Financial lessons from a record-breaking wildfire season
I've always known Oregon City is a special place. When record-breaking wildfires devastated the region last year, our community rose to the challenge in too many ways to count. Neighbors took in neighbors. Businesses donated goods and provided space for RVs and evacuees. Even as my colleagues at OnPoint Community Credit Union were affected by the fires, they showed up to work every day so we could remain open for our members.
In my role as branch manager for OnPoint's Oregon City location, I've seen firsthand the economic hardship from the wildfires. From providing loans to fix smoke damage to helping homeowners navigate insurance claims, our team continues to see the financial fallout and offer support, advice and resources.
The economic toll from the fires, as well as the pandemic, have reinforced my tried-and-true financial planning rules — and my resilience. Here are the six lessons I share with my neighbors here in Oregon City.
Build financial literacy
Financial literacy has never been more critical as we navigate economic uncertainty. Understanding how savings accumulate over time or how to set up an emergency fund does not come intuitively to many people. However, the value and importance of saving is critical knowledge for creating a stable financial future.
Building financial literacy can start at any age — you can play interactive games with young children, help teens through choice-based simulations and take advantage of free online tools for adults to better understand financial scenarios and options.
Get help from experts
Whenever you're uncertain about your finances — and especially in times of crisis — reach out to your financial institution for guidance. Their staff can work with you to make a budget-based on your income and expenses and create a savings plan to help you reach your goals. If you have already achieved your short-term goals, they can work with you to maximize your savings and grow your money for the future.
Check the interest rates on your debt
Do you know the interest rate on your credit cards, mortgage or home loan? Do you know if you have fixed rates or ones that can increase over time? I encourage you to check the interest rates on your debt regularly. If you're having trouble making payments, find out if you can negotiate lower rates with your lenders. A strategic approach you can utilize without your lender is prioritizing your payments by interest rate — start by making larger payments to the loans with higher interest. By prioritizing your debts, you will pay the least amount of interest over time.
Pay yourself first
No matter your income status, pay yourself first from every paycheck, starting with your essential living expenses. From there, you can shave 1% to 2% off of each check and put those funds in a savings account. Using direct deposit can make saving effortless. Most employers allow you to designate specific percentages of your paycheck to different accounts, allowing you to automate deposits into your savings account and reduce the temptation to direct those funds elsewhere.
Reexamine your monthly subscriptions
Since the pandemic started, have you signed up for a new streaming service? A fitness app? How about a meal-delivery kit? One of the easiest ways to reduce spending when finances are tight is limiting your monthly subscriptions. Ask yourself which subscriptions you're actively using and which ones you don't need. Canceling little-used subscriptions could add up to significant savings.
Give yourself some grace
We're living through challenging times, but the most important lesson is to forgive yourself. We all make mistakes, and that's part of the learning process. For example, completely cutting off all discretionary spending can discourage saving over time. If you've tried and failed to sustain saving habits in the past, don't let it prevent you from seeking an improved financial future.
We could all use a little grace after the year we've had, as well as extra support in times like these. Whether it's wildfire recovery, the pandemic's economic impact or another unforeseen crisis, ask for help when you need it. Fortunately, there's no better place than Oregon City to find a helping hand.
Amber Kelly is manager of OnPoint Credit Union's Oregon City branch. For more information, visit onpointcu.com.
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