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, http://www.cheatsheet.com/personal-finance/10-ways-that-too-many-people-throw-money-away.html/?a=viewall

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.

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 SavvyMoney.com.

10 Ways to Save Money Before Labor Day

end of summer savingsLabor Day is only about a month away, which means summer is coming to an end. It also means your bank account might be bracing for a hit as you squeeze in a trip, start stocking up on back-to-school items for your children, or send a child off to college.

To prepare for these and other costs, you can take several steps to lower your expenses and save money on things you need to buy this month. Here are 10 ways you can save money before Labor Day:

1. Lower Your Cooling Costs.

If you’re cranking up your air conditioner to combat a heat wave, be prepared for a hefty electric bill. To keep costs low and stay cool, try the following tips:

  • Fans cost less to operate than air conditioners. You can raise your thermostat by four degrees and feel no reduction in comfort if you turn a fan on also.
  • You can lower your air conditioner’s energy consumption by 5% to 15% by replacing or cleaning dirty filters.
  • Cook outside using a grill to avoid heating your home with your oven.

2. Freeze Your Gym Membership.

If you’re not using your gym membership because you’re exercising outdoors or taking a summer trip, then freeze your membership. Putting your membership on hold can allow you to avoid any early termination fees if you have a year long contract, and save money on your membership fee during months when you’re not using the gym.

3. Save on School and Office Supplies.

Families are expected to spend an average of $97.94 on supplies such as notebooks, pencils and backpacks for school-age children this year, according to the National Retail Federation. You can keep the cost of school supplies under control by shopping back-to-school sales at retailers such as Target and Walmart, and office supply stores such as Staples.

Even if you don’t have kids, you can benefit from these sales – especially for office supplies.  Plus, you’ll find great deals on laptop computers in August as part of back-to-school sales, according to DealNews.com.

4. Take Advantage of Sales-Tax Holidays.

Seventeen states have back-to-school sales-tax holidays in August, according to the Federation of Tax Administrators. These holidays offer consumers an opportunity to avoid sales tax on clothing, footwear and school supplies. Some states even waive the sales tax on computers.

5. Start Price-Shopping for Holiday Travel.

The winter holidays are months away but now is the time to start comparing airfares “so you can lock in a good price when you find one,” said Holly Johnson, a frugal travel expert who blogs at ClubThrifty.com. To get the best price on airline tickets, you need to book flights at least 27 to 114 days in advance, according to a study by CheapAir.com. Flights for holiday travel fill up quickly, so you’re better off booking sooner rather than later.

6. Sign Up for a Rewards Credit Card.

If you are going to do some back-to-school shopping, book holiday travel or take a trip before Labor Day, take some of the sting out of that extra spending by using a credit card rewards.

Here at First Financial we offer a Visa Platinum Credit Card* with no annual fee, no balance transfer fees, a 10 day grace period, and a CURewards program where you can redeem points for gift cards, merchandise items, travel, and so much more! PLUS, we’re currently offering an introductory rate of 2.9% APR for the first 6 months on all purchases and balance transfers.**

7. Get Freebies From the Library.

If you have kids, you’re likely hearing them complain by now that they have nothing to do. To fend off boredom, take them to the local library to pick out books and DVDs for free. Whether or not you have children, you also can take advantage of free programs at your library, such as writing workshops or lecture series, in an air-conditioned environment.

8. Watch Inexpensive or Free Flicks.

Another way to keep the kids entertained in the weeks before school starts — without spending a lot of money — is to take advantage of discounted family movies at theaters. For example, Regal Entertainment Group, which operates 569 theaters in 42 states, charges just $1 for tickets for family movies at 10 a.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Additionally, plenty of communities offer free movies in parks. Check for listings on community calendars, the parks and recreation department, or local government websites.  Or check out our First Scoop Blog’s monthly things to do on a budget in Monmouth and Ocean Counties series!

9. Cut Food Costs With Seasonal Produce.

A great way to lower your grocery bill is to buy produce that is in season where you live, because the prices will be lower on those fruits and vegetables than ones shipped in from other areas of the country or other parts of the world. You should be able to take advantage of late summer fruit and vegetable harvests to save money this month.

10. Snag Summer Clothing on Clearance.

Retailers are making way for fall clothing in preparation for back-to-school shopping crowds, which means you can score serious savings on summer apparel. Expect discounts of 60% or more on summer staples, which you’ll still be able to wear for a few months and into colder months by layering. If you shop before Labor Day, you’ll have a better and bigger selection.

*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.

**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 purchases or cash advances.

Article Source: Cameron Huddleston, http://www.gobankingrates.com/personal-finance/10-ways-save-money-before-labor-day/ 

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.

Sun, Surf, and Savings: Summer Travel Inexpensively

54f0fbd48fba0_-_1-couple-vacation-tropical-lgnIt’s summer and time to enjoy the sun! Whether you’re an adventurer, a creature of habit, or planning your first big family vacation, here are some money saving tips you will want to consider.

Save Up

When planning summer travel, estimate your costs ahead of time for airfare, lodging, and expenses. Set a goal to save a portion every month toward that amount and track your progress. The closer you get, the closer that vacation is, and the more excited you and your travel companions will be!

One popular saving method is the hoarding of five-dollar bills. A Reddit user inspired many with his post and photo captioned: “For the past year, I put away every $5 bill that came into my possession. To date, I’ve saved $3,335.”

Get a Cheaper Flight

Plan ahead: Try to book your flights around three months in advance of your planned date of travel. Finding cheap last minute airfare isn’t impossible, but it’s hard to plan that way.

Low fare alerts: Pick a few destinations you want to visit and set up “low airfare” alerts at sites like Airfare Watchdog or Kayak to be notified when prices drop below your threshold. If you’re not limited to a certain destination, Kayak’s summer travel hacker can help you choose a lower-fare location.

When to buy: If a fare seems too good to be true, BUY IT. The price-prediction app Hopper, will advise you to purchase your flight now or wait because prices might drop further.

Avoid Airline Fees

Baggage fees: Avoid the long lines and $25 charge by packing light and flying only with carry-ons. Make sure your carry-on suitcase fits the dimensions permitted by your airline. Avoid stuffing the bag so full that it can’t fit into the bag-size tester. Summer travel often requires less clothing anyway, right?

To make sure you stay comfortable on the flight, a thin scarf – which looks fashionable and keeps the neck warm – can double as a light blanket. Wear your largest pair of shoes and bulkiest clothing on the flight so they won’t take up as much space in your suitcase.

If you travel to the same destination often, consider leaving some toiletries or clothing items at that person’s house.

Food and drink: Travel with an empty reusable water bottle that you fill when you get through security. Bring your own snacks and packable meals so that you don’t get tempted to charge an airline meal to your credit card. The food you pack will likely taste better, anyway. But be kind to your fellow passengers and try to avoid powerful odors like tuna or egg salad, or allergens like peanut butter.

Article courtesy of MintLife Blog by Kim Tracy Prince.