4 Tips for Bouncing Back from Holiday Shopping

metal spring for a car on a white background

You say you won’t go overboard every year – but once again holiday shopping may have gotten the best of you already. In spite of your best intentions, you overspent, you’re probably full of regret, and you’re getting a headache just thinking about your January credit card statement. Now what?

1. With a sober mind, go through what you bought and return/exchange if it’s not too late.

It’s easy to get so caught up in the moment — the rush of shopping, the allure of good deals and sneaky sales tactics — and you probably made a few impulsive decisions, even if you didn’t overspend.

Shoving the items you felt guilty or embarrassed about to the back of the closet might make you feel better, but the act might also cost you the 30-day return/exchange window — in other words, an opportunity to reverse your losses. If you didn’t give some items as gifts, return them stat.

2. Offset over-budget spending by cutting elsewhere.

If you’re in the red after the holidays, it’s time to offset your spending by cutting a different area of your future budget to accommodate it. Start by totaling what you spent and comparing the total to discretionary spending you’ve budgeted for January 2017. Is there something that matches the exact dollar amount? What about two or three ‘luxuries’ that match one half or one third of what your spent? Cut them. You may only need to cut a service or two for a month before you’re back on track, so it’s really not much of a sacrifice. Consider cutting the following:

  • Extra cable channels
  • Netflix and other streaming media accounts
  • Scheduled hair treatments, massages, or manicures
  • Magazine, book club and other subscriptions

Beware: cutting one of these temporarily might show you how little you’ve missed it… and how much nicer it is to have the cash!

3. Pay it back — fast.

If you charged up your credit card(s), the debt you accumulated and the interest attached to it may have even longer side effects than a light bank account. Resolve to pay your shopping debt off entirely within one to three months. If that’s not feasible, try to pay at least three times the minimum amount. Ultimately, aim to keep your balance below 40% of your credit limit so you won’t hurt your credit report.

4. Redeem those freebies.

Many retailers offer cash back in the form of gift cards on special buys through the holiday season or early into the new year, but reports show that many are never used. Don’t let your freebies go to waste – use them to retroactively pay for over-budget spending. If the gift cards aren’t for stores you shop at, go online and sell or exchange them for something you’ll be able to use. Just don’t let them go to waste.

Article Source: Jessica Sommerfield for Moneyning.com

3 Last Minute Holiday Shopping Tips

colorful shopping bags set in woman's hand isolated on white

The holidays are right around the corner, as in the end of this week! Have you finished all your shopping? Here are three last minute tips to keep in mind as you venture out to fight the holiday shopping crowds this last week of shopping.

10-second rule

When deciding on whether you should purchase something, use the 10-second rule. Hold the item in your hands for a solid 10 seconds and think hard about whether you actually need it or whether it is the right choice for your loved one. Sometimes we are in such a rush to get things done we don’t actually stop and put thought into our purchases. So before you check that gift off your list, give it the 10 seconds to make sure it’s worth your money.

Cash only

It has been proven that we tend to spend more when we shop with our credit or debit cards. It is so easy to swipe that card at multiple stores without really tallying up how much you are spending. Often times it’s not until you check your account that you realize the damage you’ve done to your wallet. Use the cash only rule to avoid this spending problem. Decide exactly how much you want to spend before you leave the house. Take only that amount with you to the store and you will save yourself from those unplanned (and often expensive) holiday purchases.

Go it alone

Having friends and family members in your life that support and encourage you is something to be thankful for. But when it comes to shopping – sometimes having your loved ones with you can be a huge mistake. They may have the best intentions when helping you check things off your list, but they may in fact be persuading you to buy things you don’t really need to. So go it alone and stick to your shopping game plan.

Happy Holidays!

Article Source: Wendy Bignon for CUInsight.com

5 Ways to Make Budgeting Easy Even Around the Holidays

Business man with a santa hat isolated, santa's budget

A budget is essential because having a budget is the first step to achieving financial success. “It’s the backbone of everything else that you do financially,” says David Weliver, founder of financial blog MoneyUnder30. “It all comes down to that golden rule of spending less than you earn. A budget is how you control that.” Think you can’t budget around the holidays?  Think again. You can use these helpful budgeting tips all year long!

Follow the Rules

One guideline of budgeting is the 50/30/20 rule. In the simplest terms, 50% of your income should go to your needs, 30% for wants, and 20% for savings.

What’s a need? For most people, that will include housing costs, whether that’s rent and rental insurance or mortgage payments and homeowner’s insurance. Beyond that, spending priorities can vary greatly. Essentials also might include groceries, car payments, cell phone bills, and utilities.

Wants would fit in the flexible spending category. They might include eating out, going to the movies, buying clothes, or other day-to-day expenses that can vary greatly from month to month.

Finally, the 20% you save should go to your financial goals, whether it’s short-term goals, such as saving for a vacation, or long-term goals like funding your retirement.

These guidelines can be adapted to your personal situation. “It’s okay to set your own ratios,” Weliver says. “But the goal is to try to live so that your essentials are 50 percent or less of your income, and then you have money left over.”

Organize Your Money

Once you set your budget, there’s a good chance you’ll need help tracking your progress. You may want to do so using an Excel spreadsheet, a pencil and paper or an online budgeting tool like YNAB.

You may even try the envelope method, for which you use cash that you divvy up between a number of category-labeled envelopes. Once an envelope is empty, you’re done spending for that category that month. It’s an extreme strategy, especially in today’s world of plastic and online payments, but it really works.

Mvelopes digitizes the envelope strategy. It offers a free version, as well as a premium option for $95 a year that comes with additional features, such as the ability to link more than four accounts and create more than 25 envelopes.

Weliver suggests a twist on the envelope method: Try using different bank accounts for different types of spending. One account can be reserved for your fixed essential costs, another for groceries, another for dining out and so on. Of course, you need to make sure you are using fee-free accounts.

Focus on Repaying Debt

If you’re carrying a lot of debt, it can quickly consume your budget.

The minimum amount due on any debt you have must count among your essential expenses. Ideally, you want to pay more than the minimum, even if it means socking away less in savings and investments. “Paying down debt is a form of savings,” says Weliver. The faster you pay off your debt, the more you save in interest charges.

There are two common approaches to paying off debt. With one, you tackle the balances with the highest interest rates first. This one will save you the most on interest charges in the long run. The other strategy, often called the snowball method, involves paying off the smallest debt first, which makes you feel good and encourages you to keep rolling until your debt is gone.

If you are carrying a lot of high interest debt across multiple accounts, it may make sense to consolidate or refinance those loans.

Go Digital

Mint is the reigning king of free budgeting sites and apps, but there are tons of other options that work pretty similarly.

The big idea: You connect the site to your accounts with other financial institutions. The site then tracks all of your money’s movements in one place, automatically categorizing each transaction and organizing your expenses into colorful charts and graphs to help you identify spending trends.

Set Spending and Saving on Autopilot

Once you have your budget in place, setting up automatic contributions for your savings and automatic payments for regular bills can make it a breeze to stay on track. Some companies even provide discounts to people who sign up for automatic payments.

Two apps can help you automate your savings further:

  • Acorns rounds up to the nearest dollar on every purchase you make with a linked checking account and automatically invests the change into a diversified portfolio for you. You can customize your risk tolerance and adapt your investments based on personal preferences.
  • Digit monitors your spending habits and, when it determines you can safely afford it, transfers a small amount of money (typically between $5 to $50 every few days) from your linked checking account to a special Digit savings account.

Automating your budgeting and spending will encourage you to save more and make it easier to achieve your financial goals, even when you’re holiday shopping too!

Article Source: http://www.forbes.com/sites/tomanderson/2016/04/05/5-ways-to-make-budgeting-easy/2/#11f576f1558c

 

Ways to Save Money this Halloween

halloweenAccording to a poll from the National Retail Federation, Americans are planning on spending more than ever this Halloween. It’s estimated that we will spend $8.4 billion this year, which breaks down to an average $82.93 per shopper. If that number seems a little too spooky for you, follow these saving tricks to treat your budget.

Get your candy from warehouse clubs.

Places like Sam’s Club or Costco are great for buying anything in bulk and yield a ton in savings. If you have a membership to one of these stores, they already have a variety of candy available. You’ll probably save enough to be able to buy a few extra bags.

Hold off on buying those pumpkins.

The search for the perfect pumpkin is one of the best parts of the holiday. Postpone the search until as close to Halloween as possible, as many stores will give discounts in order to clear out inventory. Not to mention the pumpkins you carve won’t have time to rot before their big day, and you can use the uncarved pumpkins for thanksgiving decorations!

Search around for free activities in the community.

A lot of community centers, schools, museums, churches and other local venues host free Halloween events for their communities. Look at your local newspaper, Facebook events, or community calendars to plan your holiday outings. Don’t forget to check out our monthly Things to Do on a Budget in Monmouth and Ocean Counties blog post too!

Make or share your Halloween costumes.

You can find plenty of tutorials and tips online for making Halloween costumes with inexpensive materials. Some blogs suggest making the costume creation process a competition with your kids by giving them a budget and letting them loose in a thrift shop. You can also lend and borrow costumes with your friends which is great way to not spend anything, acquire new costumes, and still look good at the same time.

Craft your own decorations.

The scariest part of Halloween isn’t the decorations themselves, it’s how much they can cost. To save big, head over to your local dollar store and pick up some supplies to craft your own decorations.

Happy Halloween!

Article Source: Tyler Atwell for CU Insight, https://www.cuinsight.com/ways-save-money-halloween.html

 

10 Ways to Bounce Back After Holiday Spending

holiday_spendingIf you’re waking up with a holiday spending hangover, you’re not alone. According to the Experian Holiday Shopping Survey, 60 percent of adults say holiday shopping puts a big strain on their finances.

“We have Black Friday, then dark January,” said Rod Griffin, director of public education at Experian. Consumers tend to find themselves trying to dig themselves out of debt and get back on track financially in the new year. This is typically because they spend more than they expect to during the holidays and use credit to fund their shopping.

If you exceeded your holiday shopping budget, racked up debt and depleted your savings, you can bounce back. Here are 10 steps you can take to get your finances back in shape in the new year.

1. Review Your Holiday Spending.

The first step you should take after the holidays is to review all of your spending, said Bruce McClary, spokesperson for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. Look at how much you charged to credit cards, how much you spent from savings and the categories you were spending on — such as gifts, food and entertainment. “It gives you a good starting point to get out of debt and rebuild savings,” McClary said.

2. Make a Plan to Tackle Debt.

Plenty of consumers will be digging out of debt in the new year. Those surveyed by Experian expected to charge about a quarter of their holiday spending to a credit card. To quickly eliminate that debt, you need a plan.

“The worst thing you can ever do is plan to pay the minimum payments,” said McClary. “That debt may be around for the next holiday season, and may be in the way of planned purchases and activities.”

Ideally, you should aim to pay off your credit card balance in one to two months, he said. If you owe money on more than one credit card, he recommended using one of these two strategies: tackling the smallest balance first or paying off the card with the highest interest rate. “The process that is most motivating is the one that you should go with,” said McClary.

You might need to tighten your belt to wipe out your debt quickly. “Look at everyday spending to find ways to cut back to contribute more to debt repayment,” said Bethy Hardeman, chief consumer advocate at Credit Karma. You can also put yourself on a cash-only diet so you don’t rack up more debt as you’re trying to pay it off.

3. Put Extra Cash Toward It.

In addition to cutting back, look for ways to generate more cash in the new year to pay off your debt, or to rebuild savings you might have tapped to cover holiday spending.

If you loaded up on gifts this holiday season, you can make room for your new things by selling some older items online, said Farnoosh Torabi, a personal finance expert and Chase Slate financial education partner. “This will not only help declutter your space, but you can earn some extra cash to help pay down that December credit card balance.”

You can sell clothing and accessories at sites such as Thredup.com and Tradesy.com, which get a commission for reselling your items. Or you could try listing items for sale on Craigslist, or download the Poshmark app to your mobile phone.

4. Set up Automated Payments.

Nearly a quarter of adults surveyed by Experian said they’ve paid holiday shopping credit card charges late. Not only will you get hit with fees if you pay your credit card bills late, but your credit score will take a hit, according to the NFCC.

Torabi said you can avoid making late payments by setting up automated payments through your bank or card issuer. Apps such as Mint Bills can also send you reminders when bills are due.

If you plan to skip a payment because you can’t afford to pay your bill, McClary said you should call your credit card company first to see what remedies you can find together while your account is in good standing. “If you have good credit, there are plenty of options to give yourself some breathing room so your credit score doesn’t take a hit,” he said.

5. Transfer Balances.

Here’s an easy money tip to follow: If you have good credit, lower the cost of your holiday debt by transferring balances to a low-rate card.

Be sure you read the fine print, though, before accepting a balance transfer offer. Most balance transfer cards have waived interest, which means you’ll pay interest only on any remaining balances that haven’t been paid off at the end of the introductory period.

Transfer your high balance from holiday shopping to First Financial’s Visa Platinum Credit Card today!* Enjoy great low rates, no balance transfer fees, no annual fees, and 10 day grace period.** Getting started is easy – click here to apply online, 24/7. 

6. Develop a Support Network.

You won’t be the only one needing help getting your finances back on track after the holidays, Torabi said. So team up with someone else in a similar position to share your goals and keep each other accountable. “Hitting the reset button on your finances is more manageable and fun with the help of a friend,” she said.

Some people even create bill-paying clubs — similar to book clubs — to get together with others in debt to talk about the progress they’re making and offer support to one another, Griffin said.

7. Seek Professional Help.

If you’re really struggling to pay off the debt you owe, or need help getting your finances back on track, get advice from a professional. “Don’t be afraid to seek help,” Griffin said. It won’t affect your credit score or credit history, but it can help you manage debt, he said.

Also consider meeting with a financial representative if you tapped savings that were earmarked for things other than holiday spending. “If you’re raiding your short-term emergency savings or long-term retirement savings, there’s a bigger issue about priorities,” McClary said.

Here at First Financial, our first priority is helping you achieve your financial dreams by defining your dream goals and lifestyle, empowering you through financial education, building your wealth, planning your retirement, and managing your risk. Establishing financial goals is an important part of saving enough money, and being ready for the future and we are here for you! Stop into any one of our branches and sit with a representative to have a complimentary annual financial check-up for a review of your finances to get you back on track. 

8. Avoid Quick Fixes.

Even if your debt seems overwhelming, you should avoid companies that promise to help you settle debts for pennies on the dollar of what you owe. “It’s very tempting, but it’s also probably illegal,” Griffin said.

Debt-settlement firms might charge an upfront fee before providing any services. But Griffin said that firms promising credit repair have to fulfill the terms of their offer before taking any money.

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.

9. Monitor Your Credit.

Holiday shopping has negatively affected the credit scores of 10 percent of consumers, according to the Experian survey. So it’s important to see where you stand by reviewing your credit report. Griffin said your score should include risk factors that are affecting your score and what areas you should focus on to help build your credit.

Another reason to monitor your credit report and your credit accounts closely after the holidays is to look for signs of fraud. If you see any unauthorized charges on your statement, contact your credit card issuer immediately to cancel your card and dispute the charges. Check your credit report for accounts you don’t recognize, which could be a sign that someone has used your identity to get credit in your name.

Be sure to enroll in our newest, upgraded Identity Theft Protection Program from Sherpa – don’t wait until it’s too late! The best part? You can enroll right online, 24/7. 

10. Start Saving for Next Year.

Help yourself avoid a holiday debt hangover next year by saving money throughout the year. Add up all of your holiday spending, and divide that total by 10 to determine how much you should set aside each month from January to October. That can help you save enough for when the holiday shopping season starts in November, McClary said.

If that monthly amount is too high, create a strategy to have a more affordable holiday season next year, he said. As you follow these steps to bounce back, try to stay positive.

“Patience is key — don’t get discouraged,” McClary

*APR varies from 10.90% to 17.90% when you open your account based on your credit worthiness. This APR is for purchases, balance transfers, and cash advances 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 Fee. Other fees that apply: Cash advance fee of 1% of advance ($5 minimum and $25 maximum), Late Payment Fee of up to $25, Foreign Transaction Fee of 1% plus foreign exchange rate of transaction amount, $5 Card Replacement Fee, and Returned Payment Fee of up to $25. A First Financial membership is required to obtain a VISA Platinum Card. **No late fee will be charged if payment is received within 10 days from the payment due date.
Original article source courtesy of Cameron Huddleston of GoBankingRates.com.

 

5 Unique Ways to Save on Your Holiday Shopping

gifts isolated on white background

Whether we like it or not, the holiday season is here. That means one thing: spending money and potentially a lot of it. In a survey by the American Research Group, Americans plan on spending nearly $900 on their holiday shopping. Such an amount can put a significant stress on a budget, leaving families looking for ways to save money.

We all know about the traditional ways to save money on shopping, from Black Friday to Cyber Monday sales. Those discounts can provide nice savings, but they only scratch the surface. There are many other tools and tricks to help you stretch your holiday budget. Below are some unique ones to help you save this year.

The Four-Gift Rule

The four-gift rule has made its way around the Internet over the past few years. The idea behind it is relatively simple. Instead of overwhelming recipients with a lot of gifts and costing you more, you make your gift-giving more intentional. The rule dictates the following: You buy the person something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read.

The rule may not work for everyone, as it’s particularly angled toward a younger child or perhaps a spouse. With children, in particular, this approach can help avoid excessive gift giving and thus save you money in the long run. It’s practical and still also allows for fun and creativity.

Use Apps

Smartphone apps can be a great way to save money on holiday shopping. We all know about popular apps like Amazon that allow you to compare prices in real-time. There are many other apps out there that can help save you money on your holiday shopping needs.

Some of these newer apps are Flipp and Slice. “It rounds up all of the shopping ads and circulars in your local area and presents them to you in a format that’s very easy to flip through,” says Jill Cataldo, founder of the Super-Couponing.com. The Flipp app also allows you to collect local coupons so as to maximize your savings.

The Slice app allows you to set a price tracker, which tracks the amount you spent on an item. If the price drops, it notifies you so you can get the difference refunded from participating merchants.

Use Gift Cards

MarketWatch reports that $750 million in gift cards were unused in 2014. If you have an unused gift card lying around, that is free cash not being spent. There may be a number of reasons you didn’t use the card, from not liking the store to forgetting you had the card.

Regardless of the reason, an unused gift card can be a great way to reduce the overall amount you spend out of pocket for holiday gifts. Instead of letting that card continue to collect dust and lose value due to potential inactivity fees, use them to buy gifts. It may feel tacky, but it is a great way to save money.

Buy Discounted Gift Cards

Gift cards play a dual role for potential savings. Many who have unused gift cards sell them for cash. This has opened up a market for sites like Card Cash, Raise, Card Pool and others that sell discounted gift cards. Such sites allow individuals to buy gift cards for up to 35 percent off standard price.

Such a service can be a great way to save a little extra money if a gift card is on your shopping list. Just make sure to read the terms and conditions prior to purchase.

Break It Up

Another overlooked way to save money on holiday items is by purchasing an item in bulk. That may sound counterintuitive, but it works. “The set gives you a lower price per unit and you can toss them into a gift bag helping you save without skimping on the gift,” says money-saving expert Andrea Woroch.

Woroch explains that the item bought at a warehouse club can be broken up and repackaged into smaller gifts while still allowing you to take advantage of the lower per unit cost. If you are giving multiple people the same gift, then this can be a great way to save extra money instead of purchasing higher-priced individual gifts.

The holiday shopping season can be a stressful one financially. It doesn’t have to be. With a little planning and creativity, you can avoid being an “average” shopper and become one who saves money.

The perfect way to save for your holiday expenses is by opening a Holiday Club Account right here at First Financial! No need to put yourself into debt over holiday spending – simply save ahead and come out on top (and not in debt)!*

  • Open at any time
  • No minimum balance requirements
  • Dividends are posted annually on balances of $100 or more
  • Accounts automatically renew each year
  • Deposits can be made in person, via mail, payroll deductions, or direct deposit
  • Holiday Club funds are deposited into a First Financial Checking or Base Savings Account

*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 Bronze Tier. Click here to view full Rewards First program details, and here to view the Tier Level Comparison Chart. Accounts for children age 13 and under are excluded from this program.

Article Source: John Schmoll for http://money.usnews.com/money/the-frugal-shopper/2015/11/09/5-unique-ways-to-save-on-your-holiday-shopping