6 Sneaky Summer Expenses to Avoid

iStock_000016935539XSmallSummer is the time kick back, relax and just take things easy for a few months. While this means you may be feeling a little lax with your budget, you don’t have to waste those hard-earned dollars on frivolous purchases and expenses that can easily be avoided. Even if you aren’t tracking your spending on a daily basis, there are some things you can do to be more mindful about your spending habits and make better money decisions all season long.

Whether you’re enjoying some vacation time this summer or just working your way through those hot summer days, here are six sneaky summer expenses you can avoid.

  1. Excessive toll charges. You may be relying on your GPS to provide you with the shortest route and turn-by-turn directions to your final destination, but make sure you aren’t required to pay a lot of toll fees along the way. Consider taking an alternative route – even if the trip takes slightly longer – so you don’t end up paying extra money in toll charges on a single trip. Factor in the extra cost of gas on the alternate route if needed so you really are saving money on the total cost of that drive.
  2. Car rental insurance. If you’re planning a road trip but don’t want to put miles on your own car or you end up needing a rental car when you’re on vacation, don’t add more to the cost of your trip by purchasing rental car insurance. Almost all major credit card companies offer car rental insurance coverage as a benefit to cardholders – regardless of their balance. Check with your credit card provider to find out if it offers car rental insurance and also check with your insurance company to see if car rentals are included in your coverage. In many cases, your car insurance will provide primary coverage and the credit card will take care of secondary coverage, such as towing charges and other fees.
  3. Cost of personal items on vacation. Don’t let running out of sunscreen, bottled water or other everyday essentials put a dent in your vacation budget this season. Buying these items at a hotel, resort or retail store at a vacation hotspot can leave you paying a premium, so make sure to stock up on the essentials before you head out. Make a checklist of must-haves for the beach and beyond so you don’t spend extra money on the basics.
  4. Beach umbrella and chair rentals. Many resorts and hotels by the ocean offer beach umbrella and chair rentals for an additional fee. If you can bring your own, you could end up saving upward of $15 per day on these amenities. Call ahead to confirm that you are permitted to bring your own beach items – some larger resorts may not allow you to use anything but their own, so you can save some extra money on that overnight stay.
  5. Premium gas prices in tourist towns. If you’re heading to a major tourist city, make sure to fill up in the suburbs or anywhere outside of the main tourist zones to avoid the high price of gas. Many gas stations around tourist hubs charge a premium because they know visitors have limited options in the area. Be smart about where you fill up so you aren’t paying several cents more per gallon every time you need gas.
  6. Movie rental late fees. If you’re planning a movie marathon for a group or just binge-watching a few days during that summer vacation away, make sure you don’t get stuck with late charges and extra fees on those rentals. Only rent what you can watch that same night so you don’t fall into the trap of holding on to the movie for a few extra nights – and paying late fees. Redbox, for example, only charges $1.50 plus tax a night for most DVD rentals but will charge you the same price for every night you hold onto it. If you’re bad about returning movies on time, consider low-cost and free alternatives, such as rentals from the library or borrowing a DVD from a friend to offset some of the costs of movie night.

First Financial’s Summer Savings Account is ideal for those who are looking to save up for summer expenses or a vacation as well as employees who get paid 10 months out of the year. This account allows you to have money available for summer expenses during July and August and you have the ability to choose the amount of money you’d would like to have deposited each pay period through direct deposit or payroll deduction.*

You can elect to have your money transferred into a First Financial Checking Account in two different ways: Either 100% of funds can be transferred on July 1st, or 50% will be transferred July 1st, and the other 50% August 1st. This account can be opened at anytime – stop into any branch, or call us at 866.750.0100.

*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. Accounts for children age 13 and under are excluded from this program. 

Article courtesy of US News – Money by Sabah Karimi.

Sun, Surf, and Savings: Summer Travel Inexpensively

54f0fbd48fba0_-_1-couple-vacation-tropical-lgnIt’s summer and time to enjoy the sun! Whether you’re an adventurer, a creature of habit, or planning your first big family vacation, here are some money saving tips you will want to consider.

Save Up

When planning summer travel, estimate your costs ahead of time for airfare, lodging, and expenses. Set a goal to save a portion every month toward that amount and track your progress. The closer you get, the closer that vacation is, and the more excited you and your travel companions will be!

One popular saving method is the hoarding of five-dollar bills. A Reddit user inspired many with his post and photo captioned: “For the past year, I put away every $5 bill that came into my possession. To date, I’ve saved $3,335.”

Get a Cheaper Flight

Plan ahead: Try to book your flights around three months in advance of your planned date of travel. Finding cheap last minute airfare isn’t impossible, but it’s hard to plan that way.

Low fare alerts: Pick a few destinations you want to visit and set up “low airfare” alerts at sites like Airfare Watchdog or Kayak to be notified when prices drop below your threshold. If you’re not limited to a certain destination, Kayak’s summer travel hacker can help you choose a lower-fare location.

When to buy: If a fare seems too good to be true, BUY IT. The price-prediction app Hopper, will advise you to purchase your flight now or wait because prices might drop further.

Avoid Airline Fees

Baggage fees: Avoid the long lines and $25 charge by packing light and flying only with carry-ons. Make sure your carry-on suitcase fits the dimensions permitted by your airline. Avoid stuffing the bag so full that it can’t fit into the bag-size tester. Summer travel often requires less clothing anyway, right?

To make sure you stay comfortable on the flight, a thin scarf – which looks fashionable and keeps the neck warm – can double as a light blanket. Wear your largest pair of shoes and bulkiest clothing on the flight so they won’t take up as much space in your suitcase.

If you travel to the same destination often, consider leaving some toiletries or clothing items at that person’s house.

Food and drink: Travel with an empty reusable water bottle that you fill when you get through security. Bring your own snacks and packable meals so that you don’t get tempted to charge an airline meal to your credit card. The food you pack will likely taste better, anyway. But be kind to your fellow passengers and try to avoid powerful odors like tuna or egg salad, or allergens like peanut butter.

Article courtesy of MintLife Blog by Kim Tracy Prince.

How to Take a Debt Free Vacation

We’re knee deep in summer and that means one thing: vacation time. While you definitely deserve some time off, we’d recommend not taking it at the expense of your budget. Unfortunately, a new study from Experian Consumer Services found that many Americans are doing just that.

Experian’s report found that 46% of people used a credit card to pay for their vacations because they hadn’t saved enough. Another 49% of travelers racked up credit card debt while on vacation and almost 70% admitted going over their budget. The most common items that added to vacationers’ credit card debt: hotels, airfare, entertainment, and dining out.

There are ways to keep your spending down and avoid going into credit card debt while on vacation. First, start small with your savings plan. Setting aside a low amount far in advance of the occasion will make things easier on you. If you try to cram your savings into the two months before the vacation, you could risk missing your mark. Also, if you’re driving, pack food for the road to avoid spending on costly meals.

When setting a budget for your vacation, keep in mind that there are always unexpected costs, so aim a little higher than you think you should. Just being mindful of debt can help. “You don’t want to come back with two weeks’ worth of memories and two years’ worth of debt,” Becky Frost, education manager for Experian Consumer Services, told USA Today.

Don’t rack up high interest – First Financial’s Visa Platinum Credit Card has no balance transfer fees, a Cash Advance Fee of 1% of advance ($5 minimum and $25 maximum), and a Foreign Transaction Fee of 1% plus foreign exchange rate of transaction amount.*

Here at First Financial, rates are as low as 10.9% APR and first time card approvals are eligible for 2.9% APR for the first 6 months on purchases and balance transfers!**

Apply for a First Financial Visa Platinum Card today!

*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.

**The 2.9% promotional rate will apply to purchases and balance transfers only for six statement cycles from the new account holder’s initial balance and/or initial transfer to the First Financial VISA Platinum card. The balance transfer promotional rate does NOT apply to cash advances.

Article courtesy of Chris O’Shea of Savvy Money.

How Much Should You Have in Your Emergency Reserve?

emergency-savings29% of Americans admit they keep no emergency savings and only 22% are prepared with at least six months in reserve, according to a survey by Bankrate. However, a few simple steps could help you avoid severe financial risk.

According to CBS News business analyst Jill Schlesinger, a reserve should total six to 12 months of one’s living expenses for those with jobs.

For retirees, Schlesinger said the equivalent of 12 to 24 months of living expenses in reserve is ideal to avoid dipping into savings.

A reserve should be liquid cash because “it has to be safe,” Schlesinger says.

While some Americans struggle living paycheck to paycheck, Schlesinger recommends starting early and small.

“There was a great survey out recently about retirement savings. And it’s had the same result, which is a lot of people are unprepared. It also asked: ‘Do you think, even though you have no money saved today, that you could save $25 a week?’ And a majority of people said ‘Yes, I could,’ ” Schlesinger said.

The least painful way to do this is by automating your savings.

Acorns for one, rounds up the price of purchases, takes the spare change, and invests it in exchange traded funds (ETF). Another app called Level Money allows you to set how much you want to save each month and shows how much “spendable” money you have left.

Spending habits also change with age.

“When you’re young, you’ve got student debt and you’ve graduated, you really have to address paying down that debt, saving for your emergency reserves, and then starting to invest long term,” Schlesinger said. “As you get older and you’ve gone through all these responsibilities – raised your kids, put money away for their college – then you really start to accelerate.”

Establishing your habits early will make it easier to save as you grow older.

With First Financial’s Online Banking, you have the ease of managing your finances right from home (even in your pajamas and slippers if you’d like)! You have the ability to check your accounts, sign up for eStatements, enroll in Bill Pay, transfer funds, set up email and account alerts, schedule future transfers (a great tool to use to help you save), order checks, and more. We even provide you with useful videos and documents to help you get set-up with Online Banking.
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Even when you’re on-the-go, you can take First Financial along with our mobile app. As a convenient tool, you’ll have 24/7 instant access to your accounts, plus Bill Pay, make transfers easily, check balances, branch & ATM locations, account alerts, and 1 Click remote deposit capture.* Click here to learn how to download the app to your iPhone or Android smartphone.*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 Online Banking or First Financial’s Mobile App. Members must meet certain criteria to be eligible for Remote Deposit Capture. Standard data rates and charges may apply.

Article Source: Courtesy of CBS News

10 Simple Money Saving Tips

bigstock-Saving-money-jarSome of the more frequently talked about personal finance tips can come across as unreasonable, too difficult, too time consuming, or irrelevant. Yet, the search continues across all income brackets for how to comfortably spend less and save more.

Below are 10 simple money saving tips that you may not have thought about – each with some serious financial benefits. Saving money does not have to be a chore, it’s an accumulation of habits and adjusted perspectives, none of which are detrimental to your daily routine.

The goal of these 10 tips is to not overhaul your life, but to make manageable, tiny tweaks that carry a big bang at the end of the year.

1. Use Cash. After setting a budget, take out cash for your entertainment spending pocket. It’ll ensure that you do not spend above the designated amount. Since a coffee here and burger there, really adds up and quickly – making sure that those erroneous expenses are always paid in cash will help you stay on top of that expense area (an area frequently a victim of the swipe and forget plague).

2. Adjust That Thermostat. Turn your heat down ten degrees and the a/c up two degrees. Utility companies have reported that even just a consistent two degree shift can save you money without leaving you miserable. The same principle can apply for pre-setting programmable thermostats to change throughout the day, adjusting for when you are away from home or asleep; with a more drastic change while you are away (10 to 15 degrees for eight hours). Your savings could be as great as 15 percent a year, says Energy.gov.

3. Help Santa Save. Consider early prep for holiday shopping. Either look throughout the year and really benefit from sales, or consider the benefits of buying a gift card monthly and setting it aside for yourself. Come December, with just $25 gift cards each month, you will have set aside $275 specifically for holiday spending.

4. Drink More Water. By replacing just one soda, coffee or beer each day, you not only invest in your health, but you could save some serious change. If you eliminate one $5 coffee just three days a week, that’s an additional $780 dollars at the end of a year’s time. Or, if you have that fancy coffee addiction, consider getting a coffee machine and buy your favorite grounds in bulk. Bulk buying can save money as well.

5. Eat In. Avoid the frequent trap of not wanting to cook and resorting to dragging the whole family out to eat despite your pantries being full. If inspiration is the missing link, try setting a weekly menu for the household, alternate cooking responsibilities or even involve the whole family in meal prep every night. And, instead of letting the “I have to cook or we will end up eating out” mentality get you in trouble, keep a few home cooked meals prepped and frozen for those moments of dinner despair.

6. Shop Smarter For Groceries. Clipping coupons isn’t for everyone. It can be time consuming and require more organization to truly be effective than some people’s attention spans and patience can handle. Shop smarter, even if you don’t use on coupons. Look for sale items and weekly promotional deals. Shop what’s in season for your fresh produce. Try store brands; many canned products and dried products have the same ingredients as name brand products.

7. Find A Penny, Pick It Up. Save loose change. If you were to save an average of fifty cents a day, you would have almost $200 set aside at the end of the year. Keep an old water jug set up so that you can watch it fill up throughout the year.

8. Stop Before You Swipe. Sometimes it’s all about perspective. When looking at a frivolous purchase, consider the cost against your income. If you earn $15 an hour and are holding up a $300 suit, ask yourself if you are willing to work 20 hours with only the suit to show for your labor at the end. The same can be done for smaller purchases as well. Is that 32 ounce, blended chai tea latte with soy worth the first thirty minutes of your workday? This method is not a way to talk yourself out of making purchases, but simply to put the expense in a framework.

9. Keep The Car In Check. Stay on top of regular, necessary car maintenance. Doing so can save a pretty penny in gas costs alone, not to mention the costs you can avoid from a side of the road breakdown or preventable tire blow out.

10. Use Your Phone. Sometimes it’s as simple as knowing what is going in with your finances. Awareness brings control; so go ahead and download a personal finance app. There are plenty available that have been professionally reviewed and approved. Additionally, many of the highest rated are free. Remember though, the key is to not only have the app, but to use it. The icon or widget is only as useful as you make it.

Article source courtesy of Joe Young of NASDAQ.

How to Choose What Financial Goals are Worth Setting

save-saving-housing-house-money-cash-e1394569718602Everyone needs financial goals in order to be efficient and successful, but determining which goals to prioritize can be difficult. If you don’t set enough goals, you may not save enough money. However, if you set too many goals it can be difficult to achieve all of them, and repeated failure can get you off track.

It’s best to prioritize how important different goals are in terms of the immediate future, as well as your long-term hopes and dreams. Once you know what is the most important to you, you can figure out which goals you should focus on. Survival should be your first priority; you need to pay for your basic needs first. After that, you can focus on longer-term goals. Consider these five questions as you set your next financial goals.

1. Do I need it to survive?

Obviously, you need food and shelter to survive. Your necessities have to come first. This means that you will need to have enough money to pay your rent and utilities, purchase groceries, and receive medical care when you need it. There are other things that may be necessary depending on your personal circumstances. You will probably require a job, and you might need a car to get there. You also will need clothing, so your first goal should be to afford basic necessities. If you can’t do that yet, then your other financial goals need to wait.

2. Is the goal too big or too small?

Setting goals that you can’t possibly achieve will only bring failure, and can potentially make you depressed or frustrated. If you can barely afford rent for your current one-bedroom apartment, you probably shouldn’t make a goal to purchase a four-bedroom home this year. But you can make long-term goals that include purchases you couldn’t possibly make now. Your income should increase as you become more experienced in your job field, and you can certainly make long-term goals that factor in your anticipated income.

You also shouldn’t spend too much time on goals that are really small. While setting some small goals may build your confidence (such as saving for a new dress or suit), setting too many small goals will pull your priority away from bigger goals.

3. How can I achieve my goal?

You can increase your chances of achieving your goal by taking extra steps to make it happen (outside of just making the goal itself). If you want to purchase a house, but you need to save for a down payment, start small. It’s good to start off by setting up a savings plan, finding out if you qualify for assistance, and cutting back on expenses. You don’t have to purchase a home (or a new car, or whatever else your big goal entails) right now. Make a plan for just how you can obtain your goal.

This is also true of other financial goals, such as moving up at work and making more money. If you want to move up, focus on the ways that you can improve your work performance and set yourself up for a promotion. Consider educational classes if necessary. You also might consider relocating if it will help you advance in your career. Taking proactive steps to achieve your dream will help you get there, and also may make you feel more accomplished and on-task.

4. Am I thinking about the future?

Vacations and fancy clothes can be wonderful, but you need to think about your future, too. Besides basic necessities, you should also prioritize your retirement savings. According to the United States Department of Labor, knowing your retirement needs, contributing to your employer’s retirement savings plan, learning about investment principles, considering using an IRA, and knowing about your social security benefits, can all help you plan for retirement.

Complete the necessary research in order to determine how much you might need to retire, and also to determine where you might want to live, which will affect how much money you need. You also need to consider your future health, and how it might impact your finances.

To get more information on planning for your retirement and schedule your complimentary appointment, contact First Financial’s Investment & Retirement Center at 732.312.1564 or email samantha.schertz@cunamutual.com.

5. How much time do I need?

This question factors into many of the other questions on this list. One of the best ways to achieve your goals is to set realistic ones, and to figure out when and how you will achieve them. Determine how many years you think it will take you to save enough for the type of home you want, or how much you need to save each year (and for how many years) to be comfortable in retirement. If you want to save for a vacation, consider how you will have to alter your current spending, and for how many months you will have to do so.

Short-term goals often take less planning, but it will still help you to determine how much time you need to achieve those goals. It’s easy to tell yourself that you can save enough for a trip in a few months, but actually sitting down and determining how much you need to save each month, and for how long, will help prevent overspending.

Here at First Financial, our first priority is helping you achieve your financial dreams by defining your dream goals and lifestyle, empowering you through financial education, building your wealth, planning your retirement, and managing your risk. Establishing financial goals is an important part of saving enough money, and being ready for the future and we are here for you! Stop into any one of our branches and sit with a representative to have an annual financial check-up for a review of your finances and portfolio. 

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. Nondeposit 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.

Article source courtesy of Sienna Beard of Cheatsheet.com.