Ways to Get Through Winter on a Budget

Winter can be expensive – between higher utility bills, paying for heavier clothing, indoor activities, transportation in regard to weather conditions, and more. Here are a few tips to help you save during the coldest months of the year.

Lower Your Heating Bill

You have probably heard this before, but it really does work: add an extra layer of clothing and lower your thermostat at home. You may not like wearing heavier clothes around the house at first, but when you get your heating bill in the mail – you will be very glad you did. Besides lowering your home thermostat, other ways to save on your electric or gas bill in winter include making sure you have properly insulated windows and doors. All of these items can really add up and become a huge waste of resources, and your money.

Pay Less for Winter Clothing

If you have children, take a look at their winter coats. Can they be handed down from one child to the next, or how about extended family – do you have anything you can pass on or maybe other family members have coats that can be passed onto your kids? Winter coats aren’t cheap, so if you can avoid having to buy new ones each winter before they get outgrown – family or friend hand me downs are a great idea.

If you do need to buy a new winter coat for your children, try to purchase it at the end of the winter season for next year. If you don’t get a chance to buy off-season, remind yourself to take advantage of winter sales at the end of the year on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. These tips work for adult winter clothing as well. Plus, don’t forget to check out apps like Poshmark and Mercari where you can often find new or gently used brand clothing items for a steal (and even sell your own clothing and shoes).

Save on Winter Sports

Does your family enjoy winter sports? Winter sports like skiing, snow tubing, and snowboarding can get very expensive when you take into account the cost of equipment, maintenance, and warm clothes and boots. Plus, if you don’t live near the mountains – the added cost of travel, hotel, access tickets, or equipment rental.

This is another area to buy winter sporting equipment and clothing off-season to save money. At the end of this winter season, look for items that can be used next winter and get them on sale. You can also look for deals on access tickets online or if you’re a frequent visitor, research and see if you can save by buying family passes for the entire season.

Winter Activities

Because it’s often too cold to be outside, winter indoor activities can really add up. When it’s warmer out, it’s easy to go to the local park and allow your kids to play outside (for free). If you find your family going to the movies each weekend (which isn’t cheap either) and then buying refreshments there, or going to an indoor theme park and again paying for what seems like endless amounts of food and beverages – think about doing some research and making a few changes to the winter family activity budget. Maybe some weekends you can instead rent a movie at home and purchase popcorn and snacks from the grocery store, have a family baking or cooking day at home, and look for coupons online if you do decide to hit that indoor theme park or the movies. It may take a little legwork and planning, but doing so can really help your bank account and still allow for plenty of family fun during winter months.

Article Source: Vered Deleeuw for Moneyning.com

Smart Money Moves to Make in January

It’s January, and if you looking at the upcoming year – you are (hopefully) thinking about your finances and trying to plan ahead. Here are three items to definitely include in your annual financial outlook, and this is a great time to review them.

Review Your Credit

With mobile phones, laptops, tablets and apps, it’s easy to stay connected to our finances these days. Your credit score is something that you should especially be paying close attention to. If you are thinking about buying a house, car, or acquiring any type of loan, knowing your credit score is very important. It’s also significant to review your credit report to see if everything is accurate, especially if you were subject to recent fraud or a data breach. Everyone is entitled to a free credit report from each credit reporting agency every year, and the start of a new year is a good time to review yours as you plan for the year ahead. Not sure where to start? Check out annualcreditreport.com – it’s free, easy, and monitors your credit from all 3 major credit bureaus!

Focus on Saving Money

Even if you did a great job of saving money last year, you probably don’t have as much saved as you might like as of now. Fortunately, it’s the beginning of the year and there are many ways to reach your savings goals by December. An easy way is to automate your savings. More than likely your paychecks are directly deposited to your bank account. It’s extremely easy to add another account to your direct deposit, all you need to do it choose an amount you’d like to save for this year and redirect those funds to a separate savings account that you’ll vow to not touch during the year. Another way to save is add more to your retirement savings. If your employer matches or contributes in any way to your retirement – be sure to look at this and participate. This will mean a great deal later in your life. Not sure where to get started with retirement planning? Make an appointment with the Investment & Retirement Center located at First Financial.* Our financial advisors are here to talk you through the planning process and ensure you feel comfortable in your financial future!

The last way to save money is to go on a “financial fast.” We can almost guarantee that most of your spending doesn’t fall within the “need” category, right? Take a good look at how you’re spending your money and cut out your “wants.” This year, try not to waste your money either. Are you actually using the gym membership you are paying for, or watching Netflix or Hulu? If you aren’t – think about canceling these types of services and only pay for ones you are using on a regular basis.

Are You Prepared for the Unexpected?

If your emergency fund isn’t in good shape, or if you don’t have an emergency fund at all – make it your immediate new year’s resolution. If you have credit card debt that has been lingering for years, don’t let it stay around another year. Review your monthly budget as well, and make sure it fits your lifestyle and expenses. Maybe you keep track of your monthly bills, but what about the annual ones you might sometimes forget about? Be sure to think about any annual fees coming for the year ahead and try not to let them sneak up on you (i.e. property taxes each quarter, annual gym membership fee, and so on). A good strategy to follow this year is to write down or make a note in your smartphone for any once a year or quarterly bills that come up – this way you won’t forget about them moving forward.

Don’t forget that as a First Financial member, you are eligible to make an appointment or stop into any branch for an annual financial review. If you’d like to get your new year off on the right foot, contact us today!

*Securities sold, advisory services offered through CUNA Brokerage Services, Inc. (CBSI), member FINRA/SIPC, a registered broker/dealer and investment advisor. CBSI is under contract with the financial institution to make securities available to members. Not NCUA/NCUSIF/FDIC insured, May Lose Value, No Financial Institution Guarantee. Not a deposit of any financial institution. CUNA Brokerage Services, Inc., is a registered broker/dealer in all fifty states of the United States of America.

Article Source: John Pettit for CUInsight.com

Meal Planning on a Budget

The beginning of a new year is a great time to change up your diet in a way that fits your budget. Meal planning is popular among those who desire to eat healthy while maintaining a healthy budget. While there are many resources available for recipes, we have a few tips on how to make the most of your meal planning options.

Plan your shopping trips and meals in advance.
Take some time to look at the grocery store circulars or online deals to see what is on sale for the week. Once you know what meats and seasonal fruits and vegetables are being offered at a good price, you can research recipes to maximize your meal planning options for the season. Then, compare your recipes to determine your budget before you’re in the store.

Check out meal planning resources through Google search and on sites like Pinterest. There are meal prepping tips and plans available from places like Home Cooks and the Food Network. There are plenty of cost-effective options out there.

Choose different recipes with the same source of protein.
Whether you’re making meals for a family or you’re making lunches for yourself, buying in bulk is typically best. If you’ve found a few recipes for chicken that you think you’ll like, buy the chicken in bulk and freeze what you don’t use right away. For example, you could use chicken for the following meal planning recipes:

  • Chicken Burrito Bowls
  • Teriyaki Chicken Bowls
  • Chicken, Broccoli, and Rice

There are so many different choices that make meal planning flexible and customizable depending on your particular preferences and tastes. Be sure to mix it up, which is easy to do with meal prepping.

Choose recipes that require a limited number of ingredients. 
It’s easy to get carried away when you’re looking at what sounds and looks good for meals. Make sure to get recipes that have either a limited number of ingredients or items that you need to buy. If you find recipes that have common dried spices that you already have in your kitchen, this could be helpful to your wallet as well.  Have a little fun and experiment with flavors that you’re confident will work well together.

Be sure to budget for meal planning and keep track of all your transactions. If you use these simple tips and tricks, you will be well on your way to becoming a savvy meal planner – that works for both your taste buds and your monthly food budget!


Tips for Going on a New Year’s Financial Fast

Worried about all the extra spending you did this past holiday season? While those around you are probably setting new year’s resolutions and going on strict food diets, have you ever thought about going on a financial fitness diet? By embarking on a financial fast – even for just a few weeks, you’ll build your savings back up, see if there are any areas in your budget you need to tighten up in the new year, and learn to be happy with what you have without going overboard on spending.

What exactly is a financial fast? It’s a period of time you’ll set for yourself in advance, to not spend any money other than on necessities. The fast can be a week or two, a month, or more – if you have the discipline to do it. In order to be successful, here are a few tips for staying on course.

What defines a necessity?

This might be the hardest part of a financial fast. A necessity is an actual “need,” something you really can’t live without. Groceries would certainly be defined as a necessity or medication, whereas buying coffee daily from your favorite local coffee shop on the way to work or going out to dinner with friends is a “nice to have,” but not a “need.”  Define your necessities in advance of beginning your financial fast and don’t let yourself stray off course.

Plan in advance.

Think about how long you’d like to go on this financial diet. Say you decide to financially fast for a month. You will need to plan ahead to see what things may come up in that month that you’ll need to prepare for.  Do any family members have birthdays in that month where you’d need to purchase a gift, do you have kids who may be attending a party and once again you’ll need to buy a gift, or are there any other upcoming events you have already RSVP’d to? You’ll need to plan ahead to be successful on this one. For any of the parties, can you bring a homemade gift or gift an experience? If not, you can still commit to trying to buy a less expensive gift in advance of your financial fast.

Pay only with cash.

Using a card to pay for items is easy – almost too easy. When you’re on your financial fast, leave the credit and debit cards at home and only pay for things with cash. A card makes it too tempting to keep spending. When you actually have to pay with physical money and see it disappearing from your wallet, that will have more of an impact on you and you’ll be likely to spend less.

Don’t get tempted.

While on your financial fast, try to stay out of places like the mall or other stores where you typically shop. You might even want to temporarily unsubscribe from advertising emails, and avoid viewing ads on TV or on social media. Try to escape from being tempted, and stick to your financial fast.

While it may be difficult in the beginning, after a short time on a financial fast – you’ll most likely see very quickly what some of your problem spending areas were. However, moving forward you’ll be able to pinpoint them, know what might be a temptation for you and how you can avoid it, as well as recognize the importance of setting a budget and sticking to it. You can do it!

Article Source: Emily Birken for Moneyning.com

Personal Finance Tips for the New Year

A new year just started – be sure to review the following to make sure you are financially set up for the next twelve months!

Review Your Beneficiaries

Make any needed updates to the beneficiary portion of your bank and retirement accounts, life insurance policies, IRA accounts, and so on. Choosing a beneficiary for your life insurance policy is important because your beneficiary will be the person(s) your accounts and policies will be payable to upon your death. Have you gotten married or had a child within the last year? This is also something to keep in mind when selecting a beneficiary and deciding if you need to make any changes this year.

It’s also a good idea to name a secondary beneficiary in case your primary beneficiary passes away. Review beneficiaries for all of your accounts annually. January is the perfect month to do so.

Check Your Tax Withholdings

It’s a good idea to review your W-4 form each year. If you remember from last year, it was the first year tax filers did their tax returns under the country’s new legislation. Was your tax return last year smaller than what you were used to in the past? Did you owe money on your taxes? If so, be sure to consult with your tax professional, put some money aside in savings, and review your withholding amount to see if anything should be adjusted.

Go Over Your Insurance Policies

You should also review your insurance policies on an annual basis: health insurance, life insurance, homeowners insurance, and auto insurance. You will want to review each policy to ensure you aren’t paying too much and that you have the right coverage. In looking at your homeowner’s insurance – do you have any newer bigger ticket items over the last twelve months that were not included in the previous year’s policy? If so, be sure to include them as you are reviewing for the new year ahead.

Look at Your Emergency Savings

Hopefully you have an emergency savings account with at least 3-6 months’ worth of savings in it that you don’t touch. If not, make it your new year’s resolution to start one ASAP! An unexpected accident or emergency can really set you back financially, so even if you are only contributing a small amount per paycheck – it’s important to have that back up bank account should you ever need it.

Contribute to a College Savings Fund

If you have children, are you contributing to a college savings fund to prepare for their future? A college education is not inexpensive these days, but there are some tax-advantaged products you can look into that will help you save over time.

Be sure to speak to your financial advisor, or if you are local to Monmouth and Ocean Counties in NJ – make an appointment with one of ours located within our Investment & Retirement Center. Our financial advisors would be happy to discuss 529 plan options with you at any time.*

Financially Plan for the New Year

It’s a brand new year with lots of blank pages – be sure to get a family savings plan in place, think about if you can afford to travel this year in January, or if your family will be celebrating any upcoming milestones this year. If so, think about opening a special savings account and automatically transferring funds from your paychecks into that account to save up for the year ahead.

Get started with a special savings account at First Financial, we are happy to help our members achieve their financial goals and dreams – and get off on the right foot in the new year!**

Article Source: Securian.com

 *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. Non-deposit 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.

**A $5 deposit in a base savings account is required for credit union membership prior to opening any other 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. Click here to view full Rewards First program details. 

3 Ways to Recover From a Blown Holiday Budget

Now that the holiday season has come to a close, you are probably looking at your bank statements and credit card bills with wide eyes.

So, what can you do to get yourself back on track financially after the holidays? Here are three helpful tips to set your budget straight.

Sell, Sell, and Keep Selling

Declutter your house and see what you can sell. It’s one of the easiest ways to get rid of extra things you no longer use, plus make some cash after spending during the holiday season.

  1. First, find out which big items you can sell and then list those on sites like Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, or various selling apps (Let go, etc.)
  2. Next, look through your closets for brand name clothing that can be sold on eBay, or apps like Poshmark and Mercari. This can really add up. As you go through your closet, snap pictures of the items you are planning to sell on your smartphone and upload them to the above mentioned apps. See how you do – if your items don’t sell in a few weeks, then put them aside to sell at your yearly yard sale in the warmer weather or make a local clothing bin donation.
  3. Lastly, request a bag from Thredup.com or Kindermint.com and pack them with clothes that your family doesn’t need. Most of the items that don’t sell in steps 1 and 2, will be hand-me-downs or 50-cent-finds, so after awhile if nothing is selling and you only get a couple dollars for your items – you are still coming out ahead.

Don’t Spend Money in January

Have you ever tried a month without spending money? The idea is that you cut unnecessary spending (eating out, home décor buys, clothes, and so on), and eat out of your pantry, fridge, and freezer for the entire month.

You are permitted to give yourself $20-40 a week to spend on milk, eggs, bread, and fruit/vegetables at the grocery store – but that’s it!

This is a great time to use up any food items that you may have around but forgot about. Plus, an extra $300 or more would be nice to put toward any credit card debt, or replenish your savings account – right?

Earn Additional Income

Does your job allow you to add overtime or do freelance work? If so, take advantage in January and February to help you pay down those holiday bills.

Be creative. Perhaps you can ask your employer for overtime opportunities, or take on a small baby/pet-sitting position. Even renting out your home or car, can produce extra income if you have the means to do so and live/commute another way.

Recovering from high spending like the holiday season can be tough, but with these steps you can overcome that blown budget relatively quickly and start off the new year on a better financial path.

Article Source:  Ashley Eneriz for Moneyning.com