How to Be Frugal Without Wasting Your Time

bigstock-Portrait-Of-Happy-Business-Wom-64512829-e1455714572209A lot of people think frugality is about saving money at the cost of your time: you spend all day clipping coupons just to save a couple bucks on your groceries…that’s not what being frugal is. Your time is precious—more precious than money—and being frugal is about using both your time and money wisely. Here’s how.

Pick the methods with the biggest payoff.

You’ve probably heard the saying, “penny wise, pound foolish.” This means going out of your way to save $5 on gas when you have a $500 car payment or buying nothing but Ramen for the week when you mindlessly spend $300 on drinks while you’re out every month. It’s a waste of time to scrimp and save on the pennies when you’re blowing big money like it’s nothing.

When you’re trying to shrink your budget, you want to focus on the big stuff – meaning the categories with the largest payoff. These are typically the three most expensive categories in your budget:

  1. Housing: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, housing makes up about 30 percent of the average American’s annual expenses.
  2. Food: Makes up 12 percent.
  3. Transportation: Makes up 17 percent.

Some frugal solutions are easier than others, but to toss some general ideas out there, you might:

  • Move to a cheaper area.
  • Negotiate your rent.
  • Cut back on your restaurant spending.
  • Find a better way to meal plan.
  • Carpool on your way to work.

Making a single frugal decision in these expensive categories will give you the quickest, biggest bang for your buck. Similarly, when you’re trying to save money on anything else, keep your eye on the big picture—what money saving tactic will net you the largest overall savings?

For example, let’s say you’re planning a nice, relaxing two-week vacation. There are a lot of ways you could cut costs: stay in a hostel, cook instead of going out, house sit for someone in exchange for lodging. Those are all valid ways to save, but you’ll save more if you focus on the biggest expenses, like your flight and lodging. You can save a ton by simply flying at the right time, when travel is cheap. By choosing to travel six to eight weeks before or after high season (called the shoulder season), you could easily save you hundreds if not more.

Use technology to find deals and coupons automatically.

Focus your energy on larger items, then automate your savings everywhere else by downloading a few browser extensions to find deals for you.

We all love a good deal, but if it takes you two hours of research to find a new laptop that’s only $25 cheaper, that might not be the best use of your time. Thankfully, there are so many tools out there that find the best price for you. PriceJump is a browser extension for  that automatically finds you the best price while you’re shopping for an item on Amazon. InvisibleHand does the same thing, but it works for any online shopping site or even airline sites. When you browse items or tickets online, the extension pops up and tells you if you can get a better deal elsewhere.

You could also use a browser extension like Honey or Coupons at Checkout to automatically find coupon codes when you shop online at thousands of popular, participating retailers like Amazon, Target, Gap, and Best Buy to name a few. When you go through the checkout process online, the extension will automatically populate and enter in coupon codes so you don’t have to search for them yourself.

Beyond couponing, you can automate your frugality in other areas too. Save money on your monthly electric bill by installing a smart power strip that knows when to turn off all of your electronics, or tweak the energy settings on your TV, computer, and other gadgets. Call your utility providers and negotiate or find better rates for Internet, cable, cell phone service, gym membership, and car insurance. Even though this might require a little effort, you’ll save money every month without having to do any additional work.

Come up with rules for making smarter spending decisions.

Unless you’re Warren Buffett, you’re probably not in a position to drop $700 on a phone. So while it’s important to think about your spending, wavering over some purchases can also be a huge waste of time. To combat this, establish some rules for your spending decisions.

If you’re incredibly indecisive about even the most frivolous spending, try the “10/10 rule” for small purchases. If you’re thinking about buying something that’s ten dollars or less, try not to spend more than ten minutes thinking about it. This comes in handy when you’re in a store and you pick up something you like and throw it in the cart (especially at Target). Give it some thought first, but if you haven’t put it back and it’s less than ten dollars, then you could buy it – but if it’s more than ten dollars and you’ve spent ten minutes thinking about it, put it back on the shelf. It’s a really simple rule and helps for those one-off, impulsive items.

Another rule for larger purchases is setting a dollar amount at which you give yourself at least a week to think about the purchase – like a $100 pair of Nike sneakers. If you’re thinking about buying anything that costs $100 or more, give yourself a week to think it over. It’s not to say you won’t automatically buy anything you see that’s $99—this tactic just gives you ample time for larger decisions.

A few simple rules can help find a balance between being mindful about your spending and overthinking it to the point of wasting your time.

Make sure every purchase is worthwhile in the long-term.

When you’re trying to be frugal with both your time and money, it helps to consider the long-term impact of your spending too. This is why it usually makes sense to buy a quality item even if it costs a little more because the cheaper item will eventually cost you more in the long run. Let’s say you buy a pair of cheap boots that you have to replace every winter. You’ll actually spend more over time than if you were to just buy quality boots in the first place. Not only that, but also think about the time you spend shopping for new boots every year. Buying quality means you buy once, and you won’t have to waste time doing it again for several years – of course, expensive doesn’t equal quality, but your time is still valuable.

People often confuse frugality with being cheap and wasting time instead of money. Ultimately, being frugal is about getting the most out of your resources, including time – it doesn’t have to be complicated.

*Original article courtesy of Kristin Wong of

A Simple Financial Checklist You Really Need

bigstock-Young-Businessman-Checking-Mar-72052462When it comes to your fiscal health, things may seem overwhelming. There are so many different responsibilities and goals you have to keep straight to be truly on the right track. If you are struggling with this, just like with other overwhelming aspects and times in life, it is sometimes best to pause and make a list. You can often check in on your progress more effectively when you have everything in a visual format. Check out some items that should be on your list.

1. Evaluate your budget.

Almost as important as creating a budget, evaluating your budget can help you assess whether your money is still going where you want and in the amounts you intended. It also gives you the chance to make any changes based on your dynamic needs and goals. It’s a good idea to continue tracking your spending and adjusting any categories on your budget that are consistently lower or higher than you had estimated. This can help make sure you are on track for monthly and annual goals.

2. Contribute to retirement funds.

One of the ways to make sure you are preparing for your long-term future is calculating how much money you will need in retirement. Then you can focus on a collaboration of employer-sponsored and individual retirement accounts to save toward that goal while still meeting other goals. If possible, it can be a good idea to talk with your company’s human resources department and adjust your retirement account contributions so you can qualify for the maximum match available.

Set up a no-cost consultation with the Investment & Retirement Center located at First Financial Federal Credit Union to discuss your savings and retirement goals – contact us at 866.750.0100 or stop in to see us!*

3. Double down on debt.

Everything from your credit card debt to student loan payments can hang over your head and cause stress. It’s a good idea to create a plan to automate your debt repayments so you avoid late payments and don’t have the choice of paying them or not. It may be stressful, but it’s important to come to peace with your debt and feel comfortable with your debt-repayment plan. This can even include taking on freelance, part-time or odd jobs to make additional payments if necessary.

Check out our free, online debt management tool, Debt in Focus. Once completed, 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.

4. Work on your credit score.

Your credit score affects many financial decisions in your life from what interest rate you pay on a mortgage to whether you can rent an apartment. It’s important to regularly check your credit report, look for any mistakes, and work on some ways to improve your score. These include paying your bills on time, opening credit card accounts only as needed, paying off debts and keeping revolving credit low. You can check your credit scores every month on to track your progress.

5. Update your insurance details.

From home, auto, and health all the way to life insurance, it’s a good idea to make sure your personal information is up to date and that you are getting the best deals possible. Some strategies you can employ include simply paying your premiums as due, asking your provider about reducing your rates, and making sure you have the coverage you need even as your life circumstances change.

6. Boost your emergency fund.

You may have heard this one before but it is a good idea to stash of three to nine months’ worth of expenses in an easily accessible place in case of a sudden rough patch. The exact amount you decide to tuck away to cover the emergencies will vary depending on things like job security, living expenses and streams of income.

It is important not only to be financially responsible, but also to make financial goals and work toward reaching them. Writing your goals and responsibilities down can help you be more accountable and make things easier to grasp.

*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 AJ Smith of USA Today.

Big Financial Mistakes You Don’t Want To Make


Reality check: there is no such thing as a perfect financial plan. While it may be difficult to achieve perfection in our planning, there are things we can do to avoid making the big mistakes. Here are three examples of financial mistakes that people often spend decades trying to recover from:

Thinking that you don’t need a budget (or it’s impossible to follow one for your situation).

  • “I know that budgeting is important, it just hasn’t worked for me.”
  • “It’s too hard to follow a budget.”
  • “I have a general idea of where my money is going but not a written plan.”

Similar statements are shared in financial planning meetings and during meaningful discussions between friends and family on a regular basis. We all have life goals and a vision for how we think our money should be aligned with those things that matter the most to us. The problem is that the lack of a budget is a major obstacle standing right there in the middle of our path.

Let’s call a budget by its proper name and purpose – it’s really a “personal spending plan.” These spending plans give us awareness of where our money is going and help us prioritize financial decisions. Too many people think budgets are just for those who are struggling to make ends meet. In reality, we all need a personal spending plan and it needs to be more than just a brain cloud of good intentions. It needs to be in writing.

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be perfect. Your budget can be as simple or complicated as you want it to be. Try to make saving, paying the bills, and paying off debt automatic. Then check out automatic budget tracking tools like Mint, GoodBudget or BillGuard to see if one might be worth adding to your budgeting tool chest.

Relying on credit card debt to pay for lifestyle choices.

If lack of a personal spending plan is a problem that can delays financial life goals, then debt issues may prove to be even bigger obstacles on the path to important goals like retirement. For example, Alicia and Tony, a couple in their 30’s, are trying to balance the competing goals of paying everyday living expenses, digging out of credit card and student loan debt, and raising 3 kids. They saw firsthand how seemingly small credit card balances can pile up in a hurry. If not addressed early enough, the financial stress will continue to increase along with that debt.

Initially, they said the combined balances owed on these cards usually never exceeded $2-3k. However, shortly after the birth of their twin daughters, Tony’s job was eliminated. Unfortunately, this major life event did not result in major changes to their lifestyle. Tony eventually decided to start his own home-based business funded in part with personal credit cards and their total balances ballooned to over $35,000. While some of these credit card expenses were for necessary items, most were for lifestyle choices, or “wants” and not “needs,” that could have been avoided.

If you have revolving credit card balances, an innocent night of fun and revelry could end up costing hundreds if not thousands of dollars over time if it’s funded by plastic. We also tend to spend more when we swipe a card compared to simply paying with cash. Credit cards are not necessarily a bad thing, especially if you have the discipline to pay them off in full each month. In fact, you can rack up some nice rewards and let the 34% percent of Americans that have revolving credit card debt help pay for your perks. After all, the average consumer spends $2,630 per year on credit card interest.

The best way to make sure that you’re not using credit cards the wrong way is to create a “24-hour rule” for all purchases with credit. If you can’t pay off your balance in full within 24 hours, then you shouldn’t buy that item. If you can’t manage that plan, it may be time to cut up those cards.


How we choose to manage our personal finances says so much about our life goals, values, and priorities. These financial decisions also demonstrate how we balance living in the moment with the need to plan for future goals. This balancing act can be a struggle and that is exactly why the simple act of creating a basic financial plan can help you stay focused on what matters the most to you. Just remember to avoid making the big mistakes when creating and following your financial plan.

Be sure to utilize First Financial’s free, online 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.

*Original article source courtesy of Scott Spann of

8 Simple Ways to Stretch a Dollar


Living within your means is the foundation of financial health. But, that’s easier said than done. If you find yourself in the red at the end of too many months, you’re not alone. “Sticking to a budget” is the No. 1 financial challenge for Americans, according to a recent GOBankingRates survey.

To get the best savings advice, GOBankingRates turned to the smartest money experts out there — the finalists of our “Best Money Expert” competition, we asked them:

“What are the best ways to stretch a dollar?”

In response, these experts delivered strategies to save more, spend less and make room in your budget for what’s really important. Click through to read their tips.

1. Go on a Spending Freeze.

Nicole Lapin, a consumer expert and New York Times best-seller author, shared this advice for those looking to get more out of their budgets: “Go on a spending freeze with your partner, colleagues, or best friends.”

To put this spending freeze in action, Lapin suggested looking for everyday ways to spend less, like staying in with inexpensive bottles of wine over heading to the bar, or hosting a clothing swap with friends instead of going on a shopping spree.

Lapin is a big believer in the power of friends to support each other in creating better financial habits. “Create a support system, and help each other,” she said. For example, if you really want to buy something but you have a savings goal, “save with a friend,” Lapin suggested. “She likely has something on her wish list, too, and it’s easier to commit to saving long-term if you go in on it together.” You can even up the ante, and “create a friendly competition around who is doing best at cutting expenses — think ‘The Biggest Debt Loser,'” said Lapin.

You’ll see big results as you work to curb overspending, but a strong support system is key. “As money issues become more intense, a like-minded community will keep you sane and moving in the right direction,” Lapin said.

2. Stop Mindless Spending.

Tony Robbins, a business and life strategist and bestselling author of “MONEY: Master the Game,” said that stretching the value of a dollar means spending it on what will add the most value to your life.

“Focus instead on the returns you’ll reap tomorrow,” Robbins said. “Often you can have the same level of enjoyment, if not more, by doing something simple.” For instance, if you’re getting together with friends, why not skip the $50 restaurant meal and “order in a couple pizzas and beers and split the cost among your group?” Robbins suggested. “Trade one good time for another, save yourself about $40 each time out, and you’ll be way ahead of the game.”

While saving $40 at a time doesn’t sound like much, this kind of mindfulness adds up. “[Save $40] once a week, and put those savings to work, and you could take years off your retirement time horizon,” Robbins said. That $40 a week adds up to $2,000 a year, which you can use “to harness the power of compounding and help you to realize big, big gains over time.”

“How big? How about $500,000 big?” Robbins said. “That’s right, a half million dollars. How? With the power of compounding at 8 percent over 40 years, that $40 weekly savings — $2,080 per year — will net you $581,944.

3. Always Be on the Lookout for Savings.

“Always look for a way to save, and don’t let saving opportunities pass you by,” said Jeanette Pavini, a finance reporter and spokesperson for Pavini makes it her mission to help readers find easy and simple ways to save a little everywhere they shop. “There are so many opportunities to save out there, and it typically only takes a nominal amount of effort to take advantage of them.”

“In fact, I almost never make a purchase without applying some type of savings,” Pavini continued. “For example, buy a box of cereal on sale, apply a coupon from, get 2 percent back in credit card rewards, clip the box top so 10 cents goes to my child’s school, and use my grocery store loyalty card so I get points toward gas saving. One box of cereal — five different savings strategies.”

4. Try Envelope Budgeting.

For those who have trouble sticking to a budget, “I recommend that on payday, you take out the dollar amount you need until the next pay period and split it up among your envelopes,” said Clark Howard, host of popular nationally syndicated radio program “The Clark Howard Show.” “When one envelope empties, you either take money from another envelope or you do without until next payday.”

Moving to a cash-only system can help you cut spending and get in the habit of more carefully considering purchases. “Debit cards and credit cards can be the Bermuda Triangle of your wallet because it’s so easy to lose track of finances when you use them,” Howard said.

If you’re more high-tech, Howard said you can try a method invented by his executive producer, Christa. “She hit on the idea of putting money into different accounts for different purposes,” Howard said. “Today, she has three checking accounts and one savings account.”

5. Stack Discounts to Lower Your Grocery Bill.

Kyle Taylor, founder of popular personal finance blog, gave this personal finance tip to families looking to stretch their dollars: “Groceries are often one of the largest expenses for families, so it makes sense to start here when you’re looking for ways to cut back.”

For true savings, Taylor’s advice is to look beyond the obvious. “We all know about couponing, but saving money is way easier when you know how to stack discounts.” Instead of settling for using just a coupon to save, you can combine that coupon with other savings strategies to cut your grocery budget down. “Utilizing an all-of-the-above strategy has helped me reduce my grocery bill by more than half,” Taylor said.

A favorite tip that Taylor uses is buying discounted gift cards from sites like, which includes cards from grocers like Kroger, Whole Foods and Target. “These gift cards are sold for 1-25 percent below face value, meaning that I’ve saved money before ever stepping into the grocery store,” Taylor said. “I stack those savings on top of my regular coupons and then combine it with grocery rebates from apps like Ibotta and Checkout51.

6. Get More Money Flowing In.

Of course, the advice to “spend less than you earn” is an equation that has two parts — how much you spend and how much you earn. Entrepreneur and performance coach Josh Felber has made it his mission to help people achieve success by following their passions, and in his view the best way to approach the “spend less than you earn” equation is to focus on the second part.

Instead of trying to stretch dollars, “always have a consistent flow so you don’t have to stretch,” Felber said. There’s a limit on how far you can cut your spending — everyone needs to cover the basics. But if you focus and invest in earning more, there’s no limit on how much your income can grow.

7. Put Your Money to Work.

Another “Best Money Expert” finalist, Robert Kiyosaki, emphasized the importance of getting more out of your money. “Invest it,” said the entrepreneur and author of “Rich Dad Poor Dad,” the self-proclaimed No. 1 personal finance book in the world.

Investing is the key to achieving true financial freedom. “Put your money to work for you … instead of working for money all your life,” Kiyosaki said.

8. Negotiate.

To truly stretch a dollar, never accept an initial price or offer. Whitney Johnson, an investor, innovator and author of bestselling book “Disrupt Yourself: Putting the Power of Disruptive Innovation to Work,” said that you should “negotiate, even when you think you shouldn’t.”

Negotiating is one of the best ways to make sure you’re getting the most value for your time, money or other resources. Johnson suggested following this advice, or “else you will earn too little or spend too much.” Fail to negotiate, and you’ll lose out on dollars you could have saved or bigger paychecks you could have earned.

*Original article by Elyssa of Kirkham of GOBankingRates.

The Best New Savings Apps for Your Phone

girlphoneSeveral years ago, entrepreneur Yaron Samid noticed a fraudulent charge on his credit card. When he investigated, he found that it had actually been a recurring charge, added to his monthly bill, that he had been paying without even realizing it. He also discovered that other people posted online about the same charge, and he wasn’t the first person to be surprised by it.

His tech background inspired him to start thinking about how people could share information about such fraudulent charges to help protect each other. That concept led him to create BillGuard, an app that has been used by more than 1 million people worldwide since it launched in July 2013. “The app is helping people make sure they’re only paying for what they should be,” says BillGuard spokeswoman Marina Boykis​.

BillGuard is one of several apps to hit the market recently with the goal of ​protecting your finances and saving you money. Other popular ones reduce your parking expenses, help you track spending and help you find discounts and coupons. Here’s an overview of some of the most popular apps, which are all available for both iOS and Android, and how they work:

1. BillGuard. The BillGuard app, using bank-level security, pulls all your transactions from various accounts, and flags ones that might be erroneous, including duplicate charges that have been flagged by other users. You can flag a charge and dispute it with a company directly through the app. When a retailer faces a data breach, BillGuard alerts you if you shopped at the store during the period of the incident.

The app saves people money, Boykis says, because most people quickly skim their account statements – if they review them at all – which makes it easy to miss errors. Last year, BillGuard flagged more than $70 million in suspicious charges. “This puts you in control of your money and helps you fight back, especially given all the data breaches,” Boykis says.

2. Key Ring. This app lets you store your rewards card numbers on your phone so you don’t end up missing out on discounts because you forgot your rewards card. “It lets you throw away all of the discount cards taking up space on your physical key ring,” says Lisa Koivu,​ contributor to the U.S. News Frugal Shopper blog and founder of “Now, since I always have my phone, I always have my discount cards.”

Koivu says she uses the app most at CVS, which also lets you load coupons onto your discount card online. On a recent trip, she saved 20 percent off her entire purchase with the coupons and card discounts.

3. Retailers’ apps. If you have a store you frequent often, then check to see if it has an app, because it could save you money on products you’re buying anyway. Koivu recommends the Target Cartwheel app and Shop Your Way app for Sears and Kmart, which offer exclusive discounts to shoppers.

4. Gift card apps. These apps, including GoWallet and Gyft, help keep you from ever forgetting or losing a gift card again. You can upload your cards onto the app and use it to track and redeem them. Like the Key Ring app, it lets you save even when traveling lightly, without all your cards.

5. Retail Me Not. This app means you never have to clip coupons out of Sunday circulars again. Instead, this app collects coupon codes for you, and lets you save your favorite stores for easier tracking. The best part is you don’t have to save a paper coupon at all. At checkout, just show the code on your phone to snag the deal.

6. Ebates. This app gives shoppers cash back for purchases and recently started offering users even better deals​ one Monday every month, dubbed Mobile Monday. The app lets shoppers earn cash back at more than 1,800 retailers, compare prices and track deals. Shoppers can get as much as 20% cash back on their Mobile Monday purchases.​

7. Park Whiz. If parking is eating up a big chunk of your monthly budget, then the Park Whiz app could be what you need to cut costs. It makes it easy to search – and reserve – nearby ​off-street parking. Available in 150 cities nationwide, it also offers discounts on garage parking (as well as open-air lots) and even find spots from private homeowners who have open spots available. “We work with parking providers to offer our drivers exclusive discounts only available through the service, sometimes up to 60 percent,” says Park Whiz spokesman Mason Pain​, who uses the app to lock in a low monthly parking rate for his own commute.

Depending on your shopping and driving habits, one of these apps could probably help you save – and help meet your financial goals for the year.

Download First Financial’s mobile banking app today! Our app provides convenient, easy, and secure banking and bill payment solutions right from your iPhone or Android device. You can even pay other people with the PopMoney feature in Bill Pay. Get 24/7 instant access to your First Financial account – including bill payment, make transfers, check your balances, find branch and ATM locations, and receive account alerts.*

*You must have an account at First Financial Federal Credit Union (serving Monmouth and Ocean Counties in NJ) and be enrolled in Online Banking, to use this application.

Article source written by Kimberly Palmer of US News.