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Bellwether's Blog on life and money

Santa has Arrived During the Heat Wave!

Posted in Main Blog
August 19, 2014 by Amanda N.
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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!happy woman with shopping bags

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

Posted in Main Blog
August 15, 2014 by Amanda N.
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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

photo of bridesmaid and brides bouquets

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

Posted in Main Blog
August 12, 2014 by Jenn R.
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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:

woman on monkey bars

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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So You Want To Build Your Dream Home... What's Next?

Posted in Main Blog
July 24, 2014 by BCCU
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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.

New vs. Used Car Buying

Posted in Main Blog
July 18, 2014 by BCCU
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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 newthumbnail of Auto Loan Road Map infographic

  • 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:

screenshot of spreadsheet
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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