How to Build Savings From Zero

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You’ve seen the numbers. They aren’t pretty.

A recent Bankrate.com survey of 1,000 adults suggests that 66 million American adults have zero dollars saved for an emergency. That dovetails nicely with a report that came out earlier this year from the Federal Reserve, which looked at the economic well-being of American households. And things are not going so well. About one-third of 5,695 respondents to a 2015 survey revealed they would have trouble dealing with a $400 emergency.

Sound familiar? Start building your savings with some of these methods.

Start small. That’s advice from Mackey McNeill, founder and president of Mackey Advisors, a wealth management firm in Bellevue, Kentucky.

“If you have never saved anything in your life, save $5 a week or $10 a week,” McNeill says, adding: “Pick a number that, regardless of disaster, you can achieve.”

After you do that, McNeill advises, “Put the money in a separate account and review it once a month. After three months, consider an increase. After three more months, consider an increase again,” and keep repeating.

“The reason people fail at saving is they start too high. … So they set themselves up for failure,” she says. “Start small. You will be so excited that you met your goal, you will automatically want to do more and achieve more. When you start small, you set yourself up for success. Success begets success. I have never had anyone try this who did not succeed.”

Reward yourself when you save money. This is important, McNeill says, advising that whatever the reward be, make it something free.

For instance: If you save $10 a week, then every time you hit $40 saved, rent a movie at the library or take a walk in the park, she explains.

Whatever you do, “make it something that really nurtures you,” she says. “It doesn’t matter what it is. A hot bath will work. But when you give yourself the reward, you are reinforcing the behavior you want.”

Trim back your expenses. One thing that probably keeps most people from saving more is that there may not be enough money to go around. That’s definitely the case if there are expenses that could be easily cut, or debt that’s weighing you down.

When you’re beginning to put together a plan to save money, or begin your accumulation phase, the first thing to do is pay off any high-interest debt like credit cards. Paying off high-interest debt is the most important first step in beginning any accumulation phase because everything you pay off, you are eventually saving money on high interest.

Make it easy. Assuming you have a financial institution – a Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation study suggests that 9 million Americans don’t – the easiest way to save money is to set up a savings account and then direct a specific amount to go regularly from your checking account to your savings account, says Michael Eisenberg, a certified public accountant and personal financial specialist with Innovative Wealth Advisors in Encino, California.

“Every time your paycheck hits your checking account, you should instruct your financial institution to move a set sum directly into your savings account,” he says. “This makes it easy and seamless.”

Eventually, he says, you won’t even miss the money because it’s automatically disappearing, and you’ll get used to working with the money going into your checking account.

Susan Howe, a certified public accountant in Philadelphia, echoes that advice. “Even a modest amount will add up quickly if you set it for a weekly transfer. Just be sure there are no fees,” she says.

Try opening a 401(k) or an IRA. That’s what Leonard Wright, a wealth management advisor in San Diego, suggests. In particular, Wright recommends opening up a Roth 401(k) or a Roth IRA.

“This money grows tax-free for life, is not subject to required minimum distributions when you retire and best of all, is tax-free when you need it – and can help with education expenses for your children,” he says.

But McNeill notes that wherever you put your money, whether in a 401(k) or other savings account, “in the beginning, it’s irrelevant,” – as long as you’re saving money somewhere. “What you are trying to do is create a new habit.”

How will you begin preparing for your retirement today? To set up a complimentary consultation with the Investment & Retirement Center located at First Financial Federal Credit Union to discuss your savings goals, contact us at 732.312.1564, email samantha.schertz@cunamutual.com or stop in to see us!*

*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 Geoff Williams of US News.

12 Ways You Can Save Money Without Sacrificing Your Lifestyle

bigstock-people-consumerism-lifestyle-102722153Saving or spending is an eternal economic dilemma. People are constantly torn between the satisfaction of present gratification and the promise of future prosperity. At a first glance, it seems almost impossible to simultaneously achieve both, due to the dynamics of limited income, volatile prices, and personal needs.

There are many instances where people spend their money quickly, for limited gains, and find themselves unable to save for the future. Conversely, other people sacrifice their preferred lifestyle in order to save money for a future goal which they deem important, but miss a lot of opportunities to enjoy the present. Both approaches are prone to bring regret, dissatisfaction, and unhappiness in the long run. So what can we do?

Ideally, there should be a fine balance between saving and spending. This can be easily achieved with some self-discipline and common sense. To help you out, we will list twelve simple ways to save money without sacrificing your lifestyle.

1. Control the Urge for Instant Gratification.

The desire for instant gratification is almost inescapable, as it’s programmed in our natural behavior. We naturally prefer the now rather than the later, especially when it comes to things we need on a regular basis, like clothes, food, and household equipment. This also applies to leisure activities, which we would almost certainly prefer to do now, even if we’re short on cash.

To counter this, we should always consider whether short-term benefits outweigh long-term gains and make sure we can spot which cases of instant gratification endanger our long-term aims. For example, when choosing between going to a job interview or to an anticipated party, you must make sure you understand the consequences of each choice from your particular standing point. Nobody is telling you not to enjoy yourself, but make sure you fully understand the benefits and the costs.

2. Make Smart Shopping Choices.

Before making a purchase, put on your thinking cap first and ask yourself if you’re making a smart move or not. Do not act on appearance, rumors, and product presentations, but on facts and client reviews. In the meantime, always keep your eyes open for a better deal and don’t rush into buying the first appealing item you find, whatever it may be. Inspect the market, compare prices and check for quality reviews. This way, you’re more likely to get a higher price-quality ratio when making a purchase.

Shopping takes time and patience and you must never forget to watch out for deals and discounts. It is much wiser to wait for a product to go on discount than to buy it straight away. If you shop smart, you will keep expenses at bay and still enjoy high-quality products.

3. Buy What You Actually Need.

Before you decide to purchase something, ask yourself whether you really need that particular item. It’s not uncommon for people to go shopping just for the heck of it and serious money can be wasted like this. Remember the fundamental principle of free market economics: supply and demand. Don’t you actually have two full wardrobes anyway? Is your laptop working fine after all? Is a new suit the absolute priority right now?

Only buy things which can play a part in your work or leisure pursuits. If you’re not sure you need it, you don’t need it.

4. Use What You Already Have.

It’s very important to keep track of the things in your house and of how well they can help you achieve your purposes. Many people tend to hoard stuff and then go buy some more stuff, without any though on whether they could get the job done with what they already have. Don’t go shopping if it’s already in the house. It can do its job. Give it a chance.

5. Use the Internet.

The internet is the tool for shopping. If you think you’re using all it can offer, you might be mistaken. From price comparisons, extensive client reviews, and advantageous deals, shopping online is the best way you can save money.

Instant access to prices, reviews and competitors gives you a wider market vantage point and will allow you to make an informed decision with just a few clicks. You can find more helpful tips on using the internet for shopping efficiently here.

6. Take Advantage of Online Deals & Surveys.

Saving money can also be achieved by taking as much advantage as possible from online deals and surveys. Many companies are very keen on getting as much feedback from their customers as possible and prepare questionnaires, feedback forms, and surveys. Participating in these can be very beneficial because companies will sometimes reward you with discounts and vouchers. Converse, for instance, has developed an excellent method of retaining their customers’ loyalty by creating an easy customer feedback survey that allows shoppers to update their wardrobes through a personalized gift card.

7. Plan Your Leisure Time Carefully.

People who can have fun and save money at the same time usually have a very clearly defined work and fun routine. In order to save money, it’s very important to know when to go out and when not to. Self-disciplined people don’t avoid the fun parts but know when to schedule them without disrupting the quality of their work. Work hard, play hard, but not at the same time. It’s as simple as that.

8. Rediscover the Old School Way of Having Fun.

Rediscover the charm and satisfaction that old school fun can bring, especially now when we’re seemingly unable to step away from our laptops of phones for more than five minutes. Instead of spending a ton of money clubbing or pub crawling, go at a friend’s house for a barbecue, a movie or a board game. Skip that expensive concert and go on a camping trip next weekend. Having a great time is about people, not places and things. So try to tone down the spending while doing similarly fun things.

9. Learn When to Stop.

It’s very easy to lose yourself in a shopping spree. Once you get started, you will need all the willpower you can muster to prevent yourself from rampaging through your favorite store. If you want to stay balanced and keep your budget afloat, learn when to say no. Sometimes you simply can’t afford to spend all that money on something non-essential. Less is more.

10. Make Realistic Plans.

Don’t wish for what you know can’t possibly happen. Think smaller and keep your feet on the ground. If you have an average income, but you’re running two bank loans to pay for cedar wood furniture, then you’ve probably lost your bearing at some point. Learn not to live above your means and grow your income organically, not artificially.

 It’s alright to have bright future plans. But make them realistic.

11. Exercise Full Control on Your Finances.

Control your money. Don’t let someone else manage it for you and keep a written account of income and expenses for each month. That way, you’ll be able to see where you’ve overreached and where you need to cut back. Keep a strict security routine for your credit and debit cards. In addition, make sure you always know what the opportunity cost is for every purchase. So, if you buy a laptop, keep in mind you won’t be able to also fix the car this month.

Leave nothing to chance and keep a sharp eye on your balance sheet.

12. Keep a Balanced Mindset.

In the end, however, what really matters is your mindset and attitude. If you have the self-discipline, the patience, and the internal balance to prevent you from making mistakes, there is no reason why you can’t live a good life and still save for the future. Optimism is also helpful, but make sure it’s the realistic, kind.

*Original article source courtesy of Mike Jones at SavingAdvice.com.

9 Signs You’re Spending More Money Than You Have to and How to Fix It

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Sometimes it’s tough to find a healthy balance when it comes to your finances. While it’s nice to treat yourself every so often, doing it on the regular can be one of the signs that you may be spending too much money. Even though money is a taboo topic and can be a sensitive issue, it’s important to be honest with yourself. While it would be great to make millions of dollars and spend it frivolously all over town, you also need to keep your financial future in mind.

According to the financial app Mint, you might want to be more careful with your money if you’re not paying your bills on time, you’re paying for your necessities with credit cards, or you’re struggling to meet minimum payments. If you find yourself dealing with these things on the regular, it might be a good idea to create a budget and start using cash so you can keep an eye on your finances and spend less money. Feeling stressed about money is something that no one should have to deal with on a daily basis – that’s why it’s important to be honest with yourself and be aware of the signs that you’re spending too much.

Need some help in that department? Here are nine signs you may be spending more money than you need to.

1. You Carry A Large Balance On Your Credit Card

Having more than 30% of your credit card limit on your credit card is considered to be a big no-no. If you find that your credit card limit is higher than your savings account, you might want to switch things up. Some credit cards do have tools where you can track your expenses online. You can also use money apps such as Mint to figure out exactly where everything is going.

First Financial’s Visa® Platinum Credit Card comes fully loaded with higher credit lines, lower APR, no annual fee, no balance transfer fees, a 10 day grace period, CURewards redeemable for merchandise and travel and so much more!* Click here to apply online today or transfer your higher rate credit card balance. 

2. You’re Easily Swayed By Your Social Activities

It isn’t fun missing out on adventures with your friends. But while happy hour sounds awesome, paying your bills is even better. According to Business Insiderauthor of Living Well, Spending Less: 12 Secrets to the Good Life, Ruth Soukup says, “This can be as innocent as going out to eat when you’ve already exhausted your restaurant fund for the month, or as extreme as paying rent you can’t afford in order to keep up with your friends.”  It really won’t be fun when you can’t afford your rent – stick to your budget and don’t spend outside your means.

3. You Don’t Have An Emergency Fund

Ideally, you want to have 10 percent of your income in your savings, but even five percent is good – as long as you have some type of savings built up. Essentially, you want to make sure that you have enough in your bank account for those rainy days. According to Business Insider, billionaire John Paul DeJoria – it’s important to always have at least three to six months’ worth of savings in your account, depending on how much you make annually.

4. You’re Living Paycheck To Paycheck

You probably need to re-adjust your finances if you find yourself living from paycheck to paycheck and not saving any money at the end of the month. According to U.S. Money, if you have a budget, but still find yourself short at the end of every month, it might be time to cut your expenses and re-evaluate.

Check out our free budgeting and savings calculators at firstffcu.com to get started!

5. You Don’t Have A Budget

Certified money coach Ashley Feinstein, founder of “Knowing Your Worth” says, “I recommend that every client keep a money journal for at least a couple of weeks to get conscious about where their money is going.” If there’s one thing you need to do ASAP on this list, it’s creating a budget to help get your finances on track.

6. Your Fridge Is Empty

You might be thinking that this has no correlation with your spending habits, but it actually does. Think about it: if your fridge is empty and you never have to do the dishes, it probably means you spend a lot of money eating out. According to the website Cheat Sheet, if you’re spending an average of $45 for two people and eating out for dinner once or twice a week, you’ve probably already spent more than you would on a week of groceries.

7. You Borrow From Friends Or Family

While it’s probably okay to borrow every now and then (in addition to paying them back on a timely manner), you don’t want to be borrowing from friends or family every time you need to pay your rent.  According to the Huffington Post, if you’re constantly asking your friends and family for money, then it means you either are spending way too much or you need to look for a new job.  Not to mention, constantly borrowing from a loved one can put strain and tension in your relationship.

8. You Don’t Know Where Your Money Is Going

If you find yourself forgetting where all your money is going to, whether you use cash or credit, then it might be a sign that you need to fix your finances. According to U.S. Money, people who shop a lot tend to ignore exactly how much money they spend. It’s best to figure out a budget with exactly how much spending money you have, so you know your spending limit.

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.

9. You Feel Stressed About Money

The American Psychological Association conducted a survey in 2015 and found that 72% of Americans were stressed about money at least once in the month. One of the key signs you need to pay attention to is how money actually makes you feel. Sometimes finances can make you feel edgy or anxious when you don’t have control over them. However, if you keep track of every penny that goes in and out of your account, then that anxious feeling could subside.

While spending money may bring you happiness, it’s important to budget your finances so you can have some in savings. While there are plenty of ways to spend your money, it doesn’t necessarily mean you should.

*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 and is available to anyone who lives, works, worships, or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties.

Article Source: Raven Ishak for Bustle.com, http://www.bustle.com/articles/170200-9-signs-you-may-be-spending-more-money-than-you-have-to-how-to-fix 

16 Surprising Things to Do to Be Smarter with Your Money

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Between happy hours after work, travel plans, manicures and new pairs of shoes, it seems as though there’s always ample opportunity to spend and spend some more. Unfortunately, giving into our spending desires too often can seriously damage our wallets and bank accounts. Thus, it’s important to take note of your finances and prioritize expenses in order to protect yourself from financial strains and unwanted stress.

When finances are a struggle, it can build a lot of tension that can seep into all aspects of one’s life and interfere with the ability to function, work and maintain healthy relationships. Plus, if you are managing finances with a spouse or partner, there’s double pressure to be responsible and make rational decisions together.

Here are 16 surprising ways to be smarter with money, feel financially balanced in the present and start saving for the future. Trust us, once you set yourself up in a way that is sustainable, you’ll feel more comfortable and happy on a daily basis.

1. Download an App.

“If you want to be smarter with your money you need to use a budgeting tool or app,” says Robbie Doull, associate at Quantitative Risk Management. “I use Mint, but there are hundreds of similar apps, and you can track things ranging from your stock investments to just what’s in your bank account,” he adds. Doull recommends getting a rough monthly spending number and to take note of where your money is going. Apps are great for laying out all of your expenses for you, as we often don’t consider our finances in the moment we are handing over a credit card.

2. Set a Budget.

“Personal finance is a pretty good subreddit devoted to personal budgets. It could be a good place to start if you are making a budget for the first time,” recommends Doull. When coming up with a budget, think about what is realistic for you (how much groceries you need based on your diet) and get rid of accessories that are not important (such as a new bag or pair of shoes). Plus, going under budget never hurts, so don’t feel pressure to meet that requirement each month or week, depending on how you space it out.

3. Grocery Shop Wisely.

Buying fruit and vegetables that are in season is a great way to save money, as prices are lower, and there are usually sales. If you want produce that is either out of season or for a smoothie, buy it frozen, as it’s less expensive and will last longer. Check in with your app to see how much you spend each month on groceries, and try and think about it while shopping. “If I know I spend an average of $150 a month on groceries, I find myself thinking about where I am on that budget when at the store,” expresses Doull.

4. Ask for Samples.

Many stores, especially Whole Foods Market, will allow you to taste the food before purchasing. Make sure that you enjoy the foods you bring home so that you don’t have to waste your money. Plus, sometimes they will give you larger pieces for free. If you ask to try a slice of bread, and you like it, they will often let you take the remainder of the loaf home free of cost. Similarly, if the store is out of a seasoning you like, you can ask someone in the fish or meat department if there is any bit of seasoning they can spare. Usually, you’ll find yourself coming home with a small container!

5. Take Advantage of Business Perks.

“If you work for a company that matches a portion of 401k deposits, it almost always makes sense to get the full matching amount, it’s basically free money that can be used for the future,” advises Doull. Saving money for the future is so important for financial freedom and retirement, as you don’t know what expenses may pop up as you age (medical bills, familial obligations, travel opportunities, etc.). “It should be clearly stated what percentage of contributions your employer will match, and then you can decide how much you want to contribute per month,” says Doull. Figure out what works for you, but start somewhere and now.

6. Set Up an IRA.

If you do not have access to a 401K, it doesn’t mean that you cannot start saving money for retirement. There are two types: Roth and Traditional. “In a Roth IRA, you are taxed before you contribute. So you would pay taxes now, and when you withdraw later in life, you don’t pay any tax. Traditional is basically the opposite, where you are not taxed now, but are taxed on withdrawal,” explains Doull. When deciding, look at your current finances and figure out what your goals are for the future regarding employment. Think about the age you’d like to retire and the type of lifestyle you want to live.

If you need help planning your retirement or have questions about investing, we encourage you to set up a no-cost consultation with the Investment & Retirement Center located at First Financial Federal Credit Union to discuss your savings goals. Contact us at 732.312.1564, email samantha.schertz@cunamutual.com or stop in to see us!*

7. Cook at Home More.

All those restaurant bills certainly add up. Not only is cooking at home healthier, it also help you save money, as you have the option to buy in bulk, purchase deals and save for leftovers during the week. Stock up on meats, produce and nuts to create homemade trail mixes for snacks at work and delicious dinners that can be remodeled for lunch the next day. Buying lunch and snacks during the week can be pricey, so save some money by bringing your own.

8. Change Your Daily Coffee Order.

Do you wake up with a morning pumpkin spice latte with and extra shot, whip and vanilla syrup? Each morning? That cost definitely adds up! Think about some of your habits that are not essential for your wellbeing, energy, or time. Drinking a plain brew or even brewing your own coffee at home can be just as delicious once you adapt to the new taste, and it will give you more wiggle room in your budget for other things.

9. Get Grooming Discounts.

Beauty departments often offer free makeovers, so head to a counter and ask for a “new look.” It’s a great way to save money on both expensive beauty services and daily products, allowing the latter to last way longer. Similarly, many beauty schools will offer free or discounted hairstyle appointments, as it complements the students’ training. Plus, your hair will probably look great!

10. Try New Fitness Classes.

Most studios and gyms offer complimentary classes or passes for new customers, so definitely take advantage of that perk! Varying up your workouts is also beneficial for your body, routine and mind. There might also be referral offers, where if you refer new customers, you’ll receive a discounted price, as well.

11. Go BYOB.

Book reservations at BYOB restaurants to save money when dining out. Alcohol can be extremely pricy, and it’s pretty easy to find BYOB restaurants that serve delicious food. Be wary of a corkage fee; if it exists, bring a bottle that doesn’t require an opener or see if you can bring your own. These restaurants are also really fun for both romantic date nights and larger get-togethers.

12. Share Media Streaming Accounts.

A great way to enjoy your media and still save money is to share media streaming accounts with friends and family. One person can pay for Netflix, another for HBO Go, another for Hulu, and so forth. It’s easy to hook up the streaming accounts to your devices, and with a bowl of popcorn and a soft blanket, it makes for a cozy night in.

13. Reconsider Expiration Dates.

Expiration dates usually indicate an item’s quality and freshness, rather than it’s safety. We often throw food out once it reaches the expiration date, and this can be a serious waste of money. Understanding how long past the expiration date food can last will help eliminate these extra costs.

14. Change Your Commute.

Biking or walking, instead of driving can cut gas costs and enhance your quality of life, as studies show that a long commute can negatively affect one’s wellbeing. If biking or walking isn’t an option, find a carpooling buddy (or two) and take turns to help decrease one another’s expenses. Plus, it’ll be a more pleasurable way to arrive to the office!

15. Align Spending with Your Values.

“Look at money from a ‘freedom’ standpoint and align your spending to your deepest values,” says certified healthy living coach Liz Traines over email correspondence with Bustle. “Money gives you opportunities to do whatever it is you might want to do in your lifetime AKA it provides freedom,” she continues. Think about what you value in life and the behaviors that you embody in order to make mindful decisions.

16. Use a Journal.

If apps and technological gadgets aren’t your thing, stick with a journal to keep track of your expenses, budget and spending goals. “Look back on a week of spending and see what seems unnecessary and what that amount of money could buy you over time (i.e. that one bedroom apartment that would make life so much more peaceful),” advises Traines. Seeing the numbers in print can be a great wake up call.

Being mindful of your spending habits can help you save money for the future and make better decisions in the present. It’s a great feeling to enjoy financial freedom and security, and such chronic uneasiness can be debilitating to one’s wellbeing, self-esteem, health and lifetime goals. By making smart, responsible steps, it’s easy to create a life that is in line with both desires and needs and can pave the way for an exciting future!

*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 Isadora Baum of Bustle.com.

5 Basic Principles You Should Follow to Achieve the American Dream

bigstock-Family-Moving-Home-With-Boxes-6143817Coined by author James Truslow Adams in his 1931 book The Epic of America, the “American dream” is described as,

“‘[T]hat dream of a land in which should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement… It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”

Everyone’s path to reach the American dream is different. Yet there’s always some common ground — namely, that through hard work we hope to retire comfortably and on our own terms.

Five basic principles to help you achieve the American dream.

Unfortunately, as we’ve seen from a number of recent polls, Americans’ finances aren’t necessarily on solid footing. U.S. personal savings rates are pretty poor, debt levels among middle-class families are high, and distrust of the stock market still exists following the credit bubble and mortgage crisis that precipitated the Great Recession. Now more than ever the American dream appears to be on the brink of disappearing.

But it doesn’t have to.

If you follow five basic principles, you too can achieve the American dream of a comfortable retirement for you and your family.

1. Get a degree.

It’s perhaps one of the oldest debates: “Should I go to college?” Not going to college means saving potentially five- or six-digits in student loan costs, but not getting a degree could constrain your ability to move up the socioeconomic ladder. However, as Pew Research showed in a study two years ago, not going to college could have dire consequences on your ability to comfortably retire.

Based on Pew’s analysis, which looked at the median salaries of millennials ages 25 to 32 who were working full-time, those with high school degrees were earning $28,000 annually. By comparison, millennials who obtained bachelor’s degrees or higher were netting $45,500 per year. Both of these figures are in 2012 dollars. This $17,500 difference could be huge over the course of four decades: Not only can this income difference be invested and compound many times over, but presumably the college graduate will have greater opportunities to move up the economic rungs to collect an even higher wage.

If you want to get your retirement savings off on the right foot, you need to seriously consider getting a college degree.

2. Save as much as you can.

Secondly, Americans need to kick their loose spending habits and learn to live on a budget. A Gallup poll conducted in 2013 showed that only around a third (32%) of U.S. households kept detailed monthly budgets. Not keeping a budget makes it very difficult for you to understand your cash flow, and if you don’t understand how money is entering and exiting your checking account, you’ll have a tough time optimally saving for retirement and funding your emergency account.

Thankfully, the solution is easier than ever these days: budgeting software. There are countless choices when it comes to budgeting software, and all programs handle the grunt work of doing math. Many can even help you formulate a strategy to save money. But budgeting also takes resolve on your end. This is where some keen budgeting tips can come in handy. Make sure you’re doing what you can to get everyone in your household involved so you all remain accountable for your spending habits, and consider having what you save automatically deposited into a savings or retirement account on a weekly, biweekly, or monthly basis to reduce the urge to spend.

The earlier you start saving, the quicker your nest egg can grow.

3. Invest for the long-term.

The next step would be to take the money you’ve saved and look to invest it for the long-term.

Although your investments could take on many forms, it is strongly suggested that you consider putting at least some of your money to work in the stock market. I know what you might be thinking, and yes, the stock market does have its pullbacks from time to time. Since 2000, we’ve witnessed two separate 50%+ drops in the broad-based S&P 500. However, we’ve also witnessed all 35 stock market corrections of 10% or greater in the S&P 500 completely erased by bull market rallies since 1950. Over the long term, stock market valuation tends to rise at a rate of 7% annually, including dividend reinvestment. This means you could double your money almost once every decade, assuming this average holds true.

 

Additionally, you’ll want to focus on buying solid businesses, because trying to time your buying and selling activity is almost assuredly not going to turn out well. A study by J.P. Morgan Asset Management, using S&P 500 data from Lipper, between Dec. 31, 1993 and Dec. 31, 2013, shows that investors who held throughout the entirety of both huge 50%+ drops still gained more than 480% over the 20-year period. By comparison, if you missed the 10 best trading days, your return dipped to just 191%. If you missed a little more than 30 of the best trading days over this approximate 5,000 trading-day period, your return would fall into the negative. That’s the power of long-term investing and compounding in action.

Questions about retirement savings, estate planning, or investments? To set up a complimentary consultation with the Investment & Retirement Center located at First Financial Federal Credit Union to discuss your savings goals, contact us at 732.312.1564, email samantha.schertz@cunamutual.com or stop in to see us!*

4. Be tax-savvy.

The fourth thing you’ll want to do is aim to give back as little of your wages and capital gains as possible to the federal and state government. There’s no way of getting around completely paying taxes (so don’t try it!), but there are things we can do to reduce our tax liability.

One of the smartest moves you can make is contributing to a Roth IRA. Although there are numerous investment tools we can choose from, the Roth IRA is arguably the best, because investment gains within a Roth are completely tax-free as long as no unqualified withdrawals are made. In addition, there are no age contribution limits with a Roth IRA (unlike a Traditional IRA), meaning you can keep contributing well beyond age 70. There are also no minimum distribution requirements. This point is important if you want to allow your money to continue growing, or aim to have a hefty inheritance to pass along to your family.

Also, take into consideration where you’re living, as well as how you plan to withdraw your money during retirement. All 50 states seemingly have different tax laws, with some states being far more tax-friendly than others. If you choose to live and retire in a tax-friendly state, you could wind up saving a lot of money over the course of your lifetime and during your golden years.

Having a withdrawal plan in place prior to retirement means that you’ll have laid out exactly how much money you’ll need each year when you retire. Having a plan in place can potentially keep you from withdrawing too much money from say a 401(k) or investment account each year, and having that withdrawal bump you into a higher tax bracket. Making small adjustments can save you big bucks come tax time.

5. Understand how to use debt.

Finally, it’s important that you maintain discipline when it comes to utilizing debt, as high levels of debt can cripple your ability to save, and can crush seniors’ budgets during retirement.

What you’ll want to keep in mind is that there are different kinds of debt, and they’re not all bad. Student loan debt can be a good thing since it allows you to get a better paying job, but what you may want to consider is not aiming for Harvard. In-state colleges can often be cheaper than the most prestigious colleges, and may even offer a better return on your investment.

What you’d want to avoid is racking up debt on credit cards because you wanted the latest outfit or gadgets for you home. Since nearly all vehicles depreciate in value over time, auto loans are another notorious source of bad debt you should try to minimize.

Check out 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.

Long story short, the better you manage your debt, the less likely it is to keep you from being able to sock away a good chunk of your income for an emergency or retirement.

The American dream has, and always will, require hard work, so be financially proactive and go claim your piece of the pie.

*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 courtesy of Sean Williams of The Motley Fool.

11 Things To Do With Your Money In The First Five Years After College Graduation

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A lot changes during the years that separate college graduation from five-year reunion. After caps and gowns come first jobs and apartments, then–far too often–bad bosses and roommates, leading to second jobs and apartments. A few years later your Facebook news feed will become a sea of engagement photos, foretelling weekends inundated with weddings. In the meantime, former classmates will become lawyers, doctors, MBAs–and occasionally parents.

Throughout all this you’ll wonder how you became old enough for a lease, for taxes, for a bridesmaid’s dress. You may also ask yourself: How am I going to afford all this? As your life evolves in the early years of adulthood so do your finances, the relationship you have with your money and what you need it to do for you.

If you are at the start of this journey, congratulations. Now is the best opportunity you will have to keep out of financial trouble and develop a solid foundation. But if there is no need to panic if you’ve already got a few working years under your belt, you’re not old yet. Small changes can still go a long way.

1. Build a cash cushion. Cars break down, jobs get lost and family members get sick. Emergencies will be emotionally trying, but they don’t need to be a financial drain. With each paycheck move some money into a savings account, preferably through automation. Long term your goal should be to have enough cash to cover three to six months of expenses, but it’s okay to start small. Consider a 52 week money challenge, in the first week save $1, second week $2 and so on, after a year you’ll have $1,378. Ready to commit to more? To determine where on the three to six month spectrum you should aim, evaluate your job security, the availability of jobs in your field and if you can expect family help.

2. Get health insurance. You can typically stay on a parent’s health insurance plan until you turn 26. For plans bought via government marketplace you have until the end of the year. Employer coverage usually ends in your birthday month, but you get a 60 day Special Enrollment Period leading up to your 26th. Use this window. This way coverage can start as soon as your old insurance lapses and you’ll avoid paying a penalty for every month you aren’t covered. The fine is the higher of 2.5% of household income (to a maximum) or $695 per adult per month (up to $2,085).

3. Do your 65 year-old self a favor. If your employer offers a 401(k) plan open an account and invest at least enough to take full advantage of company matching contribution (free money!). If not, open an individual retirement account and contribute as much as you can. In either case, create a road map to be making contributions of 10-15% of your income before your five-year reunion. Why? The power of compounding means saving a little bit of money now will go farther than saving a lot later on.

How will you begin preparing for your retirement today? To set up a complimentary consultation with the Investment & Retirement Center located at First Financial Federal Credit Union to discuss your savings goals, contact us at 866.750.0100, email samantha.schertz@cunamutual.com or stop in to see us!*

4. Give yourself a student debt-free deadline. Student loan repayment plans are typically structured to take 10 years. If remaining student-indebted well into your 30s doesn’t sit well, consider giving yourself a cutoff. “A deadline can be a great strategy if it based in reality,” says Karen Carr, a financial planner at the Society of Grownups. Use a loan repayment calculator to determine how much time you can shave off by paying more than the minimum. For example, a borrower with $30,000 in debt, a 10 year loan term and a 6% interest rate could conclude payments more than a year early by paying $400 a month rather than $330 – check out First Financials Student Loan calculator. Repeat this exercise every time you get a raise, tax refund or other windfall.

5. Crack down on your credit. Got credit card debt? Build a plan to pay it down, taking the same basic steps as you would to cut down your student debt timeline. Another one of our calculators – Credit Card Payoff – can be used to determine the amount of money you would need to put toward your debt each month to reach a desired pay off date.

Don’t even have a credit card? Experts suggest asking yourself if you have self-control and, crucially, whether you’ll be able to commit to paying your balance in full every month. If not, either steer clear of credit cards or open a card with a very low credit limit. If you can control your spending urges, a card paid on time can be a good way to boost your credit score. A solid score will come in handy if you ever want to get a mortgage or refinance your student debt. Used responsibly, rewards points and cash back are also nice tools for subsidizing things you may not otherwise be able to afford.

Check out 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.

6. Plan to be flexible. An average college graduate will hold 5.8 jobs between ages 22 and 28, according to recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In a related trend, the Census Bureau has shown that people in their 20s move homes almost twice as often as the general population. This flux is why it is best avoid decisions the will lock up your money at this point in your life. The unexpected will occur.

A friend who responded to an informal poll for this story wrote about signing a two-year lease on her first post-college apartment. She liked the idea of avoiding a rent increase (multi-year leases lock in a rate). She also saw it as a way to feel grounded in a new city. A year later she ended up paying for that decision when she got the opportunity to move closer to family and friends, but couldn’t get out of her lease or find a sub-letter who would cover the full rent.

Life’s unpredictable nature is also why, if you can’t do both, you should put away a small cash pile before saving in a traditional retirement account. IRA and 401(k) contributions are made pre-tax, so if you withdraw funds before age 59 1/2 you’ll in most cases need to pay a 10% early withdrawal penalty in addition to regular income taxes. Another option is funding a Roth IRA or Roth 401(k). With these accounts you’ll make contributions post-tax, which is more costly short term, but means in an emergency you can withdraw your original contributions (although not earnings) without tax or penalty.

7. Learn five practical skills. We pay for convenience, which is fine, but expensive. Determine which services actually improve your life. (Maybe you’ll decide a wash-and-fold service is worth an extra $25 a month, but $3 on coffee each morning is not.) Don’t allow not knowing how to do something force you to pay for services. Commit to attaining a few practical skills that can save you money in the long run. For example, learn to: cook a few basic meals, change a tire, fill out a tax return, paint your nails, sew. For more inspiration read about roommates who saved $55,000 with a buy nothing year.

8. Ask your significant other how much she/he earns. A 2015 survey of couples found that 43% of people did not know their partner’s salary. Of those 10% were off by $25,000 or more. Find out. Knowing how much your partner earns will help you set realistic expectations of what your life together should look like now and in the future. If gaps exist around basic questions like salary, couples might have other opportunities for improvement on the financial front, such as sorting through and tackling important issues together around the next big milestones in their lives. By taking time to engage in conversation and plan, your chances of creating a strong foundation and achieving your goals are greatly enhanced.

9. Negotiate.  In a recent survey, job search and review site Glassdoor found that just 41% of U.S. employees negotiated their most recent salary offer, the rest accepted the salary they were first quoted either for a raise or new jobs. Jessica Jaffe, Glassdoor spokesperson notes, “Of the small portion who did [negotiate], 59% were able to get more money. This shows negotiating can pay off.” Sites including Glassdoor compile information on average salaries by company and job title.

10. Decide if you’ll need a graduate degree. Step 1: Determine if going to graduate school will get you where you want to go by talking to recent grads, consulting people five to ten years ahead of you in their careers and researching average post-grad salaries for your field, location and school of choice.  Step 2: Figure out how you are going to pay for school. How much will you need to fund with loans? Will your employer pay your tuition if you return after graduation? What if you go to school part-time, will your company cover any credits? Do you qualify for any scholarships? How much can you save toward future costs?

If you have undergraduate debt, you can usually defer payment for the years you are in grad school, but your loans will continue to accrue interest. This means you will leave graduate school more indebted than you go in, regardless of whether you need loans to fund this next step in your education. In this case, a key calculation in the years before grad school is whether you should use extra money to pay down undergraduate loans at a faster clip or to hide it away to eventually put toward tuition. Phil DeGisi, chief marketing officer of student debt refinance startup CommonBond, says that decision should depend on interest rates. If the average rate on loans for the type of grad school you’d like to go to is higher than the rate on your student loans you should focusing on saving. If the the rate on your student loans is higher focus on paying down debt. If both rates are high, figure out if you can refinance your undergraduate debt to a lower rate.

11. Save and pay for something you really want. In the first few post-college years, most people are afraid of non-essential spending. How can you justify a new dress or a vacation if you haven’t reached your emergency fund or retirement savings goals? Start by saving every $5 bill you receive – you’ll be amazed how quickly it adds up. $100 for a great new pair of sunglasses and then with a little more effort, you can save $1,000 to go on that vacation you’ve worked so hard for. It feels great when you know you didn’t take away from your other goals, since you were using money that would have otherwise been spent, not money you were saving. Most importantly, paying for things that you truly wanted, with money you had saved for that purpose shows that you have control over your finances. As Bonneau points out, it’s “hard to regress in lifestyle,” but relatively easy to build sustainable habits now.

Be honest with yourself about the way you spend. Use a digital spending tracker or notebook to hold yourself accountable and to find places where you can cut back to focus on your priorities. Maybe that’s a vacation fund, a shoe fund, a charity fund, an education fund or an other-peoples’-weddings fund. You decide.

*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 courtesy of Samantha Sharf of Forbes.