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Bellwether's Blog on life and money

Who Said Scavenger Hunts Are Just For Kids?

Posted in Main Blog
July 10, 2014 by Jenn R.
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A few weeks ago I attended a local Young Professionals Scavenger Hunt – it was part race, part contest, part bar-crawl (minus the alcohol), but largely a ton of fun with my friends and meeting other people. The object was to complete all the tasks in the least amount of time, with a 5-hour time limit. There were approximately 12 teams, ranging from groups of 2 to 8 adventure-seeking professionals of all ages. Once our team checked in, we received our bibs (just like you’d get at a road race), a sealed manila envelope, and food tickets. After a brief overview of the rules and expectations, the clock started and we were on our way.

Planning our attack.adults climbing on sculpture

We immediately opened our envelope and discovered we had 12 “clues” related to locations around the town and a map of the city. The first 4 clues were actual photos of the specific locations that we needed to first, locate, then recreate the photo with all of our team members in it. We then had to submit these clues by email to get full credit. We skimmed thru the list to determine which clues we already knew and mark that clue number on the map. Once we had determined the majority, we were off and running.

Collecting the Goods.

As we reached each location there was either a photo to take or prize to obtain. Most of the clues were pretty challenging, and we learned the hard way that we needed to read the clues carefully. Specifically, one of the clues actually told us that a specific location didn’t open until 3pm, so when we arrived at 1pm we were greatly disappointed. We collected all the items: butterfly wings, princess crown, koozies & tent card, as well as took all the required photos, with some help from local people and other teams!

Crossing the Finish Line.

With about an hour to spare, we arrived at the final location, sadly, we weren’t the first ones. Maybe it was because no one on our team was actually from that city (we all live over an hour away) or when we submitted 2 incorrect photo clues. But we finished 3rd out of 12 teams and received special recognition for being the 1st team to complete one of the photo clues. We were rewarded with t-shirts, glassware and other fun prizes. Then, we got to enjoy some delicious food while we watched a slideshow of all the team photos that were submitted.

This event was a great way to get to know the city, get some exercise outside, and spend time with your friends. Are you looking for something fun to do around your town? Or maybe find a way to make some new friends? Look into your local Chamber of Commerce or Young Professionals Network; they are a great resource for local events.

Manchester Young Professionals
Nashua Young Professionals
List of all NH Young Professional Networks: Stay. Work. Play. 

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Why Business Networking is So Important

Posted in Main Blog
July 09, 2014 by Amanda N.
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Whether you are a recent college graduate or a seasoned professional, business networking is important for the growth of your career. Take the time to consider who you know and who they know. You’ll soon realize you have more connections than you thought you did. Why not take advantage of these relationships? Statistics show that 95% of people network for building relationships.

blue people figures connected by lines to central red figure

Fast Company outlines the following “3 Best Practices for Effective Business Networking.”

  1. Leave every event with at least one person to follow-up with
  2. Obligate time to build your social networks
  3. Concentrate on building 5-10 strong relationships

This advice sounds easy, but the thought of networking scares some people. If you are a person that is afraid of business networking, check out: 3 Ways to overcome your Networking Fears, from “The Fast Track.”

When an event comes up, use these tips from Entrepreneur, to increase your chances of meeting someone new:

Tip #1 Arrive Early

  • Arrive early. Start a discussion with people not already talking to someone else.
  • Ask what brought them to the event. It opens the floor for further discussion.

Tip #2 It’s not all about you

  • Smile to show other people that you are approachable.
  • Allow the conversation to flow naturally. Don’t force it by selling your product or service
  • Actively listen to what the other person has to say.
  • Once the opportunity presents itself, be able to express what you love so much about your company, product, or service.
  • Have business cards with you to easily exchange contact information.

Tip #3 Follow-Up

  • Follow-up in a timely manner, and reference something you discussed to remind the person of who you are. (This is where listening comes in.)
  • A simple email is fine, or sending the person an invitation to connect on LinkedIn works as well

Still think business networking isn’t important? The truth is business networking is beneficial for everyone. Even if you aren’t looking you may discover opportunities to grow within your field, opportunities to recommend someone you know, or opportunities for your employer as a whole; all things that are very important to a successful long term career.

Sources:
The Boston Globe
Business Network SW
The Fast Track

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Finding Success at Saving Money

Posted in Main Blog
July 02, 2014 by BCCU
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For some people saving money seems easy. For others, it's hard work. Our culture celebrates shopping, not saving for a rainy day. Still, saving is important and makes a very real difference in your financial future. Financial icon Dave Ramsey advocates accumulating a $1,000 emergency fund as the first step towards financial security.

Having trouble putting away as much money as you’d like? Try some tips I’ve learned to making saving easier.

Pay Yourself First

It's a common savings rule - “Pay Yourself First.” It means setting aside funds for your personal savings —before you pay your bills, shop for groceries or enjoy a night out. It’s hard to save money after bills and other expenses are paid. Savings needs to be a priority and paying yourself first makes sure it gets done.

Make it a Habit

Treat savings like any other “bill” to get into the "savings mindset." Put savings on autopilot by having your paycheck or a portion of it direct deposited, or set up an automatic transfer in Online banking each time you get paid. Out of sight, out of mind. If you don’t see it, you won’t think about spending it.

Set a Goaldollar bills in coffee cup

Many of us do better when we have goals. Start by breaking your end goal into achievable, smaller goals, and then celebrate those smaller goals. For example, your ultimate goal may be saving $2,500. Go out for ice cream or treat yourself to that Venti specialty coffee from your favorite barista for every $250 you accumulate. Because those are the kinds of things you cut back on when you're trying to start a new savings habit. (Make certain your splurge doesn't use your hard won savings)!

Make it Painful to Touch It

Once you see savings accumulate, your old spending habits may come back. Something will break down, the kids will need money for a field trip, or you’ll see an amazing outfit on sale. Make it a challenge to get at your savings. Consider opening a separate account without debit or check access, or put your savings into a certificate with a penalty for early withdrawal. Find a way to put a “lock” on your savings until you've built the habit of not touching those funds for other than the intended plan. Some people even put all their credit cards into a container filled with water, and put it in the freezer. Gives you plenty of time to rethink that purchase while you're waiting for your cards to thaw!

Stop the Madness

The final component to successful savings is to change your spending habits. In the past, I saved money, but spent the same amount (or more) with plastic. Using plastic can be a tough habit to break. However, savings is a good habit to get into. Once your savings build, you’ll begin to view spending from that perspective: that jacket is a “weeks' worth of savings” or that trip is equal to “two months’ worth of savings.” It makes you think when you know how hard you worked to build that savings. Best of all, over time, you'll view savings in the same way you used to view spending, something to be happy about. Especially when those savings help you achieve other big goals.

For most of us, saving money doesn't come naturally. Just remember:

  • Don’t get discouraged
  • Don't give up

You too can be on the way to sound savings habits!

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Fresh Air, a Happy Dog and a Budget-Friendly Way to Get Healthy

Posted in Main Blog
June 27, 2014 by Jenn R.
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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.brown dog with red bandana

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!

Easy Access

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.

Be Prepared

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:

  • Water
  • Bug spray
  • Sun screen
  • Snacks
  • 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.

Sources:
Nashuanh.gov
Hudsonnh.gov
Merrimackoutdoors.org

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DIY Shows Do It, Why Can't I?

Posted in Main Blog
June 19, 2014 by Trish R.
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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 Roomdetail of photo with artwork, lamp

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!

Sources:
MarthaStewart.com
PlaidOnline
Mother Earth News

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