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

 

You Could Win a $100 Visa Gift Card in Our Financially Savvy Blog Contest!

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We look forward to hearing about how we’ve helped you become financially savvy throughout the years. Good luck!

*To enter, comment or post a video before the deadline and completely answer the question to qualify. Post your comment or video on or before 5/29/15 at 5pm. Must be 18 years or older to enter. The winner will be randomly selected from the entries received and notified by the Marketing Department on or about 6/1/15. Winner will be able to pick up their gift card in a First Financial branch or receive it via mail. No purchase necessary to enter or claim prize.

7 Not So Smart Things People Do in the Name of Being Frugal

quarter in handBragging about being thrifty may get your props from your peers. But just because a decision appears to be a savvy money move, doesn’t mean it actually nets savings.  Here are seven things people do in the name of frugality that actually cost them money — or worse.

Maintain membership in The Clean Plate Club. Just because it’s in your bowl doesn’t mean you have to eat it. If you’re full or it’s unhealthy, stop eating. Throw the rest away (or save it for later). Your choice is obesity or throwing out food. Neither are great, but obesity will cost you in medical expenses and lost wages. Tossing out uneaten food will teach you to serve yourself smaller portions.

Buy clothes that don’t fit (or you don’t like) because they’re on sale.  It’s not a good deal if you don’t wear it. And if it doesn’t fit now, it won’t be in style when in may fit in the future (though it probably won’t ever fit).

Manage your own investments. Yes, fees can eat away at your hard-earned savings. But unless you’re a financial professional, hire an expert to advise you on managing your finances (and there are some excellent arguments for why everyone should hire a neutral, non-emotional third-party).

Save half-used cosmetics. Look: If you found that eye concealer to be a shade too dark last summer, and the hair gel was too sticky, you will not feel differently next year. Plus, many beauty products have expiration dates for a reason. So, if you’re not going to use it now, toss it already.

Rent a storage unit to save valuable stuff. In general, no one stashes valuables in a $99/month self-storage unit. Storage Wars aside, most of those places are probably full of junk that no one wants in the event they are abandoned and the contents are auctioned off by the property owners. Sell, give or toss it, and find ways to curb your habit of accumulating too many things.

Drive a hoopdie. In addition to being frugal and driving your car well past its pretty, you are being political and rejecting our culture’s obsession gas-guzzling, status-making vehicles. But at some point your ride just gets too old to make financial sense.  Even if over the course of a year the repairs on your current car do not exceed monthly payments on a new one, there are other things to consider: Is your car unreliable, possibly leaving you without a way to get to work — or worse, stranded on the side of the road?

Clean your own home. So many highly paid people insist on cleaning their own homes. If you are a professional, your time is worth more money per hour than what it costs to hire a housekeeper to scrub it clean every week or two. However, if that pro is more efficient at this task than you are – use those hours to invest in your career or business, or just enjoy life.

Article Source: Emma Johnson for Forbes.com, http://www.forbes.com/sites/emmajohnson/2014/12/15/6-dumb-things-people-do-in-the-name-of-being-frugal/

 

5 Ways You Could Be Sabotaging Your Future Net Worth

The 3d person under a bill's rain. crise hopelessnessYou may not realize it, but the actions you take now can greatly impact your sense of financial security down the road. Many Americans inadvertently minimize their future net worth by focusing only on the short-term. It can be great to live in the moment, but in some situations it’s a good idea to take a step back to evaluate the long-term impact of your financial decisions.

Here are five ways many Americans are shooting their future net worth in the foot:

1. Renting a Home Instead of Buying

Purchasing a home is probably the biggest investment you’ll ever make, but if you choose a property wisely, it’s definitely worth it. Sure, you’ll need to come up with an initial down payment and you’re responsible for all upkeep and repairs, but in most cases these costs pay themselves back.

When you own the property, you build equity in an investment that will likely increase in value over time. Rather than making monthly rent payments to someone else, your mortgage payments are essentially an investment in your future. Homeowners enjoy the stability of knowing their monthly housing expenses are for the long term, whereas renters never know when their monthly rent will increase. Additionally, interest and property tax paid by homeowners is tax deductible, often offering the chance for an annual break from Uncle Sam.

Need a mortgage or you’d like to re-finance your current mortgage? First Financial has great, low rate mortgage options!  Check them out today. We also have a mortgage rate text messaging service, and when you text firstrate to 69302 – you’ll receive a text message whenever our mortgage rates change.*

2. Not Paying Into a Retirement Plan Early in Your Career

When you’re young, saddled with student loans and barely making enough money to pay the rent, it’s easy to put off saving for retirement because it’s still 40 years away. However, waiting until you’re older to start saving can have a significantly negative impact your financial stability in your golden years.

The earlier you start saving, the more money you’ll earn in interest. For example, if you opened a 401(k) account in your mid-20s, saved a total of $30,000 and realized an 8 percent rate of return, you would have approximately $280,000 by age 65. However, if you save the same amount, realizing the same rate of return, but wait until your mid-40s to start the process, you’ll have only about $60,000 at age 65. Many companies also have a 401(k) match program, where they’ll match your contribution to a certain percentage or dollar amount, so you’re essentially turning away free money by not taking full advantage of this opportunity.

3. Waiting Until Withdrawal to Pay Taxes on Retirement Plan

Traditional 401(k) and IRA plans allow you to make tax-free contributions into your retirement account, with the deductions made in retirement when you withdraw funds. However, it might be smarter to open a Roth 401(k) or IRA, where taxes are deducted upfront, allowing you the benefit of making tax-free withdrawals in retirement. This could be a savvy move, as there’s a very good chance you’ll be in a higher income tax bracket when you retire than you were when you opened your retirement account.

4. Leasing Vehicles Instead of Financing

At first glance, leasing a vehicle can seem like an attractive option — less money down, lower monthly payments and the ability to drive a higher-priced car than you could afford to finance. However, leasing won’t add any gains to your future net worth. The monthly payments you make are essentially rent to the dealership, as you don’t get to keep the vehicle at the end of the lease. Rather than paying off the car and driving it for a few years payment-free, you’re forced to return it and immediately start making payments on another model — and continue the cycle every few years when your lease is up. Additionally, you’re limited to the number of miles you can put on a leased vehicle, you have to pay extra for excess wear-and-tear charges and you’ll pay sky-high early termination fees if you need to break the lease early.

In the market for a vehicle?  At First Financial, our auto loan rates are the same whether you buy new or used.** Apply online 24/7!

5. Using Credit Cards to Overspend

Everyone wants things they can’t afford, but offers for zero or low-interest credit cards can make it very difficult to avoid temptation. It might seem harmless to book a vacation or purchase a new furniture set using a credit card with little-to-no introductory financing, but what if you can’t pay the balance off before the promotional period ends? It’s not uncommon for these promotional interest rates to rise from zero to 18 or 20 percent, which can seriously increase the initial price of your expenditures and leave you with a mountain of debt that can take years to pay off.

Do you have a large balance on a high interest credit card? Have no fear, First Financial’s Visa Platinum Card has a great low rate, no balance transfer fees, no annual fee, and rewards!*** Apply online today.

Making savvy financial choices now can help ensure you’re able to enjoy stability later in life. Sometimes it’s worth making initial sacrifices now to allow yourself to ultimately come out ahead. Always consider what the impact of the choices you make now will have on your long-term happiness before jumping head first into a decision you’ll grow to regret.

 *Subject to credit approval.  Credit worthiness determines your APR. Your actual APR may vary based on your state of residence, approved loan amount, applicable discounts and your credit history. A First Financial membership is required to obtain a mortgage and is open to anyone who lives, works, worships, or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties.  See Credit Union for details. Standard text messaging and data rates may apply.

**A First Financial membership is required to obtain a First Financial auto loan and is available to anyone who lives, works, worships or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties. Subject to credit approval.

***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.

Article Source: Laura Woods of gobankingrates.com, http://www.reviewjournal.com/business/money/5-ways-you-re-sabotaging-your-future-net-worth

 

4 Times You Should Ignore Good Financial Advice

finances-e1303266500480It’s so great when someone gives you advice that helps you make a positive change in your life. Sometimes, we can truly learn from the experience and the tips that others provide. However, there are other times when we need to learn to ignore the advice given to us by other people. While it’s often well-meaning, sometimes the advice that other people give can lead us down the wrong path entirely.

Especially when it comes to financial tips and advice, sometimes people become set in a certain way of thinking, or they believe a financial myth because it has been told to them by someone else. It’s important to make your own financial decisions. There are certain financial tips that are either out-dated or conditional. Some tips are just wrong all together.

Here are four financial tips that you definitely should ignore, and how to spot poor financial advice.

1. Avoid credit cards. Credit cards can be dangerous. According to Lifehacker, they make it easy to spend money, we can easily feel peer pressure to use them because so many other people do, and of course, the interest can really add up.

However, credit cards are not all bad, as long as you use them responsibly. If you can afford to pay the balance off immediately, there is no harm in using a credit card. There are actually several positive aspects of credit cards, including the fact that most credit card companies protect you against fraudulent charges (whereas if someone steals $200 in cash, you probably are not getting it back). Also, many credit cards come with excellent rewards.

Did you know First Financial has a lower rate VISA Platinum Credit Card, great rewards, no annual fee, and no balance transfer fees? Apply today!*

2. Save first. It is absolutely essential to set savings aside each month toward future purchases, an emergency fund, and your retirement. If you don’t save now, you risk not having enough saved later. However, as important as prioritizing savings is, it isn’t always the right decision for each person. If you are drowning in debt, but you are setting aside hundreds of dollars each month toward savings (while your bills lay unpaid), you are probably making the wrong choice. There’s no use having savings if you are in a bad financial situation, and it’s getting worse because interest and late fees are piling up while you focus on your savings.

We offer a number of Savings Account options, click here to learn about our various accounts and to find one that fits your needs.**

3. Stick to your budget. Many Americans have a hard time sticking to their budgets (and many don’t even have one), and in general, you should try to stick to your budget. However, you actually need to be flexible when things change. If you go from a two-income household to a one-income household, and you are still living on a budget that was designed when you had a lot more money available, you could set yourself up for a lot of debt.

At the same time, when you get a raise, it’s appropriate to change your budget (even if you are just adding the extra income directly into savings or your retirement fund). Circumstances change, and inflation causes prices to go up, so it isn’t fair to yourself, or even responsible, to expect to have the same budget all the time. While in general you should try to stick to your budget each month, sometimes you need to reevaluate it.

Don’t forget to utilize our great financial calculators – they’re free and a great tool to help you get your finances on track.

4. Don’t take a risk. This is another piece of advice that is often well-meaning, but is given by people who usually are more interested in saving everything than taking risks. While it is important to save, unless you take risks, you probably won’t get very much interest back on your savings. People disagree about the best way to handle various financial decisions, but you have to determine what is right for you. You might lose a lot of money by taking a chance on a risky stock, or you might end up rich. Although diversifying your portfolio is often the smartest choice, it might not be the right choice for you. If you want to start your own business, but others advise you against it because of the risk of failure, you have to decide if the risk is worth it to you. There is very little financial advice that fits every single situation.

According to Fox Business, if you are trying to figure out if the advice you are receiving is bad, there are certain signs you should watch out for. If the person giving you the advice has a stake in your decision, they may not be presenting a fair picture. If you didn’t solicit the advice, that could be another sign to watch out for, and they might be trying to scam you. You should also avoid accepting advice that follows the one-size-fits all idea (like don’t take a risk).

Financial advice can be extremely helpful, whether it comes from a financial advisor or even a trusted friend or family member who really wants to help. Just make sure that the advice is really worth listening to. Also, remember to go with your gut. If someone suggests a financial move that you don’t feel good about, don’t do it. Whether the other person is intentionally leading you down the wrong path or not, your intuition might be trying to warn you.

Take advantage of the Investment & Retirement Center located at First Financial. If you have questions about retirement savings or investments, set up a no-cost consultation with our advisor to discuss your brokerage, investments, and/or savings goals. Call us at 732.312.1565 or stop in to see us!***

*APR varies from 10.90% to 17.90% when you open your account based on your credit worthiness. This APR is for purchases, balance transfers, and cash advances and will vary with the market based on the Prime Rate. Subject to credit approval. No Annual Fee. Other fees that apply: Cash advance fee of 1% of advance ($5 minimum and $25 maximum), Late Payment Fee of up to $25, Foreign Transaction Fee of 1% plus foreign exchange rate of transaction amount, $5 Card Replacement Fee, and Returned Payment Fee of up to $25. A First Financial membership is required to obtain a VISA Platinum Card and is available to anyone who lives, works, worships, or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties.

**A $5 deposit in a base savings account is required for credit union membership prior to opening any other account. All personal memberships are part of the Rewards First program and a $5 per month non-participation fee is charged to the base savings account for memberships not meeting the minimum requirements of the Bronze Tier. Click here to view full Rewards First program details, and here to view the Tier Level Comparison Chart. Accounts for children age 13 and under are excluded from this program.

***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.

Original article source by Sienna Beard of Personal Finance Cheat Sheet.

10 Huge Mistakes to Avoid When Trying to Save Money

downloadAddressing the issue of saving money is the most fundamental, yet neglected, aspect of personal finance in the U.S. today. According to a 2012 survey by Credit Donkey, almost 50 percent of Americans don’t have more than $500 in their emergency savings accounts, which not only puts a kink in savers’ finances in the event of an unforeseen expense, but also creates undue stress for failing to prepare a safety net adequately.

Here are the top 10 money mistakes Americans make when it comes to saving money.

1. Not budgeting.
There are a number of philosophies on the best approach to take when budgeting your money, but at times the thought of sitting down with statements, bills, and an expense sheet is just too stressful. This mind-set is an easy trap to fall victim to, but is one of the worst money mistakes to make if you want to grow your savings fund.

2. Saving too little.
It’s commendable that about half of Credit Donkey’s survey participants had saved up some cash; but often, individuals don’t save enough money to carry themselves through a challenging and sudden financial crisis. A common recommendation when it comes to the appropriate amount to save in a nest egg is about three months’ salary, or six months worth of expenses (i.e. mortgage, auto loan, utility bills, gas, etc.).

For instance, the average American in 2013 made $42,693 before taxes. Take away about 25 percent of that income for taxes, and the average person walks away with $32,020 annually. Three months of net income (the ideal emergency fund amount) is about $8,000 to help keep you comfortably afloat in an emergency.

3. Not setting specific goals.
Determining what exactly you’re saving for, and when you need to save by, is a helpful motivational guide to follow. It acts as a constant reminder of what you’re working toward, and lets you know when your efforts have been successful.

Examples of this include saving money for a down payment on a car in the next six months, or getting more specific like committing to saving $200 per month for the next six months, to achieve this goal.

4. Failing to track spending.
Creating a budget is the start of the savings process and setting a goal is the end of it, but there has to be a quantitative way to follow your progression in the time between. Tools such as Mint.com  or even a simple spreadsheet are great ways to avoid this money mistake.

5. Living paycheck to paycheck.
When budgeting your spending allowance, don’t stretch your money to the last dollar. Not allowing yourself about a $100 per month buffer sets you up for disaster, as small, seemingly harmless purchases quickly add up.

6. Overdrawing an account.
Overdrawing a checking account is usually the result of making one of these other money mistakes, but expensive overdraft fees are a cost you have complete control over. A $35 overdraft fee might not sting now, but as more pile up on your account statement, the damage can become apparent in a short period of time.

Simply put, overdrawing is a money waster and an entirely avoidable circumstance if you stay diligent with your savings plan.

7. Claiming the wrong tax withholding.
Claiming the lowest withholding allowance when it comes to your federal taxes is a mistake that Americans commonly make. When you do so, the government takes away more income taxes throughout the year, and you’re left with a fat tax return check.

Don’t let this windfall fool you — what you’re doing is essentially giving Uncle Sam an interest-free loan and getting nothing back in return. Instead, you can claim the withholding allowance you rightfully qualify for, and use the extra cash in each paycheck to grow your savings fund in a high-interest savings account.

8. Signing up for low deductibles.
One way to increase the amount of cash you can save each month is to lower your premium and raise your deductible for auto and health insurance. This means you assume more risk up front by paying a lower monthly premium, with the expectation to pay more out of pocket in the event you have to file a claim (which should be no problem if you’ve saved that emergency fund).

According to the Insurance Information Institute, increasing your deductible from $200 to $1,000 can lower collision and comprehensive coverage premiums by at least 40 percent.

9. Buying name brands.
More customers are employing frugal tactics like passing on branded products in lieu of a generic version. Similarly, retailers have caught onto the fact that shoppers are looking for a frugal alternative in today’s challenging economic times.

That’s not to say you should never splurge on a brand that’s worth it, but most generics are the same product as their pricier counterparts. Look for generic products on the lower shelves of grocers’ aisles.

10. Waiting.
One of the worst money mistakes you can make is procrastinating on getting started with your savings plan, since achieving a savings goal can take longer than you might expect. Paying $500 per month toward an emergency fund at the income outlined in mistake No. 2, for example, would take the average American 16 months to save up three months’ income.

Utilize First Financial’s free, anonymous debt management tool, Debt in Focus. In just minutes, you will receive a thorough analysis of your financial situation, including powerful tips by leading financial experts to help you control your debt, build a budget, and start living the life you want to live.

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

*Click here to view the original source by Nasdaq.