How to Save on Back-to-School Shopping

Back-to-school shopping has looked a bit different over the past few years. Between the COVID-19 pandemic and inflation, school supply prices have continued to be on the rise. According to The National Retail Federation, the average family expects to spend $864 on school supplies, which is $15 more than last year and $168 more than before the pandemic. This means families need to be a bit more savvy and budget for back-to-school shopping this year.

Here’s how you can save money and spend less on school essentials:

Shop online and compare prices

Instead of driving to different department stores for supplies, try searching online and comparing prices that way. By shopping online, you can find sale items easier and pick and choose where you want to buy from. Plus, you’re less likely to get distracted by your kids and any of the items they are likely to find in different aisles along the way. Keep an eye out for online back-to-school deals from retailers like Amazon, Walmart, and Target ahead of the school year.

Find coupons and wait for deals

It may seem time consuming, but searching for coupons is an effective way to save money during the school shopping season. Coupon browser extensions like Honey, RetailMeNot, and Coupert make it easy to find all the best deals and will even apply them automatically. This time of year there are also major sales on electronics and clothing that you should take advantage of. If you’re not finding savings, consider waiting for the post-shopping season sales that usually happen in late September or early October after the school year has already started.

Also, check out this list of New Jersey back-to-school shopping deals from local retailers before the new school year begins.

Buy in bulk

When it comes to items like pens, notebooks, staples, and paper – buying them in bulk can get you the biggest bang for your buck. It’s typically always cheaper to purchase in bulk compared to by unit, especially if you have a large family. It’s even better if you can apply a coupon or find a sale on bulk items during your next shopping trip.

Shop with a credit card for rewards

Did you know you can get rewarded for your back-to-school shopping? Sure, finding deals is crucial – but you can also get value back for the money you spend. Earn 3% cash back or double rewards on back-to-school shopping through 9/30 on all First Financial Visa Cash Plus Credit Card purchases.*

Don’t have our Cash Plus Card? Apply today.

Don’t let back-to-school shopping overwhelm you! There are plenty of ways to spend less this year if you play your cards right. That’s why we’re here to help – our team can give recommendations based on your financial situation and even help you apply for a First Financial credit card. Contact us to get started, or stop by your local branch to speak with a representative today!

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*A First Financial membership is required to obtain a Visa® Cash Plus Credit Card. A $5 deposit in a base savings account is required for credit union membership prior to opening any other account/loan. APR varies up to 18% for the Visa Cash Plus Card when you open your account based on your credit worthiness. This APR is for purchases 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: Balance Transfer and Cash Advance Fees of 3% or $10, whichever is greater; Late Payment Fee of $29, $10 Card Replacement Fee, and Returned Payment Fee of $29. 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.


Tips for Saving on Summer Energy Bills

Ah, summertime. The time of year when air conditioners are on full blast and families are flocking to the pool or beach. If you haven’t already noticed how hot it’s been this season, then you certainly will when you receive your next energy bill. You don’t need to have a hefty bill just to stay cool. Here are our tips for saving energy in your home this summer while keeping costs down.

Stop hot air from entering your home

You might not realize it, but there’s likely pesky hot hair leaking into your home through windows. About 30% of a home’s heating energy is lost that way. You can stop this from happening by installing window coverings like drapes, shades, plastic films, shutters, awnings, or storm windows.

Heat is also able to make its way into your home through cracks. You may want to consider hiring a weatherization expert to assess your home for air tightness. In the meantime, you can caulk, weatherstrip, and seal air leaks in doors, windows, plumbing, floors, ceilings, and areas where electrical wiring comes through walls. Keep in mind that air sealing is a temporary solution to reduce heat flow and proper insulation will eventually need to be applied.

Adjust your energy use

Rethinking the way you use energy in your home is easier than you think. From lighting and water use, there are so many small adjustments you can make that can have a big impact on your final bill. Here are a few to get you started:

  • Switch to LED lighting – it uses 75% less energy and lasts up to 25 times longer!
  • Take advantage of natural daylight, but keep the curtains closed to avoid getting too hot.
  • Wait to use energy until “off-peak” hours such as early mornings or later at night.
  • Ensure all devices are unplugged when not in use.
  • Wash full loads of dishes and clothes in bulk for better efficiency.
  • Doublecheck that your refrigerator and freezer doors are sealed airtight and try limiting the number of times you open them.

Keep your cooling system up-to-date

Aside from getting regular maintenance, there are other ways to ensure your cooling equipment is running as efficiently as possible.

  • Regularly clean or replace your air conditioner filter or coil.
  • Move your air conditioner away from lamps, TVs, and other appliances that can cause the thermostat to sense heat and run longer than necessary.
  • Ensure furniture and other objects are not blocking airflow from your cooling system.
  • Consider a programmable thermostat that will automatically be set warmer when you’re away and cooler when you’re home.
  • Avoid setting your thermostat at a colder setting than normal when you first turn on your air conditioner.
  • Utilize fans and ventilation in rooms with extra humidity, like your bathroom or kitchen.

Saving energy isn’t just a summer consideration – it’s something that can be done all year long. Getting into good habits now will help you reduce waste, improve efficiency, and save money. In the meantime, we hope you’re able to stay cool and enjoy the beautiful weather this summer. Don’t forget to stay hydrated, too!

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Backyard Cookout Ideas on a Budget

The smell of a sizzling barbecue, sunscreen, and freshly mowed grass fills the air – summertime is indeed in full swing. And chances are, you’ve already been to a backyard cookout or pool party this season. If you’re looking to host friends and family for some grilling and fun, there are plenty of ways to have a party without breaking the bank.

Here are our top inexpensive grilling ideas for your next summer cookout!

Start budgeting and planning

Before you start shopping for grilling and party supplies, it’s always a good idea to start with a list of what you need to budget for. You may even want to consider having a maximum amount you can spend. Once you have a rough starting point of what you’d want for your cookout, you can determine what is essential and what is a wish list item.

Your cookout shopping list might look something like this:

  • The main course: Hamburgers, hotdogs, meatless alternatives, rolls, and buns
  • Side dishes: Vegetables, potato or pasta salad, coleslaw
  • Condiments: Ketchup, mustard, relish, and other grilling staples
  • Starters: Dips, chips, crackers, cheese platters
  • Desserts: Watermelon, ice cream, cookies
  • Beverages: Soda, water bottles, seltzer, iced tea, beer, wine, and fixings for cocktails
  • Utensils, napkins, cups, and paper plates
  • Insect repellent
  • Decorations & games
  • Grilling accessories
  • Cooler(s) and ice

Do you already have condiments at home? Or perhaps you don’t need to buy new decorations and outdoor games. Try to think where you can cut back from your list, and figure out how much you can afford for party expenses.

Stick to the grilling basics

Grilling enthusiasts might hand you a detailed list of pricey grilling accessories, but don’t be fooled. You actually don’t need as much as you think (even if those items are helpful). The only essential tool for grilling is wood, which enhances the flavor of the food you’re grilling or barbecuing. Another helpful instrument is a meat thermometer, which is relatively inexpensive. The internal temperature of your meat is the best way to ensure it’s cooked properly.

Consider alternatives and shop sales

If you’ve been in a grocery store recently, you’re likely aware that meat prices are soaring. This is forcing many shoppers to consider alternative options for their barbeque parties and meal plans. Don’t get discouraged just yet, though. There are a few different ways you can approach saving on meat costs.

Here are a few we recommend:

  • Explore meatless options: Stock up on veggie burgers, and look into cooking vegetable-based entrees (grilled portobello mushrooms are delicious, and some are as big as a burger anyway!). Also, have you ever tried grilled pineapple or watermelon? If not, it’s a must!
  • Make your own patties: Instead of getting more expensive pre-made patties for convenience, consider using ground beef and making your own.
  • Shop sales: This may go without saying, but you should always keep an eye out for sales on meat products – and try to buy less expensive cuts like chicken and turkey.

Make it a BYOB or potluck party

Don’t be afraid to ask your friends and relatives to bring their own beverages. Beer, wine, and liquor prices really add up fast – and your guests probably all have their own preferences. Another approach is to make your backyard cookout a potluck party. This way, each person can bring their favorite dish, and the guests can plan who’s responsible for bringing what. Either way, this will take some of the weight off your shoulders and will be easier on your wallet.

Make your own sauce

You don’t have to be a master chef to make a delicious rub or BBQ sauce. Plus, you likely already have all the ingredients in your kitchen. All you’ll need is salt, pepper, ketchup, vinegar, and mustard. For an easy to make rub – we recommend salt, sugar, pepper and paprika. Of course, your sauces can be a bit more flavorful if you’d like – try some of these homemade BBQ sauces for inspiration.

No matter the size of the cookout, there will always be ways to save on the final grocery bill. The first step is to determine how much you can actually spend, and then give yourself a cap. Without that max budget – your shopping list could get out of hand, and the idea is not to accumulate debt by having a fun summer get together. We hope you enjoy the rest of your summer and get to spend some backyard time with family and friends!

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Tips for Stocking Your Pantry to Help Cut Food Costs

Like most Americans, your dining out and grocery bills are probably really adding up lately – as inflation and higher economic costs continue to sky rocket. The USDA reports that food inflation is at a 14 year high, with grocery store shopping and eating out costing consumers about 6% more this year than last.

However, you can work smarter instead of harder to help curb some of your food expenses. Here are some suggestions on how to keep your home pantry stocked with staple items that will last you awhile, save money by cooking and eating meals at home, and add some variety to your diet as well.

Here are some essential non-perishable ingredients to always have on hand at home:

  • Whole grains – Oats, quinoa, rice, muffin mix, tortillas, cereal. Bread and bagels will also have a longer shelf life if refrigerated or frozen and used one by one as needed.
  • Pasta
  • Beans/legumes – Chickpeas, lentils, all types of beans (black, kidney, lima, etc.)
  • Baking ingredients – Flour, sugars, baking powder and soda, vanilla or other flavored extracts.
  • Nuts – Almonds, peanuts, cashews, pecans, pistachios, pumpkin and sunflower seeds.
  • Oil and vinegar
  • Condiments – Mayo, mustard, ketchup, soy sauce, hot sauce, honey, BBQ sauce, jarred olives and pickles.
  • Jarred sauces
  • Dried herbs and spices – Pepper, salt, cumin, Italian seasoning, cinnamon, crushed red pepper, garlic and onion powder.

There are also some pantry staples that would be a good idea to have on hand in addition to what’s listed above, to whip up a quick and inexpensive meal. These items will also last you a decent amount of time unopened in your pantry as well:

  • Canned tomatoes
  • Peanut/almond butters
  • Coconut milk
  • Broths/stocks
  • Canned corn
  • Canned tuna and chicken
  • Jarred salsa
  • Capers
  • Raisins and dried cranberries
  • Maple syrup

You may be asking – what can you make with some of these pantry ingredients? To name a few ideas to start, think quesadillas, homemade hummus, pasta with sauce, granola bars, teriyaki sauce to go over rice or chicken, and pancakes. All of these are simple to make, and will use ingredients you already have at home.

Here are also some food ideas to store in your freezer to have on hand:

  • Frozen vegetables like spinach, peas, broccoli, brussels sprouts, and cauliflower
  • Frozen berries to make smoothies or smoothie bowls
  • Chicken tenders
  • Ground beef
  • Burgers, hotdogs or veggie patties

Here are some food staples to keep in your refrigerator that will last a little longer than other more perishable foods:

  • Butter
  • Eggs
  • Nut milks (Almond milk will last much longer than regular milk).
  • Cheeses (Cream cheese, parmesan cheese, cheddar, shredded mozzarella).
  • Yogurt

Another idea that always goes over well (especially if you have kids) is breakfast for dinner, using many of the ingredients listed in this blog post. This is an easy, inexpensive, and fun way to make an at home meal a special treat!

If you follow the above tips and keep your pantry stocked, you’ll definitely see some savings on your grocery bill over time and not have to go to the store as often. Not to mention, it’s typically healthier to eat at home too. You can even make it a fun household activity and spend quality time together, by giving each person a job in the kitchen to help put together a great family meal.

In the end – you’ll be saving on food costs, spending time together, and eating a delicious meal. You really can’t put a price tag on that!

Article Source: The Penny Hoarder

Tips for Saving on Transportation Costs

As gas prices continue to rise, drivers are rethinking their typical routines and spending habits. It’s not just gas that gets expensive, it’s the maintenance costs and insurance too. Simply put, having a car adds up. And according to AAA, the average cost of car ownership is about $10,000 per year.

While owning a car is essential for many, there are always ways to save on transportation costs. Here are some tips to help cut costs.

Walk or bike when you can

The most eco-friendly way to save money on gas is by not driving when possible. Sure, this may not be ideal for everyone – especially if you live in a rural area. But if you’re able to walk or bike to a destination, you can cut back on gas while also choosing a healthier form of transportation. Talk about a win-win!

Use public transportation

Public transportation is a great way to save money on gas, parking, and maintenance costs. Plus, it’s an accessible option for those who may not be able to easily walk or bike around. Monmouth County has plenty of transportation options for community residents including busses, ferries, and trains. There are also plenty of bus routes for those who reside in Ocean County.


Live near a co-worker? Why not commute to work together? Carpooling with friends, colleagues, or family members is another great way to save on gas plus add a little bit of extra socialization to your day.

Compare insurance costs

It’s time to re-evaluate your auto insurance plan. Insurance rates can vary depending on your credit score, driving history, and mileage. So, if anything changed or it’s been a while since you’ve secured a new plan, it’s best to compare rates. Don’t know where to begin? Talk to your local broker to see what your options are.

Keep up on maintenance

Having routine maintenance done on your vehicle can help prevent future issues and save on repairs. Under-inflated tires, for example, will wear them down even faster and hurt your gas mileage. Even getting your car washed regularly will prevent rust and residue that can damage the finish of your vehicle. (Pro tip: Try washing your car by hand to spare an extra $15-$20!)

Avoid speeding

Sure, watching your speed will prevent you from getting a pricey speeding ticket, but did you know it will also help your gas mileage? Speeding decreases the fuel economy of your car, meaning you’ll get fewer miles to the gallon than if you slowed down a little bit. All the more reason to go the speed limit!

Looking for a new or pre-owned vehicle? Our auto loans have great low rates, so you can get a new ride AND lower your monthly payments too! Visit a First Financial branch or contact the Loan Department to speak with a representative today.

*APR = Annual Percentage Rate. Not all applicants will qualify, subject to credit approval. Additional terms and conditions may apply. Actual rate may vary based on credit worthiness and term. First Financial FCU maintains the right to not extend credit, after you respond, if we determine you do not meet our guidelines for creditworthiness. Current loans financed with First Financial FCU are not eligible for review or refinance. A First Financial membership is required to obtain an Auto Loan and is available to anyone who lives, works, worships, volunteers or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties. See credit union for details. A $5 deposit in a Base Savings Account is required to establish membership prior to opening any other account/loan.