Don’t Fall into the Unexpected Expenses Trap

Let’s face it – adulting is hard. How many times have you and your friends sat around talking about the time when you had little to no responsibility? Long before the days of mortgages, kids and car payments. The carefree days when thinking about life insurance, retirement and 401(k)s seemed light years away.

Planning for the future and life’s unexpected events can be overwhelming, but it can also be  extremely beneficial. There’s a sense of financial security that comes with knowing you have a plan in place to handle the curve balls life likes to throw at you.

Create a budget

Having a budget isn’t a bad thing. Consider your budget a reflection of your priorities and values, rather than depriving yourself of the things you enjoy. Creating and keeping a monthly budget is the key to long lasting financial planning. It allows your money to work for you as you’re giving each dollar a purpose. It puts you back in control of your money.

No matter how much your income is, there’s always the potential to spend more than you make. There are several ways to set up a budget, but it ultimately comes down to what works best for you. Check out our budgeting 101 guidebook here.

Build up your emergency fund

There’s a quote that says, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”

No matter how good or solid our plans may seem, sometimes life happens and our plans are pushed to the side. What happens if your car breaks down, you have to move, or your water heater has to be replaced? Illness and employment are equally as unpredictable. If you are laid off, how long could you pay your bills without living off credit cards or borrowing money? You’re not alone. Did you know that 40 percent of Americans can’t cover a $400 expense out of pocket?

This is why an emergency fund is paramount. Completely separate from a savings account, your emergency fund is specifically designed to cover your necessary monthly expenses.  Ideally, you should keep three to six months’ worth of expenses in your emergency fund at all times. Why? It covers you in the event of a layoff or medical emergency that leaves you unable to work.

Eliminate your debt

Northwestern Mutual’s 2018 Planning & Progress Study showed that the average American has about $38,000 in personal debt, excluding home mortgages. Typically, that debt is a combination of credit cards, student loans, car loans, and personal loans. Credit card debt accounted for 25% of that debt. The study further showed that 2 in 10 Americans spend anywhere from 50% to 100% of their monthly income on debt repayment.

These are staggering facts. But there is hope in those dismal numbers. Getting out of debt takes discipline, and it’s not easy. Start by paying more than the minimum payment. If you’re only making the minimum payment, you’re only paying interest and not attacking the principle. Anything over the minimum payment is applied to the principle and knocks out that balance faster.

There are many helpful methods to reduce debt, and there are several free online and mobile debt repayment tools to help you track your progress as you pay down balances. Check out our credit management and debt reduction guidebook here.

Invest in your future

It’s never too early to invest in your future. If you don’t have a retirement plan such as a 401(k), IRA or stock investments – get one.

If you already have a retirement plan, that’s awesome! Think about increasing the percentage you’re contributing. It helps you save without making an effort, allows you to take advantage of the compound interest, and it reduces your taxable income.

Financial planning is just as personalized as each member we serve at First Financial. Let us help you get your future on track, by making an appointment with our Investment and Retirement Center.* Stop by your local branch or give us a call at 732.312.1500.

 *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.

6 Easy to Forget Expenses to Include in Your Budget

Creating a budget is never easy, it can take months or even years to perfect the process. Plus, life is always changing so a budget that worked a few months ago might not necessarily work now. One of the most common reasons people find budgeting so hard is because there are so many different expenses to keep track of. The big ones, like housing and food, are pretty obvious. However, often there are little things we forget about that can derail a budget from the start.

The next time you evaluate your budget, consider these six expenses that people often forget to plan ahead on:

1. Celebrations

It seems like every week, we’re always celebrating something. From birthdays to weddings to holidays, our schedules are jam packed with social events. However, we often forget that these celebrations come with hefty price tags. Gifts, travel costs, and party attire can add up quickly. Not accounting for these items can really throw your budget off. For example, if you know you have a few weddings coming up in the next year, be sure to set aside funds to cover any associated costs. Also be sure to increase your budget during the holiday season to account for gifts and travel.

2. Pet Care

We love our pets, but there’s no denying that caring for them can get expensive. We tend to only think of pet care expenses in terms of things they use everyday, like food – but any pet owner knows that there are many other major costs associated with our furry friends. Healthcare, including regular veterinary visits, is a big one. Grooming and pet sitting is another. These are expenses for your pet that may not happen every month, but they’re regular enough that you should include them in your annual budget.

3. Coffee

Any good budget will include a category for food and dining, but don’t forget to include coffee in there as well. We all know how much a cup of coffee can cost – anywhere from $2 for a regular cup to $6 for a latte. Whether you make your own or go to your local Starbucks, make sure you understand how much you’re really spending on your coffee addiction every month.

4. Home Maintenance

Many first time homeowners are unpleasantly surprised by the cost of home maintenance. Aside from utilities and minor repairs, there are several recurring expenses, such as lawn maintenance, landscaping and weather proofing that homeowners often forget. Expenses like these can drive up the cost of owning a home considerably.

5. Me Fund

When we’re trying to stick to a tight budget, we often forget about ourselves. If you’re trying to cut your budget, spending on things you enjoy is likely the first expense to go. Don’t underestimate the value of having a me fund, though. It can be anything, from a night out to a pedicure – but doing even something small from time to time can drastically improve your mood and increase your productivity.

6. Emergency Fund

The one thing people most often forget to account for is an emergency fund. This is also the most important.  In life, you never really know what can happen, and you need an emergency fund to protect you from whatever life throws your way. Your budget should include a portion set aside for emergencies. Many recommend that you have 3 months of expenses on hand at any given moment. You can decide the amount you’re comfortable with and then start to save up for it. Just remember to make this a priority.

Need help setting up a budget? Check out our easy Budgeting Guidebook and Worksheet.

Article Source: Connie Mei for Moneyning.com

Financial Advice for Millennials

The Great Recession created a perfect storm for millennials. It was the worst financial crisis the United States had seen since the Great Depression, and it left millennials playing catch up with their finances in the hopes of someday being able to retire. But even as they fight to break even, millennials continue to accrue debt.

The Federal Reserve recently released a study showing millennials have accumulated more than $1 trillion in debt including mortgages, auto loans, credit cards, and student loans. Additionally, Schwab’s 2019 Modern Wealth report revealed that 62 percent of millennials are living paycheck to paycheck while only 38 percent feel financially stable. Despite that statistic, millennials also say they spend nearly $500 a month in nonessential purchases.

While the numbers above look grim, there is still hope for millennials pursuing the “American Dream.” It is important to remember that paying off cars and credit cards, buying a home and working toward retirement are not impossible feats. Like everything else in life, finances are about balance and finding an approach that works best for you.

Create a budget. Budgets are not “one size fits all,” and no two people will have the same financial goals. First, find a strategy that balances rewarding life experiences and saving for the future. Be realistic when crafting your savings and spending goals. For example, you can’t expect to go immediately from saving nothing each month to saving $500 a month. Start with a number that is easily attainable and increase the amount when it’s feasible.

Automate your finances. It’s easy for us to spend more than we save. The trick to overcoming that urge is to put our finances on autopilot. If your paycheck is set up with direct deposit, have a portion of it automatically deposited into a savings account that you don’t touch. Also, set up recurring transfers from your checking account into your savings account. Automatic bill pay is another great way to get ahead. Using online bill pay ensures that your bills are paid on time and you don’t have to remember to pay them (or buy stamps to mail them out)!

Track your spending. How much money do you spend at Starbucks each month? How many Amazon boxes arrive at your door each week? Chances are, like most of us, you don’t keep track of a $5 purchase here or a $10 purchase there. But those small amounts begin to add up and they can add up quickly. There are a number of apps like Mint, Quicken, and Twine – that aggregate your financial transactions and organize them by category so you can create and monitor a budget. Get some budget set up tips here.

Avoid impulse purchases. Overspending is a common interference to achieving financial goals. The more we give in to unplanned or excessive purchases, the harder it is to save money or stick to a budget. Rather than caving to those impulse buys, implement new habits to help avoid traps. Give yourself a waiting period for large purchases. During that waiting period, talk to someone such as a friend, partner, or spouse who is financially sound – and get their opinion about the purchase before you pull the trigger.

Consider a side hustle. Part-time work is a great way to make a little extra money that helps trim down debt or pad a savings account. There are multiple rideshare apps and food delivery apps that allow you to work when you want and as much as you want. If you have a particular skill set like writing or computer work, you can always look for ways to contract out those skills to make a little extra money doing freelance.

Trim your monthly expenses. Do you have a gym membership you never use? Are you paying for cable you barely watch? Does GrubHub make regular deliveries to your place? The average millennial spends more than $500 a month in nonessential purchases. Look at your budget and see where you can trim items. Replace cable with a streaming service. Make dinner at home. Get rid of that gym membership you never use and go for a run outdoors. You’ll be surprised how quickly you can build back your savings by eliminating unnecessary bills.

At First Financial, we offer our members a variety of services including financial planning and credit management counseling. We want to help you find a way to save for your future in a way that also meets your immediate needs. Contact us to schedule an appointment to review your financial situation and find a path that gets you where you want to be.

How to Manage Financial Stress

Are you financially stressed? Here are a few tips to help you maintain your cool and get back on track to achieving your financial goals.

Focus on the positive.

If you’re in debt, it’s a lot easier to focus on the negative. However, staying positive can help you remain calm and clear your head. List out the positive aspects of your money management skills, so that you can clearly recognize your financial strengths. You may be able to expand on those strengths to provide yourself with a solution.

Look back at your budget.

Go over your bills and expenditures with a fine tooth comb. There are always things that you can cut back on, so try to reduce any expenses and put that money to better use. Setting up an emergency fund, paying off debt, and putting money toward retirement are all good options.

Stop comparing yourself to others.

Its human nature to feel jealousy when you feel like you’re missing out. Avoid the fear of losing out by not comparing yourself to those around you. You don’t know their financial status – they may have material wealth, but could still be in worse shape.

Meet with a professional.

In most cases, stress comes from the unknown. If you don’t understand your finances – it can be stressful, but it will only get worse if you don’t ask for help. Before things get worse, seek someone who deals with similar situations every day.  If you are a First Financial member, we offer complimentary annual financial reviews. Stop into your nearest branch or contact us today to schedule an appointment.

Embrace the concern.

You shouldn’t be worrying about money all the time, but a little bit of worry can help you stay aware, keep your spending in line, and your savings on track.

Article source: Tyler Atwell for CUInsight.com

How Much Does it Take to Be Rich?

The results of a recent YouGov survey show that most Americans think you need to make $100,000 per year to be considered “rich.” Assuming you weren’t one of the people interviewed for that survey, does $100,000 a year sound like wealth to you? What if someone makes less than six figures per year? Can they still be considered wealthy? How can someone with a goal of getting rich know when they’ve finally arrived?

What does “rich” even mean? Here’s the challenging thing about defining what it means to be rich or wealthy—it’s all relative. In a recent article for CNBC, reporter Kathleen Elkins shared that, according to a recent Global Wealth Report, “If you have just $4,210 to your name, you’re better off than half of the people around the globe.” That report went on to show that anyone with a net worth of $93,170 or more ranks in the world’s wealthiest 10 percent. How about that? It turns out wealth has little to do with your income after all.

Yes, earning a lot of money can help you build wealth, but there’s more to it than that. We’ve all heard stories of individuals who made massive amounts of money yet wound up broke and bankrupt. At the same time, there are many examples of ordinary people who earned average salaries and somehow managed to retire with extraordinary wealth and financial stability. When you analyze their stories, you find that those who were successful focused less on their income and more on their net worth. If you want to “get rich,” you’ll need to make your money work for you instead of the other way around.

Net worth is the key to lasting wealth. Maybe net worth is a new concept for you, maybe it’s not. Either way, let’s define the term for the sake of clarity. Credit Suisse, the research institute that compiled the Global Wealth Report mentioned above, defines net worth as “the value of financial assets plus real assets (principally housing) owned by households, minus their debt.” Simply put, your net worth is the difference between what you own and what you owe. By this definition, it’s easy to see why income is only part of the wealth equation. You might earn $250,000 per year, but if your debt and payments outweigh your income and assets, you’re just broke at a higher level.

Do you want to get rich? Start with these simple steps.

Follow a budget. Whether you make minimum wage or a CEO’s salary, it’s essential to have a plan for how you’ll spend your money. Some experts recommend zero-based budgeting, which means you’ll designate where every single dollar will go during the month, starting with your basic needs (housing, food, utilities) and financial obligations (credit card payments, loan installments) and placing any remaining funds into savings. Others recommend a broader 50/20/30 guideline, which dedicates 50% of your income to needs, 20% to savings, and 30% to wants. These are only two out of many budgeting approaches. There are pros and cons to each, so take your time and find the right fit for your financial situation. Remember, the best budget for you is the budget you actually follow.

Minimize your debt. To create a substantial net worth, it just makes sense to limit your debt. If you’re starting out on your own and haven’t racked up mountains of debt, do your best to keep it that way. If you’ve made some poor financial decisions that left you saddled with considerable debt—especially high-interest consumer loans and credit card balances, create a plan for paying off that debt as quickly as possible. If you need help formulating a plan, you can find a variety of resources online – including this First Scoop blog. You can also contact your local credit union to see if they offer debt counseling services. If you live, work, worship, volunteer or attend school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties in NJ – you can make an appointment at your nearest branch to go over your financial situation and come up with a debt management plan that works for you. Once your money is no longer going to pay off debt, you’ll be able to take significant strides toward building wealth.

Invest in assets. Speaking of strides toward building wealth, investing in appreciable assets can help build your net worth. The most common assets are real estate, stocks, and bonds. While real estate varies by location and depends on fluctuating market conditions, it is historically a safe investment that typically increases over time. Buying individual stocks is another way to grow your money, but this kind of investing can often be a high risk, high reward proposition. If you’re looking for stable growth over time, investment products like 401(k) accounts and mutual funds offer stability through diversification. Since there are so many investment options available, it’s always a good idea to consult a qualified financial advisor before committing your hard-earned money. Be sure to contact First Financial’s Investment and Retirement Center to learn more and get started today.*

So, how much does it take to be rich? That answer is going to be different for everyone. Your situation is unique, which means your road to riches will be as well. Fortunately, you don’t have to plan your route alone as a First Financial member. Our dedicated staff is ready to help you find your starting point, establish your monetary goals, and select the best products and services to accomplish your financial dreams.

*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.

 

3 Good and Bad Reasons for Personal Loans

A credit card is a valuable tool when you need money in a pinch. But if you’ll need a little time to pay it back, it’s probably not the right financial tool for you. Getting a personal loan is a much better idea if you’re borrowing larger amounts of money that you won’t be able to pay back immediately. Here are some good and bad reasons for using personal loans.

Good Reasons

Investing in Your Home: Whether you’ve got an expensive repair that needs to be made, or you just want to redo your kitchen –  spending money on your home doesn’t usually come cheap.  A personal loan will allow you to up the value on your home and provide you with a fixed monthly payment that you can handle.

High Interest Debt: Credit card debt can be hard to get out from under. If you’re dealing with debt on multiple credit cards, you may be in some financial trouble. A personal loan with a fixed monthly payment can be a great option for you if you’re dealing with a mountain of debt that seems impossible to climb. However, you just have to remember to not continue to use your credit cards along with the personal loan, and further get yourself into serious debt.

Starting a Small Business: You’ve been dreaming about opening up your own business. Follow your dreams and make it happen. Startup costs can be expensive, so this is a great reason to get a personal loan.

Bad Reasons

Vacation: If you don’t have the money you need to take a vacation, the last thing you want to do is go into debt just to make it happen. Staycations are a good alternative and can be just as relaxing as a vacation, so save your money and by next summer maybe you’ll be ready to book that trip to the beach.

Investments: No matter how good you think you are at investing, it’s still a little like gambling. There are no guarantees when it comes to investing, so don’t put yourself into debt for something that may just end up putting you even further into the hole.

Wedding: Weddings can be super expensive. If you can afford a pricey wedding, great. But if you don’t have the funds for your dream wedding, do you really want to start off your new life together with a shiny new pile of debt?

Sometimes, for important items we need in life – the money just isn’t there. First Financial is dedicated to providing small personal loans that can help cover the costs of life’s necessary expenses. If you live, work, worship, volunteer, or attend school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties in NJ – this may be a great financial solution for you. Learn more and apply online today!

*APR = Annual Percentage Rate. Rates are subject to change. Maximum loan is $25K and maximum term is 60 months. Not all applicants qualify, subject to credit approval. A First Financial membership is required to obtain a personal 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. See credit union for details.

Article Source: John Pettit for CUInsight.com