4 Ways to Save on Your Holiday Shopping Now

Art Img 7 TipsIt is hard to believe, but the holiday shopping season is here. If you’re like most families, holiday shopping can be a strain on the budget. Many shoppers also fear looking cheap when passing out gifts, which can lead to over-spending and blowing the budget.

According to the American Research Group, Americans on average spent $801 on Christmas shopping in 2013. That kind of number will have a big impact on a budget. If you’re looking for ways to cut down the cost of holiday shopping and still get great gifts, these tips will help.

Start now:

The best way to save money on holiday shopping is to start early. There is a belief that the best deals are available around Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, and that is not always the case. Instead of waiting, be on the lookout for even bigger deals that might be hitting stores sooner. The ever expanding influence of online shopping has moved many retailers to begin pushing major holiday campaigns back as early as Halloween, if not earlier. The added benefit is being able to avoid the craziness that Black Friday shopping brings.

Check out the Dollar Stores:

It might not be too common, but shopping at discount or Dollar stores can be a great way to shave some spending off of your gift budget. You might not find your gifts there, but you can probably save on other holiday-related items, such as wrapping paper, gift bags and decorations.

While they might not have good options for a traditional gift, Dollar stores can be a great option for gag gifts, office Christmas parties and white elephant gift exchanges. Beyond that, Dollar stores are a useful alternative for party favors or decorations for parties you may be hosting. Since many of those items will likely be thrown away anyway, there is no point in spending more than you need to.

Shop at stores that match prices:

Price matching has become increasingly expected as many brick and mortar retailers deal with the presence of online shopping. While not every store offers price matching, it can be a great way to save money when added to your shopping strategy. The trick is to know the terms and conditions of the given retailer you’re shopping at. Some will match any retailer while others will not match online-only retailers.

If you have a smartphone, bring it with you when you go shopping. There are many apps available now, from Amazon to others, which allow you to scan the item to see what is charged for it elsewhere. Add that to your arsenal to save money while shopping. Lastly, make sure to check the retailer’s site itself to make sure it’s not offering a cheaper price online than in-store. If you find a discrepancy, you can always ask for a price match, or at least allow a free shipping option.

Watch the daily deal sites:

Like the Dollar store option, daily deal sites may not be commonly thought of as options for gift shopping but they can be a great way to save money. Many daily deal sites regularly sell significantly reduced deals for national retailers that can be great options for presents. They might also give you ideas for items that you can then go track down in local stores.

The problem with daily deal sites is they have a limited window in which you can get the deal. This can definitely pose a problem when shopping for that special someone. However, there are options available if you missed out on the deal you were looking for. CoupRecoup, for example, allows those who have bought deals they’re unable to use to sell them. This can be a great way to potentially score a deal on an item you were looking for.

The holiday shopping season can be a stressful one, especially on a tight budget. By using some simple tips like the ones mentioned above you should be able to shave some money off your holiday shopping budget, and maybe even have some leftover for yourself.

Make gifts merrier with First Financial VISA® Gift Cards and currency envelopes! Available in denominations of $20 to $500, a First Financial VISA® Gift Card* is the perfect gift for anyone on your holiday list at a small cost of $3.95 per card. Gift card envelopes are just $1 and currency envelopes are free (limited 5 per person)!** All proceeds from the envelopes sales go directly to the First Financial Foundation.

Check out First Financial’s Holiday Savings Club Account – don’t put yourself into debt over holiday spending, 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

*If the gift card is inactive for 360 days, an inactivity fee of $2.50 per month will be charged to the card – starting from the date of activation. If the card is lost or stolen, the replacement fee is $15.00.** 5 currency envelopes limit per person or purchase 10 currency envelopes for $2. ***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.

Click here to view the original article source written by John Schmoll of U.S.News.

6 Apps That Can Save Your Financial Life

Save-Money-with-AppsWelcome to the bulging world of smartphone applications that will do the logging, tracking and thinking for you as you get your financial life in order, help you follow a budget, and nudge you to pull in the reins on your spending. New smartphone apps are going to market at speedy rates as consumers, both young and old, demand on-time access to all their accounts at a moment’s notice and thanks to Mint, Bona was able to do just that.

1. Mint: Mint is the oldest and most popular free app that pools your personal-finance accounts and investments into one place. You can pull up Mint on your smartphone or laptop and set goals — like paying off credit cards or saving to buy a home — that you can follow closely through graphs and colorful pie charts. If you stray by spending too much on, say, clothing, Mint does the equivalent of yelling at you. The app will alert you when a bill is due, but you cannot actually make a payment directly. This function is actually a good thing, in that it doesn’t allow you, or anyone else, to deposit or withdraw money, move money around or pay bills. It is encouraged that you download your financial institution’s mobile app or sign-up for Online Banking to move, transfer, and/or pay bills.

Here are budgeting and bill-paying apps besides Mint that will make your financial life simpler:

2. LearnVest: This new app is an extension of the financial-planning site of the same name that’s been around since 2009, initially as a personal-finance education site for women. The free app is a lot like Mint. It helps you create budgets and prioritize your financial goals while nudging you to meet them. Like Mint, it also connects directly to all your accounts — savings, checking, credit cards, investments — and tracks every credit and debit. That gives you an instant picture with easy-to-decipher charts and graphs of your net worth as well as alerts that you’re spending too much in one category. There’s a lot of reading material to help you navigate your financial future and for an extra $19 a month, plus an initiation fee of as much as $399, you can get financial advice services.

3. HelloWallet: This app, which is owned by Morningstar, takes a behavioral science approach to business to help you plan your financial future, not just today’s bills and debt management. Its founder, Matt Fellowes, is a consumer-finance scholar at the Brookings Institution who melded technology with behavioral psychology to offer individualized personal-finance recommendations based on income, age and spending patterns. Using your GPS, for example, it can alert you that you already have spent too much money at a particular restaurant. It will also point out the gaps in your financial life, like a missing emergency-savings plan or inadequate levels of insurance. It’s primarily distributed through employee wellness plans but household memberships are available — with a three-year commitment — for $100 annually.

4. OnBudget: This new app and its fee-free prepaid-card component follow an unfussy approach to budgeting: You can’t spend more than you have. With a MasterCard prepaid debit card — what OnBudget calls a “monthly budgeting card” — you find yourself organizing spending much as your parents and grandparents may have, with different “envelopes” for each spending category. But in this case it’s virtual envelope organizational behavior that delivers real-time spending patterns, tips on saving money and constructive suggestions for better decision-making. There’s no setup involved because the software system learns your habits as you spend — and tells you about them. A plus: Unlike with most other personal-finance management tools, more than one person in a household can share a single budget. And there’s no hiding spending here because the system tracks who is spending what.

5. Better Haves: Another envelope-budgeting system, this is a relatively new one designed particularly for couples, though individuals can use it too. You can track expenses on the go and watch your color-coded envelopes deplete with each purchase. Once the envelope’s empty, everyone is advised to stop spending in that category. This one’s dashboard charts joint expenses, but there are separate tabs for joint and individual budgets. There’s even an early-warning system that a money fight could be in the offing. Plus it asks you how you felt about your spending that day.

6. Check: This is the rare app that helps you stay on top of your bills and actually pay them from your smartphone. It touts itself as a “free app that does the worrying and work for you.” Once you set it up, it sends reminders of due dates as it monitors your bank accounts and credit cards. It also alerts you in real-time of large purchases or unusual charges, but it won’t assist in budgeting.

Our Mobile App is now available for iPhone and Android users! Receive 24/7 instant access to your First Financial accounts - including bill payment, make transfers, check your balances, find branch and ATM locations, and receive account alerts. Click here to learn more and how you can download the app today!*

*You must have an account at First Financial Federal Credit Union (serving Monmouth and Ocean Counties in NJ), and be enrolled in online banking, to use this application. Standard data rates and charges may apply.

Original article source by Jennifer Waters of Personal Financial, Market Watch.

The Smartest Post-College Money Plan: Start Budgeting Now

budget deficit - recession 3d conceptIf you’ve recently graduated from college, and especially if you don’t have a job, it might seem ridiculous to turn your attention to budgeting. You’re exhausted from exams, and you have no money to budget. Why worry now, right?

It’s a fair question, but as anyone who has been there knows, this is precisely the time to avoid money mistakes. Unless you’re lucky and your parents are willing to pay your way for the time being, from free rent to food, to going out with your friends, you’re going to be spending in the near future – and spending too much can naturally lead to trouble.

For instance, many recent college graduates rely heavily on credit cards. When you don’t have a job, it’s not the best idea to pile all of your expenses on your credit card and figure you’ll pay it off once you get a job.

So if you’re an unemployed recent college graduate, here are some strategies to consider implementing to set yourself up for a bright financial future – debt free.

Get a job. It may not necessarily be your dream job, but find a job. It’s recommended that you visit temp agencies and recruiters to find an emergency job. It’s important to have some money coming in, even if the position isn’t closely related to your major or what you want to do in life.

New grads should not be so picky. It isn’t necessary that you get your dream job right out of college, you have to work your way up to get that job. Don’t worry, it’s okay to take a week or two off after graduation to recoup and relax – but generally, try not to waste too much time and start looking for a steady source of income.

Don’t stay in that hastily found job for long. Start looking for a better career move as soon as possible – you want the money coming in, not satisfaction settling in. If you’ve been at the job for more than six months, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and ask everyone you know for recommendations, or put yourself out on LinkedIn – because when it comes to job hunting, it always helps to know someone.

Live cheaply. You know what it’s like to live on a college budget, so don’t go crazy with spending your money on entertainment, clothes, travel, or going out. It’s not the best idea to spend money carelessly if you don’t land a job soon because the more you spend, the deeper you will dig yourself into debt.

It may be tough to go the frugal route and watch TV with your parents instead of going to the movies with your friends, but you should think about your new spending habits as “financial yoga – hurts now, helps later.” Even if you have a new, promising job, it’s smart to keep your expenses as low as possible – think about getting roommates.

That might be the last thing you want to hear if you had a bunch of roommates in college and you’re itching to finally live solo, but roommates will allow you to cut back on your rent and utilities in a big way. Whatever you do, keep expenses low so you can see what your budget can handle. You don’t want to get an apartment, update your wardrobe and buy a car, then realize your entry-level paycheck can’t handle the financial stress.

For a list of helpful college graduate accounts, loans, and services available at First Financial, click here. We know there are things you need to set-up your financial future, so we’ve customized some of our products and services like special Savings and Checking accounts, as well as an auto loan offer and more – to make this next step of your life one smooth ride.  Remember, if you ever need any financial guidance or have a question, reach out to us at 866.750.0100, email info@firstffcu.com or feel free to stop by any of our locations – we are here to help!

*Click here to view the article source by Geoff Williams of US News.

 

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.