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

5 Simple Tips for Saving on Holiday Travel

It’s that time of year again and while many of us can’t seem to see past Halloween, we should be conscious of the rapidly approaching holiday season and with that, increasing travel costs. Check out these simple tips to save you money on your travel this holiday season.

1. Book early and save.

If you’ve figured out your family’s travel plans for the season, the time to book is now. The earlier you book, the better your chances are for getting a great deal on holiday travel plans. It is recommended that you book at least three weeks in advance when purchasing a flight. You’ll see the lowest fares debuting in early November. If you have to wait to book your travel plans, then try waiting to book on days when travel is typically cheaper, such as Tuesdays and Wednesdays, instead of booking on a Friday or Saturday.

When booking early, you may be worried about missing out on a cheaper fare price. However, travel sites such as Orbitz, Expedia and Priceline all offer Best Price Guarantees, which can help you get refunds if a lower fare price is found. Make sure to read each companies’ fine print and list of flight qualifications in order to receive your refund.

2. Fly the day of the holiday.

Often times, the most expensive days to travel are the days before and after the holiday because that is when most people travel. Take the Wednesday before Thanksgiving as an example. If you can rearrange travel plans to fly on the day of the actual holiday, it will increase your odds of scoring a better deal. Your in-laws or other family members may not be the happiest about it, but your wallet definitely will be.

3. Look for coupons and deals.

Nowadays there is a coupon or deal for nearly everything, especially travel. The business of travel is very competitive, so you will find deals on anything from rental cars, hotels and flights. Try booking all three together for a package deal. If you’re looking only for a hotel, try looking for exclusive deals like 10 percent off Best Western Room Rates to guarantee you’re getting a great rate.

4. Get there early.

The last added piece of stress you need when traveling for the holidays is missing your flight and having to pay extra in flight change fees. These are the busiest travel times of the year so be prepared when getting to the airport; lines will be long and patience short. Getting there early will ensure you’re on time to your gate (now let’s just hope the plane is on time, too).

Parking can add an extra amount of time to your travels. From trying to navigate through the overly packed parking lot, finding what seems like the last spot and catching the shuttle to the terminal, your well-prepared travel plans could quickly change. Instead of parking, find a friend to take you to the airport. Not only will this save you on time, but also money on the inflated parking fees at the airport. If you find that all your friends are also traveling, try using a coupon code for a free Uber or Lyft ride.

5. Ship your extra luggage and gifts.

Depending on how many days you’re traveling and how many are in your family, shipping your extra luggage and gifts is a great way to cut costs this season. Many airlines are charging extra fees for checked baggage and sometimes even for carry-on bags. Almost all airlines will have an overweight bag fee as well. If it is feasible for you to ship any extra belongings ahead of your trip then you could definitely be enhancing your holiday travel savings. In addition, shipping any gifts you will be giving away is a great way to not only keep the packages looking freshly wrapped, but also avoiding any TSA inspections of wrapped packages which will cost you precious time.

We all know that after Halloween comes Christmas music on repeat, the smell of apple pie, and of course holiday shopping. You try to save money during the holidays by shopping on days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday – but fail when it comes to saving on holiday travel. The key is to be aware and book early. Safe travels, everyone!

*Article source courtesy of Kerry Sherin of US News.

3 Ways to Deal with Your Holiday Debt Before it Gets Out of Control

holiday debtDo you have high credit card balances after all the holiday shopping you did in November and December and still haven’t made a dent in it yet? First, you might want to plug your information into First Financial’s credit card payoff calculator and see how much you need to put toward those bills each month to get debt free within a few months, or whatever your debt-payoff timeline may be.

1. Open a Low Rate Balance Transfer Card

If the debt you’ve accumulated resides on a credit card with a high interest rate, you may want to explore a lower rate financing offer by transferring your balance to another credit card. This strategy requires a little math and firm commitment to your plan.

Make sure you know exactly how much you’ll be paying in fees when you transfer the balance and how long you have this lower rate financing. You can use one of the debt payoff calculators mentioned above to determine how much you need to pay each month in order to eliminate your debt within that period.

During this payoff time, it’s crucial you not add to your balance, because that will only make your goal more difficult (and expensive) to achieve.

First Financial has a great Visa Platinum Card with a really low rate, no balance transfer fees, no annual fee, plus rewards for purchases!* As a first time user, if approved – you may also be eligible for an introductory APR of 2.9% on all purchases and balance transfers for the first 6 months.** Get started by applying online today.

2. Get Your Money Back

If for some reason you never gave out all your gifts, you may want to consider returning some.  In the likely event you already distributed your gifts, take a look at your own haul. You don’t want to insensitively get rid of gifts someone thoughtfully picked out for you, but if you find yourself with things you don’t need or gift cards you don’t plan to use, consider selling them to help pay off your debt. Even exchanging an unwanted item for something you need could help you save money, if you were thinking of buying it anyway. Any way you can cut back on spending in the coming months will help you repay your credit card debt faster.

3. Take Out a Personal Loan

If you’re looking at several months or years of debt repayment, you may be better off consolidating the high-interest credit card debt with a personal loan at a lower interest rate. Again, it’s crucial you not add to the debt during or after you’ve repaid it, because that will drag out your debt issues and cost you more money in interest. It’s not always necessary to consolidate credit card debt, but sometimes that’s the best way to make repayment manageable.

First Financial also has personal loan options available, with fixed payments, plus several other great benefits.*** Apply online today!

*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 and is available to anyone who lives, works, worships, or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties.

**The 2.9% promotional rate will apply to purchases and balance transfers only for six statement cycles from the new account holder’s initial balance and/or initial transfer to the First Financial VISA Platinum card. The balance transfer promotional rate does NOT apply to purchases or cash advances.

***Subject to credit approval. A First Financial membership is required to obtain a personal 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: Christine DiGangi for http://blog.credit.com/2015/01/3-ways-to-deal-with-your-holiday-debt-before-it-gets-out-of-control-104906/

Beware of Counterfeit Clothes and Scam Websites

womanshpgonlineDuring the holiday shopping season it’s important to know that there are scam artists out there who will try to take advantage of you. Be on your guard from a new influx of counterfeit clothes and scam websites. The internet has been a great asset to US clothing shoppers looking for good buys on the best brands. Unfortunately, it has also been a great asset to criminals dealing in counterfeit clothes they try to pass off as the real thing. While the illegal market in fake top brand clothing predates the World Wide Web, the Internet has opened up new avenues of opportunity for those dealing in counterfeit clothes.

The United States has seen a large rise in 2014 of scam websites that typically promise that popular and expensive items of clothing manufactured by the best known brands can be had at bargain prices. They often have fake web addresses that falsely give the impression that they are operating in the US, when in fact the website owners may be scammers operating out of other countries.

The quality of the clothes is often far below the standards set by the real manufacturers, with some websites operating with no actual inventory. Consumers order, their money is accepted, but they never receive anything at all.

The dealing in counterfeit clothes is not some small scale operation. The sums of money involved are huge, with some estimates putting the total take of larger scam websites at millions of dollars per year. The counterfeit clothes racket also ties into other criminal activities, such as banking fraud and identity theft. Once you give a criminal organization your credit card number, there are a wide array of illegal ways it can be used to rob you again.

Because the clothing scam websites are located overseas, it can be all but impossible to complain about poor quality, orders never received or seek relief in the United States legal system. Even reporting the scammers to the law enforcement agencies of the countries from which they operate will seldom bring any results. Sometimes action can be taken to deregister the scam sites so that others won’t get duped, but even this can be ineffective.

The market for counterfeit clothes is not confined to the United States. In Great Britain last year, hundreds of scam shopping websites were closed for selling fake designer clothing and jewelry. In Ireland, poorly made counterfeit clothing became so widespread that the European Consumer Centre made a special plea to consumers to be cautious when buying clothes online.

The center strongly advises “consumers to do comprehensive research on a trader when shopping on the Internet” a spokeswoman said. She continued to suggest that customer look for contact details, as any missing information is a red flag.

It’s also important to know what too look for with counterfeit products. Examine the product as closely as you can online, counterfeit designer goods often have logos that are fuzzy, misspelled, or otherwise off from the brand, something a high quality designer would never allow to ship. The stitching on counterfeit merchandise is often sloppy. If you can see the stitching without much effort, it is nearly guaranteed to be a fake.

Caution should always be used online, but becoming familiar with the genuine product and examining potential deals is one of the best ways to stay safe.

As counterfeit production becomes more elaborate, the proper tags do not necessarily mean a genuine product. As a result, many manufacturers of high quality clothing have taken extra steps to ensure their product stands out. Holographic logos and serial numbers are just a few methods that can ensure a legitimate purchase. Know the designer’s key marks and beware of products that lack them.

Be cautious of high fashion clothing being advertised at greatly reduced prices and only pay using a secure, refundable, method such as a credit card or a secure service such as PayPal.

Make sure you use online retailers that do provide genuine merchandise at a discount. In the end, you’re your own best advocate to prevent getting scammed. Use your common sense and know what you’re buying, and remember the old saying that “if it seems too good to be true, then it probably is.”

Protect yourself this holiday season and all year-round with First Financial’s ID Theft Protection! With our Fully Managed Identity Recovery services, you don’t need to worry. A professional Recovery Advocate will do the work on your behalf, based on a plan that you approve. Should you experience an Identity Theft incident, your Recovery Advocate will stick with you all along the way – and will be there for you until your good name is restored and you can try it FREE for 90 days!*

Our ID Theft Protection options may include some of the following services, based on the package you choose to enroll in: Lost Document Replacement, Credit Bureau Monitoring, Score Tracker, and Three-Generation Family Benefit. To learn more about our ID Theft Protection products, click here and enroll today!**

*Available for new enrollments only. After the free trial of 90 days, the member must contact the Credit Union to opt-out of ID Theft Protection or the monthly fee of $4.95 will automatically be deducted out of the base savings account or $8.95 will be deducted out of the First Protection Checking account (depending upon the coverage option selected), on a monthly basis or until the member opts out of the program. **Identity Theft insurance underwritten by subsidiaries or affiliates of Chartis Inc. The description herein is a summary and intended for informational purposes only and does not include all terms, conditions and exclusions of the policies described. Please refer to the actual policies for terms, conditions, and exclusions of coverage. Coverage may not be available in all jurisdictions.

Original article source courtesy of Lori Kelley of SavingAdvice.com.