Smart Shopping Tricks to Make Your Budget Last All Month

shopping cart postitWe can all use ways to stretch our paycheck each month, but it’s not always easy to know which expenses to focus on minimizing first. The fact is, some costs are easier to trim down than others. The strategies below will help you always score the lowest price, making it easier for your budget to go farther.

Always look for the deal.

Local drugstores often feature special deals on everything from personal care to grocery items. While the selection is generally smaller than at the grocery store, drugstores can offer even better discounts. Looking for these deals, and applying them to your purchase can generate big savings.

Register for rewards programs.

Many stores feature rewards programs, including drugstores. Walgreens has Balance Rewards, CVS has ExtraCare, and RiteAid has Wellness+. If you register for these programs you’ll likely receive frequent emails, but there will be gems among them, and you might even save 20% off an order. A smartphone app like Key Ring makes it easy to track account numbers for multiple programs.

Use manufacturers’ coupons.

In addition to browsing through Sunday circulars, you can rely on websites like to search and print coupons at no cost to you. Since most manufacturers’ coupons usually have an expiration date that is at least one month into the future, hold onto the coupons until you find a great deal.

Look out for store coupon books.

Many stores offer coupon books, usually at the front of the store near the pile of circulars. They often contain many high value store coupons that can be combined with sales and manufacturers’ coupons for additional savings.

Shop online.

When it comes to essential drugstore items, you can often find the lowest prices online, especially when coupons are applied. Some coupons offer deeper discounts to online shoppers, and you can find everything from vitamins, cleaning supplies, personal care items and pain relievers for reduced prices.

Use blogs.

Many blogs and websites collect coupons and deals for readers, which makes your job even easier.,, and are three examples – they research and sort deals for you, and you can often match the deals with sales in circulars.

Don’t pay full price.

Many retailers, including J.Crew, Kohl’s and the Gap, make it easy to find deals online. In fact, you should never pay full price for your purchases, at least before checking for discount codes. Signing up for the stores’ email lists will also help make sure you don’t miss out on discounts.

Get an Amazon Prime membership.

It might sound counterintuitive, but purchasing a $99 Amazon Prime membership can actually end up saving you money. That’s because it comes with two-day shipping on most orders, movie and TV streaming, and one free book rental per month. You can try out a 30-day free trial membership to see if it would end up saving you money.

Write a review.

Some companies are willing to pay customers, in the form of discounts, for leaving reviews on their products listed online. HonestFew and SnagShout are a couple companies that make this process easy. Once you receive items at a low price (or sometimes even free), then you simply log in to leave your review, whether it’s good or bad.

Buy a reusable water bottle.

Going through a handful of water bottles a day is expensive, unnecessary, and bad for the environment. Instead, pick up a reusable water bottle for yourself. You can even get one that comes with a built-in carbon filter to remove tap water impurities. Your body, and the Earth, will thank you.

Use apps.

Many stores have made it even easier to save these days by introducing their own apps, such as the Target Cartwheel app and the Sears Shop Your Way App. Both of these apps offer special discounts to shoppers that cannot be found anywhere else, and saving is as easy as opening the app and seeing what deals are available. You can even do this while standing in the checkout line. Other apps, like Shopkick, work at many stores. You can earn points by checking in at stores and making purchases, and then using those points to earn gift cards.

Plan ahead.

Planning out meals in advance is one way to keep grocery store costs down because you can minimize waste or unnecessary purchases. You not only cut out impulse purchases at the grocery store but also eliminate the need to order delivery on those nights you realize you don’t have anything to make. Pinterest can also help with new recipe inspiration if you’re feeling stuck.

Article Source: Lisa Koivu for

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, 

12 Ideas to Help You Stick to Your Budget

Businessman holding a clipboard and writing signature

When cravings for pricey dinners out or new outfits hit, it can be hard to stick with your budgeting plan. Whether you’re trying to cut back on spending, or set aside major funds for a life goal like home ownership, it might be time to adopt some new money-savvy habits. These dozen ideas can help you become more disciplined about your spending.

1. Articulate your goals. 

For some people, there’s nothing more appealing than saving for a four-bedroom house with a white picket fence. Others dream of taking a trip around the world or purchasing a boat. Choosing your personal money goals makes it easier to work toward them. If you have a partner, then set aside some time to talk about your individual and joint goals to make sure you’re on the same page.

2. Create a spending plan.

Most people spend about 2/3 of their income on three essentials: food, housing, and transportation. Then there are debt payments, savings, household costs, and optional items like entertainment to consider. Create an annual budget by allocating spending goals for each category – and try to stick to it as best as you can.

3. Resist retailer advertisements.  

Stores are in the business of getting us to spend money, but if we know their tricks, we can better resist the temptation. Rewards cards, enticing smells (like cinnamon around the holidays) and short-term flash sales are a few techniques retailers use; being aware of them can make it easier to just say “no.”

4. Track your spending. ​

Keeping track of every expenditure over a two-week period can offer insight into unnecessary wastes, from restaurant meals to cab rides. You can use a pen and pencil or take advantage of free apps and online tools like

5. Negotiate prices. 

Prices are often a lot more negotiable than we think, even in department stores. If you’ve seen a lower price listed elsewhere, don’t hesitate to ask the store clerk if they can match it. The worst case scenario is getting a “no.”

6. Research big-ticket items online before visiting the store.

Product review sites, coupon code sites and online discount warehouses often provide information and insight into how (and where) to find the best deals. With the proliferation of free shipping codes, the lowest price is often online.

7. Don’t shy away from all debt.

While debt has earned a bad reputation in the wake of the subprime mortgage crisis, managing credit and even taking on some debt can be useful. Mortgages allow people to buy homes and student loans enable people to go to school. Evaluate your debt decisions by considering the pros and cons carefully.

8. Pay off high-interest rate debt quickly.

Credit card loans are among the highest interest rate debt around, averaging roughly 17%. Paying off credit cards as soon as possible can help reduce fees and interest rate charges that balloon over time.

9. Build a solid credit history. 

Lenders base their decisions on whether or not to loan consumers money, and at what rate – partially on their credit histories. That means consumers with a limited credit history (because they have few or no financial accounts) can have trouble taking on a mortgage. Pay bills on time, and be sure to have some accounts in your name.

10. Check your credit report.

Everyone is entitled to a free credit report once a year; you can get yours at Reviewing it gives you the chance to fix any mistakes that could be hurting your credit score.

11. Review account statements.

An unfamiliar charge on a credit card is often the first sign of identity theft. Review all mail from financial institutions carefully to make sure your accounts aren’t being misused. If you see an erroneous charge, contact your financial institution immediately.

Don’t wait until it’s too late! Check out First Financial’s ID Theft Protection products – with our Fully Managed Identity Recovery services, you don’t need to worry. A professional Recovery Advocate will do the work on your behalf, based on a plan that you approve. Should you experience an Identity Theft incident, your Recovery Advocate will stick with you all along the way – and will be there for you until your good name is restored and you can try it FREE for 90 days. To learn more about our ID Theft Protection products, click here and enroll today!*

12. Choose the best credit card for you.  

Credit card benefits vary widely. If you tend to carry a balance, it pays to find the card with the lowest interest rate possible. If you’re a frequent traveler, you might want an airline card or a card that comes with travel insurance. Comparison websites such as or can help you find the best card for you.

First Financial’s Visa Platinum Credit Card has no balance transfer fees, 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!**

*Available for new enrollments only. After the free trial of 90 days, the member must contact the Credit Union to opt-out of ID Theft Protection or the monthly fee of $4.95 will automatically be deducted out of the base savings account or $8.95 will be deducted out of the First Protection Checking account (depending upon the coverage option selected), on a monthly basis or until the member opts out of the program. Identity Theft insurance underwritten by subsidiaries or affiliates of Chartis Inc. The description herein is a summary and intended for informational purposes only and does not include all terms, conditions and exclusions of the policies described. Please refer to the actual policies for terms, conditions, and exclusions of coverage. Coverage may not be available in all jurisdictions.

**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 Source: Kimberly Palmer for –


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

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

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