Tips for Recovering Your Finances After the Holidays

If you overspent during the holidays this year, you’re not alone. According to a survey, 36% of consumers went into debt during the holidays, owing up to an average of $1,249. Regardless of how much you owe, there are steps you can take to help recover your finances after the holidays are over. Here’s what we recommend for building your finances back up after an expensive holiday season.

Assess Your Finances

The first thing you’ll want to do is assess your overall financial situation. This includes fully understanding your monthly budget and determining your short and long-term financial goals. Then create a spreadsheet of your expenses, debts, payment due dates, and interest rates. If you’re new to budgeting, our make a budget worksheet is a great place to start.

Cut Unnecessary Expenses

Once you’ve fully mapped out your budget, you should have a better understanding of where you spend your money most. You’ll likely notice there are expenses from products or services that you don’t need or even use. When paying off debt or building savings, it’s best to trim down your expenses as much as you can. For example, you can cancel any underused subscriptions that you might have forgotten about. You can also try cutting back on frivolous expenses like dining out, Starbucks coffee, or delivery services. If the purchase is for something non-essential, see if you can find a less expensive version or cut it from your budget entirely.

Evaluate Credit Card Usage

Take an inventory of all the credit cards you’re using and evaluate if they have any rewards or annual fees. If you’re using cards with high fees or you’re carrying debt across multiple accounts, consider consolidating your debt with a balance transfer to a low-rate credit card. This way you can pay down your balance without the extra interest. It’s also recommended you find room in your budget to pay more than the minimum monthly payment. This will not only help you pay down the debt faster but will help your credit score, too.

Start Planning For Next Year

It’s never too early to start planning for the year ahead. Start by putting away $50 a month toward holiday gifts for the end of the year. Before you know it, you’ll have enough funds to cover gifts for your family and friends. Make a list of the people you’re buying gifts for now, and potential ideas to see how much you’ll need to save up for. Some items will likely be cheaper to buy out of season, which will help with your overall holiday budget for next year.

Whether you need assistance with debt repayment, creating a budget, or even opening an account, First Financial can help! Visit one of our branch locations or contact us to speak with a representative today.


Ways to Manage Price Inflation and Increasing Costs

You’ve most likely noticed increasing prices as you check out at the grocery store and fill up your gas tank lately. Last month, consumer prices on goods took a huge jump and increased by 7% from the previous year. This is the highest inflation rate our country has seen in 40 years!

Here are some ways you can manage the current inflation environment and help your bottom line at the same time:

Shop Your Cabinets and Pantry First. Before you hit the store – check your cabinets, pantry, and shelves to see what non-perishable items you already have at home. This will allow you to see what you have already bought previously, shorten your grocery list, and save you some money on your food shopping bill. This also goes for checking toiletry items and cleaning supplies you already have at home, as well as look in your freezer too. It’s easy to forget what you may have already purchased and didn’t realize you had!

Meal Prep. Planning your meals ahead and making a grocery list based on the ingredients you’ll need for the week, will allow you to (hopefully) stick to the list in front of you and not buy extras. Try not to deviate from your list, oftentimes these additional purchases end up spoiling before you get a chance to use them and then end up in the garbage can.

Reduce Waste. This goes hand in hand with meal prepping. Plan out your meals and ingredients for the week ahead. Try to find recipes and ingredients that you can use in multiple meals. For example, say you purchase and cook a whole chicken on Sunday. Use the leftovers for lunches for the week ahead by making a grilled chicken salad on Monday, chicken noodle soup on Tuesday, and a chicken burrito bowl on Wednesday.

Try Using Store Brand Products. Most of the time, you’re going to pay more for a name brand product. While in the store, comparison shop. Typically, you’ll find that the generic store brand is cheaper and is essentially the same exact item.

Buy in Bulk. When you can and if you have the storage space, it’s usually cheaper to buy items in bulk. Think toiletries and household cleaning supplies, pasta, rice, cereal, etc. If you don’t have the space or need that much at the moment, see about splitting the items and costs with a friend or family member.

Cut Back on Meat. Meat tends to increase one’s grocery bill. Try going meatless once or twice a week if you can, and switch to less expensive protein alternatives on those days like beans, lentils, and cheese.

Save on Produce. Try to buy produce that’s in season, which will be cheaper – or buy from your local farm market. Also buying frozen fruit and vegetables will help you save money too.

Try to Save on Gas Prices. Can you carpool to the office or work from home at all? If not – look into signing up for a fuel rewards program, use a credit card that offers cash back on gas purchases, or download a comparison app to see which gas stations near you are the cheapest.

Share. Instead of making large purchases during these times, for items that you probably won’t use every day – see if you can share with or borrow from a friend or family member for expensive tools, appliances, or equipment.

While it may seem that prices and cost of living continues to increase, the suggestions above can certainly help you save some hard-earned money these days. Don’t forget to review this list before you visit the store next!

Article Source: The Penny Hoarder

Get a Fresh Start to Your Finances with these Resolutions

Entering the new year means setting an annual resolution. Whether you’re looking to better your wellness, career, or relationships – there’s one resolution that’s crucial to all aspects of your life: improving your financial fitness. Rather than investing in a pricey gym membership or a resolution that’s difficult to stick to, take the opportunity to set financial goals that are easier to achieve than you think. Here’s our guide to getting a fresh start to your finances in 2022.

Create a Budget

Creating a budget may sound scary, but it can actually be very empowering once you’ve finished. Having a full understanding of your income and expenses can help you be more aware of your financial state and help you save more money down the line. There are steps you can take to make the process easier.

  • Review your expenses from 2021 to see where you spend your money and how you can better save.
  • Create a list of essential spending categories such as rent, food, transportation, clothing, internet, cell phone, insurance, etc. – and write down how much you spend on each.
  • Add up your monthly income and deduct your expenses. The amount left can be used toward building savings or on entertainment.

When building a budget, it’s recommended to use the 50/30/20 concept when planning out your expenses. Meaning, 50% of your income should go toward necessities, 30% on wants, and 20% on savings and debt repayment.

Reduce Debt and Improve Your Credit

Speaking of debt repayment, another goal to make for yourself in 2022 is to work toward reducing any debt that may be lingering. To start, make a chart of everything you owe and organize it by the size of the debt and interest rates. Check your credit score to better understand your financial fitness and where there’s room for improvement. Then, calculate what you owe and use the monthly budget you created to build a realistic repayment plan.

To prioritize debt repayment, you’ll need to trim your budget and eliminate any unnecessary expenses that are not essential. We also recommend refraining from using credit cards and allocating cash for your needs instead. While this is not ideal, a tight budget will only be temporary until you’re in better financial standing and your credit score improves. Plus, you can always treat yourself once you’ve achieved your repayment milestone (within reason, of course)!

Build Your Savings

Having a savings account is essential whether you need an emergency fund, money for retirement, or to buy a home. While it may sound daunting to build and maintain a savings account, the key is to start small. You’ll want to first evaluate what you’d like the savings to be for and how much you’ll need. Then, dedicate a certain amount of your paycheck to go toward your savings and make the transfer automatic. While it’s recommended to keep 20% of your income for savings and debt repayment, you’ll need to evaluate what works within your budget and when you’ll need the funds. Even if you’re starting with $25 per paycheck, you’ll be surprised how quickly the account will grow without you even thinking about it.

If you need help with creating a budget, managing debt repayment, or building savings, the team at First Financial is here to help! Visit one of our branch locations or contact us to speak with a representative today.


Money Moves to Make Before Year’s End

It’s almost a new year – are you financially ready? Have you hopefully started planning ahead and setting financial goals for the new year? Here are a few things you can do to prepare your finances for the end of one year and beginning of the next.

Review Retirement Contributions: How much are you putting away for retirement? Before the start of a new year is an ideal time to review this amount, so that if you need to make any adjustments – you can start fresh in January. It’s also a good time to see if you would be able to increase the amount going into your retirement account(s). Did you get a year end raise, and if so – can you increase your retirement savings moving into the new year?

Spend Any Flex Account Dollars: If you have a Flexible Savings Account (FSA), the money usually needs to be used by 12/31 every year or you will lose it. Check out your FSA and see if you have any remaining money available that can be used on a year end eye exam, new glasses, dental work, or medical supplies.

Donate to Charity: The end of the year is a great time to make a donation to your favorite charity. Not only will it allow you to clean out your home and donate any clothing, appliances, or toys in good condition that you no longer use – you’re also helping a local worthy cause during the season of giving. Donations are also tax deductible, so be sure to get a receipt for tax time.

Review Your Budget: This is the perfect time to review your budget from the year that’s ending, and decide if it worked well enough to continue into the new year – or if you need to make some adjustments. Sit down and really look over the numbers. Ask yourself what worked well and what went wrong – and be honest. If something didn’t go as well as you had hoped this year, decide how you’re going to revise your budget to allow it to work in the new year.

Wishing you a happy, financially healthy holiday season and upcoming new year!


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How to Avoid Holiday Season Gift Card Scams

It’s the time of year where many scams are prevalent, however lately – gift card scams seem to be popping up and affecting consumers more and more this holiday season. Continue reading to find out how to protect yourself and your finances from this type of fraudulent transaction.

If you ever receive a call, email, or text from someone asking to be paid via a gift card or to buy something by putting money on a gift card and then giving them the numbers on the back of the card – they are attempting to scam you. Before you read any further, know that a legitimate business or government agency will never ask to collect payment via gift card.

Why do fraudsters attempt to collect payment in the form of gift cards? Because they are easy to get, and there are virtually no buyer protections. In other words, it’s basically like using cash. And when the money on the gift card is gone, it’s gone.

How does a gift card scam work?

  • You’ll get a call, email, or text letting you know you’ll need to pay as soon as possible, and that the only way to do so and help is to buy a gift card.
  • The requestor will almost always tell you exactly which gift card to purchase – typically eBay, Google Play, Target, iTunes, and so forth. You might even be asked to purchase the gift card at a specific store, such as Target, Walmart, CVS, or Walgreens. The scammer may ask you to purchase various gift cards at different stores too (this is so the cashier won’t be suspicious).
  • Once purchased, you’ll be asked for the gift card number and PIN. These two items will give the scammer access to all the funds that were loaded onto the card, and once they have that – the money is theirs and they can use it immediately with no way for you to get it back.

If you are thinking the steps listed above are pretty obvious and how could someone actually fall for this type of scam – keep reading.

How scammers convince consumers to purchase gift cards and get away with it:

  • The caller states they are from the government, such as the IRS or Social Security Administration. They’ll tell you that you owe taxes or need to pay a fine, and the only way to do so is with a gift card.
  • The caller says they are with Apple or Microsoft tech support, and that there is something wrong with your device. They’ll also tell you that in order to fix it, you’ll need to go out and purchase a specific related gift card.
  • Online dating sites are another hangout for gift card scammers. If you meet and chat with someone via a dating site or app, and then after they build a connection with you – they tell you they need help and the only way to do so is with a gift card.
  • The scammer spoofs the phone number of a family member or friend close to you, and tells you they’re in trouble and that the only way to help them is to go out and purchase a gift card. If this happens to you, hang up and actually call your relative or friend on your own and ask if they truly need help.
  • You are contacted that you won a prize, however in order to redeem it – you need to pay contest fees with a gift card. This will never happen with a legitimate contest, and – did you ever enter one to begin with?
  • You get a call from your “utility company” threatening to cut off your service unless you pay them with a gift card.
  • Someone contacts you and says you will receive a check in the mail – however it ends up being more than you were told you would be getting. The sender contacts you again and tells you to deposit the check into your bank account, and give them the difference on a gift card. There are two problems here – the gift card payment, and also the check being deposited is typically fake and you may be held liable for that amount by your bank as well.

Here are a few ways to ensure gift cards are used properly and legitimately:

  • Remember that gift cards are for gifts. You should never use a gift card to pay someone.
  • Purchase gift cards at stores you know and trust – don’t buy them online or through a gift card auction site, as they may be fake or stolen.
  • Look the gift card over before you purchase it. Ensure there are protective stickers that have not been tampered with, and make sure the PIN on the back isn’t visible.
  • Keep your receipt after your gift card purchase. This will prove that money was loaded onto the card if you ever need it, as well as the gift card’s ID number will be listed. If you ever lose the gift card, you’ll be able to file a report to close that particular card.

The moral of the story: This holiday season (and any time), be mindful of those who might be trying to scam you into purchasing gift cards. Always remember, legitimate organizations will never ask to be paid in this manner.

THINK First because There’s Harm In Not Knowing!


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Easy Ways to Save Money During the Holiday Season

Have you started your holiday shopping yet (hopefully)? If you are needing some additional money or looking for ways to save this year, keep reading to find out a few easy ways to keep costs in check from now until the new year.

Only use cash: We’re living in an online world that makes spending money quick, too easy, and through electronic means. If you don’t usually carry cash, this is a friendly reminder that to pay for items – you physically need to shell out the money. This will feel more personal and be a better option if there is a budget you need to stay in line with (which hopefully you made a holiday shopping budget before starting to shop). Using cash is usually enough to make you think twice about what you are buying.

Write everything down: Every time you make a holiday purchase, write it down or save it in a note on your phone. By physically writing down or typing every dollar you use, you’ll quickly realize just how much money you are spending. This also works for non-holiday purchases this time of year. Also jot down other things you are buying (coffee, food, a pack of gum, etc.) for the month to help you realize where you can cut back and what might be unnecessary, impulse purchases. Hopefully this will be a wake-up call to help you cut back on any needless spending.

Layer up: Decreasing your electric or gas bill is another great way to save money this month. Sure, winter is coming in a couple weeks and it may be getting colder – but depending on where you live, your heat may not need to be fully on just yet (or it could at least be lower during the day when no one is home, or at night when you are wrapped up in warm blankets anyway). If the cold doesn’t bother you too much this December, grab a blanket, heavy sweatshirt, and socks – and turn the thermostat down. Dressing in layers can help keep you warmer too.

And there you have it, simple and easy ways to save some money this month!


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