9 Hacks for a Perfect Monthly Budget

Pencil on the statement of payroll details

While the word “budget” may want to send some of us screaming in the other direction, creating a successful budget is actually one of the biggest gifts we can give ourselves. It not only helps you out financially, but it does a ton to reduce the day-to-day anxiety so many of us feel when it comes to our finances.

If you’re losing sleep over your monthly finances but don’t know where to begin, here are eleven helpful tips for getting started with a monthly budget.

Grab Your Calculator and Block Out Some Time

Grab your calculator, a pen and paper, and open that Excel doc — and most importantly, block out some time for this. Really figuring out what you spend can take a few hours, and one of the most important parts of this process is simply scheduling some time to do it.

Record Your Take-Home Pay

The first step in any budgeting process is to figure out how much you take home each month. Don’t include anything that automatically gets subtracted, like a 401k or taxes — you just want to know what you actually have in your pocket each month.

Subtract The Essential Expenses

Subtract all of the “essential” expenses you absolutely have to pay each month, like student loans, rent, car payments, cell phone, etc. Take time to really think about every bill that comes in.

Allocate For Savings

You now have the amount of money you can use for personal choices — as in you can literally do whatever you want with it. Things like groceries, clothes, and take out all fit into this category. And in a piece for Nerd Wallet, financial writer Anika Sekar says this is now when you allocate for savings (or “paying yourself first” as some retirement planners put it). She recommended saving at least 20 percent after taxes, which comes to about 12-16 percent pre-tax. If you already accounted for a retirement fund in a previous step, you can factor it into this assessment.

Assess The Numbers

Now is the time when you assess the balance of your numbers. In a piece for the financial site Learnvest, financial writer Laura Shin recommended the 50/20/30 rule of thumb. This system says that no more than half your income should go to necessary expenses, no more than 20 percent should go to savings, and no more than 30 percent should go to everything else. If your ratio is coming off far from this, think about re-balancing.

Get Into The Nitty-Gritty

Now it’s time to break down that 30 percent, “personal choice,” portion of your budget. Figure out all the little things you spend on each month — from coffee, to manicures, to ordering in. It’s important to be realistic during this process.

Make Some Cuts

It’s entirely possible that after completing the above step you realize that you spend way more than your allocated 30 percent on random stuff. This is the stage where you might need to figure out where you can cut some expenses. Maybe it’s making coffee at home, or limiting yourself to a take out order just once a week, or maybe it’s not letting yourself “just pop in” to a store after work because you know you always end up buying something.

Consider A Money Tracking App

If all of this seems overwhelming, consider a money-tracking app on your phone. DailyWorth.com recommended Mint.com, Goodbudget, and Mvelopes as a few of their top choices for personal budget helpers, but you can definitely research around to see which one best suits your needs.

Remember — Treat Yourself Sometimes!

Budgeting doesn’t mean restriction. It just means knowing where your money is actually going. Don’t get overwhelmed at the thought of a monthly budget or think a solid budget is out of reach. Just remember it’s about informed choices so you can enjoy the money you make!

Article Source: Toria Sheffield for Bustle.com, http://www.bustle.com/articles/159271-9-hacks-for-a-perfect-monthly-budget

How Much Should You Have in Your Emergency Reserve?

emergency-savings29% of Americans admit they keep no emergency savings and only 22% are prepared with at least six months in reserve, according to a survey by Bankrate. However, a few simple steps could help you avoid severe financial risk.

According to CBS News business analyst Jill Schlesinger, a reserve should total six to 12 months of one’s living expenses for those with jobs.

For retirees, Schlesinger said the equivalent of 12 to 24 months of living expenses in reserve is ideal to avoid dipping into savings.

A reserve should be liquid cash because “it has to be safe,” Schlesinger says.

While some Americans struggle living paycheck to paycheck, Schlesinger recommends starting early and small.

“There was a great survey out recently about retirement savings. And it’s had the same result, which is a lot of people are unprepared. It also asked: ‘Do you think, even though you have no money saved today, that you could save $25 a week?’ And a majority of people said ‘Yes, I could,’ ” Schlesinger said.

The least painful way to do this is by automating your savings.

Acorns for one, rounds up the price of purchases, takes the spare change, and invests it in exchange traded funds (ETF). Another app called Level Money allows you to set how much you want to save each month and shows how much “spendable” money you have left.

Spending habits also change with age.

“When you’re young, you’ve got student debt and you’ve graduated, you really have to address paying down that debt, saving for your emergency reserves, and then starting to invest long term,” Schlesinger said. “As you get older and you’ve gone through all these responsibilities – raised your kids, put money away for their college – then you really start to accelerate.”

Establishing your habits early will make it easier to save as you grow older.

With First Financial’s Online Banking, you have the ease of managing your finances right from home (even in your pajamas and slippers if you’d like)! You have the ability to check your accounts, sign up for eStatements, enroll in Bill Pay, transfer funds, set up email and account alerts, schedule future transfers (a great tool to use to help you save), order checks, and more. We even provide you with useful videos and documents to help you get set-up with Online Banking.
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Even when you’re on-the-go, you can take First Financial along with our mobile app. As a convenient tool, you’ll have 24/7 instant access to your accounts, plus Bill Pay, make transfers easily, check balances, branch & ATM locations, account alerts, and 1 Click remote deposit capture.* Click here to learn how to download the app to your iPhone or Android smartphone.*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 Online Banking or First Financial’s Mobile App. Members must meet certain criteria to be eligible for Remote Deposit Capture. Standard data rates and charges may apply.

Article Source: Courtesy of CBS News

First Financial’s Freehold/Howell Service Center is Now Open!

Press Release

First Financial Federal Credit Union’s newest branch is now open for business at 389 Route 9 North (next to the Howell Park & Ride) in Freehold, NJ 07728.

New Branch and Drive Thru

Pictured above: First Financial’s new Freehold/Howell Service Center – now open!

The credit union’s newest branch will be a primary banking location for approximately a quarter of the credit union’s 20,000 members.  First Financial’s newest branch features many important banking conveniences such as a drive thru, drive up and walk up ATMs, and more.

In regard to the credit union’s latest branch location, Issa Stephan, First Financial’s President/CEO stated, “We look forward to bringing the Howell and Freehold community a high-tech banking facility featuring modern convenience. Member experience is extremely important to us, and our first priority is achieving our members’ financial dreams by defining their financial goals and lifestyle, empowering them with financial education, helping them to plan their retirement, and more – and our newest branch will be a key vehicle in helping us to fulfill this promise with our membership.”

A ribbon cutting ceremony and grand opening week featuring outdoor activities is planned for warmer weather, and will take place starting Monday, April 27th. Stay tuned for future details!

Feb 2 Soft Opening Teller Line

Pictured above: The teller line inside the new Freehold/Howell Service Center.

How to Plan for Your Child’s Financial Future

Piggybank family isolatedIn this economy and time period, every parent shares a mutual fear. You think to yourself, “What if my son or daughter isn’t financially stable in their lifetime?” You may be nervous that your child will not be able to pay off college loans or purchase a home when they are older. You might also be worried that your child will struggle to meet car payments, or that they won’t be able to save up money in case of emergencies or for when they grow older.

Read the tips below to learn how you can relieve your fears and help prepare your children for their financial future.

  • Teach financial responsibility. It’s natural to fear that your children will take on too much debt or be unprepared for financial emergencies when they reach adulthood. But you don’t have to wait until they make a mistake to prepare them to be financially responsible. It’s important to remember that it’s never too early to start talking to kids about money and saving. When your kids are young, you’ll want to start with simple conversations about money (sharing tips about your purchase decisions with them when you shop), and as they get older introducing more complex money matters (such as the value of having an emergency fund and saving for unexpected events).
  • Use an allowance as an educational tool. An allowance is an ideal way to teach about responsible spending and saving. Provide your children with the opportunity to save and spend their allowance as they please (with some guidance). This flexibility will allow them to learn early on that spending money as fast as they earn it can have consequences. Depending on the age and maturity of your child, you may choose to share with them a financial mistake you made in the past and how you recovered from it.
  • Plan for college. As college tuition increases, many parents worry about how their children will afford to attend, or how you as a parent can possibly save enough to pay for your child’s college education. As parents, consider beginning to save into a 529 Plan early in your child’s life. When it comes time to make college decisions, help your child evaluate the tuition and other college expenses (travel home, club dues, entertainment costs, etc.) for each college he or she is considering. Make sure to educate yourself on current student loan lending practices and options and help your child determine a realistic amount of student loan debt he or she can take on if necessary.
  • Prepare for life’s big purchases. Even for young adults with a responsible mindset, a lack of financial knowledge can be detrimental for large purchases like a car or home. As a parent, you can offset this concern by being open to discuss these things as your child grows older and begins managing their own money.
  • Reframe your money mindset. Changing the way you think about money can go a long way to alleviating your financial fears for your children and, at the same time, help your children learn to make smart financial decisions. The real question you should ask isn’t, “Can we afford this?” but rather, “Do we need this, and if so, is this the best deal we can get on it, and should we wait and buy it when we have saved the money for it?” These may seem like small differences, but they aren’t. How our children think about money will make a huge difference in their ability to wisely manage it and consequentially will have a huge impact on their quality of life.

Visit First Financial’s website resources tab to view a list of free financial calculators and resources that you and your children can utilize to help save for college and future big ticket purchases like a car, home, and how to save money.

Join us on Thursday, August 7th, for First Financial’s free seminar on this very subject – teaching your children about finances. The seminar will be held at the credit union’s Wall Office on Route 34 at 6pm. Space is limited so we recommend that you register beforehand.

For more information and to register online, click here.

 Article courtesy of Daily Finance Online, by Michele Lerner

Summer Vacation Scams: Possible Hazards of Hoteling

Customers paying at the hotelBooking a hotel stay for a summer vacation? Before you check in, check out how scammers can try to take advantage of travelers.  Always be aware and on the lookout for possible scams!

The late night call from the front desk.

You think you’re getting a late night call from the front desk telling you there’s a problem with your credit card and they need to verify the number, so you read it to them over the phone. But it’s really a scammer on the line. If a hotel really had an issue with your card, they would ask you to come to the front desk.

The pizza delivery deal.

In another scam, you find a pizza delivery flyer slipped under your hotel door. You call to order, and they take your credit card number over the phone. But the flyer is a fake, and a scammer now has your info. Before you order, make sure you check out the business (ensure it’s a franchise or reputable), or get food recommendations from the front desk.

The fake Wi-Fi network.

You search for Wi-Fi networks and find one with the hotel’s name. But it turns out it’s only a sound-alike and has nothing to do with the hotel. By using it, you could give a scammer access to your information. Check with the hotel to make sure you’re using the authorized network before you connect. Read more tips on using public Wi-Fi networks.

Other things to be cautious of when staying at or booking a hotel stay:

  • Always lock your car, and don’t leave anything valuable in your vehicle and/or visible.
  • Try to park your car as close to the front office of the hotel as possible.
  • Don’t leave anything valuable in your room unless there is a secure way to do it (like an in-room safe).
  • Check your credit card statement after your stay to make sure it’s accurate.
  • Be weary of hotel booking websites – there have been instances of advertisements claiming that for booking a hotel room you can receive a complimentary gift card from a known retailer. When clicked on, the scammers will oftentimes ask for a credit card number and more personal info.

Haven’t booked your trip yet? If you’re thinking of getting a vacation rental, take a moment to read up about rental listing scams. And check out these other travel tips, including tell-tale signs that a travel offer or prize might be a scam.

Don’t wait until it’s too late! Check out First Financial’s ID Theft Protection products – with our Fully Managed Identity Recovery services, you don’t need to worry. A professional Recovery Advocate will do the work on your behalf, based on a plan that you approve. Should you experience an Identity Theft incident, your Recovery Advocate will stick with you all along the way – and will be there for you until your good name is restored.

Our ID Theft Protection options may include some of the following services, based on the package you choose to enroll in: Lost Document Replacement, Credit Bureau Monitoring, Score Tracker, and Three-Generation Family Benefit.* To learn more about our ID Theft Protection products, click here and find out how you can enroll today – as well as get started with your first 90 days free!**

*Identity Theft insurance underwritten by subsidiaries or affiliates of Chartis Inc. The description herein is a summary and intended for informational purposes only and does not include all terms, conditions and exclusions of the policies described. Please refer to the actual policies for terms, conditions, and exclusions of coverage. Coverage may not be available in all jurisdictions.

**Available for new enrollments only. After the free trial of 90 days, the member must contact the Credit Union to opt-out of ID Theft Protection or the monthly fee of $4.95 will automatically be deducted out of the base savings account or $8.95 will be deducted out of the First Protection Checking account (depending upon the coverage option selected), on a monthly basis or until the member opts out of the program.

Article Source: Amy Herbert – Consumer Education Specialist for the FTC, http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/hazards-hoteling.