13 Tips for Shopping Smarter During the Holiday Season

Whether it involves camping in a store parking lot for Black Friday deals or racing other parents for that last hot-ticket toy, just about everybody has their own nightmare holiday shopping story.

Let’s be honest, holiday shopping has the potential to be awful. You have to brave crowded malls, overpriced items, and the same Christmas carols playing on repeat. But your shopping experience doesn’t have to be that way.

Try these tips to shop smarter and have a much happier holiday experience this year!

1. Plan ahead.

It would be nice if we were able to shower our friends and family with unlimited expensive gifts, but the truth is that the majority of us have a limited amount of money. Before you even start your holiday shopping, make a gift list and set yourself a budget. That way you won’t fall prey to last minute splurge purchases.

2. Save gas (and time) by shopping online.

Avoid crowded shopping centers altogether by doing the bulk of your shopping online. Just make sure that you keep mailing costs in mind and order your gifts far enough ahead of time so that you don’t have to pay for expensive overnight shipping. During the holiday season, many websites feature free shipping – be sure to be on the lookout for the site’s free shipping codes and deals to save before you checkout online.

3. Focus on Cyber Monday, not Black Friday.

Sure, you may find some pretty crazy deals on Black Friday, but when you factor in the gas you use to drive to the store, the time you spend waiting in the cold out front before they open, and the time spent fighting the crowds and waiting in line to make your purchase, is it really worth it? This year, try shopping on the Monday immediately after Thanksgiving. This is the day when online retailers promote big sales, so you can save while shopping from the comfort of your own home.

4. Track price changes for expensive items.

If you’re shopping with a big online retailer like Amazon, you can set up a tracker through websites like CamelCamelCamel or The Tracktor. You can check out past prices of the items you’re shopping for in order to determine whether now is a good time to buy or if you should wait for the price to drop.

5. Use online coupons.

Avoid the hassle of clipping coupons and shoving them in your wallet until you can get to the right store, by using online coupons. Many sites give you an easy way to quickly search for and redeem deals for your gift items.

6. Avoid credit card debt.

This should go without saying, but one of the best ways to shop smart this season is to avoid charging more than you’ll be able to pay off. Don’t get talked into starting a credit card with a particular department store, either. It’s usually not worth it. Keep close track of the money you spend and know where your limits are.

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7. Don’t be afraid to buy the same gift twice.

If you find a gift that you know several people on your list would enjoy, don’t be afraid to buy it in multiples. This cuts down on your shopping time, and if the store is offering any kind of “Buy 1, get the second 1 at a discount” deal, that’s even better!

8. Considering buying experiences, not just stuff.

Instead of buying material goods that your family members aren’t that excited about, consider buying a day or weekend trip that you can share together. It can make more sense to invest money in creating a family memory that will last forever than buying an item that will have a short life span.

9. Group your shopping trips.

If you have to go to brick and mortar stores to do some of your holiday shopping, figure out where all the stores you need to visit are and plan the route that will involve the least driving. Try to get all your shopping done in one fell swoop so that you don’t have to keep driving back out to the stores.

10. Save money by using your smartphone.

The Amazon Price Checker app, which is available for both iPhones and Android devices, lets you scan the barcodes of items in a store and compare to prices of the same item online. Shopkick is another great app that rewards you just for visiting stores by offering you special discounts. Make purchases at the store and you’ll get even more points to put toward a future reward.

11. Never shop on weekends.

Weekends are inevitably the busiest shopping days during the holiday season, so if you want to avoid the crowds, try shopping on weekday evenings.

12. Shop alone.

While shopping alone doesn’t sound as fun as bringing along a friend, it will save you time and potentially prevent you from being influenced to make big spur-of-the-moment purchases.

13. Know when to avoid the express line.

Each person has to do an individual transaction, so a regular checkout line is often better than a long express lane line.

The holidays should be a time to relax and hang out with friends and family, don’t let yourself get stressed out by last-minute shopping expeditions. Just take a deep breath, do some planning in advance, and shop smart this season.

*APR varies from 11.9% to 18% for the Visa Platinum Card and from 13.9% to 18% for the Visa Signature Card when you open your account based on your credit worthiness. These APRs are 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 Fees. 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 Credit Card and is available to anyone who lives, works, worships, volunteers, or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties.Visa Signature Card Cash Back: Your First Financial Visa® Signature Credit Card will earn cash back based on your eligible purchase transactions. The cash back will be applied to your current credit card balance on a quarterly basis and be shown cumulatively on your billing statement. Unless you are participating in a limited time promotional offer, you will earn 1% cash back based upon eligible purchases each quarter.

Article Source: Julianna Weiss-Roessler for Lifehack.org

Turkey with a Side of Savings

Thanksgiving Day is a time for relaxing with family and friends and reflecting on life’s blessings. While the holidays can be hectic for some, it’s important to not let challenges, including financial stress, put a damper on the season. In order to fully enjoy and appreciate Turkey Day, there are a few things you can do to have a happy Thanksgiving without busting your budget.

Assign sides

One way you can surely save on Thanksgiving dinner is asking your friends and family to bring a side dish. If you take care of the big items such as the turkey and drinks, assigning sides for others to prepare and bring will save you time and money.

Think ahead

Prep ahead and don’t wait until the last minute. Many stores will feature holiday bargains leading up to the big day, so keep an eye on circulars and coupons.

Don’t overdo it

Once you know how many guests to expect, make plans for feeding exactly that amount of people. It’s natural to want to have leftovers for an endless amount of turkey sandwiches, but resist the urge to buy more food than what’s really necessary. Because chances are, your family will get sick of turkey and you’ll end up wasting food (and money).

Don’t use disposables

As cute as those festive paper plates are, don’t spend your money on disposable party supplies. They may be easier when it comes to clean up, but just think how much money you’ll save by using plates and glassware you already have.

Article Source: Wendy Bignon for CUInsight.com

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