How to Take a Debt Free Vacation

We’re knee deep in summer and that means one thing: vacation time. While you definitely deserve some time off, we’d recommend not taking it at the expense of your budget. Unfortunately, a new study from Experian Consumer Services found that many Americans are doing just that.

Experian’s report found that 46% of people used a credit card to pay for their vacations because they hadn’t saved enough. Another 49% of travelers racked up credit card debt while on vacation and almost 70% admitted going over their budget. The most common items that added to vacationers’ credit card debt: hotels, airfare, entertainment, and dining out.

There are ways to keep your spending down and avoid going into credit card debt while on vacation. First, start small with your savings plan. Setting aside a low amount far in advance of the occasion will make things easier on you. If you try to cram your savings into the two months before the vacation, you could risk missing your mark. Also, if you’re driving, pack food for the road to avoid spending on costly meals.

When setting a budget for your vacation, keep in mind that there are always unexpected costs, so aim a little higher than you think you should. Just being mindful of debt can help. “You don’t want to come back with two weeks’ worth of memories and two years’ worth of debt,” Becky Frost, education manager for Experian Consumer Services, told USA Today.

Don’t rack up high interest – First Financial’s Visa Platinum Credit Card has no balance transfer fees, a Cash Advance Fee of 1% of advance ($5 minimum and $25 maximum), and a Foreign Transaction Fee of 1% plus foreign exchange rate of transaction amount.*

Here at First Financial, 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!**

Apply for a First Financial Visa Platinum Card today!

*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 courtesy of Chris O’Shea of Savvy Money.

How Much Should You Have in Your Emergency Reserve?

emergency-savings29% of Americans admit they keep no emergency savings and only 22% are prepared with at least six months in reserve, according to a survey by Bankrate. However, a few simple steps could help you avoid severe financial risk.

According to CBS News business analyst Jill Schlesinger, a reserve should total six to 12 months of one’s living expenses for those with jobs.

For retirees, Schlesinger said the equivalent of 12 to 24 months of living expenses in reserve is ideal to avoid dipping into savings.

A reserve should be liquid cash because “it has to be safe,” Schlesinger says.

While some Americans struggle living paycheck to paycheck, Schlesinger recommends starting early and small.

“There was a great survey out recently about retirement savings. And it’s had the same result, which is a lot of people are unprepared. It also asked: ‘Do you think, even though you have no money saved today, that you could save $25 a week?’ And a majority of people said ‘Yes, I could,’ ” Schlesinger said.

The least painful way to do this is by automating your savings.

Acorns for one, rounds up the price of purchases, takes the spare change, and invests it in exchange traded funds (ETF). Another app called Level Money allows you to set how much you want to save each month and shows how much “spendable” money you have left.

Spending habits also change with age.

“When you’re young, you’ve got student debt and you’ve graduated, you really have to address paying down that debt, saving for your emergency reserves, and then starting to invest long term,” Schlesinger said. “As you get older and you’ve gone through all these responsibilities – raised your kids, put money away for their college – then you really start to accelerate.”

Establishing your habits early will make it easier to save as you grow older.

With First Financial’s Online Banking, you have the ease of managing your finances right from home (even in your pajamas and slippers if you’d like)! You have the ability to check your accounts, sign up for eStatements, enroll in Bill Pay, transfer funds, set up email and account alerts, schedule future transfers (a great tool to use to help you save), order checks, and more. We even provide you with useful videos and documents to help you get set-up with Online Banking.
Even when you’re on-the-go, you can take First Financial along with our mobile app. As a convenient tool, you’ll have 24/7 instant access to your accounts, plus Bill Pay, make transfers easily, check balances, branch & ATM locations, account alerts, and 1 Click remote deposit capture.* Click here to learn how to download the app to your iPhone or Android smartphone.*You must have an account at First Financial Federal Credit Union (serving Monmouth and Ocean Counties in NJ), and be enrolled in online banking, to use Online Banking or First Financial’s Mobile App. Members must meet certain criteria to be eligible for Remote Deposit Capture. Standard data rates and charges may apply.

Article Source: Courtesy of CBS News

10 Simple Money Saving Tips

bigstock-Saving-money-jarSome of the more frequently talked about personal finance tips can come across as unreasonable, too difficult, too time consuming, or irrelevant. Yet, the search continues across all income brackets for how to comfortably spend less and save more.

Below are 10 simple money saving tips that you may not have thought about – each with some serious financial benefits. Saving money does not have to be a chore, it’s an accumulation of habits and adjusted perspectives, none of which are detrimental to your daily routine.

The goal of these 10 tips is to not overhaul your life, but to make manageable, tiny tweaks that carry a big bang at the end of the year.

1. Use Cash. After setting a budget, take out cash for your entertainment spending pocket. It’ll ensure that you do not spend above the designated amount. Since a coffee here and burger there, really adds up and quickly – making sure that those erroneous expenses are always paid in cash will help you stay on top of that expense area (an area frequently a victim of the swipe and forget plague).

2. Adjust That Thermostat. Turn your heat down ten degrees and the a/c up two degrees. Utility companies have reported that even just a consistent two degree shift can save you money without leaving you miserable. The same principle can apply for pre-setting programmable thermostats to change throughout the day, adjusting for when you are away from home or asleep; with a more drastic change while you are away (10 to 15 degrees for eight hours). Your savings could be as great as 15 percent a year, says

3. Help Santa Save. Consider early prep for holiday shopping. Either look throughout the year and really benefit from sales, or consider the benefits of buying a gift card monthly and setting it aside for yourself. Come December, with just $25 gift cards each month, you will have set aside $275 specifically for holiday spending.

4. Drink More Water. By replacing just one soda, coffee or beer each day, you not only invest in your health, but you could save some serious change. If you eliminate one $5 coffee just three days a week, that’s an additional $780 dollars at the end of a year’s time. Or, if you have that fancy coffee addiction, consider getting a coffee machine and buy your favorite grounds in bulk. Bulk buying can save money as well.

5. Eat In. Avoid the frequent trap of not wanting to cook and resorting to dragging the whole family out to eat despite your pantries being full. If inspiration is the missing link, try setting a weekly menu for the household, alternate cooking responsibilities or even involve the whole family in meal prep every night. And, instead of letting the “I have to cook or we will end up eating out” mentality get you in trouble, keep a few home cooked meals prepped and frozen for those moments of dinner despair.

6. Shop Smarter For Groceries. Clipping coupons isn’t for everyone. It can be time consuming and require more organization to truly be effective than some people’s attention spans and patience can handle. Shop smarter, even if you don’t use on coupons. Look for sale items and weekly promotional deals. Shop what’s in season for your fresh produce. Try store brands; many canned products and dried products have the same ingredients as name brand products.

7. Find A Penny, Pick It Up. Save loose change. If you were to save an average of fifty cents a day, you would have almost $200 set aside at the end of the year. Keep an old water jug set up so that you can watch it fill up throughout the year.

8. Stop Before You Swipe. Sometimes it’s all about perspective. When looking at a frivolous purchase, consider the cost against your income. If you earn $15 an hour and are holding up a $300 suit, ask yourself if you are willing to work 20 hours with only the suit to show for your labor at the end. The same can be done for smaller purchases as well. Is that 32 ounce, blended chai tea latte with soy worth the first thirty minutes of your workday? This method is not a way to talk yourself out of making purchases, but simply to put the expense in a framework.

9. Keep The Car In Check. Stay on top of regular, necessary car maintenance. Doing so can save a pretty penny in gas costs alone, not to mention the costs you can avoid from a side of the road breakdown or preventable tire blow out.

10. Use Your Phone. Sometimes it’s as simple as knowing what is going in with your finances. Awareness brings control; so go ahead and download a personal finance app. There are plenty available that have been professionally reviewed and approved. Additionally, many of the highest rated are free. Remember though, the key is to not only have the app, but to use it. The icon or widget is only as useful as you make it.

Article source courtesy of Joe Young of NASDAQ.

How to Choose What Financial Goals are Worth Setting

save-saving-housing-house-money-cash-e1394569718602Everyone needs financial goals in order to be efficient and successful, but determining which goals to prioritize can be difficult. If you don’t set enough goals, you may not save enough money. However, if you set too many goals it can be difficult to achieve all of them, and repeated failure can get you off track.

It’s best to prioritize how important different goals are in terms of the immediate future, as well as your long-term hopes and dreams. Once you know what is the most important to you, you can figure out which goals you should focus on. Survival should be your first priority; you need to pay for your basic needs first. After that, you can focus on longer-term goals. Consider these five questions as you set your next financial goals.

1. Do I need it to survive?

Obviously, you need food and shelter to survive. Your necessities have to come first. This means that you will need to have enough money to pay your rent and utilities, purchase groceries, and receive medical care when you need it. There are other things that may be necessary depending on your personal circumstances. You will probably require a job, and you might need a car to get there. You also will need clothing, so your first goal should be to afford basic necessities. If you can’t do that yet, then your other financial goals need to wait.

2. Is the goal too big or too small?

Setting goals that you can’t possibly achieve will only bring failure, and can potentially make you depressed or frustrated. If you can barely afford rent for your current one-bedroom apartment, you probably shouldn’t make a goal to purchase a four-bedroom home this year. But you can make long-term goals that include purchases you couldn’t possibly make now. Your income should increase as you become more experienced in your job field, and you can certainly make long-term goals that factor in your anticipated income.

You also shouldn’t spend too much time on goals that are really small. While setting some small goals may build your confidence (such as saving for a new dress or suit), setting too many small goals will pull your priority away from bigger goals.

3. How can I achieve my goal?

You can increase your chances of achieving your goal by taking extra steps to make it happen (outside of just making the goal itself). If you want to purchase a house, but you need to save for a down payment, start small. It’s good to start off by setting up a savings plan, finding out if you qualify for assistance, and cutting back on expenses. You don’t have to purchase a home (or a new car, or whatever else your big goal entails) right now. Make a plan for just how you can obtain your goal.

This is also true of other financial goals, such as moving up at work and making more money. If you want to move up, focus on the ways that you can improve your work performance and set yourself up for a promotion. Consider educational classes if necessary. You also might consider relocating if it will help you advance in your career. Taking proactive steps to achieve your dream will help you get there, and also may make you feel more accomplished and on-task.

4. Am I thinking about the future?

Vacations and fancy clothes can be wonderful, but you need to think about your future, too. Besides basic necessities, you should also prioritize your retirement savings. According to the United States Department of Labor, knowing your retirement needs, contributing to your employer’s retirement savings plan, learning about investment principles, considering using an IRA, and knowing about your social security benefits, can all help you plan for retirement.

Complete the necessary research in order to determine how much you might need to retire, and also to determine where you might want to live, which will affect how much money you need. You also need to consider your future health, and how it might impact your finances.

To get more information on planning for your retirement and schedule your complimentary appointment, contact First Financial’s Investment & Retirement Center at 732.312.1564 or email

5. How much time do I need?

This question factors into many of the other questions on this list. One of the best ways to achieve your goals is to set realistic ones, and to figure out when and how you will achieve them. Determine how many years you think it will take you to save enough for the type of home you want, or how much you need to save each year (and for how many years) to be comfortable in retirement. If you want to save for a vacation, consider how you will have to alter your current spending, and for how many months you will have to do so.

Short-term goals often take less planning, but it will still help you to determine how much time you need to achieve those goals. It’s easy to tell yourself that you can save enough for a trip in a few months, but actually sitting down and determining how much you need to save each month, and for how long, will help prevent overspending.

Here at First Financial, our first priority is helping you achieve your financial dreams by defining your dream goals and lifestyle, empowering you through financial education, building your wealth, planning your retirement, and managing your risk. Establishing financial goals is an important part of saving enough money, and being ready for the future and we are here for you! Stop into any one of our branches and sit with a representative to have an annual financial check-up for a review of your finances and portfolio. 

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.

Article source courtesy of Sienna Beard of

The Best New Savings Apps for Your Phone

girlphoneSeveral years ago, entrepreneur Yaron Samid noticed a fraudulent charge on his credit card. When he investigated, he found that it had actually been a recurring charge, added to his monthly bill, that he had been paying without even realizing it. He also discovered that other people posted online about the same charge, and he wasn’t the first person to be surprised by it.

His tech background inspired him to start thinking about how people could share information about such fraudulent charges to help protect each other. That concept led him to create BillGuard, an app that has been used by more than 1 million people worldwide since it launched in July 2013. “The app is helping people make sure they’re only paying for what they should be,” says BillGuard spokeswoman Marina Boykis​.

BillGuard is one of several apps to hit the market recently with the goal of ​protecting your finances and saving you money. Other popular ones reduce your parking expenses, help you track spending and help you find discounts and coupons. Here’s an overview of some of the most popular apps, which are all available for both iOS and Android, and how they work:

1. BillGuard. The BillGuard app, using bank-level security, pulls all your transactions from various accounts, and flags ones that might be erroneous, including duplicate charges that have been flagged by other users. You can flag a charge and dispute it with a company directly through the app. When a retailer faces a data breach, BillGuard alerts you if you shopped at the store during the period of the incident.

The app saves people money, Boykis says, because most people quickly skim their account statements – if they review them at all – which makes it easy to miss errors. Last year, BillGuard flagged more than $70 million in suspicious charges. “This puts you in control of your money and helps you fight back, especially given all the data breaches,” Boykis says.

2. Key Ring. This app lets you store your rewards card numbers on your phone so you don’t end up missing out on discounts because you forgot your rewards card. “It lets you throw away all of the discount cards taking up space on your physical key ring,” says Lisa Koivu,​ contributor to the U.S. News Frugal Shopper blog and founder of “Now, since I always have my phone, I always have my discount cards.”

Koivu says she uses the app most at CVS, which also lets you load coupons onto your discount card online. On a recent trip, she saved 20 percent off her entire purchase with the coupons and card discounts.

3. Retailers’ apps. If you have a store you frequent often, then check to see if it has an app, because it could save you money on products you’re buying anyway. Koivu recommends the Target Cartwheel app and Shop Your Way app for Sears and Kmart, which offer exclusive discounts to shoppers.

4. Gift card apps. These apps, including GoWallet and Gyft, help keep you from ever forgetting or losing a gift card again. You can upload your cards onto the app and use it to track and redeem them. Like the Key Ring app, it lets you save even when traveling lightly, without all your cards.

5. Retail Me Not. This app means you never have to clip coupons out of Sunday circulars again. Instead, this app collects coupon codes for you, and lets you save your favorite stores for easier tracking. The best part is you don’t have to save a paper coupon at all. At checkout, just show the code on your phone to snag the deal.

6. Ebates. This app gives shoppers cash back for purchases and recently started offering users even better deals​ one Monday every month, dubbed Mobile Monday. The app lets shoppers earn cash back at more than 1,800 retailers, compare prices and track deals. Shoppers can get as much as 20% cash back on their Mobile Monday purchases.​

7. Park Whiz. If parking is eating up a big chunk of your monthly budget, then the Park Whiz app could be what you need to cut costs. It makes it easy to search – and reserve – nearby ​off-street parking. Available in 150 cities nationwide, it also offers discounts on garage parking (as well as open-air lots) and even find spots from private homeowners who have open spots available. “We work with parking providers to offer our drivers exclusive discounts only available through the service, sometimes up to 60 percent,” says Park Whiz spokesman Mason Pain​, who uses the app to lock in a low monthly parking rate for his own commute.

Depending on your shopping and driving habits, one of these apps could probably help you save – and help meet your financial goals for the year.

Download First Financial’s mobile banking app today! Our app provides convenient, easy, and secure banking and bill payment solutions right from your iPhone or Android device. You can even pay other people with the PopMoney feature in Bill Pay. Get 24/7 instant access to your First Financial account – including bill payment, make transfers, check your balances, find branch and ATM locations, and receive account alerts.*

*You must have an account at First Financial Federal Credit Union (serving Monmouth and Ocean Counties in NJ) and be enrolled in Online Banking, to use this application.

Article source written by Kimberly Palmer of US News.