5 Easy Ways to Cut Your Spending Dramatically

Trying to trim expenses can seem like a never ending task, as new expenses always pop out of nowhere. With already tight budgets, the task of reducing spending can seem impossible. You’ve already cut out your morning latte and canceled your gym membership – what more can you do?

Lowering your expenses is definitely a daunting task. While you’ll have to make sacrifices and get a little creative, it definitely can be done without cramping your lifestyle too dramatically.

Cut Up Your Credit Cards

Take a close look at your credit card collection if you have multiple cards, and decide which ones you should keep using and which ones you can cut up. First, note the interest rate for each card, and don’t use the ones that charge the higher rates. Obviously, it is ideal to be able to pay off your bill every month – but that isn’t always realistic depending on your situation. Second, take a close look at the rewards programs for each card. Such programs are becoming more and more competitive and can be a determining factor when deciding what your go-to card should be. Also, canceling credit cards can negatively affect your credit score as it lowers your credit to debt ratio. Consider literally cutting them up and forgetting about them instead of really canceling them.

Be Your Own Chef

Food is one of the biggest expenses we face and most people are guilty of spending too much on dining out. Don’t ignore this habit because the expenses can really add up. Cooking more at home can easily and drastically lower your spending.

But what if you hate cooking? Don’t worry, because you can still save. To mitigate this, cook once a week by meal prepping. Make a big batch of whatever you want and portion it out into multiple meals a week. When it’s time to eat, all you have to do is heat it up – even easier than going out.

Ride a Bike

Car maintenance and gym memberships can cost an arm and a leg. Why not kill two birds with one stone by riding a bike? Depending on where you work, riding a bike to your office could be a great option to get a workout in and save money on gas. Many big cities also now have bike sharing programs, which makes it even more convenient to ride wherever you need to go.

Reinvent Your Social Life

Socializing with friends takes time and money. Just having a single drink could cost up to $15 with tax and tip, which can really add up as the night goes on. However, there are plenty of inexpensive or free activities you can do instead. If you’re going out for drinks, consider meeting up during happy hour. While timing might not be ideal, it can cut your bill in half. Also, every city, big or small, has free events, especially during warm weather. So take advantage of them as the weather is warming up for the season.

Analyze Your Bills

Getting a bill is never a fun moment, but be sure to take a thorough look instead of quickly glancing through it. Many of us end up paying fees we don’t realize every month that could easily be avoided. Also, look carefully at your usage every month, particularly when it comes to your cell phone and utilities. Perhaps you could lower your texting plan if you’re not close to using your maximum for the month, while others can easily trim their data plans. Small details like these seem insignificant when you look at them individually, but everything can collectively make a huge difference in the long run.

Article Source: Connie Mei for Moneyning.com

6 Easy to Forget Expenses to Include in Your Budget

Creating a budget is never easy, as it can take months or even years to perfect the process. And on top of that, 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 obvious. But there are so many 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:

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, make 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.

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 furry friends. Health care, including regular veterinary visits, are 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 budget.

Coffee

Any good budget will include a category for food and dining, but don’t forget to include your 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. It’s something many of us can’t live without and it definitely adds up. Whether you make your own or go to your local Starbucks, make sure you understand how much you’re really spending every month.

Home Maintenance

Owning a home is a dream to many, but when that dream finally comes true, many first-time homeowners are unpleasantly surprised by the cost of home maintenance. Aside from utilities, and minor repairs, there are many recurring expenses, such as lawn maintenance and weather proofing that homeowners often forget. Expenses like these drive up the cost of owning a home considerably.

‘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 or a pedicure, but doing even something small from time to time can drastically improve your mood and increase your productivity.

Emergency Fund

The one thing people most often forget to account for is an emergency fund. This is also the most important. With all that’s going on, saving up for a rainy day is probably the last thing on your mind. But as with 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 to 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 slowly save up for it. Just remember to make this a priority.

Article Source: Connie Mei for Moneyning.com

Are Meal Delivery Services Worth the Money?

With almost $5 billion in sales in 2017 alone, it’s safe to say meal delivery services are catching on. If you haven’t sampled the savory selections from companies like Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, or Home Chef already, you’ve probably seen more than a few of their sponsored ads pop up in your social media feeds. You may even know someone who uses the services for themselves. While these chef-designed, pre-packaged meals can be a phenomenal way to try new recipes, are they a solid choice for stretching your grocery budget?

According to a recent Morning Consult poll, 59% of survey respondents listed high costs as their main concerns. But with projections suggesting the meal-delivery industry could become a multi-billion dollar market by 2022, it seems like plenty of consumers are still willing to jump on the meal delivery bandwagon. The widespread appeal appears to be based on a variety of factors other than monetary savings.

Costs can be measured in more than money.

Meal delivery services enjoy the highest popularity among millennials and individuals earning more than $100,000 a year, particularly those living in cities. These results point to the fact that busy people appear to value time savings and food quality as much as, if not more than, financial savings.

Time Cost

There’s no denying that it takes time to plan your meals, create a grocery list, and actually shop for the food. By creating recipes and sending all the ingredients right to your door, companies like Blue Apron and Hello Fresh can save you the time you’d normally spend on planning and shopping. The busier you are, the more value this service becomes.

Quality of Ingredients
If saving money on your groceries is your main goal, it’s easy to reduce costs by buying lower-quality food. Unfortunately, this strategy usually leaves you with an abundance of processed foods that lack nutrition and flavor. The most popular meal prep services rely on culinary chefs to design meals that combine high-quality ingredients to create a meal that’s healthy and delicious.

Financial Expense

With the most popular 2-person meal plans starting at $60 per week for 3 meal kits, the cost averages $10 per meal. While you can certainly spend less shopping for yourself, these options are considerably less expensive than the average meal at a restaurant. So, if your busy schedule leaves you dining out on a regular basis, meal delivery services may provide financial savings after all.

What kind of savings do these services actually deliver?

There’s no denying the growing demand for meal delivery services. The fact that retail giants like Amazon and Walmart are looking to be part of the meal kit market, only serves to confirm its rising popularity.

As you try to decide whether one of these services is the right solution for you, the value depends on your expectations. If you’re looking to spend less than you would by planning your own meals and shopping for yourself, you’ll probably be disappointed. But if you view these services as a time-saving bridge between home-cooked meals and going out to eat at restaurants, the value is much easier to see.

What are your thoughts on meal delivery services if you’ve tried them, and the value they provide? Comment using the word bubble at the top of this blog post. We’d love to hear your feedback!

 

4 Simple Ways to Stick to Your Budget

When you’re adjusting to keeping a budget, it can be tempting to give up. If you’re having trouble staying with your budget, here are a few things that could help.

Keep it real: Maybe you didn’t allot enough money in certain areas of your budget. If this is the case, try and find a happy medium that is more realistic so you can still cut back a little bit.

Automate when you can: Having trouble saving? We’ve all been there. If you have direct deposit at work, figure out how much you want to put aside every month, and have that amount automatically put into your savings account. This way, you can set it and forget it.

Be flexible: When you’re originally planning a budget, you may think you know exactly how much you plan on spending. While that sounds great in theory, you’ll probably have to reassess things a few times. Make sure your budget includes some flexible money that you can use in different areas when needed.

Be patient: Don’t spend it all in one place. If you drain your budget in the first week, the rest of the month is going to be a lot less fun. Do your best to make your money last each month, and it’ll be a lot more pleasant.

Need help with your budget? Check out our budgeting guide!

Article Source: John Pettit for CUInsight.com

Easy Personal Finance Tips Everyone Can Use

For the Average Joe, even if you feel you’re doing well with your finances, you could probably stand to make a few changes to your financial habits. If you’d like to spend less and save more, here are a few things to think about.

Be smart with credit cards: A credit card can be a valuable tool, but if used incorrectly, it can create debt that can be tough to manage. Only use your credit card for purchases you can pay off each month. This is a great way to build a good credit score, but always make sure you’re being careful when paying with plastic.

Find savings as often as you can:  It doesn’t matter how big or small the purchase, you can probably find it cheaper somewhere else. Have you checked the competitor’s prices? Looked online? More times than not, you’ll find just what you’re looking for on the internet, and usually for a lot less.

Use automatic bill pay: Have you mapped out your monthly bills and their due dates? If you haven’t, now would be a good time to start. Look at the due dates and design an auto pay schedule that will keep you from missing any payments. Paying your bills on time is a must if you want to keep your credit score up.

Be cheap: No matter how much money you make, you should always try to live below your means. The less you spend, the more you can save for your future, and you’ll be glad you planned ahead when retirement time comes around.

Article Source: John Pettit for CUInsight.com

Financial Quick Fixes Can Come at a High Cost

Prohibited in 18 states, payday loan companies still manage to offer more than 20,000 locations across the United States, making them more common than McDonald’s restaurants. Banking on consumer desperation, these programs market their services to financially vulnerable customers. When potential borrowers encounter an unexpected money crunch, the appeal of getting instant cash with minimal qualifications seems too good to pass up. If the borrower is employed and receiving regular paychecks, that’s usually all it takes to get a loan. However, these loans traditionally charge rates of 300% annual interest (APR) or higher, saddling the already-struggling borrower with an even heavier financial burden.

Even though a payday loan is designed to be paid off when the customer receives their next paycheck, the outrageous interest charges often make it incredibly difficult to pay off the full amount. Since the average payday loan payment consumes 25-50% of a borrower’s income, the threat of default is extremely high. To avoid defaulting on the loan, many customers elect to pay only the interest charges and roll over the loan for another pay period. According to recent CFPB research, almost 4 out of 5 payday loan customers re-borrow within a month. What started as a temporary fix becomes an ongoing cycle of debt.

High-interest consumer loans: overspending over time

While payday lending companies are traditionally limited to loans of $1,000 or less, there is no shortage of consumer lending companies willing to offer similarly unfavorable terms on higher loan amounts. Like payday lenders, these lenders commonly target individuals with less-than-perfect credit or little to no collateral. But rather than charging outrageous interest rates for short periods, they make their money by charging slightly-less-outrageous rates (59% instead of 300%) over longer periods of time, often 2-3 years.

Consider this example: borrowing $2,100 at an interest rate of 59.39% for 36 months would result in a total payment of $4,644, more than double the original amount borrowed. You don’t need a financial advisor to explain why that’s a bad deal. Fortunately, these lenders aren’t the only game in town.

Credit unions offer a convenient, cost-effective alternative

Because they’re structured as not-for-profit, member-owned financial collectives, credit unions (like First Financial!) are able to reinvest their earnings into programs that benefit their members—instead of paying dividends to shareholders like traditional banks. This distinction allows credit unions to approve personal loans with lower interest rates and higher flexibility than programs offered by payday lenders or banks.

For more details about First Financial’s Fast Cash Loans*, and how we can help you find smart solutions for your financial needs, stop by one of our local branches or call us at 732-312-1500, Option 4.

*Loans of $200 to $1,000 available for terms of one to six months. An application fee of up to $20 will be charged; other fees and charges may apply. At least one month of First Financial Federal Credit Union membership is required to obtain a Payday Alternative 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. Not all applicants qualify, subject to credit approval. Rates vary based on creditworthiness, but will not exceed 28%.