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 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.,, and 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

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.


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 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

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,

3 Tips for Getting Control Over Your Spending

Glamour purse fill with money isolated on white background

Two days after you receive your paycheck, do you wonder where all the money went? Is your closet full of clothing and other items that still have the tags on them? Then your spending habits may need some adjusting.

Many consumers aren’t saving enough for a rainy day. The U.S. personal savings rate has increased within the last 12 months (5.3% compared with 4.8% the year before), but there is still room for improvement. Approximately 44% of households across the nation have less than three months of savings, according to the Corporation for Enterprise Development’s 2015 Assets & Opportunity Scorecard. Furthermore, a recent Bankrate Money Pulse survey revealed that less than 4 in 10 people are capable of covering an emergency expense, and about 18% don’t have a budget.

If you’re struggling to control your spending, there are a few things you can do to break bad habits. Here are three tips for regaining your footing and getting back on the path toward financial health.

1. Carry Cash
One of the best ways to keep spending in check is to pay for most of your purchases with cash. When you rely on a credit or debit card, it’s easy to lose track of how much money you’re shelling out. Swiping your card is simple and can make you feel like you have more money than you really do. Cash, on the other hand, will allow you to see exactly what you’re spending. And when the cash runs out, you know it’s time to put your wallet down and stop making purchases for that day. Try your best to get out of the “buy now, pay later” mentality.

2. Use a Spending Tracker
There are plenty of mobile phone apps and online web tools that can assist you with keeping tabs on your spending. If you’ve been slow to devise a budget, these technologies are a great way to get started. Some useful apps available are Goodbudget, Mvelopes, and Pocket Expense.

3. Go on a Financial Fast
Resolve to cut out all of your spending for a certain period of time; it could be two weeks or one month, the timing is up to you. When you refrain from spending any money (except on necessities such as mortgage payments and groceries) you’ll quickly see what you can truly live without.

Article Source: Sheiresa Ngo for

How to Build the Perfect Emergency Fund

Piggy bank stands on 100 dollar papers, isolated on white background

Start small.

While you should eventually build an emergency fund that can handle more serious emergencies (economic downturn, loss of job, etc.), you’re going to want to start by putting together a short-term emergency fund. Your short-term fund is meant to take care of unexpected expenses that while not severe, can still mean trouble if you aren’t prepared. Things like a car repair, replacing a broken window, or getting a parking ticket are all things that can be covered by your short-term fund. Ideally, you’d want this to range anywhere from $500 to $1,000.

Figure how much you’ll need in the long run.

Chances are, if you find yourself out of work or the victim of a natural disaster, $500 to $1,000 won’t be enough to keep your head above water. So to make sure you can keep you (and your family) financially stable for an extended period of time, it’s best to save anywhere between three to six months’ worth of expenses. That may sound like a lot of money (and in most cases it is), but having something to fall back on will make your recovery process all the more easier.

Building yourself a budget is a great way to figure out how much you should aim to save for a long-term emergency. Figure out what expenses you’d really need to be covered (food, shelter, major utilities) and which you can do without for a short period of time (cable bill, online subscription services, etc). Once you get that number, you can start working out a savings plan for yourself depending upon how much you’re able to sock away each paycheck. It might take a lot of time, but having a specific number in mind can really help to keep you motivated.

Tighten up your budget.

If you’re struggling to come up with money to put away for an emergency fund, there’s no better way to boost your cash flow than by tightening up your budget. Writing a concise list of your needs and wants can help you identify what areas of your budget you can cut back on. Think of the extra money you could save just by cutting back on dining out or going without Netflix for a couple months. Once you’ve met your savings goal, you can transition back to your regular spending habits with the peace of mind that you’ll be able to handle almost anything that comes your way.

Drop your debt.

While you’d ideally want to take care of both simultaneously, paying down debt and saving money isn’t something that’s feasible for everyone. In situations like these, it may be in your best interest to prioritize paying down your debt first. The longer you carry debt, the more interest it builds and the more you’ll have to pay over time. Taking on high-cost debt (credit card debt, for example) can also be an emergency in and of itself and be a huge drain on the emergency fund you worked so hard to build.

Furthermore, carrying a high balance on your credit card can have a negative impact on your credit. And the lower your credit score, the more likely you are to get higher interest rates on future loans and credit cards. Getting out of debt, and avoiding unnecessary forms of it, can help you maximize your contributions to your emergency fund and ensure it’s there for when you really need it.

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.

Most people don’t realize how important an emergency fund really is until they’re actually faced with a serious emergency. Putting in the time and effort to build an adequate emergency fund is a simple way to make sure you and your loved ones won’t fall into debt. So do yourself a favor and take the time to evaluate your expenses, build a budget, and start saving today!

Article Source: Leslie Tayne for

13 Commandments For Smart Personal Finance

commandments1. Know your goals. This means trying to step back and say, “Where are we going? How are we going to get there?”  While it doesn’t necessarily mean having all the pieces in place, you should be able to identify the goals and a few actions that will bring you closer to achieving them.  Don’t be be afraid of dreaming a little, but also make sure the goals are specific, measurable, and realistic.

2. Don’t be paralyzed by past mistakes. Most people, even those who are highly successful, have made bad investments at some point in their lives.  The important thing is to learn from your mistakes and move forward. Stressing about the past is not a productive activity.

3. Develop a plan. A goal without a plan is nothing but a wish.  You also need to be flexible enough to re-calculate as goals and situations change. This is where a trained and certified financial planner can be an asset, monitoring your performance, how it measures up to the market, and whether or not you are on track to meet your stated goals.

4. Know your cash flow. This is the financial equivalent of taking your blood pressure. It’s not about putting you on a budget, it’s about knowing how much money is coming in and where it’s going. You might be surprised at how much you are spending on certain items. Having a handle on your cash flow combined with knowing your goals, will help identify possible changes that can be made to help you achieve your objectives.

5. Plan your major celebrations without stress. Planning for a child’s wedding?  Rather than incurring excessive debt, consider scaling down the event to reduce stress. In addition, if there is enough time and with proper planning, there may be ways to save well in advance.

6. Understand your liquidity. Liquidity is the ability to convert your investments into cash quickly.  Liquidity is valued because life is dynamic and your need to move quickly may be necessary – whether it’s due to an opportunity like a good investment, or an unforeseen expense, like a flood in your basement.

7. Know and manage your risk. Things go wrong and accidents happen. Whether it relates to a downturn in your health or your finances, you want to protect your family. Understanding your insurance options is an important part of every financial plan.

8. Plan for financial independence. Knowing when you can retire and having some confidence that you will have enough money, is what financial independence is all about. The financial planning process can help you project your retirement at a given age based on such things as assumed income, expenses, inflation, social security, and savings.

9. Establish an estate plan. This gives you control over your money and your children’s future when you’re gone.  Unfortunately, too many people relegate this to the bottom of their list.

10. Manage your taxes. Your accountant and financial advisor should be talking when it comes to your tax planning. You should have a strategy in place that will minimize your taxes, while helping you achieve long term value.

11. Manage your debt. Carrying debt creates anxiety and stress. Credit card debt in particular often results in interest rates exceeding 20%! It’s important to pay down debt as quickly as you can. This ultimately frees up funds that can be relegated elsewhere.

12. Understand your investment strategy. Your investment strategy should be tied to your goals, time horizon, and risk tolerance. Having a plan guides you so that you avoid the type of panic that can lead to making bad decisions.

13. Putting it all together. Simply stated, this means looking at the big picture and feeling confident you have crossed your T’s and dotted your I’s. Be sure to prioritize your needs and talk with a professional who can offer independent advice.

Questions about retirement savings, estate planning, or investments?  If you would like to set up a no-cost consultation with the Investment & Retirement Center located at First Financial Federal Credit Union to discuss your savings goals, contact us at 866.750.0100 or stop in to see us!*

*Representatives are registered, securities are sold, and investment advisory services offered through CUNA Brokerage Services, Inc. (CBSI), member FINRA/SIPC, a registered broker/dealer and investment advisor, 2000 Heritage Way, Waverly, Iowa 50677, toll-free 800-369-2862. Non-deposit investment and insurance products are not federally insured, involve investment risk, may lose value and are not obligations of or guaranteed by the financial institution. CBSI is under contract with the financial institution, through the financial services program, to make securities available to members. CUNA Brokerage Services, Inc., is a registered broker/dealer in all fifty states of the United States of America.

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