Top 5 Budgeting Mistakes — And How To Avoid Them

January is the number one month when people launch new financial regimes, and nearly a third of respondents according to a GoBankingRate survey, said their 2016 goals include “saving more and spending less.”

All sounds great, says Lauren Greutman, a budgeting expert who blogs at IAmThatLady.com, where she walks you through how to up a successful budget, stick to it, and become debt-free. “Many people start off the new year excited about a budget, but quickly fall off the wagon, only to feel defeated,” says Greutman.

Budgeting doesn’t have to be stressful. Know the likely pitfalls, and how to avoid them. 5 budgeting mistakes (and how to avoid them):

1. Fail a set budget.

“Feeling overwhelmed by the time it takes to track expenses and set a budget is one of the main reasons why people don’t do it,” Greutman says. By carving out a chunk of time, you will save yourself money and time throughout the month. “For every 1 hour of planning, you save yourself 4 hours of execution,” Gretuman says.

Do this instead: At the beginning of next month, collect all your expenses and income. Understand exactly where your money comes from, where it goes, and commit to what you will save and cut back on. “Instead of spending your time throughout the month tracking where you spend your money, make a money plan for the upcoming month, and just follow the plan. It saves so much time and energy,” she says.

2. Create the exact same budget every month.

Setting a budget that looks the same every single month is a big budget mistake, since expenses differ depending on holidays, birthdays, vacation time, energy costs during warmer or cooler months, taxes, and home or car repairs.

Do this instead: To avoid breaking your budget, plan each month out one at a time at the start of the month.

3. Don’t allow for wiggle room.

Making your budget too rigid is something most people do, but then something comes up unexpected and the entire budget falls apart.

Do this instead: “Give yourself some play money every month – it can be as little as $10 or as much as you can afford,” Greutman says. ”This helps you keep the budget on task, keeps your budget successful for that month, and helps maintain motivation.”

4. Rely on credit cards.

If you are using a bucket budgeting system — a set sum of money for food, clothing, entertainment, transportation — tracking expenses can make book keeping more complicated, since combing through statements adds another layer of work. Plus, reliance on credit cards means you run the risk of over-spending and racking up debt.

Do this instead: Switch to a cash-only budget for the first month of your new budget, then you can visually see where your money is going.

5. Quit too soon.

Successful budgeting takes a few months of tweaking and practice. In our culture of instant gratification, people want to the budget to be perfect the first time. In reality, it takes a few months of tweaking, messing up, and readjusting for the budget to be right and attainable.

Do this instead: Commit to lifelong budgeting, and understand that each family’s finances are a constant evolution as members needs, incomes and priorities change.

*Original article source courtesy of Emma Johnson of Forbes.com.

Free “I Bought What?? How to Not Be Afraid When You Open Your Bills and Stick to a Budget” Seminar in January 2016

courtney-method-budgetingGet your finances in order for the new year! Join the experts at First Financial at our budgeting seminar to help get on the right financial path for 2016. If you’re interested in attaining financial stability, understanding budgets, or saving money we encourage you and a guest to attend.

Attendees will learn how to:

  • Build an emergency fund to avoid money pitfalls.
  • Create and maintain a simple budgeting worksheet.
  • Pay bills on time.
  • Pay yourself by saving money.

Join us on Wednesday, January 13th at 6:00pm for our “I Bought What?? How to Not Be Afraid When You Open Your Bills and Stick to a Budget,” seminar presented by the experts at First Financial. The seminar will take place at our Freehold/Howell Service Center located at 389 Route 9 North (Next to the Howell Park & Ride), Freehold. Space is limited, so make sure you sign up today!

Register Now!

9 Basic Pieces of Money-Saving Advice No One Follows – But Should

download (1)Good advice can be hard to take – especially when it comes to money. Often, the thing that’s best for us is the thing we really don’t want to do. Saving more and spending less is boring; why do that when you can have fun now?

Well, you know what else sounds boring? Working for the next 50 years.

There are some very basic pieces of money advice that experts give, but no one seems to follow. So, let’s make a deal: How about we start listening to what these experts are saying? The sooner we start, the sooner we’ll reach our financial goals.

Here are nine pieces of financial advice you need to stop ignoring.

  1. Run your financial life like a business. You should treat your budget like a business because, in the business of life, the bottom line matters. Many of the same principles business owners use can be applied to your personal life: prioritize, assess and restrain. Everything that keeps a business running will keep your personal finances in order: prioritize your spending, assess your profits and losses, and don’t lose sight of the big picture, like saving for retirement or getting out of debt. This is fairly common advice, but when it comes to actually saving and making more money, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all strategy. Just like every business has its own unique goals and needs, you will too – so manage accordingly.
  2. Make saving part of your lifestyle. Saving money doesn’t always come naturally. Successful savers usually fail a few times (or more) before they figure out what works best for them. It’s easy to get discouraged and give up, but just like exercising and eating well, saving money takes a while to get right. It’s also important to remember that a frugal lifestyle doesn’t mean living in deprivation. People who live with less and save more know where to cut back. Even shrinking your grocery bill by just $15 a week will save $780 a year – imagine all the other little cutbacks that are possible. So instead of making drastic lifestyle changes, build your savings muscle slowly by making small adjustments over time. After a while, you won’t even notice a difference – except in your bank account balance.
  3. Save the difference. Are you a bargain hunter, coupon clipper or thrifty shopper? What do you do with all the money you save? If you’re like most consumers, you just spend it on something else. The point of getting a discount is to save money, right? The next time you get a discount or score a sweet deal, save the difference of what you didn’t spend.
  4. Automate the process. This is a piece of money-saving advice that is echoed by nearly every financial expert. Paying yourself first is the first step, which means setting up an automatic transfer from your checking account into a savings or investment vehicle. You can set up one large transfer to go through monthly, weekly or whenever works best for your finances – as long as it’s automatic, you’ll be saving without even realizing it. Some experts recommend transferring a portion of your paycheck into savings, and once you reach a certain balance, transfer any additional funds into an investment account. If you aren’t sure where to start, try automatically transferring 10 percent of each paycheck and see how that feels.
  5. Seek advice on your 401(k). It’s official: People with 401(k)s are better savers, according to a study last year by Natixis Global Asset Management. Want to get the best returns out of your nest egg? Get professional help. The study found 74 percent of people who see a financial advisor for 401(k) advice know exactly how much they need to have saved by the time they retire. Set up your complimentary appointment with First Financial’s Investment & Retirement Center to discuss your retirement and investment goals. Contact Samantha Schertz at 732.312.1564 or at samantha.schertz@cunamutual.com.
  6. Save your spare change. We all have loose change filling our pockets or strewn on our bedside tables. Start banking that change, and you could put a serious dent in your savings goals. For example, putting just 50 cents a day in a jar can help you save nearly $200 over the course of a year. Some experts also recommend only using paper money for daily expenses, such as coffee and lunch, and then saving the difference. If you don’t carry cash, consider using an app like Acorns, which invests your spare change for you.
  7. Fill a need. Many experts say the trick to making money (so you can save more of it, of course) starts with thinking about others before you think about yourself. Basically, the path to success starts by first identifying a need and then filling it. Your earnings are a byproduct of how well you serve your audience. So, focus on filling your customers’ or boss’ needs, or solving a problem, and you will likely make more money (whether through a raise or increased profits). This concept can also be used for people who freelance or want to start a side business – find out what people want, and give it to them; you’ll be in high demand.
  8. Live like a student. No, you don’t have to survive on a diet of ramen and frozen burritos in order to get ahead, but you can take a lesson from struggling students everywhere and learn to live with less. If you are just starting out in the workforce, try living on half your paycheck. Since you’re probably already used to living off very little, half your paycheck should be enough to get by. Meanwhile, you’ll pad a robust savings account with the equivalent of a full paycheck each month. For those who aren’t fresh out of college and have large expenses like a mortgage or child care, try saving a penny of each dollar you make; then, step it up another penny every six months. In five years, you’ll be saving 10 percent of every dollar you make; in 10 years, you’ll be saving 20 percent.
  9. Trick yourself. Many behavioral economists say mental accounting (i.e., treating different piles of money with different intentions) helps trick your brain into better budgeting and saving. This strategy might sound a little complicated, but it’s really a take on the classic envelope system, where you allocate your paycheck to a weekly or monthly budget and put the cash into different envelopes – one for each budget category. Once the envelopes are empty, your budget is maxed out.
 *Original article source by Morgan Quinn of US News – Money.

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 coupons.com 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. Retailmenot.com, bargainbriana.com, and MoneySavingMom.com 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 http://money.usnews.com/money/personal-finance/articles/2015/10/20/smart-shopping-tricks-to-make-your-budget-last-all-month

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 

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 Mint.com.

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 annualcreditreport.com. 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 NerdWallet.com or CreditCards.com 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 Money.USNews.com –

http://money.usnews.com/money/personal-finance/articles/2015/06/16/12-ideas-to-help-you-stick-to-your-budget