Shopping locally can help you

How shopping locally can help you and your community

Today’s consumers have more shopping options at their disposal than they did in the past. Though the Internet may put the world at one’s fingertips, more and more shoppers are discovering that buying locally makes for a superior shopping experience.

Shopping locally benefits consumers in various ways, many of which contribute to a healthy local economy. The following are just a few reasons why students and others at Grand Valley State University may want to look at their own West Michigan communities when planning their next shopping excursions.

1. Keep money in the local economy

Locally-owned businesses often put a larger share of their revenue back into their communities. Small business owners may be more inclined to employ local residents, giving more people in the community solid employment. Business owners may reach out and support other neighborhood efforts, such as fundraising initiatives for charities and schools. By shopping at local stores, you have a hand in supporting these efforts as well.

2. Save money

When factoring in travel time and the cost of fuel, shopping locally makes more sense than driving or taking the bus all the way to the mall. In addition, repeat customers who establish a rapport with a local business owner may find that such owners are more inclined to price match or work with loyal customers to find lower prices through suppliers.

3. Diversify your home and lifestyle

Students who prefer more unique styles for their apartments or dorm rooms may find local businesses cater to their needs better than large chain stores. Larger retailers offer the same products to customers regardless of where those customers live, so a person in Michigan may be decorating his or her home with the same furnishings as a person in California. Local shops tend to produce more unique items that are not available nationwide.

4. Promote entrepreneurship

Small businesses are an essential element to the country’s economic growth. By shopping locally, consumers are showing their support for this important segment of the national economy.

5. Help establish local pride

Independent shops contribute to the fabric of a community and what makes it special and unique. Tourists and other visitors will be much more inclined to remember a local shop in downtown Grand Rapids rather than a big chain in a particular neighborhood. When travelers want to get a feel for a community, they seek out small, local stores that are much more likely to stock a high percentage of locally-sourced goods.

6. Attract other businesses

Private and public sector businesses tend to gravitate around anchor stores. Should a local store be successful, banks, restaurants, salons and other businesses may move into the area as well.

Give back without going broke

Nonprofit organizations often depend on financial donations to stay afloat. Donations can be used to fulfill a mission statement, pay staff or raise awareness of events sponsored by the organization.

Giving back does not have to break the bank. Many college students want to help out, though they can’t afford to cut a check. Prospective donors who can’t reach into their pocketbooks can still support worthy causes by giving back in other ways that benefit their favorite charities just as much as financial donations.

Below is a list of suggestions for Grand Valley State University students who want to give back to their communities.

  • Offer your services. Working professionals have their own unique skill sets, and organizations are always in need of people who can bring something unique to the table. Offering your services is different from traditional volunteering because volunteering projects typically do not require anything more than a willingness to pitch in on a project or lend a hand at an event. When offering your services, you are offering something more than a typical volunteer. For example, attorneys may be able to provide legal advice pro bono while contractors may be able to design projects instead of just pitching in when it comes time to turn those designs into something tangible.
  • Donate your belongings. It may not seem like much on the surface, but donating old clothing or appliances can make a big difference to a local charity. Charities may be able to sell your donations to generate money, or they may put them to use serving the less fortunate. Find an organization that accepts such donations and, depending on how substantial your donations are, ask for a receipt so you can earn a tax deduction if you qualify. Organizations like Guiding Light Mission, Mel Trotter Ministries and Goodwill are a few places that accept donations in the Grand Rapids area.
  • Coach or teach local youth. Another way to give back to the community is to volunteer to coach or teach your youngest neighbors at local schools. If you decide to coach, choose a sport you have experience with, especially if you decide you want to coach older children with more advanced skill sets. If you decide to teach or tutor, choose a subject that you feel comfortable with. The Literacy Center of West Michigan and the Heart of West Michigan United Way program Schools of Hope are just two of the nonprofits that focus on the importance of reading and education.
  • Create an internship. If you own a business or work for a company that could use a helping hand, create an internship, or propose the idea to your employer and offer to oversee the program. Internships are often valuable opportunities for high school and college students, so creating such a position can be a great way to give back to the young people in your community.
  • Raise awareness of a good cause. Many nonprofit organizations sponsor community events in an effort to raise awareness for their causes. Such events may include a 5K, a walk for charity or a local vendor showcase where the entry fees go directly to the organization sponsoring the event. If you want to give back but can’t afford to make a donation, then participate in such events. Races and charity walks often encourage participants to form teams made up of friends, family members and coworkers, so enlist the help of others and ask them to share their participation via social media to raise awareness for a good cause. Many 5K events happen on the GVSU Allendale Campus throughout the fall semester, including the annual Children’s Rescue Race and the Homecoming Run/Walk.

Easy financial tips to get on track

Money is something that individuals usually need more of but frequently find in short supply. College students, including those at Grand Valley State University, often find money something to worry about.

In the United States a recent survey from Lincoln Financial Group showed that 53 percent of respondents worried about having enough money for retirement. Even though it seems far away to many twenty-something students, it’s never too early to start saving for a stable retirement.

Taking charge of personal finances may seem like a difficult undertaking, but you don’t have to make drastic lifestyle changes to grow your savings. Try these tips to save more and live a more financially-conscious life.

1. Keep financial records. It’s hard to determine your financial standing if you do not prioritize record-keeping. Find a method that you can stick with consistently. Some people prefer old-fashioned bookkeeping with pen and paper, while others may like the convenience of software and mobile apps. Having financial matters visible in black and white can show a clear picture of how much money is coming in and how much is being spent.

2. Explore auto-withdrawal and deposit. Many financial institutions offer several services to customers that can make banking and money management easier. You can set up a savings account and have money automatically deducted from your paycheck and deposited into this account. Even small deposits add up over time. You also can arrange for automatic bill pay so you don’t have to worry about accruing late fees for missed payments. Check with your bank or credit union about these types of services.

3. Put a change jar in your house. Pennies can be annoying and seemingly useless, but it is money that is worth collecting. Having a jar or bucket in a location of the house where you set your wallet or purse may encourage you to save that loose change for something larger. Place loose change in the jar instead of in your car and watch it add up. Some banks and casinos have coin-counting machines, which can make it even easier to cash in your change.

4. Sign up for shop-and-earn programs. Everyone from credit card companies to major retailers offers incentives to repeat customers. These include cash-back or other perks for a percentage of the money spent on purchases. These programs equate to built-in discounts and can help you squirrel away even more money without making a conscious effort.

5. Consider investing. Investing can put your money to work in exchange for a return. There are many different types of investments available. If you are an investing novice, work with a financial planner or broker who can help you find a level of risk you are comfortable with.

6. Pay off debt. One of the best ways to achieve financial freedom is to pay down existing debts. The earlier you can get rid of outstanding debt, the better. Put money toward high-interest loans and credit cards so you aren’t paying so much in costly interest charges. Focus first on eliminating high-interest debt, such as credit card balances, and then move on to fixed-rate or low-interest debt, such as student loans. The sooner you eliminate debt, the more financial flexibility you will have.

How to easily grow your savings

One of the keys to successfully managing money is to save money. Conventional financial wisdom recommends men and women have between three and four month’s worth of earnings in their savings accounts to cover themselves in case of an emergency. Many people live paycheck to paycheck, while others are mired in debt. For college students, it is important to save money throughout their time on campus so that any student loans they took out can be paid off sooner after graduation.

A 2013 survey from found roughly three-quarters of Americans have little emergency savings. Many working professionals find it hard to save any money once they have paid their monthly bills, including home and car expenses.

Financial analysts point to consumer trends among younger generations as one possible cause of the dwindling emphasis on saving money. Previous generations were taught the benefits of saving and being frugal, but nowadays many people struggle to distinguish between necessities and luxuries. More readily available access to credit and a more materialistic culture may also be contributing to fewer dollars being saved.

Explore these relatively painless ways for Grand Valley State University students to cut back and save more money.

  • Do it yourself. Make a list of all the service providers used – from manicurists to hair stylists to lawn care professionals – and figure out where cuts can be made. Doing all or a portion of the work yourself can save a considerable amount of money. Skip an in-salon coloring treatment for an at-home application. Spend a day preparing meals for the week and eliminate much of your dining out expenses or money spent at campus dining locations.
  • Review your shopping cart. Impulse buys can bust budgets. When grocery shopping, take some time before getting in line to review your potential purchases. Compare items against your list and figure out if any items can go back on the shelf. Do the same when shopping online. Before you proceed to checkout, review items in your cart. Chances are you can delete one or two from the list.
  • Consider new stores. If you find yourself spending more than you feel is necessary when shopping, look for new stores. Smaller markets may offer produce and other items at a fraction of the cost of large chain stores. Instead of doing all of your shopping at the Standale Meijer, shop around and buy items where they are the least expensive. For example, you may find paper products are more affordable at a pharmacy than at the supermarket.
  • Learn to coupon effectively. Although you need not go to extremes, use coupons when shopping and learn how to pair sales with coupons to earn even greater discounts. Many blogs and websites help make the process easier, telling you when and where to clip coupons. Sometimes you can print coupons directly online or load discounts to a shopper loyalty card.
  • Scale back on certain services. Assess your lifestyle to determine which services you can live without. If you rarely watch television, you may be able to reduce your cable or satellite package. Figure out if bundling services really do save you money. Add up how many minutes you use on mobile phone plans as well as the amount of data. You might find that you do not need the biggest phone plan after all.
  • Use credit wisely. Many young people find themselves facing large amounts of consumer credit debt. Students can avoid such a fate by only using their credit cards when they know they can afford to pay off the balance immediately. It’s important to start building a credit history, but building a bad credit history is more detrimental than having a limited credit history. Resist the urge to engage in retail therapy unless you can pay for items in cash. Using credit wisely now will make you more attractive to lenders down the road, and that can save you thousands of dollars in interest on substantial purchases like homes and automobiles.

Mistakes to avoid when faced with debt

Many men and women working to reduce their debt feel like they are fighting an uphill battle. Until debt is eliminated, interest will continue to accrue, so even those consumers who make their monthly payments on time may feel as though they’re getting nowhere with regard to restoring their financial standing.

But making monthly payments on time and paying more than the minimum is the best way to eliminate debt, even if this approach forces consumers to make certain sacrifices along the way. Grand Valley State University students may be tempted to take certain shortcuts on the road to eliminating their debts, but such shortcuts are not always what they seem. Here are a handful of mistakes that men and women faced should avoid as they work to improve their financial situations.

  • Use credit to pay off debt. Many credit card companies offer cash advances to their cardholders, who can easily be tempted to accept such offers as they look to pay down balances on other cards. But using one credit line to pay off another can land you even deeper in debt, as cash advances and balance transfers also are subject to interest charges, meaning you won’t really be eliminating debt but simply shifting it from one card to another, all the while being charged to make that switch.
  • Pay only the minimum. Credit card statements include both a minimum payment as well as how long it will take to pay off existing debts if you only make the minimum payment. When balances are considerable, it can take years to eliminate debt if you are only paying the minimum. Even if money is tight, find a way to pay more than the minimum each month. If you don’t, your total balance likely won’t decrease by much and your credit rating, which takes your debt to credit ratio into account when calculating your credit score, will not benefit greatly even though you are making your monthly payments on time.
  • Continue using credit. If you are currently mired in considerable debt, resist the temptation to use your credit cards. That will only compound the current problem. Use only debit cards or cash when making purchases so you know you are not spending money you don’t have. In addition, every time you use a credit card and don’t pay the balance in full when the bill is due, you will be forced to pay interest charges, which makes the items you buy more expensive than if you were to simply pay with cash or a debit card.
  • Pay down the wrong debts first. When faced with substantial debt, many people take a methodical approach to eliminating their debts, paying down one card and then moving on to another and so on. Though it can be motivating to methodically eliminate debt obligations, it’s best to pay down those debts with the highest interest rate before paying off smaller debts. The more interest that accrues, the deeper your debt hole becomes. So make a list of your debts and their corresponding interest charges, and work to pay down the high-interest debts first, even if that means you won’t be eliminating balances as quickly as you might if you paid down smaller debts first.