Bellwether's Blog on life and money
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!
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.
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:
- Bug spray
- Sun screen
- 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.0 Comment(s)
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!0 Comment(s)
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!0 Comment(s)
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!0 Comment(s)
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 our page.4 Comment(s)