Saving May be Tough but Here’s How to Get a Handle on It

saveGetting on top of your finances can be a tough task. On paper the idea sounds simple, but in real life, it’s easier said than done.

By the time you pay down your consumer debt, put a dent in student loans, pay off your mortgage, and put extra money away for your children’s college fund and not to mention your own retirement, the list of demands for your savings is long! Online tools and advice from financial advisors suggest we can make it work but we need to rethink our approach and strategy. Here are some ideas to help you manage your savings goals:

Get real. If retirement sounds far away and “a rainy day fund” sounds kind of depressing, it’s time to rename these goals. For short-term savings objectives, identify what you want to buy and decide whether it’s important for you to finally take that dream vacation you’ve always wanted, or send your kids to college. The same extends to retirement. What does retirement look like to you: a vacation house, writing a book, or doing volunteer work? Visualize it then put a picture on your fridge so you can actually see it. It’s recommended that you should identify how much money you want to have put away at various ages in your life. Sixty-five may be hard to visualize, but goals targeted to ages 30, 40, and 50 will shorten your timeframes, making them more measurable and do-able.

Get started. The decision to save is based on a cumulative series of well thought out choices. You tell yourself you’ll save tomorrow and tomorrow never comes. If you don’t save one month it’s not terrible, but a series of those choices over your lifetime has consequences. Starting early really pays off and online tools and calculators will make the concept more real and easy for you.

Make savings planning a family affair. Providing an inheritance to your children is also about passing down values. The money tips we teach our children can be beneficial or crippling, even when we say we want our children to be financially educated to manage their finances in the future. Don’t be afraid of having money conversations as a family and talk to your kids about savings goals, spending and savings trade-offs, and even higher-level concepts such as inflation and investing, keeps everyone budget conscious.

Put your savings on autopilot. Did you know that you’re losing out on a lot of money when you don’t contribute the maximum allowable amount to your retirement plan? By committing to increase your 401(k) contribution by a percentage equal to your yearly raise will help you grow your pre-tax dollars before the money even gets distributed. Putting a stop to your daily temptations is also important – avoid going to the mall, only carry a small amount of cash in your wallet or simply leave your credit cards at home to cut back on your spending habits.

Hold your feet to the fire. When you’re spending money, ask yourself if this is a need or a want? Making this a habit enables you to keep track of your purchases and helps analyze your spending. It’s a good idea to make your own consequences when you fail to abide by your commitments – so bet on yourself. For example, if eating out has put a huge dent in your wallet, say out loud that you’ll limit yourself to two dinners out a week for the next month and then stick to your plan!

Go social. Sharing money-saving ideas or picking up tips from free sites like Mint.com and Moneyning can help make the topic of finance more enjoyable. Maybe you may want to consider starting a friendly money-saving competition — it holds you responsible, will help you stick to your saving goals and helps take your mind off your struggles.

Here at First Financial, we encourage our members to come in at least once a year for an annual financial check-up – to sit down with a representative at any one of our branches to make sure you are currently placed in the correct Rewards First tier for you, and also that you are receiving the best value, products and services based on your financial situation. Give us a call at 866.750.0100 or stop in to see us today!

Click here to view the original article source by Barbara Minnino of Fox Business.

7 Smart Ways to Take Advantage of Your Tax Refund

taxes08Tax season is often a time of stress for many, but it can be a joyful time for the roughly 75 percent of Americans who do receive income tax refunds.

While the refund really means you’re getting back money you loaned to the government at no interest, in practical terms it often means an unexpected infusion of cash into your wallet or bank account. It’s a great problem to have, but what should you do with your windfall?

The best choice for one person may not be the best choice for another. But experts agree on one thing – if you have debt, apply your refund to paying it off, whether it’s credit card debt, student loan debt, or other consumer debt.

If you’re getting a big refund ­– a check in the ballpark of $1,000 or more for taxpayers who don’t have a side business – consider adjusting your withholding so that you’ll have that money available to you during the year.

Here are the seven smartest things you can do with your refund:

Pay down debt. If you have any consumer debt – student loans, credit card balances or installment loans – pay those off before using your refund for any other purpose. Car payments and mortgages aren’t in this category, but you can also consider paying extra on your principal.

Add to your savings. Can you really ever save enough? You can use the money to build up your emergency savings, your kids’ college fund, or put it toward a specific goal, such as buying a house or a car, or financing a big vacation you’ve been dreaming about taking.

Add to your retirement accounts. If you put $2,500 from this year’s tax refund into an IRA, it would grow to $8,500 in 25 years, even at a modest 5 percent rate of return, TurboTax calculates. If you saved $2,500 every year for 25 years, you’d end up with more than $130,000 at that same 5 percent rate of return!

Invest in yourself. This could mean taking a class in investing, studying something that interests you, or even taking a big trip. Think about doing something that might add value to your life, such as taking a photography class or purchasing a special camera that could become a new hobby and potentially a side business in the future.

Improve your home. Consider putting your refund to good use by adding insulation, replacing old windows and doors, or other improvements that are more energy efficient. Or perhaps it’s time to remodel your bathroom or kitchen. You’re adding value to your home, and at the same time you’re improving your living experience too.

Apply your refund toward next year’s taxes. This is common among self-employed taxpayers, who are required to pay quarterly taxes since they don’t have taxes withheld. By applying any overpayment toward upcoming tax payments, you can free up other cash.

Splurge on something you’ve always wanted to do. If you’re out of debt and have substantial savings, this may be the time to take the cruise to Europe or trip to Thailand that you’ve always dreamed of taking. Such an experience can be life-changing, and you never know what impact it will have on your future until you actually do it.

Article Source: Teresa Mears for US News, http://money.usnews.com/money/personal-finance/articles/2014/03/28/7-smart-ways-to-take-advantage-of-your-tax-refund

8 Foolproof Ways to Grow Your Savings

Money plant over white backgroundA typical emergency fund should contain at least six months’ worth of net income (up to a year is recommended if you have kids or other dependents), and you should only touch it in a true emergency (no, under no circumstances is your dream vacation to Tahiti a true emergency).

Here are five examples of situations that qualify as actual financial emergencies:

  • Emergency 1: You’ve lost your job and need to continue paying rent, bills, and other living expenses.
  • Emergency 2: You have a medical or dental emergency.
  • Emergency 3: Your car breaks down and it is your primary form of transportation.
  • Emergency 4: You have emergency home expenses. For example, your air conditioning unit breaks down in 100-degree weather, your roof is leaking, your basement is flooded (no again, a kitchen in need of redecorating doesn’t count, no matter how much you hate that wallpaper or your “outdated” cabinets).
  • Emergency 5: You have bereavement-related expenses, like travel costs for a family funeral.

Here’s another reason why you should always have money in an emergency fund: If you don’t, and one of these five situations occurs, you’ll most likely be stuck using a credit card to handle it, leading you into (or deeper into) credit card debt. In fact, medical expenses are the leading contributor to credit card debt, with low-to moderate-income households averaging $1,678 in credit card debt due to out-of-pocket medical expenses.

Plus, paying for emergency expenses on your credit card (if you don’t pay off your bill immediately) will end up costing you more over time, when you rack up interest payments as you try to dig yourself out of debt. Having an emergency fund will not only save you more money in the long run, but it will also give you peace of mind in knowing you have the safety net to catch those unexpected curveballs when they arrive.

If getting six months of take-home pay together seems daunting, here are eight useful tips that might better help you boost your emergency savings: 

1. Direct Deposit into Your Savings

Think of yourself as a regular monthly bill you have to pay. All you have to do is arrange to have a set amount of money directly deposited from your paycheck into a savings account each month. The savings account is recommended because if you use your checking account, you may be tempted to spend the money you are trying to set aside. It might hurt a bit at first to take home a little less every month, but after awhile you won’t even notice it’s gone. Here’s a moment when the “set it and forget it” strategy works wonders!

2. Never Spend a Bonus Again

It feels great to be rewarded for your hard work. And it feels even better to spend that hard-earned bonus on something you’ll enjoy, like a trip to the Caribbean or a new tablet. At the same time, the pleasure of a vacation or new gadget is short-lived compared to financial security.

So make a pact with yourself to put every bonus you get from here on out to good use. If you direct 90 percent of your bonuses straight into your savings account as a rule, you’ll still have 10 percent to treat yourself with (plus the comfort of knowing that you’re building a well-earned safety net).

3. Cut Unnecessary Costs

This seems like an obvious one — and is easier said than done. Actually, most people spend money on more unnecessary items than they think. So take time to look at where your money is going in detail and begin to cut back. Saving $10 here and $5 there could help you put a lot away in the long run – you’d really be surprised.

4. Open a Seasonal Savings Account

Many financial institutions offer seasonal accounts meant to save for the holidays. These accounts give you reduced access to your accounts, charging a penalty each time you withdraw more than permitted. Since emergencies (hopefully) don’t occur often, a seasonal account could make sure you’re touching it only when needed.

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

5. Sell Unused Items

Rather than throwing these unused goods away, start selling them, and put that money into your emergency fund. All you need to do is post them to a site like eBay, Craigslist, or Amazon and you can get rid of items from the comfort of your home. You can also take your clothes to a consignment shop to have them sold for you.

6. Stop Spending $5 Bills

Instead of saving your pennies, put aside any $5 bills that come your way. Never spend a $5 bill again, and you’ll be surprised by how quickly this little trick will help you come up with a few hundred dollars to add to an emergency fund.

7. Earn Extra Income

You could pick up odd jobs to help do things for other people, freelance writing/blogging, or babysitting via websites like TaskRabbit.com, DoMyStuff.com, Elance.com, FreelanceSwitch.com, or Sitters.com. Or if you have the time – go out and find an additional part-time job as a cashier, server, or utilize your hidden talents in web design, catering, and so on.

8. Use Cash Back Rewards

If you get a cash-back reward for any spending on your credit card, just make it a rule that those dollars will be dedicated to your emergency fund. It may only add up to $100 extra each year, depending on your spending, but every little bit counts!

Article Source: http://www.dailyfinance.com/2013/12/18/eight-foolproof-ways-grow-your-savings/ 

*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.

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Jackson Memorial Students Get Taste of Financial Reality

Tri-Town News article by Andrew Martins:

DSCN0228Financial independence can be a scary thing for young adults who are beginning to make their own way in life after graduating from high school or college. Unexpected costs arise, debt can become bloated, and temptations to spend frivolously crop up every day.

For a group of freshmen at Jackson Memorial High School, the sobering reality of money and adulthood was put on display during an event dubbed the Financial Reality Fair.

“The goal of the fair is to teach the kids the value of money and how to manage their money when they leave high school,” said Issa Stephan, First Financial Federal Credit Union president and CEO. “It is very crucial these days to be financially savvy, and there is a lot of temptation out there.”

Financial responsibility is a subject that Stephan believes should have a bigger focus in public schools. He cited the economic downturn that began in 2008 as a prime example for why such responsibility is imperative for the future.

“I think that since 2008, people are more conscious about money,” he said.

On Jan. 8, students tackled financial issues in a hands-on manner without potentially destroying their credit rating.

“These days, it is easy to get in trouble,” Stephan said. “Twenty years ago, you had to drive to the mall and take your cash to spend it. Now you can be sitting in your bed, clicking yourself away into financial trouble” on a computer.

The idea for the fair, according to First Financial Marketing Manager Jessica Revoir, was based on similar events held throughout the state by the New Jersey Credit Union League Foundation, which sponsored the Jackson Memorial High School event.

DSCN0230Students were initially instructed to choose a career. After each student selected a job, that career’s starting salary after taxes was used as the baseline for a monthly budget. The young adults were informed that some expenses were required, including food, clothes and rent; and some expenses were not required, including gym memberships and vacations.

Stephan said the point was to illustrate the importance of determining what is needed and what is not needed.

“If you move out [of your parents’ home], you have to pay rent and insurance, but people usually get in trouble with what I call ‘variable expenses,’ ” he said. “A lot of people see a smartphone as a fixed cost … but it is not. There are ways to make even a necessity much more affordable in the long run. If you shield the students from reality, they fall.”

Stephan said students were led astray on purpose as a means of letting them see the difference between what they want and what they need.

At the transportation booth, for example, a binder was purposely left open at a page featuring luxury cars and sports cars for purchase, rather than being left open at a page with less expensive vehicles or public transportation.

“We are trying to teach these kids that if they let themselves be manipulated financially when they get older, they can get into some serious trouble,” First Financial Investment and Retirement Center Coordinator Samantha Schertz said.

To Lisa Scott, who teaches honors economics and financial literacy, the fair provided an opportunity for her students to take a more tactile approach to learning the importance of finances.

“This really is experiential learning for our kids because, to them, the class is just the textbook and something they need to graduate, but then they come here and realize they need this to live and get through adulthood,” Scott said.

The fair was a sobering realization that made freshman Claudia Besse take a moment to consider her future.

“I learned that I am very grateful for my parents, for one,” Claudia said. “I never realized that your gross pay is not your takehome pay and that there are so many expenses. Cars are so expensive.”

Scott said those realizations are fueled not only because of the way that financial education is traditionally handled in school, but also because some parents provide everything for their children.

DSCN0223“What I am hearing as the kids go through the fair is they ask, ‘Does that cost that?’ A lot of kids don’t have to pay for the things they enjoy right now … so for some kids, this is a revelation,” Scott said.

Stephan said he and his staff hope the students will take what they learned at the event and apply it to their lives.

“I saw some kids calculating and trying to make smart decisions, and I saw others just not caring as much. And that, in a way, reflects society,” he said. “We need to try to catch people before they get into financial trouble.”

Click here to view the original article from Tri-Town News.

*First Financial is not responsible for any content listed on external websites.

14 Ways to Slash Your Expenses in the New Year

Cutting expensesWith the new year here, it’s time to get your financial house in order.

No matter what mistakes you made in 2013, you get a do-over in 2014. The beginning of the year is a great time to make changes that will boost your bottom line going forward. But before you can make a plan to save money, you have to find out where your money’s going. If you use an online budget tool or computer program to track your spending, run some reports and evaluate where your money went. If you don’t have any records, write down every penny you spend for a month.

Once you’ve got a record, do some analysis. The first question is whether your outgoing funds exceed your income. If you’ve got a mountain of credit card debt, and every month you spend more than you take in, you need to make some changes. Even if your expenses don’t exceed your income, drilling down into your spending may reveal places you can painlessly cut costs to have more money for retirement, a home down payment or an exotic vacation.

The best spending plan for you may not be the best plan for your neighbor. It’s more than just cutting out the morning latte, because that isn’t going to work for everyone, especially those who never buy lattes. For some people, cutting out the morning latte won’t make a dent. They may have to look at more painful cuts, such as moving to cheaper housing or choosing public rather than private schools for their children.

Here are 14 ways to slash expenses in the new year:

  1. Cook more at home. Anyone who can read can cook, and the Internet is full of websites with easy, healthy recipes – check out Pinterestwhere you can make your own “virtual cookbook” amongst many other things. And, to see Penny Smart’s favorite recipes and budgeting tips, follow First Financial on Pinterest at Pinterest.com/1stfinancialnj.
  2. Save on groceries by shopping store sales and using coupons. It’s true that a lot of coupons are for junk food, but that doesn’t mean you can’t save with coupons, particularly on personal care and cleaning products. Store sales can provide even bigger savings. Many products go on sale every two, three or six months. Watch the sale cycles on products you use, and stock up when prices are lowest.
  3. Look for happy hours and restaurant deals. For many people, drinks and dinner with friends are a big part of socializing. If you don’t want to give that up but you want to spend less, find restaurants with 2-for-1 drinks and free or inexpensive appetizers and make those your dinner. Join restaurant email clubs to get coupons you can use to cut the price of restaurant meals.
  4. Call your cable TV and Internet provider and ask for a better deal. As more users abandon cable and more competitors get into the market, companies want to hang on to customers. That means they’re ready to make a deal. You’ll get the best deals from the customer retention department, which is where you’ll call to cancel. You could potentially save up to $50 a month!
  5. Investigate better cell phone plans. Many carriers are offering new no-contract and pay-as-you-go plans. If you find a plan you like, and your contract is up, ask your existing carrier if they will match the price or give you a better deal.
  6. Cancel your land line phone. Many people find they rarely make calls on their home phone. If you’re not using it, why are you paying for it? Ask about bundling your phone with your cable and Internet service –- but be warned that a cable phone won’t work in a power failure.
  7. Review your insurance costs. Call your insurance agent and make sure you’re getting all the discounts to which you’re entitled. Make sure your coverage fits your current circumstances. If your teenage driver moved out and got his or her own car, take them off your policy. You might also want to get quotes from other companies on auto or home insurance. That being said, this is an opportunity to take advantage of our partnership with Liberty Mutual Insurance where First Financial members can receive exclusive group savings on TruStage Home and Auto insurance. For more information or for a free, no-obligation quote, please contact our representative, Daniel Ressegiue at 732-308-3868 Ext. 50950 or Daniel.Ressegiue@LibertyMutual.com. * 
  8. Call your credit card companies and ask for lower rates. Or do balance transfers. If you get a good offer, call your existing company and see if it will match the new offer. If your credit is good and you make all your payments on time, you’re in a good position to negotiate. First Financial’s VISA Platinum Credit Card comes fully loaded with rates as low as 10.9%, no balance transfer fees, no annual fees, reward points for each purchase that are redeemable for travel, merchandise, and gift cards – plus so much more! Get started today by applying online.** 
  9. If you are in debt, make a plan to pay it off. Paying $200 a month in interest charges is a waste of money that would be better used toward retirement savings, your kids’ braces or a trip around the world. Some experts advise paying off the smallest balances first, although it is recommended to target those with the highest interest rates. Either way, start paying off those cards, one at a time. Make the minimum payments on all cards, but target one card at a time and make bigger payments so you can pay it off. When you’ve paid off one card, go to the next. Feel free to check out our 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.
  10. Look for a less expensive health club. Are you paying $75 a month for a gym membership you never use? Maybe you should cancel and take up walking, biking or hiking. Perhaps you can get a gym membership that’s equally good for half the price at a YMCA or community center. Shop around.
  11. Look at the fees associated with your bank account. If you don’t have free checking, ask your financial institution what you can do to get it. If your institution doesn’t offer free checking, find one that does. At First Financial, we offer an absolutely FREE Checking Account - no hidden charges and no minimum balances. You’ll also receive a free box of checks, unlimited check writing, a free instant issued Debit Card, free Online Banking and Bill Pay (as long as 3 bills are paid per month, or a $6 fee will apply)!***
  12. Don’t shop for recreation. If you’re not in the stores, you won’t be tempted to buy. That goes for yard sales and thrift shops, too.
  13. Be careful of online purchases. It’s easy to shop online in the wee hours of the morning, but that spending can add up. Unsubscribe from email alerts that urge you to spend. Get yourself off stores’ online mailing lists and restrict your online shopping to things you really need, when you need them.
  14. Make a budget and stick to it. Give yourself a realistic allowance for discretionary spending and don’t spend any more than that. You can learn how to save money and create a financial plan by joining us on 1/28 for our budgeting seminar, “Easy Steps to Organize Your Finances.” The event starts promptly at 6pm at our Howell branch. For details and registration, click here

Article by Teresa Mears of Daily Finance. Click here to view the original article.

*Discounts and savings are available where state laws and regulations allow, and may vary by state. Certain discounts apply to specific coverages only. To the extent permitted by law, applicants are individually underwritten; not all applicants may qualify.The descriptions of coverages are necessarily brief and are subject to policy provisions, limitations and exclusions that can only be expressed in the policy itself. Discounts and coverages vary by state and are not available in all states. For a complete explanation of coverages, please consult a sales representative.**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. 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.***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. 
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Jackson Memorial High School Students Get Schooled in Money Management

Asbury Park Press Article by Amanda Ogelsby:

Screen shot 2014-01-22 at 1.25.08 PM

How do you teach teens how much it really costs to live?

JACKSON, NJ — Fourteen-year-old Aylin Torenli of Jackson spent a recent Wednesday morning calculating whether the salary of a dental hygienist would be enough to afford her the finer things of life: a smart phone, upscale furniture, television.

“I didn’t realize how expensive it was,” Torenli said of life’s luxuries that quickly add up. The freshman joined more than 200 Jackson Memorial High School students at a Financial Reality Fair Wednesday that was designed to give teenagers the foundations for a lifetime of successful money management.

After picking a “career” and its related income, students visited various stations where they chose cellphone plans and car payments, looked at housing costs, and calculated quality-of-life expenses like dining out and spa treatments.

“You understand how hard it is to be in the financial world,” Torenli said after meeting with a financial adviser to review her budget. “I give a lot of credit to my parents now.”

Under New Jersey law, public school students must learn about money management, insurance, saving and investing, as well as credit and debt management, beginning by fourth grade.

Public high school students are required by state law to take 2.5 credits of financial literacy and economics to graduate, according to the state Department of Education. That law went into effect in the 2010-11 school year, beginning with then ninth-graders.

The 2008 recession — when financial markets around the world fell following a collapse of the U.S. housing market — triggered the need for such educational programs, said Issa E. Stephan, president of First Financial in Wall, which helped to organize the event along with the New Jersey Credit League Foundation.

“Our mission for the fair is to help the students understand the value of money and how to manage their money, so as they grow as an adult, they’ll be more financially responsible,” Stephan said.

In a country loaded with easy temptations to spend, financial literacy is crucial, he said.

At the spinning “Reality Wheel,” students took a risk at budget breakers like car repairs and accidents.

“We just want to give them a little wake-up call,” said Janice Anderson of First Financial, who talked to students about managing monthly food budgets.

Freshman Tom Del Monte, 15, said the Financial Fair helped him better understand the importance of securing a good job after high school. The Jackson freshman said he was shocked by the high prices of cellphones and food.

“I finally understand the reality of what we’re learning in class,” he said. “I didn’t realize what my parents pay.”

“We hope this (fair) leads to better consumers,” said Lisa Scott, a business, finance and economics teacher at Jackson Memorial High School.

She added: “They’re coming face-to-face with the reality of whether or not that (job) will buy them all the things that they think they’re going to have when they are young adults out on their own for the first time. It is a rude awakening for some of them.”

Click here to view the original article/video source from APP.com.

*First Financial is not responsible for any content listed on external websites.