Delicious Homecooked Meals: It’s Easier and Cheaper Than You Think

As the old slogan says, “Set it and forget it!” The days are getting shorter, and the nights are getting longer. Whether you’re running around with your kids, running around with your pets, or running because that is your chosen form of exercise – it feels like there are truly never enough hours in the day this time of year. Sure, your favorite local restaurant delivers – but there’s no beating a comforting homecooked meal. The average commercially prepared meal costs $13, while on the other hand – the average homecooked meal costs $4.

Now, it’s true that not everyone enjoys cooking or considers themselves skilled at it. However, you can make delicious, cheap, and easy meals with an Instant Pot or Slow Cooker! We’re all about making your life easier here at First Financial. We wanted to share some of our favorite easy, low cost recipes to help you out during the upcoming busy holiday season. With each recipe we’ll give you a way to dress it up, as well as how to cut some costs.

For the first two recipes, we’ll be using an Instant Pot. This handy kitchen device can do it all – from sautéing, pressure cooking, and everything in between. If you don’t have one, they are regularly on sale (especially now as we start to approach the upcoming holidays) and come in various sizes.

*Note: If this is your first time using an Instant Pot, be sure to read the device set-up instructions carefully and complete the water test first.

Instant Pot White Chicken Chili

Creamy, hearty, and comforting – this recipe is a new take on the classic chili. If you aren’t a huge bean fan, feel free to cut back on the specified amount or omit them completely. Serve this chili with tortilla chips for a delicious and easy Southwestern meal.

Ingredients for White Chicken Chili:

2 large chicken breasts

15 oz can black beans (drained and rinsed)

15 oz can white kidney beans (drained, not rinsed)

1 medium red onion, diced

15 oz can of corn (do not drain)

10 oz can of Rotel diced tomatoes with green chilis (keep the juice)

½ cup chicken broth

1 ½ tsp chili powder (use less if you want to cut down on spice)

2 tsp cumin

Ranch dressing packet

8 oz package of cream cheese cut into six pieces

Instructions:

1. Place all of your ingredients into your Instant Pot bowl in the following order: 2 chicken breasts (uncooked), your drained black and white beans, chopped onion, undrained corn, undrained Rotel tomatoes/green chilis, and ½ cup chicken broth.

2. Add the chili Powder and 1 tsp of cumin, as well as the ranch packet. Stir everything to combine. Be sure to lift the chicken breasts slightly so that some of the juices will get underneath the chicken.

3. Place your cut cream cheese dotted across the top of your chili. Then place the lid onto the Instant Pot and seal.

4. Cook the chili for 20 minutes on manual high pressure. Once the cooking is done, allow the Instant Pot to de-pressurize naturally for 10 more minutes. Then, completely release the pressure on your Instant Pot.

5. Remove the chicken breasts from the mixture and shred them. PRO TIP: You can easily shred cooked chicken by placing it in a bowl and using a hand mixer. Before putting the chicken back into the chili, stir the chili. Once everything is combined, return the chicken to the chili. You’re now ready to serve.

Tip: If you want even more spice, add a diced jalapeno to your chili mixture. For more spice, use more seeds.

Money Saving Tip: If you don’t use much cumin, buy a packet of taco seasoning instead. You’ll be ready for tacos and won’t have to spend money on a spice you rarely use.

Instant Pot Spaghetti

This is the ultimate easy Instant Pot recipe from the noodles to the sauce. Not only that, but this is a supremely versatile dish. You can add as many vegetables as you want, or take out any of the veggies listed in the ingredients too. You’ll want to serve this spaghetti with garlic bread (with cheese for a real crowd pleaser).

Ingredients:

1 lb. lean ground beef

½ teaspoon garlic powder

½ teaspoon onion powder

1 tsp Italian seasoning

¼ tsp red pepper flakes (more or less depending on your spice tolerance)

1 lb. box of dry spaghetti noodles

24 oz jar of your favorite pasta sauce

5 mushrooms, diced

36 oz of water

1 can of crushed tomatoes

Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

1. Turn on the Instant Pot to the sauté setting and add the ground beef. Sprinkle in the garlic powder, onion powder, and Italian seasoning. Add some salt and pepper to taste. Cook the meat until completely browned, breaking up any large chunks. Turn off your Instant Pot and once the meat is cooked, you may want to drain any excess grease.

2. Break your spaghetti in half and place it on top of your meat. Pour in the sauce, crushed tomatoes, water, red pepper flakes, and mushrooms. Make sure the pasta is completely submerged in the water.

3. Seal the Instant Pot and cook for 8 minutes on manual high pressure. When the time is up, manually release the pressure. Once the pressure is fully released and not steaming anymore, open the Instant Pot and stir everything together.

4. Serve immediately.

Tip: If you aren’t a big beef fan, you can easily substitute Italian sausage for the beef.

Money Saving Tip: Pasta is essentially universal, save yourself a couple of bucks and buy the store brand.

Slow Cooker Chicken and Stuffing

Even when it’s not Thanksgiving, there is something comforting about a home cooked meal that includes stuffing. The good thing is, it pairs just as well with chicken as it does with turkey. And with a recipe this easy, you can have it any time of the year! This recipe takes minimal effort and will make your home smell amazing besides.

*Note: For this recipe, you can use an Instant Pot or a traditional Crock Pot.

Ingredients:

14 oz bag dried seasoned stuffing mix

1 sweet onion, diced

2 stalks of celery, diced

2 (10 oz) cans cream of chicken and herb soup

½ cup chicken broth

1 tsp ground sage

2 garlic cloves, diced

1 ½ lbs. boneless skinless chicken breasts

Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

1. Spray your Instant Pot or slow cooker with non-stick cooking spray.

2. Add the chicken broth and stuffing mix to the slow cooker and stir to combine.

3. Sprinkle the sage over the top.

4. Lay your chicken on top of your stuffing mix and season with salt, pepper, and garlic.

5. Cover and cook on low for 4 hours and 30 minutes if you’re using a crockpot, or pressure cook manually on high for 25 minutes in your Instant Pot.

6. Remove the chicken and shred, cube, or serve whole.

7. You’re ready to eat!

Tip: Sage is what will give this meal a holiday flavor, but if you aren’t a fan, you can substitute for rosemary instead. Just as tasty! If you are using an Instant Pot, you may need to add more broth – more than likely 1 cup instead of a ½ cup. You’ll want to make sure all the ingredients are submerged before pressure cooking, if not – add more chicken broth.

Money Saving Tip: Buy a large carton of chicken broth instead of smaller cans. It will go a long way and will keep for quite some time, plus you’ll be able to use it in multiple Instant Pot or Slow Cooker recipes.

There you have it! Three meal ideas that won’t break the bank and don’t require a Michelin-Star chef to prepare. When it comes to cooking at home, just get started. Not every meal may turn out perfect, but the money you save will be worth it. And you really can’t go wrong with the ease of use of an Instant Pot or Slow Cooker. Enjoy!

Holiday Shopping Hacks: Your Black Friday Survival Guide

Judging from the massive marketing blitz and predictable purchasing frenzy, one could make the argument that Black Friday is a holiday all its own. The day after Thanksgiving is traditionally considered to be the official start of the holiday season.

Black Friday by the Numbers

With this yearly retail extravaganza just around the corner, you might be asking yourself, “What will an estimated 174 million Americans do on Black Friday this year?” Before you start googling, we’ll save you the research. They’ll spend the day—the entire weekend, actually—shopping. Wait. You knew that already? Fair enough. Did you know that the average Black Friday shopper is expected to spend more than $500? Even though we’re dealing in estimates and averages, that adds up to a lot of people and purchasing!

As online and mobile sales increase (especially this year), traditional Black Friday shoppers may be less than usual – but either way, there’s bound to be lots of shopping going on either in person or online. With millions of people frantically scouring stores for the best deals of the season and even more hunting for deals on their smartphones, a little strategy may help you keep the holiday shopping season merry and bright!

7 Tips for Having the Best Black Friday

While there are probably as many shopping hacks as there are shoppers, we’ve narrowed the suggestions down for you. Here are 7 ideas to help you survive Black Friday with your sanity and your budget intact:

Create a shopping strategy. Since most major retailers advertise their Black Friday specials ahead of time, it’s easy to plan ahead by scanning sales flyers and online promotions. Knowing exactly what you’re looking for will save hours of wandering and wondering.

Get in and get out. Most of the time, it pays to shop slowly and carefully—but not on Black Friday! If you’re going to score the best values at multiple stores, you need to grab the items you want, check out, and head to the next store. The midnight madness is no time for browsing.

Maximize your mobile experience. If you’re planning to take advantage of mobile deals or online specials, you can save time and frustration by downloading all the necessary apps in advance.

Prepare your profiles. How many times have you found a deal online, placed the item in your cart, and then had to waste time setting up a customer profile before checking out? Don’t miss out on limited-time-only deals. Create your profile on websites before it’s time to shop.

Look for the lock. Before you enter your personal details and credit card information on a website, make sure the web address starts with “https” and there’s a closed padlock icon next to address. These details indicate the site is secure. If the address starts with “http” or the padlock is open, see if you can find a deal somewhere else. You don’t want to add potential fraud and identity theft from an unsecure site to your holiday list this year.

Team up for double the fun. Finding amazing bargains is fun—but isn’t it better when you have someone to share in the excitement? If you’re going to engage in shopping shenanigans at 2:00 AM, you might as well do it with your favorite shopping buddy!

Shop early. Shop often. It would be logical to think that Black Friday is limited to—well, Friday. But in an attempt to boost sales, stores like Amazon and Best Buy often run early sales. And with the rising popularity of Cyber Monday, you’ll most likely also find money-saving specials all weekend long!

Hopefully, these ideas will help you save some money this winter holiday season and have a little more fun in the process. To avoid any last-minute budget crunches, talk to us about setting up a Holiday Club account.* Setting aside money throughout the year is a great way to avoid financial stress and focus on spending your time with loved ones and joining in on all the merry festivities!

*A $5 deposit in a base savings account is required for credit union membership prior to opening any other account. All Holiday Club Savings funds are deposited into a First Financial Checking or Base Savings Account. All personal memberships are part of the Rewards First program and a $5 per month non-participation fee is charged to the base savings account for memberships not meeting the minimum requirements of the program. Visit firstffcu.com to view full Rewards First program details, and to view the Tier Level Comparison Chart.

 

 

How to Safely Shop for the Holidays this Year

It’s been a stressful year, plus now add the usual hustle and bustle of the upcoming holiday season and you might start to feel a bit of pressure – especially on your budget that might have taken a big hit over the past few months. Fortunately, there are some simple steps that can help make the holiday season a little less stressful. Below are some tips on how to take advantage of holiday shopping trends to make the most of the holidays without getting overwhelmed.

Take advantage of online ordering.

With the colder weather coming, experts are predicting a resurgence in coronavirus cases. Many stores are prepared. They’re encouraging people to shop online while also increasing their capacity for curbside pick-up. There are reasons to take advantage of this service that go beyond health and safety. Often provided as a free service, curbside pick-up is great way to save yourself shopping time. Rather than gathering the items yourself, you can simply drive up and have everything placed in your car for you. Plus, you’ll resist the temptation to buy extra items you see in the store that you don’t really “need.”

Start shopping now.

According to Business Insider, increased online ordering has shipping providers predicting a backlog this season (which most people have probably experienced this year due to the ongoing pandemic). This may cause issues for last minute shoppers who are looking to get their orders in time for holiday celebrations. Another problem we’ve seen this year, is the fact that store inventory is lower and stock may run out faster than usual.  Shopping as early as possible also gives you more opportunities to take advantage of sales, and continue to save for any potential items you might still need as it gets further into December.

Keep gift giving simple.

A still unstable economy means tighter budgets for most people and concerns about spending a large amount of money on gifts. Gift cards are always a simple, practical option – which are easy to buy and send. Gift card recipients will also get the choice to be able to purchase what they truly want or need. All First Financial locations offer Visa Gift Cards available in denominations of $20 to $500, and are just $3.95 per card.* Stop by your local branch drive thru today to get yours!

Combine holiday activities.

Just like summer vacation from school, winter break can add pressure to find safe entertainment options for the family this year. Look for fun and easy ways to get the whole family involved in holiday preparations.  Make decorating into a mini holiday party with festive music. Assign everyone a decorating task and hand out prizes for different categories like “most creative” or “fastest decorator.” Instead of shopping, homemade holiday gifts can be a nice family activity. Another idea is to look for apps that blend entertainment such as reading or games with charitable causes to help kids learn to give to others, especially this time of year.

While the pandemic has changed the way we do things or may celebrate this year, there is still room for holiday joy and family memories. Wishing you and yours a happy upcoming holiday season!

*If the gift card is inactive for 360 days, an inactivity fee of $2.50 per month will be charged to the card – starting from the date of activation. If the card is lost or stolen, the replacement fee is $15.00.

Article Source: Naomi Anderson, CUInsight.com

 

Why You Should Avoid Store Credit Cards This Holiday Season

Can you believe it’s already November? Before you know it – the holidays will be upon us. As you start making those lists and checking them twice, think long and hard about opening a store credit card if you were planning to this holiday season.

A recent report from LendingTree® announced that 44% of consumers planned to open a store credit card this year. However, that same report said that 56% of those who have had store credit cards in the past have regretted opening and using them. Sure, the initial sign-up bonuses can be great – but if you carry a balance on one of these cards, the interest you pay with those high APRs can easily exceed what you saved with that initial discount.

While the salesperson may do a great job of talking about the perks and discounts you can get when you sign up for a store card, they almost never talk about the high interest rates you’ll have when you use it. In fact, the average APR for a new store credit card is 24.24%!

Here are a few tips for getting the most out of a store credit card:

  • Beware of deferred interest: While special financing deals really can save you big bucks, it’s crucial that you play by the rules – because what you don’t know can really cost you down the road.
  • Know your APR and fees before you apply: This is good advice with any credit card, but it’s particularly important with store cards because the interest rates are so high – and the pressure is often on to make a quick decision.
  • Anticipate deadlines, exceptions, and spending minimums:  Virtually every card has quirks and nuances. The more you know about them before you apply, the better.
  • Look for the other logo: Some store credit cards can only be used with one retailer or one group of retailers. Others can be used almost anywhere and will have a Visa or Mastercard logo on it. That’s an important distinction.
  • Resist the pressure: If you’re offered a store card and you aren’t sure what to do, say no and then read up on the card later. If the offer still sounds good to you and you know you won’t carry a balance, apply the next time you shop there.

Another idea: Bypass the store credit card and seek lower interest alternatives from First Financial. We offer personal loans to help you get through the holiday season, and low interest credit card options too.* While you won’t get 20% off your first purchase at your favorite store – you also won’t be counted in the 59% of those with buyer’s remorse who are paying off holiday debt well into the new year, after opening that store credit card. You’ll also enjoy a much lower interest rate, which equals lower monthly payments as well. Shop smarter this holiday season!

*Credit Card APR varies up to 18% when you open your account based on your credit worthiness. These APRs are 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 Fees. 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 Credit Card or a Personal Loan and is available to anyone who lives, works, worships, volunteers, or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties.

 

 

How to Keep Halloween from Scaring Your Budget

The average American spends around $86 on Halloween – between candy, decorations, costumes, and the like. And that’s only the national average, so many of us tend to spend quite a bit more.

If you’re on a strict budget this year, that amount might give you a scare. However, you can keep from frightening your budget this year. Try these tricks to help you stick to a painless Halloween budget.

Costumes

One of the main parts of Halloween fun are the costumes. However, dressing up can get costly – especially if you have several members of your family dressing up this year. Instead of buying a $40+ costume at the store or attempting to sew one together, turn looking for children’s costumes into a family game.

Head to your local consignment shop or thrift store and give each child an envelope with no more than $10 inside. Split up into teams to pick out a costume or find items that can be put together to create one. Don’t forget to also look in your closets at home to see if there’s anything you already have that can be used for dressing up.

Also check with your family, friends and neighbors to see if they have any costumes or items they aren’t using that you can borrow. Don’t spend a fortune on something that will most likely only be worn for a few hours.

Decorations

Some people really love to go all out for Halloween. However, if you keep blowing your budget on expensive Halloween decorations each year – you may be paying off your debt well into Halloween next year. If you need to stretch your budget, stop by your local dollar store for decorations. You’ll be surprised at the great items you’ll find!

Also save and reuse your decorations year after year. Store all your ghouls and goblins in a reusable bin once the season is over. Then pull them out next Fall without having to spend a dime!

Candy

Do you live in a neighborhood or on a street where it seems like the amount of trick or treaters are endless? Candy can be pricy too. If you know you’re typically visited by what seems like hundreds of kids in costume, don’t buy gourmet chocolate bars. Pick up a large bag of assorted candy in bulk instead. Do an online search for coupons and deals, too. Buy what you can afford, and when the candy is gone, it’s gone.

Try to keep track of how many trick-or-treaters visit your home so you can plan amounts better for next year. You probably also don’t want to overbuy and then be stuck with tons of candy sitting around either. The key here is to plan ahead!

Pumpkins

Pumpkins may only last a few weeks at most. And with that being said, they aren’t always cheap either. Once you start, it’s hard to stop with just buying one pumpkin too. From the porch to your patio, stairs and table – you might pick up 20 pumpkins when all is said and done.

Give yourself a strict pumpkin budget. Let your kids each pick only one or don’t spend more than $20 (or whatever number you decide is best for your budget).

While going to the pumpkin patch is a great Autumn past-time, don’t buy your pumpkins there if you’re looking to save money. Instead, buy pumpkins from the grocery store (they’re usually always cheaper and still look great!).

Greeting Cards

Is sending out a Halloween greeting card really necessary, even if it’s for your adorable niece or nephew or grandchild? Cards can be $5+ each nowadays, and that’s not cheap for something that may very well end up in the garbage can after it’s opened and read. If you really feel that you need to send a greeting card, try making your own instead. Use cardstock and get creative. Or hit the dollar store for cards – this is a best kept secret.

Fall Activities

Are there lots of farms with weekend harvest and Halloween events going on this month near you? The good news is, admission is typically free or not very expensive. Take advantage of this gorgeous time of year and all the farm budget-friendly activities such as corn mazes, pumpkin bowling, and the like. Take a hayride with the family or spend a few hours walking around the farm. You can also pile into the car and take a drive to look at the changing colors of the leaves, pick some apples, or pack up an outdoor picnic at your favorite local park. Look at your community calendar or website and scope out what’s going on near you.

Traditions

Plan a weekend for family or friend get-togethers this Fall. Save money by staying at home and trying a new tradition with your crew. Ideas include a Fall food cooking day (caramel apples, pumpkin pie, etc.), watch scary movies together, or do a backyard scavenger hunt.

It’s definitely possible to have an unforgettable Halloween without haunting your budget! With some planning and creativity, you’ll have a great holiday celebration without giving your bank account a fright. Happy Halloween!

Article Source: Dave Ramsey