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Bellwether's Blog on life and money

Budget & Kid Friendly DIY Gifts

Posted in Main Blog
December 16, 2014 by Trish R.
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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.

little boy making cookies

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!

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

man snow blowing sidewalk"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!

Posted in Main Blog
December 02, 2014 by Trish R.
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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.

Car problems in the winter

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
Song Lyrics from Frozen

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Why Join a Credit Union?

Posted in Main Blog
November 25, 2014 by BCCU
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telephone workers

 

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

Posted in Main Blog
November 14, 2014 by Amanda N.
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What can you throw away?color-coded hanging file folders in drawer
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.

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
Operation Hope

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