5 Splurges You Can & Should Allow Yourself

iStock_000017972218XSmallYou work really hard to save money and get out of debt. Every year, when making your New Year’s Resolutions, you vow that this will be the year you finally succeed and never look back.

You set your budget before December loses itself to January; you’ve planned how much you will put on each card, and you plan to say “no” to everything.

At first, you’re so proud of yourself for doing well, but by January 27th, you’re starting to regret and resent your plans.

Your coworkers are going out to dinner tonight and you really, really want to go. You wrestle with your conscience and your goals and off you go to eat with the gang.

You’re not thinking about the goals you established only a few weeks back; you’re thinking about how your debts aren’t going anywhere, no matter what you do. If you can’t change your future, then why not enjoy your present?

Your plans fly out the window before you’ve even given them a fair chance to work.

The unrelenting pressure of your iron-fisted budget is coming down on you hard, and you can’t stand the thought of never spending another dime on yourself. Your inner rebel is screaming to get out. So you surrender, and let the rebel win. This year can be different. No, really, it can be.

Let Go

Allowing yourself a few guilty pleasures that won’t break your budget or wreck your route to success will give you a budget that’s livable and easier to swallow. No one wants to live life feeling deprived.

1. A gym membership

Yes, there goes your excuse to not join the gym. Sorry! The fact is, the gym is a great place to be inspired to stay fit. With the low cost of many fitness centers, it’s easy to justify $19 a month to better your health. Though the biggest win is the excellent health habits you’ll develop, the relaxation that comes after a great workout is a massive bonus. This is one expenditure you should allow yourself — and feel good about!

2. A healthy diet

Buying whole fruits, veggies, and meats eliminates many middle men from the food preparation process. This means you’re getting nutrient-rich foods that will fill and fuel your body better than frozen, prepackaged, or processed foods. They may cost a little more, but YOU are well worth the investment.

3. A retirement fund

Allocate an amount that can be set aside each pay period for your retirement. Even if you already contribute to a 401K, you can increase the amount. The more you invest now, the closer you are to sitting on the front porch of life, rocking away and watching the sun set.

If you would like to set up a no-cost consultation with the Investment & Retirement Center** located at First Financial Federal Credit Union to discuss your savings and retirement goals, contact them at 732.312.1565.

4. A weekend away

(Only do this if you can pay for it outright — no credit cards for this one!) Once in a while, you deserve a break. And though it may cost a bit more, a weekend away can really recharge your batteries, giving you a reason to continue on your journey of savings. Make sure to fully relax in your environment, so that when you return, you’re ready to work hard and roar towards your financial goals.

5. A special reward

Maybe you’ve had your eye on a gorgeous new suit, but you have a hard time justifying the purchase with your looming debt. You longingly stare every time you pass it by. Tuck away a little each week, so that you can get those dapper duds without breaking your budget. After all, you’ve been good and stuck to your goals, right?

By giving yourself permission to enjoy your money (within reason), you’ll be far more likely to stick with your budget and reach your goals.

What splurges do you allow yourself? Tell us! We’d love to hear it – comment below…

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*First Financial is not responsible for any content listed on external websites. **Representatives are registered, securities are sold, and investment advisory services offered through CUNA Brokerage Services, Inc. (CBSI), member FINRA/SIPC, a registered broker/dealer and investment advisor, 2000 Heritage Way, Waverly, Iowa 50677, toll-free 800-369-2862. Nondeposit investment and insurance products are not federally insured, involve investment risk, may lose value and are not obligations of or guaranteed by the financial institution. CBSI is under contract with the financial institution, through the financial services program, to make securities available to members. CUNA Brokerage Services, Inc., is a registered broker/dealer in all fifty states of the United States of America. 

7 Steps to Creating Lasting Financial Resolutions

New-Years-Resolution-for-Finances-300x221We all have more than a few well-intentioned New Year’s Resolutions that never make it to February. We mean well, and we try hard to stick to our life-changing plans, but it seems inevitable that we’ll fail.

If you want to make lasting financial resolutions, you have to include a certain level of detail in your goals.

Try these 7 steps to help you create financial tips that will stick:

1. Make your goals specific.

In order to make realistic financial goalsyou have to be very specific about what you want to attain. “I will save more money this year,” gives you lots of wiggle room to shirk your new goals. A more specific goal like, “I will save 7% of my income each month,” is very specific and helps keep you on target.

2. Make your goals measurable.

In order to determine if you’re meeting your goals or if you need to step up your efforts, you have to create a goal that includes measurable outcomes. If you set a goal to spend your grocery money more wisely this month, you have to include examples of what smart grocery shopping looks like. Are you buying items in bulk? Do you only buy groceries when they’re on sale? Are you shopping at discount food stores? Are you spending less on higher-priced processed and ready-to-eat foods?

3. Set a time limit.

Who says New Year’s resolutions have to be set in stone as of January 1st? Make a goal for the first thirty days and include a reminder to set another goal for the next month. Can’t make it through thirty days consistently? No problem. Set your goals for smaller periods of time.

4. Reward yourself.

One of the best ways to create a lasting habit is to make the experience pleasurable. Forget the guilt trip over not keeping your resolutions; just give yourself a break and start anew as soon as you realize you’re failing. Reward yourself often for meeting even the smallest aspects of your financial resolutions.

5. Be realistic.

While we’d all love to become millionaires overnight, setting a goal to become “rich” in a short period of time isn’t very realistic. Don’t set yourself up for failure by including unrealistic details in your financial goals. It’s completely acceptable (and encouraged!) to dream, but not to set goals that are impossible to achieve.

6. Get help.

When setting financial goals for the new year, don’t forget to include an accountability partner to help keep you on track. This person can be a trusted friend, family member, or professional that will check in periodically to see how you’re doing with your goals. When you have to answer to someone else, you’re more likely to curb your undesirable behavior.

If you would like to set up a no-cost consultation with the Investment & Retirement Center** located at First Financial Federal Credit Union to discuss your savings and retirement goals, contact them at 732.312.1565.

7. Change your attitude.

One way to reinforce your desire to make lasting changes is to change the way you perceive your finances. Set a goal to read one book a month about finances, take a financial management class, or spend time with people who have a solid grip on their finances. Talk to people who are where you want to be at the end of the year. Surround yourself with information and encouragement to help make this year’s financial resolutions a success.

Click here to view the article source.

*First Financial is not responsible for any content listed on external websites. **Representatives are registered, securities are sold, and investment advisory services offered through CUNA Brokerage Services, Inc. (CBSI), member FINRA/SIPC, a registered broker/dealer and investment advisor, 2000 Heritage Way, Waverly, Iowa 50677, toll-free 800-369-2862. Nondeposit investment and insurance products are not federally insured, involve investment risk, may lose value and are not obligations of or guaranteed by the financial institution. CBSI is under contract with the financial institution, through the financial services program, to make securities available to members. CUNA Brokerage Services, Inc., is a registered broker/dealer in all fifty states of the United States of America. 

 

Winter Driving Tips That Could Keep You Safe

icesnow_logo2You might not live in the middle of snow country, but it still is important to keep in mind that winter driving conditions can present more of a challenge. Here are some things to keep in mind as you head out into the open road.

  • Speed Limits: Remember that these limits primarily refer to safe speeds during ideal weather conditions. Always slow down while driving on snow or ice. When driving uphill on ice, pick a path that will allow the most traction. Allow for greater stopping distances during snow and ice storms. In order to bring your car to a safe stop, you must allow 8-10 seconds between you and the vehicle in front of you.
  • Curves and Turns: To maintain better control of your vehicle, reduce speed just before the turn. Any sudden acceleration or deceleration during a turn will send you into a skid. Never brake while driving on ice. If you are approaching a patch of ice, brake during your approach. Applying pressure to your brakes while on ice will only throw you into a skid. Monitor vehicles in front of you and be sure to monitor the vehicles in front of you. Unpacked snow will give most vehicles sufficient uphill traction.
  • Keep Your Distance: The most important thing to remember when driving on slick roads is that you must travel, steer, and brake more slowly than usual. The distance needed to stop on ice is twice as long as what you would need to brake under normal driving circumstances. This means you should keep at least a three-car distance from the vehicle directly in front of you. Remember that tires which are in proper working condition and are adequately inflated provide better transaction.
  • Extra Slippery: Certain areas of roadways, because of location or track of direct sunlight, are almost always more hazardous than others. Use extra caution when driving on bridges, overpasses and tunnels. What is known as “black ice” commonly forms on roads that wind around lakes and rivers, in tunnels, on overpasses and in highly shaded, rural areas. Black ice is almost invisible to the naked eye. Be especially leery when driving your car into shaded areas, and slow your vehicle down during your approach.
  • Handling Skids: The biggest problem facing most winter drivers is skidding on slick, icy or snow covered roads. It is possible to steer out of a skid! First of all do not panic. Once you feel your car begin to skid, slowly remove your foot off the gas until you feel your wheels regain traction control. Do not attempt to brake! As your vehicle’s tires grab the road, slowly turn the steering wheel in the direction you want your front wheels to go.
  • Gimme a Brake: Anti-lock braking systems (ABS) offer significant advantages on slick roads, if used correctly. To operate ABS effectively, motorists should apply steady pressure to the brake pedal during the entire stop. ABS will automatically pump the brakes, if necessary, to keep the wheels from locking.  Never manually pump ABS brakes yourself. Apply only steady pressure continuously until you come to a complete stop. If you don’t have ABS, you should gently apply pumping pressure to your brakes during slippery conditions. Do not apply steady pressure to your brakes. Standing on your brakes will only cause wheel lock, and may result in your car spinning out of control.
  • Slow Motion: Everything you do on icy roads will affect how your vehicle handles the situation. Move slowly. Turn slowly. Brake slowly. Sudden changes can cause your car to spin our of control. Not all cars respond the same to icy, slippery roads. For that reason, knowing how to handle your vehicle and how it responds to various weather conditions is important. AAA recommends that motorists practice slow-speed maneuvers on an empty snow or ice covered parking lot. You should also page through your vehicle’s owner manual, familiarizing yourself with your vehicle’s braking system and tire traction.

PennySmartWinter

“Remember, when driving in the ice and snow – TAKE IT SLOW!”

Article Source: CUDL AutoSMART Magazine

*First Financial is not responsible for any contest listed on external publications.

Tips for Recognizing and Avoiding Fake Check Scams

fraudFake check scams are clever ploys to steal your money and First Financial wants to make sure you know the ways you can avoid becoming a victim by simply recognizing how the scam process works. It is important that you understand that you are responsible for the checks you deposit to your account, even if they are fraudulent.

So, if someone you don’t know wants to pay you by check but wants you to wire some of the money back, beware! It’s a scam that could cost YOU thousands of dollars.

  • There are many variations of the fake check scam. It could start with someone offering to buy something you advertised, pay you to do work at home, give you an “advance” on a sweepstakes you’ve supposedly won, or pay the first installment on the millions that you’ll receive for agreeing to have money in a foreign country transferred to your bank account for safekeeping. Whatever the pitch, the person may sound quite believable.
  • Fake check scammers hunt for victims. They scan newspaper and online advertisements for people listing items for sale, and check postings on online job sites from people seeking employment. Scammers place their own ads with phone numbers or email addresses for people to contact them and they call, send emails, or faxes to people randomly knowing that some will take the bait.
  • They often claim to be in another country. The scammers say it’s too difficult and complicated to send you the money (i.e. they claim to be in the military or vacationing overseas) directly from their country, so they’ll arrange for someone in the U.S. to send you a check.
  • They tell you to wire money to them after you’ve deposited the check. If you’re selling something, they say they’ll pay you by having someone in the U.S. who owes them money send you a check. It will be for more than the sale price; you deposit the check, keep what you’re owed, and wire the rest to them. If it’s part of a work-at-home scheme, they may claim that you’ll be processing checks from their “clients.” You deposit the checks and then wire them the money minus your “pay.” Or they may send you a check for more than your pay “by mistake” and ask you to wire them the excess. In the sweepstakes and foreign money offer variations of the scam, they tell you to wire them money for taxes, customs, bonding, processing, legal fees, or other expenses that must be paid before you can get the rest of the money.
  • The checks are fake but they look real. In fact, they look so real that even bank tellers may be fooled. Some are phony cashier’s checks, others look like they’re from legitimate business accounts. The companies whose names appear may be real, but someone has dummied up the checks without their knowledge.
  • You don’t have to wait long to use the money, but that doesn’t mean the check is good. Under federal law, banks and financial institutions have to make the funds you deposit available quickly – usually within one to five days, depending on the type of check. But just because you can withdraw the money doesn’t mean the check is good, even if it’s a cashier’s check. It can take weeks for the forgery to be discovered and the check to bounce.That means it might be a month or more before they take the money out of your account.
  • You are responsible for the checks you deposit. That’s because you’re in the best position to determine the risk – you’re the one dealing directly with the person who is arranging for the check to be sent to you. When a check bounces, the bank or credit union deducts the amount that was originally credited to your account. If there isn’t enough to cover it, the bank or credit union may be able to take money from other accounts you have at that institution, or sue you to recover the funds. In some cases, law enforcement authorities could bring charges against the victims because it may look like they were involved in the scam and knew the check was counterfeit.
  • There is no legitimate reason for someone who is giving you money to ask you to wire money back. If a stranger wants to pay you for something, insist on a cashier’s check for the exact amount, preferably from a local financial institution or a financial insitution that has a branch in your area.
  • Don’t deposit it – report it! Report fake check scams immediately to NCL’s Fraud Center, at www.fraud.org. That information will be transmitted to the appropriate law enforcement agencies.

Think this doesn’t happen close to home or at First Financial? Think again!

Here is an example of an incident that occurred in one of our branches: We received an HSBC check from a member who stated that he received the check in the mail from a person claiming to need a personal assistant located near Russia. After further investigating the check, one of our tellers realized that the routing number did not have the required 9 digits – it had 10, and the check number on the bottom of the check did not match the check number in the top right corner. The teller went on to the HSBC website and discovered that there is not a financial institution located at the address printed on the check. The teller then contacted HSBC’s fraud department and spoke with a representative to confirm that the check was indeed fake. We then contacted the member to explain the situation and what was to follow.

For video examples, visit FakeChecks.org a public education TV campaign and website that exposes six common cashier’s check scams: online seductions, overpayments, renter schemes, fake lotteries, work-at-home scams, and foreign business partnerships. The site includes funny “Candid Camera” style videos of an actor getting members of the public to fall for fake check scams, and videos of real victims sharing their stories.

If you suspect you’ve received a fraudulent check, please contact us at 866.750.0100 or stop into any one of our branches and have a representative look at the check to try to help you confirm its validity. We also encourage you to visit our Online Fraud Help & Internet Crime Prevention page on our website in order to protect yourself and/or your business from crime.

Article Sources: www.fraud.org | www.redtape.nbcnews.com

**First Financial is not responsible for content listed on external websites. 

 

Social Media Strategy for Business Seminar Summary

social%20media-resized-600Social Media Consultant Deborah Smith recently helped our attendees strategize a social media plan for their businesses. By using social media tools like FacebookTwitterLinkedIn Pinterest, any company can market themselves for little to no cost; but in order to make these social platforms successful for your company, you must dedicate the time. They aren’t going to work and market all by themselves.

If you are curious to know which social media sites you should use, Deborah Smith suggests the following:

  • If your company is business to business = LinkedIn & Twitter
  • If your company is business to consumer = Facebook & Twitter
  • If your company provides visual products/services = Pinterest & Twitter

Twitter:

It’s important to do your research first to get to know your audience and who you want to specifically target. Using sites like Hootsuite and Google Alerts helps make your “tweeting” a lot easier. Hootsuite allows you to organize streams of search queries, schedule tweets, research hashtags and much more. Google Alerts will send you e-mails if any keyword you specifically want Google to search for comes up. Be creative and play around with keywords and research hashtags on Symplur for you to use on your own Twitter account.

Other tips:
  • Find targert markets through keyword research.
  • Follow prospective people with low follow counts, they will be more likely to notice you just for following.
  • For influencers with large follow counts, retweet their tweets to get noticed.

LinkedIn:

“The first thing you need to do is make a good impression,” says Deborah Smith about starting a LinkedIn profile. Make sure to include a professional headshot, post your city and state, and create a company page. It’s important to periodically post status updates (new hires, new certifications, etc.) on both your personal and company pages but be sure not to overload your connections with unnecessary updates. To get yourself noticed, make sure you complete and optimize your profile, build your network, ask for recommendations, become visible and be sure to include your LinkedIn URL in your e-mail signature and on all promotional/marketing materials.

Other tips:

  • Utilize the advanced search feature to find very specific people to connect with.
  • To rapidly grow your connection base on LinkedIn, join an “Open Networking” group like LION (LinkedIn Open Networkers).
  • Become a paid member and designate yourself as an open networker (one who accepts all invitations) with a mutli-colored wreath next to your name.
  • Only invite people who are already on LinkedIn and craft a unique message, don’t use the generic message.

Pinterest:

You want to develop a Pinterest business page with eye catching boards that appeal to your target market and create relationships with your audience by interacting with users who pin images from your website or board. Why? Early research indicates that Pinterest is more effective at driving traffic compared to other social media sites, even Facebook.

Other tips:

  • Invest in a good camera that produces high quality images if you have products that you want to market.
  • It’s important to learn about your followers, so take some time to go and see what your followers are pinning.
  • People are on Pinterest to have fun, not to be sold to. So it’s a good idea to post things from other sites and online stores rather than just your own.

Facebook:

Facebook timelines are like mini-websites where you can highlight specific employees, news in your surrounding community and mix in information about your products and services. Your company isn’t going to boom overnight, “you need to do your song and dance to get noticed on Facebook,” as stated by Deborah Smith. Provide questions that get your audience to respond and get talking. Nothing is better than receiving personal testimonials about your products and/or services than from a customer.

Other tips:

  • Design custom tabs at Shortstack.com (contact forms, surveys, sweepstakes, etc.).
  • Your cover photo should not be a marketing tool or contain any call-to-action (i.e. “Get it now!”, “Tell your friends!”, “Like this page for 10% off”).
  • Utilize paid advertisements to target specific audiences by state, town, sex, age, education, etc.
  • Pay to promote posts by the number of people you want to reach out to.

Cool tools for Social Media:

  • Use StumbleUpon to get even more noticed by targeting by interest, location and demographic.
  • Constant Contact for their social campaigns.
  • e-Grabber extracts all members of LinkedIn Groups into spreadsheet with phone numbers and e-mail addresses.

For the full presentation, click here for the PDF version.

In 2007, Deborah founded a highly successful food blog which focusses on great eats in New Jersey. Check out JerseyBites.com for delicious tips and inspiration! To learn more about Deborah’s Social Media and E-mail Marketing services, visit DeborahLSmith.com.

Follow Deborah @DeborahLSmith@JerseyBites and Facebook.com/SocialMedia4Business.

 

Disaster Recovery for Small Business

It’s a good idea for any small business to take a look at what can potentially happen & how to plan for a disaster at any time. Follow the steps below to make sure your business is prepared for any emergency.

 Start by minimizing the risks:

  • Develop a sound Disaster Recovery Plan – review and test it annually. This will help insure that systems are in place to help minimize the interruption in service that you provide to your clients and also providing valuable information to your employees that will give them both direction and peace of mind during a crisis.
  • Go out of your way to take care of employees
  • Make deposits in the bank of good will
  • Monitor industry news coverage, conditions and situations
  • Set up systems for early detection and warnings about crises
  • Identification and/or reduction of eventual risks
  • Establish good contacts with media and community
  • Conduct a vulnerability audit

When and if a crisis occurs, carefully evaluate the damage and prioritize your responses to employees, vendors, media and the community at large (or any other critical audiences).

What can we learn in terms of planning?

  • Create employee and business evacuation plans
  • Review remote office resources
  • Consider cloud-based client and project management systems
  • Make employees a first priority
  • Ensure an uninterrupted payroll
  • Establish a mobile work environment

What should we consider in regard to technology?

  • What tools are best for communicating? For example, cell vs. satellite vs. text messaging
  • Phone system: do we have voice activation, an 800 #, forwarding, online voicemail?
  • Do we have remote-access to an e-mail server?
  • What if we need to transition to a virtual office?

Some other advice:

  • Be proactive and routinely discuss, practice and implement your plans ahead of time
  • Ensure you have established clear, defined tasks and functions for everyone
  • Prepare strategic messages for every problematic, hard question imaginable
  • Be able to track and communicate with employees, clients and vendors
  • Realize planning is a best case scenario: what you least expect will happen, and most often what you think may happen may not.