Things To Do on a Budget in Monmouth and Ocean Counties this September 2013

familySummer is slowly coming to an end as we enter September, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still have fun! Grab your family and friends and enjoy these affordable activities near you.

Sunday, September 1 – BOOM! BANG! That’s right, it’s time to celebrate Labor Day with colorful and bright fireworks. They will be starting at dusk on the beach in Asbury Park so don’t forget a beach chair or some blankets! For more information, call 732-775-2100.

Beginning on Tuesday, September 3, the off-season feeding schedule begins at Jenkinson’s Aquarium in Point Pleasant! While walking around and seeing some of your favorite sea animals, you can also enjoy watching some of the animals being fed. Seals: 10am, 1pm and 4pm Daily Penguins: 11am and 3:30pm Daily Atlantic Sharks: 1:30pm Monday, Wednesday and Saturday. For more information, call 732-899-1659.

Thursday, September 5 – Throw your cowboy hat and boots on and see Blake Shelton, Easton Corbin, and Jana Kramer play at the PNC Banks Art Center (Holmdel). Lawn seats are about $30 and the show starts at 7:30pm. Get in touch with your country-side and enjoy a fun night with friends and family! For more information, call 732-203-2500.

Friday, September 6  – Sunday, September 8 – Come and experience one of Asbury Park’s most popular, free festivals, Oysterfest! You can enjoy food, shopping, and live music and it’s located at The Carousel on the Water (Ocean Ave & Lake Ave). On 9/6 the festival will be open from 5 – 10pm, 9/7 noon – 10pm, and 9/8 from noon – 6pm. For more information, call 732-897-1111.

Saturday, September 7 – Sunday, September 15 – Can’t get enough of the beach? Well, that’s not a problem living in New Jersey! Come down to Belmar’s 16th Avenue beach and watch one of the largest surfing contests on the East Coast while relaxing with your toes in the sand. It starts at 8am and lasts until 8pm – for more information, call 732-681-6405.

Friday, September 13 – Sunday, October 27 – “Thrills by Day, Fright by Night” BOO!!! Join Six Flags Great Aventure’s annual Fright Fest in Jackson (Rte. 537). Have a spooktacular time with hair-raising shows and electrifying street entertainment, plus all rides in the dark. This is a great night out with friends or family! For more terrifying information, call 732-928-1821.

Saturday, September 21 – It’s the perfect time to gather up the family, a blanket, and a picnic basket and enjoy a nice picnic in the park! Located at the Huber Woods Environmental Center (Middletown Township) from 11am to 3pm. After your picnic,  enjoy a hayride (small fee), visit the Reptile House, and a free snake and turtle show (12pm, 1pm & 2pm). For more information call 732-872-2670.

Sunday, September 29 – From 11am-5pm enjoy the Harvest Home Festival at Historic Longstreet Farm (Holmdel). This festival will take their visitors back in time when neighbors gathered to accomplish work, harvest, and spend time socializing and enjoying each other’s company. Experience old-fashioned fun as it was a century ago with wagon rides, games, and live entertainment. See craft demonstrations that will inspire you to start a new hobby or career. Enter one of many competitions ranging from needlework, baked goods to homegrown vegetables. For more information, call 732-946-3758.

Happy Fall & back to school everyone!

Back to School Shopping Strategies to Spend Smart

back-to-schoolSo here is the deal: it is impossible to avoid back to school shopping. The plain truth is you need to get certain supplies to make sure your child is prepared for back to school season. This can become quite expensive, as children seem to need more and more every year. But savvy spenders know that there are several tips and tricks you can follow in order to save big. You don’t have to be a shopping guru or expert in order to save, you just need to know where the deals are, and the places you can save a few pennies. Below, you will find back to school shopping strategies to spend smart and save big.

You will find that these tips are simple to follow and don’t require a great deal of know how or time. Give these tips a try and see how easy it is to shop smart and save big. Take a peek!

1. Get your child involved.

Explain to your child what the difference between wants and needs are. They won’t be able to get every single item they want and you should be able to tell them that. Before shopping, make a list with your child based on the list the school provides. Make sure your child understands what they will be getting to prepare them for school and what can wait.

2. Eliminate gimmicks.

Teachers will tell you that things like sparkly erasers, light up pencils, and other fancy items can be a distraction. They are not only a distraction, but they are more expensive than plain items. Instead, forget about these back to school gimmicks and keep things simple. It costs less.

3. Keep your supply list in the car.

While you are running your errands, you will want to keep your list on you should you run into any deals. If you don’t have your list, you could miss out on a hot deal. Keep your list in your car or in your purse so if you come across a sale or a free with rebate deal, you have your list to see if you need it or not.

4. Buy basic supplies in bulk.

You can buy basic supplies such as paper, pencils, and notebooks in bulk. Warehouse stores are perfect for buying these items for less and having enough to sustain you for the rest of the year. Do the math and make sure the bulk price beats the a la carte price before you shop.

5. Negotiate a group discount.

Gather the other parents at school and see if you can rally together to save. A group of parents may be able to negotiate a group discount from a local office supply store. Contact stores in your area and see if they are open to the possibility of this. Then, contact parents and get the ball rolling.

6. Stock up and set up a home store.

Buy items on sale, free with rebate, or in bulk and then gather them in a storage bin. Keep the bin in a safe place where they can be shopped during the year as they are needed. That way, you are not having to run out and buy items during the year, possibly spending more.

7. Help your school and yourself.

Ask if your school participates in a program like OneCause. If so you can shop for supplies often receiving a discount and special coupons. Plus with your purchase, your local retailer will donate a percentage to the school of your choice. It is a win/win!

See how easy it is to save money on back to school? With these back to school shopping strategies you can learn how to spend smart and save big. These tips will help you make the most of your cash and stretch your shopping dollar. Give them a try and see how quickly the savings add up for you!

*Click here to view the article source.

5 Grocery Apps That Save Time and Money


There are dozens of companies that make grocery shopping apps and claim they are the latest-greatest-fastest-best thing ever. So, Shop Smart Magazine’s editors took matters into their own hands and took the time to test and try different programs and separated the good from the bad. Editor-in-chief Lisa Lee Freeman was so convinced that she says, “Download a few convenient apps that can help you save big on the things you need the most.” Here is a list of the top 5 favorites from the magazine’s recommendations:

1. ZipList

A startling number of people still don’t make a list before they shop, even though study after study shows it saves you money by helping avoid impulse buys. This Apple and Android app creates a master list of groceries you buy over and over again, so you only have to do it once. It even organizes the list according to the aisle-by-aisle layout of participating stores.

2. Weekly Ads & Sales

Planning your menus around what’s on sale in the supermarket circulars is another huge money saver, but some people can’t stand all that paper pushing. This Apple app puts those circulars in electronic form. Shop Smart liked that it covers big grocery chains like Safeway and Kroger but also specialty chains like Old Navy and Best Buy.

3. Grocery iQ

Ever get that sinking feeling at checkout when the clerk asks if you have any coupons and –doh!– you wonder if there are any good ones for the items you just loaded on the belt? This Android and Apple app finds coupons for the things on your list. Shop Smart found it works best for repeat purchases that you tend to buy every week.

4. SavingStar

Are you a guerilla grocery shopper who hunts down the very best deals at multiple markets? This app, which works on Apple, Android and Blackberry allows you to register all your loyalty cards. You’re then given exclusive offers, such as $5 off of $30 spent on Charmin, Gilette or Ivory products. Shop Smart liked what’s called the “One or Many” feature which lets you buy items over multiple trips to hit the quantities required for maximum savings.

5. Cellfire

Here’s an app that sort of dummy-proofs your grocery shopping, even if you have no list, no circulars, and no plan. Sign up via Apple, Android, or Blackberry – and it zings coupons directly to your loyalty cards. When you scan your card or put in your phone number at checkout, relevant coupons are waiting. There’s also a store alert feature which can remind you about available coupons as you walk into the store!

To see more recommended supermarket shopping and coupon apps, check out the September 2013 issue of ShopSmart magazine, available now.

Click here to view the article source.

Tuition-Free Colleges: They Do Exist!

College_Students_TUNo that’s not a typo or misstatement. Did you know that more than a dozen colleges offer a four-year, tuition-free education? During difficult economic times, the cost of higher education leaves many students wondering if they can afford to go to college. For those who want to avoid being saddled with huge loans, these schools may provide a great alternative.

Miscellaneous expenses

Although the colleges don’t charge tuition, most charge for room and board and other incidental expenses such as books, supplies and equipment, transportation, health insurance, personal expenses and so on. Many require students to work and several are located in rural areas.

These colleges include:

Armed Forces colleges
The various Armed Forces colleges, including the U.S. Military Academy (West Point, NY), U.S. Naval Academy (Annapolis, MD) and U.S. Merchant Marine Academy (Kings Point, NY), do not charge any tuition.

It’s all about options
Students and parents concerned about how they’re going to pay for college might want to consider one of these tuition-free schools. Although there are not that many of them, they may be an attractive option for those looking to walk away from college debt-free or with minimum debt. 

If you and your child decide against these tuition-free schools, First Financial provides low-rate Student Loan options.* Sometimes you just need a little help paying for college and Federal Loans may not be enough to cover the cost of a college education. You may need another Student Loan and we have one you can apply for!


  • Competitive interest rates – and get even better rates when you have GOOD GRADES
  • 1% interest rate reduction – when you pay off 10% of your loan
  • 30 day No-fee return policy – allows you to cancel the loan if you find a better option
  • Zero origination fees for all qualified student borrowers

Loans can be used for:

  • Tuition
  • Room & Board
  • Books & Computers
  • Past due tuition bills

Remember, knowledge is power!

*Click here to view the article source.

* Private student loans should be used as supplemental funding after exhausting all other sources of financial aid, including grants, scholarships, and federal student loans. Federal loans offer more attractive terms when compared to most other borrowing options, including private student loans. For more information on federal loans, visit


College Saving Secrets

college-savings-plansThese days, it’s probably a toss-up who’s more nervous about college: you or your child. Graduates leave school with an average of $26,600 in debt — but you don’t have to leverage your 401(k) if you want to contribute. All it takes is a little planning and help from your teen to cut costs and minimize loan payments.

Do Prep Work

Assess your retirement savings. Invest in yourself first: Start putting money into a 401(k) or Roth IRA before contributing to your child’s college bills. “You can’t take out a loan for your retirement,” says Carol Stack, coauthor of The Financial Aid Handbook. “And you don’t want to end up relying on your kids to support you.” Use an online calculator like the ones on our website to find out how much you should be setting aside each month. By keeping your savings goals on track, you may have more leeway to fund your child’s education.

Discuss your contribution. It’s not easy to talk about finances with your children, says Stack, but if your teen is counting on you to help pay for school, she has to know whether and how much you plan to give each year. First Financial provides College Savings Calculator, along with many other financial calculators, than can be found here (scroll towards the middle of the page)! You’ll also want to check our blog post about the new standards for teaching your kids about money.

Save without budgeting. If you’re maxed out on what you can set aside for college, consider signing up for a rebate plan. Sallie Mae’s Upromise program offers as much as 8% back on your purchases, which can then be applied toward tuition. Before your teen enrolls in school, the rebates can be transferred into a 529 plan; after your child graduates, the reimbursements can be put toward loan payments. (Grandparents and other relatives can also sign up.)

Have “the other talk.” Choosing a university requires thought and planning. Most teens don’t decide on their top colleges until junior or senior year of high school, says Scott Weingold, cofounder of College Planning Networking. Even then, many make choices based on where their friends are going. “Starting at the beginning of their sophomore year, talk to them about what their strengths and interests are and what they like to do,” he says. “College is obnoxiously expensive enough — now add on that it’s not uncommon for kids to take up to six years to graduate.” So get them thinking in advance about schools, majors and potential careers.

Win the Scholarship Game

Start early. Even if your teen is years away from college, they should apply for scholarships. “You’d be surprised how many there are for elementary school students,” says Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of Some examples are spelling, art and writing awards — not to mention a seriously lucrative $25,000 Jif prize for the most creative peanut butter sandwich. Find a list of possibilities at Some school assignments (like a science fair project or an essay) can even qualify.

Search online. College students earn an average of $2,800 in scholarships, according to one report, making it among the best ways they can save for school. “Every dollar they are awarded is a dollar less they have to borrow,” says Kantrowitz. The best sites include,, and Here’s how your child can maximize her efforts:

  • Rule #1: Fill out the entire profile. Scholarship “matching” sites find awards for teens by asking them to complete detailed questionnaires about themselves. Answering all the questions, including the optional ones, says Kantrowitz, will yield more results.
  • Rule #2: Apply for (almost) everything. If a student isn’t eligible for a scholarship — let’s say, they just barely missed the GPA requirement — then they can skip it. Otherwise, your teen should pursue all potential matches, says Kantrowitz. “Many applications are essays that require personal statements. The first half dozen or so will be labor intensive, but after that kids can start recycling answers,” he says. Teens should set up a Google Calendar with due dates for all scholarships and make sure they’re aware of how much time they’ll need to complete the paperwork.
  • Rule #3: Beware of scams. The biggest red flag is being asked for an application or processing fee. “Legitimate providers want to give you money, not take it from you,” says Kantrowitz. “Never invest more than a postage stamp.” Also be wary of sites that ask for personal information, like a bank account or Social Security number.

Encourage community service. Schools aren’t the only organizations that value teens who volunteer. “It looks good to many scholarship providers too,” says Lauren Segal, CEO of Scholarship America. “And it can be the tipping point for winning.” Keep in mind that colleges like to see a history of service — not just a few stints started in junior year.

Go door to door. If they’ve exhausted paper and online searches, students can visit local organizations like the Rotary club, church groups and nearby businesses to ask about scholarships. You and your spouse should also check with your human resources departments: “I’m amazed at how many companies offer grants to the children of employees,” Segal says.

This year, our non-profit organization — the First Financial Foundation – will be awarding (3) $1,000 scholarships to undergraduate students who apply on or before July 31, 2013 for its Erma Dorrer Literary Scholarship. Click here to learn how to apply today!

Keep your teen’s Facebook account appropriate. According to a new report, about one in four scholarship providers check their finalists’ online profiles. “Companies want to find students who reflect well on them,” says Kantrowitz. “They search for inappropriate behavior and offensive language, and even look at students’ natural writing style to see whether their parents probably wrote the essay for them.”

Strategize Your Search

Target a range of colleges. Include a few options that won’t leave your family or child with too much debt. “You don’t want your teen to fall in love with a school they can’t afford,” says Stack, who points out that the number of students defaulting on their loans within two years after graduation is now 9.1%. (One reason: It’s becoming harder for current graduates to find jobs.) But you don’t necessarily have to rule out all private schools, which may have more money to offer than state ones, says Weingold. “Some colleges have generous aid-giving policies, so you never know what you’ll get until you apply,” he says. To estimate how much tuition and living expenses will come to — and to get an idea of how much assistance your family may receive — visit each college’s website and look for the “net price calculator”; all U.S. schools are now required to post one.

Barter for a better financial aid package. You don’t have to accept a college’s first offer, says Weingold. Call the school’s financial aid office and explain why your family still can’t afford the expenses. If your teen has received a better package from another university, write an appeal letter, including the offer, to her first-choice school, which may match it.

Cap your borrowing. Ideally, your child’s student debt shouldn’t be higher than their yearly starting salary, says Stack. The average income for college graduates is about $42,000 and varies depending on career; visit to see a range of salaries. Another strategy: Keep debt below $31,000, which is the maximum you can borrow over a four-year-period through federal Stafford loans. Unlike private loans, government ones have fixed interest rates and more safety nets, plus they offer some income-based repayment plans and loan forgiveness.

Here at First Financial, we provide a cuScholar Private Student Loan for undergraduate students and cuGrad Private Student Loan Consolidation for college graduates. If you are interested in one of our loans, you can refer back to one of our previous blog posts for additional information about our student loans. If you have any questions, you can contact us at 866.750.0100 or feel free to stop into any one of our branches.

Be sure to attend our FREE Financial Aid Seminar and Pizza Night next Wednesday at 6:30pm at our Wall Office located at 1800 Route 34 North, Building 3, Suite 302. The seminar will be presented by Ken O’Connor, an 11 year veteran of higher-education finance, having served thousands of students and parents during his career as a financial aid counselor. Having assisted so many families, each having their own specific financial and educational needs, Ken has gained experience in creatively solving a multitude of the financial problems that arise with attending college. We hope to see you there!

*Click here to view the article source. 

Private student loans should be used as supplemental funding after exhausting all other sources of financial aid, including grants, scholarships, and federal student loans. Federal loans offer more attractive terms when compared to most other borrowing options, including private student loans. For more information on federal loans, visit FAFSA’s website.

The cuGrad Private Student Loan Consolidation is available to borrowers who are carrying private student loan debt. Federal student loans cannot be consolidated with the cuGrad Private Student Loan Consolidation. If you are seeking a federal student loan consolidation, you can learn more details about the process here:  

7 Tips for Saving Time & Money When Shopping Online

online-shopEver wonder what the real experts know that you don’t when it comes to online shopping?

Little tricks of the trade that make the buys better, the discounts deeper and the whole experience of online shopping even smoother?

It comes down to a few smart strategies, a little organization — and the willingness to walk away from sites that skimp on consumer must-haves, like convenience and security. These days, when it comes to retail goods, shoppers are making more than one out of every six purchases online, according to statistics from the National Retail Federation. And that number is growing. Want to make your surfing, clicking and buying quicker, cheaper and easier? Here are seven insider strategies:

1. Get the coupons, skip the spam.

What’s the difference between getting a big discount and missing out entirely?

With online shopping it can be a matter of timing. Most online shops “release coupons on the second of the month or on the 27th or 28th,” says Hillary Mendelsohn, author of “the purplebook” online shopping series and founder of

“So that’s good to know, timing-wise,” she says. While coupon codes are great, stores don’t always release them to coupon code aggregating sites, Mendelsohn says.

Her strategy: She registered for a free email account and uses that address to sign up for coupons at the stores she regularly shops. When she’s ready to buy, Mendelsohn logs into the email account and does a quick search for that store. What she has instantly: All its coupons.

“This is a great way of not having your [regular] email box filled with spam and being able to access the deals you want all the time,” Mendelsohn says.

2. Consider automating regular buys.

Have something bulky or heavy that you buy regularly?

Instead of lugging it home yourself, consider setting up an automated order, says Mendelsohn, who uses Amazon’s “subscribe” feature to get her kids’ favorite tea by the case every other month.

“I don’t have to place the order, and I get a discount,” she says. “And it’s free shipping. It makes a huge difference, and I don’t have the schlep it.” What it’s good for: “Big things you need constantly” from diapers to dog food, she says. “You save money, you save time and you save schlep energy.”

Free shipping can also sub in for “free delivery” for large one-time purchases, such as patio furniture and ping-pong tables, she says. With all the options for shopping and delivery, it pays to think strategically and “be smart about what you order online and what you go to the store for,” Mendelsohn says.

3. Coupons + discount gift cards = more savings.

What’s better than a coupon for something you need? Being able to combine that coupon with a discounted gift card to amp up your savings.

And while you often can’t use two different coupons on one item, you can use a coupon with a gift card purchased for less than face value, says Michelle Madhok, founder of, an online shopping site.

Madhok’s tip: Use a gift card search site (her favorite: to find a reputable seller for whatever card you need. And stick with well-known, legit companies, rather than individuals, she advises.

You can often buy them for 6% to 15% off face value and many are ecards, so you don’t have to wait for delivery, Madhok says. Then “stack the deal” with a coupon or promo code, Madhok says. Recently, “I used a digital gift card and coupon code on a $300 purchase and ended up saving about $50,” she says. Want to ratchet that up even more? Use a credit card that gives you rewards or cash back, says Madhok. Some cards will even boost those rewards if you buy from certain merchants or use the card’s app or online site as a jumping off point for your shopping.

First Financial’s VISA Platinum Card* comes fully loaded and for each purchase you make with your Platinum Card you’ll earn CURewards redeemable for travel, merchandise items, and merchant gift cards! Apply for our Platinum Card today!

4. Use alerts to save, not spend.

Be careful about subscribing to those “daily deals,” says Kit Yarrow, consumer psychologist and author of “Generation BuY: How Tweens, Teens, and Twenty-Somethings Are Revolutionizing Retail.”

Here’s why: They present a sudden deadline, plus an element of competition, she says. “People make hasty decisions when they feel like they’re competing with other shoppers.”

“I’ve found that shoppers tend to end up buying more, and they also buy less-satisfying things through this process,” Yarrow says.

When alerts can save: After you buy. Set up a price alert for the item and if the price drops, email customer service about a refund of the discounted amount, says Madhok, who used this recently to save $70 total on two separate buys. “Usually, they’ll honor it within two weeks” of purchase she says.

5. Make the most of that shopping cart.

If you want to save a few bucks, that shopping cart is valuable real estate.

“Pre-load your shopping cart with items you’re hoping to buy, in order to snap them up quickly if they go on sale,” says Yarrow.

“Most sites don’t empty your shopping cart if you’re a registered user,” she says. “So when they go on sale, you’re ready to go.”

It gives you time to rethink your buying decision, too, she says. “This process also helps shoppers make better decisions because it forces a ‘cooling off period.’” Want an extra incentive not to spend? Consider the cost and hassle of returning before you click “buy,” says Yarrow. And find out who pays return shipping.

6. Find out upfront: Available or back-order?

Shopping under a deadline? Check back-order before you pay, says Leslie Linevsky, co-founder of

Ideally, sites should notify you that something is out of stock when you place it in your shopping cart, she says. But not all of them do. Some notify you after you’ve given your card information, but before they bill you, Linevsky says. Others may not tell you at all. So keep back-order in mind as you shop and look for indicators that your merchandise is actually available. If the site doesn’t disclose if an item is in stock, call before you place the order, says Linevsky. Or go to a site that makes it plain, she says.

7. Practice safe shopping.

If you really want to save time and money, it pays to be as safety conscious online as you would be at your neighborhood mall.

Some smart habits:

  • When you’re supplying personal data (such as your name, address or card number), make sure you’re on a secure, encrypted page, says Frank DeBlasi, co-founder of, a cash-back shopping site.
  • If the URL has an “s” (for “secure”) after the “http,” that means “any information you send is being transmitted securely,” he says. “You never want to shop anywhere that doesn’t have that.”
  • Likewise, you don’t want to use public or office computers for shopping. Information can linger, even if you think you’ve erased it. (Not to mention that some employers actually monitor your keystrokes.)
  • Skip the public WiFi, too, says DeBlasi. “You never know the true level of security of the network you are connected to,” he says. “On your home network, you have control of the level of security.”
  • And watch how you pay. “Always use a credit card when you purchase online, not a debit card,” DeBlasi says. With a debit card, if something goes wrong, you’re fighting to get back cash that’s already missing from your account, he says. “When you use a credit card, you have a middle man in the transaction. And the money isn’t removed from your account.”

Credit Union members can receive exclusive discounts when shopping online with Invest in America. There are more than 1,500 online retailers in the Shop America program offering valuable savings and cash back for every purchase.

And First Financial VISA Platinum Credit Cardholders can check out CUDeals (a new menu option within the CURewards® Mall). It’s an exciting Mall enhancement that delivers limited-time offers from retailers to member credit cardholders. From dining and fashion to flowers and other everyday purchases, you may receive savings of up to 80% with these CUDeals, just like Groupon and Living Social sites!

Sign up today and start SHOPPING SMART! For more information about Invest in America or CURewards, call us at 866.750.0100, email us at, stop into any branch, or visit our website at

*Click here view the article source.

*Subject to credit approval. Membership in First Financial FCU is required and is open to anyone who lives, works, worships or attends schools in Monmouth and Ocean Counties.  $5 membership deposit in a base savings account is required.