5 Smart Financial Moves Before the Year Ends

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When the leaves begin to change colors and the year draws to a close, people think about many things: the football season in full swing, apple picking, maybe even a thought or two about finding your rakes before the leaves start to fall all over your lawn. As the year begins its last act before drawing to a close, here are five things to do to get your finances in top shape for year’s end.

Assess Your Status

Take stock of your overall financial status. Look back on the goals you had for the year; have you met them? Don’t just look at your short-term goals, either. Review your earnings, your long term financial requirements, and your overall level of financial peace. If nothing is adding up, then it might be time to think about making some serious life changes – new job, downsizing, selling assets – to make sure you are meeting all of your financial objectives.

Review your Insurance Coverage

Other than paying your premiums or making claims, you likely don’t think of insurance too often. Now is a good time to review all of your policies and ensure that you are satisfied with your level of coverage. Start with your life insurance policies, and ensure that you have the right coverage for your circumstances. This can change as you age, or get married or divorced. Next, make sure your homeowner’s policy is up to date. Finally, if you have bought or sold any cars over the past year, make certain that you aren’t insuring a car you no longer own – and that you have sufficient coverage on your new car.

Save for the Holidays

Thanksgiving and Christmas are right around the corner, and with them come a plethora of expenses. Holiday gifts, food, travel, and vacation expenses require significant cash outlays at the end of the year; the average household spends nearly $900 on Christmas alone. Start saving money as the nights get colder, so that you are ready when the holiday season rolls around.

Get Ready for Winter

Now is the time to get ready for winter. Ensuring your house is winterized – basement, walls, and attic insulated, windows sealed, everything caulked – can provide substantial savings before the first snow falls. Changing furnace filters will help optimize your home heating and reduce costs, and running your ceiling fans in reverse (clockwise) will make your home heat go a little bit further. The savings from all of these moves add up, and will equate to less money going to utility companies this winter.

Max Out Your Retirement Account

You have until April of next year to maximize the yearly limit on retirement account contributions, but don’t delay making that deposit anymore. Your tax-deferred IRA, 401k, or other savings plan are your post-work future. Verify how much you have contributed thus far for the year, and work to maximize your contribution before the deadline.

Questions about retirement planning? To set up a complimentary consultation with the Investment & Retirement Center located at First Financial Federal Credit Union to discuss your savings goals, contact us at 732.312.1564, email samantha.schertz@cunamutual.com or stop in to see us!*

Fall is the one of the best times of the year to get your finances in order, and to close out the year on a high note. Do a good assessment of your overall financial status; determine what you are doing well, where you are falling short, and decide whether or not major changes are in order. Take time to review all of your life insurance policies, and ensure you have adequate coverage. Winterize your house for savings from energy efficiency, and strive to maximize your retirement account contributions. If you do all of these things, you will close out the fall with peace of mind, and will be ready for whatever the next year holds.

*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.

Article Source: Will Lipovsky for Moneyning.com, http://moneyning.com/money-tips/5-smart-financial-moves-for-fall/

 

10 Financial Habits You Should Start Today

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When you look at people who are financially fit, they all have several things in common. They know the value of money and have developed plans and habits that keep them in shape — financially speaking, of course. They are never late with their bills. They know the value of money. They have little to no debt at all.

These are their habits. They all have this common thread, which binds them together. They know what to do when it comes to money — and what not to do. They may not have thousands of dollars in the bank, but they are still financially fit. They just handle money in a way that seems magical to many of us.

The truth is that it is not magic. There is no secret formula that they follow. They have one thing in common: Good financial habits.

Anyone can do this. You just need to know where to start. Below, you will find 10 habits that these people all have in common. Best of all, they are things you can start doing today.

1. Have a Written Budget

This is the key to any financial plan. Many people – sort of, have a budget. They know who they have to pay each month, but maybe it’s not in writing. When you have a written budget, you see exactly where your money goes. Best of all, you can direct your money where you want it to go. You can decide what you want to save and how much you want to spend on groceries. When writing out your budget, be sure to include every single expense (don’t forget about the coffee you stop for every morning or if you pay for parking each day). Your budget is your roadmap to financial success.

2. Pay Your Bills On Time

Never be late with your bills. There are so many ways to ensure they get paid on time, including easily setting up automatic payments or setting reminders on your phone. You can even use a calendar and write in due dates. When you pay your bills on time you show you are responsible. Not only that, but you won’t have to worry about late fees either.

3. No Need for Immediate Satisfaction

It can be tempting when you are shopping to pick up that new bag or pair of shoes. However, do you really need them? Will buying them truly make you happy? Why do you want to buy them? Asking yourself these questions can help you avoid emotional purchases, which typically only lead to buyer’s guilt later on. If you do want to buy something, use the 24 hour rule: Go home and think about it. Check your budget, and if 24 hours later you still really want and can afford the item – go ahead and purchase it.

4. Try Not to Use Credit or Debit Cards

Cash is one of the best ways to ensure you are financially fit. Even if you think you use credit cards the right way and pay them off each month, you could still be overspending. For example, if you only have $100 to spend on groceries, you can’t spend even $101 if you only have cash. If you are using plastic, it’s often too easy to spend more than you anticipate.

5. Keep the Lines of Communication Open

Have regular budget updates with your other half – look over your finances and check your spending. Don’t hide money or spending – just be honest. Try to make time for a monthly meeting, and add it to both of your calendars so you can go over your budget together.

6. Pay Down Debt

Take steps to pay off any debt you have. If there’s a lot of it, you will probably need to create a debt pay off plan. It may take some time, but you can do it!

7. Save Money Every Month

Your budget should include a line item for every penny you earn, including savings. Saving could be needed for retirement, holidays, emergencies, and so on. There is never a right or wrong thing to save for. The best trick here is to automate your savings. When it’s automatic, you can never make excuses for yourself that you can’t save. Instead, it’s money not available for you to spend – and this is never a bad thing!

8. Live Within Your Means

Who wouldn’t love a huge house or fancy car? We all would – but can you actually afford it? Everyone has a different income, therefore the way we live will be different based upon that income. The real difference is not in how much you make, but in what you spend.  If you can’t afford that huge house right now, you shouldn’t buy it.

9. Use Credit Wisely

Credit cards can be a great way to not only build your credit, but also to gain rewards and perks. But, you need to use credit cards the right way. Never charge more than what you have in the bank – if you only have $500 in your account, do not charge more. The reason being, a payday is never a guarantee. You should generally be able to pay your balance in full each month, and on time.

10. Balance Your Accounts Regularly

While you can use online banking 24/7 to check your account balances, there may still be transactions that haven’t posted yet, checks that haven’t cleared, and online bills that haven’t been reflected yet either. If you balance your account regularly, you know exactly what you have to spend.

These 10 habits will easily get you to be financially fit.  You don’t have to start with all ten at once – even if you master a few now and slowly add in the others, you’ll be financially fit in no time!

Article Source: Tracie Fobes for Gobankingrates.com, https://www.gobankingrates.com/personal-finance/financial-habits-need-start-today/

3 Weekend Money Traps You Need to Avoid

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After a hectic workweek, it’s natural to want to decompress over the weekend. Watch out though, because these two days can be the most expensive of the entire week! Here are three common weekend money traps, and how to avoid them.

Restaurants

Dinner at a popular eatery on a Friday or Saturday night always sounds enticing after a long week. But before you make those reservations – consider how much you’ll save by cooking at home. You can still enjoy a great meal, and some quality time with friends and family without the expensive bill.

Movie Theaters

It is more expensive than ever to catch the latest movie release in your local theater. Add in some sodas and popcorn on top of it, and you’re looking at a hefty price tag. Instead, do some research on the newest releases on Netflix or Hulu (even your cable provider’s On Demand menu), and grab some snacks from the grocery store.

Shopping

Who doesn’t love shopping on the weekends?  Special sales at your favorite store may have you spending money you shouldn’t on things you don’t need. Instead, redirect that shopping urge to the grocery store. Not only will you be able to shop – but you’ll be purchasing necessary items that will encourage you to plan your meals, and keep you out of those pricey restaurants at the same time.

Article Source: Wendy Bignon for CUInsight, https://www.cuinsight.com/3-weekend-money-traps-need-avoid.html 

4 Steps to Relieve Money Stress

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There’s a ton of reasons that a person can feel stressed about money – like being behind on bills or living paycheck to paycheck, and even if you are surviving just knowing that you owe money can cause you stress. It’s a situation that many people have found themselves in at one point or another, so even though you may feel alone in the moment – you certainly aren’t.  While you might not be able to make the problem go away immediately, you can at least control your response to it.

1. Change your language

This is more than just a cliché – choosing to speak positively about a situation can improve your outlook and make you feel empowered. Instead of saying “I want to save more” try saying “I will spend less.”

2. Stay in the present

Many people focus on the worst case when it comes to money, particularly if we are feeling overwhelmed or down. Try reminding yourself to take it one step at a time and not get upset over things that may or may not happen.

3. Take a mental break

When you feel yourself starting to feel stress – take a walk, play with your kids or pet, or watch your favorite TV show. A break allows you to regain composure and control.

4. Choose to build wealth

Make your focus on achieving financial freedom, it will give you more joy than any material object ever could. When you feel yourself wanting to make an impulse buy, think of all the choices you will be giving yourself down the road by saving 10% now.

Article Source: Wendy Bignon for CUInsight, https://www.cuinsight.com/4-steps-relieve-money-stress.html

How to Fix Your Bad Money Habits

toolsThey say it takes about 21 days to create a habit, whether good or bad. Once you start feeding into bad money habits, it can be harder to be financially responsible and become increasingly easier to continue splurging. If you feel your bad money habits are getting you down, don’t worry; there is hope for you.

The first step to changing your ways is to acknowledge that there is a problem. If you are blind to the issues your money habits are causing you, it will take you much longer to get out of your situation. By facing them head on, you will be able to turn your bank account around.

Here are some common bad money habits and ways to fix them:

Eating out multiple times a week. By making simple homemade foods at home, you can save quite a few dollars each month. If you figure that the average meal when dining out is roughly $12 compared to about $4 to $6 when cooking at home, you’ll save roughly $6 per person per meal each month.  Even by reducing the amount of times you go out for coffee every month, and making it more at home, you will be able to cut back on frivolous spending. For example, going out for a $2 coffee five times in one month is more than what you could pay for one bag of coffee. $2 may not seem like a lot, but it certainly adds up quickly. Have a hard time giving up your favorite cafe’s cup of Joe? See if you can purchase your own bag of their ground coffee beans to make at home.

Having no financial plans. Not having a plan to save any money is a terrible habit you should break away from immediately. Making changes like paying yourself first, creating an emergency fund, creating a budget, and opening a retirement account are all actions to consider implementing as soon as possible.

Not talking to your significant other. Not discussing the topic of finances with your significant other is a bad idea. Even if you are not married yet, you and your partner should have a general idea of what is going on in your bank accounts, especially if you have plans to move in together. Create a plan and financial goals together and work on being as transparent as possible with one another.

Impulsive buying. It’s hard to not want to dish out money on an item we see and feel we must have right away. But, this kind of impulsive spending on a regular basis is not only harmful to your bank account, but it tends to create negative habits that become harder to avoid even in times of financial struggle. One way to short circuit this process is to only carry cash. People tend be more budget conscious when paying with cash, so you can truly help yourself by paying in cash only.

Carrying a credit card balance. People use credit cards to create a tremendous amount of debt each year. If you have a balance – pay it down to get rid of any looming interest. Train yourself to skip using a credit card for unnecessary purchases or any items you haven’t budgeted for. If you do use your card, make sure to pay off the balance each month.

Don’t forget about First Financial’s free, online debt management tool, Debt in Focus. In just minutes, you will receive a thorough analysis of your financial situation, including powerful tips by leading financial experts to help you control your debt, build a budget, and start living the life you want to live.

Ignoring your savings. Some studies suggest that roughly 1/3 of Americans don’t have any money saved for emergencies. Consider cutting the fat out of your budget and automating contributions to your savings and 401k accounts. Contributing to your 401k will improve your tax situation, and building your savings will reduce any financial stress you might be having.

Neglecting to get the best rate. People often overpay for services they don’t use. A great example of this are huge cable bills for hundreds of channels that never get watched. Consider using a comparison website like lowermybills.com to get a sense of how much you should be paying. Once you have this information, you can call your provider to see if they can lower your rate. Or if it’s not being used, cancel your cable all together.

The above are just a few common bad money spending habits, but we know there are more to avoid. How do you feel about your own spending habits and knowledge of financial literacy? To get an idea, take this quiz and find out.

Article Source: Jennifer Clark for Saving Advice, http://www.savingadvice.com/articles/2016/07/20/1041690_bad-money-habits.html

The 20 Money Hacks Busy People Swear By

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In today’s fast-paced world, time is money — and there never seems to be enough of either one. But with just a few tweaks to your lifestyle, you can easily free up time in your day and money in your budget.

1. Get Free Shipping and Earn Cash Back

Shopping at cash back and rewards websites can help you earn money and points on your everyday purchases. But savings expert Lauren Greutman uses a hack to save even more money, as well as time that you might otherwise spend wandering the aisles.

“Order online at stores like Walmart and Target through Swagbucks, and earn points that you can cash in for free gift cards to other stores like Amazon and PayPal,” she said. “During your order, select ‘ship to store,’ pick it up for free, and you have just earned cash back on your purchase without having to pay for shipping.”

2. Use Apps to Track Your Finances

Angie Nelson from The Work at Home Wife is a huge fan of using technology to save time and money.

“Sign up for a money monitoring service like Mint or Personal Capital,” she said. “Unnecessary expenses and avoidance of saving can add up quickly when your busy mind is on other things. A quick glance or notification will let you know if you are on track or falling behind.”

3. Meal Plan Like a Boss

A little old-fashioned meal planning can help you save hundreds on groceries per month, said Greutman. It can also save you a lot of time by having your meals prepped ahead of time.

“I like to make a month’s worth of meals in one afternoon,” she said. “For only $150, I can make 20 dinners in just under three hours. I use ingredients from Aldi, and this helps me keep my grocery bill low and my stress level down.”

4. Set Calendar Reminders

Reviewing your accounts is crucial to your financial well being. It can help you keep tabs on your spending and make sure you’re on track to meet your goals. Furthermore, keeping a steady date with your finances can help you spot potential problems early on, before they become more challenging and time consuming to resolve down the road.

“Set a recurring event in your calendar to review your financial accounts at the same time and day each week, month, quarter or year,” said Taylor Schulte, a certified financial planner and founder of Define Financial. “Just like everything else in your busy life, if it’s not on the calendar, you probably won’t get to it. This hack will also help develop a healthy habit, and eventually you might not even need to rely on your calendar.”

5. Sell Your Old Stuff Online

You can also save time and money by selling your old items or items you find at thrift stores, on eBay for profit, Greutman said.

“One way that I make extra cash is to buy name-brand clothing at thrift stores and sell them for profit on eBay,” she said. “I find a dress for $4 and sell it for $50. This is a great way to make extra cash from home.”

On the mobile side – download the free Poshmark App, quickly setup an account, and you can take photos of and then sell clothing, accessories, and shoes.  When someone purchases your item, the app sends you a shipping label to print out and attach to your package.  Simply drop the purchased item off at your local post office, and when the buyer accepts it – you can elect to have the funds directly deposited to your bank account.  Cha-ching!

6. Monetize Your Down Time

Another way you can make money during your free time is by watching videos and taking surveys online on a site like Swagbucks, said Greutman.

“I love taking surveys and watching videos in my down time,” she said. “I may as well be making money while relaxing.”

7. Use Your Credit Card

Teresa Mears, CEO of Living on the Cheap, saves time and money by paying for everything with her credit card. Keeping most expenditures on one account can help streamline your budget tracking and bill paying process.

“I charge everything I can to one credit card, and then pay it off manually once a month,” she said. “I get email alerts for the accounts, like electric and water,  that I can’t charge to the card automatically.”

8. Do a 5-Minute Money Checkup

If you can spare just five minutes each day, Greutman has a money hack that can help make managing your finances a breeze.

“Every morning, my husband and I sit down and do a five-minute money checkup,” she said. “That way, we talk about what we have to spend money on that day, review the budget, and we both know what the day’s money movement is.”

9. Digitally Capture Your Receipts

If you find it difficult and time-consuming to track your spending, there’s a hack for that.

“One of the fastest ways for me to track spending is to take pictures of all my receipts,” said Mike Delgado, director of social media at credit reporting agency Experian. “I use a nifty app called Shoeboxed Receipt and share the account with my wife so we can share receipts with each other and categorize spending easily.”

10. Stop Credit Card Fraud in Its Tracks

In addition to using Shoeboxed to capture your receipts, Delgado said it also helps him to spot any suspicious account activity at a glance.

“Shoeboxed also automatically adds your spending data into a downloadable spreadsheet so you can compare receipt data against what’s reported in your credit card transactions,” he said. “This can help you identify fraud faster — and find any discrepancies in what is reported in credit card transactions.”

11. Make Frequent, Small Credit Card Payments

If you’re struggling with managing your credit card bills, this money hack can help make your life easier. By making small but frequent credit card payments, such as 1% to 2% of your balance every other week, you could get out of debt faster and avoid racking up interest.

12. Turn Your Credit Card Into a Debit Card

Using your credit card to earn rewards and cash back takes discipline. However, if you make sure you don’t overspend and you pay your balance in full every month, this strategy can be quite lucrative. Fortunately, there’s a money hack that can help you build credit and earn rewards without going into debt.

One financial tool, Debitize, automatically sets aside money from your checking account after every credit card purchase, then pays the bill in full when it’s due. So, it essentially helps you use your credit card like a debit card, and takes some of the guesswork out of getting rewards.

13. Round Up Your Purchases to Save More

Automation can also help you stash more money in your savings account. One app, Qapital, lets you set up spending rules that trigger an automatic deposit into your savings account. You can set spending challenges, where if you spend less than an amount you set, the remainder is sent into savings. Another feature rounds up the change from each purchase and puts it into your savings account. Qapital said its average user saves $44 per month with this feature.

14. Get Tax Advice

A tax professional can help ensure you’re filing your taxes properly, and can offer the guidance to address problems when they do arise, potentially saving you a bigger, more expensive and time-consuming headache down the road.

15. Buy in Bulk

Buying in bulk can save you time and money each month, said Deb Shaw, COO at international money transfer service ForeignExchange.com.

“Examine what you purchase repeatedly every month, and buy those products or services in bulk,” he said. “For me, this means household items and food with a long shelf life.”

16. Save Before You Pay

If one of the first things you do when you get your paycheck is pay your bills, you might want to reconsider that.

“The best money hack I know is to pay yourself first: Put your budgeted savings into your account before you pay your bills or make any other expenditures,” said Mike Catania, co-founder and CTO of PromotionCode.org. Saving becomes a priority rather than an afterthought, and can help ensure that you stash your money away before you can spend it.

“It’s a common trope for investors, but it’s equally applicable to everyone, and it has the added advantage of helping you mentally shift into prioritizing yourself,” he said.

17. Call Your Cable Company

A short, single phone call once a year to your cellphone and internet provider could save you hundreds, said Bruce Harpham of Project Management Hacks. Do your research ahead of time to see what various deal packages your providers offer, which can give you a cost range to aim for.

Harpham offered tips to negotiate your cable bill. “In the call, point out how long you have been a customer, point out your good payment history, if applicable, and ask for any special promotions currently offered,” he said. “Patience and a bit of luck is required, but the payoff can be great.”

18. Take Online Courses

If you want to go back to school, but can’t imagine spending the money or the time, Adrian Ridner, CEO of Study.com, said online courses can help you achieve this goal in less time and with less money.

19. Buy an Affordable Quality Car

Nothing beats that new car smell, but the type of car you choose can have a major impact on how much time and money you spend maintaining your ride.

If you’re in the market for a new or used vehicle, stop by First Financial and apply for an Auto Loan with us! We have the same great low rates whether you plan on purchasing a new or used vehicle.* To apply, click here for our online application or stop into any branch location. 

20. Automate Everything

Automating can also help you stay on track to meet your investing and debt payoff goals. “The answer to saving time and money is very simple: automation,” said John Luskin of financial planning website UncleDMoney. “This way, you’re saving and/or investing automatically. You don’t even have to think about it.”

Automating doesn’t mean hands-off, though. You should still keep a close eye on your statements to track your spending, watch for signs of fraudulent activity and make sure your automated transactions are going through.

*Subject to credit approval. A First Financial membership is required to obtain an auto loan 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. 

Article Source: Morgan Quinn for Go Banking Rates, https://www.gobankingrates.com/personal-finance/money-hacks-busy-people-swear/