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4 Top Halloween Safety Tips
Authored By: Trish R. on 10/28/2014

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, I especially enjoy helping my kids decorate the house and select the perfect costume. It’s one of those fun holidays where you can dress up, scare everyone you know and eat enough treats to put yourself into a candy coma.

It’s also important to make sure everyone is safe while trick-or-treating, especially after dark. In an effort to keep my kids safe and my stress to a minimum, I follow a few common sense tips.

Safe Costumes: Costumes should be light or brightly colored and have reflective tape so that kids are visible at night to drivers while walking from house to house. Whether homemade or store bought, I put reflective tape on my kids costumes. If you’re creative (unlike me) you can use the reflective tape to make fun designs.

Avoid Masks: If at all possible avoid having your kids wear a mask; they can limit a child’s peripheral vision. Instead of a mask consider having them wear face paint or makeup. Test face makeup for allergy issues before putting it on your child’s face. It’s not always possible to avoid Halloween masks. This year my son is going trick-or-treating as a Power Ranger, the mask makes the costume. I decided to make the eye holes larger to help him see well. I’ve also had several conversations reminding him that he will need to be extra careful while wearing the mask. His typical response? “I know Momma!” along with an eye roll. When he has the mask on I won’t be able to see those.

Accompany Minors: Young children should be accompanied by an adult, while older kids who want to go out unsupervised should go in groups and let parents know exactly where they are going, who they are going with and when they will return. This year I will be taking my two younger children out trick-or-treating while letting my oldest go out by herself for the first time (with a known and accepted group of friends). I’ve given her a cell phone with a GPS tracking app, in case of an emergency.

Check the candy: You should ALWAYS examine your child’s candy before letting them consume any of it. It’s important to make sure candy is intact, unspoiled, and nothing looks suspicious. Throw out any homemade treats from strangers, it’s best to be safe. This is also a good time to ration how many pieces of candy they can have each day. As I sort my kid’s candy, I’ve on occasion been known to sneak a few pieces; it’s a great way to help ration the pieces, right?
As the parent of three kids I’ve found these four tips extremely useful in ensuring all of my kids have a frightfully fun and safe time trick-or-treating. This year I think I’ll dress up too and get in on the fun.

Sources:
American Academy of Pediatrics 
Safe Kids Worldwide

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Refinancing your HELOC
Authored By: BCCU on 10/23/2014

 

 

Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC) can also be referred to as a home equity loan. What to do when your HELOC is approaching maturity is something Bellwether Community Credit Union can help you with.

 

 

 

 

Home Equity Lines of Credit (HELOCs) are very useful. Actually, a line of credit secured against the equity in your home, a HELOC can help you complete home renovations, or take a dream vacation. But here are some important facts about your HELOC to keep in mind as it nears the end of its term.

Some facts about your HELOC—The "Draw Period"

Most HELOCs require interest-only payments during their term (although you have the option to make payments on the principal as well,) which is usually 10 years. This term is often referred to as the "draw" period, meaning you're able to "(with)draw" funds as you need them, at any time, provided you are making your interest payments regularly.

When the draw period ends, so does your ability to withdraw funds. The end of your draw period also triggers the start of the repayment period. Your monthly payments will now include a repayment amount of the principal, as well as interest on the balance. If you've withdrawn a significant amount of your HELOC funds during the 10-year period, your monthly payments could be considerably higher than what you had been paying each month. Still want access to your funds? Consider refinancing your HELOC.

Options When Nearing the End of Your Draw Period

Here are some steps you can take as your approach the end of your HELOC's term:

  • Ensure you know when your draw period ends.
  • Review the repayment details and determine if you'd prefer to begin repaying the HELOC, or if you feel it's more convenient to continue to have access to those funds.
  • Contact your lender (or Bellwether Community Credit Union—see our number below) to discuss your HELOC and get further advice on repayment or refinancing.

Did you know…

Bellwether can refinance your HELOC even if it's with another lender? We can help you choose the best option for refinancing your HELOC to meet your family's financial needs. Contact us to explore the possibilities—603-645-8181.

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Eat Local, Participate in a CSA
Authored By: Trish R. on 10/22/2014

Have you ever thought about participating in a CSA? Whether to expand your vegetable repertoire or to just get healthier, a CSA or Community Supported Agriculture is a popular way to buy seasonal, local food directly from farmers. Participating farms sell a limited number of “Shares” to the public. A share is like a membership to the farm, where each week, for a set number of weeks, “Share” holders get a box of fresh, local produce. This past spring I decided to purchase a full share from a local farm. I really liked the idea of buying local and eating fresh organic produce all summer long.

Being a “newbie” I quickly realized there are pros and cons to participating in a CSA. Here are a few tips I learned from my first year.

  1. Plan your meals around the ingredients not the other way around. Pro: Planning meals around the ingredients is very cost efficient. Con: it can be a challenge some weeks to cook with what was harvested, but now is your chance to plan out your meals for the week and save yourself time and money. I had never heard of kohlrabi before, but a quick online search told me it’s similar to cabbage. I found a variety of coleslaw recipes but ultimately went with a great kohlrabi kimchi recipe.
     
  2. You may find yourself with an abundance of an item some weeks. Pro: This is your chance to expand your go-to side dishes. Take lettuce for example it isn’t just for salads, you can also use it for wraps, or try juicing it. Con: You may get a lot of an item several weeks in a row, consider canning or freezing the extras. I received zucchini and summer squash 3 weeks in a row and I couldn’t eat another bite so I froze the extra. Now I look forward to enjoying it in the middle of winter!
     
  3. Dare to be creative with your harvest. Pro: you’re more likely to eat fresh vegetables to get all the goodness they offer. Kale is wonderful superfood that goes great in soups, salads, smoothies. Con: You may have to spend some time researching recipes. Kale is wonderful superfood and everyone knows it goes great in soups, salads, smoothies, but have you ever tried kale chips? They are so simple to make and an amazingly tasty treat.
     
  4. My final tip as a CSA newbie is, not to get discouraged. Pro: You get fresh, local product every week. Con: farmers are at the mercy of Mother Nature, so your share may be larger (or smaller) some weeks. This also goes for the season. I was disappointed with the results from my first season’s CSA, because it was predominantly greens and root vegetables and I was really hoping for more summer veggies like tomatoes, cucumbers and corn.

While I was a little disappointed with my first season’s selection and yield, I really liked eating fresh, local produce while supporting local farms. I found many have vegetables that I now enjoy eating, and I look forward to participating again next year with a much better understanding and appreciation for local farmers. While I would’ve preferred a different selection of vegetables I did find that the cost of participating in a CSA was worth it, especially when I considered what I would’ve paid for the same organic veggies at the supermarket or co-op. The cost would’ve been double, even triple what I spent compared to the CSA. If you’re concerned about the upfront cost of a CSA, consider going in on a share with a friend or family member or consider purchasing a half share. After the first couple of weeks, it was very easy to work with each weeks share and I only purchased a few veggie staples at the supermarket every couple of weeks.

Sources:
Serious Eats
Local Harvest

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5 Ways to Start Enjoying Your Empty Nest Life
Authored By: Trish R. on 10/21/2014

Less noise, less laundry, less groceries… but more freedom! Once you drop your child(ren) off at college, there will be a wave of emotions; sadness, guilt, worry, relief, happiness. Yes, even happiness. There will be sense of freedom that you haven’t felt since, well, before you had kids. Now is the time to make the most of your life and do what you want to do. We’ve got some tips to get you started.

1. Focus on YOU: For almost two decades you have been the one who ran the show. You took your kids from here to there to there and back. You helped them to learn, love, grow, and explore. As mentioned in this article from Huffington Post, now it’s time to put yourself first. Start a new routine or hobby. Challenge your mind, get back on track with your health and nutrition, but most importantly do what makes YOU happy.

2. Get to know your spouse, again: You can reconnect and rekindle a relationship that may have been on the backburner while raising children. Make time for one another, enjoy date night, travel to new places or revisit favorite places you frequented before having kids, and get to know each other again.

3. Set goals for yourself: “I’d love to but what about the kids” is one of the most used reasons for limiting goals or dreams you might have. Well now that they have their own lives, take the advice from Personal Excellence and create a bucket list or write down goals you’d like to achieve, personally, professionally, or both. Hike Mount Washington, remodel the kitchen, take a girls-trip to Myrtle Beach, whatever it may be, add it to the list. Post that list somewhere you’ll see it so you can actually make strides towards achieving those goals, rather than saying, “I’ll do that someday”.

4. Invest in yourself: Staying healthy is important for everyone, at any age, but as we get older, the less we can just assume we’ll always be healthy. Now that you have more time, why not get into a regular workout routine. Even if it’s a 20 minute walk after dinner, or a personal trainer for a few months.

5. Give back to your community: Being a volunteer really can make a difference. Finding a cause that interests you or that you’re passionate about will help you maintain your commitment. Why not get a volunteer buddy, like your spouse or a friend to go along with you. An opportunity that will be fulfilling, like planting a garden, signing people up for a charity run, or preparing and serving food to those in need. This will be a rewarding experience for both you and those you encounter while serving a need.

Sources:
AboutHealth
Gaiam Life
Huffington Post
Personalexcellence.co
Walking.About.com 

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Columbus Day Weekend - Fall in New England
Authored By: Amanda N. on 10/21/2014

I’m amazed at how quickly Fall is passing. Thankfully, college friends just called to let me know they’d be in town over this past three day weekend. This was my chance to stop, and enjoy some time off. Suddenly I was charged with planning a true New England weekend, with all that implies. These are southern people, never having stepped foot inside New England so my first thought was, spend the weekend with me! While I’ve lived in New England all my life (except for those years in college), foliage, and Fall have become kind of “been there done that” in my life, and I cherished the thought of having an excuse to do all those things I love about Fall. Foliage was at it’s peak, and even a rainy Saturday didn’t dampen our spirits.

Friday

Expected Time of Arrival 3 pm. What better way to celebrate old friends gathering than to lift a glass or two. We had plenty to choose from in NH and opted for a visit to LaBelle’s Winery for a tasting, and a chance to wander through the fields, breathing in that crisp October air. We also made certain to pick up a few bottles for a very late firepit chat! It’s amazing how much fun you can have with friends, a firepit, and nothing to do the next day! This is definitely a cost-effective way to enjoy time with friends, and no worrying about what time you head home. Then again, I had the whole weekend booked tight, so it was lights out at 11!

Saturday

We totally planned for the Milford Pumpkin Festival or the Warner Fall Foliage Festival, but rain was on the agenda, so a drive north through damp but colorful leaves had us perusing guide books for something to do indoors. I’d booked a night at Colby Hill Inn in Henniker. My mom used to work there when she was in college. She tells me she worked in the kitchen, but based on her cooking, she must have washed dishes! A cozy, traditionally New England place, I’d made a great choice, and was really lucky because this place is usually totally booked unless you get your name in there far in advance! One thing I knew we could do without the rain causing an issue was shopping! NH has a lot of outlets, great deals, great food, and you can literally shop til you drop! Check out the list on newhampshire.com for a mall in your area. We did that, carrying all our bags back to the Inn for a nice dinner and an early night. Sunday was going to be the big adventure! Hiking and leaf peeping in what we hoped would be sunny weather.

Sunday

Hiking and leaf peeping in the mountains! We used the foliage map from YankeeFoliage.com to see when leaves are at their peak, and the best places for photographs, then headed to Franconia Notch and the Flume. A simple picnic, and layered clothing with good walking shoes prepared us for a day in the sun. It seemed everyone else had the same idea, but with so much to see and so many places to hike we didn’t run into that many people! By the time we were headed back to Manchester and the airport, we had enough photos of leaves, blue sky and fun to show anyone who didn’t already know, New England, and especially New Hampshire is a great place to visit in October!

Sources
Yankee Foliage
NewHampshire.com
BedandBreakfast.com
NH Magazine

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The Super Hero Scramble; More Than a Race, Its an Adventure!
Authored By: Trish R. on 10/16/2014

Has your adventurous side ever pushed you to participate in an obstacle course race? It’s the latest in racing. You run up and down hills, over rocky terrain while also scaling a variety of obstacles. Everything from rope climbs to 20 foot jumps into icy cold water, all in the spirit of fun. My inner super hero got the urge this past June and I found myself signed up for the Super Hero Scramble, an adventurous super hero themed obstacle course races that was held at Amesbury Park in Amesbury, MA. Everything about the race is super hero inspired, from the obstacles to the costumes. Athletes come dressed as their favorite super hero and run one of three course options. Dressed as “The Black Widow”, a few coworkers and I had a blast competing in this year’s Super Hero Scramble.

The Super Hero Scramble has 5 different course levels; Charger, Intimidator, Villain, Super Villain and Super Kid.

The Charger: The shortest race at around 4 miles and 20 obstacles. Participants run over hilly terrain through the woods and tackle 20 different obstacles including the Mounds of Doom, where you jump or climb over giant mounds of mud and dirt. It looked and sounded easy enough until we realized that we would not be able to jump from mound to mound. We ended up covered in mud.

The Intimidator: An 8+ mile course with 25 or more obstacles. This race is not for the timid, and includes obstacles like the Leap of Faith. “The Leap” involves climbing a structure then leaping 20 feet into the water below. If you have a fear of heights you’ll conquer that in no time.

The Villain: A 13 mile course with 30 or more obstacles. This course is designed to defeat any super hero who attempts it. The obstacles on this course are literally out to get you with muddier, more intense obstacles and surprise challenges.

The Super Villain: A 26 mile course with over 60 obstacles! This is a marathon distance course that is for elite athletes. Think you’re a true super hero, give this course a try. We just stood by and watched!

The Super Kid: This is a one mile obstacle race for kids ranging in age from 3-13. Kids get to experience a few obstacles and receive a t-shirt and medal. The kids have a blast climbing walls and running through the mud dressed as their favorite super heroes. My son is big into super heroes so I cheered on my own personal Captain America! He had a great time and was so excited to get his first race medal!

If you complete the Charger, Intimidator and Villain courses in one year you’ll receive a special medal and are recognized as a Super Hero Legend.

This is one of the more entertaining obstacle course races around, so if you want an exciting day with a few shots of adrenaline get your favorite super hero costume out of the closet (go on, we know it’s there), suit up and have fun!

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Could These "Saving" Habits Cost You?
Authored By: Guest on 10/10/2014

Are you a diligent saver? Penny pincher? You probably have your own tips and tricks for saving a chunk of cash here or squeezing the last bit out of a dollar there. While saving money is a noble pursuit, the ways you save could cost you. Do you abide by any of these four bad “saving” habits?

Buying more of an item because it’s on sale

Especially at the grocery store, it may be tempting to stock up on an item just because it’s on sale. While you may be taking advantage of the store price, you might be overspending on the amount of items you buy. You may not use the extra items you buy before they expire or become outdated, which means you wasted that extra money you spent, regardless of how much you saved on the individual item. Even if you end up using all of the items in the right amount of time, you may find you’re forcing yourself to use those last items on dishes or for other uses you don’t need or are wasteful.

Always going for the cheapest option

While buying the cheapest option may mean upfront savings, you end up spending more money over time on repairing or replacing those cheaper products. Cheaper usually means lower quality parts, and these products are sometimes more likely to break or be made with harmful chemicals. Plan to invest a little more into a higher quality product if it’s something you’ll use a lot or something that would be more expensive to repair than it would be to just pay more for upfront.

Buying more online to qualify for free shipping

How many times have you gone to check out online only to find that’s you’re just $20 away from free shipping? Chances are, you’ve gone ahead and found an extra item(s) to purchase to save yourself a few bucks on shipping. You may not realize you’re spending more on the extra item and free shipping than you would if you just paid for the shipping outright. Plus, you might be purchasing items you don’t actually need or use.

Signing up for a store credit card or rewards credit card solely for the discount

Signing up for credit cards you don’t need is never a good practice, even if you end up getting a store discount or other rewards for using the card. You end up spending more money at the store or on a particular category of products just to get the discount or rewards points when you may not actually need the items you’re buying. You may benefit from the discount or rewards upfront, but you end up driving up the amount of debt and credit you owe, which could generate interest and waste your money in the long run.

While you may go into saving money with good intentions, some of your saving strategies can cost you more money instead. Beware these four “saving” tactics to ensure you make the most of your hard-earned cash.

Photo by Alan Cleaver via cc.

By Carolyn Heneghan Copyright 2014 brass Media, Inc.

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Renter's Insurance - Do You Need It?
Authored By: BCCU on 10/7/2014

 

It's a very simple answer—yes. If you're renting your living space, whether it's a dorm room, apartment, or house, you should have renter's insurance.

It may be tempting to think you don't need it—because you don't have many personal possessions, or because your rental situation is temporary—but here are some points that may change your mind.


Renter's insurance protects your personal items
in the event of theft, fire, or other damage.

Solid reasons to purchase renter's insurance

1) Protection - Your landlord's insurance policy will cover structural damage, but a rental insurance policy will cover you for personal items that are lost due to theft, fire, lightning, smoke damage, windstorms, hail or vandalism.

2) Save money - Many renters don't think they have enough possessions to merit insuring them. Surprisingly, the average renter owns a lot of stuff—clothing, toiletries, music collection (the kind that doesn't fit on your phone), small kitchen appliances, entertainment devices, and keepsakes. The cost to replace a water-damaged phone, for example, could be more than your entire rental insurance policy for a year!

3) Save even more money - What if you have a very valuable items, such as a rare antique or an expensive family heirloom? You can get specific coverage for that item under what is termed a rider. This is a special part of your policy that insures a specific item for its true value.

4) Protect your friends - If a guest in your home is unintentionally injured, or say your dog bites him or her, the personal liability portion of your rental insurance will protect you against financial loss for that incident up to your policy limit.

5) Peace of mind - Knowing you're covered in the event of a break-in or a fire while you're away gives you enormous peace of mind. Now you can enjoy a weekend visiting friends without worry.

Getting rental insurance is easy—and more affordable than you think

Rental insurance policies start at just a few dollars per month. A few simple questions help you find the best insurance coverage for you. Click here to get a quote on renter's insurance today. 

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Work Life Balance After College
Authored By: Amanda N. on 10/3/2014

Finding ways to maintain your health and social life.

Maintaining a work/life-balance is important. The Miami Herald reports that 2014 graduates are looking for full-time jobs that make this a priority. The transition from your college schedule to full-time work schedule can be a difficult one. It's important to find ways to have a healthy, balanced life that makes time for work and time with friends and family.

Healthy Habits

Once you begin working full-time it can be easy to get so busy you no longer have time to go to the gym. Or if you do have time you are too exhausted to get off of the couch. A Harvard Business Review study proves that exercise is vital to maintaining work/life balance. Make time to exercise with the following tips:

  • Take a walk on your lunch break.
  • Try a new fitness class
  • Bring your gym clothes to work with you. Head straight to the gym after work.
  • Use your employer's fitness room
  • Find an exercise partner to motivate you.

A healthy diet and exercise is crucial for your success. Make the time to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner each day. Search Pinterest for healthy new recipe ideas to try. When your days get busy eating properly becomes even more important.

Keeping In Touch With Friends

When you were in college it was easy to make time for friends because you were all on campus together. Now you have different work schedules and may possibly live in different cities, and it's more important than ever to stay in touch, even if it's not as often as you like. If you still live close to your friends consider the following as simple ways to stay in touch:

  • Schedule coffee and a catch up
  • Plan a movie night
  • Have a group dinner or potluck

Your finances and schedules will determine what activities you can do together, but do your best to avoid losing touch. Friends support a healthy balance between work and social life and an important support network when you need someone to talk to. If you’re lucky you may even meet some new friends at work.

Make Time for Your Hobbies

Once you accept a full-time job, your days can seem consumed by work. Make time for hobbies and interests to avoid becoming a workaholic. Regardless of your interests, it’s important to take a little down time to do the things that make you happy.

Looking to find a job that promotes a healthy work life balance? US News provides “The Top 9 Jobs for Work Life Balance.

It is easy to get caught up in work, especially at a brand new job. Remember not to overload yourself. For more tips & tricks on Health & Fitness, Hobbies to try, and Survival Tips for Life after College, check out Bellwether’s Pinterest boards!

Sources
Harvard Business Review
Miami Herald
US News & World Reports
PR News

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Corporate and Personal Volunteering - You Can Make a Difference
Authored By: BCCU on 9/23/2014

How helping others make a difference for businesses & individuals.

Making Time to Volunteer

Do you feel like you don’t have time to volunteer because of your work schedule? What if you and your co-workers could volunteer together?

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is growing in popularity with many businesses today. Having a healthy culture involving CSR helps to retain employees already working at a company, and also attracts new employees. Forbes.com shared NetImpact's survey which shows that 35% of people would take a 15% pay cut to work for companies where CSR is a focus. Today it is increasingly important to people of all ages to make volunteering part of their normal work week.

Volunteering requires no special skills. Even standard career skills are helpful to nonprofit and charitable organizations and events.

Fast Company outlines “5 Reasons volunteering with your co-workers will make you happier and help your career.” The following reason stood out to me:

  • Your Brand – As a volunteer, you are establishing your company brand and your own personal brand. By participating in community service, you positively impact the way others in the community view you.

BCCU In The Community

At Bellwether Community Credit Union, we support the credit union motto of “People helping people.” We are involved with numerous charities and non-profits including:

  • Bellwether Community Champions (3 years)
  • Spirit of New Hampshire Awards (Multi-Year Legacy Sponsor)
  • Make-A-Wish
  • Animal Rescue League of NH
  • American Heart Association of NH

And many more.

Unique Ways Bellwether Has Helped

American Red Cross – Bellwether has supported the American Red Cross by having the first team of trained volunteers, as part of the “Ready When the Time Comes” program.

New Horizons Soup Kitchen - The credit union supports New Horizons Soup Kitchen by providing a team of 30+ volunteers to serve dinner once a month. We also sponsor and serve a special holiday dinner for homeless veterans on an annual basis.

March of Dimes - During the renovation of our Hooksett Road branch, Bellwether donated furniture we no longer needed to March of Dimes for their new office in Manchester.

The support of these organizations comes in many forms. Through programs like these, we partner with the community and other organizations to make New Hampshire a great place to work and live.

Volunteering is a positive way you can affect the community. Research shows it positively impacts our health, and as mentioned previously, it's a great way to expand your network. Opportunities can be one-time events, or recurring events throughout the year. If you are looking for volunteer opportunities visit Volunteermatch.org and VolunteerNH.org.

Sources:
Fast Company
Forbes - Corporate Social Responsibility
Forbes - Benefits of CSR
United Health Group

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A Balancing Act: Working and attending school at the same time.
Authored By: Guest on 9/12/2014

The reality for millions of college students is that there aren’t enough hours in a day or dollars in the bank. Trying to solve both of these problems at once, however, can be almost impossible. Some find support from their parents. Others pay for school using loans, grants, and scholarships alone.

Then there are those among us (like me a few years back) who are forced to balance school life with work responsibilities.

Clock-punching backpack-schlepping student workers, take heart! There are ways to make your life slightly easier and keep your sanity somewhat intact while juggling work and school.

Managing your job A few things to keep in mind while you start the juggling act.

  • Prioritize your classes. Are there classes necessary for your degree that are only offered once a term or, worse, once a year? Make sure to know what those classes are and build your schedule around them ahead of time.
  • Don’t make commitments you can’t keep. If particular classes or particular shifts are inflexible, don’t expect that your instructors and managers will be forever stoked about your calling every week scrambling for coverage or asking for extensions.
  • Find ways to work outside of a set schedule. Do you have opportunities to freelance? Are you willing to be on call to work certain shifts? Are you able to work from home? Fattening your bankroll without being tied to a set schedule or a particular location allows you to focus more on the demands of your school schedule.

Once you get everything going School schedule? Check. Work schedule? Check. Keeping it all running flawlessly… well, it’s a process.

  • Don't be embarrassed. Being open about your responsibilities is much better than pretending they don't exist. Make sure you are communicating with your classmates, co-workers, instructors, and managers. Even and especially on days and weeks you think you may fall short, keeping everybody in the loop is not only the responsible thing to do, it also shows your superiors that you’re serious about your commitments.
  • Be creative. Are you able to take your work with you to school and pare it down between classes? Can you do the same with your homework and slog through it when you have a few minutes during a break? Layering time commitments will leave you with more sanity-restoring free time later.
  • Ask for help. Co-workers and instructors might be more willing to work with your schedule than you give them credit for. There's no harm in asking.

Crises You’ve planned. You’ve made tough decisions. You’ve communicated. And yet… something still manages to take you by surprise. What now?

  • Communicate. There’s a reason why this has been repeated twice before: it’s really, really important. It's one thing to take time off without much notice... it's another to do it with no forewarning at all.
  • Don't be too proud. It might be nice to say you didn’t use loans to go to college, but it's much better to get a lower-interest student loan than, say, paying for revolving credit on a credit card.


Some strategic planning goes a long way toward striking a healthy balance between your job and your education, and keeping these tips in mind will make maintaining that balance a little easier.

Photo by photosteve101 via cc
By Brandon Goldner Copyright 2014 brass Media, Inc.

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Kid-Free Vacation yes, it can happen!
Authored By: Trish R. on 9/11/2014

Now that the kids are back in school and schedules are falling into place, why not plan an escape? A kid-free escape! Come on, you deserve a break. You’ve spent all summer with your kids, taking them here and there, and entertaining them for 2+ months. Now is the perfect time to start planning your adult-only vacation. With these tips you're half way there.

1. Paperwork: Once you’ve found a willing party (or parties) to care for your children or your furry kids while you're away, make sure they are completely, if not overly, prepared. Leave copious notes including, but certainly not limited to, your travel information (hotel, flights, etc), medical information (pediatrician, dentist, etc.), signed medical consent form, school/activities schedule, allergies and medical issues, and bedtime routine. Use this template to get started.

2. Communicate: Give your kids advance notice that you are going away. Let them know who will be caring for them and expectations while you're away. Don’t forget to include others; your children’s teachers and coaches in your plans, so if there are any emotional changes or an emergency, they'll understand. Consider letting your neighbors know you’ll be away as well, and provide contact information in case of emergency.

3. Supplies: Meal planning is huge. Whatever the age of your child, it's just easier for the caretaker. Provide meals, snacks or at least a list of what they can, can’t, should and shouldn’t eat. Be sure to stock up on the essentials as well: diapers, wipes, medications, and Band-Aids; because the world doesn’t stop when you're on vacation.

4. Fun: As mentioned above, it is important to let your kids know you'll be away, but why not do something special as a family before you go. Even if it’s mother-daughter manicures or father-son laser tag, doing things like this can take away the hurt feelings when Mom and Dad suddenly want alone time. In addition to this, leave some extra cash with the caretaker, and maybe a new movie or game to play while you're away. The money helps with last minute or unexpected expenses, and the game will be something special for the kids to look forward to.

Being prepared for any trip allows you to enjoy yourself more. Leaving your children behind, even if for only a night or two, can be stressful. Eliminate the worry (or at least part of it) by preparing the caregiver and your children. Then sit back, relax, and enjoy your well-deserved vacation.

More resources:
http://www.cnn.com/2012/09/05/travel/adult-travel-ideas/
http://kidshealth.org/parent/emotions/feelings/travel_without_kids.html 

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Year-End Financial Planning and Preparation
Authored By: Guest on 9/9/2014

Suddenly the air is cooler, and I'm getting that "back-to-school" feeling even though its been years since I've gone back to school. But there are things I'm hoping to get done in the next month to help me prepare for next year. Might be a good time for you as well.

Fall is Financial Preparedness Season

If you have a financial planner, Fall is a great time to check in with them and get their thoughts on the following topics. Some changes require forms being submitted, or review by your planner/advisor. They could take time for completion. To avoid a crunch and a longer wait later, get started now and you'll be ready for year end.

  • Turning 70 1/2 next year? You need to think about minimum distributions from traditional IRAs and 401(k) plans.
  • Still waiting to make your charitable donations for the year? Select recipients and make your donation. They'll appreciate it, and you could have some tax deductions to take advantage of.
  • Is it open enrollment time for benefits? Collect information and discuss your options, then make the best selections for you and your family. Compare available insurance plans, and check into workplace retirement plans to take full advantage of any matching funds. If you don't you're leaving money on the table.
  • If your FSA account ends at the end of the year, make sure to spend that money. Eye exams, teeth cleaning, chiropractor visits, new glasses, and annual exams are a great way to use up these funds! Remember, with flex accounts, if you don't spend it, you lose it. Elective surgeries, or procedures you've been putting off may cost more than your remaining flex account holds, but if that's the case, now may be the perfect time to consider increasing your flex account for next year.

No financial planner? Bellwether Community Credit Union offers all of our members access to a Financial Planner and a free financial assessment. Read more on our website.

Be Prepared

Set up a folder for tax related paperwork. Forms and documents will start arriving over the next few months. Setting aside a special folder now and putting things in as they arrive is a safe way stay organized, whether you do your own taxes or have someone else do them.

Establish Next Year's Budget

If you don't already have one, consider setting up a budget for your household for next year. Look at your full year's bills, utilities, rent/mortgage, vacation, holiday shopping, school costs, groceries, car payments, etc and make this the year that you plan ahead, and live within your means! Maybe even set up a plan to get that credit card debt paid down or those student loans on a trend to getting paid off!

  • Establish your holiday spending budget now and decide where those funds are coming from.
  • If you haven't already, consider opening a holiday/club account at your local credit union so next year you'll know exactly how much you're spending and where those funds will be coming from.

Share Financial Knowledge with Your Children

Discuss budgeting with your children and set up savings accounts for them as appropriate. 

Now may be a good time to discuss allowances, technology, online safety and other topics with your children. Just a refresher as you head into the new year with a refreshed focus on making this next year better than ever!

Sources:
CNBC
About Money
Lifehacker
Learnvest.com
Credit.com

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A Lifetime Experience on a Budget - Mount Washington
Authored By: Trish R. on 9/5/2014

Until recently, I’d never been to the top of Mount Washington. It was always too far, too expensive, or the weather was not cooperating. This summer though, we had guests from out of town, so a sunny Saturday found us all enjoying this experience of a lifetime.

Weather in New England

This is New England, the weather on the mountain can change at a moment’s notice, and it usually does! You'll definitely be dealing with wind. Perhaps the balmy breeze we enjoyed, but more than likely a strong 35 mph or more depending on the time of year. Check Mount Washington’s website before you go. The Auto Road may be open in rainy, foggy weather, but you’re not going to see much!

Options for Getting There

“Taking the Cog”

The Cog Railway has been taking tourists to the summit 1868! It’s a fun way for everyone to enjoy the ride up. Available April – November.

Save!

  • Discounts offered on the final run of the day
  • Military discounts
  • Check with your hotel or timeshare for a group discount
  • Average price non-discounted for a family of four is >$200

The train fills fast so making reservations before you arrive is a good idea! Boarding starts 45 minutes before departure!

Guided Tours – “Take the Stage”

Enjoy the ride with a tour guide/driver. Round trip allows half an hour for travel up and down, and an hour spent on the summit. Reservations are accepted for first two trips of the day, "first come, first served" after that. Tickets sell out by 1 PM some days. Hikers and their dogs are welcome for a one way trip up or down.

In winter, take the SnowCoach to the 4,200 foot mark/tree line.

Save!

  • Discounts for seniors
  • Military Discount Available

Average price for family of four $100.

Drive Yourself!

"This Car Climbed Mount Washington!" You'll find out why this is such a big deal. This is a narrow road with no guard rails, and half of the trip you'll have nothing between you and the multiple thousand foot drop. If anyone (especially the driver) is uncomfortable with heights, give this serious thought. There is no room to turn around if you change your mind. Thankfully, the ride down is less scary. But take it slow and use pull-out areas frequently to let your brakes cool. We drove our mini-van and had no issues, but stopped 3 or 4 times on the way down to take photos, and let the brakes cool a bit. Water is available half way down for radiators.

There is an electric car charging station at the bottom.

Pricing

  • $28 per car/one driver
  • $8 each additional adult
  • $6 per child

Fee includes a bumper sticker and certificate celebrating your momentous achievement, and a CD narrating your drive both up and down!

Mount Washington offers photo opportunities galore, lessons on rock formation, wildlife, weather, and ecology.

Healthy food options are available at the top of the mountain. There is a museum, tours of the observation center, and numerous trails that start and end at the top so you can drive up, do a bit of hiking, then drive back down.

With planning, this is a great experience for the entire family.

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It's Back to School Time..and You aren't going back
Authored By: Amanda N. on 9/3/2014

What to expect your first year out of college

Your first year out of college might sound like a scary time, but it doesn’t have to be if you know what you’re up against. As a recent college graduate I’m facing some obstacles, but for the most part embracing what lies ahead. In the same situation? This advice might ease the transition from student to post-grad life.

Be Frugal

It’s easy to think you have a ton of money when you get your first job. News Flash: you probably don’t. If you are living at home with mom and dad, your financial situation may be a little easier, but if you are living on your own -think again.

Making a budget is hugely important to see where your paycheck really needs to go every month. (Not all of it will be in your pocket). Consider the following:

  • Rent
  • Electricity
  • Cable
  • Laundry (if not included in apartment)
  • Groceries
  • Cell Phone
  • Car Payment
  • Gas Money
  • Student Loans
  • Gym Membership
  • Health Costs
  • Insurance

Once the allotted money is set aside for all of your expenses, whatever is leftover can then be used for fun money or savings. I recommend saving at least part of every paycheck for future or unexpected bills and emergencies.

Apps, such as MINT, can help you manage your finances right from your smartphone.

Be Professional

You may have previous work experience and internships, but if you don’t, all the more reason to do your “homework”. This NY Times article offers real life first job experiences. Some tips you should gain from the article are:

  • Invest in a professional wardrobe
  • Take initiative
  • Remember you don’t know everything
  • LEARN

Don’t forget that being professional applies to both in the office and outside the office. If you have social media accounts-make sure they’re appropriate.

Be Happy

The reality is post-grad life can cause a lot of stress. It is important to keep in touch with friends and do the things that make you happy. Just like in college when you select a major based on what you enjoy, the job that you accept should make you happy too. It is important to find passion in what you are learning. You won’t be happy if you spend your life doing things you hate. Check out this link from Lifehacker.com about choosing a career you actually like.

The University Herald outlines 7 Tips to Thrive in Your First Year out of College. These tips stood out to me:

  1. Don’t apply to jobs that won’t make you happy
  2. Avoid stressing about your major and GPA
  3. Don’t fear the unknown

They’re important tips to remember. It is inevitable to stress about post-grad life, but you can’t let it get the best of you. The future is going to come and the best you can do is be open-minded and ready for new opportunities and adventures that come your way. This time will soon be gone and you’ll have responsibilities that don’t allow the flexibility you enjoy now. Stay alert and have fun.

Sources:
Huffingtonpost.com
NYtimes.com
UniversityHerald.com
LifeHacker.com

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Electronic Banking Saves Time, and Provides an Easy Way to Track Your Money!
Authored By: BCCU on 8/28/2014

For years, I balanced my checkbook every month! Saturday mornings I'd pay bills, and each month, when my statement came in the mail, I'd sit down, and go through the register, ticking off checks, making a note of anything that hadn’t yet been cashed, and congratulating myself when those columns added up and everything balanced. I remember spending two hours once trying to track down an 18 cent error. What a waste of a Saturday.

Enter the World of Electronic Banking

About 12 years ago, I was having lunch with a friend. She stopped eating mid bite,

“Ooh, give me a sec, I forgot to make my car payment.” She walked over to her computer and after a couple clicks of the keyboard, she returned to the table.

“What was that?” I asked.

“I just paid my car payment. I use that online banking thing and I love it! I don’t even balance my checkbook anymore! I keep track of everything online.”

I had visions of myself surrounded by checks and bills on a sunny Saturday. No more! The moment I got home I went online and signed up for online billpay. Back then they charged a fee for it, probably $4 or $5 a month, but considering the stamps, time and checks I’d be saving, that seemed a reasonable fee.

Flash forward a decade or more and it seems everyone uses online banking and bill pay, and it's FREE! Plus they offer eStatements and eBills which cuts back on mail. I usually set up bill payments a month or more in advance, use the recurring payment option for things like my mortgage, and I know that my payment will get where it needs to go, when it needs to be there! No more lost checks in the mail! No more sunny Saturdays trying to find eighteen cents!

Even With Electronic Banking, It's Best to Monitor Your Accounts

If you go with electronic banking, you still need to keep an eye on your account. I set up an automatic weekly reminder. This came in handy recently, when I noticed that an eBill had come in for the second month in a row showing that I was behind on a payment. I know I’d made it on time. After some research, I discovered that when I received a new credit card recently, I’d typed in the wrong number to my Bill Pay account. The payments had gone into a black hole at the credit card company and eventually got refunded… not credited to my account! I provided the credit card company with copies of eStatements, and explained the error I’d made with the account number. They happily refunded me the late fees! I'm not sure how long it would have taken me to discover the error if I'd been balancing checks the old fashioned way.

Lessons Learned:

  • Electronic Banking is a time saver!
  • eStatements provide easy, paperless access to all your records and payments.
  • You need to check your account information periodically.

Bellwether offers Online Banking, Free Bill Pay, eStatements, External Transfers, Pay Your Loan (so you can make payments on your Bellwether loans with funds from other financial institutions) and mobile banking so you can manage your accounts, transfer funds, and even make payments all from your mobile device.

There are lots of options to make your banking easier. Why not give it a try?

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Movies Under the Stars
Authored By: Amanda N. on 8/22/2014

Have you ever wanted to sit outside and watch a movie with friends over dinner and drinks? Before you start draping a sheet from your deck and buying a projector, why not check out what the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce has done in downtown Nashua? Starting in June, and running thru August every other Wednesday night you can catch a classic movie such as Anchorman, Top Gun, or Office Space on the big screen, right on streets of downtown!

Hosted on East & West Pearl Street, you’ll enjoy an outdoor dining experience complete with a customized food menu and themed drinks from local restaurants. Some of the restaurants involved this year were Villa BancaUnumsSurf and Martha's Exchange. Arrive by 6pm to claim good seats at one of the 20+ ten-person tables, order some appetizers and get the night started. The movie doesn’t start until the sun has almost set so you’ll have plenty of time to eat, chat and enjoy a beverage of your choice. Once the movie starts, servers continue to take orders. The street is blocked off, so you don’t have to worry about cars, and restrooms are located just inside the host restaurant. Watch for the 2015 schedule in May.

Even though the Downtown Dinner & Movie series is over for this year, there are other alternative outdoor movie venues to check out before the winter arrives.

Milford Drive-In: Open from April thru September, rain or shine. Enjoy new releases right from the comfort of your vehicle and full concessions are available. Check website for screen schedules.

Prescott Park (Portsmouth) Monday Night Movie Series: Enjoy family-friendly films like The Incredibles, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Frozen under the stars. Concessions are available but be sure to bring your own blanket or chair. (Check the schedule before you go, some movies are rated R)

Outdoor Movie Rentals: Why not put on the best outdoor movie night possible for your friends and family, or your co-workers? You can with the help of Community Events and their Outdoor Movie Rental packages.

Sources:
NH.com
outdoormoviesne.com

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Grad Finances Part 1 - Investments & 401(k)s
Authored By: BCCU on 8/21/2014

 

It's never too early to cook up a plan to secure your future with smart financial planning.

 

Now that you've graduated, you're on your way to the life you always envisioned—working in your chosen profession, and making your way in the world on your own terms. But here's a secret they may not have taught you in college—you're in the perfect place to start having your money work for you, whether your goal is to buy a home, or to secure your retirement years.

Why you should start investing now

It's important to set aside money in a savings account so you're prepared to face life's emergencies, but creating an investment plan should also be on your financial to-do list. You probably aren't at your full earning potential yet, but every dollar you're able to put aside today will grow exponentially 40 or more years from now.

Here's an example using the Bellwether Investment Return Online Calculator on our website:

 

 

 

 

 

Use the Bellwether Investment Return Calculator to see how just $50 each month can add up to over $34,000 after 25 years (based on no initial investment and a 7% rate of return according to Standard & Poors reported returns for a 10-year period ending December, 2012.)"

 

 

 

Why you should take advantage of your employer's 401(k) plan

Here's the reason in two words—free money!

A 401(k) is a retirement savings plan provided by an employer. It allows an employer to deduct and set aside (in a savings vehicle) a pre-determined amount of your income before taxes are deducted. That means you're taxed on a lower income, plus earning money on the deducted portion. PLUS in most cases employers will match part or all of your contribution. Not bad, right? If possible, invest enough in your 401(k) to qualify for the full match (the amount your employer puts in as a result of how much you contribute).

According to this Forbes article "Workers under age 50 can contribute up to $17,500 to these programs in 2013. Your contributions, deducted from your paycheck automatically, can grow tax-deferred* until you take it out, ideally in retirement."†

So how should you start?

Here are 7 steps to follow when you're getting ready to start an investment plan, courtesy of SmartAboutMoney.org‡:

  1. Create a budget—Before you can save money, you need to to know where your money is going. (Try this Budgeting Spreadsheet)
     
  2. Scrutinize your spending—Is there anything you discovered when making your budget that you can cut back on? You may have more money than you think!
     
  3. Understand your debt—Make note of the debt you owe and make a plan to pay it down. Surprisingly, most people find they can pay down debt AND save money for investments at the same time. (Download this debt management App)
     
  4. Pay yourself first—Follow this key principal and earmark part of your earnings for reasonable levels of life and health insurance (top off your employer-supplied coverage if necessary), regular payments into your health savings account, your emergency fund, and debt repayment.
     
  5. Set goals—Do you want to save for a car, a house, or a comfortable monthly retirement income—or even all three? Knowing your goals will help you plan to achieve them.
     
  6. Create a spending plan—Give yourself some rules for day-to-day spending. This will let you stay on track to realize your goals.
     
  7. Talk to a professional—The staff at Bellwether can help you with your budget, your debt and your financial goals.

How Bellwether Can Help

While the above is a great start, there's nothing like sitting down with someone who understands your dreams and your goals, as well as the different options available, and how they'll best work for you. Contact us to arrange a time to help you get your future off to a solid start.

*Check with your financial advisor for specific tax information regarding 401(k)s.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/nextavenue/2013/05/29/11-essential-money-tips-for-new-college-grads/

http://www.smartaboutmoney.org/Tools-Resources/10-Basic-Steps.aspx

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What is a Bellwether Construction Loan, and What Should I Expect?
Authored By: BCCU on 8/20/2014

What is a Bellwether Construction Loan? What Should I Expect When I Apply?

Due to the banking industry, the real estate market and the economy taking a downward turn over the past few years, the process for getting a new construction loan has undergone some drastic changes. But getting a new construction loan at Bellwether is still possible with if you follow these new steps and qualifications.

How construction loans have changed

In today's economy, the path to getting a construction loan approved has become a bit more challenging. Some lender requirements have changed since 2008:

  • Borrower must submit documentation of all assets, including payroll and tax documents
  • Borrower's credit score must fall (at a minimum) between 680 (limited options) and 720 (allows for more loan options)
  • Project's Loan To Value (LTV) cannot exceed 80% (eg. loan amount cannot exceed 80% of the home's appraised future value.)
  • Borrower's debt ratio cannot exceed 38% (eg. an individual's debt load, including current house payments, cannot exceed 38% of an individual’s total gross income.)
  • Lender must approve the builder; owner-builders may be subject to stricter requirements.


Some information about requirements for a Bellwether construction loan

  • Minimum loan amount is $100,000
  • Maximum term is 12 months
  • Maximum LTV is 75% of the value as determined by a certified appraisal
  • Project can be for a a single family or two-family residential home
  • Licensed contractor must be approved by Bellwether
  • Signed permanent financing agreement to pay out the construction loan upon maturity
  • Plans, blueprints and plot plan must be submitted as part of application
  • If the property is not served by public sewer or existing septic system, the buyer must arrange for and submit the results from a perk test
  • If the property has well water, a lab-certified safe drinking report must be submitted
  • Builder's Risk insurance policy is required
  • Final draw will be paid upon the project being certified complete and a certificate of occupancy presented to your Bellwether’s Mortgage Loan Officer

All payments are disbursed as checks made payable to both the borrower and the contractor completing the work.

We can help you get your new home construction loan underway

At Bellwether, we want to make the construction loan application process as easy as possible for you. If you're considering building a custom home, give us a call. We're here to help!

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Nashua, NH - A Cultural and Activity Rich City!
Authored By: Guest on 8/20/2014

Last Saturday I attended the Downtown Music Festival held right on Main Street in downtown Nashua. While the turnout probably wasn't what was expected, I was really caught by the spirit of the people who did attend, or stood on the outside watching both Hot Like Fire and then Entrain play some amazing music. It reminded me of my younger days, when my hometown had a big block party around the 4th of July or Labor Day weekend. Family and friends got together to enjoy the music, a chance to chat with people they may not have seen over the summer, and enjoyed being out on a warm summer evening, away from the house, the internet, work worries, and all the other things that can sometimes keep us in the house and stressing these days. Funny, but I thought those kinds of events were gone with my childhood. Happy to see that in fact, you can find some great community events in and around Nashua throughout the year, where kids and adults can come together to share music, fun and time together. Following is a list of events I found. Mark your calendars and start building memories for the future!

Downtown Music Festival - There's one more concert this year! Mark you calendar and head on down to Nashua!

Downtown Dinner & Movie Night - OK, this one's done for the season, but I've been two at least a half dozen of these events in years past and can vouch, there's nothing quite like sitting at a table in the middle of downtown Nashua, being served dinner and watching classics like Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Graduate, The Princess Bride, all while enjoying a beverage and chatting with friends.

Holiday Stroll - It may be a bit early to think of the winter holidays, but if you've never been to this event, you're missing out! Usually held at the end of November, this is a great time for the family. Includes live music, dance, theater, face painting, a visit from Santa, street vendors, and some great specials to help out with your holiday shopping! Main Street is closed and there are shuttle buses available!

Head to the Drive-In - OK, so this isn't in Nashua, but it's worth a drive. Head over to Milford, NH and the Milford Drive-In theater. Just like in the old days. This year it was just $25/car load for up to 6 people! You can't see a movie at a regular cinema for that price!

Great American Downtown - Nashua has made some huge changes to their downtown area, and feature concerts, movies, artwalks, holiday celebrations and more. If you haven't stopped by, mark your calendar today! You'll find inexpensive and free events to share with your family, right in your own backyard!

These days travel can be expensive, and time with family can be hard to squeeze into an already crowded calendar. Why not seek out family fun and entertainment in your own backyard? You'll be saving money, and supporting your community at the same time.

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Santa has Arrived During the Heat Wave!
Authored By: Amanda N. on 8/19/2014

Summer Savings to prepare for Upcoming Holidays and Events

Christmas in July is a tradition that celebrates the joy of the holidays during the warm summer months. It has many different possible origins, but the first known celebration was back in the 1930’s at a summer camp, as a fun way to look forward to the holidays during the heat of summer.
Retailers have added a new twist to the fun, and savings are being celebrated all summer long! Whether you are looking to stock up on last minute summer gear, getting a head start on school shopping, or shopping early for those winter holidays, it’s your chance to celebrate the most wonderful time of year, twice!

Go Ahead, Treat Yourself with a Bargain!

Was there something you wanted in the beginning of the summer that you didn’t buy? Maybe a new bathing suit, camping gear, or some new summer wardrobe? Well it’s not too late!

USA Weekend outlines 3 recommendations for summer savings:

  • Shop for Summer wardrobe. Retailers are already looking ahead to Fall and clearing their shelves. This includes major retailers like Target and Walmart as well as specialty shops.
  • Find cheaper gym memberships. It’s their off season since people prefer to be out enjoying the sunshine.
  • Take a trip to a warm destination. Prices will be lower because most people plan a getaway during the cold winter months.

More concerned about that summer gear that you need? Patio furniture, lawn equipment, and outdoor camping and fishing gear are all on sale too! 

Coupon Stacking is another method helping shoppers to get the best deals. Which retailers allow you to use multiple coupons? Lifehacker.com lists the following 7 retailers:

Back to School Never Looked so Good!

It’s hard to believe it’s that time of year again. I remember when I was younger feeling like school had just ended and it was already time to buy supplies for the upcoming school year.

Check out this link from Greatschools. It offers 10 tips for smart back to school shopping. Some of the tips from the list include:

  • Don’t forget your list
  • Buy in bulk
  • Shop Summer Sales (If you only remember one tip, remember this one).

Major retailers already have school supplies on sale. Don’t delay. Check out your local sale papers.

Sales are Seasonal when it Comes to Coupons

The end of August and the end of October have been the best time of year for coupon deals for the past 2 years. Keep your eyes open for upcoming sales and markdown deals on:

  • Large appliances – BBQ grills, lawn mowers, snow blowers
  • Small appliances – computers, printers, air conditioners
  • Cars – new models arrive in the fall, which means last year’s models need to go!

Now is a great time to save big bucks on items for the whole family! Don’t miss out on buying the stuff you need for the best prices.

Sources:
Consumerreports.org
Lifehacker.com
USAtoday.com

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The rising cost of being a Bridesmaid
Authored By: Amanda N. on 8/15/2014

How much will it really cost you to be part of her special day?

Planning a wedding can be a stressful time for the bride, but having her friends become a part of it should make it fun. The dresses, shoes, hair styles, shower, and bachelorette party all seem enjoyable until you start adding up the costs. How much exactly will it cost you if one of your friends presents you with this “special honor”?

Cost of Wardrobe

Mint.com, a personal finance management service, says the average cost of a bridesmaid dress BEFORE alterations is $150, and the dress always needs alterations. Have you seen the movie 27 Dresses? Alterations aren’t the only thing you need to worry about. The bride may or may not allow you to have some input in the dress, but the funds don’t stop there.

  • Jewelry
  • Shoes
  • Hair
  • Make-up

If you’re lucky, the bride may help with some of the costs or in a few instances at least allow for a DIY hair and make-up option. Doing your hair and make-up yourself will save a lot of money, maybe $100 or more. Don’t be afraid to recommend this option. The other bridesmaids may thank you!

Paying for the Shower

The bridal shower is another part of being a bridesmaid that adds up. There are ways to cut the price if you are in charge of the planning. Get creative and think of alternative methods to give her a special shower without going to the extreme.

  • Host it at a friend’s home
  • Use eVites instead of printed invites
  • Cater it yourself
  • Create your own games & decorations. I suggest checking out Pinterest for ideas to get you started!

Affording the Bachelorette Party

The third responsibility of a bridesmaid is planning the bachelorette party. Use these tips to cut the cost of the event:

  • Stay local and plan a party at a venue in town.
  • Book travel in advance. The longer you wait the more it will cost. (See this list from USA Today for the cheapest days to travel in 2014.)
  • Organize the party at the same location as the wedding. This way you will only deal with flights once.
  • Research group discounts.

Buying a Wedding Gift

US News recommends setting a budget for the wedding gift first, as a separate item. Consider buying a group gift from all the bridesmaids. If you’re crafty, DIY projects are another recommendation for a personalized, budget-friendly gift. Ideas for this can also be found on Pinterest.

Being a bridesmaid is possible without completely breaking your savings account. Just remember, it’s the thought that counts, unless your bride turns into a Bridezilla. Then your best bet is to accept that you’ll both look back on this and laugh later.

Sources:

http://www.moneycrashers.com
http://www.huffingtonpost.com
www.usnews.com

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Get Ready to Sweat
Authored By: Jenn R. on 8/12/2014

Crossfit: The increasingly popular, high intensity workout

Do you ever get bored with running on the treadmill? Are you tired of your dead end workout plan? I know I am. What if there was an alternative to boring workouts and feeling like you’re not gaining the results that you want? There is! The answer is CrossFit.

If you work out regularly, you can’t avoid it. The popularity of this high intensity workout is growing.

Learn the Crossfit Lingo

3 terms you’ll hear when you speak the Crossfitters language:

  • A Box – No, it’s not a type of storage unit. A box is a gym that specializes in Crossfit.
  • WOD – In case you thought you were only going to be working out occasionally, the Workout of the Day is posted every day on the Crossfit website.
  • AMRAP – This stands for as many reps or rounds as possible. You didn’t actually think you would just do the workouts one time did you?

Crossfit provides a great total body workout, but joining a CrossFit gym can be expensive. Luckily, there are other options that won’t burn a hole in your pocket.

Most CrossFit workouts can be done at these alternative places:

  • Your local gym
  • A park
  • At home (yes, even there!)

Research local gyms in your area to find out if they offer discounts or free trial periods for new members. I found that my local gym has everything I need to do the workouts!

Park workouts are a new trend where Crossfitters meet outside and use park benches, monkey bars, and their own body weight. This is a great way to get your workout in and enjoy the fresh air with friends and maybe make a few new ones!

Some local parks that offer fitness trails include:

Check out the CrossFit website for the free WOD. Many exercises don’t require special equipment. You’ll be able to do them right in the comfort of your own home. Remember to do modifications based on your fitness level. This helps avoid injuries.

Workout of the Day

CrossFit is a combination of weights, cardio, and Calisthenics to build strength. Workouts may include exercises such as burpees, box jumps, lunges, and deadlifts. Check out this link for a complete list of Crossfit exercises from the official Crossfit website.

Every workout is different. This is why each workout has its own name. The average workout is only 20 minutes in length.

The CrossFit WOD will have a name and recommendations for the amount of time and reps you should spend on each exercise.

Health and fitness is fun when you find the workout that’s right for you. Stay physically and financially healthy by exercising without breaking the bank.

www.crossfit.com
http://dailyburn.com
http://time.com

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5 Warm Weather Safety Tips for You and Your Pets
Authored By: Jenn R. on 8/6/2014

Hot Cars - You've seen the posts on Facebook, and the stories on the news. Do not leave your dog in a parked car. Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont have laws against leaving animals in a car. As a matter of fact, according to Animal Law's table of State Laws www.animallaw.info, in NH a second offense is considered a Class B Felony.

The best rule of thumb: if you can't take your dog with you, don't take your dog with you!

Some people think a "tough dog" can stand these high temperatures. That's not true. High temperatures cook things. Even on a 60 degree day, in the sun the inside temp can reach 100! Even when the windows are left open.

Bug Bites - Keep your dog up to date on heartworm and tick/flea prevention. Consider Lyme prevention if you hike a lot or have a "low rider". If your dog gets stung by a bee or wasp, and exhibits swelling near the eyes, nose or mouth, watch them very closely for the first hour or two. Swelling in these areas can lead to problems with breathing or swallowing. If they seem to be struggling, call your veterinarians office immediately. They will let you know the best treatment for your pet's size, breed, and age. While mosquito, ant or fleabites aren't necessarily dangerous, constant scratching and biting can lead to an infection.

Landscaping - The following plants can be harmful to pets: Sago Palm, Rhododendron, Azalea, Lily of the Valley, Oleander, Foxglove and Kalanchoe. They can cause serious illness or death! If you already have these on your property watch your pets around them. Also watch them around fertilizers, lawn treatments, cocoa mulch (can be deadly and is very attractive to dogs), insecticides, and compost. In a new garden, use pet-friendly versions. If you and your dog have just returned from walking the neighborhood, wipe paws with a damp cloth to remove any chemical residue from lawn treatments or insecticides.

Water Safety - Some dogs love the water, and some don't. Some, due to their build, just can't swim. Barrel-chested dogs, like bull dogs and some terriers are front heavy and cannot keep their head above water. Solution? Get your dog a life vest. Make sure to keep them out of the way of boat motors, heavy waves, and large groups of swimmers. Also, watch the amount of water they drink. Salt water is not good for dogs and can cause vomiting, and dehydration. Fresh water can also cause problems. Instead, make sure to keep a supply of fresh water and a clean water bowl handy on every trip.

Sunburn - Dogs with light colored noses or very short fur are susceptible to sunburn and skin cancer. Do not use human sunscreen on them, but instead purchase fragrance free pet sunscreen. For dogs with very thin or white fur, you can also put a t-shirt on them to protect their back and belly.

Our pets rely on us for their safety. If your dog is a member of your family, treat them as family!

Some great resources for traveling and vacationing with pets can be found at:

BringFido.com
DogFriendly.com
Pets.WebMD.com

Sources:
VetStreet
AnimalLaw
ASPCA

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To App or Not To App?
Authored By: Guest on 8/1/2014

Business Insider estimated at the end of 2013 one in every five people in the world owned a smartphone and one in every 17 owned a tablet. With that kind of technology so widely available, it seems like there's an app for everyone and everything. Managing your personal finances from your smartphone or tablet couldn't be easier with the help of an abundance of budgeting bill-paying apps out there – and most of them are free. But are they all they're cracked up to be? Let's look at some facts, and then you can decide for yourself.

Apps are sunny because:

  • They're convenient. Your accounts are available 24/7, right at your fingertips, and easily accessible if you go out of town.
  • There are apps that will alert you about paying bills on time. BillMinder (available for iOS at $1.99 and Android at $2.99) will send you push notifications. Some apps like Check (free for iOS and Android) will even help you set up automatic payments.
  • Apps can help you with budgeting. Level Money helps track cash flow and is available for free for iOS and Android.
  • You don't have to make a phone call or be physically present every time you want to transfer money between accounts.
  • It's easier to see a general overview of your accounts and make sure everything looks okay, and it's easier than ever to spot fraudulent activity. A general overview of your accounts is also handy to get a feel for where you're spending the most money.
  • It can be easy to see if you've been paid, a check has cleared, or money has deposited into your account.
  • With less people balancing a physical checkbook these days, it's easy to forget when and what you've spent your money on. Fortunately, there's even a check register app called Balance My Checkbook, which you can download free for iOS.
  • Many personal financing apps can be used to locate ATMs.

But they're not always lemon drops and roses:

  • There's a chance an app you really want to try isn't available for your device. Since most apps come from tiny startups, it's a struggle (both monetarily and physically) to make the same app for multiple platforms. If an app was originally developed for iOS but is also available for Android, its Android counterpart most likely won't have all the same features because Android apps are harder to develop.
  • If you're in an area without cell phone service or a wireless connection, there's a good chance you won't be able to access your accounts, which makes the app kind of useless.
  • Most finance-managing apps will log you out after 10 minutes of inactivity, which can be either helpful or frustrating, depending on if you're still using the app.
  • Trust and security can be a concern – especially about using secure network locations or finding fraudulent activity on your accounts. Mobile devices don't really have the same levels of traditional security that computers do, such as encryption and firewalls.
  • People have a tendency to not log out of apps or have an app save their username and password, and if their device is lost or stolen, it could be problematic down the line. Even if your app logs you out after 10 minutes, a lot can happen in such a short amount of time.
  • New apps can be buggy and often take some time to fix, so it's important to take into consideration the customer feedback of an app before downloading it. If it doesn't have a high rating, it's probably not worth the download.

It seems like the pros outweigh the cons, but ultimately, each person is different in what they want in personal finance management. Get out there and test out a few to see if one or more will help you out.

Photo by Yutaka Tsutano via cc.

By Margo Pecha Copyright 2014 brass Media, Inc. 

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So You Want To Build Your Dream Home... What's Next?
Authored By: BCCU on 7/24/2014

Construction loans are easier than you think!

Many new home developers recognize that more and more home buyers want custom layouts and features in the houses they're building. When you work with a housing developer that is developing a parcel of land and building a number of homes on it, there are limits to how far you can customize your home (and sometimes specific requirements you have to adhere to.)

But we know there's a group of intrepid individualists—you!—who want to design and plan every aspect of your very own dream home. When you hire a contractor to build a specific custom home for you, the options are endless. As a financial institution that can dream as big as you, Bellwether can help you learn the steps of working with a contractor to build your own home. We want to ensure this exciting adventure is as smooth as possible.
Steps to building your dream home

  • Select a contractor - There are three ways to find a great contractor. One is from friends or family members who have worked with one. Another is your real estate agent who may be helping you find the perfect lot. The last one is from your Bellwether Mortgage representative who will help you with your construction loan.
  • Review and select a home plan - Do some research online about the kind of home you like—with or without a basement, the number of bedrooms you need—and show samples to your contractor. Your contractor can steer you in the right direction for home plans and blueprints.
  • Determine your budget - Different things, such as the pitch of your roof, the number of bathrooms, the kind of molding you want, all affect the overall cost of your custom home. Your contractor can give you a very rough idea of what to expect, but only when you nail down the specifics can he send out requests for proposal and get some definite costs for you.
  • Secure financing - A custom home you build with a contractor will likely require a construction loan. At Bellwether we work side by side with you to plan and secure your financing so every phase of your build is hassle-free. See below to learn how a construction loan differs from the more common residential home loan.
  • Begin construction - Your contractor will hire and manage all of the trades needed to build your home, from excavating and pouring foundation to the final finishes such as installing light fixtures and sodding your lawn.
  • Consult regularly with your contractor - Make sure you're on the same page with regard to when decisions need to be made on things like paint color, finishings, fixtures, tile and other materials. If decisions are made in a timely manner (in advance whenever possible) then the building schedule will stay on track, which is a requirement of your financing.

Construction loan vs. standard home loan

The primary difference between a construction loan and a standard residential mortgage loan is that with a construction loan we are advancing money on a house that doesn't exist yet. We have to obtain an estimate of the value of the finished home, and then weigh risks due to changes in plans and schedule, which could impact the costs and the final value. To mitigate this risk, we normally review construction loans much more carefully and schedule periodic inspections of the project.

A standard residential loan pays all the funds up front, with a monthly payment set up for the buyer (you) to repay the loan over a long-term schedule. Construction loans, on the other hand, are somewhat different.

New construction loans can be described as "a reimbursement process.*" Land is selected, plans are drafted, and the loan is reviewed and approved by the lender. The construction project is scheduled and as work is completed, the homeowner submits a "draw request" along with documentation to prove completion. The lender has a third party inspect the work and then issues a reimbursement payment for the completed construction for that time period. The buyer typically makes interest-only payments during the construction phase, and once the home is completed the builder will either convert the construction loan to a traditional mortgage or the owners will need to refinance.

Tips to getting a construction loan approved

Here are some tips to make the critical step of your construction loan application with Bellwether as strong as possible.

  1. Get a thorough understanding—and all the forms required—of your financial institution's requirements for a construction loan.
  2. Consult with local realtors as well as the city to get an accurate assessment of the value of your property, and homes similar to what you want to build.
  3. Investigate and find a builder or contractor you're comfortable with. Make sure you like his or her work, and that he or she is reputable. Your financial institution may even be able to recommend some.
  4. Obtain blueprints of the home you want to build, and work with your builder or contractor to create an accurate estimate of costs and schedule of completion.
  5. Work closely with your financial institution as you prepare your documentation. The closer you work with them, the better they will get to know you and understand your project. This could add efficiencies to the decision process.

Getting a new construction loan can be confusing, but Bellwether can help. Do your homework on market value, construction costs, and what your income will allow, then give us a call.

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New vs. Used Car Buying
Authored By: BCCU on 7/18/2014

If you're in the market for your first or your next vehicle, deciding between new and used can be a tricky choice. There's something reassuring about a brand new vehicle that has never been driven by anyone else, with everything from upholstery to engine in its optimal condition. However, new vehicles can be pricey. Used vehicles are much more affordable, but you're also purchasing a vehicle that has been driven by somebody else—and possibly driven harshly, with future pricey repairs lying in wait.

Before you start running some numbers in a car loan calculator, here are a few things to consider when looking at a new vehicle vs. a used one:

Reasons to buy new

  • New cars take advantage of the latest technology (eg. rear back-up cameras or hybrid fuel options.)
  • New cars come with warranties—you'll be worry-free from major repair bills for the first two or three years.
  • New cars sometimes qualify for better financing options such as a lower interest rate or a cash-back offer.
  • Bellwether offers the same rate for new or used cars.
  • Your budget allows for a new car.

Reasons to buy used

  • Used cars are generally cheaper than their new counterparts.
  • Used cars sometimes can have remaining warranty transferred to the second owner.
  • Used cars sometimes (depending on the age and type of engine or features) can be cheaper to maintain or repair.
  • Used cars often are cheaper to insure.

Narrowing your vehicle search

Before you start your vehicle search research, you'll need to track your research. You can create your own spreadsheet, or download this one as a starting point:


Click the image to download this spreadsheet to track your research.

Then you can dig into the research:

  • Check out the websites of the major manufacturers—Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Kia, Mazda, Toyota, Volkswagen, etc.—and note which models fit the kind of vehicle and features you're looking for. Add them to your spreadsheet.
  • Research the models you're interested in on the Internet. For example, which ones cost more to repair, or seem to need more repairs? (Some imports cost more for parts than domestically-manufactured vehicles.)
  • Fill in each column for each model on your spreadsheet.

Buying the best new or used vehicle

Once you know the kind of vehicle that best suits your needs and budget, you can begin your search for your vehicle. You can search a new or used car dealer's website to see what they have in stock (phone and ask, if you don't see it online—not all dealers list all their used inventory online,) and then visit their showroom to get a real feel for the vehicle and how it drives. What does it cost? What warranty (if any) comes with the vehicle? Note everything in your spreadsheet, including your impression of how the test drive felt, how your passenger(s) felt (it's always a good idea to bring along a friend for a second opinion,) and how the interior features were to operate.

TIP: If you let the dealer know you're a Bellwether Community Credit Union member, you may be able to get your Bellwether loan right at the dealership!

If you're looking to buy a used vehicle privately, search your local printed or online newspaper classifieds, or selling sites such Craigslist. Arrange to view and test drive the vehicles that fit your needs and budget. Ask questions, such as how up-to-date the regular maintenance record is, and if it's been in any serious accidents. Make note of the VIN or serial number so you can check it later on a website such as Carfax, AutoCheck or the free VINCheck from the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

Help and car loan financing from Bellwether

Whether you've decided on which works better for you—a new vehicle or a used one—Bellwether has options to help you with the financing, as well as handy online tools from loan calculators to car value assessments to help you narrow down your search. You can even apply for a loan online right here!

Just click here, or call us at 603-645-8181. 

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Is a 5/5 ARM right for you?
Authored By: BCCU on 7/17/2014

What is an ARM?

Adjustable Rate Mortgage (ARM) is an important term, especially if you are in the market to buy a new home.

ARM Definition: a mortgage having an interest rate which is usually initially lower than that of a mortgage with a fixed rate, but is adjusted periodically.

Bellwether’s 5/5 ARM is unique because it is a variable rate mortgage with longer periods of stability. Most ARMs have an initial term, but then switch to adjusting every year. Bellwether's 5/5 ARM rate is set at the start and stays at that rate for the first 5 years, then adjusts every 5 years. Our 5/5 is more stable than a 3/1 or 5/1 ARM which adjust annually after the first period.

Understanding the Rate System

The most appealing feature to the 5/5 ARM is that the rate only fluctuates every 5 years. As with all ARM products there are limits, and the rates cannot continue to fluctuate past a certain point. These limits are called caps. At Bellwether Community Credit Union the 5/5 has 2/2/5 caps.

  1. Initial Adjustment Cap
  2. Periodic Adjustment Cap
  3. Lifetime Cap

The initial adjustment cap is the amount the rate can change up or down at the first adjustment period. With the 5/5 ARM this cap is 2%.

The periodic adjustment cap is the maximum the rate could change up or down in subsequent adjustment periods. With the 5/5 ARM this cap is every 5 years up to 2%.

The lifetime cap is the maximum percentage that the rate can change over the life of the loan. With the 5/5 ARM the maximum percentage is 5%.

Why Bellwether’s 5/5 ARM is perfect for you

Bankrate recently posted their “Top 10 Tips for Mortgage Borrowers in 2014” and an Adjustable Rate Mortgage landed on the list. The average family moves every 7 years. If you are one of these families, a 5/5 ARM would be a great option because your rate would only be subject to change once in that time frame and only by 2% maximum. This allows you to plan for that “worst case scenario.” ARMs are also perfect for:

  • First time home buyers
  • Families planning to relocate within the foreseeable future
  • Refinancing your ARM or Fixed Rate Mortgage

If you determine that a 5/5 ARM is right for you, check our current rates and find out more!

Sources:

Lending Tree

Realtor.com

Merriam-Webster

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Summer Activities on a budget in New Hampshire
Authored By: Amanda N. on 7/15/2014

How to be cost efficient and still enjoy your summer

For most New Englanders, summer is a time to venture outside, enjoy the warm weather, and stay active before the snow comes back. Even on a budget, there are ways to make the most out of your summer without an elaborate vacation.

Check out this link to Visit NH and you’ll find that New Hampshire is a great state to explore because it offers coastline, mountains, arts and culture.

Venture to the White Mountains

If you enjoy the great outdoors, the White Mountains are the perfect spot for a summer getaway! State parks usually also have low admission fees. I'd suggest the following as activities in the White Mountains that won’t break your budget:

  • Camping - A fun activity for the whole family. Check out this great list of campgrounds from the NH State Parks website. Most are near lakes so you can enjoy an afternoon of swimming or boating, and another plus, a number of campgrounds are also pet-friendly.
  • Hiking - The Granite State is full of trails and mountains available to the public. Check out this list from Hike-NH. You’ll have fun, and enjoy a good workout!
  • Sightseeing - Only have a day to travel? Discover everything New Hampshire has to offer by taking a scenic drive! Visit the National Scenic Byways Program to discover the most scenic routes! If you prefer to take a train ride, the White Mountains have several stations that offer both scenic rides and dinner trains. Check out this list of railroads for contact information, scheduling, and pricing.

Enjoy the Seacoast

If you enjoy the beach, visit the coastline in the southern part of the state. New Hampshire is home to 5 State Park beaches along the beautiful Northeast seacoast. The beach can be a free activity if you try the following tips to avoid added costs.

  • Street parking - Arrive early to find spots that don’t require feeding a meter or paying a lot fee.
  • Pack your own lunch - Bring a cooler, sandwiches, snacks, and drinks instead of paying high prices at a concession stand.
  • Bring your own gear - Pack your own sunscreen, towels, floats, and toys rather than buying them when you get there.

Discover Arts & Culture

Find live music events, museums, fairs, and community activities. These are all great places to bring the whole family without breaking the bank. Be as frugal as possible and look for:

  • Free child admission
  • Discount days
  • Group deals

Every little bit counts! Don’t miss out on all that NH offers.

Appreciate at Home Fun

Back yard barbeques are great for a friends-and-family get together. To create added entertainment and save money, US News outlines the following recommendations:

  • Shop for foods at your local farmers market
  • Create recipes for themed meals.
  • Take turns hosting

Remember, you don’t have to miss out on a fun, enjoyable summer just because you’re living on a budget. Use these tips and track your spending to have a fun, safe, and more affordable summer season!

Sources:

Visitnh.gov
Money.usnews.com
Nhstateparks.org 

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Who Said Scavenger Hunts Are Just For Kids?
Authored By: Jenn R. on 7/10/2014

A few weeks ago I attended a local Young Professionals Scavenger Hunt – it was part race, part contest, part bar-crawl (minus the alcohol), but largely a ton of fun with my friends and meeting other people. The object was to complete all the tasks in the least amount of time, with a 5-hour time limit. There were approximately 12 teams, ranging from groups of 2 to 8 adventure-seeking professionals of all ages. Once our team checked in, we received our bibs (just like you’d get at a road race), a sealed manila envelope, and food tickets. After a brief overview of the rules and expectations, the clock started and we were on our way.

Planning our attack.

We immediately opened our envelope and discovered we had 12 “clues” related to locations around the town and a map of the city. The first 4 clues were actual photos of the specific locations that we needed to first, locate, then recreate the photo with all of our team members in it. We then had to submit these clues by email to get full credit. We skimmed thru the list to determine which clues we already knew and mark that clue number on the map. Once we had determined the majority, we were off and running.

Collecting the Goods.

As we reached each location there was either a photo to take or prize to obtain. Most of the clues were pretty challenging, and we learned the hard way that we needed to read the clues carefully. Specifically, one of the clues actually told us that a specific location didn’t open until 3pm, so when we arrived at 1pm we were greatly disappointed. We collected all the items: butterfly wings, princess crown, koozies & tent card, as well as took all the required photos, with some help from local people and other teams!

Crossing the Finish Line.

With about an hour to spare, we arrived at the final location, sadly, we weren’t the first ones. Maybe it was because no one on our team was actually from that city (we all live over an hour away) or when we submitted 2 incorrect photo clues. But we finished 3rd out of 12 teams and received special recognition for being the 1st team to complete one of the photo clues. We were rewarded with t-shirts, glassware and other fun prizes. Then, we got to enjoy some delicious food while we watched a slideshow of all the team photos that were submitted.

This event was a great way to get to know the city, get some exercise outside, and spend time with your friends. Are you looking for something fun to do around your town? Or maybe find a way to make some new friends? Look into your local Chamber of Commerce or Young Professionals Network; they are a great resource for local events.

Manchester Young Professionals
Nashua Young Professionals
List of all NH Young Professional Networks: Stay. Work. Play. 

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Why Business Networking is So Important
Authored By: Amanda N. on 7/9/2014

Whether you are a recent college graduate or a seasoned professional, business networking is important for the growth of your career. Take the time to consider who you know and who they know. You’ll soon realize you have more connections than you thought you did. Why not take advantage of these relationships? Statistics show that 95% of people network for building relationships.

Fast Company outlines the following “3 Best Practices for Effective Business Networking.”

  1. Leave every event with at least one person to follow-up with
  2. Obligate time to build your social networks
  3. Concentrate on building 5-10 strong relationships

This advice sounds easy, but the thought of networking scares some people. If you are a person that is afraid of business networking, check out: 3 Ways to overcome your Networking Fears, from “The Fast Track.”

When an event comes up, use these tips from Entrepreneur, to increase your chances of meeting someone new:

Tip #1 Arrive Early

  • Arrive early. Start a discussion with people not already talking to someone else.
  • Ask what brought them to the event. It opens the floor for further discussion.

Tip #2 It’s not all about you

  • Smile to show other people that you are approachable.
  • Allow the conversation to flow naturally. Don’t force it by selling your product or service
  • Actively listen to what the other person has to say.
  • Once the opportunity presents itself, be able to express what you love so much about your company, product, or service.
  • Have business cards with you to easily exchange contact information.

Tip #3 Follow-Up

  • Follow-up in a timely manner, and reference something you discussed to remind the person of who you are. (This is where listening comes in.)
  • A simple email is fine, or sending the person an invitation to connect on LinkedIn works as well

Still think business networking isn’t important? The truth is business networking is beneficial for everyone. Even if you aren’t looking you may discover opportunities to grow within your field, opportunities to recommend someone you know, or opportunities for your employer as a whole; all things that are very important to a successful long term career.

Sources:
The Boston Globe
Business Network SW
The Fast Track

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Finding Success at Saving Money
Authored By: BCCU on 7/2/2014

For some people saving money seems easy. For others, it's hard work. Our culture celebrates shopping, not saving for a rainy day. Still, saving is important and makes a very real difference in your financial future. Financial icon Dave Ramsey advocates accumulating a $1,000 emergency fund as the first step towards financial security.

Having trouble putting away as much money as you’d like? Try some tips I’ve learned to making saving easier.

Pay Yourself First

It's a common savings rule - “Pay Yourself First.” It means setting aside funds for your personal savings —before you pay your bills, shop for groceries or enjoy a night out. It’s hard to save money after bills and other expenses are paid. Savings needs to be a priority and paying yourself first makes sure it gets done.

Make it a Habit

Treat savings like any other “bill” to get into the "savings mindset." Put savings on autopilot by having your paycheck or a portion of it direct deposited, or set up an automatic transfer in Online banking each time you get paid. Out of sight, out of mind. If you don’t see it, you won’t think about spending it.

Set a Goal

Many of us do better when we have goals. Start by breaking your end goal into achievable, smaller goals, and then celebrate those smaller goals. For example, your ultimate goal may be saving $2,500. Go out for ice cream or treat yourself to that Venti specialty coffee from your favorite barista for every $250 you accumulate. Because those are the kinds of things you cut back on when you're trying to start a new savings habit. (Make certain your splurge doesn't use your hard won savings)!

Make it Painful to Touch It

Once you see savings accumulate, your old spending habits may come back. Something will break down, the kids will need money for a field trip, or you’ll see an amazing outfit on sale. Make it a challenge to get at your savings. Consider opening a separate account without debit or check access, or put your savings into a certificate with a penalty for early withdrawal. Find a way to put a “lock” on your savings until you've built the habit of not touching those funds for other than the intended plan. Some people even put all their credit cards into a container filled with water, and put it in the freezer. Gives you plenty of time to rethink that purchase while you're waiting for your cards to thaw!

Stop the Madness

The final component to successful savings is to change your spending habits. In the past, I saved money, but spent the same amount (or more) with plastic. Using plastic can be a tough habit to break. However, savings is a good habit to get into. Once your savings build, you’ll begin to view spending from that perspective: that jacket is a “weeks' worth of savings” or that trip is equal to “two months’ worth of savings.” It makes you think when you know how hard you worked to build that savings. Best of all, over time, you'll view savings in the same way you used to view spending, something to be happy about. Especially when those savings help you achieve other big goals.

For most of us, saving money doesn't come naturally. Just remember:

  • Don’t get discouraged
  • Don't give up

You too can be on the way to sound savings habits!

Sources:
BCCU's BudgetSaver24

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Fresh Air, a Happy Dog and a Budget-Friendly Way to Get Healthy
Authored By: Jenn R. on 6/27/2014

Living in New England, we have access to some amazing walking trails. Looking to get healthy? Try a local trail to get your family, pets and yourself on the trail to a healthier life.

I've joined gyms in the past, signed up for weight loss programs, and have more than a dozen work-out DVDs at home. But for me, the least expensive and most effective health program I've used is walking. This month I'm getting myself back into shape after a very long and snowy winter on the couch. My first walk of 2014 brought me to the Dunstable Rural Land Trust, right off exit 1 in Nashua and the Nashua River Rail Trail. A great 400-acre park with trails, and a beautiful pond for dogs and kids to splash around in!

Easy Access

For me, if it isn't easy to get there, I won't go. I can't complain with Dunstable since it's about a 10 minute drive. A walk along the blue trail to the pond and back is a good 3 miles for me, and a game of fetch or a bit of swimming in the pond keeps my Jack Russell terrier mix happy and exercised for free! No need for a dog park membership or a treadmill.

The parking area at the Gregg Road/Main Street entrance (it's Gregg Road in NH, Main Street in MA) is small; probably only big enough for six cars. Arrive before 9 AM to beat the crowds. Print out a map beforehand since there are no maps at the park.

Be Prepared

A gym membership or weight loss program usually includes the opportunity to buy snacks, water, and other items; maybe even childcare and a locker to store your valuables. Walking doesn't provide these perks, but you're saving money so spend a little on things you'll need:

  • Water
  • Bug spray
  • Sun screen
  • Snacks
  • Zip lock baggies (great for taking out trash and packing wet clothing or sneakers)

Set Your Sights!

Enjoy walking? Set up a calendar of trails to explore in your area. Most are dog friendly, great for walking with younger children, and all provide an easy and inexpensive workout and other activity options. A few of my favorites in the Southern NH area include:

I love being outside, enjoying the sunshine, and finding new places. For me, walking is one of the best ways to enjoy all three and get healthy at the same time.

Sources:
Nashuanh.gov
Hudsonnh.gov
Merrimackoutdoors.org

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DIY Shows Do It, Why Can't I?
Authored By: Trish R. on 6/19/2014

Be brave and decorate like the pros to save your budget and make your home uniquely yours.

I'm hooked on all the DIY home makeover shows. I ooh! and aaaah! over the unique, personalized kitchens, living rooms and bedrooms they seem to create on a "shoestring." They take a theme and make it work over and over, and it's all so creative I want to run out and do that to my house! But it seems like an expensive and rather permanent way to decorate with a theme that might get old in a week or two! So how can I be creative, stick to my budget, and get a look that I won't tire of?

Accessorizing a Room

I love color and a look that makes a statement. But some ideas would be a bit overwhelming if I made them the focal point of a room. To keep your DIY decorating in line with your budget, and prevent it from taking over your house, consider accessorizing a room with your idea - maybe an accent wall, maybe a single door, or maybe just the wall treatments. Most people hesitate to make a truly bold statement when decorating. I recently decided to decoupage a dado wall on my large balcony. The space itself is open to the entry hall below, and has a full wall of windows on the non-balcony side. At 20 x 10', it's a big space, bigger than a lot of rooms, but it always looks sterile and gives the room below a vacant look, since the walls and window frames are white. I decided to install a dado wall, and the creative part would be decoupaging antique music onto that lower portion. Since I use the space for music rehearsals, and can move a piano up there, it'd give the space a purpose, and an identity. It'd probably also give me some ideas for other treatments in the area.

Decoupage as a Cost Effective Wall Treatment

If you or your mom remembers the 60's and 70's, you remember what Mod Podge is; a thin white glue that dries clear and can be used to make collages, decorate vases, and for me, decorate a wall. My mother had a large collection of antique music (which most people think I should sell on eBay but in reality is only worth a dollar or two a piece so not that eBay worthy), and I have a lot of new copies of popular music from the 60's and 70's. Seemed the perfect collection to use for my dado collage. To give it all that vintage feel, I brewed up a batch of strong black tea and dyed the newer music, soaking it in a baking pan filled with the hot tea. In a few minutes, the paper had a nice sepia tone, and blended perfectly with the authentic antique music.

My biggest challenge was finding large containers of Mod Podge (I'd probably need a couple gallons), and just diving in. We nailed panels of bead board to the painted dry wall first. This way, when I was tired of the music panels they could be easily removed. Starting with the first few pieces was tough because I wanted them to look random, and not evenly lined up. I watched a couple online videos on how to do this, but they were so planned out and orderly I knew it wouldn't be me. I jumped in with some scissors and a selection of title pages and antique music ads, and by the end of 2 hours I had a small section done. Phew! I knew I was heading in the right direction when a friend stopped by to visit, and without my prompting, looked up and immediately noticed the work I'd done. "Wow! That looks amazing!" She headed up the stairs to get a closer look. "I'd be afraid to do that on my own, but it looks incredible!" I took a deep breath and knew the project would be a success!

Explore Your Ideas

Decorating can be extremely expensive if you're buying all your materials from a design store, paying for someone else to do the work, or trying to copy a photo in a magazine. I have a history of experimentation with decoration. A few of my projects have included:

  • Splatter painting a kitchen accent wall (including paw prints from my dog!)
  • Wall borders made of silk leaves, crayons and even foam cutouts
  • Fireplace mantels decorated with beach glass, wine corks and crackled marbles
  • Bathroom door panels decorated with shells and seahorse stencils
  • A kitchen wall covered with Corn Flake boxes

In every case I started out lacking belief in my own design concepts, but in each case I ended up with something fun, memorable and uniquely my own. And in most cases the total cost was under $200. A budget-friendly makeover for sure! Be brave and experiment on your own, maybe in a guest bathroom or a child's bedroom. For some this kind of decoration isn't a great fit, but if you're like me and love those makeover shows, give it a try! You may discover an entirely new talent!

Sources:
MarthaStewart.com
PlaidOnline
Mother Earth News

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Is there a Big Event in Your Future?
Authored By: BCCU on 6/12/2014

HELOC vs. Personal Loan

Planned events, unexpected events…they can be covered with a Bellwether HELOC.

It might be your son or daughter's wedding. Or a home renovation for the new baby. Or maybe a once-in-a-lifetime cruise. Whatever the special event, you can make it happen with a Bellwether HELOC.

 

What is a HELOC?

HELOC stands for Home Equity Line Of Credit. A HELOC is money that's available to you based on the amount of equity you have in your home—meaning the difference between your mortgage balance and the value of your home.

 

 

Precious little bundles sometimes need more room than you think.

 

Is a HELOC better than a personal loan?

A HELOC provides funds that you're able to access whenever you need it. You only pay interest on what you use. A personal loan is a set amount of money loaned to you, on which you make monthly interest and principal payments. One big difference is with a personal loan you're paying interest on the full amount, versus only paying interest on what you use when you have a HELOC. PLUS, sometimes HELOC can be tax-deductible—BONUS!

HELOCs are a great way to be prepared for unexpected expenses, or to prepare for a big event, without having to commit to a high monthly payment. As long as you pay the interest due, you can pay off the principal at your own pace.

Think a HELOC might work for you?

Our staff can discuss your needs and help you determine the best solution. Give us a call today at 1-866-996-9828 or get started online!

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5 Tips For Young Professionals Seeking an Internship
Authored By: Amanda N. on 6/10/2014

Finding a position that’ll add to your resume, not just use up your summer.

The current job market is extremely competitive for recent college grads, and internships help them stand out with future employers. Finding an internship that fits your personality and teaches you transferrable skills is important to make sure you get the most out of your experience. A valuable internship should offer education, practical work experience, and the opportunity to grow as a young professional.

So how exactly do you find an internship where you aren’t just making coffee runs and filing papers?

Forbes provides valuable tips to consider when looking for the perfect internship that suits you both personally and professionally.

Things to Consider:

  • What are your values?
  • Exactly what is it that you want to gain from this experience?
  • What type of environment do you thrive in?
  • How far are you willing to travel?
  • Do you have the proper transportation?
  • Is the internship paid or unpaid?

Tip #1: Networking

Networking is an important part of finding an internship. Reach out to both your personal and professional contacts to see if you know anyone that works at the companies in which you are applying. Use sites like LinkedIn to see if you know anyone who knows anyone, it could help you get a foot in the door.

Tip #2: Develop a great cover letter, resume, and sample of your work

Develop a cover letter, resume, and any other application materials that the company requires. Your resume may be a single page with limited experience but include positions held in school, organizations you’ve worked with, and examples of projects you’ve been a part of. Peak their interest for best results.

Tip #3: Research the Company

Remember that it is important to research the company. Check them out on LinkedIn, Facebook, or just google their name. You can find all kinds of information to determine if they’re a company you want to work for, and what challenges they are facing. Come up with questions that directly connect to their reality to impress your interviewer with your level of interest.

Tip #4: Rock the Interview

Once you have secured an interview, professional dress is crucial until someone tells you otherwise. Arrive to the interview a few minutes early to make sure you have enough time to find where you are supposed to be. If the interview is relatively close it may be wise to drive there a few days prior to the interview to avoid getting lost the day of.

Always make sure to look the person interviewing you in the eye, be confident and have good posture. Make sure to ask them questions that show them that you are eager about the position. Ask the interviewer about next steps and the time frame in which they expect to make their decision. This information will tell you when a good time to follow-up about the position.

Tip #5: Follow-Up

An email is an acceptable way to follow-up with an employer after the time frame that they gave you. If they advised you to call this may also be acceptable. Handwritten notes are not as common with the increasing use of technology, but will certainly help you stand out against other candidates. Mashable provides expert tips on following up, including what NOT to do.

If you are offered the position make sure to respond to the offer in a timely manner. If you are not offered a job do not get discouraged. Every interview is a learning experience and better prepares you for the next one.

Good luck finding an internship, the experience will be more than worth it!

Sources:
Forbes.com
ResumeBuilder.org
Mashable.com
 

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Auto Loans for College Students
Authored By: BCCU on 6/5/2014

 

 

In New Hampshire, there’s really no way around it; having a car is essential to everyday life. With the exception of urban areas such as Manchester or Nashua, there’s little-to-no public transportation available. 

 

 

 

If you’re a recent college graduate, the situation becomes even more imperative- gone are the days when everything you need is only a short walk across campus. You may be able to survive by hitching a ride with your family or friends, but that's a temporary solution. Once you land your first professional job, you'll need your own reliable source of transportation.

But how can a recent college student go about obtaining a car loan if you're already swamped with student loans and/or credit card debt?

You're not alone. Here are some facts to consider:

  • As of 2012, student loan debt surpassed credit card debt with a total of over $956 billion. (Federal Reserve Bank of New York)
  • Over 90% of college students have at least one credit card and graduating seniors have an average of $14K in credit card debt. (Forbes)
  • In 2011, students graduating from Granite State colleges and universities had the highest average student loan debt load in the nation at $32.4K compared to the national average of $26.6K. (Nashua Telegraph, the Project Student Debt)

These facts may seem daunting at first glance. But with the right financial institution, you can devise a plan for a successful future.

Some key advice for College graduates seeking a car loan:

1) Build Good Credit

If you can document your monthly income it’s time to start thinking about applying for a credit card under your name. Building good credit is not only a great habit, but also necessary to apply for loans, mortgages, auto insurance, rental applications, cell phone plans and even some jobs. Start by using your card for small, reoccurring expenses that you can pay off in a few months on a regular basis, such as groceries or your Netflix account. It's not a good idea to live off your credit cards, but in the beginning, to build a track record and not spend more than you should, using the card for regular expenses you already know you can afford helps to build a solid payment history. Think of building good credit as a journey; most financial institutions need to see six months or longer of good credit history before they decide to hand you a loan. It takes longer than a month or two, but if you stick to it, you'll get there. Lastly, the quality of your credit score will depend on your ability to make payments on time, so don’t be late!

Quick tip: Did you know that by law you are entitled to three copies of your credit report each year, for free? You can receive the reports all at once, or spread them throughout the year to track whether your credit is improving. Visit www.annualcreditreport.com for a free credit report. This is the official website to obtain your free reports.

2) Co-sign with a Parent/Guardian

If you’re still working on your credit history but need a vehicle now, another option would be to get a parent or guardian to co-sign the loan for your new or new-to-you car. Many financial institutions ask for a co-signer when a borrower has a limited credit history. The co-signer usually has established a good credit history and has a solid credit score. Many parents co-sign for their children’s cars in order to help them achieve financial independence quicker.If they're willing, this is a great way to get yourself started, but make certain you're the Primary Borrower so the payment history helps you build credit history. It’s also important to note that it's your responsibility to make payments on the car loan on time. If you fail to do so, responsibility is then be placed on the co-signer (parents or guardians). This could result in damaging your co-signer's good credit standing. They are taking a risk by signing with you, so talk with your parent or guardian about the possibility of co-signing a car loan before making your final decision and make sure you both understand the level of responsibility.

3) Seek Financial Advice

Regardless of how you obtain a car loan, it’s always important to seek professional advice. Important financial factors like your maximum debt-to-income ratio will determine the terms and amount of car loan available to you. At Bellwether Community Credit Union, our maximum debt to income ratio for auto loans is usually 40%. Meaning total debt (including housing, credit cards, other loans including student loan, and the new auto loan) can't exceed 40% of gross income (before taxes) on a monthly basis. Discussing your options with a professional will help point you in the right direction. Stop by one of our branches or call us at 1-866-996-9828 and we'll be happy to chat with you, no appointment needed. You can also submit one of our online applications available on our website.

To learn more about our auto/truck loans and apply online, visit:

http://www.bccu.org/Car-Loans-Truck-Loans-48.html

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The Road to Getting a Motorcycle
Authored By: Jenn R. on 5/30/2014

Warm weather is here and with it comes the excitement of open country roads and a new motorcycle. If you’ve been thinking about getting one,  there are few things you should know.

1.       You need a motorcycle license.

2.       You will need a motorcycle. (May seem obvious, but this is about the destination, not just the journey!)

3.       "How will you pay for that new ride?" (a very important question)

Getting the Paperwork Out of the Way

Obtaining a motorcycle license is pretty straight forward. You need to pass a vision test, prove sufficient fitness to drive a motorcycle, and you must be at least 16 years old.  Fitness is proven by either passing a Basic Rider Course or by taking a motorcycle skills test. In New Hampshire any applicant under 18 years old must take the Basic Rider Course.

Shopping for a Bike

Now the fun part: What kind of bike do you want? Options are varied:

Sport bikes (emphasizing speed, acceleration, braking and cornering on paved roads) - Kawasaki Ninja or a Suzuki GSC-R are good examples

Cruising bike (less demanding to ride because they're tuned for low-end torque, requiring less shifting. Also designed to allow the rider to sit in a more relaxed position) Honda Shadow,  Harley-Davidson Road King,  or Honda Gold Wing are great options.

It helps to consider how you will use the bike.  Are you looking to save on gas and drive it back and forth to work? Or are you and your friends up for leisurely drives on the weekends?

Financing Your Dream

Once you’ve decided what kind of motorcycle you want it's time to think about financing. Most people finance motorcycle purchases with a loan. Questions to ask yourself :

·        Will I finance all or only a portion of the money needed? 

·         What can I afford for a monthly payment?

·         How long do I want to be paying for this bike? (36 months?  48 months? Or something in between?)

A Bellwether bike loan provides multiple options and flexibility. We offer up to 100 percent financing. Apply online or stop by one of our branches to get started. At Bellwether we make applying for a motorcycle loan easy.

Sources:
State of NH Motorcycle information
Gas2 Blog

 

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Starting Your Emergency Fund
Authored By: Guest on 5/29/2014

So, you’re brown-bagging your lunch, clipping coupons, and saving your pennies. Now what should you do with your savings? It’s time to do a little planning and settle on your savings goals – both short-term and long-term.

Opening a savings account

Don’t simply decide you'll keep your extra cash in your checking account and vow not to touch it. It’s far too tempting to justify a splurge on a cute pair of shoes or a night out when the funds are so readily available. Set up a separate account for your emergency fund. This account should be separate from any other savings account, as well.

Setting savings goals

It’s important to start with a goal in mind, but don’t set your sights too high at first. Trying to save too much and cutting out all fun money can lead to frustration and send you off course. Choose a realistic initial goal, like $500 or $1,000. Employ some of the tips from my previous post to gather up initial savings and help you reach your goal as soon as possible. Once you reach your initial goal, set a new goal. Your second goal could be to save enough to cover one month of living expenses.

Experts generally agree you should have three to six months’ worth of expenses in your emergency account. Make this your ultimate goal, but don’t get bogged down with how far away those numbers seem. Remain steadfast with your commitment to save, and watch your account grow.

Make saving a habit in order to grow your fund, and increase the amount you can save each month as your situation changes. Consider setting aside a portion of each paycheck, and have it directly deposited into your emergency savings account. You may never miss the money you don’t see in your checking account, and this way you won’t be tempted to spend it. A little bit each week can add up quicker than you think.

When to use your savings

Emergency funds are just that: funds to use only in case of a crisis. Be clear on what constitutes an emergency for you. Large car repairs, appliance repair or replacement, and loss of employment all qualify. Nearing the end of a pay cycle and not having quite enough to purchase concert tickets, however, does not. Resist the temptation to dip in when it’s unnecessary, and honor the true purpose of your fund.

And as emergencies do pop up, remember to USE your savings. Many people get caught up in hoarding their savings and forget why they created an emergency fund to begin with. Don’t sink yourself into debt when you have the cash available; you’re creating this safety net to use it when you need it. You should choose to rebuild emergency savings instead of incurring debt and paying high interest. Saving now will allow you to handle life’s future twists and turns without disrupting your living habits.

Photo by Images Money via cc.

By Erin Pittman Copyright 2014 brass Media, Inc.

Ready to open an account? Get started at: www.bccu.org/Savings
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BCCU Community Team Happenings
Authored By: BCCU on 5/27/2014

Our own BCCU Community Teams participated in two important events this month.

Bedford Rotary Memorial Road Races

 

 

 

The BCCU Community Team at the 40th anniversary Bedford Rotary Memorial Road Races, May 17, 2014.

 

 

 

This year marked the 40th anniversary running of the Bedford Rotary Memorial Road Races. Races included the Bedford 12K Championship and the Uncle Sam's Rockin'-Walkin' 5K. The Rotary Club of Bedford NH has been serving the Bedford and West Manchester communities for 45 years—almost as long as the run has been in existence! Proceeds of the races go to local Bedford Rotary Club projects and charities.

The BCCU Community Team participated, with our own runners Don Blanchette and Katie Bisbo, and as a gold sponsor for the event.

Taking first place for the men in the 12K event was Amos Sang from Indian Orchard, MA, and for the women Christine Shaw of Manchester, NH. Our top BCCU Team runners were Don Blanchette and Katie Bisbo (pushing her daughter in a stroller!)

First place in the 5K event for the women was Julianne Quinn of Ithaca, NY, and only seconds ahead of her for the men was Sam Wood of Laconia, NH. Our top BCCU Team runners were Carly Hunt and Andrea Ireland. Nice job ladies!

For all the Bedford Rotary Memorial Road Races results, visit the results page at www.coolrunning.com.

 

Walk Against Hunger

 

 

 

 

 

The BCCU Community Team was proud to help raise $128,000 in the New Horizons Walk Against Hunger on May 20, 2014.

 

 

 

 

On May 20th, members of our BCCU Community Team took part in the 22nd annual New Horizons Walk Against Hunger. This year the walk raised a record-setting $128,000 to ensure food and shelter for the hungry and homeless people of Greater Manchester.

44 teams came out to walk the four mile route on the 20th, but Manchester middle schools' students, staff and administration members were the largest support of this effort. They held their own walk events at each school and raised $30,000.

Charlie Sherman, Executive Director said, “It’s a feel good event, knowing that every dollar will help to provide children and their families. When children and their families come to New Horizons either for food distributed by our food pantry or for hot dinner meals served in our soup kitchen, it helps to keep them [children and their families] in their homes simply by saving enough money per month to pay rent.”

New Horizons for New Hampshire is a soup kitchen, food pantry and emergency shelter and support service. For more information about this important organization, you can call (603) 668-1877 or visit www.NewHorizonsforNH.org.

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Buying a Kayak One Week at a Time
Authored By: Jenn R. on 5/21/2014

 

 

 

My plan to save up and get back on the water.

I want to buy a kayak. I had a Perception Acadia a while back and used it every summer, but thought I should be using my money elsewhere, so I sold it. For the past 5 years I’ve missed that kayak and 2014 is the year I’m going to remedy that.

Research Your Goal

I’ve done my research and know the length and type I want. I also have a good idea of the price range ($300 and $500). I’ll consider a used kayak, and I know Fall is a better time to find a good deal, but I want my kayak now. REI provides a great guide on how to choose a kayak. Check their site out if you’re in the market and aren’t sure where to start.

There’s more to a kayak than the kayak

With new sports, there’s always a list of supplies you’ll need. They add to the cost, but also to the enjoyment.

  • Kayak
  • Paddle
  • Personal Floatation Device (PFD- you need one, and can even lose your boat if you’re caught without one on board)
  • Kayak rack
  • Tie downs
  • Water pump
  • Kayak cart
  • Paddling gloves (I have delicate hands)
  • Water boots (makes getting out in marshy areas a little less scary)
  • Rope bag (an inexpensive safety item to save someone’s life)
  • Dry Bag (to keep your things dry!)

Thankfully, I retained most of these items, but I still need a few, so budgeting is my next step. With everything included, I’ll probably need about $600. I could use my tax refund, or pay for all of this on a credit card, but those don’t seem like responsible ways to buy a toy. Saving is more sensible… giving up some fun things now for a lot of fun over the next few years. Following is my proposal:

Give up buying fast food lunch every day - $25/week
Give up dinner out once a week - $25/week
Buy generic at the grocery store - $10/week

My vacation is in 8 weeks, so with this I'll have $480! I can then reasonably charge $120 and pay it off before the grace period is up by just continuing my “cutbacks” for two more weeks. In this way, I’m not eating into savings, and I know the loss of these extras isn’t going to kill me. In the end, the kayak will provide me with something I can enjoy for years to come. Well worth a few months of frugality!

Sources:
REI http://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/kayak.html

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VISA for Vacation
Authored By: BCCU on 5/14/2014

 

 

 

 

See this smile? It'll last 24/7 when unexpected circumstances don't derail the family vacation.

 
 
 
 
 

When you're planning the family vacation, you want to be prepared. And you likely know all the warnings about the dangers of credit cards, but there are some smart reasons to have one.

5 Reasons having a Bellwether VISA in your wallet is a good thing


When Bellwether Community Credit Union decided to offer a credit card, they wanted the benefits to its members to clearly out-weigh other considerations. Here are some of the important things Bellwether focused on for its VISA card:
 
Acceptance—If you run into an emergency of the kind that is double or triple your cash on hand, a VISA card is your best friend. It's accepted almost everywhere, and gives you thirty interest-free days to settle the bill after your vacation.
 
Free Transfers—Whether you're making a purchase or transferring an amount from a second, higher-rate credit card, you pay the same low interest rate. Plus, we don't charge you a fee to transfer that balance. 
 
Rewards—When you use the Bellwether Platinum VISA you'll earn points. How cool is it that your unexpected vacation expense scores you future airfare*?
 
$0 Fraud Liability—It feels as if stories of fraud and identity theft are rampant, but you don't have to worry with a Bellwether VISA. Our card protects you from any fraudulent purchase made on your card.
 
Credit Rating—Using and paying off a credit card strengthens your credit rating, which can help you out down the road when you apply for a mortgage or a home renovation loan.
 
The other bonus with our VISA is our rates. Take a look at them here—they're pretty incredible when you compare them with rates other financial institutions offer
 
Wherever your vacation plans take you this spring and summer, we wish you safe travels and peace of mind.
 
*Our VISA card offers many other rewards, not just travel or airfare perks. You can peruse the choices here: www.curewards.com
 
 
 
 
Bellwether's great VISA Platinum with
CU Rewards is the perfect traveling companion.

 

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Did you know... you are part of something bigger?
Authored By: BCCU on 4/25/2014

 

 

 

There are almost 40,000 ways (ATMs, credit union branches, or self-serve locations) to bank with Bellwether across the U.S.—whether you move there, going to school there, traveling on business, or passing through on a vacation.

 
 
 
 
 
One thing Bellwether members feel good about is banking with an organization that has deep and caring roots in the community. As co-owners, you guide our business practices, help us direct our contributions to the community, and make us a strong financial institution that exists to simplify our members' financial lives. By banking with Bellwether Credit Union, you make a difference.
 
But you're also a part of something bigger than strengthening our local communities.

From sea to shining sea

A question our team gets asked a lot relates to banking beyond our three credit union branches: 

How can I access my account if I'm on vacation (or if I move)?
 
To better serve our members, we're part of a shared branching network called CU Service Centers, and also belong to the Co-Op Financial Services Network. This allows us to partner with other credit union branches and let our members access their accounts through cross-country physical branches, ATMs, and self-serve locations.
 
This gives you access to your account via a network of nearly 30,000 ATMs, close to 5,000 credit union branches and over 2,000 self-serve locations!
Access your bank account from almost anywhere.
Image from Houzz.com, illustration by
Marley Ungaro available on Etsy.

How does banking across the country work?

Using an ATM is easy—just use your debit card. You can also access Bellwether's Mobile24 mobile banking to view balances, transfer funds, pay bills, and find a Shared Branch Location.

If you need to access your accounts at one of our network's shared physical branches, you only need three things:

1) The full name of our credit union (which is Bellwether Community Credit Union)

2) Your member number

3) A valid U.S/State, County, Federal, city Government-issued picture identification with signature

So feel free to journey, adventure and travel to your heart's content—you're part of a bigger network, which means you're never really far from home.

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Do I Really Need to Check My Credit Report?
Authored By: Guest on 4/16/2014

I handle my finances with an "out of sight, out of mind" mantra – basically the opposite of how we're taught. If I overspend during the weekend, I wait as long as possible to check my balance the following week. If I receive an unexpected bill, it immediately goes into the "I'll do it later" pile. Fortunately, however, I always end up getting it done.

Credit, on the other hand, is the ultimate financial "out of sight out of mind." I can't log in somewhere to view it, and there's no deadline for me to check it by. I know it exists, but I could go months, years even, without reviewing my credit report. And for someone like me, that's a problem.

I pay my bills on time, so what's the big deal about checking my credit report?
There are major problems that can arise from ignoring our credit reports – problems that exist even if we practice perfect financial habits. ID theft, incorrect information, and unknown collections are a few prime examples – things we'd never know existed without our credit report. And, left undetected, these errors can be detrimental.

I don't want to apply for a mortgage and discover my credit score is 510 because Joe Schmo opened four credit cards in my name in 2011. I also don't want to find out that I've had a $40-medical bill in collections for the last three years, causing my credit to plummet. Or maybe there's information on my report that's just inaccurate. In any case, without reviewing my credit report I'd have no idea these errors existed; and the sooner incorrect activity is detected, the easier it is to dispute and remove from my credit history.


Checking my credit report is a great way to catch and fix potential errors, but is that all?
Credit reports are also a great resource to help build and improve our credit. Although the reports don't give our actual three digit credit score (this is an additional charge), they do indicate negative and positive activity that impacts said score – information we can use to make changes to our financial behavior.

My credit report might point out that my credit-to-debt ratio is too high. With this information, I'd know to focus on building down my balances to improve my score. Or my credit report may indicate that I've had too many recent credit inquires, informing me that I need be more careful when applying for loans or other activities that pull my credit. Without reviewing my report, I probably wouldn't know that.


I understand why it's important, but how much of a hassle is it to do?
There are three major credit reporting agencies in the United States – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion – and we're allowed a free credit report from each one every year. All we have to do is visit annualcreditreport.com and request it. You can request all three reports at once or, like experts suggest, request one from each agency every four months.

Yes, it's another task to add to our never-ending to-do lists, but it's one that's definitely worth it. I know I won't get anything done unless I have a deadline, so I created credit report deadlines for myself; every four months I have an alarm set to remind me. Whatever works for you, do it. Like most things in the financial world, it's much easier to be proactive than reactive.

Photo by www.LendingMemo.com via cc.

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Is HGTV killing you yet?
Authored By: BCCU on 4/2/2014


 

Are home improvement shows causing your DIY heart to flutter? A home equity line of credit instead of a home renovation loan might be the choice to make your reno dreams come true.



 

There hasn't been a time in history (well, television history) with as many home renovation and do-it-yourself shows as there are right now. And it's not only amazing projects for your unfinished basement, it's gorgeous ideas to create an outdoor kitchen, or eye-boggling designs to renovate your backyard!

Are you letting the thought of getting a home renovation loan stand in the way of you and your spring reno plans? Don't let that be a stumbling block.


Try out our loan calculator to see how the numbers look for your home renovation plans.

 

 

Your new kitchen is just a HELOC away

Whether you want to update your kitchen, add a garage, or turn your college-bound son's room into a Man Cave, you may already have the home renovation project funds you're looking for—in your home's equity.

Even if you purchased your home five or more years ago, or you're concerned that property values have declined, you may have enough value in your home to enable you to get a home equity line of credit (or HELOC.) With property values on the rise, and spring in the air, well…you may want to check out the HELOC landscape for yourself (pun intended!)

Bellwether's Home Equity Plus Line of Credit is calling!

Bellwether has a number of HELOC products, but the Home Equity Plus Line of Credit allows financing of up to 100% loan-to-value ratio (LTV.) This gives you lots of flexibility to take on the major renovation project you've been dreaming about.

One last thing—a HELOC doesn't just have to be for home renovation. It can help pay college tuition or fly you to your dream vacation destination. Call us today to talk it over!

For our full range of HELOC products, visit our site here.

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Bellwether Community Credit Union
425 Hooksett Road, Manchester, NH 03104
409 Amherst Street, Nashua, NH 03063
7 Leavy Drive, Bedford, NH 03110
Tel: 603-645-8181 | Toll Free: 1-866-996-9828
Routing Number: 211489478
National Credit Union Association Equal Housing Lender CU Service Centers Co-op Network

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