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

5 Ways to Save Money When You’re Broke

save-moneyIt can be hard to save money at any time, but it is particularly difficult when you feel like you are broke. If you can barely afford your bills and you are living paycheck to paycheck, saving money is probably one of the last things on your mind. However, you can still save money when you’re broke. In fact saving money, even if it is a little, is a key step to stop being broke.

As long as you are making some money, you should be saving some. Especially if you routinely have insufficient funds, it’s important to make a habit of saving money. Despite the fact that you have little extra funds, there are ways to save. Cutting costs, sticking to a budget, and saving a little at a time are all ways that you can save money, but there are other ways as well. Here are five ideas to consider.

1. Cut out the extras. An easy way to save money when you’re broke is to cut costs. You may think there is nothing you can cut out at first, but think a little harder. If you are truly “broke” then you need to let some things go. Do you really need such an expensive cell phone plan? What about cable television? Can you use the internet at the library or use WiFi instead of paying a monthly fee?

There are many things that we consider necessities that are really just extras, and cutting some of those will quickly free up more money. Take a look at your monthly bills, and decide what is really necessary. If you want to stop being broke, you may have to cut out some of the extras for a while.

2. Eat at home. Grabbing lunch on the go is so much easier and more convenient than bringing a lunch to work, but doing this regularly will really eat away at your income. According to Living on A Dime, eating out is a common way people get into personal debt. It’s easy to rationalize eating out because you are too busy to cook, or you are a bad cook. However, making food at home will truly save you money, and if you want to save money, you need to make the time and the effort to cook at home. You can save time by making several meals over the weekend and freezing them to use during the work week. If you simply don’t know how to cook, buy a cookbook for beginners.

3. Make a budget. If you don’t have a budget, your first step should be to make one. Perhaps you already have a budget, but there are several reasons a budget can fail. If you recently lost your job, or your income somehow changed but you are using the same budget, you will need to make a new one. You also may need to look at your budget and see if it is really reasonable and if you need to adjust anything.

According to Lifehacker, if you are broke and budgeting, there are several steps that can help. Start by assessing your financial situation, cut back on expenses (as mentioned in point one), and be frugal. There are other steps you can also take, including paying down your debt.

4. Save a little at a time. If you’re completely broke, the idea of saving anything probably seems unreasonable. However, you have to get into the habit of saving if you are going to save more in the long run. It’s important to think about the future: write down your financial goals, even if they seem completely out of reach. Then, start saving. If you are saving nothing right now, then any savings is an improvement. Once you cut your extras and start following a budget, you can use some of the discretionary money to save for your future.

Another idea is to get a second job. Even if you only work a few extra hours each week, but you put all the money in a savings account, you will quickly see a change in your financial situation.

5. Avoid common mistakes. You can make plenty of good decisions about your finances, but if you make a few poor decisions, you will still have a hard time saving. Some of the worst things to do when you are broke include splurging when you get money, prioritizing convenience, taking on too much debt or making poor decisions about debt, living beyond your means, and having no savings at all.

It’s really easy to live above your means, but this is one of the easiest ways to get into debt. If you have a hard time controlling your spending, try setting a budget and then doing envelope budgeting (you can modernize this practice with a few steps). Also, be careful about the debt that you incur. You need to avoid the worst financial mistakes if you really want to save.

Saving money isn’t easy, but if you take the time to put these five steps into practice, you will be off to a good start!

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.

*Article source written by Sienna Beard of CUInsight.

4 Ways to Trick Yourself Into Saving More Money

empty magic hat with wand isolated on white

Think you’ve run out of ways to save? Think again. While it might not seem possible to squeeze any more savings out of your budget, you can find new ways to save by changing some of your money habits. But as we all know, old habits die hard. So to instead of struggling to change your spending patterns cold turkey, here are four easy ways to trick yourself into saving more money.

1. Ignore Windfalls, Pay Raises & Bonuses

Whether it’s a $5 scratch-off or a big tax refund, whenever you come into contact with some unexpected funds, ignore it and put it away. It’s best to get into the mindset that unexpected money is best spent by planning for your future or paying off money owed. Before you know it, you’ll have that credit card bill or emergency fund finally taken care of!

2. Try Cash Only

Sometimes it can be a little too tempting to go over budget when using a debit or credit card. Keeping yourself to a strictly cash only lifestyle for a couple weeks is a great way to make sure you stay on budget. Just put your cards in a drawer or, if you don’t trust yourself to leave the cards in a drawer, freeze them so it will take a lot of work to use them. You should also look to remove your credit cards from any online accounts to keep yourself from splurging! This is especially important if you’re carrying a balance — which you are hopefully paying down.

3. Take Five

The next time you’re about to make a big purchase, wait five days. Taking time to contemplate your purchases can help you avoid unnecessary spending on lavish items, or maybe even find a better deal online or at another store. Delaying your purchases can also give you time to really investigate the impact the purchase might have on your budget and whether or not it could keep you from reaching your financial goals. You may discover that your long-term financial security means more to you than having a giant TV for a couple of years.

4. Put It On Auto Pilot

Instead of heading to the ATM or a bank branch to transfer money from checking to savings, why not bring your finances into the 21st century and have your financial institution or employer do it for you? Automating your savings, whether for retirement, an emergency fund, or any other long-term goal, can make it very easy to stay on track and ensure your goal will be reached! Plus, seeing a little less in your checking account each week will keep you honest and help you cut back on your overspending habits.

You don’t have to make more money to save more money. Saving efficiently really boils down to how you spend and manage your money. So the next time you find yourself falling a little short of your savings goals, look at the way you’re making your purchases and how transferring your money into a savings account. Just taking a closer look at your money habits can do wonders for your financial well-being.

Article Source: Leslie Tayne for

10 Ways Too Many People Throw Money Away

Packs of dollar in the garbage can. Waste of money or currency collapse concept. 3d

There are all sorts of ways to cut spending and boost your savings, and there are just as many ways to sabotage your own finances. In addition to missing out on money-saving discounts, making unwise shopping decisions, and purchasing unnecessary items, you might also be throwing your money down the drain without even realizing.  Keep reading to ensure this doesn’t happen to you!

1. Never redeeming gift cards.

Even if you don’t want your gift card, at least give it to someone who will use it. According to statistics compiled by Gift Card Granny, more than $41 billion in gift cards went unused over a 6 year period. American households also average $300 in unused gift cards, and nearly half of recipients do not use the full value of the card. Don’t let dollars go down the drain!

2. Letting Groupons expire.

According to Yipit, roughly 15% of Groupons go unredeemed by the time the expiration date rolls around. Make a note of your daily deal coupon’s expiration date to ensure this doesn’t happen to you. And if your Groupon does expire, you may be able to contact the merchant directly to get some value from it.

3. Buying tickets and not showing up.

Purchasing tickets for a concert, sporting event, or other cultural activity often requires planning far in advance. But if you change your mind later or something comes up, you’ve already spent that money. These days people even buy movie tickets in advance online. If you can’t get a refund, you may be able to at least pass along your tickets to a friend. To make every dollar count, when possible it’s best to wait until you are certain to actually buy your tickets.

4. Paying late fees.

Even small late fees add up quickly. This can include everything from overdue library books, Redbox DVD rentals, or late payments on utilities. To avoid incurring late fees on your credit card, pay in advance of your due date, schedule automatic payment, or set a reminder for yourself. If you are hit with a late fee, call customer service and ask to have the charge waived. On your first offense many companies are willing to let the late fee go.

5. Paying bank fees.

It seems like every year big banks come up with new ways to nickel and dime their customers. Between minimum balances, fees for checking accounts, and ATM fees – these charges can add up. Avoid these unnecessary fees by joining a local credit union like First Financial! Credit unions typically offer free checking accounts and savings accounts with better interest rates.

6. Not returning unwanted goods.

It’s easy to let unwanted items or gifts just sit there in the closet, but with a little effort, you could be getting money back in your pocket. Even if you are past the return date, give it a try anyway. You may be able to at least get store credit. For online purchases, many retailers even cover the cost of shipping for returns. Some retailers will even take returns without a receipt.

7. Failing to ask for a refund.

Consumers who are dissatisfied with their service often don’t take the time to voice their concerns. The ones who do however, could end up with a full refund or at least a discount. If you have a bad experience, don’t be shy about speaking up. Even if you don’t get any money back, retailers and service providers should know when their customers aren’t satisfied.

8. Never disputing mistakes on a bill.

If you think your bill may be incorrect, it’s worth disputing the charges with the company. At most respectable businesses, the error will quickly be corrected. Unexpected medical bills are also a growing problem, and patients almost never file a complaint with a state agency. The Consumers Union online insurance complaint tool is a good place to start.

9. Forgetting to follow up on a rebate.

The sneaky thing about mail-in rebates is they are designed to be so complicated that consumers either forget to mail them in or do so incorrectly. More than $500 million in rebates go unfilled every year, often due to deceptive practices. The Wall Street Journal reported that about 40% of mail-in rebates go unredeemed or are filed incorrectly and denied. Think twice before getting involved in a rebate in the first place. If you are waiting on a rebate check from weeks or months ago, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.

10. Not claiming money that’s yours.

Every year, unclaimed money is reported by the government, and rightful owners are encouraged to step forward and claim their funds. In 2013, states, federal agencies, and other organizations together reported $58 billion in unclaimed cash and benefits. This can include unclaimed IRS refunds, old bank accounts and stock holdings, unclaimed life insurance payouts, mortgage refunds, forgotten pension benefits, and more. Health insurance companies report forgotten funds as well. And if that money isn’t claimed, it gets turned over to the state.

The moral of the story – pay attention, follow up when necessary, and don’t throw good money away!

Article Source: Chloe Della Costa,

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

Unfortunate Home Improvements

Home-Improvement-ProjectHome improvement projects can be a lot of fun — and sometimes add value to your home — but are they worth the money they cost? If you have plans to one day move out of your home (or even if you don’t), you should consider how the project impacts the resale value. Below are some home improvement projects that are typically not worth the cash.

A new pool. We can’t blame you for wanting a pool. However, keep in mind that the cost of installing one and then maintaining it is quite high. Also, if you’re planning on selling down the road, remember that some buyers could be turned off by a pool, like parents with small children.

Extensive customization. While a lot of people might like a kitchen backsplash, the type of backsplash makes a big difference. You shouldn’t go overboard customizing (particularly if you’ve got unusual taste), because if you do, you could risk alienating buyers down the road.

Half measures. If you can add a bedroom, great. Those often are worth the money. However, don’t add square footage to your home in bits and pieces. Eventually the home will look disjointed, and buyers typically want a home that flows well.
Taking away a bedroom. Buyers will want a certain number of bedrooms, so try to avoid converting them when considering altering your space.

First Financial’s Home Improvement Loan is designed to help you create the home you’ve been imagining. It’s time to move your “wants” to the top of your to-do list.*

*Available on primary residence only, subject to underwriting guidelines. 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. A First Financial membership is required to obtain a mortgage and is open to anyone who lives, works, worships, volunteers, or attends school in Monmouth of Ocean Counties. See credit union for details.

Article courtesy of Chris O’Shea of