How to Keep Holiday Shopping Happy (and Safe)

Keep your holiday shopping merry and bright with these tips to help you watch your wallet, shop smart, and protect your personal and financial information.

  • Make a list and a budget. Impulse purchases (ahem, gifts for yourself) are less tempting when you have a set plan. Consider how much you’re willing to put on your credit card this holiday season, and how long it will take to pay it off. If money is tighter this year, paying for a gift over time with a layaway option may be a smarter move. Or if you can save up enough cash before you shop, that is an ideal option.
  • Do your research. Read reviews and recommendations about products, the seller, and warranties from trusted sources. If you’re shopping online, read reviews to see if items were never delivered or not as advertised. Are you donating to a charity this holiday season? Look into all the details first to make sure it’s legitimate.
  • Look for the best deals. Check out websites that compare prices for items that you are looking to buy. Be sure to also check out shipping costs for online orders and factor that into your budget. Search for coupon codes by looking up a particular store’s name along with terms like “coupons,” “discounts,” or “free shipping.” To save extra money later on, keep an eye out for rebates on your purchases.
  • Keep track of your purchases. Make sure you were charged the correct amount, and save all your receipts. If you shop online, keep copies of your order number, the return policy, and shipping costs. Be sure your packages are delivered to a secure location or pick them up at your local store. Gift cards should be treated like cash and stored in a safe place.
  • Don’t give out personal information. Protect yourself online by shopping only on secure websites with an “https” web address. Look to see what shopping apps and websites do with your personal data and how they keep it secure. Avoid any offer, phone call, text message, or email that asks you to give out your personal or financial information – no matter how great it may sound. It is most likely a scam trying to steal your identity and financial data.

Follow these five steps and you won’t have anything to worry about this holiday season (aside from figuring out how long it might take you to wrap up all those great holiday deals you purchased).

Article Source: Gretchen Abraham for consumer.ftc.gov

Tips for Avoiding Impulsive Holiday Spending

It’s that time of year again. If you’re prone to swiping your credit card or blowing your budget in December, knowing a few ways to curb your impulse spending can help you get through to the New Year with your finances unharmed.

Understand why you buy. For the majority of non-essential purchases, most consumers make the decision to buy based on emotion. The product conjures up a positive feeling that is compelling enough to make you want to open your wallet. Stopping to examine the reason why you buy can help you determine if it’s a wise purchase and if it’s absolutely necessary.

Don’t shop hungry. Below normal blood sugar can impair your judgment.  Being hungry can cause you to be cranky, emotional, and more impulsive. Eat a balanced meal before leaving the house and always carry water and healthy snacks before going out shopping.

If you are easily swayed by the opinion of others, shop alone. Although, if you have little willpower when it comes to overspending, take along an accountability partner and discuss your spending limits and budget before you walk into the store.

Use a prepaid card. If you know you’re inclined to overspending, determine your budget and put the funds on a prepaid debit card allocated for holiday gift purchases. Leave your other cards at home and take only your driver’s license and enough money for gas and meals. When the prepaid card is empty, you need to be done shopping.

Shop online. Some consumers do better sticking to a budget when shopping online. Using a prepaid card or connecting through your PayPal account, you can safely do a lot of holiday shopping online. This allows you to thoroughly research products at your leisure without the pressure of other hurried shoppers, crowds, or a relentless salesperson. You also have the ability to review your shopping cart extensively and remove any unwise purchases without embarrassment before you buy. If you are shopping online, remember to research online coupon codes to get the best deals too!

Walk around the store with your items for awhile before purchasing and see if you really still want them by the time you are ready to check out.

When considering the cost of an item, think of how many hours of work it will take you to earn the full purchase price. If you would be willing to work a 40-hour work week without pay in return for receiving that item you’ve been eyeing, it may be a good purchase. Otherwise, walk away.

Freeze your credit cards for the month of December. When all else fails and you don’t want to give in to using your credit cards – put them in a cup of water and stick them in the freezer until the holiday shopping season is over. Do not defrost them before the new year.

Call your financial institution and request a lower daily spending limit on your debit or credit cards. This may be a great budgeting option if your bank or credit union offers it.

You don’t have to buy a gift for everyone you know. Be frugal with your gift list. Write down the people who you absolutely have to buy for: your kids, nieces and nephews, and so forth. Do you really need to buy individual gifts for all your co-workers? If so, try to make the spending limit minimal. Perhaps you can also suggest doing Secret Santa gifts with co-workers or if you have a large family as well. This way you only need to buy a gift for one person and there is typically a spending limit. Another idea for co-workers or a group of friends is not to exchange gifts and just all get together for a meal or night out instead.

The usual tips of don’t wait until the last minute and make a shopping list and stick to it always apply, but for many impulsive shoppers – this isn’t enough to control the spending behavior. If none of these tips will help you break your impulsive spending habit, your best solution may be to make a list and let someone else do the holiday shopping for you within the set budget and funds you provide them with.

Article Source:  Jamie Simmerman for Moneyning.com

3 Money Saving Tips for the Upcoming Holiday Season

Have you started to think about this year’s holiday shopping? Before you know it, Thanksgiving will be here – along with Black Friday and Cyber Monday, two of the biggest holiday shopping days of the calendar year. Even though Halloween was only a few weeks ago, this year’s holiday season will soon be in full swing, and here before you know it. If you’re in need of some extra cash for gifts this year, here are few tips to get you started.

Get ahead: If you’re buying something big and on the costly side, shopping on Black Friday or Cyber Monday may be your best bet. If you have a smaller list, start looking for deals as soon as possible. Take your time and don’t buy anything until you’ve done your research and found the best price. In December, you probably won’t be able to use this method. Whether you’re shopping for gifts, food, or holiday decorations – look early and find the best deals. They’re out there!

Pay in cash only: A digital wallet like Apple or Google Pay makes it easy to pay with your phone passcode when you’re in a store or even online. Venmo makes it simple to share money between friends and family. Amazon allows you to buy everything you need with the click of a button at any time. With all of this digital payment technology, even if you lock up your credit cards – your phone can still be a culprit for out-of-control spending. If you’re not usually the cash type, it’s time to become that way at least for the holiday season. Using cash is often a wake-up call for your spending habits. Set a dollar amount for your holiday budget, take out the cash, and when it’s time to spend it you will realize how strict you’ll instantly become.

Cut back everywhere: Whether it’s cutting back on going out to eat or dropping the thermostat a few degrees, having a few extra dollars to spend will be a pleasant surprise when you’re making your shopping list over the next few weeks. Maybe even think about shutting down your Hulu or Netflix accounts for a month or two while you’re shopping for the holidays and paying off holiday bills. You will be so busy you probably won’t even think about them and you’ll save money that you can use on gifts in the process.

Happy Holidays!

 Article Source: John Pettit for CUInsight.com

First Financial Foundation Awards Classroom Grant to the Alpha School

Press Release

(L to R: First Financial’s AVP of Business Development, Grant recipient Ms. Sara Stockton, First Financial’s VP of Marketing and President/CEO).

FREEHOLD, N.J. – Alpha School special education teacher, Sara Stockton, was recently surprised by members of the First Financial Foundation with a $500 Erma Dorrer classroom grant for the 2019-2020 school year. The Alpha School exists to assist special needs students ranging in age from 5 to 21, and has offered educational, therapeutic, and support services to its students since 1980. The school is located in Jackson, NJ.

Ms. Stockton submitted a grant application which included an informative video – to purchase a break box, seven foot tepee, and sensory tool kit for her classroom that consists of six male students ages 10 to 13.

“One of the biggest goals of mine is to have the boys be self-advocates and to ask for breaks when they need it,” said Stockton. “A lot of them have sensory issues and have trouble dealing with the day to day structure. I believe in manipulating their environment and having something right in front of them that they can remember to ask for, a place where they feel comfortable and safe.”

Never give up on anybody or anything … miracles happen every day.

(L to R: First Financial’s AVP of Business Development, Grant recipient Ms. Sara Stockton, Alpha School Principal Mr. John Gonzalez, and First Financial’s President/CEO).

Since First Financial began with a group of Asbury Park schoolteachers back in 1936, the credit union has not forgotten its educational roots. That is why its Foundation offered current Monmouth and Ocean County educators seven (7) classroom grants to use at their schools for the 2019-2020 school year.

“Education has and always will be a pivotal piece of our organization, and we’re delighted to be able to help our local educators enhance their classroom experience,” noted First Financial President & CEO, Issa Stephan.

Stephan also noted that the Foundation committee had a tough job of choosing just seven winning teachers out of the numerous applications received this year. “We received double the amount of classroom grant entries this year, which included heartwarming essays and videos from educators hoping to use the grant money to implement or maintain a variety of creative programs within their schools,” said Stephan. “We wish we were able to reward each and every one of our participants, and after extremely careful consideration we selected the seven initiatives in which we felt the grant money would have the largest impact.”

First Financial Foundation Awards Classroom Grant to HC Johnson Elementary

Press Release

(Pictured above L to R: First Financial’s President/CEO, VP of Marketing and Business Development, and AVP of Business Development, with a group of students from H.C. Johnson Elementary’s aquaponic gardening classroom.)

FREEHOLD, N.J. – H.C. Johnson Elementary School media specialist Carrie Hogan and music teacher Missy O’Keeffe, were recently surprised by members of the First Financial Foundation with a $492.88 Erma Dorrer classroom grant for the 2019-2020 school year. Both educators have recognized the transformative power of service and social-emotional learning with the creation of the Jackson elementary school’s aquaponic garden.

Hogan and O’Keeffe submitted a grant application to purchase seeds, herbs, and soil for the elementary school’s aquaponics garden and lab located within the building’s library. The grant money will be used to provide the Jackson community with fresh vegetables and herbs, and crops from their micro-farm will be donated to the local food pantry to help those in need.

(Pictured above L to R: Grant recipients Carrie Hogan and Missy O’Keeffe with their aquaponic gardening students.)

“According to the Center for Food Action, one in every 10 New Jersey residents faces food insecurity, meaning they do not have an adequate, consistent supply of food. This affects young children, senior citizens, and many families in our local community,” said Hogan and O’Keeffe. “The guiding principle of our program is the belief that all students should be provided with a learning environment that supports and challenges their thinking. This classroom will provide students with the opportunity to take ownership over their own learning, and they will be given the chance to sharpen their critical thinking skills. Most importantly, it allows our students to see the impact that their own actions have upon their local community.”

Since First Financial began with a group of Asbury Park schoolteachers back in 1936, the credit union has not forgotten its educational roots. That is why its Foundation offered current Monmouth and Ocean County educators seven (7) classroom grants to use at their schools for the 2019-2020 school year.

“Education has and always will be a pivotal piece of our organization, and we’re delighted to be able to help our local educators enhance their classroom experience,” said First Financial President & CEO, Issa Stephan.

Stephan also noted that the Foundation committee had a tough job of choosing just seven winning teachers out of the numerous applications received this year. “We received double the amount of classroom grant entries this year, which included heartwarming essays and videos from educators hoping to use the grant money to implement or maintain a variety of creative programs within their schools,” said Stephan. “We wish we were able to reward each and every one of our participants, and after extremely careful consideration we selected the seven initiatives in which we felt the grant money would have the largest impact.”

 

Saving Money Now to Help Plan Your Future Retirement

Retirement. It seems like a lifetime away, right? It’s probably something you plan to worry about when you’re a little closer to your retirement date as well. However, financial experts suggest that the best time to start planning is in your 20s when you typically start earning a steady paycheck.

Regardless of your retirement date, it’s never too early to start planning for your retirement. You may be asking, “Where is the best place to start?” and “How should I invest my money to maximize the returns I see at retirement?” Both of these are great questions that we will delve into on this post.

Set your goals.

This applies to 20-somethings, 30-somethings, and 40-somethings. How do you know what steps to take if you don’t know where you’re going?

Sit down and figure out your goals. Do you want to buy a house one day? How long do you need to rent and save money? What “bad debt” do you need to pay off now to help you in the long run? These answers may change as life circumstances change, but it’s helpful to know what your goals are and create a plan to achieve them before you set out on your savings adventure.

Take advantage of your employee benefits.

Does your company offer a retirement savings account? Many full-time employers will offer either a 401(k) or a SIMPLE IRA (Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees Individual Retirement Account). It’s important to understand what these accounts are, how they work, and whether or not it’s a viable option for you.

What’s the difference between a 401(k) and a SIMPLE IRA?

A 401(k) is an investment account you make contributions to out of each paycheck. If your employer matches your contribution up to a certain percentage, that’s free money going into your 401(k) in addition to the contributions you’re making.

A SIMPLE IRA is a tax-deferred employer-provided retirement plan. Like a 401(k), you make pre-tax contributions from your paycheck, and your employer can also elect to match your contributions up to a certain percentage. Unlike a ROTH IRA, when you reach retirement age and begin drawing from the SIMPLE IRA, you will pay taxes on the money you’ve saved.

Good debt vs. bad debt.

Believe it or not, there is such a thing as good debt. Debt to buy a home or to start a business is considered good debt as it can be used as collateral. To our 20-somethings, listen up! Consumer debt: credit cards, car loans, and student loans often come with high-interest rates, which may only hurt you as you get older. Educate yourself on interest rates before taking out one of these types of loans (especially for credit card usage).

No matter what age you are, the best thing you can do is to avoid buying things you can’t afford. But, if you have debt or need to go into debt for a major purchase, have a plan to get out of that debt promptly. Look for areas within your monthly budget where you can reduce spending and cut unnecessary costs.

Check out debt consolidation and refinancing options.

Consolidating debt and refinancing loans are two great ways to save money on your monthly payments. Debt consolidation is typically used for unsecured debt and is especially effective for high-interest debt like credit cards, while refinancing a loan enables borrowers to “redo” an existing loan to get a lower monthly payment, different term length or a more convenient payment structure.

Both options are a great way of saving money each month. Ideally, you’d be able to measure the savings you’re seeing and put that toward your retirement planning. It might not sound like a lot of money, but even if you were able to save $50 a month, at the end of a year you’d have $600 to put toward your retirement.

Do you have debt that can be consolidated? Do you have loans that may need to be refinanced? You never know what your options are until you ask! Check with your local branch to see if we can save you some money each month to put toward your retirement.*

To take it a step further, did you know First Financial has an Investment and Retirement Center which offers complimentary retirement consultations to our members?**

Stop in or call to make an appointment with one of our Financial Advisors today!

The truth is, there are a dozen different ways you can prepare for retirement early and start saving money. You just have to find the ways that work for you, and we are here to answer any questions you might have and get you started!

*Not all applicants will qualify, subject to credit approval. Additional terms & conditions may apply. Actual rate may vary based on credit worthiness and term. Current loans financed with First Financial FCU are not eligible for review or refinance. A First Financial membership is required to obtain a First Financial 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 for credit union membership prior to opening any other account/loan. Federally insured by NCUA.

**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.