5 Budget Killers You Can Avoid

budgeting-money-to-conquer-debtCreating a budget is the first step in taking control of your finances. Sticking to your budget is another challenge altogether.

Even when you believe you have factored in every cost you may encounter by week, by month or by year, somehow you end up needing more money than you allocated – right? If this sounds like you, you are likely encountering a budget killer (or several). Below are some of the most common costs that can cause you to veer off your budgeting course.

1. Account Maintenance Fees: Some big bank accounts and credit cards tack on fees if you don’t maintain your account or meet specific requirements. Some charge you extra if you don’t maintain a certain balance, if you write too many checks, or if you don’t make enough transactions. These can add up quickly. Make sure when choosing an account or credit card, you read the specifics of your account agreement carefully. Look into which checking accounts and credit cards offer services that fit your lifestyle.

Be sure to check out the variety of flexible Checking Account options that we offer here at First Financial including First Protection, High Yield, Free, Go Green Checking and more. Plus, if you’re on the hunt for a great new maintenance-free credit card with rewards, click here to learn more about our low-rate Visa Platinum Credit Card and apply online.

2. Subscriptions: While seemingly low monthly fees can be attractive, subscription magazines and online services (think Netflix, Hulu, etc.) add up. These costs are hurting your budget if you are not using the services or if you could find them elsewhere online for free. Eventually, these just become another add-on to your monthly payments so it’s a good idea every so often to re-evaluate whether yours are worth keeping.

3. Credit Card Interest: Credit cards have several attractive features: allowing you to buy now and pay later, providing cash back, and helping you earn points toward a new car, vacation or night out. Paying installments on your purchases over time may appear to be a great way to buy all your monthly and superfluous purchases. However, high interest rates add up over time if you carry a balance and you can find yourself deep in debt before you know it. You may think you are paying off your purchase when all you are doing is treading water by paying off the interest. To avoid this, it’s important to know the interest rates of your credit cards, pay off your balance in full every month, and save before you purchase. Carrying a lot of debt can have longer-term implications on your credit scores too. If you want to see how your debt is affecting your credit, check out our free and anonymous debt management tool, Debt in Focus and be sure to take advantage of our First Score service to learn ways to improve your score as well.

Did you know that our Visa Platinum Credit Card rate starts as low as 10.9% and offers rewards?* It’s a good idea to check the APR of some of your current credit cards to see if it’s time to switch! Keep in mind, we also don’t have any balance transfer fees – and as an additional BONUS, for a limited time if you are approved for a balance transfer of $5,000 or more to our VISA Platinum Credit Card, you will receive 10,000 bonus CURewards Points! You can apply for the balance transfer by stopping into any branch or calling 866.750.0100 to be sent a balance transfer request form.**

4. Excess Phone, Cable & Utility Bills: Many households are paying hundreds of dollars for TV, Internet, cell phone, and utility expenses each month. No matter how comfortable these tools make us, they are taking up valuable space in our budgets. Look through your bills carefully and try to scale back from services you aren’t using or do not need to use, from running the air-conditioning while you are at work to paying for a DVR on a second TV you never even watch. Also, be sure you are not paying for a level of service you don’t need. If these alterations don’t bring a big enough impact on your budget, consider alternatives like prepaid phone services and switching cable providers.

5. Convenience Fees: Certain businesses tack on “convenience fees” when you utilize their goods or services as a way to make up any added expenses that can incur during your transaction. Be wary of these types of fees before you make various transactions, to see if there is a less expensive way for you to do so.

Having an emergency fund can be a big help when you come in over budget. This money can save you from stress when you have fallen victim to these and other budget killers. It’s a good idea though to deal with the root issue instead of repeatedly ruining your budget and having to dip into your emergency fund. If you do have to use that money, it’s important to replace it and frequently evaluate your budget to match your changing lifestyle.

Article source courtesy of Fox Business.

*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.

**Additional bonus points will be reflected within 30 days from the balance transfer approval and can be viewed when signed into your VISA Platinum Card Account online through Online Banking. In order to redeem bonus points, an offer reference must be made to a First Financial representative. Bonus points can only be redeemed one time per member, on an approved balance transfer of $5,000 or greater during the promotional period of 4/28/14 – 12/31/14.

Saving May be Tough but Here’s How to Get a Handle on It

saveGetting on top of your finances can be a tough task. On paper the idea sounds simple, but in real life, it’s easier said than done.

By the time you pay down your consumer debt, put a dent in student loans, pay off your mortgage, and put extra money away for your children’s college fund and not to mention your own retirement, the list of demands for your savings is long! Online tools and advice from financial advisors suggest we can make it work but we need to rethink our approach and strategy. Here are some ideas to help you manage your savings goals:

Get real. If retirement sounds far away and “a rainy day fund” sounds kind of depressing, it’s time to rename these goals. For short-term savings objectives, identify what you want to buy and decide whether it’s important for you to finally take that dream vacation you’ve always wanted, or send your kids to college. The same extends to retirement. What does retirement look like to you: a vacation house, writing a book, or doing volunteer work? Visualize it then put a picture on your fridge so you can actually see it. It’s recommended that you should identify how much money you want to have put away at various ages in your life. Sixty-five may be hard to visualize, but goals targeted to ages 30, 40, and 50 will shorten your timeframes, making them more measurable and do-able.

Get started. The decision to save is based on a cumulative series of well thought out choices. You tell yourself you’ll save tomorrow and tomorrow never comes. If you don’t save one month it’s not terrible, but a series of those choices over your lifetime has consequences. Starting early really pays off and online tools and calculators will make the concept more real and easy for you.

Make savings planning a family affair. Providing an inheritance to your children is also about passing down values. The money tips we teach our children can be beneficial or crippling, even when we say we want our children to be financially educated to manage their finances in the future. Don’t be afraid of having money conversations as a family and talk to your kids about savings goals, spending and savings trade-offs, and even higher-level concepts such as inflation and investing, keeps everyone budget conscious.

Put your savings on autopilot. Did you know that you’re losing out on a lot of money when you don’t contribute the maximum allowable amount to your retirement plan? By committing to increase your 401(k) contribution by a percentage equal to your yearly raise will help you grow your pre-tax dollars before the money even gets distributed. Putting a stop to your daily temptations is also important – avoid going to the mall, only carry a small amount of cash in your wallet or simply leave your credit cards at home to cut back on your spending habits.

Hold your feet to the fire. When you’re spending money, ask yourself if this is a need or a want? Making this a habit enables you to keep track of your purchases and helps analyze your spending. It’s a good idea to make your own consequences when you fail to abide by your commitments – so bet on yourself. For example, if eating out has put a huge dent in your wallet, say out loud that you’ll limit yourself to two dinners out a week for the next month and then stick to your plan!

Go social. Sharing money-saving ideas or picking up tips from free sites like Mint.com and Moneyning can help make the topic of finance more enjoyable. Maybe you may want to consider starting a friendly money-saving competition — it holds you responsible, will help you stick to your saving goals and helps take your mind off your struggles.

Here at First Financial, we encourage our members to come in at least once a year for an annual financial check-up – to sit down with a representative at any one of our branches to make sure you are currently placed in the correct Rewards First tier for you, and also that you are receiving the best value, products and services based on your financial situation. Give us a call at 866.750.0100 or stop in to see us today!

Click here to view the original article source by Barbara Minnino of Fox Business.

Learn How to Plan for Life Milestones at this Free Seminar in April 2014

will-lawyers-Montgomery-County-PA-life-milestones-for-estate-planningHave you wondered how you’re going to budget for life’s biggest events such as getting married, buying your first home, having a baby, and retiring? Attending this FREE First Financial seminar, you’ll learn how to properly plan and budget for these life milestones and receive information on different options that will work best for you.

At this seminar, attendees will learn:

  • How to plan for life’s milestones (i.e. marriage, house, children, retirement)
  • Life insurance policy options and why they’re important
  • What a living will is and why you need one

Join us on Wednesday, April 30th at 6:00pm for our “Planning for Life Milestones” Seminar, presented by the experts at First Financial, Peter A. Loffredo, Esq., and Daniel Ressegiue of Liberty Mutual Insurance. The event will be held at our Wall Office at 1800 Route 34 North, Building 3, Suite 302 in Wall. Space is limited, so make sure you sign up today!

Register Now!

Peter A. Loffredo, Esq. is an attorney who has been in practice for 22 years. He has a general practice office in Toms River, with a concentration in assisting individuals and businesses in real estate transactions. Other areas of practice include municipal court, landlord-tenant matters, litigation and the preparation of Estate Planning Documents, such as Wills, Powers of Attorney and Living Wills.

Daniel Ressegiue graduated from The Pennsylvania State University majoring in Psychology and business and is currently finishing an MBA at Monmouth University. During his tenure at Liberty Mutual, he has been awarded many awards including National Rookie of the year special recognition, 5 Time “Pacesetter,” Pursuit of Excellence and is a Liberty Lamplighters Club inductee. During his spare time, he enjoys staying active playing soccer, racquetball and partaking in long distance running competitions. He is also a member of Jersey Shore Runners Club, Penn State Alumni Association, as well as SCORE, a nonprofit entity dedicated to the mentoring of small business owners.

5 Big Budgeting Mistakes Most People Make

Top-10-Big-Budgeting-Mistakes-in-Travel-2Some people take budgeting very seriously. They budget their money down to the very last cent. Others ignore the subject completely and don’t even bother to look at the big picture every now and then.

Regardless of the situation you’re in, there are five budgeting boo-boos that most people make — and they are big. Let’s review these pitfalls so you don’t fall into any of them.

1. Not Tracking Your Actual Expenses

Budgeting is great, but without tracking it against your actual expenses it’s a useless endeavor. The ultimate purpose of budgeting is to determine if your spending behavior is getting you closer to — or further away from — your life goals. A budget is a dream. Actuals are reality. The dream is nice, but it won’t change your life.  Your actual spending, if you track it and make critical decisions around it, can propel you forward in ways you could never imagine. It’s important to track your actual spending every month.

2. Neglecting Emergency Planning

There are two kinds of emergencies. The first kind are involuntary, as in, “Oh my gosh, my car needs a new transmission!”  The second kind are voluntary, as in, “Oh my gosh, I just have to go to Vegas this weekend!”

These are both examples of unplanned expenses that throw most people off track. But they don’t have to. Here’s why. If you look back over your records for prior years, you’ll probably notice that these kinds of emergencies (voluntary and involuntary) pop up about once or twice a year.  If it’s not one thing, it will be another. You don’t know what it will be or what the price tag will be exactly, but people get smacked with “unexpected” expenses in a fairly predictable manner if they view it on an annual basis.  That’s another reason why it really pays to keep good records.

Look at your past “emergencies” to get a sense of how much goes out more or less each year and divide that number by 12 and set that amount aside every month to cover these costs.

3. Forgetting to Allow for Non-Recurring Expenses

Of the people who do track what they spend each month, few put aside the bills that come in infrequently like property taxes and insurance. That’s why, when people are asked what they think they spend on average each month, they usually undershoot it by 30% or more. And that kind of miscalculation poses a huge danger.

If you retire thinking you spend “X” but actually spend 130% of “X” you’ll be back to work before you can say, “Flippy Burger.” Track everything that goes out. It doesn’t matter how you do it. It just matters that you know what it costs you to live on average each month including everything – even non-recurring expenses.

4. Not Expecting the Really Bad Stuff

Do you budget for the really terrible “what if” scenarios? Part of that includes a family continuation plan and that usually includes a discussion about life insurance. According to JD Power and Associates, 40% of the adult population in the United States has no life insurance at all. And according to that same study, 25% of all widows and widowers (35 to 50 years old) feel their deceased spouses didn’t have enough life insurance.

Make sure you know how much coverage you need, carve out a spot in your budget and then put the policy in place. Term life is very affordable. And don’t let health issues stand in your way.  Each insurance company views your health history differently.  Even if your doctor’s chart is really ugly, don’t despair.  You may be eligible for a guaranteed issue policy.  You have nothing to lose and your family to protect, so put the latte down and take care of this.

5. Not Budgeting Your Top Resource: Time

Regardless of how much money you have or don’t have – time is your most precious resource.  Are you budgeting and tracking it?  Don’t feel bad, most people don’t. Something you can try is to make a daily list of three things you need to get done. Only jot down three things because you want to set yourself up for success rather than failure. Keep that list by your side all day long and don’t unplug your computer until you cross each item off the list. Sticking to your list and plowing through it before doing anything else will yield powerful results. You’ll be more effective and feel less stress — it’s a win-win.

Take a look at the way you spend your time and money. Are you satisfied? If not, which of these budgeting tips offer the greatest potential for you? When are you going to start? Why or why not?

Click here to check out our free financial calculators that are conveniently located on our website. We also offer a number of free tools and low-cost services that can be helpful organizing your finances and getting yourself back on track, these include:

If you’d like to sit down and review your current finances with a First Financial expert, contact us to make your complimentary annual financial check-up today by calling 866.750.0100, email info@firstffcu.com, or stop into any branch and ask to speak with a representative.

*Click here to view the article source written by Neal Frankle.

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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

groceries

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.