The 10 Commandments of Saving Money

saving moneyThere are thousands of savings tips that can help you grow your nest egg. Whether they involve brown-bagging it to work or using coupons at the supermarket, these are generally useful savings habits that can give you a leg up on ending each month in the black.

But there are only a few super-sized savings rules that can truly transform your finances. Rules so big they deserve to be etched in stone. So, here are the “The Ten Commandments” of saving.

1. Thou Shalt Know Where Thy Money Goes

When generals go to war, they need an overview of the battlefield. Maps, exploration and data show them where the enemy is susceptible. In the battle for savings, the first thing you have to know is where your money is going.

Sites like Mint.com allow you to connect all your bank accounts, credit cards and loans to cloud-based software so you to track your finances on one screen, in real time, with just the click of a button. They also analyze your expenses and highlight areas where you might be wasting money. Best of all, it’s free.

2. Thou Shalt Eliminate Debt with Extreme Prejudice

Debt is bad, but it’s the interest on that debt that’s like kryptonite to your savings goals, and the sooner you eliminate it, the sooner you can become a savings Superman.

You can also track your finances and debt with First Financial’s free, anonymous 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.

Moving debt from high-interest instruments, like credit cards, to lower-interest instruments, like a line of credit, is a start. Consolidation loans can be a help as well, but the easiest way to get out of debt fast is to take the interest expense you save and put it directly toward your debt’s principal amount.

First Financial’s Visa Platinum Credit Card starts as low as 10.9% APR!* It’s a good idea to check the APR on your current credit cards to see if it’s time to switch. Keep in mind, we also don’t have any balance transfer fees and as an additional BONUS, for a limited time if you are approved for a balance transfer of $5,000 or more to our VISA Platinum Credit Card, you will receive 10,000 bonus CURewards Points! You can apply for the balance transfer by stopping into any branch or by calling 866.750.0100 to be sent a balance transfer request form.**

3. Thou Shalt Read the Fine Print

Most people would be shocked at the amount of money that they waste on service charges, convenience fees and annual dues hidden in financial contracts. If that low-interest credit card charges you $99 annually no matter if you use it or not, is it really that great of a deal?

Bank where checks are included and there is no minimum balance requirement (like a First Financial Checking Account!.*** Make sure if you transfer a balance to a lower-interest credit card that there is not a transaction fee attached. And if you rarely or never use that credit card with the annual fee, think about applying for a card that better suits your financial well-being.

4. Thou Shalt Pay Attention to Timing

At the risk of sounding like a ’60s folk-rock star, to everything there is a season, and waiting for the right season to purchase big-ticket items can save you a bundle. For example, car dealers will discount their inventory when the new model year arrives to free up room on their lots, so If you are in the market for a new car, that’s the season to buy.

Many big-box retailers and department stores have semi-annual sales where you can pick up appliances, electronics and home goods at a discount. The key is to fight against the urge for instant gratification on your purchases.

5. Thou Shalt Keep an Eye on Interest Rates

Even if you are able to pay off your credit cards and loans, the one debt most people can’t pay off is their home mortgage, which is why you should watch interest rates. When interest rates move down, it can be an opportunity to refinance your home loan and save money on your monthly mortgage payment.

But remember, if you just take the money you save and spend it, you’re not saving at all. Earmark the difference between your new mortgage payment and your old one for your bank account, or if you plan to live in your home for the life of the loan, put the extra toward your principal and own your home sooner.

We offer a number of great mortgage options, including refinancing – click here to learn about our features and services and see what’s a good fit for you! To receive updates on our low Mortgage Rates straight to your mobile phone, text FIRSTRATE to 69302 and each time our Mortgage Rates change, we’ll send you a text message with the new rates.****

6. Thou Shalt Find Money in Thy House

Most people would be surprised to learn just how much money they have laying around their house. Those books you’ve already read can be sold on Cash4Books or Amazon.com, and your old phones and mobile devices can be sold to companies like Gazelle.

Cleaning out the clutter in your home doesn’t just feel good but provides you with an opportunity to feed your piggy bank by having a garage or yard sale. And what about those figurines you inherited or your comic book collection? Do you still really want them? If not, try listing them on eBay.

7. Thou Shalt Use Technology to Find Deals

The Internet makes saving money so easy that your grandmother would likely throw her coupon box at your head if she knew. Sites like Groupon and Living Social will send deals on goods and services in to your inbox, and apps like Out of Milk can alert you to store sales just by driving by them.

The Internet also is a great resource for finding free activities for you and your family to do on weekends, holidays and school breaks.

Subscribe to our First Scoop Blog and receive free, fun financial education straight to your inbox – at the beginning of each month we post a budget-friendly activity list for that month in Monmouth and Ocean Counties, NJ!

8. Thou Shalt Not Forget to Prioritize Your Retirement

This is a tough one, because it’s hard to save money now that you don’t expect to use for 30 or 40 years. But like it or not, there is going to come a time when your earning years are over and we will all need a retirement fund to bankroll the golden years. So if you don’t want yours to be bronze years, you have to make retirement saving a priority.

The good news is that you have many years to accumulate those funds and to let them grow, which means that small amounts of savings directed toward it can go a long way. For example, you can take a percentage out of every saved dollar, say 25 percent, and earmark it for your retirement. This is an easy and painless way to create both a short-term and long-term savings fund.

To set up a no-obligation appointment with our Investment & Retirement Center to go over your retirement and investment portfolio or to get started with one, call 732.312.1565 or email samantha.schertz@cunamutual.com. *****

9. Thou Shalt Not Try to Keep Up With the Joneses

A huge part of winning the saving game is changing your mindset about how you think of money and what its function is. Too often we get caught up in the game of keeping up with the Joneses and buy things we don’t really want — and certainly don’t need — just to keep up appearances.

What many people don’t take into account is that that boat, RV, ATV, third car or giant flat screen that their neighbor bought probably comes with a loan or a high-interest credit card payment. Before making that next impulsive purchase, ask yourself if you really want it and if it will bring you that same warm fuzzy feeling that a full savings account will.

10. Thou Shalt Act Like Thy Don’t Even Have It

We can’t spend what we don’t have, so the more you act like you don’t have it, the more you will be able to save it. Have retirement and college savings funds automatically deducted from your paycheck before you ever see it. Schedule a “secret” payment from your checking account to your savings account each week.

When you come across found money — like a rebate, an overpayment refund or even $20 in your pants pocket — just act like you never had it and put it right into your savings. With practice, you can get pretty good at this, so much so that if you have an unexpected windfall — say from an investment or an inheritance — you’ll forget it even happened. Only your savings account will know.

Click here to view the article source by Brian Lund of Daily Finance.

*APR varies from 10.90% to 17.90% when you open your account based on your credit worthiness. This APR is for purchases, balance transfers, and cash advances and will vary with the market based on the Prime Rate. Subject to credit approval. Rates quoted assume excellent borrower credit history. Your actual APR may vary based on your state of residence, approved loan amount, applicable discounts and your credit history. No Annual Fee. Other fees that apply: Cash advance fee of 1% of advance ($5 minimum and $25 maximum), Late Payment Fee of up to $25, Foreign Transaction Fee of 1% plus foreign exchange rate of transaction amount, $5 Card Replacement Fee, and Returned Payment Fee of up to $25. A First Financial membership is required to obtain a VISA Platinum Card and is available to anyone who lives, works, worships, or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties.

**Additional bonus points will be reflected within 30 days from the balance transfer approval and can be viewed when signed into your VISA Platinum Card Account online through Online Banking. In order to redeem bonus points, an offer reference must be made to a First Financial representative. Bonus points can only be redeemed one time per member, on an approved balance transfer of $5,000 or greater during the promotional period of 4/28/14 – 12/31/14.

***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. Visit firstffcu.com to view full Rewards First program details, and to view the Tier Level Comparison Chart. Accounts for children age 13 and under are excluded from this program.

****Standard text messaging and data rates may apply.

*****Securities sold, advisory services offered through CUNA Brokerage Services, Inc. (CBSI), member FINRA/SIPC, a registered broker/dealer and investment advisor. CBSI is under contract with the financial institution to make securities available to members. Not NCUA/NCUSIF/FDIC insured, May Lose Value, No Financial Institution Guarantee. Not a deposit of any financial institution. CUNA Brokerage Services, Inc., is a registered broker/dealer in all fifty states of the United States of America.

 

How to Save Money By Simplifying Your Life

save-money-travel-photo-ccNearly half of households in the United States are “liquid asset poor,” meaning they have less than three month’s worth of savings in the bank, according to a report this year from the Corporation for Enterprise Development, a nonprofit that tracks household financial security. Surprisingly, 25% of those who are considered “liquid asset poor” are in the middle class with earnings of $56,113 to $91,356 annually. What’s even more surprising is that 89% are employed.

Statistics like these might make you wonder how we got here. The fact is, modern life has become more difficult and complicated than ever. We not only have more inconveniences and responsibilities than previous generations, but we also have more bills to pay. We work more, relax less, and spend most of our time planning for the future instead of enjoying the present. Everything costs more than it did generations ago, which is another reason so many Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. And when you’re living a hand-to-mouth existence, it can be next to impossible to break the cycle.

Breaking the Cycle in 5 Simple Steps

But what if someone told you it didn’t have to be that way? What would you do if you discovered that merely simplifying your life could help you save and prepare for a brighter future? The truth is, a simpler existence might be exactly what it takes to transition from a lifestyle of struggle into one where you’re able to enjoy life a little. It may not be easy, but change might just be within your reach.

Here’s how:

  • Pare down your possessions. If you’re struggling to keep up and feeling bogged down by life’s ups and downs, it might be time to lighten your load. The truth is, many of the belongings that bring you joy could also be a source of stress either because they require upkeep, take up too much space or come with additional financial costs. So, instead of holding on, figure out what you can sell and take the necessary steps to do so. You’ll not only simplify your life, but you’ll also rake in some extra cash in the process.
  • Cancel unnecessary services. Many monthly bills are non-negotiable, including things such as utilities, insurance, mortgage or rent payments, and transportation costs. But the rest? You can typically do without it. If you really want to simplify and get ahead, consider canceling services that aren’t necessary. This could include things such as cable television, expensive gym memberships (when there are many more affordable monthly plans out there), pricey cell phone contracts, or other unnecessary monthly subscriptions (magazines, movie rental/streaming services, etc.). Eliminating or cutting even a few of your monthly expenses can make a huge difference in your bottom line over the months and years. Plus, who doesn’t want fewer bills to pay?
  • Pay down debt. If you’re like most people, you have a few lingering debts from the past. The bad news is, those monthly debt payments might be part of the reason you’re struggling. They might even mean the difference between mere survival and getting ahead. Unfortunately, the only real way to escape the grasp of your debt is to make a commitment to become debt-free. Use the money you’ve freed up by paring down your possessions and eliminating unnecessary services to work toward becoming debt-free once and for all. It may take a while, but it will be worth it.

Utilize First Financial’s free, anonymous 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.

  • Make a commitment to save. When you’re living paycheck to paycheck, one surprise bill or emergency is all it takes to knock you completely off track. That’s why it’s absolutely crucial to begin saving for the future and for any unexpected expenses that might arise. Saving money might seem like a lofty goal, but it can be done if you make the commitment to never give up. Your future self will thank you.
  • Make it automatic. If you’re worried you’ll fall off the savings wagon in a hurry, the best thing you can do for yourself is make all savings automatic. This generally means setting up an automatic account transfer on payday or at the end or beginning of the month. Making it automatic helps you accomplish your savings goals in two ways: First, it ensures you’re saving on a regular basis by forcing you onto a savings schedule. Second, it forces you to live on less than what you earn, which is required if you truly want to get ahead and stay ahead.

It’s true that modern life has become burdensome and overly complicated in some ways, but it’s also true that our decisions often make it worse. Fortunately, the key to escaping a lifetime of struggle is often within reach if you’re willing to look hard enough. All it takes is a fresh perspective, a willingness to live on less, and the fortitude to make it happen. A simpler and more prosperous life can be yours if you want it.

*Click here to view the article source by Holly Johnson of US News.

Learn How to Talk to Your Kids About Finances at this FREE Seminar in August 2014

teach-kids-howto-save-moneymomdaughtersTeaching kids about money can be done quite simply, following a few guidelines that will be taught to you at this FREE seminar. Parents are hands-down the most influential force in any child’s life, and studies show that this extends to money management. Yet, the money talk still doesn’t happen in many U.S. households. This free seminar will teach attendees about ways to get your children financially educated.

Attending this seminar, you will learn:

  • Financial literacy for every child’s lifestage
  • How to raise money-smart kids
  • Simple steps to get your children excited about saving money

Join us on Thursday, August 7th at 6:00pm for our free consumer seminar titled, How to Talk to Your Kids About Finances, presented by the experts at First Financial. The seminar will be held at our Wall Office located at 1800 Route 34 North, Building 3, Suite 302. We invite you to bring a guest but space is limited, so make sure you sign up today!

5 Budget Killers You Can Avoid

budgeting-money-to-conquer-debtCreating a budget is the first step in taking control of your finances. Sticking to your budget is another challenge altogether.

Even when you believe you have factored in every cost you may encounter by week, by month or by year, somehow you end up needing more money than you allocated – right? If this sounds like you, you are likely encountering a budget killer (or several). Below are some of the most common costs that can cause you to veer off your budgeting course.

1. Account Maintenance Fees: Some big bank accounts and credit cards tack on fees if you don’t maintain your account or meet specific requirements. Some charge you extra if you don’t maintain a certain balance, if you write too many checks, or if you don’t make enough transactions. These can add up quickly. Make sure when choosing an account or credit card, you read the specifics of your account agreement carefully. Look into which checking accounts and credit cards offer services that fit your lifestyle.

Be sure to check out the variety of flexible Checking Account options that we offer here at First Financial including First Protection, High Yield, Free, Go Green Checking and more. Plus, if you’re on the hunt for a great new maintenance-free credit card with rewards, click here to learn more about our low-rate Visa Platinum Credit Card and apply online.

2. Subscriptions: While seemingly low monthly fees can be attractive, subscription magazines and online services (think Netflix, Hulu, etc.) add up. These costs are hurting your budget if you are not using the services or if you could find them elsewhere online for free. Eventually, these just become another add-on to your monthly payments so it’s a good idea every so often to re-evaluate whether yours are worth keeping.

3. Credit Card Interest: Credit cards have several attractive features: allowing you to buy now and pay later, providing cash back, and helping you earn points toward a new car, vacation or night out. Paying installments on your purchases over time may appear to be a great way to buy all your monthly and superfluous purchases. However, high interest rates add up over time if you carry a balance and you can find yourself deep in debt before you know it. You may think you are paying off your purchase when all you are doing is treading water by paying off the interest. To avoid this, it’s important to know the interest rates of your credit cards, pay off your balance in full every month, and save before you purchase. Carrying a lot of debt can have longer-term implications on your credit scores too. If you want to see how your debt is affecting your credit, check out our free and anonymous debt management tool, Debt in Focus and be sure to take advantage of our First Score service to learn ways to improve your score as well.

Did you know that our Visa Platinum Credit Card rate starts as low as 10.9% and offers rewards?* It’s a good idea to check the APR of some of your current credit cards to see if it’s time to switch! Keep in mind, we also don’t have any balance transfer fees – and as an additional BONUS, for a limited time if you are approved for a balance transfer of $5,000 or more to our VISA Platinum Credit Card, you will receive 10,000 bonus CURewards Points! You can apply for the balance transfer by stopping into any branch or calling 866.750.0100 to be sent a balance transfer request form.**

4. Excess Phone, Cable & Utility Bills: Many households are paying hundreds of dollars for TV, Internet, cell phone, and utility expenses each month. No matter how comfortable these tools make us, they are taking up valuable space in our budgets. Look through your bills carefully and try to scale back from services you aren’t using or do not need to use, from running the air-conditioning while you are at work to paying for a DVR on a second TV you never even watch. Also, be sure you are not paying for a level of service you don’t need. If these alterations don’t bring a big enough impact on your budget, consider alternatives like prepaid phone services and switching cable providers.

5. Convenience Fees: Certain businesses tack on “convenience fees” when you utilize their goods or services as a way to make up any added expenses that can incur during your transaction. Be wary of these types of fees before you make various transactions, to see if there is a less expensive way for you to do so.

Having an emergency fund can be a big help when you come in over budget. This money can save you from stress when you have fallen victim to these and other budget killers. It’s a good idea though to deal with the root issue instead of repeatedly ruining your budget and having to dip into your emergency fund. If you do have to use that money, it’s important to replace it and frequently evaluate your budget to match your changing lifestyle.

Article source courtesy of Fox Business.

*APR varies from 10.90% to 17.90% when you open your account based on your credit worthiness. This APR is for purchases, balance transfers, and cash advances and will vary with the market based on the Prime Rate. Subject to credit approval. Rates quoted assume excellent borrower credit history. Your actual APR may vary based on your state of residence, approved loan amount, applicable discounts and your credit history. No Annual Fee. Other fees that apply: Cash advance fee of 1% of advance ($5 minimum and $25 maximum), Late Payment Fee of up to $25, Foreign Transaction Fee of 1% plus foreign exchange rate of transaction amount, $5 Card Replacement Fee, and Returned Payment Fee of up to $25. A First Financial membership is required to obtain a VISA Platinum Card and is available to anyone who lives, works, worships, or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties.

**Additional bonus points will be reflected within 30 days from the balance transfer approval and can be viewed when signed into your VISA Platinum Card Account online through Online Banking. In order to redeem bonus points, an offer reference must be made to a First Financial representative. Bonus points can only be redeemed one time per member, on an approved balance transfer of $5,000 or greater during the promotional period of 4/28/14 – 12/31/14.

What’s Going There? First Financial Plans in Howell

Courtesy of the Asbury Park Press Online

construction0708The recent explosion of commercial growth on Route 9 in Monmouth County continues on an 8½-acre construction site along the northbound side of the roadway just north of the muncipality’s park-and-ride near the boundary with Freehold Township.

First Financial Federal Credit Union, the Wall-based not-for-profit financial cooperative that operates four locations throughout Monmouth and Ocean counties, will spend roughly $1.5 million to build a 3,000-square-foot branch on the site. The company broke ground on the single-story branch late last month and plans to open it in December. The company also plans to spend $4 million to move its headquarters there from Wall by 2016.

Rather than an expansion, however, First Financial’s construction of the branch marks an attempt at consolidation. The company desired a freestanding branch on its own land, and so it allowed its lease of a storefront within Lanes Mill Marketplace on Route 9 North in the township to expire this past April and will do the same with its leased storefront within Barclay Square on Route 9 South in Freehold Township once it opens the new branch.

Similarly, First Financial’s lease on its current headquarters on Route 34 in Wall will expire in 2016, so it will open a new corporate office building that will stand two stories tall and span 20,000 square feet.

*Article written by staff writer Anthony Panissidi of the Asbury Park Press. 

Summer Vacation Scams: Possible Hazards of Hoteling

Customers paying at the hotelBooking a hotel stay for a summer vacation? Before you check in, check out how scammers can try to take advantage of travelers.  Always be aware and on the lookout for possible scams!

The late night call from the front desk.

You think you’re getting a late night call from the front desk telling you there’s a problem with your credit card and they need to verify the number, so you read it to them over the phone. But it’s really a scammer on the line. If a hotel really had an issue with your card, they would ask you to come to the front desk.

The pizza delivery deal.

In another scam, you find a pizza delivery flyer slipped under your hotel door. You call to order, and they take your credit card number over the phone. But the flyer is a fake, and a scammer now has your info. Before you order, make sure you check out the business (ensure it’s a franchise or reputable), or get food recommendations from the front desk. 

The fake Wi-Fi network.

You search for Wi-Fi networks and find one with the hotel’s name. But it turns out it’s only a sound-alike and has nothing to do with the hotel. By using it, you could give a scammer access to your information. Check with the hotel to make sure you’re using the authorized network before you connect. Read more tips on using public Wi-Fi networks.

Other things to be cautious of when staying at or booking a hotel stay:

  • Always lock your car, and don’t leave anything valuable in your vehicle and/or visible.
  • Try to park your car as close to the front office of the hotel as possible.
  • Don’t leave anything valuable in your room unless there is a secure way to do it (like an in-room safe).
  • Check your credit card statement after your stay to make sure it’s accurate.
  • Be weary of hotel booking websites - there have been instances of advertisements claiming that for booking a hotel room you can receive a complimentary gift card from a known retailer. When clicked on, the scammers will oftentimes ask for a credit card number and more personal info.

Haven’t booked your trip yet? If you’re thinking of getting a vacation rental, take a moment to read up about rental listing scams. And check out these other travel tips, including tell-tale signs that a travel offer or prize might be a scam.

Don’t wait until it’s too late! Check out First Financial’s ID Theft Protection products – with our Fully Managed Identity Recovery services, you don’t need to worry. A professional Recovery Advocate will do the work on your behalf, based on a plan that you approve. Should you experience an Identity Theft incident, your Recovery Advocate will stick with you all along the way – and will be there for you until your good name is restored.

Our ID Theft Protection options may include some of the following services, based on the package you choose to enroll in: Lost Document Replacement, Credit Bureau Monitoring, Score Tracker, and Three-Generation Family Benefit.* To learn more about our ID Theft Protection products, click here and find out how you can enroll today – as well as get started with your first 90 days free!**

*Identity Theft insurance underwritten by subsidiaries or affiliates of Chartis Inc. The description herein is a summary and intended for informational purposes only and does not include all terms, conditions and exclusions of the policies described. Please refer to the actual policies for terms, conditions, and exclusions of coverage. Coverage may not be available in all jurisdictions.

**Available for new enrollments only. After the free trial of 90 days, the member must contact the Credit Union to opt-out of ID Theft Protection or the monthly fee of $4.95 will automatically be deducted out of the base savings account or $8.95 will be deducted out of the First Protection Checking account (depending upon the coverage option selected), on a monthly basis or until the member opts out of the program.

Article Source: Amy Herbert – Consumer Education Specialist for the FTC, http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/hazards-hoteling.