10 Ways to Save Money Before Labor Day

end of summer savingsLabor Day is only about a month away, which means summer is coming to an end. It also means your bank account might be bracing for a hit as you squeeze in a trip, start stocking up on back-to-school items for your children, or send a child off to college.

To prepare for these and other costs, you can take several steps to lower your expenses and save money on things you need to buy this month. Here are 10 ways you can save money before Labor Day:

1. Lower Your Cooling Costs.

If you’re cranking up your air conditioner to combat a heat wave, be prepared for a hefty electric bill. To keep costs low and stay cool, try the following tips:

  • Fans cost less to operate than air conditioners. You can raise your thermostat by four degrees and feel no reduction in comfort if you turn a fan on also.
  • You can lower your air conditioner’s energy consumption by 5% to 15% by replacing or cleaning dirty filters.
  • Cook outside using a grill to avoid heating your home with your oven.

2. Freeze Your Gym Membership.

If you’re not using your gym membership because you’re exercising outdoors or taking a summer trip, then freeze your membership. Putting your membership on hold can allow you to avoid any early termination fees if you have a year long contract, and save money on your membership fee during months when you’re not using the gym.

3. Save on School and Office Supplies.

Families are expected to spend an average of $97.94 on supplies such as notebooks, pencils and backpacks for school-age children this year, according to the National Retail Federation. You can keep the cost of school supplies under control by shopping back-to-school sales at retailers such as Target and Walmart, and office supply stores such as Staples.

Even if you don’t have kids, you can benefit from these sales – especially for office supplies.  Plus, you’ll find great deals on laptop computers in August as part of back-to-school sales, according to DealNews.com.

4. Take Advantage of Sales-Tax Holidays.

Seventeen states have back-to-school sales-tax holidays in August, according to the Federation of Tax Administrators. These holidays offer consumers an opportunity to avoid sales tax on clothing, footwear and school supplies. Some states even waive the sales tax on computers.

5. Start Price-Shopping for Holiday Travel.

The winter holidays are months away but now is the time to start comparing airfares “so you can lock in a good price when you find one,” said Holly Johnson, a frugal travel expert who blogs at ClubThrifty.com. To get the best price on airline tickets, you need to book flights at least 27 to 114 days in advance, according to a study by CheapAir.com. Flights for holiday travel fill up quickly, so you’re better off booking sooner rather than later.

6. Sign Up for a Rewards Credit Card.

If you are going to do some back-to-school shopping, book holiday travel or take a trip before Labor Day, take some of the sting out of that extra spending by using a credit card rewards.

Here at First Financial we offer a Visa Platinum Credit Card* with no annual fee, no balance transfer fees, a 10 day grace period, and a CURewards program where you can redeem points for gift cards, merchandise items, travel, and so much more! PLUS, we’re currently offering an introductory rate of 2.9% APR for the first 6 months on all purchases and balance transfers.**

7. Get Freebies From the Library.

If you have kids, you’re likely hearing them complain by now that they have nothing to do. To fend off boredom, take them to the local library to pick out books and DVDs for free. Whether or not you have children, you also can take advantage of free programs at your library, such as writing workshops or lecture series, in an air-conditioned environment.

8. Watch Inexpensive or Free Flicks.

Another way to keep the kids entertained in the weeks before school starts — without spending a lot of money — is to take advantage of discounted family movies at theaters. For example, Regal Entertainment Group, which operates 569 theaters in 42 states, charges just $1 for tickets for family movies at 10 a.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Additionally, plenty of communities offer free movies in parks. Check for listings on community calendars, the parks and recreation department, or local government websites.  Or check out our First Scoop Blog’s monthly things to do on a budget in Monmouth and Ocean Counties series!

9. Cut Food Costs With Seasonal Produce.

A great way to lower your grocery bill is to buy produce that is in season where you live, because the prices will be lower on those fruits and vegetables than ones shipped in from other areas of the country or other parts of the world. You should be able to take advantage of late summer fruit and vegetable harvests to save money this month.

10. Snag Summer Clothing on Clearance.

Retailers are making way for fall clothing in preparation for back-to-school shopping crowds, which means you can score serious savings on summer apparel. Expect discounts of 60% or more on summer staples, which you’ll still be able to wear for a few months and into colder months by layering. If you shop before Labor Day, you’ll have a better and bigger selection.

*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.

**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 purchases or cash advances.

Article Source: Cameron Huddleston, http://www.gobankingrates.com/personal-finance/10-ways-save-money-before-labor-day/ 

10 Tips for Vacationing on a Budget

065_tropical_sunset_21. Avoid peak season.

It’s no secret that as summer or holidays approach – travel costs, such as airfare and hotel lodging often go up in price. Consider taking your trip during an off-season month, such as September or October, as opposed to summer or the peak holiday months. The prices associated with your vacation may be considerably less, and better yet, your destination might be less crowded. All of this will help you travel on a budget.

2. Consider alternative lodging locations.

If your vacation takes you to a large city, it could be more cost effective to stay outside the city limits. The hotel rates, in some cases, can be much lower. Consider smaller hotel chains or bed and breakfast accommodations with fewer amenities to save money during your time off.

3. Try public transportation.

One of the best ways to get the local flavor of your vacation spot is to take public transportation. Plus, taking public transportation is also an excellent way to save money. Whether you go by bus, subway or train, you’re not burdened with car rental, gas, or parking costs. Plus, you get to see more sights because you’re not behind the wheel driving.

4. Avoid the trendy eateries.

Food can eat up a large portion of your vacation budget. Avoid the cost of high-priced meals by seeking out and going to lesser-known restaurants. Read up on local spots and plan ahead to make reservations at restaurants that are within your budget.

5. Watch the currency.

When planning a trip abroad, look into the currency exchange rate of the country you will be visiting as compared to American dollars. Try to plan your trip when the dollar is trending strong. This will give you more bang for your buck with hotel accommodations, food and local events.

6. Limit the souvenirs.

It’s nice to have a reminder of your travels, whether in the form of a t-shirt or baseball cap. Just be mindful of places in your destination where these items can cost far more than their usual amount.

7. Seek out friendly advice.

Do you have a relative or friend who’s been to where you’re vacationing? If so, ask for some advice, such as are there any inexpensive accommodations or restaurants that are within your travel budget?

8. Stay closer to home on your vacation.

Instead of vacationing abroad, where you could be subject to higher airfare, and unpredictable currency fluctuations, consider staying in the U.S. There are many national attractions. Plus, if you travel within the U.S., you won’t have to budget for the expense of renewing or obtaining a passport!

9. Take a road trip.

If you do stay close to home, an entertaining and cost-effective vacation could simply entail getting in your car. You’ll be able to travel at your own pace without the hassle of hurrying to airports or connecting flights. Just remember to be mindful of the fluctuating price of fuel as that could affect your travel budget.

10. Consider a staycation.

How well do you know your own state, or even your own city? A cost-effective and fun vacation idea could simply be a trip around your own city. With all the money you save by not taking a flight or renting a car, you could stay in a fancy hotel with all the amenities and pampering imaginable — just a few miles from your own home.

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 Source: David Dorion, http://www.cuinsight.com/10-tips-for-vacationing-on-a-budget.html 

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