How to Build Savings From Zero

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You’ve seen the numbers. They aren’t pretty.

A recent Bankrate.com survey of 1,000 adults suggests that 66 million American adults have zero dollars saved for an emergency. That dovetails nicely with a report that came out earlier this year from the Federal Reserve, which looked at the economic well-being of American households. And things are not going so well. About one-third of 5,695 respondents to a 2015 survey revealed they would have trouble dealing with a $400 emergency.

Sound familiar? Start building your savings with some of these methods.

Start small. That’s advice from Mackey McNeill, founder and president of Mackey Advisors, a wealth management firm in Bellevue, Kentucky.

“If you have never saved anything in your life, save $5 a week or $10 a week,” McNeill says, adding: “Pick a number that, regardless of disaster, you can achieve.”

After you do that, McNeill advises, “Put the money in a separate account and review it once a month. After three months, consider an increase. After three more months, consider an increase again,” and keep repeating.

“The reason people fail at saving is they start too high. … So they set themselves up for failure,” she says. “Start small. You will be so excited that you met your goal, you will automatically want to do more and achieve more. When you start small, you set yourself up for success. Success begets success. I have never had anyone try this who did not succeed.”

Reward yourself when you save money. This is important, McNeill says, advising that whatever the reward be, make it something free.

For instance: If you save $10 a week, then every time you hit $40 saved, rent a movie at the library or take a walk in the park, she explains.

Whatever you do, “make it something that really nurtures you,” she says. “It doesn’t matter what it is. A hot bath will work. But when you give yourself the reward, you are reinforcing the behavior you want.”

Trim back your expenses. One thing that probably keeps most people from saving more is that there may not be enough money to go around. That’s definitely the case if there are expenses that could be easily cut, or debt that’s weighing you down.

When you’re beginning to put together a plan to save money, or begin your accumulation phase, the first thing to do is pay off any high-interest debt like credit cards. Paying off high-interest debt is the most important first step in beginning any accumulation phase because everything you pay off, you are eventually saving money on high interest.

Make it easy. Assuming you have a financial institution – a Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation study suggests that 9 million Americans don’t – the easiest way to save money is to set up a savings account and then direct a specific amount to go regularly from your checking account to your savings account, says Michael Eisenberg, a certified public accountant and personal financial specialist with Innovative Wealth Advisors in Encino, California.

“Every time your paycheck hits your checking account, you should instruct your financial institution to move a set sum directly into your savings account,” he says. “This makes it easy and seamless.”

Eventually, he says, you won’t even miss the money because it’s automatically disappearing, and you’ll get used to working with the money going into your checking account.

Susan Howe, a certified public accountant in Philadelphia, echoes that advice. “Even a modest amount will add up quickly if you set it for a weekly transfer. Just be sure there are no fees,” she says.

Try opening a 401(k) or an IRA. That’s what Leonard Wright, a wealth management advisor in San Diego, suggests. In particular, Wright recommends opening up a Roth 401(k) or a Roth IRA.

“This money grows tax-free for life, is not subject to required minimum distributions when you retire and best of all, is tax-free when you need it – and can help with education expenses for your children,” he says.

But McNeill notes that wherever you put your money, whether in a 401(k) or other savings account, “in the beginning, it’s irrelevant,” – as long as you’re saving money somewhere. “What you are trying to do is create a new habit.”

How will you begin preparing for your retirement today? To set up a complimentary consultation with the Investment & Retirement Center located at First Financial Federal Credit Union to discuss your savings goals, contact us at 732.312.1564, email samantha.schertz@cunamutual.com or stop in to see us!*

*Representatives are registered, securities are sold, and investment advisory services offered through CUNA Brokerage Services, Inc. (CBSI), member FINRA/SIPC, a registered broker/dealer and investment advisor, 2000 Heritage Way, Waverly, Iowa 50677, toll-free 800-369-2862. Non-deposit investment and insurance products are not federally insured, involve investment risk, may lose value and are not obligations of or guaranteed by the financial institution. CBSI is under contract with the financial institution, through the financial services program, to make securities available to members. CUNA Brokerage Services, Inc., is a registered broker/dealer in all fifty states of the United States of America.

*Original article source courtesy of Geoff Williams of US News.

12 Ways You Can Save Money Without Sacrificing Your Lifestyle

bigstock-people-consumerism-lifestyle-102722153Saving or spending is an eternal economic dilemma. People are constantly torn between the satisfaction of present gratification and the promise of future prosperity. At a first glance, it seems almost impossible to simultaneously achieve both, due to the dynamics of limited income, volatile prices, and personal needs.

There are many instances where people spend their money quickly, for limited gains, and find themselves unable to save for the future. Conversely, other people sacrifice their preferred lifestyle in order to save money for a future goal which they deem important, but miss a lot of opportunities to enjoy the present. Both approaches are prone to bring regret, dissatisfaction, and unhappiness in the long run. So what can we do?

Ideally, there should be a fine balance between saving and spending. This can be easily achieved with some self-discipline and common sense. To help you out, we will list twelve simple ways to save money without sacrificing your lifestyle.

1. Control the Urge for Instant Gratification.

The desire for instant gratification is almost inescapable, as it’s programmed in our natural behavior. We naturally prefer the now rather than the later, especially when it comes to things we need on a regular basis, like clothes, food, and household equipment. This also applies to leisure activities, which we would almost certainly prefer to do now, even if we’re short on cash.

To counter this, we should always consider whether short-term benefits outweigh long-term gains and make sure we can spot which cases of instant gratification endanger our long-term aims. For example, when choosing between going to a job interview or to an anticipated party, you must make sure you understand the consequences of each choice from your particular standing point. Nobody is telling you not to enjoy yourself, but make sure you fully understand the benefits and the costs.

2. Make Smart Shopping Choices.

Before making a purchase, put on your thinking cap first and ask yourself if you’re making a smart move or not. Do not act on appearance, rumors, and product presentations, but on facts and client reviews. In the meantime, always keep your eyes open for a better deal and don’t rush into buying the first appealing item you find, whatever it may be. Inspect the market, compare prices and check for quality reviews. This way, you’re more likely to get a higher price-quality ratio when making a purchase.

Shopping takes time and patience and you must never forget to watch out for deals and discounts. It is much wiser to wait for a product to go on discount than to buy it straight away. If you shop smart, you will keep expenses at bay and still enjoy high-quality products.

3. Buy What You Actually Need.

Before you decide to purchase something, ask yourself whether you really need that particular item. It’s not uncommon for people to go shopping just for the heck of it and serious money can be wasted like this. Remember the fundamental principle of free market economics: supply and demand. Don’t you actually have two full wardrobes anyway? Is your laptop working fine after all? Is a new suit the absolute priority right now?

Only buy things which can play a part in your work or leisure pursuits. If you’re not sure you need it, you don’t need it.

4. Use What You Already Have.

It’s very important to keep track of the things in your house and of how well they can help you achieve your purposes. Many people tend to hoard stuff and then go buy some more stuff, without any though on whether they could get the job done with what they already have. Don’t go shopping if it’s already in the house. It can do its job. Give it a chance.

5. Use the Internet.

The internet is the tool for shopping. If you think you’re using all it can offer, you might be mistaken. From price comparisons, extensive client reviews, and advantageous deals, shopping online is the best way you can save money.

Instant access to prices, reviews and competitors gives you a wider market vantage point and will allow you to make an informed decision with just a few clicks. You can find more helpful tips on using the internet for shopping efficiently here.

6. Take Advantage of Online Deals & Surveys.

Saving money can also be achieved by taking as much advantage as possible from online deals and surveys. Many companies are very keen on getting as much feedback from their customers as possible and prepare questionnaires, feedback forms, and surveys. Participating in these can be very beneficial because companies will sometimes reward you with discounts and vouchers. Converse, for instance, has developed an excellent method of retaining their customers’ loyalty by creating an easy customer feedback survey that allows shoppers to update their wardrobes through a personalized gift card.

7. Plan Your Leisure Time Carefully.

People who can have fun and save money at the same time usually have a very clearly defined work and fun routine. In order to save money, it’s very important to know when to go out and when not to. Self-disciplined people don’t avoid the fun parts but know when to schedule them without disrupting the quality of their work. Work hard, play hard, but not at the same time. It’s as simple as that.

8. Rediscover the Old School Way of Having Fun.

Rediscover the charm and satisfaction that old school fun can bring, especially now when we’re seemingly unable to step away from our laptops of phones for more than five minutes. Instead of spending a ton of money clubbing or pub crawling, go at a friend’s house for a barbecue, a movie or a board game. Skip that expensive concert and go on a camping trip next weekend. Having a great time is about people, not places and things. So try to tone down the spending while doing similarly fun things.

9. Learn When to Stop.

It’s very easy to lose yourself in a shopping spree. Once you get started, you will need all the willpower you can muster to prevent yourself from rampaging through your favorite store. If you want to stay balanced and keep your budget afloat, learn when to say no. Sometimes you simply can’t afford to spend all that money on something non-essential. Less is more.

10. Make Realistic Plans.

Don’t wish for what you know can’t possibly happen. Think smaller and keep your feet on the ground. If you have an average income, but you’re running two bank loans to pay for cedar wood furniture, then you’ve probably lost your bearing at some point. Learn not to live above your means and grow your income organically, not artificially.

 It’s alright to have bright future plans. But make them realistic.

11. Exercise Full Control on Your Finances.

Control your money. Don’t let someone else manage it for you and keep a written account of income and expenses for each month. That way, you’ll be able to see where you’ve overreached and where you need to cut back. Keep a strict security routine for your credit and debit cards. In addition, make sure you always know what the opportunity cost is for every purchase. So, if you buy a laptop, keep in mind you won’t be able to also fix the car this month.

Leave nothing to chance and keep a sharp eye on your balance sheet.

12. Keep a Balanced Mindset.

In the end, however, what really matters is your mindset and attitude. If you have the self-discipline, the patience, and the internal balance to prevent you from making mistakes, there is no reason why you can’t live a good life and still save for the future. Optimism is also helpful, but make sure it’s the realistic, kind.

*Original article source courtesy of Mike Jones at SavingAdvice.com.

30 Money Mistakes You’re Probably Making This Summer

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Summer is a time to cut loose and have fun. But, if you’re not careful, that fun can lead to overspending, failing to keep tabs on your finances, and making money mistakes due to distractions. You certainly don’t want to be paying for those mistakes the rest of the year. So, to maintain your financial well-being while enjoying all that summer has to offer, avoid making these money mistakes for the rest of the season.

1. Overspending on Summer Fun Rather than Saving

There are plenty of temptations to spend on in the summer — travel, concerts, cocktails by the pool, and nights on the town. However, you shouldn’t stop contributing to your retirement account to fund summer fun. To avoid the temptation to overspend, contribute to retirement accounts by having payments automatically deducted from your paycheck or bank account. Then you can only spend what’s left after funding your savings.

2. Not Having a Budget for Summer Activities

To avoid overspending in the summer, you should plan activities in advance and create a fund to cover the cost. You can open a separate account or even put cash in an envelope — and stop spending once the money runs out. Without a budget for summer fun, you could end up relying on credit (and paying for your summer fun well into the next few seasons).

3. Missing Payments While Traveling

It’s easy to miss deadlines for bills — or forget to make payments entirely while traveling. “If you forget, expect late fees and a ding to your credit report,” said Jim Wang, creator of the money-saving blog WalletHacks.com. To avoid the cost of fees and a drop in your credit score, set up automatic payments through your service providers or your bank, so your bills are paid while you’re on vacation. If there are bills you can’t pay automatically, and you forget to make a payment, call the billing department to explain why you missed it and ask if you might be able to have the late fee waived.

4. Not Putting Mail Delivery on Hold

Forgetting to contact the U.S. Postal Service to stop mail delivery while you’re on vacation could put your finances at risk. To lower your risk of becoming a victim of identity theft, you can put a hold on your mail by filling out an online form at USPS.com.

5. Failing to Keep an Eye Out for Fraud

Whether you’re traveling this summer or just staying busy by having fun in the sun, it’s easy to forget to keep tabs on your accounts for unusual fees or activity. However, you shouldn’t let your guard down during the summer. Log on to your bank and credit accounts regularly and set up alerts to receive text messages or emails when charges are made to your accounts to spot fraudulent activity quickly. Additionally, you should get a free copy of your credit report at AnnualCreditReport.com to make sure unauthorized accounts haven’t been opened in your name.

6. Falling Prey to Summer Scams

Scammers take advantage of a variety of opportunities during the summer months to get people to part with their money. If you’re not careful, you could become their next victim. One of the most common scams involves offering deeply discounted vacation rental properties or vacation packages, according to the New York State Attorney General’s office. Deals that seem too good to be true and require an upfront payment or wire transfer are red flags. In many cases, vacationers arrive at their destinations only to find that the rentals don’t exist.

7. Cooling an Empty House

The air conditioner likely takes the biggest bite out of your home energy bill during the summer by accounting for nearly 50 percent of your energy use. So, if you leave the temperature setting too low while you’re at work or on vacation, your energy bill will likely soar. Try installing a programmable thermostat, so the temperature will automatically adjust while you’re away to keep you from wasting energy cooling an empty home.

8. Keeping the Blinds Open During the Day

When you’re heading to work, close the blinds to keep the sun’s rays from warming your home and making your air conditioner work harder — which means a higher electric bill. Reflective blinds can reduce heat gain by about 45 percent when closed and lowered, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Medium-colored draperies with plastic backings can reduce heat gain by about 33 percent.

9. Leaving Electronics Plugged in While on Vacation

If you leave electronics plugged in when you leave for vacation, you’ll be paying for electricity you’re not using. You can also use a power strip to turn off energy vampires with the flip of a switch. Doing this can shave 5 percent or more off your home energy bill.

10. Setting the Water Heater Too High

Leaving the water heater at its regular setting when you go away on vacation can result in wasted money too. Even when you’re at home, you should turn down the temperature on your water heater during the summer. You can save up to $30 on your energy bill for every 10 degrees you lower you water heater temperature, according to the Department of Energy.

11. Buying a New Air Conditioner Without Research

If you need to replace your air conditioner during the hot summer months, don’t let the heat push you into making rash purchasing decisions. It’s best to consult with a professional or do extensive research on ratings and proper installation techniques to get the most out of a big-ticket investment.

12. Overpaying for Child Care

Paying for child care during the summer when kids are out of school can easily break your budget. You might be able to cut the cost by pooling babysitting resources, according to nonprofit financial counseling agency, Take Charge America. For example, you could hire one babysitter to watch several children in the neighborhood and split the cost among multiple families. Or, you might be able to get several family members or friends to take turns watching the kids.

13. Spending Too Much on Summer Activities for Kids

Parents spend more than $950 per child on average for summer activities, according to a report by American Express. Fortunately, there are several ways to minimize these costs. Try looking into summer camps offered through your city’s recreation department, community center or YMCA. Many churches and religious groups also offer affordable camps and programs for kids.

14. Taking a Vacation Rather than a Staycation

It’s fun to get away, but taking a vacation can put a strain on your budget. Americans who plan to travel this summer expect to spend an average of $941 per person on their trips, according to the American Express Spending & Saving Tracker. Planning a staycation — rather than a vacation, is a way to cut costs and explore the town in which you live. This option eliminates two of the biggest expenses: lodging and transportation costs.

15. Charging a Vacation to a Credit Card without Plans to Pay it Off

If you charge a $3,000 beach vacation for a family of four to a credit card with a 9.90% APR and pay it off over 18 months, it would cost you an extra $240 in interest. If your APR is 19.90%, it would cost you an extra $494 in interest. If you are going to put a vacation or portion of your vacation on a credit card – be sure to have a plan in place to pay it off immediately.

16. Not Being Flexible With Travel Plans

Flights in the summer tend to be more expensive because there’s an increase in demand, said Kyle Taylor, founder of the money-saving blog, The Penny Hoarder. And you’ll pay even more if you’re not willing to be flexible about the day of week you fly. Try to use an airline or travel site’s “flexible dates” option when searching for flights to find the lowest fares.

17. Waiting Until the Last Minute to Book a Flight

If you plan to fly to your summer vacation destination, don’t wait until the last minute to book your flight. You’ll pay about $200 more per ticket, on average, if you book a flight within seven days of departure than if you book a flight three weeks to three months in advance, according to CheapAir.com. If you book between seven and 13 days from departure, you’ll pay at least $75 more.

18. Overpacking When Flying

Overpacking can be a costly mistake, especially if you’re flying on an airline that charges you to check bags. For example, American Airlines, Delta and United all charge $25 for the first bag you check and $30 to $35 for a second bag. You can avoid fees on most airlines by taking only carry-on bags — which means packing only the essentials. Or, you can stick to Southwest Airlines, which lets passengers check two bags for free.

19. Saying Yes to Car Rental Upgrades

If you rent a car for summer travel, don’t feel pressured to say yes to add-ons or upgrades. “Be polite to car rental agents trying to get you to spend more money, but decline their invitations to upgrade your vehicle, pay for insurance or prepay for gas,” said Kendal Perez, a savings expert with Coupon Sherpa. “Upgrading your car will only result in additional rental fees and gas costs, while insurance coverage is likely redundant with that provided by your personal auto insurance or your credit card.”

20. Using Debit Cards to Reserve Hotel Rooms

If you don’t use credit cards — or use them only sparingly, be careful about using a debit card to reserve a hotel room for your summer vacation. Some hotels charge an “incidental deposit” as a security deposit or for other possible charges to your room, such as room service. Typically, the charge is removed shortly after you check out. However, that money is on hold, meaning you might not be able to access needed funds in the event of an emergency. Save the expense and headache by reserving rooms with a credit card instead.

21. Using the Wrong Credit Card Overseas

A common mistake that novice travelers make when overseas is using their regular credit cards without checking to see if they charge foreign transaction fees. While many card companies charge these fees for currency conversion, some issuers offer no foreign transaction fee cards, which can save you up to 3 percent per charge. Be sure to double check your card before you take it overseas.

22. Not Notifying Your Card Company About Your Trip

If you travel outside of your normal geographic region, let your credit card company know in advance. If you don’t, the company’s fraud department might think your purchases are fraudulent.

23. Using Public WiFi While Traveling

During summer travel, people often log on to unsecure networks during layovers or while visiting local coffee shops in the cities they’re visiting. Travelers should know they’re putting personal information at risk when they log on to accounts using public WiFi networks, as hackers can steal their personal information. To avoid putting your information at risk, you can use a virtual private network (VPN) to send and receive information while using public WiFi.

24. Not Waiting for End-of-Season Sales

You might want to upgrade your grill, patio furniture or warm-weather wardrobe now that summer is here. But you likely won’t get the best prices on seasonal items until the end of summer. Waiting for fall to shop can save you 50 percent to 60 percent in some cases.

25. Not Taking Advantage of Sales Tax Holidays

You can save a lot of money by doing your back-to-school shopping during sales tax holidays, said Howard Dvorkin, founder of Debt.com. Seventeen states —primarily in the South, waive sales tax on items like clothing, school supplies and computer purchases on select days in the summer. You can learn more about sales tax holidays at the Federation of Tax Administrators’ website, Taxadmin.org.

26. Buying Produce That’s Not in Season

With the abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables available during the summer, it doesn’t make sense to spend more on produce that’s not in season yet. Stick to seasonal produce — such as peaches, watermelons, corn and tomatoes to save money. Another way to save on produce during the summer is by visiting your local farmers market.

27. Paying for the Gym When You’re Exercising Outside

If you’re taking advantage of the nice weather to exercise outside, don’t keep forking over money for a monthly gym fee. Instead of opting to ditch your membership — and pay an early termination fee or initiation fee to rejoin, ask if you can freeze your membership.

28. Failing to Take Advantage of Free Activities

You can avoid spending a lot of money on entertainment in the summer by taking advantage of free activities. For example, your town might offer free concerts or movies in the park. Your public library might offer free events and activities too. Check your city’s community calendar for events. Many recreation centers, museums, zoos and botanical gardens also offer free admission on certain days of the week.

29. Paying Full Price for Entertainment

Whether you’re traveling or looking for something fun to do at home, there’s a good chance that you can avoid paying full price for entertainment. For example, look for discounts on admission to amusement parks, zoos, and museums on daily deal sites such as Groupon and LivingSocial. Don’t forget to take advantage of discounts you can get through memberships in organizations like AAA or AARP. For example, AAA members get up to 30 percent off tickets to Six Flags amusement park.

30. Not Budgeting for Summer Weddings

Most weddings occur between May and October, making summer an especially pricey season if you’re invited to attend or participate in the celebrations. For example, the cost of being a bridesmaid or groomsman can top $1,000, according to a recent GOBankingRates survey. Wedding guests can spend $600 or more on average, on travel and gift costs. To reduce this cost, think carefully before you accept invitations, and keep travel costs in mind. Bridal party members should carefully consider each event associated with weddings, such as bachelor and bachelorette parties and wedding showers. Make sure what you spend on a gift is an amount you can afford.

Article Source: Cameron Huddleston for Go Banking Rates, https://www.gobankingrates.com/personal-finance/money-mistakes-probably-making-summer/

9 Signs You’re Spending More Money Than You Have to and How to Fix It

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Sometimes it’s tough to find a healthy balance when it comes to your finances. While it’s nice to treat yourself every so often, doing it on the regular can be one of the signs that you may be spending too much money. Even though money is a taboo topic and can be a sensitive issue, it’s important to be honest with yourself. While it would be great to make millions of dollars and spend it frivolously all over town, you also need to keep your financial future in mind.

According to the financial app Mint, you might want to be more careful with your money if you’re not paying your bills on time, you’re paying for your necessities with credit cards, or you’re struggling to meet minimum payments. If you find yourself dealing with these things on the regular, it might be a good idea to create a budget and start using cash so you can keep an eye on your finances and spend less money. Feeling stressed about money is something that no one should have to deal with on a daily basis – that’s why it’s important to be honest with yourself and be aware of the signs that you’re spending too much.

Need some help in that department? Here are nine signs you may be spending more money than you need to.

1. You Carry A Large Balance On Your Credit Card

Having more than 30% of your credit card limit on your credit card is considered to be a big no-no. If you find that your credit card limit is higher than your savings account, you might want to switch things up. Some credit cards do have tools where you can track your expenses online. You can also use money apps such as Mint to figure out exactly where everything is going.

First Financial’s Visa® Platinum Credit Card comes fully loaded with higher credit lines, lower APR, no annual fee, no balance transfer fees, a 10 day grace period, CURewards redeemable for merchandise and travel and so much more!* Click here to apply online today or transfer your higher rate credit card balance. 

2. You’re Easily Swayed By Your Social Activities

It isn’t fun missing out on adventures with your friends. But while happy hour sounds awesome, paying your bills is even better. According to Business Insiderauthor of Living Well, Spending Less: 12 Secrets to the Good Life, Ruth Soukup says, “This can be as innocent as going out to eat when you’ve already exhausted your restaurant fund for the month, or as extreme as paying rent you can’t afford in order to keep up with your friends.”  It really won’t be fun when you can’t afford your rent – stick to your budget and don’t spend outside your means.

3. You Don’t Have An Emergency Fund

Ideally, you want to have 10 percent of your income in your savings, but even five percent is good – as long as you have some type of savings built up. Essentially, you want to make sure that you have enough in your bank account for those rainy days. According to Business Insider, billionaire John Paul DeJoria – it’s important to always have at least three to six months’ worth of savings in your account, depending on how much you make annually.

4. You’re Living Paycheck To Paycheck

You probably need to re-adjust your finances if you find yourself living from paycheck to paycheck and not saving any money at the end of the month. According to U.S. Money, if you have a budget, but still find yourself short at the end of every month, it might be time to cut your expenses and re-evaluate.

Check out our free budgeting and savings calculators at firstffcu.com to get started!

5. You Don’t Have A Budget

Certified money coach Ashley Feinstein, founder of “Knowing Your Worth” says, “I recommend that every client keep a money journal for at least a couple of weeks to get conscious about where their money is going.” If there’s one thing you need to do ASAP on this list, it’s creating a budget to help get your finances on track.

6. Your Fridge Is Empty

You might be thinking that this has no correlation with your spending habits, but it actually does. Think about it: if your fridge is empty and you never have to do the dishes, it probably means you spend a lot of money eating out. According to the website Cheat Sheet, if you’re spending an average of $45 for two people and eating out for dinner once or twice a week, you’ve probably already spent more than you would on a week of groceries.

7. You Borrow From Friends Or Family

While it’s probably okay to borrow every now and then (in addition to paying them back on a timely manner), you don’t want to be borrowing from friends or family every time you need to pay your rent.  According to the Huffington Post, if you’re constantly asking your friends and family for money, then it means you either are spending way too much or you need to look for a new job.  Not to mention, constantly borrowing from a loved one can put strain and tension in your relationship.

8. You Don’t Know Where Your Money Is Going

If you find yourself forgetting where all your money is going to, whether you use cash or credit, then it might be a sign that you need to fix your finances. According to U.S. Money, people who shop a lot tend to ignore exactly how much money they spend. It’s best to figure out a budget with exactly how much spending money you have, so you know your spending limit.

Try our free, anonymous, 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. You Feel Stressed About Money

The American Psychological Association conducted a survey in 2015 and found that 72% of Americans were stressed about money at least once in the month. One of the key signs you need to pay attention to is how money actually makes you feel. Sometimes finances can make you feel edgy or anxious when you don’t have control over them. However, if you keep track of every penny that goes in and out of your account, then that anxious feeling could subside.

While spending money may bring you happiness, it’s important to budget your finances so you can have some in savings. While there are plenty of ways to spend your money, it doesn’t necessarily mean you should.

*APR varies from 11.15% to 18% 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.

Article Source: Raven Ishak for Bustle.com, http://www.bustle.com/articles/170200-9-signs-you-may-be-spending-more-money-than-you-have-to-how-to-fix 

16 Surprising Things to Do to Be Smarter with Your Money

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Between happy hours after work, travel plans, manicures and new pairs of shoes, it seems as though there’s always ample opportunity to spend and spend some more. Unfortunately, giving into our spending desires too often can seriously damage our wallets and bank accounts. Thus, it’s important to take note of your finances and prioritize expenses in order to protect yourself from financial strains and unwanted stress.

When finances are a struggle, it can build a lot of tension that can seep into all aspects of one’s life and interfere with the ability to function, work and maintain healthy relationships. Plus, if you are managing finances with a spouse or partner, there’s double pressure to be responsible and make rational decisions together.

Here are 16 surprising ways to be smarter with money, feel financially balanced in the present and start saving for the future. Trust us, once you set yourself up in a way that is sustainable, you’ll feel more comfortable and happy on a daily basis.

1. Download an App.

“If you want to be smarter with your money you need to use a budgeting tool or app,” says Robbie Doull, associate at Quantitative Risk Management. “I use Mint, but there are hundreds of similar apps, and you can track things ranging from your stock investments to just what’s in your bank account,” he adds. Doull recommends getting a rough monthly spending number and to take note of where your money is going. Apps are great for laying out all of your expenses for you, as we often don’t consider our finances in the moment we are handing over a credit card.

2. Set a Budget.

“Personal finance is a pretty good subreddit devoted to personal budgets. It could be a good place to start if you are making a budget for the first time,” recommends Doull. When coming up with a budget, think about what is realistic for you (how much groceries you need based on your diet) and get rid of accessories that are not important (such as a new bag or pair of shoes). Plus, going under budget never hurts, so don’t feel pressure to meet that requirement each month or week, depending on how you space it out.

3. Grocery Shop Wisely.

Buying fruit and vegetables that are in season is a great way to save money, as prices are lower, and there are usually sales. If you want produce that is either out of season or for a smoothie, buy it frozen, as it’s less expensive and will last longer. Check in with your app to see how much you spend each month on groceries, and try and think about it while shopping. “If I know I spend an average of $150 a month on groceries, I find myself thinking about where I am on that budget when at the store,” expresses Doull.

4. Ask for Samples.

Many stores, especially Whole Foods Market, will allow you to taste the food before purchasing. Make sure that you enjoy the foods you bring home so that you don’t have to waste your money. Plus, sometimes they will give you larger pieces for free. If you ask to try a slice of bread, and you like it, they will often let you take the remainder of the loaf home free of cost. Similarly, if the store is out of a seasoning you like, you can ask someone in the fish or meat department if there is any bit of seasoning they can spare. Usually, you’ll find yourself coming home with a small container!

5. Take Advantage of Business Perks.

“If you work for a company that matches a portion of 401k deposits, it almost always makes sense to get the full matching amount, it’s basically free money that can be used for the future,” advises Doull. Saving money for the future is so important for financial freedom and retirement, as you don’t know what expenses may pop up as you age (medical bills, familial obligations, travel opportunities, etc.). “It should be clearly stated what percentage of contributions your employer will match, and then you can decide how much you want to contribute per month,” says Doull. Figure out what works for you, but start somewhere and now.

6. Set Up an IRA.

If you do not have access to a 401K, it doesn’t mean that you cannot start saving money for retirement. There are two types: Roth and Traditional. “In a Roth IRA, you are taxed before you contribute. So you would pay taxes now, and when you withdraw later in life, you don’t pay any tax. Traditional is basically the opposite, where you are not taxed now, but are taxed on withdrawal,” explains Doull. When deciding, look at your current finances and figure out what your goals are for the future regarding employment. Think about the age you’d like to retire and the type of lifestyle you want to live.

If you need help planning your retirement or have questions about investing, we encourage you to set up a no-cost consultation with the Investment & Retirement Center located at First Financial Federal Credit Union to discuss your savings goals. Contact us at 732.312.1564, email samantha.schertz@cunamutual.com or stop in to see us!*

7. Cook at Home More.

All those restaurant bills certainly add up. Not only is cooking at home healthier, it also help you save money, as you have the option to buy in bulk, purchase deals and save for leftovers during the week. Stock up on meats, produce and nuts to create homemade trail mixes for snacks at work and delicious dinners that can be remodeled for lunch the next day. Buying lunch and snacks during the week can be pricey, so save some money by bringing your own.

8. Change Your Daily Coffee Order.

Do you wake up with a morning pumpkin spice latte with and extra shot, whip and vanilla syrup? Each morning? That cost definitely adds up! Think about some of your habits that are not essential for your wellbeing, energy, or time. Drinking a plain brew or even brewing your own coffee at home can be just as delicious once you adapt to the new taste, and it will give you more wiggle room in your budget for other things.

9. Get Grooming Discounts.

Beauty departments often offer free makeovers, so head to a counter and ask for a “new look.” It’s a great way to save money on both expensive beauty services and daily products, allowing the latter to last way longer. Similarly, many beauty schools will offer free or discounted hairstyle appointments, as it complements the students’ training. Plus, your hair will probably look great!

10. Try New Fitness Classes.

Most studios and gyms offer complimentary classes or passes for new customers, so definitely take advantage of that perk! Varying up your workouts is also beneficial for your body, routine and mind. There might also be referral offers, where if you refer new customers, you’ll receive a discounted price, as well.

11. Go BYOB.

Book reservations at BYOB restaurants to save money when dining out. Alcohol can be extremely pricy, and it’s pretty easy to find BYOB restaurants that serve delicious food. Be wary of a corkage fee; if it exists, bring a bottle that doesn’t require an opener or see if you can bring your own. These restaurants are also really fun for both romantic date nights and larger get-togethers.

12. Share Media Streaming Accounts.

A great way to enjoy your media and still save money is to share media streaming accounts with friends and family. One person can pay for Netflix, another for HBO Go, another for Hulu, and so forth. It’s easy to hook up the streaming accounts to your devices, and with a bowl of popcorn and a soft blanket, it makes for a cozy night in.

13. Reconsider Expiration Dates.

Expiration dates usually indicate an item’s quality and freshness, rather than it’s safety. We often throw food out once it reaches the expiration date, and this can be a serious waste of money. Understanding how long past the expiration date food can last will help eliminate these extra costs.

14. Change Your Commute.

Biking or walking, instead of driving can cut gas costs and enhance your quality of life, as studies show that a long commute can negatively affect one’s wellbeing. If biking or walking isn’t an option, find a carpooling buddy (or two) and take turns to help decrease one another’s expenses. Plus, it’ll be a more pleasurable way to arrive to the office!

15. Align Spending with Your Values.

“Look at money from a ‘freedom’ standpoint and align your spending to your deepest values,” says certified healthy living coach Liz Traines over email correspondence with Bustle. “Money gives you opportunities to do whatever it is you might want to do in your lifetime AKA it provides freedom,” she continues. Think about what you value in life and the behaviors that you embody in order to make mindful decisions.

16. Use a Journal.

If apps and technological gadgets aren’t your thing, stick with a journal to keep track of your expenses, budget and spending goals. “Look back on a week of spending and see what seems unnecessary and what that amount of money could buy you over time (i.e. that one bedroom apartment that would make life so much more peaceful),” advises Traines. Seeing the numbers in print can be a great wake up call.

Being mindful of your spending habits can help you save money for the future and make better decisions in the present. It’s a great feeling to enjoy financial freedom and security, and such chronic uneasiness can be debilitating to one’s wellbeing, self-esteem, health and lifetime goals. By making smart, responsible steps, it’s easy to create a life that is in line with both desires and needs and can pave the way for an exciting future!

*Representatives are registered, securities are sold, and investment advisory services offered through CUNA Brokerage Services, Inc. (CBSI), member FINRA/SIPC, a registered broker/dealer and investment advisor, 2000 Heritage Way, Waverly, Iowa 50677, toll-free 800-369-2862. Non-deposit investment and insurance products are not federally insured, involve investment risk, may lose value and are not obligations of or guaranteed by the financial institution. CBSI is under contract with the financial institution, through the financial services program, to make securities available to members. CUNA Brokerage Services, Inc., is a registered broker/dealer in all fifty states of the United States of America.

Original article source courtesy of Isadora Baum of Bustle.com.

11 Easy Ways To Save Money

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There are few things better than realizing that an easy habit you picked up landed you an extra couple hundred dollars by the end of the month. Maybe it was finally ditching that morning cold brew from the funky coffee place down the street. Maybe it was scouring the below-eye-level shelves for some major deals from the grocery store.

Because you can never have enough tips on being smarter about saving money, we’ve rounded up a few creative ways to help loosen up your wallet from everyday people like you and I.

1. Save those Lincolns.

“I try and save every $5 bill I receive. I have an envelope full of fives that I hide away so I forget about it. I’m currently at about $900 in fives!”

Stephanie

2. Grab coffee from the office.

“For the first few months of the year, I promised myself I wouldn’t spend more than $1 on coffee. I was spending about $4 a day at local coffee shops, and instead bought street coffee or grabbed a cup of joe from the office. In three months I spent less than $90 — versus the average $360 I was spending before. KA-CHING!”

Jessica

3. Be an Amazon pro.

“Nerd alert — the app Paribus will keep track of what you’ve purchased and alert you and will automatically ask for a price adjustment if the price changes. Just got $8 back from Amazon this week!”

Meredith

4. Stock up on meats.

“I stock up on meats when they’re on sale and do a bit of pre-freezer prep work. I’ll portion things out — I can thinly slice chicken breasts for stir fry and then freeze that as a meal — and often will marinate them at the same time. Then I defrost it the day I want to use it. I’ve gotten dinners for my family of three down to about $4 per dinner this way, or $1.30 per person per dinner.”

Mallory

5. Check the far aisles.

“Whenever you go to a store like Target or Walmart, check the end caps, especially those along the outer perimeter of the store. That’s where they put deeply discounted items on clearance. It’s sort of a catch-all, but it’s where you can grab a box gift set of Old Spice bathing and deodorant products for $5.”

Tyler

6. Co-ops are your best friend.

“Shop at a co-op! I do all my grocery shopping at a co-op once a week and eat lots of organic and otherwise happy food for a ridiculously low price. My partner and I usually spend less than $400 on groceries a month. Bonus: You get to witness the occasional throw-down over food politics.”

Also: If you are very, very broke, most of the CSAs and farm shares in New York have tiered plans for different incomes!

Irina

7. Keep the change.

“Carrying around change is a universal hatred, and most of mine used to go absentmindedly into tip jars and in between couch cushions. I now keep an empty jar on my counter in which I dump all my change at the day’s end every day. Yes, simple trick, and nothing you haven’t heard before, but at the end of two months I end up with an extra ~$100 I would have literally given away.”

Lauren

8. Get money for your old clothes.

“H&M is currently trying to rehabilitate its image as one of the worst offenders of fast fashion. As such, H&M offers a coupon to customers who bring in a bag of clothing, and it’s worth 15 percent off their entire next purchase. They take anything, too. What does that mean?  When the consignment store like Beacon’s Closet, Plato’s Closet or Buffalo Exchange won’t take your used clothing, put it in a bag and give it to H&M for that coupon. It can be old t-shirts from Dollar General, for all H&M cares — they just want to recycle.”

Double tip: “When you’re at H&M using that coupon for 15 percent off your entire purchase, text to sign up for their newsletter to get 20 percent off of one item. They let you use it on the most expensive item too, and in conjunction with the 15 percent off coupon. Then to avoid getting their annoying texts, immediately reply “STOP” to the newsletter to unsubscribe. Then you can use the discount again next time with the same process.”

Tyler

9. Tag along to a friend’s gym.

“I go to Crunch Fitness with my friend, as her guest, for free — which eliminates paying for a monthly gym membership.”

Stephanie

10. Ride for free.

“Bike to work instead of using subway! A 30-day fare card in New York is $116. I still use the subway sometimes, so I save about $80 per month.”

Roque

11. Go cash-only.

“If I don’t want to spend frivolously, especially that week before my next paycheck, I’ll go cash-only. I know mentally that I have breathing room in my account, but if I only take out $100 for the week, I’ll be smarter every day when going out to get lunch or run for coffee knowing that I want to make those specific, tangible, in-front-of-me dollars stretch. This curbs a lot of impulse spending too.”

Mallory

*Original article courtesy of Jenny Che of the Huffington Post.