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Spring Break / Vacation on a Budget
Authored By: Amanda N. on 3/27/2015

How to break free from the cold without breaking the bank.

Are you tired of shoveling snow yet? I know I am. If you’re anything like me you probably spent too much money on snow removal this winter, and can’t begin to think about plane tickets and hotels. But, after the Winter we just experienced, I think we all deserve a "Spring Break".

Whether you’re a college student planning a last minute Spring Break, or a family looking forward to April vacation, the following tips will help you plan your getaway on a budget.

Snag a Cheap Hotel Room

When I think cheap hotel room I tend to think it will be lower grade. I recently discovered this doesn’t have to be the case. Bankrate outlines “5 Ways to Score Hotel Rooms”, such as using your AAA membership to find a nice room at a discounted rate. If you’re already a member you should definitely take advantage of the benefits!

Consider looking for hotels that offer additional amenities, such as a continental breakfast or swimming pool that add value to your purchase.

Choose Budget-Friendly Transportation

Search for airlines that will allow you to check at least one bag for free. Southwest Airlines allows you to check your first AND second bag for FREE (Ladies I know most of us would like to take advantage of that second bag).

Bring what you can in your carry on and pack lightly for your checked baggage. You'll save money by not paying for heavy baggage or extra bags. (And you'll have room for souvenirs and keepsakes).

Continue to keep the cost of transportation down once arriving at your destination by walking instead of renting a car, or research shuttle bus options. Mapping out your travels beforehand will help you determine what alternatives are available. By determining which attractions are close in proximity, you can plan to visit them on the same day.

The travel itinerary app, TripIt, allows you to store all of the plans for your trip in one place. Use TripIt for weather updates and directions, or to confirm the time of your reservations. It’s called Spring “Break” for a reason. Avoid the added stress of getting lost or arriving late by planning the details ahead of time.

Search For Group Discounts

Many popular destinations have group discounts or family packages. If you're traveling somewhere with many tourist attractions, this can save you a lot of money.

Groupon offers family and kid friendly deals, such as free lodging for kids! That in itself could save you quite a bit of money if you’re booking more than one room.

Looking for a romantic getaway deal for a party of two? Don’t worry, they also have deals for that!

Be sure to check date restrictions and blackout dates on deals before buying. Also, don’t forget to read the fine print and confirm whether the deal is all inclusive or lodging only. If you’re lucky, you may be able to save on lodging, airfare, and dining accommodations.

Planning a Spring Break vacation doesn’t have to mean breaking the bank. If possible, plan ahead to take advantage of all of your options. By doing your research ahead of time you can enjoy a worry-free vacation, without the added price tag. Bon Voyage!

Sources
Bankrate
Groupon
Southwest Airlines
TripIt

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Packing to Move
Authored By: Trish R. on 3/13/2015

I’ve lived in the same house for the last eight years. In that time I’ve managed to collect A LOT of things. Not enough to qualify me for an episode of Hoarders, but I definitely hold on to things, like that Post-It note with just a phone number someday I’ll remember who it belongs to.

The decision to sell my house was easy, but where to begin packing was another story. Every day I stood in a room assessing what it would take to get it packed. After five minutes of this I’d panic and move onto something far more exciting to think about, like breaking in my new running sneakers. After a week of this routine I realized I needed to come up with a plan of action and stick to it. Using the following six tips I managed to survive moving an entire household with my sanity intact.

Packing Supplies: Make a list of the packing supplies. My philosophy? There’s no such thing as too many packing supplies. One item I was surprised that I chose to purchase was packing paper. Why would I buy packing paper when I could just use newspapers? Think about how unsanitary newspaper really is with all the dirt and smelly inks on it, packing paper = brainer.

De-clutter: Before I packed a single box, I assessed what could get donated or tossed out. A good rule of thumb is to ask “Is this my size, taste or current style?” If the answer was no, the follow up question should be “Donate it or toss it?” Good de-cluttering trick: If you have kids like I do, wait until the dark of night to get rid of broken or out grown toys. You’ll avoid any temper tantrums over keeping ever last little broken toy.

Packing: Pick a room. I found starting with a small room such as a bathroom was a great way to get started. Pack everything in that room that isn’t used on a daily basis. Remember to label each box clearly. Cool trick: For the kitchen pack glasses and stemware in clean socks.

Cleaning: As I finished packing a room, I gave it a thorough cleaning from floor to ceiling. This helped minimize the amount of time I spent cleaning after I’d moved out. Fun cleaning trick: play your favorite songs while cleaning! You can’t help but sing and dance.

Trash Removal: After all your de-cluttering and cleaning you will need to make a trip (or several) to the dump. DO NOT leave it to the last minute; you don’t want to spend an entire day going doing dump runs. Smart trick: rent a dumpster and forget about repeated trips to the dump.

Hiring Movers: Moving is incredibly stressful, when I moved from one state to another it was such a relief to have professional movers transport all of my belongings, and they were insured so there was that peace of mind. Can’t afford it? Consider booking yourself a massage for the day after the move, you’ll need it.

Essentials Box/Bag: A relative who moves fairly frequently, recommended that I pack a box or bag with all of the essentials I would need the first couple of days in my new place. I included a couple of changes of clothes, toiletries and my laptop.

Don’t procrastinate. With a little care and planning everything will arrive in one piece, including your sanity. Do you have any suggestions, or lessons you learned the hard way, for moving? Leave us a comment below.

Sources:
About.com/Interior Decorating
About.com/Moving

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New Year, New Budget
Authored By: BCCU on 3/10/2015

 

 

A savings account that automates your goals! Read the article, and then try our budget calculator to help you get started. Image from acultivatednest.com.

 

Did one of your New Year’s resolutions include getting a handle on your family or personal finances? Are you trying to figure out how to save for this year’s minor and major expenses?

Having a plan to meet your savings goals can have a positive effect in other areas of your life. Studies show reducing financial stress can give you a more positive outlook in general, allowing you to approach goals (fitness, healthy eating, etc.) with more enthusiasm. It’s amazing to think that focusing on just one goal can deliver a domino effect for several!

The Bellwether approach to budgeting

Setting up a financial plan and budget for your family can be daunting. In many cases, the plan lives on a computer spreadsheet, but the tracking part stays in bank statements. When you spend or save money, you have to transfer the information from your statement to your spreadsheet or budgeting software. Not bad, but still a time commitment.

We wanted our members to have a simpler way of creating and maintaining a budget that works as hard as they do to achieve their savings goals, with less of an ongoing time commitment. That’s why we created BudgetSaver24.

Auto-budgeting with BudgetSaver24

BudgetSaver24 is a savings account that automates your savings goals. With minimal set-up, it lets you set aside money on a regular basis according to your budgeting plan. Here’s how budgeting using BudgetSaver24 works:

  1. Review your weekly, monthly and annual expenses; these would typically stay in your checking account to be paid as they occur. Try our Budget Calculator.
  2. Determine up to five savings goals you want to achieve for the year.
  3. Visit Bellwether to set up your BudgetSaver24 savings account folders—one for each of the five goals you determine.
  4. Set up automatic transfers to each folder. These transfers can be one-time or recurring, and can have different frequencies, such as weekly, bi-monthly or annually. (Note: There are some limitations on the number of transfers you can make in a month for any one account. Your Bellwether team can help you set up additional savings accounts if your situation needs it.)
  5. As you achieve your savings goals, edit your transfers to move surplus savings to one of your other goal folders. By the end of the year you’ll have hit your goals, and established a new, financially healthy habit.

Budgeting and saving with BudgetSaver24 can bring you closer to your financial resolutions!

Start budgeting today

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Savings folders and automatic transfers make reaching your 2015 savings goal simple and stress-free.

Contact us to get your BudgetSaver24 savings account set up and working for you. Call us at 603-645-8181 or visit our webpage to find our nearest location.

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Rolling over your 401K or IRA for the First Time
Authored By: Amanda N. on 3/4/2015

When I was in high school I had a “real world” type of project. The first part of the project involved learning about money management; this included everything from picking a career, the level of college, and the salary of an entry level position in that field. The second part of the project was participating in a financial literacy fair put on by the credit union league. The fair put students in real life situations about how to budget money. It was an eye opening experience to say the least.

This project really stuck with me. It instilled upon me the importance of managing my money but also about “paying myself first.” This means that you should always put money into your retirement first, and then work your budget with the remaining monies. As a result of this, at my first “real job” I signed up to participate in my companies 401k. I felt so grown up and responsible.

I recently switched jobs and had to figure out how to rollover my 401k, for the first time. Since I wasn’t sure how to navigate the process, I did a little research online and came up with 4 steps to follow when doing this.

  1. First I had to decide if I was going to put the money in my new employer’s 401k or into my own IRA. Since my new employer would be matching my contribution, I opted to roll my old 401k into their 401k program.
     
  2. I worked with my employer’s plan administrator to set up an account. This was very easy and we were able to do it right online. It was during this step that I was made aware of the “12-month rule.” The 12-month rule simply means that you are only allowed to make one rollover in a 12-month period. I wasn’t planning to move the funds anytime soon, so this wasn’t an issue, but I was glad the plan administrator told me about this rule.
     
  3. Once I had my new 401k set up I contacted my previous employers plan administrator and asked for necessary paperwork to do a rollover. I waited until after I had left my previous employer to request this information so it took a little longer to get it. My suggestion would be to get the contact information and forms before you leave.
     
  4. Finally, choose the investments you want your funds to go into. If you were happy with the location of your funds in your previous 401k you can keep them in the same funds, otherwise, this is a good opportunity to review other options and change things up. Even though I was sure I was going to keep my money in the same funds I still looked at other options just to reassure myself.

I was a little nervous, when I first realized I would need to move my retirement money. I had never done it before and didn’t want to mess it up. At the end of the day it wasn’t so bad and I’m happy with my new plan. I can even check my 401k online! All I had to do was download the free app.

Sources:
Vanguard
IRS
CNN Money

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3 Rules for Staying Out of Trouble with Credit Card Debt
Authored By: BCCU on 2/24/2015

 

 

 

Stay out of credit card debt (and boost your FICO score!) with these 3 easy tips. Image from www.investgo24.com

 


Getting buried under credit card debt can sneak up on a person. According to statistics released by the U.S. Federal Reserve, the average indebted U.S. household owes $15,611 in credit card debt*.

Using a credit card is a good way for someone to build credit and develop a strong credit score, but there are three rules you MUST follow to guarantee you stay out of trouble.

Rule #1—Make your payments either early or on time

As noted in an article on creditcards.com, paying your credit card bill late has unfortunate consequences:

“Not only will you face a late-payment charge, which could be higher than your minimum payment, your tardiness will show up on your credit report, damage your FICO score and make it harder to get better terms for future loans and accounts.”†

When you look over each month’s statement (you do this, right?) make note of the due date. Pay it early if possible, before you allocate your money for other things. When you don’t make a payment before your due date, finance and interest charges from that month’s purchases (they accrue from the date of purchase will start to accumulate). It’s this domino effect that gets credit card holders deeper and deeper into debt.

Did you know…The Credit Card Act of 2009 mandates that due dates fall on the same day every month, and allow payments that arrive on the first business day after a holiday or weekend to count as on-time?

Rule #2—Make more than a minimum payment

The most important goal you could have with a credit card is to pay off all your purchases each month. It boosts your credit score and will lead to your credit card company increasing your credit limit. This is a good thing, in case you face an emergency down the road and need the funds.

If you are unable to pay off the balance monthly, make as high a monthly payment as possible. That minimum payment on your bill might look attractive, but often that is only 1% of the principal plus interest charges. And if you’re ever wondering how long it will take to pay off your credit card balance if you only make minimum payments, credit card companies are now required to show balance payoff as a time range. It’s usually at the top of the front page of your monthly statement.

If there are months where you can’t pay off your monthly statement, don’t panic. According to myfico.com, “owing money on your credit cards doesn’t mean you’re a high-risk borrower”††. If you’re responsibly using and paying down your credit, that’s a good thing—even if it takes a bit longer!

 

 

 

 

Try out this calculator to see just how much interest you’ll pay if you only make minimum monthly payments. You’ll be shocked!

 

 

 

 


Rule #3—Read the fine print!

Introductory rates, regular rates, finance charges, fees…all the information is in the disclosure statement provided by your credit card provider. When you’re aware of how your credit card works, you’re less likely to find yourself making costly mistakes in how your manage your credit card debt.

Did you know…According to a Pew Charitable Trust study (May 2011) on average, credit union credit cards had lower annual percentage rates for purchases, and in general offered more consumer-friendly terms.

Tips for when you’re in trouble

Are you in over your head? Here are a few easy steps to dig your way out:

  1. Know where you’re at—Write down the balance and interest rate of every card you have. You can’t set a true goal without understanding where you’re starting from.
  2. Put your cards away—Don’t cancel them, but put your cards where you won’t be tempted to use them. Pay by cash whenever you can, and removed stored credit card data from any online stores.
  3. Analyze your interest rates—When making a plan to pay down your debt, start with the card that has the highest interest rate.
  4. Consolidate your debt—If you have more than three credit cards and you’re having difficulty paying them off, consider consolidating those balances with a low-interest loan from your financial institution. You’ll pay the debt off faster, and with a lower additional interest charge.

For help with your credit card debt, here is another helpful article. For more information on Bellwether Community Credit Union credit cards, visit our website.

Sources:
* NerdWallet
† CreditCards.com
†† MyFICO.com

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Budget-friendly School Vacation Ideas
Authored By: Trish R. on 2/20/2015

School’s out for winter! With all the snow days it feels like the kids haven’t had a full week of school in months and now they get a week’s vacation – how is that fair? Well, guess it’s time to figure out what we’re going to do every day so we don’t have to hear “Mom, I’m bored” for a week straight. In an effort to help you save money, while entertaining the kids, I’ve compiled a list of activities to help you survive the week.

Ski & Stay Package: Looking for a great deal on skiing but don’t want to pay the high costs? Many hotels offer deals if you plan to go midweek. For example, one hotel offers a midweek ski & stay package that includes a one-night double room, an all-day lift ticket for either Wildcat or Attitash Ski Areas, plus unlimited access to other hotel amenities! Prices start at $79 per person, with kids ages 6-12 being only $64 per person!

Boston Children’s Museum for a Buck: Imagine being able to pay $1 per person to enjoy the Boston Children’s Museum? Well guess what, you can! On Friday nights from 5-9pm they offer $1 Friday Nights Sponsored by Target. You’ll be able to enjoy the entire museum without emptying your wallet.

Wolfeboro Winter Carnival: Skiing, skating, snowshoeing… the Wolfeboro Winter Carnival has events for everyone! You can try out a new activity, compete in your favorite, or just watch and enjoy! Check out the website for a detailed list of dates and times.

Family Eagle Excursion & Program: Ever wanted to see a bald eagle? Manchester is home to many resident and wintering bald eagles! Join the Amoskeag Fishways on February 25th for a unique adventure along the Merrimack to learn how they fit into our river community. Only $10 per family, but advance registration is required so contact them today.

Puddle Dock Pond Outdoor Rink: Experience the newest addition to Portsmouth’s Strawberry Banke Musuem – an outdoor rink! Groomed ice, skate rentals, fire pit and a rink-side café! Check their website for daily schedules and special events.

Art Center Camp: Let your child make art all week long, at the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester. Their theme this year is Diners and Drives and they have classes designed for 5 & 6 year olds as well as 6-14 year olds. Visit their website to reserve a spot today!

And don’t forget, there are a lot of other outdoor winter activities, like sledding, snowshoeing, maple sugaring, so take a few minutes and check them out. It could be a life saver!

Let us know what you’ll be doing this February vacation in the comments below!

Sources:
Boston Children’s Museum
Amoskeag Fishways
Currier Museum of Art

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New Year, New Job? A Dozen Things You Should Consider!
Authored By: Trish R. on 2/17/2015

Someone in our office gave their notice a few weeks ago and is starting a new job in the new year! Sounds exciting, but I remember a few new jobs I started, and some things I hadn’t given quite enough thought on beforehand. If I had, I might have saved myself some money, and left my old team a bit better prepared for my absence!

  • CNN Money recommends you check your 401K vesting. If you’re fully vested it isn’t an issue, and you can rollover your entire 401K to your new company, or to an IRA. However, if you’re close to reaching a new level of vesting, you may want to delay starting at that new job. It could literally save you thousands! If it’s the opportunity of a lifetime, and you’re too far away from the next level of vesting to make it make sense, let your new company know you’re leaving that cash behind. They may be able to offer something in your compensation package to make up for it!
     
  • Ask your soon to be “past employer” about their referral policies. Some companies will not give a referral, but maybe you can ask for a Linked In Recommendation from your boss, or a co-worker who knows your style and has worked with you on a project or two.
  • Ask about payroll timing. Some companies are monthly, some bi-weekly, some bi-monthly. Leaving one job for another may leave you with a week or more of no paycheck while you transition. If your new job is going to result in a pay increase (and it should), consider setting aside an amount during your final few weeks to keep you up and running during that transition. If you’re receiving a sign on bonus, or relocation funds, there shouldn’t be as much of an issue.
     
  • Speaking of pay increases, if your new job includes a significant pay increase, consider setting aside a certain amount as direct deposit to a separate savings account. It can be an emergency fund, a vacation fund, or a celebration fund and get you on track with finances with no pain!
     
  • Everyone wants to celebrate a new job, but consider a small celebration now and a bigger one 6 months or more down the road. Put off buying that new car or new wardrobe, until you’ve had a chance to experience that higher income. Rather than running credit cards up to celebrate, set funds aside and think about the best way to mark your advancement. A new car may be the perfect choice, or a weekend getaway or even decking out a new office at home. But until that new paycheck has been around for a while, you’ll just be spending money you don’t have.
     
  • Moving expenses may be tax-deductible. Check with your tax advisor, but if you’re relocating for a job and are not receiving relocation assistance, you may be able to claim them. Keep track of all of it, from boxes and tape your purchase, to moving vans, and even a night or two in a hotel if your trucks arrive after you do!
     
  • If a new job means more money, that also means shelling out more money to Uncle Sam. You should check to see if your new income will result in reaching a higher tax bracket, and plan ahead by making early tax deductions to minimize the impact.
     
  • And don’t forget, searching for a new job and moving expenses related to the job change may be tax-deductible. So, make sure you’re keeping track of your expenses so you can make the most of any possible deductions.

A few final tips:

  • Collect contact information from your co-workers ahead of time! Ask about connecting on Linked IN or other social media sites. Some companies and/or individuals have a policy of not connecting with co-workers, but don’t mind once you’ve moved on. It’s a great way to keep your network growing.
     
  • Update subscriptions to industry magazines, eCommunications, and memberships before you go! You may miss out on publications or announcements before you have a chance to catchup after your move.
     
  • Prepare a written/digital document with notes for your team including sources for material you have used, instructions, or tips for the person taking over your position, and even an outline of plans for the next few months. Things may change entirely after you leave, but it doesn’t hurt to provide support for the team during their transition. Remember, you’re not the only one going through a change. If you’ll be available to answer questions or provide support after you leave, let them know, and provide your preferred contact information.
     
  • Coordinate transfer of any files or records you’ve stored on your individual drive/PC at work to a central location so anyone who needs to can access your material. Check with your IS team and/or your manager to find out how best to do this.

When a new job is on the horizon there is always a lot of excitement, and anticipation, but there may also be regret, sadness, and stress for all involved. If you head into the transition prepared, and give consideration to all concerned you can rest assured that you’ve done all within your power to make the change a positive one.

Sources
CNN Money
Dept. of Labor
TurboTax

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DIY Valentine's Day Crafts for Kids
Authored By: Trish R. on 2/12/2015

Valentine’s Day falls on the same date every year, yet every year it somehow sneaks up on me. And now that I have kids, there are more snacks and gifts to be prepare, yet my budget hasn’t increased. Thankfully, there are websites like Pinterest that can provide cute, simple DIY Valentine’s Crafts you can do with your kids, so you can look like that overachieving parent you’ve always wanted to be! Here are some ideas for all your Valentine’s gift-giving needs:

“You Color My World” Valentines: Kid’s love to color, so why not give a useful gift like crayons! You can use either a small box of crayons or just a few in a bag. Then you can create your own tag or use the printable one provided. Either way, it’s a cute and easy to make for any classroom Valentine’s Day party.

Toilet Paper Roll Heart Stamps: All you need is an empty toilet paper roll, some paint, paper and, of course, a willing child. You can bend the roll slightly to make a heart, secure it with some tape, and let your child stamp away. These would be great to send to grandparents, friends or family.

Personalized Valentine’s Candles: Great for teachers or family, and can be made with only a few supplies, most of which you can purchase at a dollar store. This could definitely be a craft to use over and over again for holidays, birthdays or any special occasion.

Valentine Paper Roll Owls: Don’t toss that ugly brown paper towel roll. Why not turn it into a cute little Valentine’s Day themed owl! Another craft that only requires a few supplies and can be customized any way you’d like – add a ribbon so you can hang it, add a magnet so you can stick it, or just let it be and you can place it on a flat surface anywhere.

Kid-Friendly Dipped & Decorated Pretzels: Need a quick treat to bring to your child’s Valentine’s Day party at school? You’ll want to make these. They are easy to make, your kids can help, plus they taste great, too! And, since they are just pretzels and chocolate (and sprinkles if you wish), you can hopefully avoid any common food allergy issues like nuts or gluten! (Just be sure to read the packaging to be sure!)

For parents, time is always an issue. I hope these quick ideas help you have a successful holiday. If you are looking for other Valentine-themed crafts, check out our Pinterest Board: DIY Valentine’s Day Crafts for Kids. Be sure to follow us on Pinterest while you are there so you can get more ideas like this throughout the year.

Do you have an idea for a Valentine’s Day craft for kids? Leave it in a comment below.

Sources:
Crazy Little Projects
Southern Savers
Adventures of a DIY Mom
5 Minutes for Mom

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Get Outside and Enjoy Winter
Authored By: Jenn R. on 2/6/2015

When you live in New England, you’re always looking forward to the next season. Winter is no exception. At first, we are excited for snow, but after 2 back-to-back storms dropping 3+ feet on us, we’re done. How many days until summer? Trust me, I’m with you! But since Punxsutawney Phil confirmed we will have a few more weeks left, why not enjoy the beauty that lies in this winter season. After all some people have to travel to enjoy the beauty of a New Hampshire winter.

Snow Tubing: Did you know that there are people in New England who didn’t grow up skiing? I know, shocking. So, switch it up once in a while, instead of planning a weekend skiing why not go tubing, something that everyone can enjoy. Many of the local ski areas offer tubing throughout the season.

Cross Country Skiing: Explore scenic trails with a low-impact alternative to traditional downhill skiing. Windblown cross country skiing offers fun for the whole family, whether you use groomed trails or you make your own. Rentals are available, and if you have a young child who won’t be skiing, call ahead and reserve a pulk (baby sled pulled behind an adult) It’s guaranteed to be a great workout!

Off-Road Adventure: Experience the thrill of an off-road winter adventure in a Pinzgauer! This 6-wheel drive Swiss army transport vehicle will take you to the top of Barron Mountain for incredible views and a low-speed roller ride on the way back down. Alpine Adventures tours available year-round.

Sledding: There's nothing better than gliding through the cool air on a sled, so why not make a little trip to explore some of the best hills in the state?! Maybe you’ll find a new family favorite!

Snowshoeing: Walking thru a foot of snow… yeah, not going to happen. But throw on a pair of snow shoes and it’s a whole lot easier and FUN! Similar to cross country skiing, you can find already groomed trails ready to go or explore on your own. Snowshoe Magazine has some great tips on the what, how and where to get started snowshoeing.

Maple Sugaring: Yes, it’s fantastic on pancakes, but wouldn’t it be fun to learn more about how it’s made? There are quite a few maple sugar houses in New Hampshire that you can visit with the whole family. Mid-February to mid-April is the best time to visit, as maple sugaring is in full operation.

What other outdoor winter activities do you enjoy?

Sources:
Stay.Work.Play.
Real Simple
VisitNewEngland.com

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Planning to Pop the Question on Valentine's Day?
Authored By: Amanda N. on 2/4/2015

Make sure the symbol of your love is a symbol of how you live your lives together.

A friend of mine got engaged on Valentine's Day last year. Engaged in word anyway, she spent a couple months finding the ring that would make it official. The delay wasn't due to her being picky or her significant other not being willing to cough up the cash! Instead, she was trying to find an eco-friendly, conflict-free ring. Huh, I thought that stuff only mattered with GMO-free food, and eating vegan, and all that stuff. Now I know, if you care about the environment and want to be certain you're not supporting inhumane treatment of workers or indigenous peoples, do what my friend Sarah did. Eco-friendly is about more than eating organic, shopping local and buying fair trade coffee pods.

Blood Diamonds vs. Conflict-Free Diamonds

While less than 1% of diamonds on the market today are truly "blood diamonds", I didn't realize that that before 2000 and the Kimberley Process Certification Program, the money paid for a diamond ring may have helped fund conflict in war-torn areas, particularly in central and western Africa. Those were literally "blood diamonds" because funds generated were used by certain groups to fund military action in opposition to the government in power. Nothing romantic or Valentine's Day sentimental about that! Thankfully, controls in place as a result of that certification program certify that rough stones being imported or exported are clear of being involved in this type of activity.

Of course, most people don't purchase rough-cut diamonds for an engagement ring, but most stores and companies in the U.S. provide certification clearly stating that the ring you purchase is "conflict-free".

Eco-Friendly Stones and Metals

If you consider yourself environmentally conscious, there's more to be concerned with. Mining practices for both stones and metals can carry conflict of another type: environmental destruction, child labor, inhumane or exploitative working conditions or extreme poverty. Look for ethical diamonds and metals where actual sources can be documented and have been determined to be managed in ethical ways. Or take advantage of some engagement ring alternatives:

  • Recycled diamonds and metals
  • Alternative, locally sourced stones (beyond diamonds)
  • Redesign of family pieces
  • Alternative metals

It can get confusing: eco-friendly, green gold, eco-gold), ethical, recycled, and the one we try to avoid, dirty gold. Amalena has a great chart explaining these terms.

Bottom line, if you want to live a life that is mindful of the earth and its occupants, you need to do your research before buying an engagement ring. There are many options available, from using recycled gold and stones, to having a family heirloom redesigned, or purchasing certified eco/ethical certified jewelry. In any case, make certain that the symbol of your commitment represents who you and your significant other are as a couple.

Sources:
Amalena
Kimberley Process
Diamond Facts

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Safeguarding your credit card
Authored By: BCCU on 1/23/2015

 

 

 

How to protect your credit card information from online fraudsters and hackers. Image from BlackSwanInsights.blogspot.com

 

 

 

 

Even if you didn't have a credit account with Home Depot, the recent data breach the company experienced had many people wondering how safe their credit card information was, and if they could become victims of credit card fraud.

How does credit card fraud happen?

Remember carbon copies? In years past, credit cards were mainly processed using impression machines and carbon-copy forms. That slip of carbon had a copy of your card number, card expiry date and signature—and when it was thrown out, you were at risk for identity theft.

These days, thieves are a bit more high-tech. While letting your credit card statement fall into the wrong hands is still a bad thing, today's fraudulent scammers use cyber attacks to steal your digital credit information. They create unique malware that they secretly upload to computer systems that have vulnerabilities in their security. They then siphon off customer data and sell it on the black market.

How to safeguard from credit card fraud

  • The Federal Trade Commission* offers consumers this advice to keep your credit cards and account numbers safe.
  • Watch for card swipe machines that don't look right. This can happen at gas pumps and ATMs. Things to look for are pieces of tape or paper that appear to be inside the card-swipe area. If it doesn't look right, don't use it.
  • Never give out account numbers or PIN codes over the phone, unless you're dealing with a company you've bought from before.
  • Ask the retailer at which you use their credit card what security they have in place to protect against a security or data breach.
  • Examine every statement carefully, comparing saved receipts against every purchase, and report any questionable charges to the card issuer.
  • Notify your card issuer if your address changes or if you will be traveling.
  • Keep an eye on your credit card at all times during the transaction. If you have any misgivings about the handling of your card, ask the clerk to cancel the transaction and check your credit card statement online right away.

Fraud security at Bellwether

It's important to point out that the recent security breaches reported in the media have happened at a retail store level, and not via the credit card company's or financial institution's computer systems. When we are notified by a third-party retailer that a security breach has occurred, we monitor card activity closely, replace our members' cards if appropriate or requested by the member, and deactivate the old, possibly-compromised cards. Our member's security always comes first for us, and we take immediate and appropriate steps to safeguard it.

If you have any questions about security and safeguards Bellwether uses on behalf of its members, please call us at 603-645-8181.

*http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0216-protecting-against-credit-card-fraud

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Simple Tips to Get You Started with Meal Prepping!
Authored By: Amanda N. on 1/22/2015

After putting in an 8+ hour day at work, the last thing I want to do is chop, slice, dice, whatever it takes to get dinner started and cooked. Some days it’s just easier to pick up something on the way home or throw a frozen pizza into the oven, but that’s not always the healthiest or cheapest option. Wouldn’t it be great to spend a few hours just one day a week to have meals for the entire week? Well, there’s a solution – its call meal prepping, and regardless of your life and needs, you can make it work for you with these simple tips.

Have a Plan. Pick out some of your favorite recipes, so you are confident of the outcome. Choose recipes that can be easily stored in either the refrigerator or in the freezer. Organize Yourself Skinny also recommends prioritizing your meals “If dinnertime brings you the most stress then put together some meal starters or prep ingredients for a couple slow cooker recipes.” Do what works best for your life.

Get the Goods. Depending on space and budget, you may want to consider getting some prepping essentials.

  • Slow Cooker: put all the ingredients in a programmable slow cooker and walk away, well, set the timer first, then in a few hours you’ll have an entire, fully-cooked meal ready to go.
  • Rice/Food Steamer: save time and effort with a “set-it and forget it” programmable steamer.
  • Tupperware: it’s always good to have variety of sizes available for storing prepped food. (if you are prepping lunches, these Easy Lunchbox Sets work great)
  • Storage Bags: freezer bags and snack bags are great for saving space.
  • Markers: use dry erase on containers and sharpies on bags, this way you will actually know what’s in them!

Start Small. Sure, it’d be great to have a weeks’ worth of lunches and dinners prepped in a few hours. But in reality, it’s going to take a few tries to get your menu perfected. Start with 2-3 dinners per week, and maybe some lunches. This will give you an idea of how long it takes, what recipes work, and which ingredients you can get the most use out of. Chicken is something that is fairly inexpensive so you could buy quite a bit and use it in multiple ways. This will help cut down your grocery budget.

Get Inspired. Pinterest has a ton of ideas and tips to help you get started and keep you going. And if you need additional help, places like The Culinary Playground offer meal prepping workshops where you can prep an entire weeks’ worth of meals with their help and instruction.

Are you a meal prepping pro? Let us know your success tips in the comments below.

Sources:
The Lean Green Bean
National Institution of Health
Eats and Exercise by Amber

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When and Why to Get a Personal Line of Credit
Authored By: BCCU on 1/20/2015




A personal line of credit is very much like a flexible personal loan—use it when you need it, pay it back at your own pace. Image from ultimoslibros.com

 

 

Sometimes you use a credit card for a nice dinner out. Maybe you're considering purchasing a new car and looking for an auto loan. In between those two needs fall other purchases that are the perfect reasons to use a personal line of credit.

What is a personal line of credit?

A personal line of credit is very much like a flexible, personal loan. You apply for it, are approved, and receive access to funds up to $20,000*. Unlike a loan, which has fixed payments over a set time period, with a line you can pay money borrowed from your personal line of credit at your discretion—all at once, or over several months.

Why should I consider a personal line of credit instead of a credit card?

The best reason to use a personal line of credit instead of your credit card is the rate. For example, if you're considering purchasing a new computer, or planning a special anniversary holiday, Bellwether has created a special loan rate for our members. Our members often enjoy better rates over those national credit card companies.

When should I use a personal line of credit instead of a term loan?

When you only need a small sum of money (under $20,000) for a shorter period of time—say only six months—a personal line of credit gives you that repayment flexibility. You'll also save money since interest is only paid on the money you use for the amount of time you use it. Loans, on the other hand, are usually repaid over terms of 24 or more months, with interest owed on the full amount borrowed.

Are you considering getting a personal line of credit? Call us at 1-866-996-9828. We'll be happy to discuss your financial needs and the best solution for your situation.

* Payment example: A loan amount of $5,000 financed at 8.90% APR (Annual Percentage Rate) for 3 years would result in 36 monthly payments of approximately $158.77. Your rate will be determined by your creditworthiness, term requested, and ability to repay. Payment examples assume $0.00 down payment. Rates are subject to change at any time.
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Couponing
Authored By: Amanda N. on 1/14/2015

I love a good bargain, and I’ve always been pretty budget conscious, but couponing has taken my budgeting and savings to a whole new level. It started during my senior year of college. I was sharing an apartment with a couple of my friends and none of us had much in the way of money so we had to get creative when buying food and supplies. I would check the weekly circulars for deals and clip coupons for the things we needed. When one of my roommates had their hours cut back at work, I stepped up my couponing efforts to help save a few more bucks.

I researched best couponing practices. Some worked, some didn’t ,so you’ll want to consider whether a deal is really a good deal for you. For example, my local grocery store offered a “ten for ten dollars” deal on avocados. Since I was the only one who ate them, most of the avocados would have gone bad before I could eat them all. With that in mind, here are my suggestions to get started couponing.

Best Sources

  • The Sunday paper! If you have access to a free copy even better. If not it’s worth the investment. I was lucky my mom gave her copy to me.
  • Online! There are hundreds (probably thousands) of couponing sights. I love couponing sites; they are a fast and easy way to find all the coupons I want. Here’s a list of legitimate couponing sites.
  • Coupon packets. Every month I receive a packet in the mail full of coupons!

Always read the fine print on the coupons. One time, I made the mistake of not reading the fine print on a couple of coupons, I got all the way to the register and the cashier refused my coupons because I didn’t have the correct sizes. Always check flavors, sizes, quantities, etc. against the coupon requirements.

Keep your coupons organized. For physical coupons I like to keep my coupons in clear plastic sleeves in a 3-ring binder and take them out when I’m ready to go shopping. For online coupons I take screen shots and save them on my phone or through apps.

Everyone’s heard the expression “There’s an app for that!” This is also true for couponing. I’ve recently started using a few apps with some success.

Couponing Apps

  • I really like Target’s Cartwheel app. I can search for what I need, tag it ahead of time and then shop.
  • I recently downloaded a coupon app called Ibotta. It received some great reviews, so I’m really looking forward to checking it out.
  • SnipSnap is a large database of coupons. One really cool feature on the app is the rating. You can see how successful others were when using the coupon.
  • RetailMeNot. I’ve used RetailMeNot in the past and found some features helpful.

Finally, come up with your plan of attack. Make your shopping list and check store circulars for those items on sale. Match that against your coupons. Now you’re ready to go to the store.

Remember to stick to your list and only purchase what you planned for. I immediately noticed a savings of 20-40% on my grocery bills. Before you know it you’ll be a “super couponer.”

Are you a coupon pro? If so, please feel free to share your tips or your favorite app in the comments section.

Sources:
Couponing 101

The Krazy Coupon Lady
Frugal Living

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Winter Running Tips
Authored By: Jenn R. on 1/9/2015

Have you signed up for your first 5K of the year yet? Maybe your New Year’s Resolution involves running more. Either way, it’s time to get started right? Wait, what’s the temperature outside? 10 degrees? Oh no. I can’t do another day on the treadmill but I’m going to freeze if I run outside.

If you’re like me, and you live here in New England, you’ve faced this dilemma every winter. However, if you plan and dress accordingly, you can survive and get a good run in outside even during these extremely low temperatures with the following cold weather running tips.

Have a plan. When it’s cold out, it’s best to plan your route before you leave. There are plenty of sites available, like Runkeeper or MapMyRun, that will help. It’s a good idea to plan your route to include places you could stop along the way, since you never really know how cold or wet it might be while you’re out there. Weather can suddenly change, wet feet will freeze, then what? Be flexible and have a backup plan in case conditions get worse and you need to cut your run short. There’s always tomorrow!

Bring a friend. As mentioned above, you don’t know how it’s going to be until you’re out there, so why go alone? Invite a friend or co-worker, or join a “group run” with local running club. Not only will it keep you motivated and give you someone to chat with along the way, it’s safer. If you do have to run alone, let someone know where you’re planning on going and get a runner’s I.D. to wear on your body or your clothing.

Dress appropriately. You want to dress in layers, but how many of layers you wear isn’t as important as what type of layers you wear.

  • Active.com suggests dressing for 15-20 degrees warmer than the actual temperature to let your body temperature increase, and reduce the risk of overheating.
  • Start with a wicking layer, a shirt or tank top that will pull the moisture away from your skin
  • Select a mid-layer like a fleece, for those extra cold days
  • Top layer should be wind and water resistant
  • Warm running pants or tights, and if they’re water resistant – even better
  • Thicker sole running shoes, like trail running shoes have more tread for traction on slippery or uneven surfaces
  • Don’t forget the accessories – lightweight winter hat or headband, gloves, moisture-wicking wool socks, and a scarf or fleece neck warmer that you can slide over your mouth and breathe thru to prevent burning your lungs by inhaling frigid air

What not to wear

  • Avoid cotton as it doesn’t evaporate your sweat fast enough
  • Heavy gloves will be too warm and difficult to take off if needed
  • Worn-out running shoes can lead to injury
  • Heavy clothes can cause you to overheat or sweat too much

Stay hydrated. When it’s cold outside, your body has a harder time regulating hydration. As we know, fluid is lost from sweating, but it is also lost from the air you exhale. According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) close to 95% of hypothermia cases result when people go out without being hydrated sufficiently. Replenishing the lost fluid is key to prevent dehydration.

Now that you’re fully prepared to hit the cold pavement, let us know how it goes and if you have any tips to add.

Sources:
Stay.Work.Play.
RoadID
Wise Geek
POPSugar Fitness

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Winter Skincare on a Budget
Authored By: Trish R. on 1/7/2015

If you live in the northeast like I do, winter can be rough on your skin and your wallet. I have extremely sensitive and acne prone skin. As a 40-something woman this is incredibly frustrating. I’ve tried just about every skin care routine out there from Proactive and Neutrogena to Mary Kay. I’ve even tried several of the store brand products, all with very limited success.

Recently, I’ve started to question if all the chemicals in these products were doing more harm than good to my sensitive skin, not to mention they cost a lot of money each month. I did some research into some all-natural skin care alternatives and I found five that have worked well for me and saved me some money in the process.

Brown sugar is a great exfoliator and gentler than salt scrubs. I like to mix the brown sugar with coconut oil for an amazing treatment. It leaves my skin soft and smooth. When exfoliating, remember to massage the skin gently, you don’t want to damage your skin.

I love coconut oil as a wonderful multi-use product. It works great as a makeup remover, is gentle on my skin, and a small amount goes a long way! It’s also great as a deep conditioner for my hair. Just ten minutes and my hair is softer than any store bought conditioner could achieve.

Honey has wonderful antibacterial properties, especially for people with acne prone skin. I spread a small amount of raw honey all over my face and leave it on for 10-15 minutes. It makes my skin look and feel amazing.

As I get older I’m finding dark spots on my skin (please do not call them old lady or old age spots). While researching homemade skin care, I learned that lemon juice can be used to brighten skin and lighten discoloration on the skin, especially from acne scarring, who knew? I’ve only used the lemon juice a few times but I’m already seeing a difference.

Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is a great multi-purpose kitchen staple. It’s used to clean coffee pots, pickle vegetables and in salad dressings, but have you ever used it as part of your skin care routine? I dilute the ACV with distilled water and use it as a toner on my face.

I usually have these items in my pantry. The only change I made was to buy them as organic or raw, this does increase the price slightly. Ultimately, for the amount I’d spend for a month’s supply of a traditional skin care routine, I could get 3-5 months with my homemade routine. The results of these alternative treatments have been so wonderful that I’ve shared them with friends and family. Do you have a favorite all natural or homemade remedy that you love? Please share it in the comments section below.

Sources:
MindBodyGreen.com
Earth Clinic
National Center for Biotechnology Information

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New Year's Resolution: To Do or Not To Do?
Authored By: Jenn R. on 12/30/2014

It’s 11:55pm on December 31st and I just realized – I never decided on a resolution! Darn it. Hmm… well, I’ll just say lose weight because, well because it’s always a good one and who knows, maybe if I say it, it’ll happen… NOT!

Sound familiar? Sometimes I’ve come up with a New Year’s resolution months in advance and other resolutions I don’t select until mid-January. Sadly, either way, most of them still fizzled out well before April. Everyone has their reasons and excuses for what they decide and if they succeed, but out of the 45% of Americans who usually make New Year’s Resolutions, only 8% actually achieve them.

Reason Why New Year’s Resolutions are Good

Setting goals is a part of life. It challenges us to do better, be better, and step outside of our comfort zone. Then, once you’ve completed your goal, you’ll feel accomplished and it’ll give you a confidence boost to challenge yourself again and again. Developing realistic expectations and allowing room for unexpected setbacks are keys to success for New Year’s Resolutions. Maybe your resolution doesn’t always have to involve weight loss, smoking, or becoming BFFs with your mother-in-law. Maybe you could try to stop overreacting when a family member annoys you, throw away socks without a mate (in my house this would mean we have to go out and buy new socks pronto) or something less predictable.

Reasons to Avoid New Year’s Resolutions

Failing is also part of life; however, it’s not a very fun part. And when you set unrealistic goals, you are setting yourself up for failure. “I’m going to lose weight, spend less money, and complete a marathon!” Wow, that sounds awesome, but as Huffington Post suggests “when we take on too much at once, our brain chemistry works against us. Successful resolutions require self-control -- say, the self-control to wake up early and run five miles -- and self-control is an exhaustible resource.” Exhaustible… that sounds like me at this time every year! Focus on one, attainable goal at a time, and maybe we’ll both be celebrating in the new year!

So, where do you fall – are you “for” resolutions or “against” resolution?

Sources:
Statistic Brain
The Frisky
Time
PBS

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Top 5 Last Minute Gifts for Mom
Authored By: Amanda N. on 12/23/2014

Here it is, 2 days before Christmas and I still haven’t bought a gift for my mother. Every year, it’s the same thing “oh, I don’t need anything, just seeing you is all I need for Christmas!” Yeah, ok Ma, we’re on to your lame routine. We’re not accepting that one. You aren’t going to be the only person not opening a gift on Christmas morning, so give it up! What’s on your list?

We know that many of us deal with a similar situation every year. That’s why we’ve done some research and come up with 5 “can’t miss” gifts to get your mom, or any “mom” in your life.

  1. Skip the gift card, get the real deal! While everyone would love to have a day at the spa getting pampered, massaged, and beautified, it’s not always convenient. So rather than buy a gift card that may never get used, treat Mom to an at home spa day to do at her convenience! You can save money by creating a custom basket full of shower gels, clay masks, exfoliating scrubs, moisturizing lotion, and don’t forget the aromatherapy candle! Or you can order a basket of relaxing & rejuvenating goods online.
     
  2. Tickets, tickets, tickets! And, no, I don’t mean scratch tickets! (However, you may want to pick up a few of those for her stocking, in case Santa forgot!) What does she like? Is she a music fan? Get her tickets to see one of her favorite artists, like Michael Bublé, Garth Brooks, or if she is a bit more of a rocker, Bush is touring again! If Broadway is her thing, you can always get her tickets to see a play or musical. Save money by seeing one at a local theatre, rather than dropping big bucks to see a show in Boston – you won’t be disappointed.
     
  3. Give ‘em an Oyster subscription. No, not the ones that come from the ocean, Oyster is an online ebook subscription service. (Think Netflix, but with books!) For $9.95/month the recipient will get unlimited access to their library. While it is available for iOS, Android, Nook & Kindle products, it can also be used thru a regular internet browser.
     
  4. The Gift of Speedy Shipping (and more)! If you’ve done any shopping in the past, well, decade, you know that Amazon.com is your one-stop shop for everything. For a busy mom, saving time is crucial! Help her out by giving her a subscription to Amazon Prime. She’ll receive FREE 2-day shipping on millions of items, instant streaming of tons of movies & TV shows, free books, and much more.
     
  5. The Season of Giving. Make a donation in her name. Is she passionate about animals, the planet, local community or world-wide causes? Whatever it may be, you can make a donation in her name and then print out a gift receipt to show her. And what’s even easier, MakeACharityChoice.org lets you choose from over 1,000 charities all on one site.

Looking for more ideas or maybe some DIY gift inspiration? Check out our Pinterest board! (Repin your favorite or share it below!)

Sources:
Heavy.com
Cool Mom Tech
Geeks of Doom
VisitNH.com

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Mobile Everything from Bellwether!
Authored By: BCCU on 12/19/2014

 

 

Checking account balances, transferring funds, or paying bills…it's all possible on our Bellwether BCCU Mobile24 phone app (for iOS or Android devices.) Image from xpedientmail.com

 

 


Things we do online: Check the weather forecast, check movie times, check in at the airport, check in with friends and families…check, check and check!

But what about...checks?

With our mobile app, you can deposit checks—and handle other banking needs—right from your phone. Our mobile banking service is free, easy, safe, and practical.

Mobile Remote Banking

Bellwether members can enroll in our free Mobile24 service, which lets members access their Bellwether accounts from their iOS or Android devices via our app or our website. Mobile24 lets you check your account balance, deposit checks, transfer funds, pay bills, or find the nearest fee free ATM on your phone—where ever you may be, 24 hours a day.

What? Deposit Checks by Phone?

Yes, you really did just read that! Members can use our Mobile Remote Deposit Capture service to instantly deposit checks. All you need is a camera-equipped smartphone or tablet, and a check (of course!) To take advantage of this, just sign up for our Mobile24 service, download the our app and deposit away. We have step-by-step instructions here: www.bccu.org/MobileCheckDeposit24

 

 

 

Our Bellwether BCCU Mobile24 app turns your hand-held device into your personal finance center—a free service for our members.

 

 

 

 

 

BCCU.org is mobile-friendly too!

Our iPhone and Android app are handy, but for those who prefer using our regular website, we've made sure accessing it from your smartphone or tablet is a happy, easy experience as well. You can access everything you need, simply and efficiently.

Everything you need from wherever you are

Bellwether members can text, browse, or log into an app to manage all their financial needs. For more information, visit our website.

Download our App today!

iOS app (for Apple devices)

Android

Check account balances,
transfer funds and
more—easily and efficiently.

 

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Budget & Kid Friendly DIY Gifts
Authored By: Trish R. on 12/16/2014

With three school-aged children who have an endless list of friends, teachers and coaches, I usually spend a small fortune on Christmas gifts. That stops this year!

Don’t get me wrong, I love giving personal and meaningful gifts, what I dislike is spending hours running from store to store or searching online and ending up with a pile of over-priced generic gifts. You know the gifts; snowman coffee mugs filled with candy or cocoa or the assorted perfumed candle gift set. The ones you end up re-gifting at the company Yankee Swap the following year.

This year I’m taking full advantage of the near endless supply of DIY gift ideas on Pinterest. I’ve found a few ideas that I’m sure will please everyone on a list. If you haven’t checked out Pinterest recently, or at all, you’re missing out. It’s a website full of neatly organized DIY crafts, recipes, exercise routines and gardening tips.

Glittery Snowball Ornaments are a great project that my younger kids can make and give to their friends. All you need is small balloons, string, liquid glue and glitter. My kids had an absolute blast making these, especially when they got to poke a hole in the water balloons.

DIY Wrap Bracelets are great gift ideas for friends and teachers, and they allow the kids to get creative with each bracelet. I found this was a project better suited to my older one, especially when, four days later I was stepping on the beads the younger ones had dropped.

These hand made snowflake ornaments are really cute! My youngest son wasn’t as excited about making the snowflake ornaments as he was the snowball ornaments, but my two older boys laughed for more than an hour making these.

Do you have friends, family or a teacher that has a furry four-legged friend? Why not make peanut butter dog biscuits for them? I found a really simple dog biscuit recipe that makes about a dozen biscuits. They smelled so good baking I had to try one – it was crunchy and delicious!

For my co-workers and friends, I made almond toffee bites and cinnamon sugar candied nuts and put them in festive, inexpensive containers with bows.

Making homemade gifts was as easy as typing in www.pinterest.com and searching for “DIY Christmas gifts.” My children enjoyed making gifts for all of their friends and teachers, and I enjoyed the quality time with them, as well. I’m so hooked on Pinterest now, that I’ve already created pin boards for other holidays.

If you have a favorite holiday pin or board, please feel free to share it with us and let us know what you like about it, in the comments below.

Sources:
Naturally Educational
Make It And Fake It
Dogbook
Shugary Sweets
Damn Delicious

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Be Prepared for a Winter Emergency!
Authored By: Trish R. on 12/11/2014

What do a snowstorm, a power outage and three boys stuck at home with nothing to do and no interest in "living like they did in the old days" teach you? Be Prepared! That's the lesson we learned the hard way a few weeks ago, when snow fell heavy, and within two hours we were sitting in a darkening living room wondering whether we'd be celebrating Thanksgiving without football and with a raw turkey on the table. My boys are all Boy Scouts, so I definitely heard my fill of "I told you to put batteries in the flashlight!" But beyond that came

"There's no water in the sink!"


"Mom, the fridge light went out too!"

And later, when my husband got home,

"Did you get that extra gas for the generator Honey?"

No heat, no water, no light, and at least for the time being, no generator either! My kids would be telling me, "add in that we didn't have computers either!" But for me that was the one ray of light in an otherwise very dark day!

5 Things to Keep You Warm, Bright and Cozy in a Winter Emergency

  • Batteries. Simple to do. Keep a flashlight in each room, and a stock of fresh batteries on hand. Go out and buy batteries for everything every January.
  • Water. Hydration is important. You're not preparing for Armageddon, but enough for 2 or 3 days isn't a bad idea. Purchase gallon jugs of water from the store, (they'll keep until opened). Store in a cool dark place like the basement. One gallon per person per day plus one extra.
     
  • Gas. For your generator, for your snow blower, for your snowmobile (if things get that bad). Remember. When power outages occur, even gas stations can suffer, and you don't want to wait in a mile long line for that one station with a working pump!
     
  • Generator. When I was younger we didn't lose power as much as we do now. Maybe that's just my poor memory. But these days it seems everyone has a generator. Buy yours in the summer when prices are low, or you'll end up in the Generator Lottery at the local box store, buying one much larger than you need for top dollar during the first or second big storm of the season. (I speak from experience on this one). Make sure to test start your generator every Fall so you know it's working.
     
  • Propane. I know it's winter but believe me. You CAN cook a turkey on your gas grill. So at the end of BBQ season, make sure you have one full tank to carry you through the winter "just in case". You won't regret it, and if it doesn't get used, you'll be the first to fire up the grill in February during that unseasonably warm day that tends to spring up on us every few years.

Other things to keep on hand:

Hand warmer packs, down comforters, wool afghans, wool or fleece socks, hats. Car chargers for phones, tablets, and other electronic items.

If you have natural gas, and you're not on a well, you probably will have access to a hot shower, and the burners on a gas stove will also work.

If you have elderly neighbors, check in on them at times like these. My mother-in-law was stuck for 4 days with this past storm, no generator, but thankfully she has a woodstove, and we'd lugged a bunch of wood in ahead of the storm so she was snug and warm!

Have a power outage story to share from this year or earlier! Let us know how you "weathered the storm".

Sources
Consumer Reports
Butterball
Ready.gov 

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4 "Must-Dos" for Winter Car Prep!
Authored By: Trish R. on 12/2/2014

As the snow glows white on the mountain tonight, not a footprint to be seen.

I’m holding my breath, wishing and hoping, as I slowly turn the key in the ignition one more time. Please car, please start! Please start, and I promise to get you a brand new battery tomorrow.

I can’t bear the thought of hearing “I told you so” from my husband if I have to call him to come get me and the kids again. Thankfully, there was a purr… stutter… purr… VROOM! Phew!

With this first snowstorm of the year out of the way, I figured it was a perfect time to make sure my car is ready for whatever the winter has in store for us. Sure, it would have been better to do this before the first storm, but here we are, better late than never! While a remote car starter, 4-wheel drive and a defroster can get you going in the snow, there are plenty of other essentials you’ll need to keep you going safely.

  1. Fill ‘er Up! In the winter, it is best to keep your gas tank as full as possible. According to Bankrate, “As temperatures change during the day, condensation forms on the inside of the gas tank, drips into your gas, descends to the bottom and finds its way into your fuel line. Because the fuel line is exposed, if enough water accumulates there, it will freeze and you won't be going anywhere soon.” In addition to gas, you’ll want to keep your vehicle’s windshield wiper fluid filled, preferably with “no-freeze” or winter mixture.
     
  2. Electronics & Wires. Did you know that your vehicle’s battery loses 33% of its power when the temperature dips below freezing? Help your battery out by checking the cables, posts & fasteners. Then, if you are still concerned, get it checked by a professional. They’ll be able to see any hidden corrosion and check for sufficient voltage. Other electronics to test are your heat and defrost. Operating a vehicle in frigid winter temperatures without either of these is not recommended.
     
  3. Tires, Tires, Tires! Did I mention tires? Whether you have your regular tires, snow tires, or studded tires, be sure they are inflated to the recommended pressures. Make sure there is sufficient tread by sticking a penny into your tire’s tread groove with Lincoln’s head upside down and facing you. If you can see all of Lincoln’s head, you’ll want to start watching for tire sales!
     
  4. Service Please! Vehicle maintenance is important year-round, however, winter challenges your car more than any other season, so start the season off right by making sure your vehicle is in its optimal condition. Get an entire vehicle checkup, soup to nuts, or in car terms, oil to bolts! Make sure they check your oil, anti-freeze, hoses, and brakes – any leak or bad hose should be repaired or replaced. Spending a little now could save you a lot later.

Investing an hour or two to have your vehicle checked is all it takes to give you peace of mind and help you avoid those extra costs and additional hassle caused by breaking down in severe weather. For a complete list, check out the checklist and tips for safe winter driving from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Ever been stuck on the side of the road, in the winter weather unprepared? Share your story below!

Sources:
Interstate Battery
Tire Rack
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
Song Lyrics from Frozen

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Why join a credit union?
Authored By: BCCU on 11/25/2014

 

People with a common bond—such as employees at a company—formed credit unions to benefit each other and their communities.

Credit unions and banks are both financial institutions, but credit unions have an important distinction—they were all formed by a group of regular people like you, people with a common bond.

Imagine the possibilities...

Bellwether Community Credit Union, for example, was founded over 90 years ago by a group of Bell Telephone employees. By starting the credit union, that group of employees became OWNERS of the credit union, able to offer their fellow co-owners (also called members) better rates, lower fees, and the services they really needed. In several cases, these were services the local banks couldn't or wouldn't offer them.

Can you imagine the advantages credit union members have as owners of a financial institution? They can create a financial institution that makes choices based on what is best for other members instead of a small group of shareholders miles and miles away.

Some amazing things credit unions do

Credit unions adhere to a set of co-operative principles that revolve around doing good for others. Here are just a few of the amazing things credit unions do:

1) Operate as a not-for-profit organization—After operating expenses, any extra money the credit union makes goes back to its members. These dividends usually take the shape of better interest rates and at some credit unions are even paid as an extra dividend deposit to member accounts. At Bellwether, we believe all members should benefit so extra funds are used to keep rates competitive and reduce fees for services or even offer free services, like Bill Pay or Remote Deposit Capture.

2) Amazing access—Credit unions usually have branches located in smaller communities, but offer members access all over the country through ATM machines and a shared branching network.

3) Cooperative and community spirit—Credit unions are cooperatives (owned by their members) and endeavour to partner and work with other cooperatives. They also work very hard to strengthen the communities in which they operate. More than almost any other business, credit unions believe their heart and strength lies in the hearts and minds of their local communities.

They are many more benefits—you can see them here.

Joining is easy

Joining a credit union is very easy. Start the process here, and get ready to enjoy the satisfying feeling of belonging to an organization that cares about its members and values its communities.

*Vintage business image from zazzle.com

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Managing Your Personal Papers
Authored By: Amanda N. on 11/14/2014

What can you throw away?
What do you need to keep?
What should you have ready in case of an emergency?

Do you know?

If you're like me, you go on a tangent come Fall. Cleaning out the garage so you can get the snowblower out, moving summer clothes into storage, sorting through your winter clothes and realizing you really do need to buy a coat and maybe a few new outfits for work.

This is also the time I organize my home office. Running a house is like running a business, and I always seem to have an ever growing pile of papers. I sort through them with junk mail and unread magazines going into recycle, but what about all that stuff that seems a bit too important to toss? And what about the stuff you saved from last year, and the year before? Do you really need to keep all of it? Thankfully, no! Here's a quick outline of what to keep and what not to keep, as well as some helpful links to prepare yourself for the unexpected!

Things You Need to Keep Forever

  • Birth certificates
  • Marriage licenses
  • Divorce decrees
  • Passports
  • Education records
  • Military service records
  • Social Security Card
  • Household Inventory
  • Life Insurance policies
  • Will (the most current copy)

It isn't that you can't get a copy if they're lost, but it can be time consuming and expensive to do so, and when you need them is usually not the time to start attempting to get copies. I remember needing a birth certificate before a road trip. We had a two hour delay while I drove back to the town I was born in to get a copy, because I had no idea where the original was! Not fun, and the topic of family discussions at least until the next "lost item" story came up.

Things You Need to Keep Until You Don't Own the Related Item

  • Home Purchase and Improvement Records
  • Investment Certificates
  • Loan Documents
  • Real Estate Deeds
  • Receipts for Large Purchases
  • Vehicle Titles
  • Service Contracts and Warranties

As long as you own the item, and especially if you have a loan on it, you need to keep the paperwork. If the Service Contract or Warranty has expired, check for contact information. Even if things aren't covered, it can be helpful to have all that additional information.

Things to Keep for the Short Term

  • Bank Statements - Retain for one year, unless you need them for your tax filing. Remember, if you get eStatements, you can usually download them and retain them in digital format. But most financial institutions have a limit on how long those statements are available. Beyond that you may need to pay a fee to access older records.
  • Contracts - Retain until the contract is up, or you have updated/revised the contract. Then keep the new one!
  • Credit Card records - Like Bank Statements, these should be kept if you're going to need them for your tax filings. But otherwise, once you've paid them and have a record of payment, you can destroy them. eStatements are again a way to keep a digital version of the record if you want to keep them longer.
  • Home, Car or Other non-life related insurance policies - Always keep the newest policy. Once renewed, the older policy can be destroyed, but you should always have a full copy of your current active policy available.
  • Investment Statements - Go ahead and shred your monthly statements as soon as the new one is available. Annual statements should be retained until you no longer hold the funds.
  • Social Security Statement - You can shred the statement once you receive a new one. Always keep a copy of the most current statement

Thing to Throw Away

  • Cancelled checks for cash or nondeductible expenses
  • Expired warranties
  • Pay stubs, after reconciling with W-2
  • Other records no longer needed, such as those that were replaced by newer versions, manuals of appliances that you've replaced, etc.

Consideration should also be given to where you store your documents. This great document from University of Minnesota is a great tool for organizing your documents and important information, keeping track of where it is, and making certain you have a backup in case of a disaster.

For more information on setting up a Safe Deposit Box, preparing an Emergency Financial Records kit, and other information you may want to have ready in case of an emergency, visit USA.gov for more tips.

Sources
USA.gov
University of Minnesota
Operation Hope

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Why Your Credit Score Matters
Authored By: BCCU on 11/13/2014

 

 

 


Do you know the factors that make up your credit score? Image from WikiHow.com


 

 

 

Remember when you were younger and borrowed money from your parents? If they had the money, they would usually lend it to you knowing you would pay it back. But once you leave home, borrowing money relies heavily on your credit score, and not so much your parents…unfortunately!

What is a credit score?

A credit score is a number that comes from analyzing a set of factors from your financial history. The higher your number, the more creditworthy you appear to your financial institution. Having a high credit score indicates that you are a lower credit risk.

There are three credit bureaus in the U.S. (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) that maintain consumer credit files from which the factors of your financial history are pulled, and different scoring models that determine your credit score and where it falls within the acceptable credit score range. One of the most-used models that determine your credit score is called FICO (a FICO score.)

A FICO score takes these factors into consideration: your on-time payments, how much credit you've used (current debt burden), how long you've had credit, the types of credit you've had, and how many recent applications you've made for credit. Each of these factors is ranked in terms of importance:

Payment history - 35%
Debt load - 30%
Length of credit history - 15%
Types of credit - 10%
Recent credit applications - 10%

What is a good credit score?

The highest possible FICO score you can achieve is 850, while the range of the average American is between 301–800. Here is how the different ranges of credit rank according to most financial institutions (via credit.com):

• 750+ is excellent
• 700–749 is good
• 650–699 is fair
• 600-649 is poor
• 599 and under is usually considered subprime, or a score that needs serious improvement

Where your score is doesn't only determine how much money you can borrow, it helps determine what your interest rate should be.

How to improve your credit score

With a little patience, you can improve your credit in a few different ways.

  1. Think small—Open one credit card account for a small amount of credit and use it for purchases you know you can pay off each month, such as your cell phone bill. This will improve your payment history.
  2. Spend small—Never let your credit usage get close to the maximum. For example, if you have a $500 limit, try to keep your monthly balance at 30% of your limit. This will improve your debt load, and your score.
  3. "Rinse and repeat"—Doing the above 2 items consistently over time will improve your score, since your payment history and debt load, the 2 primary factors in a credit score, are also strong.

Are you wondering what your credit score is?

There are places where you can obtain a free credit report, or a more detailed credit report with a score for a small fee. Check out websites such as FreeCreditReport.com or CreditKarma.com. You can also try out SaveUp.com to hone your personal financial know-how skills by playing games and winning prizes.

You can also contact Bellwether to help you understand your credit score, learn how to improve it, and—more importantly—create a plan for the things you may need to purchase on credit, such as a new car or your first home. Call us at 603-645-8181 for answers to your credit questions!

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Go Red for Women NH
Authored By: Trish R. on 11/12/2014

I recently had the pleasure of attending the Go Red for Women NH luncheon at the Radisson Hotel in Manchester, NH. Go Red for Women is the social movement created by the American Heart Association to bring awareness about heart disease, the number one killer of women. The luncheon was an inspirational and motivational venue to bring people together to dispel the myths and help fight the disease. The theme of this year’s luncheon was: “Life is Why,” everyone has a reason to live a healthier, stronger life.

There were so many amazing stories, but one that really stood out to me was about Mary, a 50-something woman. She told us the story of the day she had a severe heart attack. Her day was just like one most of us recognize. She had places to go, things to do and people to see. She described how she woke up with cramping in her shoulders, how she dismissed it and went about her busy day. By the end of the day she was so miserable, she went online to goredforwomen.org to research the symptoms of a heart attack. Throughout the entire episode she was in denial that she was having a cardiac event, a very common reaction. The kicker to the story….Mary’s a nurse.

Many women are not aware that heart disease is the number one killer of women, more than all forms of cancer combined. It’s so important for women to know the factors that increase their risk for heart disease. As the daughter of an adoptee I’ve had to deal with a few unplanned medical issues, so I’ve become more vigilant with my health.

Here’s what I’ve learned about heart disease:

Family History: The risk of heart disease and its risk factors are strongly linked to family history. It’s important to know as much of your family’s medical history as possible.

Smoking: Smoking increases the risk of heart disease and stroke 2 to 4 times and can take as much as 14 years off of your life. If you’re a smoker, there are a number of smoking cessation products and programs available to help you quit and the good news, your risk of heart disease is cut in half one year later.

High blood pressure: When left untreated high blood pressure damages and scars your arteries, which can have deadly consequences. Adopting a healthy lifestyle that includes a diet low in salt, saturated fats, cholesterol and alcohol will help you manage, possibly even prevent high blood pressure.

Diabetes: People with diabetes are 2 to 4 times more likely to have heart disease. If you have diabetes or if it runs in your family it’s important to work with your doctor to create a regime to manage it.

Weight/physical activity: Carrying too much weight, especially around the waist area can increase your risk of heart disease. It’s important to include some form of physical activity in your daily routine, it can add 2 hours to your life, for every hour of regular exercise.

Cholesterol: While your body needs cholesterol to function and stay healthy, high cholesterol puts you at risk for heart disease or stroke. Start by getting your cholesterol checked. Know your health numbers, The American Heart Association recommends everyone over the age of 20 get their cholesterol checked every 5 years. If you have high cholesterol, work with your doctors to design the proper treatment.

As a young woman I didn’t give too much thought to the fact that my mother is adopted, as I’ve gotten older and had children of my own I’m increasingly aware that I know very little about my her biological family’s medical history. I’ve urged my mother to reach out to her family, to get as much information as possible, if not for herself, for her children and grandchildren. In the meantime, I took the Go Red Heart Checkup and I am making sure my lifestyle is healthier because my children are my reason “why.”

Yahoo.com - Heart Disease Awareness for Woman
Cholesterol Management

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5 Tips to Stop Living Paycheck to Paycheck
Authored By: Jenn R. on 11/5/2014

Nothing beats seeing that first, real paycheck deposited into your checking account. There’s a feeling of accomplishment, confidence, and excitement – excitement that you might actually be able to spend money on things you want, rather than only what you need. And, I don’t want to put a damper on any of those feeling, because they have been earned, but before you go buying a full wardrobe from The Limited or scheduling a test drive in a new Audi, take a step back and realize that once the money is gone, it’s gone. Acquiring a professional wardrobe, securing a reliable car, fueling said car, and feeding yourself, all cost money, and unfortunately, living paycheck to paycheck is a reality for many post-grads trying to make ends meet. Here are some tips on how you can look the part, while still saving money along the way.

  1. Pay Yourself First! Honestly, this deserves the #1 spot because it is the most important. 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. And to make it easy, put savings on autopilot by having your paycheck or a portion of it direct deposited, or set up an automatic transfer each time you get paid
     
  2. Set a Realistic Clothing Budget. Yes, treat yourself to an outfit or two, but be sure to incorporate the “Rule of Three”. Basically, to honestly justify the purchase, suggested by Michelle King of xojane.com, it must be able to be used in 3 other outfits consisting of pieces already in your closet. Then as pieces begin to show wear or get damaged, replace them. But before you run out to the store, check out #ootd blogs that tell you where to get certain items (or look-alikes) for half the cost. You can also find new and gently used items at online thrift shops like ThredUp. (you can also re-sell your gently used items on ThredUp and make money or credits to use toward other items!
     
  3. Take Care of Your Stuff! Now that you’ve bought some nice outfits, take care of them so they last. Think of it this way, the longer you make something last, the less money you’ll have to spend on buying more pieces. Wear, wash, hang, iron, as the tag says, and they’ll look new for years rather than months. Woman’s Day has some great ideas on how to care for your clothing. (This tips also applies for other items you’ve purchased – entertainment systems, electronics, appliances – treat them good and they’ll return the favor by living a longer, happier life!) Be aware when you buy clothes that say “dry clean only” you’ll be adding some extra money in clothes maintenance cost. You may want to minimize the number of items you buy that require special care.
     
  4. Don’t Wait, Ask! Television, internet and cell phone bills tend to be some of your larger bills, other than your housing and car payments, but don’t just accept the price you are paying. Call them up and ask for a better deal or discount. Another way to save by asking is if you are willing to pay cash, according to Bankrate, at restaurants, gas stations, and even the doctor’s office you might be eligible to receive a discount, so ask, it can’t hurt!
     
  5. Drive Down the Cost of Car Ownership. Just as you take care of your clothes and electronics, taking care of your car can save you money too. It’ll last longer, cost you less on maintenance, and lower your gas costs as well. But if it is time to purchase a new vehicle, be sure to do your research. Look for deals that make sense for you, whether it’s deciding to lease over buy, buying an electric or hybrid vehicle, or finding an offer that includes all your maintenance. Don’t just jump at an offer because the car comes with satellite radio and a sunroof, make sure the final monthly payment (after warranties, taxes, and other fees are added) fits into your budget. And then, once you own a car, check out these ideas to learn how to save money while you are driving.

Once real life starts, it doesn’t stop for a long time. And sure, we’re all busy but it’s important to focus on things that are important and saving money is one of them. Living paycheck to paycheck is stressful, so start early and save where you can, no one ever regrets saving money.

Sources:
Oprah.com
Cosmopolitan.com
GenX Finance 

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Don't Fall into Winter - Be Prepared!
Authored By: Jenn R. on 10/30/2014

Prepare your home for winter with our fall home checklist.

We may still have a few warm, sunny days left, but I think it’s safe to say that it’s definitely fall in New England and we are slowly creeping into the next season. With this comes colorful leaves, cooler weather, and the perfect time to get your home ready for winter.

Exterior

  • Clean your gutters and downspouts. Removing the buildup of leaves will help prevent wood rot problems, pest infestations, ice dams, and ruined gutters.
  • Check your roof for any damage, corrosion or leaks. Don’t wait until the dripping starts; stop it before the winter arrives.
  • “Clean chimneys don’t catch fire.” Call a local, certified professional to inspect and, if necessary, clean your fireplace or wood burning stove. Whether its creosote built up in your chimney or a rodent nest, the result can be a devastating fire. Some condo associations require an annual cleaning and inspection. Not a bad habit to get into.
  • Seal up your windows and doors. Applying silicone caulk to the gaps between siding and the window or door frames can prevent leaks, and help you save on the heating bill!
  • Trim trees and branches around your home. New England winters are notorious for wet or icy snow which causes branches to crack and break. Remove any limbs that are dangerously close to power lines or to the roof of your house.

Interior

  • Replace the batteries in your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Don’t forget to test the detectors by pressing the “test” button.
  • Get your heating system inspected. (hint: the earlier the better, to avoid the last-minute rush) Replacing belts is much less expensive than a major repair, like a blown motor, and doing it before you need your heat helps to avoid a true “three dog night” when you least expect it.
  • Reverse your ceiling fans, if you have them. Energy Star recommends reversing the motion of your fans so they are spinning in the clockwise direction. This will cause a gentle updraft and causes the warm air near the ceiling down into the occupied space.
  • Inspect your attic and basement for insulation and critters. Make sure your insulation doesn’t cover vents in the eaves, and definitely check for birds or rodents. Install screens for attic vents to keep out those unwanted guests. If your insulation is starting to fall, handle with gloves and consider stapling back in place.
  • Be prepared, get your cold-weather essentials now. Don’t wait until the first snowfall to get a new shovel or snow blower. Buy one now. Make sure to grab salt and ice melt while you’re there! (The pet safe kind can be tough to find in January.)

Spending a little bit of time and money now will save you money down the road, and may prevent the worst case scenarios from happening during the coldest time of the year.

Sources:
Energy Star
Chimney Safety Institute of America
Bob Vila

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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

Federally insured by the NCUA