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Bellwether's Blog on life and money

A Balancing Act: Working and attending school at the same time.

Posted in Main Blog
September 12, 2014 by Guest
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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.detail of photo of calendar

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!

Posted in Main Blog
September 11, 2014 by Trish R.
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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.

couple on motorbike

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

Posted in Main Blog
September 09, 2014 by Guest
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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.

older couple filling out form

  • 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

Posted in Main Blog
September 05, 2014 by Trish R.
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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

photo collage of Mount Washington view & signs

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

Posted in Main Blog
September 03, 2014 by Amanda N.
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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:

man in tie offering 100 dollar bills
  • 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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