3 Tips for Getting Control Over Your Spending

Glamour purse fill with money isolated on white background

Two days after you receive your paycheck, do you wonder where all the money went? Is your closet full of clothing and other items that still have the tags on them? Then your spending habits may need some adjusting.

Many consumers aren’t saving enough for a rainy day. The U.S. personal savings rate has increased within the last 12 months (5.3% compared with 4.8% the year before), but there is still room for improvement. Approximately 44% of households across the nation have less than three months of savings, according to the Corporation for Enterprise Development’s 2015 Assets & Opportunity Scorecard. Furthermore, a recent Bankrate Money Pulse survey revealed that less than 4 in 10 people are capable of covering an emergency expense, and about 18% don’t have a budget.

If you’re struggling to control your spending, there are a few things you can do to break bad habits. Here are three tips for regaining your footing and getting back on the path toward financial health.

1. Carry Cash
One of the best ways to keep spending in check is to pay for most of your purchases with cash. When you rely on a credit or debit card, it’s easy to lose track of how much money you’re shelling out. Swiping your card is simple and can make you feel like you have more money than you really do. Cash, on the other hand, will allow you to see exactly what you’re spending. And when the cash runs out, you know it’s time to put your wallet down and stop making purchases for that day. Try your best to get out of the “buy now, pay later” mentality.

2. Use a Spending Tracker
There are plenty of mobile phone apps and online web tools that can assist you with keeping tabs on your spending. If you’ve been slow to devise a budget, these technologies are a great way to get started. Some useful apps available are Goodbudget, Mvelopes, and Pocket Expense.

3. Go on a Financial Fast
Resolve to cut out all of your spending for a certain period of time; it could be two weeks or one month, the timing is up to you. When you refrain from spending any money (except on necessities such as mortgage payments and groceries) you’ll quickly see what you can truly live without.

Article Source: Sheiresa Ngo for http://www.cheatsheet.com/personal-finance/3-tips-for-getting-control-over-your-spending.html/?a=viewall

13 Commandments For Smart Personal Finance

commandments1. Know your goals. This means trying to step back and say, “Where are we going? How are we going to get there?”  While it doesn’t necessarily mean having all the pieces in place, you should be able to identify the goals and a few actions that will bring you closer to achieving them.  Don’t be be afraid of dreaming a little, but also make sure the goals are specific, measurable, and realistic.

2. Don’t be paralyzed by past mistakes. Most people, even those who are highly successful, have made bad investments at some point in their lives.  The important thing is to learn from your mistakes and move forward. Stressing about the past is not a productive activity.

3. Develop a plan. A goal without a plan is nothing but a wish.  You also need to be flexible enough to re-calculate as goals and situations change. This is where a trained and certified financial planner can be an asset, monitoring your performance, how it measures up to the market, and whether or not you are on track to meet your stated goals.

4. Know your cash flow. This is the financial equivalent of taking your blood pressure. It’s not about putting you on a budget, it’s about knowing how much money is coming in and where it’s going. You might be surprised at how much you are spending on certain items. Having a handle on your cash flow combined with knowing your goals, will help identify possible changes that can be made to help you achieve your objectives.

5. Plan your major celebrations without stress. Planning for a child’s wedding?  Rather than incurring excessive debt, consider scaling down the event to reduce stress. In addition, if there is enough time and with proper planning, there may be ways to save well in advance.

6. Understand your liquidity. Liquidity is the ability to convert your investments into cash quickly.  Liquidity is valued because life is dynamic and your need to move quickly may be necessary – whether it’s due to an opportunity like a good investment, or an unforeseen expense, like a flood in your basement.

7. Know and manage your risk. Things go wrong and accidents happen. Whether it relates to a downturn in your health or your finances, you want to protect your family. Understanding your insurance options is an important part of every financial plan.

8. Plan for financial independence. Knowing when you can retire and having some confidence that you will have enough money, is what financial independence is all about. The financial planning process can help you project your retirement at a given age based on such things as assumed income, expenses, inflation, social security, and savings.

9. Establish an estate plan. This gives you control over your money and your children’s future when you’re gone.  Unfortunately, too many people relegate this to the bottom of their list.

10. Manage your taxes. Your accountant and financial advisor should be talking when it comes to your tax planning. You should have a strategy in place that will minimize your taxes, while helping you achieve long term value.

11. Manage your debt. Carrying debt creates anxiety and stress. Credit card debt in particular often results in interest rates exceeding 20%! It’s important to pay down debt as quickly as you can. This ultimately frees up funds that can be relegated elsewhere.

12. Understand your investment strategy. Your investment strategy should be tied to your goals, time horizon, and risk tolerance. Having a plan guides you so that you avoid the type of panic that can lead to making bad decisions.

13. Putting it all together. Simply stated, this means looking at the big picture and feeling confident you have crossed your T’s and dotted your I’s. Be sure to prioritize your needs and talk with a professional who can offer independent advice.

Questions about retirement savings, estate planning, or investments?  If you would like to set up a no-cost consultation with the Investment & Retirement Center located at First Financial Federal Credit Union to discuss your savings goals, contact us at 866.750.0100 or stop in to see us!*

*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. Non-deposit 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: http://www.valuewalk.com/2015/06/personal-finance-commandments/

What To Do With Extra Cash

Excited-Woman-Holding-CashFor the first time in a long time – thanks to a rebounding economy and an increased minimum wage in 23 states – salaries are on the rise. Great news, right? If you’re one of the fortunate recipients, what are you going to do with the extra cash? Step one is to make an actual plan to put it to use. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.

Flesh out your emergency fund.
A fully-funded emergency cushion should include enough cash to support 3-6 months of mandatory spending, but this doesn’t mean you have to cover all of your costs. Your emergency fund doesn’t need to include what you usually would spend in 3-6 months, but what you have to spend. This includes rent, bills, food, gas, and other necessities. This should also be enough to bail you out of a jam if your car breaks down or your plumbing gets backed up. If you dip into your emergency fund, you’ll want to spend the next few months replenishing it.

Pay down debt.
Here’s the deal on debt: The return on your money is equal to the interest rate you’re paying. So prepaying your mortgage – at 3% or 4% before the tax deduction – is less valuable to your bottom line than paying off a credit card at 15% or 19%.

Don’t forget about First Financial’s free, online 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.

Treat yourself.
This goes back to having a plan. When you get a raise, you have to avoid making impulsive decisions. The last thing you want is to look back years later and regret how you spent your extra cash. But the feeling that you deserve to celebrate is certainly common – and warranted. There is no one way to do this, but think about it long enough to try to spend money on something that makes you happy and that will last. The lasting impact doesn’t have to be material, either – a vacation can create memories that you’ll never forget!

*Article courtesy of Jean Chatzky of SavvyMoney.com.

Thinning Out the Document Mess

files_pileWhen’s the last time you took a peek at the filing cabinets in your home office?  A lifetime of financial matters means accumulating a lifetime of documents. Let’s get a grip on things and whittle down the mess. Below is a list of the financial documents you should keep and for how long.

  • Tax returns. The IRS recommends keeping these for at least three years.
  • Investments. Just like the tax returns, keep capital gains tax reports and 1099 forms for at least three years.
  • 401(k) statements. Save the end of year and quarterly statements for the current year. After that, shred them.
  • Pay stubs, credit card, and bank statements. If all is well with your accounts (they are balanced and there is no fraud) go ahead and get rid of these items.
  • Loans. Keep one statement with your current balance. If you have paid the loan off, keep the final statement for at least seven years.
  • Insurance policies. Keep them until the policy is no longer in use.
  • Medical records. Medical bills from your insurance, hospital bills and other medical-related statements should be kept for five years.
  • Real estate records. Keep any purchase, sale or home improvement receipts for as long as you own the underlying asset.

Getting organized is an important step in getting on top of your finances – happy organizing!

*Article courtesy of Chris O’Shea of SavvyMoney.com.

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.

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