How to Save Money Without Disrupting Your Lifestyle

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What if you could save an additional $1,500 each year? After 30 years you would have $119,000, assuming the money was invested and you got a 6% return. That $1,500 each year — just $125 a month — can add up to quite a bit of money.

Of course, to save more money each month you likely need to cut your spending. But if you are like most people, you probably don’t want to drastically change your lifestyle. Fortunately, there are smart and simple steps you can take to trim spending without a major overhaul.

Use the 72-hour rule for purchases

How many purchases have you made on Amazon or at the store that you later regretted? Limit your impulse purchases using what personal financial author Carl Richards has called the 72-hour rule. Instead of buying an item you want immediately, wait 72 hours to see whether you still want it. You’ll be surprised at how much less you end up deciding to buy. It works great with kids – they think they can’t live without a certain toy, and then after 72 hours they forget it even existed.

Analyze big purchases

Major purchases may have the biggest impact on your spending and ability to save. It’s sometime bewildering that the same person who will drive across town to save money on gas will buy a new expensive car without analyzing the implications. The same goes for housing costs or big-ticket vacations. Here are some tips on how to analyze and save on each of these purchases:

  • Car: The Internet has been a huge help for consumers in finding car deals. With online sales you often can negotiate through email, and sites like TrueCar provide transparency about what other car buyers have paid. But when buying a new car, it’s important to consider the ongoing costs and not just the upfront purchase price. For instance, many people prefer luxury cars, but premium gas and maintenance typically will cost more for these cars. Finally, a simple rule is that the longer you keep the car, the cheaper the cost. Check out AutoSMART – First Financial’s free online car buying and research tool!
  • House: Housing tends to be the biggest expense for most people. If you plan to live in the same place for five years or more, it’s recommended you purchase a home. However, the larger and more expensive the home you purchase, the more it limits your ability to spend within the rest of your budget. For example, a couple with one child, decides to downsize because they just didn’t need the space. This was a good move financially because it gives them greater flexibility to save more, spend in other areas or retire sooner.
  • Vacation: Research locations and potential deals on sites like Kayak.com. If you can, be flexible when selecting travel dates to maximize savings. Also, compare multiple locations to determine the best fit for you and your family — and where you can get the most bang for your buck.

Rethink ongoing phone and cable plans

Most people look only at their monthly payments and often are shocked by how much they spend annually on cell phone and cable bills. When shopping for a phone plan, try MyRatePlan.com to compare plans based on the minutes, texts and data you need. Another option is to consider no-contract cell phones. The monthly cost is much lower, but you do have to buy the cell phone upfront.

With cable, the average monthly bill is $100, or $1,200 a year. “Cutting the cord” has become more popular recently as many people decide they don’t need the 100+ channels on cable. If you can do with a limited number of channels, then a streaming device and a good HDTV antenna for local channels may be all you need — and it can save you a lot of money.

Review your insurance policies

Many people are paying too much for property and casualty insurance. Every few years you should shop around your auto insurance and home insurance policies to confirm you are getting a good price. You also can see how your auto and home insurance providers rank based on consumer satisfaction by checking out the yearly report from market research firm J.D. Power.

Additionally, one way to lower premiums for home or auto policies is to raise your deductible if you have cash in the bank and you rarely make any claims. Larger deductibles typically range from $1,000 to $2,500, depending on the type of insurance you have. However, note that this does create risks if you don’t have money available or in an emergency fund if a large claim does occur.

Pick high-quality products that last

Sometimes it makes sense to spend a little more money for items you will use for a long time. A good example is men’s shoes. A high-quality pair of shoes will last almost forever and, though more expensive in the short term, will be a lot cheaper over the long run than repeatedly buying the cheapest pair. Think about the items in your life that you will use for a very long time and are worth the extra expense upfront.

Stick to a budget

First, automate your savings. It’s hard to spend what you don’t see, so automatically transferring money out of your checking account will help you keep spending down. Determine how much you should be contributing to or withdrawing from your accounts, and set up automatic monthly transfers. I like to call this forced scarcity, in that you can spend only what is in your bank account.

If this is not working and you start running up debt, try using online budgeting tools to help you create and monitor your budget. It may be more time-consuming, but you’ll know where every dollar is being spent. And if you are still having issues, consider working with a fee-only financial planner to help you develop and stick to a budget so you can reach your goals. Try our free, anonymous, 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.

Hire a professional

Sometimes spending money can save you money. This can be true for home repairs, taxes, college planning and many other areas. For instance, many people miss important deductions or credits they could have claimed when they complete their own tax returns instead of working with a professional. Sometimes it makes sense to pay someone to help when it comes to house repairs and you can try to fix the problem, but might only make it worse.

So how do you decide whether to hire a professional or go it alone? If the risk of mistake is greater than the cost to hire someone, it is worth the investment. Of course, if you don’t have the time or knowledge to take care of the task at hand, it makes sense to get help, too. If you’re not sure where to look, ask for referrals from friends or co-workers, or check Angie’s List for service providers and the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors for fee-only financial planners.

Spend wisely

Ultimately, the goal is not to disrupt your lifestyle dramatically, but to make sure you spend your money wisely and efficiently. In short, it’s important to think about what you are spending your money on and what you really get out of it.

Perhaps even more important than drastically cutting your spending is thinking about the non-monetary value of your money. In a longitudinal study following 268 men for over 70 years, researchers for the Grant Study found that good relationships are key to leading a long and happy life — not how much money you have, the newest tech gadget or a certain high-profile job, but the people in your life.

Instead of spending money on more stuff, why not spend it on personal experiences with your friends and family?

*Original article source courtesy of Mike Eklund of Nerd Wallet.

10 Money Questions to Ask Yourself

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The first quarter of the year is a great time for reflection. And your money is no exception: Think about where it’s been, where it’s going, and, most important, where you want it to go. Whether your finances had a stellar year or took a hit, take a minute to check in and see where you want to go next. Here are 10 questions to get you started for a better financial year.

1. How much debt am I taking into 2016?
Tally up what you have left to pay on your student loans, any outstanding credit card balances, and your mortgage (if applicable). Take a long, hard look at this number. It’s better to know it than not know it. Make this number a key part of your action plan for next year.

2. How much did I save last year?
If you automate deposits into your savings account, this should be easy to calculate. (If not, here’s your incentive to do it.) Take a look at your savings account and consider what’s there: Could you have saved more? Did you plan to have more? What stopped you from meeting your goal? And if you don’t have a savings account — or a savings plan — make one.

3. What’s my credit score?
First of all, know what goes into your credit score — and then check your number free online. Check your credit report, too, and make sure any debts you’ve accrued this year are accounted for and that no one has taken out lines of credit in your name. Remember: You get one free credit report from each of the three credit bureaus a year: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

4. Am I getting the most out of my credit cards?
Take stock of what your credit cards have given you this year, like great rewards, lower interest rates, or cash back. If your cards haven’t provided you with any of those perks, consider upgrading to a different card. If you have a card that’s dragging you down with high annual fees, think about closing it — provided you know the consequences of doing so. Make sure you know the best way to use your cards and that you aren’t inadvertently hurting your credit.

Transfer your high balance to First Financial’s Visa Platinum Credit Card today!* Enjoy great low rates, no balance transfer fees, no annual fees, and 10 day grace period.** Getting started is easy – click here to apply online, 24/7. 

5. How much money will I make this year? Can I make more?
Whether you’re a full-time employee or a one-lady business, consider whether there are ways you can grow your income. Is there some sort of side gig you can take on? Could you be a consultant? If you work a 9 to 5, would a switch to freelance be more lucrative? On the other hand, is it finally time to shut down professional projects that are draining your resources?

6. What do I want to save for in the next year? How will I accomplish that?
Set financial goals, like saving for a down payment on a home, paying off a certain amount of debt, or putting a specific amount in savings. Figure out what strategies you will put in place to save, such as making lifestyle changes or automating with apps.

7. Did I stick to my budget? If not, why not?
If you blew off your budget this year, take time to troubleshoot. Maybe your goals were unrealistic or you didn’t have a budget at all. Now’s the ideal time to make one, or get started with an app or two.

8. How will I budget this year?
Once you know what has (or hasn’t) been working for you, look ahead toward optimizing. Maybe you’re ready to switch from a simple pen and notebook to an app, or vice versa. Maybe you’ve learned that you perform better on a less stringent budget and or that you actually need more structure. If you’re newly partnered (or married), this may involve merging finances — or simply merging financial goals.

9. How much money is in my emergency fund?
You have no idea what the new year could bring: sudden health crises, unexpected layoffs, or a downturn in business. Make sure your emergency fund (about three to six months of living expenses) is robust enough to take care of you if need be. And if not, make it a priority to establish a healthy fund. If you need some incentive to save, make it fun with these hacks.

10. What are some poor money habits I can squash?
Think about some areas in your daily (or monthly) life where you can save — or stretch your dollar. If you’re living beyond your means, know where to rein it in. Eating out at work? Make lunch. Tempted to go buy new clothes? How about revamping your old ones instead? Know the red flags if you think you’re in financial trouble and decide to make a change.

*APR varies from 11.15% to 18% when you open your account based on your credit worthiness. This APR is 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 Fee. 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 Platinum Card. **No late fee will be charged if payment is received within 10 days from the payment due date.

Original article source courtesy of Koa Beck of Market Watch.

6 Ways You Can Save More Money in 2016

Save-Save-SaveDid you close out 2015 with a little less in your bank account than you would’ve liked? If you’re like a lot of people, you might be disappointed in how much you managed to set aside.

Saving more was the biggest financial priority for 29% of young people, as revealed in a recent survey by Bankrate. The only money issue millennials were more concerned about was paying bills.

Knowing you need to save more and being able to do it are two different things, however. How can you set aside more money when you’re stretched thin as it is? Thankfully, saving a little extra each month isn’t as hard as it may seem. Here are a few suggestions.

1. Pay yourself first. One of the hardest parts of saving money is doing it consistently. You can make it easier on yourself by automating the process.

“Pay yourself first by setting up automatic savings through payroll deduction in your work retirement plan or through automatic transfers through your bank account,” Antonio Morello, the chief investment officer at McMahon Financial Advisors, said. Aim to save 10% to 15% of your salary every year, including contributions to your retirement plan. As an added bonus, those deductible retirement contributions will also save you money come tax time.

2. Spend less on food. Frequent delivery orders and dinners out with friends add up quickly. Save yourself some money by being smarter about how you eat.

“Plan your meals for the week to avoid last minute take-out orders,” Willie Schuette, a financial coach with The JL Smith Group, said. You can also save by buying in bulk and saving leftovers for later rather than tossing them in the trash, Schuette suggested.

3. Cancel subscriptions you don’t use. Do you have a gym membership you barely use or a monthly box subscription you don’t really need? Cancel those recurring charges and funnel the extra money into your savings or to pay down debt. You could end up with a few hundred extra dollars in your pocket at the end of the year.

Have trouble keeping track of which subscriptions you’ve signed up for? There’s an app to help you out. Trim will comb through your credit card statements and bank accounts, find the recurring payments, and ask if you want to cancel the service. It’s free to use, though there’s currently a waiting list.

4. Donate to charity. “Donating to charity is a great way to boost your deductions while helping others,” said Don Chamberlin, a Saint-Louis-based financial advisor and president of The Chamberlin Group.

Donations can come in the form of cash, stock, and even big-ticket items like cars, but you’ll need to itemize and keep accurate records to get the tax breaks.

5. Keep an eye on your credit. Don’t pay more than you have to the next time you need to borrow cash. Maintaining a good credit score “can save you money when it comes to buying a car or anything else on credit, car insurance, or buying a home,” Herb White, a financial planner and president of Life Certain Wealth Strategies, said.

Credit scores above 700 show lenders that you do a good job of managing the money you borrow, according to Experian. You can boost you credit score by paying bills on time, not running up balances on your credit cards, and reducing your debt.

6. Check your withholding. A big tax refund sounds pretty awesome. That is, until you realize that the government is really just paying back the interest-free loan you gave them.

“If you got a big tax refund it means you are having too much taken out of your paycheck every pay period,” Schuette said. File a new W-4 with your employer so that you get more of your money when you actually earn it. Then, shift that extra cash to savings or use it to meet another financial goal.

*Original article source courtesy of Megan Elliot of Money & Career Cheat Sheet.

How to Save Money Even When It Feels Impossible

When living paycheck to paycheck, it’s hard to set aside any money at all, let alone start saving substantially for things like retirement and emergencies. You get a paycheck, you immediately use it for rent, student loan payments, utilities and more, and all of a sudden you’re left with just barely enough to get by. So how can you even think about saving?

Well, the truth is, you can and you should, because the last thing you want is to be stuck with an emergency room bill or totaled car and have absolutely no money. In fact, most financial experts agree that everyone should have at least $1,000 in savings for those types of financial emergencies. To that end, here’s how to save money– even when it feels impossible:

Get in the Right Mindset.

Saving money is more than just a habitual practice– it’s a mindset.  Like starting a new workout regimen, saving money must be a lifestyle you’re completely committed to in order to be effective. So, the first step to saving money is making the decision to do so. That way, when you’re enticed by that sale at the mall or a nice dinner, you’ll have a clearly defined reason to say “no.”

Start Small – Very Small.

Saving money doesn’t have to mean putting 10% of every paycheck away. You’ve likely heard it before, but every dollar counts. At first, save more like 2% or even just $20 per month. OK, maybe that won’t make you rich as fast as saving a more substantial amount, but the important thing is it’s a start. For weeks or months that you don’t spend quite as much, put a bit more in savings than you normally do. Just commit to saving something,no matter how small the amount.

Make it Automatic.

When many people first start learning how to save money, they find it’s easiest when it isn’t a conscious decision. In other words, if you have your bank automatically transfer money into your savings account every time a paycheck is deposited, you won’t even see that money for long enough to consider spending it. If auto-transfers make you feel a bit out of control, take on that responsibility yourself.

Deny Yourself Access.

One of the hardest parts about saving money is seeing it accrue and knowing you could use it if you wanted to. If that sounds like a feeling you’re familiar with, do yourself a favor by setting up an account that’s a bit harder to access. For instance, ask your bank if they can add an account that can only be accessed by physically walking into a bank to make a withdrawal or using an ATM card. If you don’t have a debit card attached to it, you’ll be less likely to swipe first and regret later.

Keep Careful Track of Your Spending.

It goes without saying, but how much you spend has a direct impact on how much you’ll be able to save. If you know you have some spending problem areas (like eating out a lot or buying an unnecessary amount of upscale sneakers), focus on reducing those however you can. The best way to spend less (and save more) is to know where every dollar is going– then you can pull back in certain areas. If you can’t do this without a bit of help, try using budgeting apps like Mint, Mvelopes, or BillGuard to track your spending and come up with a financial plan.

Cut a Few Expenses (At Least for Now).

As you start keeping better track of your spending, look for certain regular expenses that you may be able to do away with completely. Are you still paying for cable that you rarely watch, a magazine subscription that goes unread more often than not, or a gym membership you could replace with free workouts in your apartment? Get creative, and know that you don’t have to give these things up forever. Even just cancelling for a few months can allow you some wiggle room to save more money faster.

You can also look at refinancing options for certain expenses, like car payments and student loans. See if you can spend less each month on those- at least for now while you’re working on building a savings account.

Find Ways to Earn More.

If you have some extra time on your schedule (even if you work a 9-to-5 office job it’s likely that you do), consider finding ways to earn some more money each month. Pick up dog walking or babysitting gigs, or even do some freelance work on the side. This is beneficial for two reasons: One, you’ll be making more money. And two, you may find yourself spending a bit less if you’re, say, babysitting on a Friday night instead of going out.

If you’re trying to figure out how to save money, remember: It’s doable, you just have to be committed, organized, and focused on an end goal. You can do it!

*Original article source courtesy of Forbes.com.

9 Basic Pieces of Money-Saving Advice No One Follows – But Should

download (1)Good advice can be hard to take – especially when it comes to money. Often, the thing that’s best for us is the thing we really don’t want to do. Saving more and spending less is boring; why do that when you can have fun now?

Well, you know what else sounds boring? Working for the next 50 years.

There are some very basic pieces of money advice that experts give, but no one seems to follow. So, let’s make a deal: How about we start listening to what these experts are saying? The sooner we start, the sooner we’ll reach our financial goals.

Here are nine pieces of financial advice you need to stop ignoring.

  1. Run your financial life like a business. You should treat your budget like a business because, in the business of life, the bottom line matters. Many of the same principles business owners use can be applied to your personal life: prioritize, assess and restrain. Everything that keeps a business running will keep your personal finances in order: prioritize your spending, assess your profits and losses, and don’t lose sight of the big picture, like saving for retirement or getting out of debt. This is fairly common advice, but when it comes to actually saving and making more money, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all strategy. Just like every business has its own unique goals and needs, you will too – so manage accordingly.
  2. Make saving part of your lifestyle. Saving money doesn’t always come naturally. Successful savers usually fail a few times (or more) before they figure out what works best for them. It’s easy to get discouraged and give up, but just like exercising and eating well, saving money takes a while to get right. It’s also important to remember that a frugal lifestyle doesn’t mean living in deprivation. People who live with less and save more know where to cut back. Even shrinking your grocery bill by just $15 a week will save $780 a year – imagine all the other little cutbacks that are possible. So instead of making drastic lifestyle changes, build your savings muscle slowly by making small adjustments over time. After a while, you won’t even notice a difference – except in your bank account balance.
  3. Save the difference. Are you a bargain hunter, coupon clipper or thrifty shopper? What do you do with all the money you save? If you’re like most consumers, you just spend it on something else. The point of getting a discount is to save money, right? The next time you get a discount or score a sweet deal, save the difference of what you didn’t spend.
  4. Automate the process. This is a piece of money-saving advice that is echoed by nearly every financial expert. Paying yourself first is the first step, which means setting up an automatic transfer from your checking account into a savings or investment vehicle. You can set up one large transfer to go through monthly, weekly or whenever works best for your finances – as long as it’s automatic, you’ll be saving without even realizing it. Some experts recommend transferring a portion of your paycheck into savings, and once you reach a certain balance, transfer any additional funds into an investment account. If you aren’t sure where to start, try automatically transferring 10 percent of each paycheck and see how that feels.
  5. Seek advice on your 401(k). It’s official: People with 401(k)s are better savers, according to a study last year by Natixis Global Asset Management. Want to get the best returns out of your nest egg? Get professional help. The study found 74 percent of people who see a financial advisor for 401(k) advice know exactly how much they need to have saved by the time they retire. Set up your complimentary appointment with First Financial’s Investment & Retirement Center to discuss your retirement and investment goals. Contact Samantha Schertz at 732.312.1564 or at samantha.schertz@cunamutual.com.
  6. Save your spare change. We all have loose change filling our pockets or strewn on our bedside tables. Start banking that change, and you could put a serious dent in your savings goals. For example, putting just 50 cents a day in a jar can help you save nearly $200 over the course of a year. Some experts also recommend only using paper money for daily expenses, such as coffee and lunch, and then saving the difference. If you don’t carry cash, consider using an app like Acorns, which invests your spare change for you.
  7. Fill a need. Many experts say the trick to making money (so you can save more of it, of course) starts with thinking about others before you think about yourself. Basically, the path to success starts by first identifying a need and then filling it. Your earnings are a byproduct of how well you serve your audience. So, focus on filling your customers’ or boss’ needs, or solving a problem, and you will likely make more money (whether through a raise or increased profits). This concept can also be used for people who freelance or want to start a side business – find out what people want, and give it to them; you’ll be in high demand.
  8. Live like a student. No, you don’t have to survive on a diet of ramen and frozen burritos in order to get ahead, but you can take a lesson from struggling students everywhere and learn to live with less. If you are just starting out in the workforce, try living on half your paycheck. Since you’re probably already used to living off very little, half your paycheck should be enough to get by. Meanwhile, you’ll pad a robust savings account with the equivalent of a full paycheck each month. For those who aren’t fresh out of college and have large expenses like a mortgage or child care, try saving a penny of each dollar you make; then, step it up another penny every six months. In five years, you’ll be saving 10 percent of every dollar you make; in 10 years, you’ll be saving 20 percent.
  9. Trick yourself. Many behavioral economists say mental accounting (i.e., treating different piles of money with different intentions) helps trick your brain into better budgeting and saving. This strategy might sound a little complicated, but it’s really a take on the classic envelope system, where you allocate your paycheck to a weekly or monthly budget and put the cash into different envelopes – one for each budget category. Once the envelopes are empty, your budget is maxed out.
 *Original article source by Morgan Quinn of US News – Money.