5 Easy Ways to Save for the Holidays in Just 5 Weeks

Facts are facts. When it comes to holiday planning, lists are long and time is short. If you’re one of those mythical people who has already finished your holiday shopping, this article may not pertain to you. But, you can still share it with those in your life who always seem to wait as late as possible to start thinking about holiday gifts. Now, if you’re part of the 53% of people who wait until the last minute to tackle your holiday shopping, you’ll want to keep reading.

Ever Ascending Holiday Spending

Every year, Americans spend more on winter holidays than any other occasion in the calendar. Staying in line with this upward trend, shoppers are expected to spend more during the 2018 holiday season than ever before. According to the National Retail Federation: “Consumers say they will spend an average $1,007.24 during the holiday season this year, up 4.1 percent from the $967.13 last year.” And that figure doesn’t even include travel expenses!

Regardless of whether your seasonal spending will top the national average or you skate by just under the line, we want to help you save money. While there may not be enough time to implement a long-term plan as of now, here are five practical tips to help you stretch your holiday dollars a little further this year:

  • Know your limits. Set your limits. At this point in the game, time is of the essence—and so is your money. Rather than trying to overwhelm people with the quantity of your gifts, focus on the quality. It’s always better to give someone one gift they’ll love than to flood them with a variety of forgettable trinkets. Save your time (and hopefully your cash), with more meaningful gifts.
  • Go with gift cards. Don’t stress an opinionated recipient. Let them do the heavy lifting, you just give them the gift of shopping guidance. Plus, nothing says “treat yourself” like a gift card. Why not get creative and make those very same gift cards work for you? Many retailers offer gift cards at a discount during the holidays. If a store is selling gift cards at a 10% discount, buy a $100 gift card for $90 and use it to pay for your gift purchases. Hidden savings will help you through.
  • Abandon your cart. If you’re planning to do your shopping online this year, slowing down can save you money. Instead of finding the item you want, adding it to your shopping cart, and checking out immediately, try a new approach. The first two steps are the same. But then, instead of completing the purchase, leave the item in your cart and exit the site. When something sits in your cart for an extended period of time, many online retailers will send you a reminder email offering a discount if you’ll come back and complete the transaction.
  • The search for savings is on. Thanks to the Internet, you no longer have to cross your fingers and wonder if the store you’re shopping from will offer a coupon or promo code. Websites like RetailmenotGroupon, and Ebates do the work for you. If you’re a frequent Amazon shopper, the Honey app will automatically search the web for coupons or promotions on the items you’ve added to your cart. The holiday season is the perfect time to let modern technology work for you!
  • Patience pays. Failing to plan ahead is rarely a good strategy. But in the case of holiday travels, it just might work in your favor. If you’re hitting the road this holiday season, websites like HotelTonight  and  LastMinuteTravel have created their entire business around helping travelers score last-minute deals on hotel rooms. Don’t just book the first available hotel room you see in the search results though. Shop around. Outstanding savings are out there — you just have to find them.

While the tips we’ve offered can help you get through this holiday season with your spirit intact, there’s an even better way to prepare for next year.

At First Financial, our Holiday Savings Club makes it simple to set aside a little money each month. Start a new tradition of stress-free shopping. No need to put yourself into debt over holiday spending – simply save ahead and come out on top (and not in debt)!*

  • Open at any time
  • No minimum balance requirements
  • Dividends are posted annually on balances of $100 or more
  • Accounts automatically renew each year
  • Deposits can be made in person, via mail, payroll deductions, or direct deposit
  • Holiday Club funds are deposited into a First Financial Checking or Base Savings Account

Contact us today to learn more about our Holiday Club

*A $5 deposit in a base savings account is required for credit union membership prior to opening any other account. All personal memberships are part of the Rewards First program and a $5 per month non-participation fee is charged to the base savings account for memberships not meeting the minimum requirements of the program. Click here to view full Rewards First program details, and here to view the Tier Level Comparison Chart. Accounts for children age 13 and under are excluded from this program.

The Best Things to Buy in November

When it comes to deals, there’s plenty to be thankful for this month. With discount shopping days like Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Travel Deal Tuesday – November offers a buffet of savings opportunities for shoppers.

Start making your list, and check to see what offers your favorite stores, warehouse outlets and online retailers have planned for Veterans Day, Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Here are just a few of the best buys to jumpstart your holiday shopping savings.

Electronics: Look for deals on everything from televisions, smartwatches, gaming systems, laptops, tablets, desktop computers, and smartphones. It may also be a good time to give a few smart home devices a try.  Experts at DealNews.com and ConsumerReports.org say maximizing savings means waiting until Black Friday, November 23. If the crowds aren’t part of your post-Thanksgiving plans, you can always safely shop online.

Video games: Just in time for the holidays, you’ll find discounted games across all platforms through December.

Vacuums and appliances (both large and small): Time to get that InstantPot or finally replace your dishwasher. There are plenty of opportunities to save throughout the month – especially around Veterans Day, Black Friday, or Cyber Monday. You’ll find the deepest appliance discounts at home improvement stores toward the end of November.

Wedding dresses: According to GoBankingRates.com, with the latest designs hitting the runway, brides-to-be open to considering “older” inventory can score discounts of up to 70% off their dream gown.

Happy Shopping!

Article Source: Myriam DiGiovanni for Financialfeed.com

4 Tips to Plan for Holiday Toy Shopping

Want the holiday season’s hottest toys? Or maybe you want a retro game. Whatever the goal, with some holiday toys already in stores, shoppers may want to start planning their strategy ASAP.

GET THE HOT TOYS EARLY: Try shopping online because in a few clicks you can search sites like Walmart, Target, Toys R Us and Amazon to find out quickly if the item is available. Also, it’s good to follow retailers on Twitter, where some post when they get in their next order of certain hot toys in the final weeks before Christmas.

KNOW WHEN THE SALES ARE: If you can afford to wait, stores offer toy discounts of up to 50 percent and also bundle toy deals during the Black Friday weekend. But the best time to get deals on basic toys is two weeks before Christmas, when toys are discounted up to 70 percent, according to DealNews.com. Take advantage of deal trackers. With CamelCamelCamel.com, shoppers can set up alerts when the price of an item falls to a certain level. It also offers a price history of all products sold on Amazon.

Overall, Amazon.com offers the lowest toy prices, with Walmart a close second, according to Lindsay Sakraida, director of content marketing for the DealNews site, which combed deals during last year’s holiday season. Target, Kohl’s and Toys R Us were ranked third to fifth.

TAKE ADVANTAGE OF LAYAWAY:  Walmart kicked off its layaway service in September and customers have until December 11 to pay off their account. As in past years, there’s no opening fee to start a layaway account but customers need to put down 10 percent or $10, whichever is greater. Shoppers can put items as low as $10 on layaway with a $50 minimum basket.

At Sears Holdings Corp.’s Kmart, members of the Shop Your Way loyalty program get special perks for the holiday season. They have a $1 down payment for in-store and online layaway contracts. For non-members, it’s a $10 down payment. For Sears, there’s no difference between members and non-members — they don’t have to put any money down for layaway in the store and can put just one penny down online at all times.

EMBRACE SERVICES: Walmart offers curb pickup for online shoppers at 1,000 stores — mostly for grocery items but also some seasonal general merchandise like toys. Walmart, Target and Sears also have pickup services inside the store for online shoppers. Many are trying to improve the speed of service.

Follow these tips and get a jump start (while saving money) this holiday season on toys!

Article Source: Anne D’Innocenzio for the Associated Press on USAtoday.com

13 Tips for Shopping Smarter During the Holiday Season

Whether it involves camping in a store parking lot for Black Friday deals or racing other parents for that last hot-ticket toy, just about everybody has their own nightmare holiday shopping story.

Let’s be honest, holiday shopping has the potential to be awful. You have to brave crowded malls, overpriced items, and the same Christmas carols playing on repeat. But your shopping experience doesn’t have to be that way.

Try these tips to shop smarter and have a much happier holiday experience this year!

1. Plan ahead.

It would be nice if we were able to shower our friends and family with unlimited expensive gifts, but the truth is that the majority of us have a limited amount of money. Before you even start your holiday shopping, make a gift list and set yourself a budget. That way you won’t fall prey to last minute splurge purchases.

2. Save gas (and time) by shopping online.

Avoid crowded shopping centers altogether by doing the bulk of your shopping online. Just make sure that you keep mailing costs in mind and order your gifts far enough ahead of time so that you don’t have to pay for expensive overnight shipping. During the holiday season, many websites feature free shipping – be sure to be on the lookout for the site’s free shipping codes and deals to save before you checkout online.

3. Focus on Cyber Monday, not Black Friday.

Sure, you may find some pretty crazy deals on Black Friday, but when you factor in the gas you use to drive to the store, the time you spend waiting in the cold out front before they open, and the time spent fighting the crowds and waiting in line to make your purchase, is it really worth it? This year, try shopping on the Monday immediately after Thanksgiving. This is the day when online retailers promote big sales, so you can save while shopping from the comfort of your own home.

4. Track price changes for expensive items.

If you’re shopping with a big online retailer like Amazon, you can set up a tracker through websites like CamelCamelCamel or The Tracktor. You can check out past prices of the items you’re shopping for in order to determine whether now is a good time to buy or if you should wait for the price to drop.

5. Use online coupons.

Avoid the hassle of clipping coupons and shoving them in your wallet until you can get to the right store, by using online coupons. Many sites give you an easy way to quickly search for and redeem deals for your gift items.

6. Avoid credit card debt.

This should go without saying, but one of the best ways to shop smart this season is to avoid charging more than you’ll be able to pay off. Don’t get talked into starting a credit card with a particular department store, either. It’s usually not worth it. Keep close track of the money you spend and know where your limits are.

*If you are going to use a credit card this holiday season – apply for one of First Financial’s great low rate options! Our Visa Platinum Card has one of the lowest APRs around and you’ll earn merchandise rewards on your purchases. Our Visa Signature Card lets you earn cash back on your purchases. Learn more and apply online 24/7.

7. Don’t be afraid to buy the same gift twice.

If you find a gift that you know several people on your list would enjoy, don’t be afraid to buy it in multiples. This cuts down on your shopping time, and if the store is offering any kind of “Buy 1, get the second 1 at a discount” deal, that’s even better!

8. Considering buying experiences, not just stuff.

Instead of buying material goods that your family members aren’t that excited about, consider buying a day or weekend trip that you can share together. It can make more sense to invest money in creating a family memory that will last forever than buying an item that will have a short life span.

9. Group your shopping trips.

If you have to go to brick and mortar stores to do some of your holiday shopping, figure out where all the stores you need to visit are and plan the route that will involve the least driving. Try to get all your shopping done in one fell swoop so that you don’t have to keep driving back out to the stores.

10. Save money by using your smartphone.

The Amazon Price Checker app, which is available for both iPhones and Android devices, lets you scan the barcodes of items in a store and compare to prices of the same item online. Shopkick is another great app that rewards you just for visiting stores by offering you special discounts. Make purchases at the store and you’ll get even more points to put toward a future reward.

11. Never shop on weekends.

Weekends are inevitably the busiest shopping days during the holiday season, so if you want to avoid the crowds, try shopping on weekday evenings.

12. Shop alone.

While shopping alone doesn’t sound as fun as bringing along a friend, it will save you time and potentially prevent you from being influenced to make big spur-of-the-moment purchases.

13. Know when to avoid the express line.

Each person has to do an individual transaction, so a regular checkout line is often better than a long express lane line.

The holidays should be a time to relax and hang out with friends and family, don’t let yourself get stressed out by last-minute shopping expeditions. Just take a deep breath, do some planning in advance, and shop smart this season.

*APR varies from 11.9% to 18% for the Visa Platinum Card and from 13.9% to 18% for the Visa Signature Card when you open your account based on your credit worthiness. These APRs are for purchases, balance transfers, and cash advances 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: Cash advance fee of 1% of advance ($5 minimum and $25 maximum), Late Payment Fee of up to $25, Foreign Transaction Fee of 1% plus foreign exchange rate of transaction amount, $5 Card Replacement Fee, and Returned Payment Fee of up to $25. 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.Visa Signature Card Cash Back: Your First Financial Visa® Signature Credit Card will earn cash back based on your eligible purchase transactions. The cash back will be applied to your current credit card balance on a quarterly basis and be shown cumulatively on your billing statement. Unless you are participating in a limited time promotional offer, you will earn 1% cash back based upon eligible purchases each quarter.

Article Source: Julianna Weiss-Roessler for Lifehack.org

5 Unique Ways to Save on Your Holiday Shopping

gifts isolated on white background

Whether we like it or not, the holiday season is here. That means one thing: spending money and potentially a lot of it. In a survey by the American Research Group, Americans plan on spending nearly $900 on their holiday shopping. Such an amount can put a significant stress on a budget, leaving families looking for ways to save money.

We all know about the traditional ways to save money on shopping, from Black Friday to Cyber Monday sales. Those discounts can provide nice savings, but they only scratch the surface. There are many other tools and tricks to help you stretch your holiday budget. Below are some unique ones to help you save this year.

The Four-Gift Rule

The four-gift rule has made its way around the Internet over the past few years. The idea behind it is relatively simple. Instead of overwhelming recipients with a lot of gifts and costing you more, you make your gift-giving more intentional. The rule dictates the following: You buy the person something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read.

The rule may not work for everyone, as it’s particularly angled toward a younger child or perhaps a spouse. With children, in particular, this approach can help avoid excessive gift giving and thus save you money in the long run. It’s practical and still also allows for fun and creativity.

Use Apps

Smartphone apps can be a great way to save money on holiday shopping. We all know about popular apps like Amazon that allow you to compare prices in real-time. There are many other apps out there that can help save you money on your holiday shopping needs.

Some of these newer apps are Flipp and Slice. “It rounds up all of the shopping ads and circulars in your local area and presents them to you in a format that’s very easy to flip through,” says Jill Cataldo, founder of the Super-Couponing.com. The Flipp app also allows you to collect local coupons so as to maximize your savings.

The Slice app allows you to set a price tracker, which tracks the amount you spent on an item. If the price drops, it notifies you so you can get the difference refunded from participating merchants.

Use Gift Cards

MarketWatch reports that $750 million in gift cards were unused in 2014. If you have an unused gift card lying around, that is free cash not being spent. There may be a number of reasons you didn’t use the card, from not liking the store to forgetting you had the card.

Regardless of the reason, an unused gift card can be a great way to reduce the overall amount you spend out of pocket for holiday gifts. Instead of letting that card continue to collect dust and lose value due to potential inactivity fees, use them to buy gifts. It may feel tacky, but it is a great way to save money.

Buy Discounted Gift Cards

Gift cards play a dual role for potential savings. Many who have unused gift cards sell them for cash. This has opened up a market for sites like Card Cash, Raise, Card Pool and others that sell discounted gift cards. Such sites allow individuals to buy gift cards for up to 35 percent off standard price.

Such a service can be a great way to save a little extra money if a gift card is on your shopping list. Just make sure to read the terms and conditions prior to purchase.

Break It Up

Another overlooked way to save money on holiday items is by purchasing an item in bulk. That may sound counterintuitive, but it works. “The set gives you a lower price per unit and you can toss them into a gift bag helping you save without skimping on the gift,” says money-saving expert Andrea Woroch.

Woroch explains that the item bought at a warehouse club can be broken up and repackaged into smaller gifts while still allowing you to take advantage of the lower per unit cost. If you are giving multiple people the same gift, then this can be a great way to save extra money instead of purchasing higher-priced individual gifts.

The holiday shopping season can be a stressful one financially. It doesn’t have to be. With a little planning and creativity, you can avoid being an “average” shopper and become one who saves money.

The perfect way to save for your holiday expenses is by opening a Holiday Club Account right here at First Financial! No need to put yourself into debt over holiday spending – simply save ahead and come out on top (and not in debt)!*

  • Open at any time
  • No minimum balance requirements
  • Dividends are posted annually on balances of $100 or more
  • Accounts automatically renew each year
  • Deposits can be made in person, via mail, payroll deductions, or direct deposit
  • Holiday Club funds are deposited into a First Financial Checking or Base Savings Account

*A $5 deposit in a base savings account is required for credit union membership prior to opening any other account. All personal memberships are part of the Rewards First program and a $5 per month non-participation fee is charged to the base savings account for memberships not meeting the minimum requirements of the Bronze Tier. Click here to view full Rewards First program details, and here to view the Tier Level Comparison Chart. Accounts for children age 13 and under are excluded from this program.

Article Source: John Schmoll for http://money.usnews.com/money/the-frugal-shopper/2015/11/09/5-unique-ways-to-save-on-your-holiday-shopping

Beware of Counterfeit Clothes and Scam Websites

womanshpgonlineDuring the holiday shopping season it’s important to know that there are scam artists out there who will try to take advantage of you. Be on your guard from a new influx of counterfeit clothes and scam websites. The internet has been a great asset to US clothing shoppers looking for good buys on the best brands. Unfortunately, it has also been a great asset to criminals dealing in counterfeit clothes they try to pass off as the real thing. While the illegal market in fake top brand clothing predates the World Wide Web, the Internet has opened up new avenues of opportunity for those dealing in counterfeit clothes.

The United States has seen a large rise in scam websites that typically promise that popular and expensive items of clothing manufactured by the best known brands can be had at bargain prices. They often have fake web addresses that falsely give the impression that they are operating in the US, when in fact the website owners may be scammers operating out of other countries.

The quality of the clothes is often far below the standards set by the real manufacturers, with some websites operating with no actual inventory. Consumers order, their money is accepted, but they never receive anything at all.

The dealing in counterfeit clothes is not some small scale operation. The sums of money involved are huge, with some estimates putting the total take of larger scam websites at millions of dollars per year. The counterfeit clothes racket also ties into other criminal activities, such as banking fraud and identity theft. Once you give a criminal organization your credit card number, there are a wide array of illegal ways it can be used to rob you again.

Because the clothing scam websites are located overseas, it can be all but impossible to complain about poor quality, orders never received or seek relief in the United States legal system. Even reporting the scammers to the law enforcement agencies of the countries from which they operate will seldom bring any results. Sometimes action can be taken to deregister the scam sites so that others won’t get duped, but even this can be ineffective.

The market for counterfeit clothes is not confined to the United States. In Great Britain last year, hundreds of scam shopping websites were closed for selling fake designer clothing and jewelry. In Ireland, poorly made counterfeit clothing became so widespread that the European Consumer Centre made a special plea to consumers to be cautious when buying clothes online.

The center strongly advises “consumers to do comprehensive research on a trader when shopping on the Internet” a spokeswoman said. She continued to suggest that customer look for contact details, as any missing information is a red flag.

It’s also important to know what too look for with counterfeit products. Examine the product as closely as you can online, counterfeit designer goods often have logos that are fuzzy, misspelled, or otherwise off from the brand, something a high quality designer would never allow to ship. The stitching on counterfeit merchandise is often sloppy. If you can see the stitching without much effort, it is nearly guaranteed to be a fake.

Caution should always be used online, but becoming familiar with the genuine product and examining potential deals is one of the best ways to stay safe.

As counterfeit production becomes more elaborate, the proper tags do not necessarily mean a genuine product. As a result, many manufacturers of high quality clothing have taken extra steps to ensure their product stands out. Holographic logos and serial numbers are just a few methods that can ensure a legitimate purchase. Know the designer’s key marks and beware of products that lack them.

Be cautious of high fashion clothing being advertised at greatly reduced prices and only pay using a secure, refundable, method such as a credit card or a secure service such as PayPal.

Make sure you use online retailers that do provide genuine merchandise at a discount. In the end, you’re your own best advocate to prevent getting scammed. Use your common sense and know what you’re buying, and remember the old saying that “if it seems too good to be true, then it probably is.”

Protect yourself this holiday season and all year-round with First Financial’s ID Theft Protection! To learn more about our ID Theft Protection products, click here and enroll today.

Original article source courtesy of Lori Kelley of SavingAdvice.com.