Managing Debt Ahead of the Holiday Season

Holiday music is starting to play on repeat in stores. Neighbors and friends will soon be lighting up their homes with festive decor. Shoppers are beginning to pick up gifts for everyone on their lists. The holiday season is almost here! And while this is an exciting time of the year, it can certainly be stressful on your wallet – especially if you have some lingering debt to pay off.

According to the National Retail Federation, the average person spent around $1,000 during the 2021 holiday season. And with inflation, it’s expected those prices will only go up. That’s why making sure your debt is under control before you start your shopping – will be key for many individuals. Here are our top recommendations for managing debt ahead of the holiday season.

Make and keep a holiday budget

Before you dive into those Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals, it’s best to understand your holiday budget. Not only do you need to consider what you’ll have to buy, but also what you can afford. This is how you can make a holiday budget based on your financial situation:

  • Determine your spending limit: Map out your regular expenses and see what you have left over. The goal is to stay within your means, so that means having a clear picture of your finances.
  • Create a list: Start by categorizing what you need to purchase (this includes gifts and wrapping, decorations, travel, food, etc.), and then build a list of who you need to get gifts for and what the items would be.
  • Research prices: Start looking online for how much these gifts should cost and then see where you can cut back.

Find ways to spend less

It’s easy to talk about finding all the good deals during the holiday season, but when the time comes – you might be tempted to get everything on your list as fast as you can. If you’re on a tight budget though, it will be worth it to put in the time and research. Retail experts say the pandemic has changed the way sales function during the holidays and the best deals won’t come just on Black Friday. Instead, they will happen on an item-by-item basis.

To catch these savings, we recommend downloading price-tracking apps like Honey and ShopSavvy so you don’t miss out. Other ways to save on holiday expenses are to shop at dollar stores for cards, gift wrap, and party supplies. If you plan to get anyone a gift card, you can find discounts on sites like Coingate, Raise,, CardCash, and Gift Card Granny.

Debt repayment strategies

Before you start shopping, let’s make sure you’re addressing any unpaid debt you may have. The goal is to make sure you don’t put yourself further in debt when purchasing gifts for everyone on your list. Plus, you’ll want to have a plan for paying your holiday expenses off – rather than figuring it all out as you go. These strategies can help you pay off your debt faster.

  • Pay more than the minimum: Only paying the minimum on your credit card statement each month will make debt repayment take much longer. Plus, you’ll end up paying more in interest than what you initially borrowed.
  • Consolidate your debt: If you owe money on multiple credit cards, you should consider consolidating your debt into one credit card or loan with a lower interest rate.
  • The avalanche method: If you do have multiple cards with balances, try using the avalanche method – which focuses on paying off the card with the highest balance first.
  • The debt snowball method: This method will have you start by paying off the smallest debt first. Once paid in full, you would take those monthly payments and put them toward the next smallest outstanding debt.

At First Financial, we offer consolidation loans to streamline paying down debt so you can focus on one bill at a time.* Plus, you won’t have to worry about fees and interest rates from multiple credit cards! Apply online or stop by a branch location to learn more about our loan options. You may even want to consider transferring your other higher rate credit card balances, to one of our credit cards. We offer lower interest rates, plus cash back and rewards credit cards too!**

We wish you a fun, safe, and happy holiday season!

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*APR = Annual Percentage Rate. Actual rate will vary based on creditworthiness and loan term. Subject to credit approval. Personal Loan repayment terms range from 12 to 60 months, and minimum loan amount is $500. A First Financial Federal Credit Union membership is required to obtain a Personal Loan or Line of Credit, and is open to anyone who lives, works, worships, volunteers or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties. 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% 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. A $5 deposit in a base savings account is required for credit union membership prior to opening any other account/loan.




Things to Do on a Budget in Monmouth & Ocean Counties this November 2022

It’s time to kick off the start of the holiday season and there are so many great things to do with family and friends in the upcoming weeks to celebrate this special time of year! Check out our list of free or inexpensive activities happening this month in a town near you.

November 4:

Jersey Shore Restaurant Week (Monmouth & Ocean Counties) runs from November 4th through November 13th and covers a wide range of participating restaurants from Seaside Heights to Red Bank, and several towns in between! Enjoy a 3-course meal with your choice of an appetizer, entrée and dessert for either $30.22 or $40.22. See the participating restaurants, menu and details here. You can also contact or 732-859-5643.

Allaire Village Auxiliary Stocking Stuffer Sale (Wall) takes place from 10am to 3pm (November 4th and 5th) and from 12-3pm on Sunday, November 6th at the Historic Village at Allaire in the Visitor Center. Admission for this event is free. For more information click here or call 732-919-3500.

November 5:

Broadway at the Barn (Holmdel) will take place from 8pm-9:30pm at the Holmdel Theatre Company on Crawfords Corner Road. Come and enjoy a great fall night of storytelling, laughter and music. Doors open approximately 30 minutes prior to show time and tickets cost $49. Tickets can be purchased here. For more information click here, or call 732-946-0427.

Ocean Grove’s Fall Fling Arts & Craft Show takes place from 10am-4pm at Auditorium Square Park. Don’t miss this wonderful event to come out and shop, dance and dine with other crafters, food vendors and bands. There will be live music too! Admission is free. Learn more or call 732-774-1391.

Awesome Autumn Campfire (Beachwood) will take place from 1pm-3pm at Jakes Branch County Park on Double Trouble Road. Enjoy live music, lawn games and refreshments with the family. Don’t forget to Bring a blanket and chairs. Click here to learn more or visit Ocean County Parks & Recreation on Facebook for the latest updates. You may also contact them at 732-506-9090.

November 10: Santa is coming to the Freehold Raceway Mall from 11am-7pm. The magic of the holiday season comes alive with a visit from Santa’s winter wonderland. The entire family is welcome for this fun event. Don’t miss the opportunity to pre-book your appointment to reduce your wait time here. A visit with Santa is always free, and photo packages are available for purchase. Learn more here, or call 732-577-1144.

November 11: Holiday Sip and Shop (Keyport) takes place from 4-8pm at the Kevin Kelly Salon.  This free event is an excellent way to kick off the holiday season. Enjoy a signature cocktail and hors d’oeuvres while getting a head start on your holiday shopping. A portion of the proceeds will help the children from the Collier group home celebrate the holidays. To learn more about this event visit their website, follow the salon on Instagram, or call 732-497-0025.

November 12:  Monmouth Fall Craft Show (Tinton Falls) starts at 9am until 2pm at Fort Monmouth Recreation. Get a jump start on your holiday shopping while enjoying a craft show featuring many hand-made items. Admission and parking are free.  For more information click here, or call 848-456-4278.

November Food Truck Festival (New Egypt) will take place from 11am-9:30pm (Saturday, 11/12) and 11am-8pm (Sunday, 11/13) at Laurita Winery. Admission is $12 online in advance or $14 at the door for guests 21 and older. For more information and to purchase event tickets, click here.

November 13: Holiday Gifts, Crafts & Collectibles Fair (Toms River) will run from 10am-3pm at Toms River High School South. You can expect several vendors, baked goods, used books, displays by numerous historical societies, and a 50/50 raffle. There is free admission to this event. For more information contact Jeff at 609-339-9134, or you can learn more here.

November 20: Monmouth Museum Holiday Train Display (Lincroft) starts from 10am-4pm at the Monmouth Museum on campus at Brookdale Community College on Newman Springs Road. You won’t want to miss seeing this train with the family for free, from November to January 8, 2023. Learn more here or call 732-747-2266.

November 25:

Asbury Park Holiday Bazaar starts on 11/25 and runs every weekend through December 18th from 12pm-5pm at the Grand Arcade of Convention Hall. Come enjoy this great event featuring shopping, dining, entertainment, and beautiful holiday décor. Learn more here or call 732-897-6500.

Tree Lighting and Santa’s Arrival (Pt. Pleasant) begins at 5:30pm-8:30pm at Downtown Point Pleasant Beach.  Get your picture taken with Santa at Ocean County Music, and also enjoy refreshments, horse and carriage rides, and many more activities for the children. To lean more, click here or call 732-899-2424.

November 26: Santa’s Viking Christmas Village (Barnegat Light, LBI) takes place from 10am-5pm at the Historic Viking Village. Come and enjoy over 40 artists and crafters, live music, a fire pit, s’mores bar, lawn games, food and special holiday sales. Santa will arrive at 1pm by firetruck! Admission is free. Get more information here.

November 27: Celebrate the Arrival of Santa (Freehold) from 11am-1pm at iPlay America. Meet Santa and get a free photo-op while making holiday crafts that you can take home. You can even spread more cheer and donate a toy or $5 towards gifts for charity, and also get 2 hours of unlimited video games. Click here for more information or call 732-577-8200.

November 29: Holiday Market (LBI) starts at 10am and runs until 3pm at the Long Beach Island Foundation of the Arts and Sciences in Long Beach Township.  You can expect to see amazing clothing, jewelry and ceramics made by local residents. To learn more, click here or call 609-494-1241.

November 30: Holiday Style Luncheon & Shopping Spree (Shrewsbury) takes place from 11am-4pm, at the Shadowbrook. This event is hosted by the Monmouth Conservation Foundation and will feature guest speaker Lee Woodruff. Tickets cost $175 and can be purchased here. For more details, click here or call 731-747-0200.

We hope you have a great Thanksgiving holiday with loved ones!

Ways to Save on Home Improvements this Fall

If you own a home, you know renovations and improvements will eventually be on the horizon. Whether it’s remodeling your home with newer appliances or prioritizing bigger fixes ahead of the colder months, all those repairs will add up – especially if you’re hiring a professional. Some home improvements are necessary for function and some help build equity down the line. No matter what’s on your to-do list, you can look to these tips for managing a home project on a budget.

Focus on building home equity

Don’t just think about saving money in the short term, consider projects that will increase your home’s value and help you avoid unexpected expenses later on. According to Remodeling Magazine’s 2022 Cost vs.Value Report, home improvement projects like garage door replacements, stone veneers, window and siding replacements, and minor kitchen remodels will get you the fastest return on your investment. In New Jersey, there may also be tax benefits and incentives which certain home improvements could qualify for. Of course, there are upgrades you can make throughout your home to save money on utility bills as well.

Don’t put repairs off

We’ve all done it. Putting off an annoying repair is too easy to do – until the issue becomes a major (and expensive) problem. Even more importantly, ignoring repairs can eventually become a safety hazard. Home repairs that involve water, electricity, pests, peeling paint, cracks, and HVAC could end up costing a lot more than if you just took care of the problem initially.

Prioritize routine maintenance

Doing routine maintenance on your home is another way to save on big expenses in the long run. Preventative measures ahead of the cooler months is necessary for the safety and longevity of your home. Ahead of winter, we recommend removing leaves from your gutters, getting your chimney cleaned, installing monitoring devices on your water pipes, and clearing your dryer vents. This helps prevent damages and even house fires.

Look for home improvement loans

There are many strategies when it comes to funding your home project, like building a savings account over time. Sometimes though, there’s an emergency or unexpected expense that you might not have the savings for. That’s when a home improvement loan becomes a good option. At First Financial, we offer home improvement loans with great rates and a fixed monthly payment.*

Regardless of what your goals are or what projects you need to accomplish, the team at First Financial is here to help with financial advice, savings account options, and loan decisions. Contact us to get started, or stop into your local branch to speak with a representative today.

Want to see more articles like this? Subscribe to First Financial’s monthly newsletter for financial resources and advice.

*Available on primary residence only. A First Financial membership is required to obtain a Home Improvement Loan and is open to anyone who lives, works, worships, volunteers, or attends school in Monmouth of Ocean Counties. See credit union for details. Rate will vary based off of applicant’s credit rating. Not all applicants who apply will be approved, subject to underwriting guidelines and credit approval. Lien position and appraisal valuation may affect the maximum loan amount. Not all applicants will qualify for maximum Loan to Value (LTV) ratio. It will be based off of creditworthiness, property type, occupancy, lien position, and loan amount. Rates will be affected by LTV or combined LTV if there is another lien on the property. Loan amounts over $7,500.00 will be required to give First Financial FCU a security interest in their property. Rates will vary based off of lien position and whether the loan is mortgage secured or unsecured. For mortgage secured Home Improvement loans First Financial FCU (FFFCU) will waive closing costs at inception of loan. If loan is terminated within the first 2 years of opening, closing cost waiver is revoked and are required to be paid back by member to FFFCU.

How Scammers Use Social Engineering to Steal Money & How to Spot Them

As scams become more prevalent, they are also more sophisticated – making them harder to detect. Scammers often employ what is known as “social engineering” to manipulate people into revealing sensitive information.

It’s all about the psychology of persuasion. These scammers take advantage of human nature, aiming to lower your defenses so you’ll act on impulse rather than reason.

Let’s look at some examples of how social engineering uses the powers of persuasion to steal personal information and money:


Building a solid pretext or a fabricated scenario is an important aspect of social engineering. Hackers often research their victims in advance to get a sense of the victim’s personal and professional life to help establish the right pretext with which to approach a victim. This information can easily be found by a simple internet search or reviewing social media activities.

Pretexting is typically the first step in a broader scheme to steal from you. The scammer then pretends to be someone you trust, possibly a representative from your financial institution or a government worker offering loan forgiveness. It often starts with a friendly “hello” and a convincing story that leads the victim to hand over sensitive information that can be used to steal money or commit identify theft.


Baiting uses the false promise of an enticing item, such as a monetary reward or free movie download, to trick the unsuspecting consumer into opening a file or providing sensitive information – like their login credentials. Instead of the attached file being the movie or other reward, it is actually infected with malware that will encrypt or take control of the individual’s data, allowing the attacker access to their personal information.


Phishing is one of the most common types of social engineering attacks, typically in the form of emails or text messages that look like they are from a reputable source, like your financial institution – informing you of an urgent matter that needs your immediate attention. The message may include a link to a fake website that looks legitimate and suggests that you must provide personal information in order to remedy the urgent issue. This can result in the scammers gaining access to your accounts or learning important details about your identity.

Check out this video on social engineering scams.

How to Combat this Psychological Manipulation

Knowledge is key. Now that you know what to look for, follow these tips to help protect yourself:

  • Delete requests for personal information or passwords. No one should contact you for your personal information. Not even your financial institution.
  • Disregard offers for help or requests of help from those you don’t know. Especially if unsolicited.
  • Avoid tempting offers. Though it may be difficult to pass on what appears to be a great offer, don’t just dive in. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. If you’re really interested, take a step back and do some research. Confirm that the company is legitimate by researching reviews. If they are reputable, call the company allegedly offering the deal to ensure the offer came from them and not a scammer pretending to be them.
  • Verify contacts. Scammers usually imitate legitimate companies by mimicking their names in emails or using caller ID spoofing. You can check their authenticity by looking at the domain name of an email address or hanging up on an unsolicited caller, verifying the legitimate phone number, and calling back.

At First Financial, our goal is to help protect our members from scams and identity theft. If you have any concerns or questions about any of your First Financial accounts, please call member services at 732.312.1500 or visit one of our branches.

To learn more about scams and ways to protect yourself, visit

Zelle and the Zelle related marks are wholly owned by Early Warning Services, LLC and are used herein under license




Inexpensive Halloween Costume Ideas

Let’s face it – no one wants to buy an expensive Halloween costume they’ll only wear once. Sure, it might be easier to quickly put one together on the day of – but all those costume pieces can really add up. Plus, store-bought costumes can sometimes be of lesser quality and expensive at the same time. If you’re looking for cheap Halloween costume ideas for you and your family, we’re here to help. Here are some budget-friendly tips to get you inspired.

Consider a DIY costume

Put those artistic skills to good use by making your own costume this year! There are many ideas out there that you can work off of, no matter your skill level. While making a costume from scratch is a bigger time commitment, you’ll be extra proud of your finished product. Here are some themes to get you started.

  • Bag of ice costume: Use plastic bags to create the look of a bag of ice and make it into a family-friendly “ice ice baby” costume.
  • Butterfly costume: Whether you choose to create wings with fabric or by painting cardboard cutouts, you can certainly generate something unique.
  • Operation board game costume: Use felt fabric to create shapes inspired by the board game and then glue them to the costume.
  • Bat costume: Cut a black umbrella in half and use it as wings. Make sure to wear all black and add in ears as well.
  • Spooky ghost: Use white sheets and cut out eyeholes, or use white makeup and gauze to make yourself look extra eerie.
  • Mummy costume: Wrap yourself from head to toe in toilet paper and bandages to achieve this look.
  • Bob Ross and Happy Little Tree: You might have to buy some art supplies for this one, but the rest of this couple’s costume is pretty simple to put together.

Work with what you have

Sometimes the inspiration comes directly from your closet. Chances are, with a little creativity, you can put together a costume based on what you already have. Use some of these ideas for encouragement or take an inventory of your closet and see what you can come up with.

  • Lumberjack costume: If your closet is stocked with flannels, this look will be easy for you to achieve.
  • Hippie costume: Got some 70’s inspired clothes in your wardrobe? Create a hippie-inspired costume and add in some temporary butterfly or flower tattoos.
  • Nerd or gamer: Go the traditional route with glasses and suspenders, or dress up like a gamer with headphones and a game controller.
  • ‘Men in Black’ costume: You’ll need a black suit and sunglasses to look like you’re walking out of the popular Will Smith movie.
  • Bread winner costume: Got a few loaves of bread around and some old trophies or medals? Together they can make a truly ‘punny’ costume.
  • Brawny man costume: All you’ll need is a fresh roll of paper towels, a red flannel, and jeans!

Rely on costume makeup

Not all costumes need accessories to make a statement. Sometimes it’s the makeup that brings a costume to life. Don’t worry, you don’t need to be a professional makeup artist to achieve some of these looks. You can make it as simple or as detailed as you’d like!

These looks can be easily achieved with a bit of makeup:

  • Any animal costume (cat, dog, mouse, deer, etc.)
  • A skeleton costume
  • Pop art character
  • Zombie costume
  • Alien costume
  • A (haunted) doll

No matter what you decide to wear or how you’re celebrating, we hope everyone has a safe and happy Halloween! Want more budget-friendly tips? Subscribe to First Financial’s monthly newsletter for all the latest financial resources and advice.