Budget-Friendly Holiday Shopping Tips

The holiday season is one of the most joyful times of the year – and the most expensive. Between parties, travel, and gift giving – November through January can be a big weight on your wallet. While you may want to spend hundreds on gifts to treat your loved ones, your budget could be heavily impacted by doing so. If you play your cards right, you can still get everything you need for the holiday season at a reasonable price. Here’s how.

Take care of your bills and consider loan options

Ahead of shopping, it’s crucial to take care of all your essential bills first – like rent, utilities, and groceries. This way you know what you have left to spend on gifts and can make a realistic budget that fits within your means. If you’re working with debt that needs to be paid off, we recommend considering a consolidation loan to help reduce your monthly expenses by centralizing your high-rate credit card payments and other loans into one simple payment. At First Financial, we also offer a holiday personal loan that’s available through mid-January, to make paying for all the gifts on your list easier than ever.*

Make a holiday shopping list – and stick to it

One of the best ways to avoid overspending and impulse buying is to make a list of every single item you need to purchase. This includes who you’re shopping for, what the gift will be, about how much it will cost, which decorations you need for your home, food items you may need to buy for holiday baking, and more. Are you taking a trip to visit family or friends? You’ll also need to add travel expenses to your list and check it twice!

You don’t only need to shop on Black Friday and Cyber Monday

There’s so much pressure for consumers to go ham on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but those big deals can cause impulse buys and have you end up spending more than you intended. Retailers can be clever and create deals that make it seem like you’re saving, but really they could be encouraging you to purchase more at once.

Instead, you should be strategic about when you’re buying your gifts. Sales happen over the course of the year, so there’s never a shortage of opportunities to buy. Refer to your shopping list and search when those items typically tend to go on sale. Of course, this method isn’t the easiest if you’re shopping last minute. Experts recommend instead focusing on finding savings on your everyday purchases around the holidays so you have more room in your budget for gifts.

Get decorations and small gifts at discount stores

You don’t need brand name items for your holiday decorations. You can find lights, garland, ornaments, cards, and gift wrap all at your local discount store for the best prices. Dollar Tree, Dollar General, Christmas Tree Shops, Big Lots, and outlet stores all have the tchotchkes and decor you’ll need to get in the holiday spirit without spending a small fortune.

Consider DIY gifts

Do you need to get gifts for your colleagues, extended family, teachers, or neighbors and are you cutting it close to your budget limit? Make something thoughtful or delicious instead. Bake cookies, make festive jams, create an ornament, paint a special wine glass, make homemade soaps or candles, put together a framed photo album or collage, thread up a scarf, or whip up your own bath bombs – the options are endless and thoughtful.

No matter how you’re celebrating this year, we’re wishing you a wonderful and safe holiday season!

Want to see more articles like this? Subscribe to First Financial’s monthly newsletter for financial resources and advice.

*APR = Annual Percentage Rate. APR as low as 9.99%, terms up to 24 months, minimum loan amount is $500, and maximum loan amount is $2,500. Loan payment example: A $1,000 Personal Loan financed at 9.99% APR for 24 months, would have a monthly payment amount of $46.14. Actual rate will vary based on creditworthiness and loan term. Subject to credit approval. One holiday loan open per member. Refinance option for prior holiday loan is available, see credit union for details. Maximum dollar amount able to borrow is based on creditworthiness and loan term. A First Financial Federal Credit Union membership is required to obtain a loan, and is open to anyone who lives, works, worships, volunteers or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties. A $5 deposit in a base savings account is required for credit union membership prior to opening any other account/loan.

First Financial Business Member Spotlight: Hairstylist for the Nations

“I have many ideas about my business and First Financial knows how to help.”

It’s Small Business Saturday, and we are taking the opportunity to highlight one of our wonderful business members to encourage the support of shopping and using local Monmouth & Ocean County small businesses! With that being said, welcome back to our First Financial member spotlight – a series where we feature some of our personal and business credit union members who we’ve happily worked with over the years. This time we’re shining a light on business member Ameerah Jones, the owner of Hairstylist for the Nations in Shrewsbury, NJ.

Ameerah started Hairstylist for the Nations in 2012 after working in the fashion industry. One of the first reasons she decided to bank with First Financial was because there were no monthly fees for business checking accounts. Over time, Ameerah learned that First Financial met her needs as a freelance business owner in a fast-paced environment where she is constantly on the go – especially with her business’ credit card processing. The credit union also continues to be invested in helping her business grow.

Learn more about her experience in banking with First Financial in the video below, and why Ameerah recommends our business banking to other business owners she knows.

If you’re looking to book your next hair appointment, check out Hairstylist for the Nations located at 1026 Broad Street, Suite 6 in Shrewsbury. You can also call 732.242.7733.

How to join First Financial

If you live, work, worship, volunteer, or attend school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties in NJ, you’re eligible to become a member. Businesses in Monmouth or Ocean Counties and our community partners are also eligible for membership. To join, all you have to do is open a savings account with $5. It’s that easy! Once you’re a member, your immediate family can also sign up. To get started, call us at 732.312.1500, email info@firstffcu.com, or stop by any of our local branches.

How to Keep Holiday Shopping from Draining Your Finances

If you’re stressed and money is a worry this holiday season, you’re not alone. According to a recent survey, 61% of Americans worry about extra spending during the holidays. Last year, 1 in 3 consumers went into debt after the holidays. Half of those consumers took 3 months to pay their holiday spending back, while others needed 5 months to pay it back.

Keep reading to find out a few ways you can financially prepare this year, and soften the blow to your budget.

Be sure to set a strict holiday budget

The first thing you want to do, is see if you can figure out how much you spent last year during the holidays and look at the gifts, food, and decorations you bought. Did your shopping last year leave you financially strapped and did it take multiple months to pay off? If so, you’ll want to rethink this year’s spending.

Create a gift idea list and approximate costs for this year. If you can’t afford the grand total on your monthly income after your necessities are paid (housing, utilities, food, gas, etc.) you will need to reconfigure your list. You also don’t want to stray from your list, once it’s done it needs to be done – don’t keep spending money on extra items.

Think of ways you might be able to cut back this year – do you really need to buy gifts for every person in your family or for all your friends? Perhaps in a larger family or a group of friends you can suggest doing a Secret Santa with an affordable purchase limit. This way you’re only buying one gift instead of multiple. In your group of friends, can you skip giving each other gifts and just go out to dinner or have a potluck meal together at someone’s home instead? These are all ways to keep your holiday spending budget down.

Take a look at your regular spending habits

In November and December you might need to cut back on your regular entertainment or dining out expenses in order to put those funds toward holiday gifts. How often do you go out to eat, stop at the nearest drive thru for a seasonal coffee, or use delivery services like DoorDash? These purchases can really add up. Try to cut back or cut them out altogether during the holiday season, and use that money toward your gift list instead.

The same goes for other entertainment expenses. Take a look at your subscription and streaming services – how many services are you paying for and are you even using them during such a busy time of year? Maybe pausing them for a month or two will pay for another gift on your shopping list.

Add to your monthly income

Do you have any extra availability on nights or weekends to pick up a part-time job for the holidays? Depending upon where you work, you may even gain an employee discount to help you save a little on gifts you can buy. You’d also be able to bring in additional income to help you afford holiday expenses.

Do your research on sales and discounts

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are coming up, but many retailers will also offer sales and promotions all season long. Be sure to research the retailers you plan to purchase from this year, follow them on social media and sign up for their emails. A lot of times, signing up for emails or texts gets you a first-time enrollment discount too. If you know you’d like to purchase gifts from a particular store, check your email in the morning and see if they have any promotions, coupons, or discounts going on that day.

Don’t forget your rewards credit card

Do you have a rewards credit card that offers cash back for purchases during the year or offers merchandise and gift cards? Login to your account before you start shopping for gifts. If you have money you can redeem for cash back, you can use these funds to buy gifts on your list. If your rewards credit card has a merchandise catalog you can redeem points earned for or merchant gift cards, cash in and you might be able to check some more off your gift list!

Our First Financial Cash Plus Cards offer cash back, merchandise, retailer gift cards, travel experiences and more – through uChoose Rewards. Learn more and apply today!**

Plan ahead for next year

It’s never too early to start saving money. If you don’t want to feel stressed about the holidays again next year, look for ways you can start saving now. For instance, at First Financial we have a Holiday Savings Account which can help you save for all your holiday expenses during the year. This account will allow you to have money deducted from each of your paychecks and sent to your Holiday Savings Account. Come next October, it will have accrued for you all year long and be available for you to use.

Don’t let the holiday season become stressful or a drain on your budget. With careful planning and saving – you’ll find you can afford the extra expenses this time of year often brings, and help spread some holiday cheer at the same time!

Want to see more articles like this? Subscribe to First Financial’s monthly newsletter for financial resources and advice.

*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. Some restrictions apply, contact the Credit Union for more information.

 **APR varies up to 18% for the Visa® Cash Plus Card when you open your account based on your credit worthiness. This APR is for purchases 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: Balance Transfer and Cash Advance Fees of 3% or $10, whichever is greater; Late Payment Fee of $29, $10 Card Replacement Fee, and Returned Payment Fee of $29. A First Financial membership is required to obtain a Visa® Credit Card and is available to anyone who lives, works, worships, volunteers, or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties. A $5 deposit in a base savings account is required for credit union membership prior to opening any other account/loan.

 

Don’t Fall for a Utility Scam This Holiday Season

‘Tis the season for utility cutoff scams to ramp up. If you get a text, email, or phone call from your “utility company” threatening to shut off your power for non-payment this holiday season, don’t panic – it’s most likely a scam.

View this short video to learn more about utility scams.

Threats to Turn Off Water and Power Could Be the Work of Scammers

Many basic necessities rely on utilities we take for granted, and that makes them perfect for a scammer to exploit. Like many other scams, utility scams occur when a scammer pretends to be someone they’re not. In this case, the scammer poses as a representative from your power or water company and threatens to turn off your services unless you send payment right away or provide some important personal information.

Different Approaches, Same Intent

These scams can happen through email, over the phone, via text message, and in person. In some cases, the scammer may report you’ve overpaid for services and ask for a bank account, credit card, or utility account information to allegedly issue a refund. Remember that your actual utility company would already have this information. What’s more likely is that the scammer is trying to get your personal account information to commit fraud.

Utility scams typically include an urgent notice threatening to cancel your service due to a missed payment – leaving you without heat, air conditioning, or water. Scammers use urgency to create panic and scare you into acting fast without thinking or confirming the authenticity of the situation.

Individuals posing as utility workers may even show up at your home for a fake inspection or equipment repair, investigate a supposed gas leak, or conduct a “free” audit for energy efficiency. They will try to charge you for the fake service, sell you unnecessary products, or collect personal information to use in identity theft activities. Don’t fall for these tactics, your actual utility company would not operate in this manner.

Fast Payments Work in Scammers’ Favor

Since electronic payments are a fast way to send money and often can’t be reversed, the scammer may say that they need immediate payment via bank wire, gift card, or digital payment apps like Venmo or Zelle® to keep your utilities running. These scams are often timed for maximum urgency, such as peak heating or air conditioning seasons, or right before a big holiday celebration like Thanksgiving.

How to Protect Yourself

Watch for these warning signs to detect a utility scam in progress:

  • An unscheduled or unsolicited call or visit from someone claiming to represent your power or water company. No matter how great the offer or frightening the situation sounds, decline any action until you can verify its authenticity.
  • Threats to cut off service unless an overdue bill or maintenance cost is paid immediately. Most utility companies send multiple notifications before canceling service.
  • Requests for personal account information or payment via bank wire, gift card, or digital payment apps like Venmo or Zelle®

If you experience any of these situations, follow these steps:

  • Slow down and ask questions, like what the individual’s employee identification number is or ask them to confirm the date and amount of your most recent payment.
  • Do not respond to text or email messages threatening to turn off your utilities.
  • Call the utility company using the number on your bill or the company’s website before taking any action. Do not use a number provided by the representative.

At First Financial, our goal is to help protect our members from scams and identity theft. If you have any concerns or questions about any of your First Financial accounts, please call member services at 732.312.1500 or visit one of our branches.

To learn more about scams and ways to protect yourself, visit zellepay.com/pay-it-safe.

Zelle and the Zelle related marks are wholly owned by Early Warning Services, LLC and are used herein under license.

 

 

 

Hosting Thanksgiving on a Budget

Thanksgiving is a time for family, tradition, and, of course – lots of food. But if you’ve ever hosted a Thanksgiving dinner, you know the holiday can be a bit stressful and expensive. Between buying all the ingredients, spending time cooking, and making sure your home is ready to accommodate others – there’s a lot to plan and budget for.

The holiday season might already be a burden on your budget, and throwing inflation into the mix doesn’t make it any easier this year. According to the USDA, grocery prices have increased by over 13% from 2021 to 2022. That’s why it’s so important to consider cost-effective alternatives to the traditional Thanksgiving meal.

Here are 4 ways you can host Thanksgiving on a budget this year.

Plan your budget and menu

Before hosting any party or gathering, you should always create a budget. Don’t just consider which ingredients you need, but rather what you can reasonably afford. Start by listing out your expenses and income to determine what you have left to spend. From there you’ll have a better idea of what your menu will look like based on your budget.

Ahead of going to the grocery store, you should know what your main course will be and the types of sides you’ll be serving. Knowing any guest dietary restrictions will be helpful before you shop as well.

Shop generic brands

According to News 12 New Jersey, Thanksgiving turkeys typically take up 40% of the holiday budget and are one of the most expensive parts of the meal. And while turkey may be a holiday staple, you can always find a more affordable bird when comparing brand prices. For example, a ShopRite 24-pound fresh turkey could cost $40, Butterball is $52, and organic brands cost around $77. If you’re feeding fewer people, consider buying a turkey breast instead of the full bird. Also, don’t forget about your grocery store rewards or coupons. If you frequent ShopRite, be sure to take advantage of the free frozen turkey or ham you may be able to get this time of year.

Try something new

With a 28% cost increase per pound this year, you might want to consider nixing buying a turkey entirely. Sure Thanksgiving is all about traditions, but what better opportunity to start a new ritual with your loved ones – especially if it’s saving money? We recommend trying a different cut of meat like roasted duck, beef, or even plant-based options – all of which won’t be as heavily priced this time of year. You can even challenge yourself to try new cuisines by making Native American staples to honor the history of the holiday.

Turn it into a potluck

Get your guests involved and host a potluck! Sharing the burden of cooking not only saves you time, but it’s also easier on your wallet. Even if you don’t want to do a full-blown potluck, you can ask your guests to bring beverages or desserts. Start a conversation with your group to see what they would be comfortable bringing and make sure you have all the fixings for the main course, sides, and appetizers.

No matter what your plans are this Thanksgiving and holiday season, the team at First Financial is here to help with financial resources, accounts, loans, and more. Talk to us about becoming a member by calling 732-312-1500 or stop by our local branches.

Want to see more articles like this? Subscribe to First Financial’s monthly newsletter for financial resources and advice.

 

$5 in a base savings account is your membership deposit and is required to remain in your base savings account at all times to be a member in good standing. All credit unions require a membership deposit.

Managing Debt Ahead of the Holiday Season

Holiday music is starting to play on repeat in stores. Neighbors and friends will soon be lighting up their homes with festive decor. Shoppers are beginning to pick up gifts for everyone on their lists. The holiday season is almost here! And while this is an exciting time of the year, it can certainly be stressful on your wallet – especially if you have some lingering debt to pay off.

According to the National Retail Federation, the average person spent around $1,000 during the 2021 holiday season. And with inflation, it’s expected those prices will only go up. That’s why making sure your debt is under control before you start your shopping – will be key for many individuals. Here are our top recommendations for managing debt ahead of the holiday season.

Make and keep a holiday budget

Before you dive into those Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals, it’s best to understand your holiday budget. Not only do you need to consider what you’ll have to buy, but also what you can afford. This is how you can make a holiday budget based on your financial situation:

  • Determine your spending limit: Map out your regular expenses and see what you have left over. The goal is to stay within your means, so that means having a clear picture of your finances.
  • Create a list: Start by categorizing what you need to purchase (this includes gifts and wrapping, decorations, travel, food, etc.), and then build a list of who you need to get gifts for and what the items would be.
  • Research prices: Start looking online for how much these gifts should cost and then see where you can cut back.

Find ways to spend less

It’s easy to talk about finding all the good deals during the holiday season, but when the time comes – you might be tempted to get everything on your list as fast as you can. If you’re on a tight budget though, it will be worth it to put in the time and research. Retail experts say the pandemic has changed the way sales function during the holidays and the best deals won’t come just on Black Friday. Instead, they will happen on an item-by-item basis.

To catch these savings, we recommend downloading price-tracking apps like Honey and ShopSavvy so you don’t miss out. Other ways to save on holiday expenses are to shop at dollar stores for cards, gift wrap, and party supplies. If you plan to get anyone a gift card, you can find discounts on sites like Coingate, Raise, GiftCards.com, CardCash, and Gift Card Granny.

Debt repayment strategies

Before you start shopping, let’s make sure you’re addressing any unpaid debt you may have. The goal is to make sure you don’t put yourself further in debt when purchasing gifts for everyone on your list. Plus, you’ll want to have a plan for paying your holiday expenses off – rather than figuring it all out as you go. These strategies can help you pay off your debt faster.

  • Pay more than the minimum: Only paying the minimum on your credit card statement each month will make debt repayment take much longer. Plus, you’ll end up paying more in interest than what you initially borrowed.
  • Consolidate your debt: If you owe money on multiple credit cards, you should consider consolidating your debt into one credit card or loan with a lower interest rate.
  • The avalanche method: If you do have multiple cards with balances, try using the avalanche method – which focuses on paying off the card with the highest balance first.
  • The debt snowball method: This method will have you start by paying off the smallest debt first. Once paid in full, you would take those monthly payments and put them toward the next smallest outstanding debt.

At First Financial, we offer consolidation loans to streamline paying down debt so you can focus on one bill at a time.* Plus, you won’t have to worry about fees and interest rates from multiple credit cards! Apply online or stop by a branch location to learn more about our loan options. You may even want to consider transferring your other higher rate credit card balances, to one of our credit cards. We offer lower interest rates, plus cash back and rewards credit cards too!**

We wish you a fun, safe, and happy holiday season!

Want to see more articles like this? Subscribe to First Financial’s monthly newsletter for financial resources and advice.

 

*APR = Annual Percentage Rate. Actual rate will vary based on creditworthiness and loan term. Subject to credit approval. Personal Loan repayment terms range from 12 to 60 months, and minimum loan amount is $500. A First Financial Federal Credit Union membership is required to obtain a Personal Loan or Line of Credit, and is open to anyone who lives, works, worships, volunteers or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties. A $5 deposit in a base savings account is required for credit union membership prior to opening any other account/loan.

**APR varies up to 18% when you open your account based on your credit worthiness. This APR is for purchases 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: Balance Transfer and Cash Advance Fees of 3% or $10, whichever is greater; Late Payment Fee of $29, $10 Card Replacement Fee, and Returned Payment Fee of $29. A First Financial membership is required to obtain a Visa® Credit Card and is available to anyone who lives, works, worships, volunteers, or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties. A $5 deposit in a base savings account is required for credit union membership prior to opening any other account/loan.