Beat the Back to School Spending Blues

Back to school can be time consuming and expensive. There’s filling out endless online and paper forms, buying school supplies, and shopping for clothes while guessing how much the kids will grow by spring.

National Retail Federation data found that electronics and clothing make up nearly two-thirds of a family’s back to school spending. The biggest break is found in school supplies, where consumers can expect to shell out $122 for basics like pencils, pens, markers and notebooks.

The easiest way to fund school on a budget, is to slowly stockpile throughout the year (hello Target dollar bins). If it’s too late for this year, here are a few ways you can still save.

Pace yourself: According to RetailMeNot.com, 62% of shoppers who do their back to school shopping before August spend about $100 more than those who wait until later. Do your research and find opportunities to put off buying everything at once, especially those high-ticket items like electronics and clothing. Consumer Reports suggests waiting until September or October to replace laptops or tablets, and that waiting until the fall is when these items are often on sale – which could save you big money.

Look for deals: It’s never been easier to find good deals and comparison shop. Check out the Groupon back to school discount tab or sites like RetailMeNot.com for coupons. Other websites like BensBargains.com, or apps like ShopSavvy and CamelCamelCamel can keep you updated on the latest deals on particular items, helping you track when an item is at its lowest price – whether on Amazon or at your local retail store.

Look for delivery options: Your child’s school may partner with an organization that sells school supplies at a flat price. Teachers provide the list, the company packages the supplies, and the best part? Your child’s box is waiting for them in their classroom on the first day of school. Talk about a time saver! Some stores like Target offer School List Assist, where parents can enter their zip code find their school and class supply list, order items and either have them delivered to their door, curbside at a nearby Target location, or for pick-up in the store.

Back to school doesn’t have to break the bank – just remember to try to plan ahead and look for deals (even if it means waiting for some things until September).

Article Source: Myriam DiGiovanni for financialfeed.com

 

How to Decide When It’s Time to Buy Another Car

At a national average of $479 a month, car payments can take a big chunk out of the monthly budget. Even if you avoid car loans, the high cost of a vehicle can delay other savings goals. Either way, it’s rewarding when a vehicle costs nothing more than fuel and routine maintenance. In fact, it’s such a rewarding feeling that you might miss important signs it’s time to start car shopping again.

Being frugal is a great quality when it comes to vehicle purchases – while the average consumer purchases a new one every 3 to 5 years, today’s vehicles are designed to last 10 or more. Still, it’s possible to be too frugal and end up costing yourself more money in the long run. If you have any doubts about whether it’s time to buy a newer vehicle, consider these four signs.

1. Your Vehicle’s Safety is Questionable

Aesthetic qualities and luxury features are one thing, but safety is quite another. If there’s any question whether your vehicle can get you safely from Point A to Point B, it’s time to consider an upgrade. Here are a few examples of what might constitute a safety concern:

  • Your vehicle sometimes has mobility problems. If this happens on the road, it could cause an accident.
  • Your vehicle lacks important safety features. Newer vehicles are equipped with advanced safety features, but we’re talking about the basics — seatbelts, curtain air bags, traction control, etc.
  • Your vehicle has been in an accident or has extensive rust that could compromise its structural integrity. The appearance of rust might not bother you, but the damage it does to internal parts could.

If you have an older vehicle and you aren’t sure if it’s safe, check with a trusted mechanic or vehicle safety inspector.

2. Your Vehicle Needed a Major Repair in the Last Year

Ditto for cars that frequent the auto repair shop. Occasional out-of-pocket repairs are less costly than a car payment, but if repairs exceed that $479-per-month average car payment, you might want to consider a newer vehicle. It’s easy to lose track of expenses that spread out over time, so get out the receipts and do the math.

3. Your Vehicle is Costing You in Other Ways

Maybe you work further away from home now and that gas-guzzler is jacking up your fuel budget and eating into other categories. If your car frequently fails to start in the morning, it might be costing lost hours of work or putting your job in danger. Be sure to consider these and other hidden ways your vehicle is costing you that might be grounds for trading it in.

4. Your Vehicle No Longer Fits Your Lifestyle

We tend to choose the size and style of vehicle that best fits our lifestyle, but preferences and lifestyles can change. Maybe you’ve become a new parent, sent your last child to college, or spend more time in your vehicle than in the past. All these changes can affect which vehicle is best for your needs. Just because you haven’t run your vehicle into the ground, doesn’t mean it’s wrong to trade the car in for something else that’s a better fit for you and your family.

Figuring out when to change vehicles is tricky. Use these four tips, and make the decision that’s ultimately best for you. If you live, work, worship, volunteer, or attend school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties in NJ – First Financial has some of the best auto loan rates and incentives in town!* Let us help you buy your new ride.

*APR = Annual Percentage Rate. Not all applicants will qualify, subject to credit approval. Additional terms & conditions may apply. Actual rate may vary based on credit worthiness and term. A First Financial membership is required to obtain a First Financial auto loan and is available to anyone who lives, works, worships, volunteers or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties. See credit union for details. A $5 deposit in a base savings account is required for credit union membership prior to opening any other account/loan. Federally insured by NCUA.

Article Source: Jessica Sommerfield for moneyning.com

More Ways to Save at Theme Parks Before Summer Ends

In the spring, we gave you 5 ways you can save at theme parks.  July and August is peak season for millions of visitors to enjoy the fun and fantasy of their favorite adventure theme parks, which means getting a deal in the summer can be challenging. A family of four can easily spend more than $1,000 just on the theme park tickets alone. And that’s not including parking passes, food, or souvenirs.

Let’s face it, once you step through the gates – it’s easy to get caught up in the experience and forget all about sticking to your budget plan. That doesn’t mean all is lost. Here are a few more ways you can save on some end of summer theme park fun:

Book tickets early online. Believe it or not, you can score discounts buying tickets in advance on the theme park’s official website or through authorized sellers like AAA or Costco. So do your research! One more tip: Never buy tickets on Craigslist or eBay. You don’t want to run the risk of falling victim to a scam and be turned away at the gate.

Bring a refillable water bottle. Staying hydrated is important, especially in the summer. Theme parks will give you a cup of water for free at any food service counter so you can refill for free. It’s a lot cheaper than quenching your thirst for about $5 per bottled water. That adds up!

Get the park app. You will get useful information on everything going on in the park from interactive maps and real-time ride wait times, to how to find the closest bathroom or which rides are closed. Knowing the lay of the land will help you get in the most fun for your dollar.

Follow the theme park on social media. Follow your theme parks on Instagram, Facebook and/or Twitter. You’ll not only get the latest insider scoop on attractions but also the knowledge of any special promotions they might be running before summer ends.

Plan your meals. No matter where you eat in the park, chances are it’s going to be overpriced. Check out the lunch menus, which can be anywhere from 15% to 20% cheaper than what you’d spend at dinner. But, keep in mind you’re there for the experience. Indulging in some good food instead of overpriced hot dogs or pizza could be worth it.

Article Source: Myriam DiGiovanni for Financialfeed.com

Back to School on a Budget

Summer is coming to a close, and back to school season is officially upon us.  Along with all the nostalgia and excitement this time of year brings, it can also get expensive – and fast.

“When did Crayola markers raise their prices? HOW much for a spiral notebook? Why do my kids need 12 of everything?!”

Here are some tips to help you stay in your back to school budget, and enjoy the last few weeks of summer.

1. Use the dollar store.

The dollar store is your friend! From notebooks and folders in every color, to pencils and loose paper – you can find 80% of the items your kids will need for the upcoming school year. Let’s all “just say no” to spending $9.99 on a box of crayons.

2. Budget and save in advance.

It’s easy to forget about the annual expenses associated with the back to school season. If you didn’t budget this year, start saving now for next school year. Put aside a little extra in your savings account on a monthly basis, and then use it next summer instead of relying on your credit card and racking up interest.

3. Have your kids save their own money for back to school clothes shopping.

New clothes and shoes are a very exciting (and very expensive) part of back to school shopping. Summer is the perfect time to teach your kids about the importance of saving, budgeting, and managing money. Whether it’s through extra chores, an after school job, or a lemonade stand, there are plenty of opportunities for your kids to earn money toward new clothes and shoes for the coming school year.

4. Buy in bulk and shop sales.

Stores like Costco and Sam’s Club offer great discounts when buying in bulk, and many other stores now offer lower prices when you buy in large quantities. Also, don’t forget to shop sales! It may be old school, but flipping through newspaper ads and store circulars that have coupons, can save you a ton of money when it comes to back to school shopping. Or sign up for emails for the stores you shop at – then use the e-coupons they send you.

5. Use a prepaid card.

Part of what makes back-to-school shopping so fun for kids is the opportunity to pick out items they love on their own. Does your high school or college student have a First Family Student Prepaid Reloadable card from First Financial? Give them easy access to back to school shopping money, and a surefire way to make sure their spending is convenient for you as a parent, secure, and won’t break your budget. Learn more here, and you can easily load your prepaid card right online 24/7 or stop into your nearest First Financial branch – just in time for the new school year.*

*3rd party fees may apply for Debit or ATM transactions. Foreign transaction fees may apply for transactions processed outside of US. A First Financial Visa® Prepaid Card can only be reloaded by a First Financial FCU Checking Account, Debit Card, or Credit Card online. A First Financial membership is required to obtain a Visa® Prepaid Card. A First Financial membership is open to anyone who lives, works, worships, volunteers, or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties, NJ. A $5 deposit in a base savings account is required for credit union membership prior to opening any account/loan. See credit union for details. Other terms/conditions and fees may apply. Federally insured by NCUA.

Article Source: Naomi Anderson for CUInsight.com

 

Important Alert: Scammers Create Fake Emergencies to Get Your Money

Scammers are now trying to trick you into thinking a loved one is in trouble. They call, text, email, or send messages on social media about a supposed emergency with a family member or friend. To make their story seem real, they may claim to be an authority figure, like a layer or police officer, and they may have or guess facts about your loved one. These imposters may insist that you keep quiet about their demand for money to keep you from checking out their story and identifying them as imposters. But no matter how real or urgent it seems – it’s a scam.

If you get a call or message like this, what should you do?

  • Check it out before you act. Look up that friend or family member’s phone number yourself. Call them or another family member to see what’s happening (even if the person who contacted you told you not to).
  • Don’t pay. Don’t wire money, send a check, overnight a money order, or pay with a gift card or prepaid reloadable card. Anyone who demands payment in these ways is always, always, always a scammer. These payment methods are like giving cash – and are nearly untraceable, unless you act almost immediately.
  • If you sent money to a family emergency scammer, contact the company you used to send the money and tell them it was a fraudulent transaction. Ask to have the transaction reversed, if possible.
  • Report the message to the FTC

Check out this short video on how the family emergency scam works and prevent it from happening to you.

If you feel that any of your First Financial accounts may have been compromised as a result of a scam, please contact Member Services at 732-312-1500 Monday through Friday 8am-6pm EST, or Saturday 8:30am-1pm.

Article Source: Carol Kando-Pineda for the Federal Trade Commission

5 Staycation Ideas to Save Your Summer

Let’s face it, summer looks a lot different than it did when you were a kid. You used to spend the entire school year counting down the days until the carefree fun of summer vacation. But now that you’re a responsible adult with a grown-up job, summer mostly just means your daily work commute is hotter than usual.

OK, maybe the situation isn’t quite that bleak. But if you’re not careful, summer will come and go before you get a chance to enjoy it. Even if you can’t take a week off or spend a lot on vacation this year, it only takes a little creativity and last-minute planning to map out a staycation worth remembering. If you need a little spark of relaxation inspiration, these five suggestions may be just what you’re looking for:

Book a night at a fancy hotel in town. Yes, luxury has a price tag, but hey—it’s just for one night. Sometimes it’s worth the extra money to pamper yourself. And since you’re staying close to home, think about all the money you’re saving on gas and travel expenses! Want to make the most of your five-star staycation? Check in as early as possible and take advantage of every complementary service the hotel offers.

Take a tasting tour of your city. It’s easy to settle into a routine of dining at your favorite restaurants, so why not break out of that rut and spend an entire day expanding your palette? The beauty of this culinary adventure lies in its flexibility. You can plan your itinerary or play it loose and go wherever your taste buds take you. Start with an early breakfast and end with a late-night snack.

Spend all day in bed. How many times have you started the morning by cursing your alarm clock and wishing you could stay under the covers all day long? Here’s your chance to make those lazy dreams a reality. Stack your favorite books and magazines on the nightstand, queue up your Netflix watchlist, and keep your go-to takeout restaurants on speed dial. You’re about to take your day off to the next level.

Rent a convertible and take the scenic route. Sometimes you want to answer the call of the open road, but it’s hard to make travel exciting in the same car you drive to work every day. So, add a little fun to your staycation plans by renting a sports car (preferably a convertible) and cruising around for the day. If you have a specific destination in mind, that’s great. If you don’t, that’s even better. The magic is in the journey. Not sure where to find scenic routes near you? Download the Round app for expert recommendations.

Unplug and get off the grid. We saved this one for last because, depending on who you are, this suggestion can be exhilarating or terrifying. Since we’re talking about shutting off your mobile phone and unplugging from social media, we understand you may need to start slowly. Use a resource like AllTrails.com to find the nearest hiking or walking trails, and spend the day exploring the great outdoors. The fresh air, exercise, and lack of email will do wonders for your body and your mind.

Whether you pick one of these ideas, find a way to do them all, or come up with a fresh staycation of your own, the most important part is permitting yourself to have fun. Even if they’re only for 24 hours at a time, vacations (or staycations) offer benefits that can make every area of your life more enjoyable.