only, a hostel is always cost effective. If you are with your family however, consider a vacation rental over a hotel. While the pricing may be similar, you will have more space and a kitchen to cook your meals in. Be sure to stay near a bus stop or train line, this will help you avoid paying for a taxi. Also, if you are traveling during the off season, consider many hotels will be offering large discounts that would make them worth trying.

3. Be mindful of your food choices.

Eating out a lot can add up quick! Consider your options. 
  • Try a cafe' or a street vendor over a fine dining restaurant. 
  • Pick up supplies at a local grocery store to cook at your vacation rental.
  • Stop by a farmers market and gather fresh fruits, veggies, meats, cheese and other local specialties and have a picnic at a local park.
What better way to immerse yourself in the culture than to explore local cuisine! Also note, that restaurants near tourist attractions are typically more expensive and not as good. Try to stick to the "6 block rule." If you walk 6 blocks from the attraction, you can most likely find better food at a cheaper price. 

4. Take advantage of the FREE entertainment.

Almost everywhere you travel too has free entertainment options. Just ask the concierge at your hotel or stop a local one if you happen to be staying in a vacation rental or elsewhere. Most cities will offer tourism deals that will get you into many attractions at 1 price. This will stretch your sightseeing dollars. These deals usually come with free transportation too.

5. Know your options when shopping for and communicating with loved ones back home.

Be mindful when shopping in a foreign place. Don't buy anything you can buy at home. Visit local markets and find one-of-a-kind souvenirs. Typically, you find cheaper prices when doing so. Tour pamphlets, restaurant menus, maps, postcards, magnets, museum tickets and coasters are great for scrapbooking and gifts! 

Use free apps when communicating with loved ones back home. Plan ahead and download them before you leave and be sure your loved ones have them too. Also, check with your carrier and see if they offer a special, temporary package you can use during your travels.

We hope these tips help you save money on your future adventures. Our friendly banking staff at the Lake of the Ozarks wishes you safety and lots of fun while traveling abroad.

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First Bank of the Lake - Striving For Excellence
Member FDIC. Equal Housing Lender.

Located at the entrance to the Osage Beach Premium Outlets!

4558 Osage Beach Parkway

Suite 100
Osage Beach, MO 65065

(573) 348-2265

Friday, June 23, 2017

7 Ways To Lower Your Grocery Bill

What is one of your biggest expenses each month?

If you answered, “groceries,” you’re not alone. Cooking at home can be a great way to save money (compared to dining out), but groceries can still eat up hundreds of dollars every month. Obviously, how much you spend per month will depend on how many mouths you have to feed. However, no matter how big you family is, there are certain strategies you can use to reduce your grocery budget. Here are a few tried-and-true suggestions from your friends at First Bank of the Lake.

 1. Plan Your Meals.

Never go to the grocery store without a plan. Decide which meals you want to make that week, and shop for the items you need to make those specific dishes. You’ll be able to maintain better focus in the grocery store this way by shopping solely for the specific items you need for the week. By sticking to a meal plan, you’ll also be less likely to have uneaten food go bad in your fridge.

 2. Build A List.

This is the most basic of all grocery shopping tips, but its importance cannot be underestimated. While you are still at home, go through your cabinets and your refrigerator to determine what items you need and write them down. When you are in the store, only buy the items that are on your list. Avoiding spur-of-the-moment purchases may greatly reduce your monthly spending.

 3. Determine Your Budget Ahead Of Time.

Before going to the store, take the time to determine how much you can afford to spend on groceries that week. Whether you choose to tally your total as you go or ask the cashier to stop scanning items once you hit your limit, it’s important that you find a strategy for sticking to your budget constraints.

 4. Shop With A Calculator.

Some stores offer a “scan it” function that allows you to scan your items and tally your total as you shop. This way, you can avoid being caught by surprise at the register. If your store doesn’t offer this function, bring a calculator and add up your own total as you add items to the cart. If you see that you’re already pushing your budget limit, you may be less likely to toss that extra box of cookies into your cart.

 5. Don’t Shop Hungry.

It may sound cliché, but it’s true – you are far more likely to place extra items in your cart when you shop on an empty stomach. Do your wallet a favor and eat a meal (or, at the very least, a snack) before you go to the grocery store.

 6. Be Strategic.

Plan your grocery shopping around the weekly ads your grocery store puts out. While it’s important not to buy something you don’t need just because it’s on sale, it’s wise to take advantage of sales on items you use regularly. Freeze the extra items you buy so that you can use them later (once the sale has ended).

 7. Shop Your Pantry.

Don’t rush to the grocery store just because you ran out of a certain item. Try to put off going to the grocery store as long as possible by “shopping your pantry.” If you get creative, you’ll probably be able to come up with ways to use some of the items you still have.

Happy Shopping!

We hope that with these tips from our local bank in Osage Beach, you’ll be better able to keep your grocery spending in check. By spending less money on groceries, you will have more room in your budget to work towards your financial goals such as getting out of debt or saving for retirement at the Lake of the Ozarks.

What are your other favorite strategies for reducing your grocery budget? Share your tips in the comments!

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First Bank of the Lake - Striving For Excellence
Member FDIC. Equal Housing Lender.

Located at the entrance to the Osage Beach Premium Outlets!

4558 Osage Beach Parkway

Suite 100
Osage Beach, MO 65065

(573) 348-2265

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

5 Ways To Teach Your Kids About Money

It's never too soon to start teaching your children about money. In fact, the sooner you can begin working to help your children understand important financial basics, the better - research shows that most children determine their attitudes about money by the fifth grade. First Bank of the Lake is here to help pass important financial basics along to your children with these five tips.

1. Talk About Money And How Spending Works. 

Having honest, thoughtful, and regular conversations about money is the most powerful way you can teach your little ones about finances. The first thing your children need to learn is the simple concept of what money is and how it is used. From there, you can begin discussing the different types of money - nickels, dimes, dollar bills, checks, credit cards, etc. Take the time to explain that Mom/Dad go to work so that they can earn money to buy things they need. You can teach them basic spending concepts by giving them a few dollars and letting them how to decide how to spend the money at the grocery store or the toy store.

2. Give An Allowance & Encourage Goal Setting.

Giving your child an allowance is a great way to teach them the value of the chores they help out with around the house, as well as a powerful way to begin inspiring smart spending habits. If your children ask for certain toys, you can respond by reminding them that they can use their allowance to make the purchase. This can be a great way to encourage them to set their sites on a financial goal and make steps to work toward it.

3. Decide How To Store Money.

Some families choose to work with piggy banks when their children are young. Others choose clear glass jars, because it is easier for children to see their money growing (or shrinking) in these jars. Some parents encourage early budgeting (and generosity) habits by having their children keep three jars and divide their money between them: one for spending, one for saving, and one for gifts/charitable donations.

4. Take Your Child To The Bank.

When your child is old enough, celebrate their graduation from piggy banks/glass jars to an actual savings account at your local Lake of the Ozarks bank. Bringing your child with you to the bank is a great time to talk to them about how banks work and the different ways to earn interest and invest money. Your child will feel very grown up and important when he/she meets the banker and hands over the money to make the first deposit.

5. Practice Budgeting.

Budgeting is a valuable skill that will benefit your child for years to come, so it's important to give them time to practice. For young kids, this can initially be as simple as giving them a certain amount of money to spend on souvenirs while you are on vacation. For teenagers, it can be more involved. Work with your teens to create a realistic budget that will account for the different expenses they will likely encounter once they are on their own - groceries, car payment, rent, etc. Emphasize the importance of not spending more than they earn so as to help them avoid racking up credit card debt.

What Are Your Other Strategies For Teaching Kids Financial Lessons?

We'd love to hear your thoughts and ideas! Feel free to share your insights in the comments below.

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First Bank of the Lake - Striving For Excellence
Member FDIC. Equal Housing Lender.

Located at the entrance to the Osage Beach Premium Outlets!

4558 Osage Beach Parkway

Suite 100
Osage Beach, MO 65065

(573) 348-2265

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Preventing Elder Financial Abuse

We owe our elders a debt of gratitude. They raised us, provided for us, and paved the way for our future success. Yet despite all that they have done for us, they are routinely taken advantage of by scam artists and other criminals. Financial abuse is one of the biggest challenges our senior population faces. Because they may be confused, embarrassed, or afraid to report crimes against them, seniors are often low-risk targets for financial scammers.

Keep reading to learn more about financial elder abuse and how you can help protect your aging family members from falling victim to common financial schemes, courtesy of our Lake of the Ozarks bank.

Why Seniors?

There are several reasons why seniors are attractive targets for scam artists. For example...
  • Seniors are more likely to have a great number of financial resources at their disposal, such as retirement accounts and owning their own home.
  • Generally, the generation raised in the 1930s-1950s was taught to be trusting and polite. Scammers exploit these traits.
  • Seniors may be afraid to report incidents because they don't want their families to think they are no longer able to care for themselves.

Examples Of Common Scams

Scam artists use a variety of different schemes to prey upon the elderly. Here are a few examples:
  • Email, Sweepstakes, & Telemarketing Scams - Seniors may receive a phone call or email telling them they have won a lottery or a sweepstakes that requires upfront charges. Alternatively, they may be asked to send money to a stranger (scammer) as part of a financial windfall that will be split with them. They may also receive a call from a fake government agency that is trying to get access to seniors' government benefits or social security numbers for identity theft purposes.
  • The Grandparent Scam - A scammer pretends to be a police officer or medical professional, saying that their grandchild is in need of urgent financial assistance due to medical or legal trouble. Alternatively, the scammer may pretend to be the grandchild in question.
  • Repair Fraud - A scammer may pretend to be a repairman offering services that require an upfront payment. Often, the services are unneeded (and never provided).
  • Funeral & Cemetery Scams - A scammer contacts the surviving spouse of a recently deceased individual, claiming that the deceased had an outstanding debt that needs to be repaid.

How To Handle Scam Attempts

Since email and telemarketing scams are the most common types of elder financial abuse, we are going to look specifically at some steps that can be taken to prevent these scam artists from successfully taking advantage of their victims. The National Crime Prevention Council outlines the following five ways to get rid of unwanted telemarketers:
  1. Never give out personal information (bank account, social security number, etc) over the phone, unless you initiated the phone call and know that you've reached the right agency.
    1. Alternative Response: "I'm sorry, but I don't give out personal information over the phone. I will contact the company directly."
  2. Don't believe callers who say that your winnings require advance money to cover "handling charges" or taxes. 
    1. Alternative Response: "If it's free, as you claim, I shouldn't have to pay for it."
  3. Don't feel pressured into acting quickly to take advantage of "limited-time" offers.
    1. Alternative Response: "I'll think about it and call you back soon. What's your number?"
  4. Don't trust anyone who tells you not to discuss their offer with other people.
    1. Alternative Response: "I am going to discuss your proposition with my close family/friends. I'll get back to you."
  5. Don't rely on verbal details alone. If you have something in writing, you may be able to pursue some sort of legal recourse if you are taken advantage of.
    1. Alternative Response: "I can't make a decision until I see something in writing."

Remember, if someone is calling with a legitimate request, there shouldn't be any issue with you calling them back. (Scam artists, on the other hand, will often pressure you to take action immediately.) You can also remind the seniors in your life that they can (and should) ask unwanted telemarketers to remove them from their call lists. Telemarketing agencies are legally required to oblige to this request - if they don't, they are breaking the law.

What You Can Do

If you are closely related to or friends with a senior, talk to them and tell them that they are always welcome to approach you with questions about bizarre phone calls or emails they may have received. Stress that there are scam artists out there who may try to take advantage of them, and that they should always be skeptical of calls/emails requesting money or sensitive information. Offer to provide a "sanity check" on any strange or unusual requests they may receive.

What are your other tips and strategies for preventing elder financial abuse? Share your insights with us in the comments below!

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First Bank of the Lake - Striving For Excellence
Member FDIC. Equal Housing Lender.

Located at the entrance to the Osage Beach Premium Outlets!

4558 Osage Beach Parkway

Suite 100
Osage Beach, MO 65065

(573) 348-2265

Friday, June 2, 2017

7 Tax Breaks For The Middle Class

Taxes are financial burden that every adult in America must bear. People on various ends of the spectrum (both high- and low-income families) are often quick to comment or complain about the tax breaks that may (or may not) be available to them, but what about the people in the middle of the road? 

While they typically do not receive as much media attention, middle-class families have access to multiple deductions and tax breaks that can help lighten the load during tax season. If you are a part of this "middle of the road" population, this blog post is for you. Keep reading to learn about the different deduction possibilities that may be most advantageous and accessible to your family, courtesy of our local bank at the Lake of the Ozarks.

1. Mortgage Interest
Buying a house is not only an integral part of the American dream - it can also be a helpful way to reduce your total tax bill. In most cases, homeowners can deduct all of the mortgage interest they pay for their primary residences as well as for their second homes. You may also be able to deduct the interest on a home equity loan.

2. Retirement Savings
Traditional IRAs, SEP accounts, and 401(k) plans offer valuable tax break opportunities. The funds that you contribute to a traditional IRA or SEP is tax-deductible. The money that you contribute to a 401(k) is not included in your tax income, thus lowering the total amount of earnings that you must pay taxes on.

3. Savers' Tax Credit
Saving for retirement offers another advantage - if you contribute up to $2,000 to your retirement plan in a given year (or $4,000 if you married filing jointly), you may be eligible for a credit that is a certain percentage of your total contributions (depending on your income). Almost all types of qualified retirement savings plans qualify for the savers' tax credit.

4. Charity
Donating to charity is another great way to lower your tax bill at the end of the year. Providing that you do not exceed the limits, the money that you donate to qualifying non-profit organizations - those with official 501(c3) status - may be taken out of your taxable income.

5. Children
Claiming children as dependents on your tax return may lower your total tax bill by as much as $1,000 per child. In order to qualify, children must be under the age of 17, American citizens, and officially under your guardianship. They must also have earned no more than 50% of their own financial support throughout the year. Your household income must meet certain requirements as well.

6. Childcare
Childcare is a huge financial burden for many families, but it does offer a unique benefit - you may be able to deduct your childcare expenses for children that lived with you for at least six months out of the year.

7. College Education
Parents paying for their children's college tuition may be able to receive the American Opportunity credit up to a dollar amount of $10,000. Eligible students may also be able to receive an education credit (the Lifetime Learning credit) up to $2,000. Finally, you may be able to deduct up to $2,500 of student loan interest if you meet income requirements.

It's Not Too To Start Preparing!
Though tax season is not until April, it's never too soon to begin preparing for the next tax season. By taking time to familiarize yourself with these different tax breaks now, you can evaluate which ones make sense for you financially. Talk to a certified public accountant to learn more about these (and other) tax breaks and how they may be applicable to your situation. As you move forward with your year, you can make plans to take advantage of the tax break opportunities that will be a good fit for your family. 

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First Bank of the Lake - Striving For Excellence
Member FDIC. Equal Housing Lender.

Located at the entrance to the Osage Beach Premium Outlets!

4558 Osage Beach Parkway

Suite 100
Osage Beach, MO 65065

(573) 348-2265