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.

11 Easy Ways To Save Money

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There are few things better than realizing that an easy habit you picked up landed you an extra couple hundred dollars by the end of the month. Maybe it was finally ditching that morning cold brew from the funky coffee place down the street. Maybe it was scouring the below-eye-level shelves for some major deals from the grocery store.

Because you can never have enough tips on being smarter about saving money, we’ve rounded up a few creative ways to help loosen up your wallet from everyday people like you and I.

1. Save those Lincolns.

“I try and save every $5 bill I receive. I have an envelope full of fives that I hide away so I forget about it. I’m currently at about $900 in fives!”

Stephanie

2. Grab coffee from the office.

“For the first few months of the year, I promised myself I wouldn’t spend more than $1 on coffee. I was spending about $4 a day at local coffee shops, and instead bought street coffee or grabbed a cup of joe from the office. In three months I spent less than $90 — versus the average $360 I was spending before. KA-CHING!”

Jessica

3. Be an Amazon pro.

“Nerd alert — the app Paribus will keep track of what you’ve purchased and alert you and will automatically ask for a price adjustment if the price changes. Just got $8 back from Amazon this week!”

Meredith

4. Stock up on meats.

“I stock up on meats when they’re on sale and do a bit of pre-freezer prep work. I’ll portion things out — I can thinly slice chicken breasts for stir fry and then freeze that as a meal — and often will marinate them at the same time. Then I defrost it the day I want to use it. I’ve gotten dinners for my family of three down to about $4 per dinner this way, or $1.30 per person per dinner.”

Mallory

5. Check the far aisles.

“Whenever you go to a store like Target or Walmart, check the end caps, especially those along the outer perimeter of the store. That’s where they put deeply discounted items on clearance. It’s sort of a catch-all, but it’s where you can grab a box gift set of Old Spice bathing and deodorant products for $5.”

Tyler

6. Co-ops are your best friend.

“Shop at a co-op! I do all my grocery shopping at a co-op once a week and eat lots of organic and otherwise happy food for a ridiculously low price. My partner and I usually spend less than $400 on groceries a month. Bonus: You get to witness the occasional throw-down over food politics.”

Also: If you are very, very broke, most of the CSAs and farm shares in New York have tiered plans for different incomes!

Irina

7. Keep the change.

“Carrying around change is a universal hatred, and most of mine used to go absentmindedly into tip jars and in between couch cushions. I now keep an empty jar on my counter in which I dump all my change at the day’s end every day. Yes, simple trick, and nothing you haven’t heard before, but at the end of two months I end up with an extra ~$100 I would have literally given away.”

Lauren

8. Get money for your old clothes.

“H&M is currently trying to rehabilitate its image as one of the worst offenders of fast fashion. As such, H&M offers a coupon to customers who bring in a bag of clothing, and it’s worth 15 percent off their entire next purchase. They take anything, too. What does that mean?  When the consignment store like Beacon’s Closet, Plato’s Closet or Buffalo Exchange won’t take your used clothing, put it in a bag and give it to H&M for that coupon. It can be old t-shirts from Dollar General, for all H&M cares — they just want to recycle.”

Double tip: “When you’re at H&M using that coupon for 15 percent off your entire purchase, text to sign up for their newsletter to get 20 percent off of one item. They let you use it on the most expensive item too, and in conjunction with the 15 percent off coupon. Then to avoid getting their annoying texts, immediately reply “STOP” to the newsletter to unsubscribe. Then you can use the discount again next time with the same process.”

Tyler

9. Tag along to a friend’s gym.

“I go to Crunch Fitness with my friend, as her guest, for free — which eliminates paying for a monthly gym membership.”

Stephanie

10. Ride for free.

“Bike to work instead of using subway! A 30-day fare card in New York is $116. I still use the subway sometimes, so I save about $80 per month.”

Roque

11. Go cash-only.

“If I don’t want to spend frivolously, especially that week before my next paycheck, I’ll go cash-only. I know mentally that I have breathing room in my account, but if I only take out $100 for the week, I’ll be smarter every day when going out to get lunch or run for coffee knowing that I want to make those specific, tangible, in-front-of-me dollars stretch. This curbs a lot of impulse spending too.”

Mallory

*Original article courtesy of Jenny Che of the Huffington Post.

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.