5 Tips for a Frugal Fall

fall-into-savingsFall is here and with it comes crisp weather, football, and changing leaves. For many, it is the best time of the year; for others it is the onset of a stressful, and often expensive holiday season. So, here are five tips for a more frugal fall:

Don’t go to the gym – Yes, you read that correctly. Cancel or freeze that gym membership and exercise outdoors. Enjoy the cooler weather while you go for a run (or walk) around your neighborhood, plan a hike, or take a bike ride around town.

Break out the crockpot – Spend time gathering ingredients for a hearty crockpot meal. Enjoy quality time at home with family and friends. Chances are that crockpot will produce leftovers, which will save you even more in the end!  Look for easy recipes on Pinterest.

Winterize your home – Make your home as energy efficient as possible in preparation for the colder months ahead. Seal off drafty windows or doors, shut vents in rooms that aren’t being used, and change the direction of your ceiling fan to draw cooler air up and force warm air down.

Get outside – During hot summer months, indoor activities (such as going to the movie theater or shopping) are a must, which can often come at a steep price. As the weather cools down, do research on things to do outdoors in your community (many of which are free or for a small fee). Visit a pumpkin patch, check out a corn maze, or do some apple picking at a local farm. Don’t forget to check out our monthly Things to Do on a Budget in Monmouth and Ocean Counties blog series!

Start a holiday fund – Saving even a small amount for those upcoming holiday purchases can make a big difference. It can be quite stressful to think of extra expenses on the horizon, but planning ahead can ease that stress and help you enjoy all the fun that comes within these last months of the year.

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 program. Click here to view full Rewards First program details. Accounts for children age 13 and under are excluded from this program.

Article Source: Wendy Bignon for CUInsight.com, https://www.cuinsight.com/5-tips-frugal-fall.html


Need to Lower Your Grocery Bill? Bring Some Old Fashioned Frugality into Your Kitchen

Couple shopping in supermarket

Does it feel like your grocery bill keeps growing? Maybe you’re eating healthier or haven’t been as diligent about shopping sales ads and using digital coupons, rewards cards, or rebate apps. Or maybe, too many convenience foods are creeping into your kitchen.

Convenient prepared foods – even their healthy versions – are convenient. It’s nice to have pre-cut, pre-mixed, prepared foods for the times our schedules get a little hectic, but they can quickly become an excuse to get lazy about food preparation — and jack up the grocery bill.

Back in the ‘olden’ days, people didn’t have the option of prepared breads, sauces, dressings, or meals-in-a-box. They used basic staples to make everything they needed. It’s time to bring some old-fashioned frugality back into our kitchens. Here’s how we can do it.

Stop Buying Pre-Cut Veggies!

It’s easy to want to buy baby-cut carrots because, well who wants to peel and cut a bag of whole carrots when you can buy them ready made? Stop to realize the price difference between the two – roughly 50 to 60 cents per pound. Ouch! It only takes about five minutes to peel and chop a bag of carrots. Also keep a lookout for pre-cut vegetables that are on sale. Reduced-price chopped veggies might be past their prime for snacking, but they’re great for throwing in a quick stir fry.

Learn How to Make Things from Scratch

The term “from scratch” is scary to some people because it evokes images of slaving over the stove. In reality, there are dozens of items we use on a regular basis that don’t take much time – or skill – to make from scratch. Not only will this help you stay within your grocery budget, but you’ll enjoy fresher, less preservative-packed foods. Take a look in your fridge and pantry and write down staples you use on a regular basis. Can you learn how to make some of these just from watching a few YouTube videos or looking on Pinterest? Here are some suggestions:

■ Dressings – most contain five or less basic ingredients you probably already have on hand and take only a few minutes to whip up.

■ Sauces – these may require a little more time simmering, but still easy.

■ Hummus and other dips.

■ Oat and almond flour — just blend oats or almonds.

■ Bread – no-knead breads are easy to make even if you’re not into baking.

■ Cereal, granola, protein and energy bars.

Preserve In-Season Bounty

Produce is at its best and cheapest in the summer and fall, but then January rolls around. The word “preserve” elicits visions of canning and pickling, but the modern alternative is simple – prepare and freeze. You might be surprised at some of the things you can freeze. Most vegetables and fruits keep well frozen, and you can also freeze trays of fresh herbs in olive oil, broth, and egg whites or yolks.

Re-grow It

Don’t have time for a garden? No problem. Scallions, celery cores and herbs can all be grown and re-grown right in your windowsill.

Bring Back the Sunday Roast

Save money on meat by buying tougher, cheaper cuts and slow-roasting them in broth, herbs, and spices for a few hours. Plus, if you start the roast early, you won’t have to wait for dinner.

Just because we have so many convenient, prepared foods at our fingertips doesn’t mean we have to use them. Bringing back a few old-fashioned practices into your kitchen will shave your grocery bill and revitalize your enjoyment of fresh, homemade ingredients at the same time.

Happy cooking (and saving)!

Article Source: Jessica Sommerfield for Money Ning, http://moneyning.com/shopping-smart/need-to-lower-your-grocery-bill-bring-some-old-fashioned-frugality-into-your-kitchen/

Simple Steps to Save on Home Heating Costs this Fall

Family Relaxing Indoors Playing Chess And Reading Book

The air is getting crisper every morning and the leaves are starting to change color and drop. It means that fall is truly here. You probably don’t want to think about what season is coming next, but it’s a good idea to get an early start to slashing the upcoming “w” word’s energy bills. Here are some simple things you can do now that will pay off in the colder days to come.

Clean, Service or Upgrade Your Heating System                                                       

One of the simplest and cheapest things you can do to maximize your furnace’s efficiency is to replace the air filter – now, and then every 30 to 45 days. Make it easy for yourself by setting mobile calendar reminders. If your furnace hasn’t been serviced by a professional in a few years, that’s also a good idea too. Just like other pieces of equipment, heating systems need a ‘tune up’ every now and then. Finally, if you’re due for a new furnace, take advantage of federal tax credits (up to $500) by purchasing one that meets the Department of Energy’s efficiency standards. Upgrade to solar, wind, geothermal or fuel-cell technology, and you’ll be reimbursed 30% of the cost, including installation (you’ll need to fill out Tax Form 5695 when the time comes).

Install a Programmable Thermostat (and Lower It)

It makes sense not to waste heat when you don’t need it. Even the cheapest programmable thermostat can save up to $150 a year, so invest the time and money to install one. Lowering the temperature 10 to 15 degrees during the sets of eight hours you’re at work and sleeping at night could lower your bill as much as 10%. Even lowering it one degree during the day correlates to a 2% decrease in heating costs.

Keep the Heat – Curtains, Leaks and Upgrades

Keeping the curtains on south-facing windows open during the day helps heat your home naturally with sunlight, while closing them at night keeps out chilly air. Besides weather-proofing windows, look for other places your home is leaking energy: worn weather strips, mail slots, around pipes and wire holes, through unfinished spaces, and in the attic – where the majority of heat rises and then escapes. Caulk, weather strip, and insulate everything you can. Replacing old insulation, roofing, windows and doors with more energy-efficient counterparts will ultimately save the most, especially since you can recoup the expense by claiming that energy tax credit (10% of the cost up to $500, or a specific amount from $50 to $300).

Enjoy the Fireplace

Fall is the perfect time to take advantage of a natural fireplace if you have one, not only for the ambiance – but for the energy savings (as long as you remember to close the damper between uses). Lower the thermostat to between 50 and 55 degrees and close surrounding doors to keep the area toasty. The energy savings only work if your fireplace is a traditional log burning one. If you turn on a gas fireplace, you aren’t really saving anything by turning that on instead of the heater since both units typically run on gas.

Increasing your heating efficiency and lowering your energy bill really isn’t that hard, and just think what you could do with that extra wiggle room in your budget: debt repayment, retirement savings, college savings, or just some short-term savings goals (maybe even holiday spending).

Take a few steps while it’s fall, and you’ll be thankful the rest of the winter!

Article Source: Jessica Sommerfield for Money Ning, http://moneyning.com/frugality/simple-fall-steps-to-save-on-home-heating-costs/

5 Ways to Save Money During Fall

beautiful autumn leaves of maple tree

The fall is a favorite season to many, and it is easy to see why. The weather is nice, the leaves turn beautiful colors, and of course there’s pumpkin spice lattes. Here’s another reason to love fall – it saves you money. Here are five ways to save money this fall – you won’t want to overlook these tips!

1. Indulge in More Inexpensive Meals

When the weather starts to turn breezy, soup and chili are the perfect comfort foods. Take advantage of your slow cooker and these inexpensive meal choices. Another great thing about making soups and chili is that you can freeze them, prep them ahead of time, and even throw in random leftovers you have waiting for you in the fridge. It takes about five minutes to throw everything in the crockpot!

2. Skip Out of Season Produce

Don’t even get tempted by summer produce this season. Not only are berries and melons overpriced in the fall, they are also not as nutritionally dense when they are out of season. Instead, opt for frozen alternatives, or take advantage of apples and squash sales. Basically, produce that rises in price by a great deal during the “off-season” needs to be seriously considered before you buy because in this case, high price doesn’t mean a better product.

3. Goodbye Gym

If you have the option to opt out of your gym membership, then do so. Fall is the perfect time to exercise outside for free. Plus, let’s be honest, most gym memberships get wasted during the holiday season because life gets too busy. Canceling your gym membership for fall can save you over $100. Then, if you want to join up again, you can take advantage of the New Year’s sign up deals every gym offers.

4. Enjoy Better Travel Deals

Now that summer has ended and children are back in school, it is one of the best times to travel. Not only will you find a lot of travel deals, but a lot of popular locations will not be as crowded. Many people take cruises in October. The prices are typically half of what they were during the summer and the weather is a little more manageable in the Caribbean.

5. Give Your Thermostat a Break

Another reason to love fall is that you can go without using your air conditioning or heat. Of course, all areas are different – but generally you can get by at least for awhile. Decorate your home with plush throws and rely on hot drinks, such as herbal tea or homemade apple cider to keep you warm at night.

Article Source: Ashley Eneriz for Money Ning, http://moneyning.com/frugality/5-ways-to-save-money-during-fall/

3 Weekend Money Traps You Need to Avoid

Pack of dollars on a mouse trap, isolated on white background

After a hectic workweek, it’s natural to want to decompress over the weekend. Watch out though, because these two days can be the most expensive of the entire week! Here are three common weekend money traps, and how to avoid them.


Dinner at a popular eatery on a Friday or Saturday night always sounds enticing after a long week. But before you make those reservations – consider how much you’ll save by cooking at home. You can still enjoy a great meal, and some quality time with friends and family without the expensive bill.

Movie Theaters

It is more expensive than ever to catch the latest movie release in your local theater. Add in some sodas and popcorn on top of it, and you’re looking at a hefty price tag. Instead, do some research on the newest releases on Netflix or Hulu (even your cable provider’s On Demand menu), and grab some snacks from the grocery store.


Who doesn’t love shopping on the weekends?  Special sales at your favorite store may have you spending money you shouldn’t on things you don’t need. Instead, redirect that shopping urge to the grocery store. Not only will you be able to shop – but you’ll be purchasing necessary items that will encourage you to plan your meals, and keep you out of those pricey restaurants at the same time.

Article Source: Wendy Bignon for CUInsight, https://www.cuinsight.com/3-weekend-money-traps-need-avoid.html 

How to Save Even If You Live Paycheck to Paycheck

fishing out saving dollars from glass jar isolated on white background

You know you need to save money, but it can be hard if you’re just trying to make ends meet on a small income. After all, you have bills to pay today, so it’s hard to make saving for tomorrow a priority. Even higher-income people can find themselves living paycheck to paycheck without much room in their budget to set aside cash. Despite what you might think, it is possible to save even when you’re strapped for cash. Here’s how to get started.

Figure Out Where Your Money Is Going

You might have more room in your budget to set aside money for savings than you think. But you won’t know until you track your spending for at least one month. Review your bank statement to figure out how much your necessary expenses — rent or mortgage, utilities, insurance, transportation and food are costing you. Account for credit cards, student loans and other debt payments. Then, add up how much you’re spending on things you can live without, such as cable TV or Netflix, restaurant meals, magazine subscriptions and nights out. Knowing how much of your paycheck is going toward needs and wants will help you pinpoint how much you can afford to save each month.

Pay Yourself First

You should think of saving as one of your fixed expenses that you pay at the beginning of the month rather than waiting until the end of the month to see how much you have left over to set aside. Pay yourself first, then learn to live on what’s left.

One of the best ways to pay yourself first is to automate contributions to savings so you don’t even have to think about setting the money aside. If you opted out of your workplace retirement account because you didn’t want to sacrifice your paycheck, you should opt back in and have contributions automatically withdrawn from your paycheck moving forward each month.

You also need to be saving for emergencies so you don’t have to rely on credit cards or even retirement savings to cover unexpected costs. To build an emergency fund, use the same approach as with retirement savings by setting up automatic monthly transfers from your checking account to a savings account so the money comes out before you have a chance to spend it. But, don’t get discouraged if you can’t set aside that much now. Even a small monthly contribution can add up over time.

Get Free Money for Your Retirement Account

If you can’t set aside 10% of your pay each month, contribute enough to your workplace retirement plan to get the full matching contribution from your employer — if it offers one, because this is practically free money. 25% of American employees don’t contribute enough to get the full match from their employer, leaving an estimated $1,366 of free money on the table each year, according to research by Financial Engines, an investment advice company.

Keep More of Your Paycheck

A tax refund can be welcome windfall when you’re living paycheck to paycheck. But a refund means you’re letting the IRS hang onto too much of your paycheck throughout the year. You can keep more of your money each month — and use it to boost savings by adjusting your tax withholding. Ask your human resources department at work for a new W-4 to claim more allowances, which will lower the amount of taxes withheld from your paycheck.

If you received the average refund in 2016 of $2,732, adjusting your withholding could put $227 back into your paycheck each month. If you invested that amount each month at a 7 percent interest rate starting at age 25, you could have nearly $600,000 by age 65.

Reduce Nonessential Expenses

If you discover you’re spending heavily on things you don’t need, those nonessential expenses are the first thing you should cut to make sure your paycheck can cover necessary expenses and savings contributions. If you gave up buying a coffee and bagel twice a week, you could save an estimated $40 per month. If you were to invest that amount each month instead with a 7 percent annual return, you could have $32,402.87 after 25 years.

Raise Your Insurance Deductibles

Another way to find more room in your budget to boost savings is to cut insurance costs. By raising your auto insurance deductible, you can lower your premium by 15 percent to 40 percent, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Raising your homeowner’s insurance deductible from $500 to $1,000 could shave 25 percent off your premium. You also can lower your health insurance premium by opting for a high-deductible plan. With a high-deductible plan, you also get the benefit of being able to set aside money pre-tax through payroll deductions to a health savings account (HSA). Money in an HSA can be used to cover out-of-pocket healthcare costs.

Lower Your Bills

In addition to insurance premiums, there likely are other monthly bills you can cut so you’ll have more cash to stash in savings (for example – Netflix, cable, expensive gym membership, etc.). If you aren’t using these services, why are you paying for them? If you don’t want to get rid of a service completely, you may even be able to opt for a lower data plan to cut the cost of wireless service and so on.

Let Technology Help You Save

If you don’t have the discipline to save on your own, there are several apps that can help. For example, the free Digit app takes automation a step further by linking to your checking account and analyzing your income and spending habits to figure out how much you can set aside in savings. It then automatically puts that money into savings for you.

Article Source: Cameron Huddleston for Go Banking Rates, https://www.gobankingrates.com/personal-finance/save-live-paycheck/