How to Stay on Your Holiday Season Budget

If you’re on a strict budget this holiday season, it can be hard to not spend more than you should. One way you can achieve this goal (and not rack up costly credit card debt), is by implementing a zero-based budget.

What is a zero-based budget? In simple terms, your income minus any expenditures equals zero. When you’re budgeting for the holidays, it’s helpful to know exactly where every dollar is being spent. Here’s how to make a zero-based holiday budget work for you.

Jot down your total allotted income: For example, say you have $1,000 to spend on holiday gifts and supplies. Before you spend any money, make sure that your total is going to be enough to cover everything that you’d like to purchase.

Write down your expenses: Write down (or create a note on your phone for) everything including gifts, decorations, food, clothing, and so on. Beside each line item, jot down how much you want to spend on each purchase.

Subtract: When you subtract your expenses from your allotted income, you will want it to equal zero. If your numbers don’t come out to zero, move some dollars around or adjust until they do. You may have to look over your list, but once you’ve got it balanced – it’s a very simple concept.

Don’t forget to also track your spending as you go, and match it to your original checklist.

Another idea for next year? Set-up a Holiday Savings Account. During the year, you’ll be able to automatically deduct money from each of your paychecks and have it sent to a special savings account. The idea behind this type of account is to set it up so that you don’t see this money during the year and then when you need it for holiday shopping – it’s there.

Are there any holiday traditions you can cut out? Think expensive card photo shoots, excessive holiday outdoor lights, or exchanging gifts with every member of your extended family. Try to come up with easier, less expensive alternatives for these traditions – or stop them altogether.

If you stick to your original plan and holiday budget, you’ll be right where you need to be – come the new year.

Happy Holidays!


Article Sources: and

Warning Signs for Car Buyers

When you’ve finally decided that you want to buy or get an auto loan for a new vehicle, the last thing you want to experience is being deceived. Although there is usually some wiggle room in terms of negotiating prices and options, it is important for dealerships to be upfront and honest with potential buyers – especially in today’s car buying market.

How do you know if you are being taken advantage of through deceptive practices? Here are some warning signs to be on the lookout for.

Forcing Prospects into Financing

With the supply of vehicles dwindling, some dealers are becoming more aggressive in terms of their sales efforts. Some may only be promoting financing directly through them first, before the customer can buy their desired vehicle.

This type of “buy here, pay here” option may be quite tempting for consumers. The problem with this type of deal is that oftentimes, the interest rate may be higher than you’d pay elsewhere. It’s important to find out what your interest rate will actually be first, before you decide where to finance your vehicle.

As a buyer, you always have the right to get an auto loan or financing from a third party (like your local credit union), and not just with the dealership. Don’t feel pressured that through the dealership is the only means of financing your ride.

Used Car with No Title

When deciding to buy a used car, be sure that the dealership or seller provides you with its actual vehicle title – saying that they have it isn’t enough. Don’t get stranded by buying a used vehicle that still has an existing loan on it.

Cars that have outstanding auto loans will still have their titles held by the bank and not with the dealer/seller. Another thing to keep in mind here, is that without a title – you’ll be left with a car you can’t register, and therefore can’t actually drive.

Asking You to Sign an Arbitration Clause

A dealer that requires you to sign an arbitration clause is another warning sign that you may not be in the right place. This type of clause means that in the case of disputes, it will require the dispute to be resolved through a third party.

Unfortunately, this third party will almost always lean toward the business filing the dispute – since they are typically paying the arbitrator’s fee. Asking you to sign an arbitration clause simply means that your best interest as a buyer, is not at heart.

In Conclusion

Now you know some of the most common warning signs that car buyers should be aware of when looking to purchase a vehicle. By following the tips provided, you’ll be able to protect yourself and your purchase – whether you’re buying a used or new car.

For great Auto Loan rates and quick, same day approvals – check us out, as well as honest car buying through our preferred Monmouth & Ocean County dealerships!*

*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.

Tips for Creating and Sticking to Your Holiday Budget

It’s that time of year again! Here are some budget conscious shopping tips as we head into the holiday season.

Set a Spending Limit: Before you start to shop, decide on an amount that you are comfortable with and can afford to spend on gifts this year. Be realistic and firm, and stick to this spending limit throughout the holiday season. Don’t forget to also factor in your regular monthly bills that will need to be paid during this time.

Don’t Forget You Might Need to Buy Other Items Besides Gifts: Other factors to include in your holiday spending budget might be travel, gift wrap, decorations, food, and clothing. These items may be outside of the holiday gifts you are purchasing, but can still add up and blow your holiday budget if you forget about them.

Do Your Research: Before you head out to the store or make an online purchase, do your research. How much do the things on your list cost, and are there any promotions or online deals you can take advantage of to save money? If the items on your list are ones you have purchased in the past, see if you have previous receipts or online order emails to remind yourself how much the items cost or where you purchased them.

Make a List: At the beginning of the season, make a gift list with one or two ideas for each person – within your budget of course. Try to create this list as soon as possible, so that if any of the items on it are on sale – you can get them early and at a discount. Be sure to also stick to your list – once it’s made, it’s made. Try not to buy extras or overspend.

Scale Back: If you’re on a tight budget and your gift list includes many people outside of immediate family or kids, you might need to consider cutting your gift list. Instead, you can always try a homemade gift that’s much less expensive for adults outside of immediate family (baking cookies, crafting something personalized) to save your holiday spending budget.

Try Secret Santa: If you have a rather large family or a big friend group – you can always try the Secret Santa gift method. This way you won’t have to buy an individual gift for everyone – you can simply pick one name out of a Santa hat, the group will set the spend limit together as a whole so it’s the same for all, and then you only have to buy one gift.

Compare Prices: Once your list is made, start doing some comparison shopping to see where you can purchase the items that will save you the most money. Check out early Black Friday deals (which many retailers have been participating in for 2021), Black Friday sales, Cyber Monday savings, and online coupons. Be sure to also sign up for emails with the retailers you plan to shop with this year, as well as follow their social media pages to keep an eye out for timely promotions.

Track Your Spending: Once you start purchasing gifts, keep a tally of how much you are spending to make sure you are in line with your original budget. Keep this as up to date as possible so you know how much you’ve spent and what is still left to buy.

Happy Holidays!

Article Source: News 12 New Jersey

Last Minute Thanksgiving Savings Tips

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, are you prepared? You might be slightly panicking right now if you didn’t set aside money or create a budget for the upcoming holiday. With Thanksgiving quickly approaching, everything associated with the holiday can become very pricey at the last minute.

Don’t worry, you’re certainly not the only one who feels this way. Thanksgiving might almost be here, but there are still various ways to celebrate the holiday without breaking the bank – especially if you didn’t plan ahead. Keep reading for some last minute Thanksgiving money-saving ideas that may just be all the help you need.

Save on Thanksgiving Travel

Thanksgiving is a time for family and friends to get together. As a result, travel is often required and might also be costly. Additionally, COVID-19 restrictions can add to the dilemma. Group gatherings may still be limited, and this could also reduce the number of usual participants. Not to mention, many cities still have travel restrictions in place.

To save money, you may choose to avoid traveling all together this year. Perhaps you’ll instead be able to host a small gathering with close friends or relatives who live nearby, and arrange for a video call with loved ones who live far away. Spending Thanksgiving virtually may not be ideal, but it still has its advantages – especially in this time of an ongoing pandemic. You’ll save money on airfare and gas costs, and also avoid the hassle of meeting the pandemic’s travel guidelines.

If you still want to travel, several airlines and websites do provide lower-cost flights. Keep searching the internet looking for last minute travel deals. Yes, as Thanksgiving approaches – everything may become more expensive, but there are certainly some last minute discounts available if you do your research.

Save Money on Thanksgiving Dinner

Whether you plan to make your Thanksgiving meal from scratch or buy ready-to-eat food, preparing this meal can be costly. One tip to save money is to keep your food menu small and simple, especially if you’re on a budget and won’t be hosting a huge gathering. People are likely to be on the move most of the day, visiting various friends and family. Some also tend to over-prepare, making too much food. A lot of food will likely go to waste if you take this route, so plan accordingly for the number of people in attendance – keeping in mind that most guests will only sample a little bit of everything and not eat large portions.

Save Money on Decorating

Preparing and decorating for Thanksgiving can be fun, however at full price – decorations can be expensive. Flex your creativity and make your own decorations if you can. This is an easy method to save some cash and show off your inner artist too. If you are not crafty at all, check out your local dollar store or the sale section of a nearby craft store.

You can also use what you already have in the house too. For example, reuse last year’s Thanksgiving decorations or search around the house for items that you can use for a centerpiece. You may also want to print a banner you can hang up inside, or purchase a small bouquet of fresh flowers from your local grocery store. You can save money while still having a festive Thanksgiving.

In Conclusion

Having a Happy Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be a drain on your wallet. Whatever your decorations are and no matter what the menu is, as long as you spend the holiday with the people who matter most, it’s more than enough to make it a memorable Thanksgiving Day. And being thankful is what the day is truly all about.

Wishing you and yours a very Happy Thanksgiving!


Article Source:

What You Should Know Before Using Buy Now Pay Later

If you shop online, we’re sure you’ve seen Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL) payment options like Klarna, Afterpay, Affirm, Zip, and Sezzle – as you are checking out. For some, this might be an easy way to pay online and manage your budget – however, there are some risks and hidden fees you should be aware of before trying out a BNPL payment option.

What is Buy Now Pay Later, and how does it work?

BNPL is a type of payment deferment option, which typically allows the buyer to purchase an item with little to no money paid up front and remaining payments are made in installments. Items with BNPL options usually apply to clothing purchases, furniture, and electronics, and can range in price from $100 all the way up to a few thousand dollars. If you select this option during checkout, you’ll get an email with a payment schedule (usually about 4 fixed payments that you would either make bi-weekly or monthly until the balance is paid). Paying this way is often advertised as being quick, and with no interest or finance charges.

BNPL companies also don’t usually perform a hard credit inquiry when you apply to use this method as a payment option. They typically only will require that the applicant is at least 18 years of age, has a cell phone number, has either a debit or credit card currently, and that the applicant’s identity can be validated.

While this might sound easy and convenient – you do need to be aware of some hidden fees and read the fine print first.

Things to consider before using BNPL:

  • Don’t financially strain yourself – While Buy Now Pay Later might seem like an easy way to pay for a big ticket item, you still need to be aware of your monthly budget and have a good sense of the money coming into your bank account. Even though you might qualify for this type of installment loan, can you actually afford to pay the amount they’ll be asking for by each payment due date?
  • BNPL products often come with hefty late fees – These payment services are quick to advertise that they don’t charge buyers any interest, however if you miss a payment deadline – get ready to be hit with a pretty expensive late fee. In addition, you may also get blocked from making future purchases and have the late fees or failure to repay on time – sent to a debt collector or listed on your credit report. Late fees for BNPL can range up to 25% of the original order amount. Before choosing BNPL as a payment option, it’s always a good idea to read the disclosures and understand what you might be responsible for if you make a late payment. In addition, if you are paying the installment with a debit card or directly through your bank account and don’t have enough available to cover the payment – you’ll also likely be hit with non-sufficient funds fees from your financial institution. This makes your initial purchase, a very expensive one.
  • Payment protection options – Another issue with BNPL is that you won’t find the same payment protections that you’d have available to you by using a credit card. Buy Now Pay Later does not have the dispute protections available that a credit card does when the item purchased is a scam, or if it arrives broken (or not at all). Returning items purchased this way can also be a hassle. The payment company may hold you responsible for the cost of the purchase, even if you returned the item – or it might take a very long time for a return payment to be processed. It’s also important to read through the return policies of whichever BNPL company you decide to use beforehand, since some may differ.

The moral of the story? For some shoppers, BNPL installment payment options may certainly be a beneficial and easy way to pay, and may work out just fine. However, before you decide to use this type of loan as a payment method – it’s important to carefully read through all of the terms and conditions, be aware of the company’s policies, have a monthly budget, and know what fees you could potentially get charged. In addition, because this is a relatively new type of loan – there aren’t as many protections in place for consumers. It’s definitely a good idea to be prudent and ensure that you fully understand all the terms of the loan before deciding to pay this way.


Article Sources: NBC News and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau


This Year Start Your Holiday Shopping Early

In years past, Thanksgiving (and subsequently the holidays) have probably involved family bonding opportunities and hassle-free trips to the grocery store and mall. However, because of the pandemic and its effects on retailers and shipping delays, the holiday season might look a little different this year.

What Changed?

Because of supply chain issues, fluctuating prices on common goods, and increased consumer demand – shortages are coming into play for the holidays in 2021. Consumers can expect a “shopocalypse” as COVID-related shipping issues slow down the movement of goods from manufacturers to the shelves of retail stores.

International brands aren’t exempt from the effects of COVID, either. For example, the sales of H&M slowed down in September because of delivery delays. Nike, also lowered its sales forecast for Thanksgiving after closing 80% of its factories in Vietnam. Bed Bath and Beyond’s revenue also fell 26% due to shipping issues.

Aside from the disruptions in the supply chain – the holiday season is also shorter this year, which means that retailers have less time to sell. Because of this, most stores will be more incentivized to create deals as early as the first week of November to beat the competition. In short, you can still get Black Friday-worthy deals earlier in November – so if you can, don’t wait and risk running out of your favorite items this year.

With all of the changes happening in the supply chain, it’s vital for you to start shopping early to get ahead of the uncertainties of retail store closures and potential shipping delays.

3 Top Holiday Shopping Tips for 2021

Even though there have been a lot of changes in the retail industry, this doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy shopping for the holidays this year. Below are some of our best holiday shopping tips so you can still make the most out of the season!

Start Early

Unlike previous years, don’t wait for any major discounts from your favorite retailer before you start shopping. If you’re planning to get someone a new item that’s popular, buy it as soon as possible before the item goes out of stock.

Be Realistic

Some retailers are whittling down their products to ensure that they can keep certain items in stock. When buying products for the holidays, don’t fixate on a specific color or style. Be realistic and consider other styles of the same product.

Shop From Local and Domestic Stores

When shopping for gifts, buy from local and domestic stores. Aside from having the opportunity to check out the items in person – shopping from local stores (rather than buying items online), is also the best way to make sure that your loved ones receive their gifts on time.

Start Shopping Now

As you shop this year, don’t forget that 2021 has taken a toll on everyone — from small business owners to customer service associates. Help businesses recover from the pandemic by shopping early and only buying items that you need.