Bellwether's Blog on life and money
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!2 Comment(s)
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.0 Comment(s)
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:
- 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.
- Determine up to five savings goals you want to achieve for the year.
- Visit Bellwether to set up your BudgetSaver24 savings account folders—one for each of the five goals you determine.
- 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.)
- 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.0 Comment(s)
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.0 Comment(s)
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- Analyze your interest rates—When making a plan to pay down your debt, start with the card that has the highest interest rate.
- 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.