5 Unique Ways to Save on Your Holiday Shopping

gifts isolated on white background

Whether we like it or not, the holiday season is here. That means one thing: spending money and potentially a lot of it. In a survey by the American Research Group, Americans plan on spending nearly $900 on their holiday shopping. Such an amount can put a significant stress on a budget, leaving families looking for ways to save money.

We all know about the traditional ways to save money on shopping, from Black Friday to Cyber Monday sales. Those discounts can provide nice savings, but they only scratch the surface. There are many other tools and tricks to help you stretch your holiday budget. Below are some unique ones to help you save this year.

The Four-Gift Rule

The four-gift rule has made its way around the Internet over the past few years. The idea behind it is relatively simple. Instead of overwhelming recipients with a lot of gifts and costing you more, you make your gift-giving more intentional. The rule dictates the following: You buy the person something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read.

The rule may not work for everyone, as it’s particularly angled toward a younger child or perhaps a spouse. With children, in particular, this approach can help avoid excessive gift giving and thus save you money in the long run. It’s practical and still also allows for fun and creativity.

Use Apps

Smartphone apps can be a great way to save money on holiday shopping. We all know about popular apps like Amazon that allow you to compare prices in real-time. There are many other apps out there that can help save you money on your holiday shopping needs.

Some of these newer apps are Flipp and Slice. “It rounds up all of the shopping ads and circulars in your local area and presents them to you in a format that’s very easy to flip through,” says Jill Cataldo, founder of the Super-Couponing.com. The Flipp app also allows you to collect local coupons so as to maximize your savings.

The Slice app allows you to set a price tracker, which tracks the amount you spent on an item. If the price drops, it notifies you so you can get the difference refunded from participating merchants.

Use Gift Cards

MarketWatch reports that $750 million in gift cards were unused in 2014. If you have an unused gift card lying around, that is free cash not being spent. There may be a number of reasons you didn’t use the card, from not liking the store to forgetting you had the card.

Regardless of the reason, an unused gift card can be a great way to reduce the overall amount you spend out of pocket for holiday gifts. Instead of letting that card continue to collect dust and lose value due to potential inactivity fees, use them to buy gifts. It may feel tacky, but it is a great way to save money.

Buy Discounted Gift Cards

Gift cards play a dual role for potential savings. Many who have unused gift cards sell them for cash. This has opened up a market for sites like Card Cash, Raise, Card Pool and others that sell discounted gift cards. Such sites allow individuals to buy gift cards for up to 35 percent off standard price.

Such a service can be a great way to save a little extra money if a gift card is on your shopping list. Just make sure to read the terms and conditions prior to purchase.

Break It Up

Another overlooked way to save money on holiday items is by purchasing an item in bulk. That may sound counterintuitive, but it works. “The set gives you a lower price per unit and you can toss them into a gift bag helping you save without skimping on the gift,” says money-saving expert Andrea Woroch.

Woroch explains that the item bought at a warehouse club can be broken up and repackaged into smaller gifts while still allowing you to take advantage of the lower per unit cost. If you are giving multiple people the same gift, then this can be a great way to save extra money instead of purchasing higher-priced individual gifts.

The holiday shopping season can be a stressful one financially. It doesn’t have to be. With a little planning and creativity, you can avoid being an “average” shopper and become one who saves money.

The perfect way to save for your holiday expenses is by opening a Holiday Club Account right here at First Financial! No need to put yourself into debt over holiday spending – simply save ahead and come out on top (and not in debt)!*

  • Open at any time
  • No minimum balance requirements
  • Dividends are posted annually on balances of $100 or more
  • Accounts automatically renew each year
  • Deposits can be made in person, via mail, payroll deductions, or direct deposit
  • Holiday Club funds are deposited into a First Financial Checking or Base Savings Account

*A $5 deposit in a base savings account is required for credit union membership prior to opening any other account. All personal memberships are part of the Rewards First program and a $5 per month non-participation fee is charged to the base savings account for memberships not meeting the minimum requirements of the Bronze Tier. Click here to view full Rewards First program details, and here to view the Tier Level Comparison Chart. Accounts for children age 13 and under are excluded from this program.

Article Source: John Schmoll for http://money.usnews.com/money/the-frugal-shopper/2015/11/09/5-unique-ways-to-save-on-your-holiday-shopping

Smart Shopping Tricks to Make Your Budget Last All Month

shopping cart postitWe can all use ways to stretch our paycheck each month, but it’s not always easy to know which expenses to focus on minimizing first. The fact is, some costs are easier to trim down than others. The strategies below will help you always score the lowest price, making it easier for your budget to go farther.

Always look for the deal.

Local drugstores often feature special deals on everything from personal care to grocery items. While the selection is generally smaller than at the grocery store, drugstores can offer even better discounts. Looking for these deals, and applying them to your purchase can generate big savings.

Register for rewards programs.

Many stores feature rewards programs, including drugstores. Walgreens has Balance Rewards, CVS has ExtraCare, and RiteAid has Wellness+. If you register for these programs you’ll likely receive frequent emails, but there will be gems among them, and you might even save 20% off an order. A smartphone app like Key Ring makes it easy to track account numbers for multiple programs.

Use manufacturers’ coupons.

In addition to browsing through Sunday circulars, you can rely on websites like coupons.com to search and print coupons at no cost to you. Since most manufacturers’ coupons usually have an expiration date that is at least one month into the future, hold onto the coupons until you find a great deal.

Look out for store coupon books.

Many stores offer coupon books, usually at the front of the store near the pile of circulars. They often contain many high value store coupons that can be combined with sales and manufacturers’ coupons for additional savings.

Shop online.

When it comes to essential drugstore items, you can often find the lowest prices online, especially when coupons are applied. Some coupons offer deeper discounts to online shoppers, and you can find everything from vitamins, cleaning supplies, personal care items and pain relievers for reduced prices.

Use blogs.

Many blogs and websites collect coupons and deals for readers, which makes your job even easier. Retailmenot.com, bargainbriana.com, and MoneySavingMom.com are three examples – they research and sort deals for you, and you can often match the deals with sales in circulars.

Don’t pay full price.

Many retailers, including J.Crew, Kohl’s and the Gap, make it easy to find deals online. In fact, you should never pay full price for your purchases, at least before checking for discount codes. Signing up for the stores’ email lists will also help make sure you don’t miss out on discounts.

Get an Amazon Prime membership.

It might sound counterintuitive, but purchasing a $99 Amazon Prime membership can actually end up saving you money. That’s because it comes with two-day shipping on most orders, movie and TV streaming, and one free book rental per month. You can try out a 30-day free trial membership to see if it would end up saving you money.

Write a review.

Some companies are willing to pay customers, in the form of discounts, for leaving reviews on their products listed online. HonestFew and SnagShout are a couple companies that make this process easy. Once you receive items at a low price (or sometimes even free), then you simply log in to leave your review, whether it’s good or bad.

Buy a reusable water bottle.

Going through a handful of water bottles a day is expensive, unnecessary, and bad for the environment. Instead, pick up a reusable water bottle for yourself. You can even get one that comes with a built-in carbon filter to remove tap water impurities. Your body, and the Earth, will thank you.

Use apps.

Many stores have made it even easier to save these days by introducing their own apps, such as the Target Cartwheel app and the Sears Shop Your Way App. Both of these apps offer special discounts to shoppers that cannot be found anywhere else, and saving is as easy as opening the app and seeing what deals are available. You can even do this while standing in the checkout line. Other apps, like Shopkick, work at many stores. You can earn points by checking in at stores and making purchases, and then using those points to earn gift cards.

Plan ahead.

Planning out meals in advance is one way to keep grocery store costs down because you can minimize waste or unnecessary purchases. You not only cut out impulse purchases at the grocery store but also eliminate the need to order delivery on those nights you realize you don’t have anything to make. Pinterest can also help with new recipe inspiration if you’re feeling stuck.

Article Source: Lisa Koivu for http://money.usnews.com/money/personal-finance/articles/2015/10/20/smart-shopping-tricks-to-make-your-budget-last-all-month

6 Bad Money Habits Not to Pass on to Your Kids

Whether your bills are paid in full at the end of every month or you have to do some strategic budgeting, there’s a good chance you have some less-than-perfect money habits. As a parent, they don’t begin and end with you; they affect your children too, and for a lot longer than you may realize.

Most young adults are entering the world without the basics of financial literacy. Many are taking on massive debt in the form of student loans and doing so without understanding the principles of interest, or saving for emergencies and the future. Though schools have worked to increase financial education among the young, the evidence suggests these classes alone are largely ineffective and must be supported by good financial practices at home too.

Thus, a hard look at your own financial habits, paired with transparency and good communication, could give your kids the financial lessons they’ll need long into adulthood. So what are common habits to avoid and how can you ensure your children don’t adopt them as their own?

1. Overestimating your financial acumen.

First, admit your mistakes and be willing to learn. If you don’t know the best practices for using credit or how to make a budget, learn with your child.

2. Overspending.

Whether you misuse credit cards or prioritize wants over needs, spending more than you have is a sure recipe for insurmountable debt and poor lessons for the kids. Set a budget and make them part of it. Be willing to admit when you make mistakes with your money, and talk with them about what you could do better.

3. Not saving.

Not everyone can afford to save and you may not have an emergency fund. But even if you set up a savings account to pull $50 from your pay every month, you can teach children an important lesson. They need to learn to set aside money for a rainy day and retirement too.

4. Ignoring bills.

Got debt? Join the club. But even if you can’t afford to pay outstanding bills, ignoring them isn’t the answer. Involve your children in a discussion about how you got to this point and about handling responsibilities. Then call the creditors and try to make payment arrangements or get more time to pay. Children should know that sometimes we just have to face the music when it comes to cleaning up financial mistakes, even when that initial call can be gut-wrenching.

5. Fighting about money.

Family fights about money are some of the most harmful. When these arguments go on in front of the children, the damage is multiplied. Both parents should learn to talk calmly about money issues, and show the children the benefits of cooperative problem solving. If you can’t tackle this bad money habit as a couple or alone, don’t be afraid to seek professional help.

6. Living paycheck to paycheck.

Sometimes bad financial habits are born out of necessity. But this doesn’t mean you don’t have important lessons to teach. Use struggles as lessons for your kids rather than staying mum, so they’re more likely to make better choices in the future.

As parents, there’s probably nothing you want more than for your children to do better than you have in life. Helping them learn from your mistakes is part of the process.

To help your children learn the value of a dollar and to get them to start saving at a young age, open a First Step Kids Savings Account right here at First Financial!* There’s just a $5 minimum to open the account and no fees, PLUS they’ll earn dividends on balances over $100. Stop by any branch location and we’ll help you get started!

*As of 12/12/2012, the First Step Kids Account has an annual percentage yield of 0.05% on balances of $100.00 and more. The dividend rate may change after the account is opened. Parent or guardian must bring both the child’s birth certificate and social security card when opening a First Step Kids Account at any branch location.  Parent or guardian will be a joint owner and must also bring their identification. A First Financial Membership is open to anyone who lives, works, worships or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties.

Article source courtesy of Elizabeth Renter of USA Today.


8 Signs You Have a Credit Card Problem

Credit troubles often begin inconspicuously, yet there are signs all along the way before they become unmanageable. Being alert to these warnings allows you to make the necessary changes to prevent a future of financial worries. Having a credit card isn’t bad when you use it for the right reasons. It serves as a bridge to better things and establishes a credit history, which helps you make big purchases such as a home or a car.

Unfortunately, the “spend first, pay later” option is a slippery slope that leads to serious credit problems. They can happen to people of every age, income level and social status. Many signs are obvious to conscientious consumers, but life can sometimes become so hectic that you push them aside for later. Only later never comes. The sooner you admit that you have credit problems, the sooner you are able to fix them. Neglect the issue and you may end up with accounts in collections, purchases repossessed, eviction and bankruptcy.

Watch out for these eight signs that indicate you are headed for trouble:

1. You never follow a budget. If you don’t budget, your spending can easily get out of control.

2. A bank denies your loan. It may mean that the creditor thinks you have too much existing debt already, even though your official credit score isn’t bad – yet.

3. You make late payments regularly. You face expensive penalties, increasing the size of your bills and your risk of falling into debt.

4. You use payday loans. If you resort to these short-term cash loans with high interest rates, you can soon land yourself into serious debt.

5. You buy essentials like food on credit. You’re living beyond your means if you charge essential expenses on credit cards and you can’t repay in full each month.

6. Your annual percentage rate (APR), the amount of interest you pay per year, rises. A higher APR means the lender considers you at greater risk of debt problems.

7. You can’t afford more than the minimum required payments. It’s a clear warning that you spend more on your credit card than your income can support.

8. You don’t have sufficient savings to cover emergency expenses. You risk racking up massive debt when you need to use your credit cards in emergency situations.

If you recognize these signs, you need to be serious about making changes, even to the point of altering your lifestyle. Examine every purchase and question its actual need. Limit your credit cards to emergencies and use cash for the majority of your expenses. Make a commitment to save a percentage of your income for an emergency fund.

Don’t forget about First Financial’s free, online debt management tool, Debt in Focus. In just minutes, you will receive a thorough analysis of your financial situation, including powerful tips by leading financial experts to help you control your debt, build a budget, and start living the life you want to live.

Article source courtesy of Kimberly J. Howard, AdviceIQ of you USA Today.

5 Ways to Save Money When You’re Broke

save-moneyIt can be hard to save money at any time, but it is particularly difficult when you feel like you are broke. If you can barely afford your bills and you are living paycheck to paycheck, saving money is probably one of the last things on your mind. However, you can still save money when you’re broke. In fact saving money, even if it is a little, is a key step to stop being broke.

As long as you are making some money, you should be saving some. Especially if you routinely have insufficient funds, it’s important to make a habit of saving money. Despite the fact that you have little extra funds, there are ways to save. Cutting costs, sticking to a budget, and saving a little at a time are all ways that you can save money, but there are other ways as well. Here are five ideas to consider.

1. Cut out the extras. An easy way to save money when you’re broke is to cut costs. You may think there is nothing you can cut out at first, but think a little harder. If you are truly “broke” then you need to let some things go. Do you really need such an expensive cell phone plan? What about cable television? Can you use the internet at the library or use WiFi instead of paying a monthly fee?

There are many things that we consider necessities that are really just extras, and cutting some of those will quickly free up more money. Take a look at your monthly bills, and decide what is really necessary. If you want to stop being broke, you may have to cut out some of the extras for a while.

2. Eat at home. Grabbing lunch on the go is so much easier and more convenient than bringing a lunch to work, but doing this regularly will really eat away at your income. According to Living on A Dime, eating out is a common way people get into personal debt. It’s easy to rationalize eating out because you are too busy to cook, or you are a bad cook. However, making food at home will truly save you money, and if you want to save money, you need to make the time and the effort to cook at home. You can save time by making several meals over the weekend and freezing them to use during the work week. If you simply don’t know how to cook, buy a cookbook for beginners.

3. Make a budget. If you don’t have a budget, your first step should be to make one. Perhaps you already have a budget, but there are several reasons a budget can fail. If you recently lost your job, or your income somehow changed but you are using the same budget, you will need to make a new one. You also may need to look at your budget and see if it is really reasonable and if you need to adjust anything.

According to Lifehacker, if you are broke and budgeting, there are several steps that can help. Start by assessing your financial situation, cut back on expenses (as mentioned in point one), and be frugal. There are other steps you can also take, including paying down your debt.

4. Save a little at a time. If you’re completely broke, the idea of saving anything probably seems unreasonable. However, you have to get into the habit of saving if you are going to save more in the long run. It’s important to think about the future: write down your financial goals, even if they seem completely out of reach. Then, start saving. If you are saving nothing right now, then any savings is an improvement. Once you cut your extras and start following a budget, you can use some of the discretionary money to save for your future.

Another idea is to get a second job. Even if you only work a few extra hours each week, but you put all the money in a savings account, you will quickly see a change in your financial situation.

5. Avoid common mistakes. You can make plenty of good decisions about your finances, but if you make a few poor decisions, you will still have a hard time saving. Some of the worst things to do when you are broke include splurging when you get money, prioritizing convenience, taking on too much debt or making poor decisions about debt, living beyond your means, and having no savings at all.

It’s really easy to live above your means, but this is one of the easiest ways to get into debt. If you have a hard time controlling your spending, try setting a budget and then doing envelope budgeting (you can modernize this practice with a few steps). Also, be careful about the debt that you incur. You need to avoid the worst financial mistakes if you really want to save.

Saving money isn’t easy, but if you take the time to put these five steps into practice, you will be off to a good start!

Don’t forget about First Financial’s free, online debt management tool, Debt in Focus. In just minutes, you will receive a thorough analysis of your financial situation, including powerful tips by leading financial experts to help you control your debt, build a budget, and start living the life you want to live.

*Article source written by Sienna Beard of CUInsight.

4 Signs You Have a Spending Problem and How to Fix It

Cracking piggybank

One in five Americans spent more than what they earned in the last 12 months, according to a Federal Reserve Board survey. Some might be relying on credit or dipping into savings to cover their spending because they are having trouble making ends meet. And, some might be simply living beyond their means.

Regardless of the reason your spending exceeds your income – your overspending might be making it hard to pay bills, have money for emergencies, and save for the future. It could also lead to serious consequences, such as bankruptcy.

Here are five warning signs that indicate you are spending too much, how your overspending can hurt you, and how to get your spending under control:

1. You max out your credit cards and pay only the minimum.

If you’re maxing out your credit cards and can’t pay off your balances every month, it’s a sign that you’re relying on credit to supplement your income. Not only can this hurt your credit score, but it can also leave you in debt longer than necessary.

If a high percentage of your available credit is used — in other words, most of your cards are maxed out — the credit scoring agencies consider this to be a sign that you are overextended and will likely lower your credit score. A lower score will make it harder for you to get additional credit and might force you to pay higher rates on that credit.

Paying the minimum on your credit card won’t necessarily hurt your score, but it could take you a long time to pay off your debt and cost you extra money in interest. For example, if you had a $1,000 balance on a card with a 16% APR and made a minimum monthly payment of $25 on your balance, it would take nearly five years to pay off your debt. And, you’d pay about $440 in interest too.

2. You pay bills late.

About one out of 20 people with a credit file are at least 30 days late on a credit card or a non-mortgage account payment, according to an Urban Institute report.

Paying bills late because you don’t have the cash to cover them is a sign that you’re overspending. And it sends a red flag to your credit issuers, which could hike your interest rates or lower your credit limit, according to the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. You’ll also be hit with fees — which can add up quickly — and several late payments will hurt your credit score.

If you’re more than 180 days late on a payment, your debt typically is assigned to a collection agency or debt collector. Having debt in collections can lower your credit score and will remain on your credit report for seven years, according to myFICO.com. What’s worse is that your creditors or debt collectors could potentially sue you and be allowed to garnish you wages to pay the debt you owe.

3. You raid your retirement account.

You might think there’s no harm in borrowing from your retirement account because it’s your money. About 20% of 401(k) plan participants have taken a loan from their account, according to the Pencil Research Council Working Paper. You can borrow up to half of your 401(k) balance, up to a maximum of $50,000, but rarely is this a good idea.

If you borrow from your retirement account, you will have to pay yourself back with interest — which can be lower than the rate of return you would’ve gotten if you had left the money in the account. So really, you’re just shortchanging your retirement savings.

4. You borrow from friends and family.

If you have to turn to friends and family for money, it’s a sign that your overspending has left you financially strapped. You might think it’s a good way to get an interest-free loan, but being unable to pay back the loan can lead to tension and can affect your relationship.

How to Stop the Overspending Habit

If you’ve realized that you have an overspending problem, rest assured — there are different ways you can get your spending under control and create healthy spending habits.

1. Create a budget.

The first step to getting your spending under control is to create a budget. Take a close look at what you’re spending money on and ways to cut back.

2. Rely on cash.

By living on a cash or debit-only budget, you can curb the impulse to overspend. Set a budget for each shopping trip and only bring that much cash with you to avoid making impulse purchases.

3. Get help.

If you’re buried in debt and can’t curb your spending, your best option might be to get professional help. The National Foundation for Credit Counseling provides free and affordable debt counseling and other money management services. You can find an agency in your area through NFCC.org.

Don’t forget about First Financial’s free, online debt management tool, Debt in Focus. In just minutes, you will receive a thorough analysis of your financial situation, including powerful tips by leading financial experts to help you control your debt, build a budget, and start living the life you want to live.

Article Source: Cameron Huddleston, http://www.gobankingrates.com/personal-finance/5-signs-spending-problem/