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International Travel: Plan Ahead

August 18th, 2016

Smiling couple at the Eiffel Tower in Paris
In an earlier blog, we offered financial tips for international travel. If your dream is an international trip and you’re still in the planning (and saving) stages, here are a few tips you can get done well ahead of time, and save yourself stress when the time comes.

1. Make sure your passport and visa are current. For travel to most countries, your passport must be valid for at least six months after your return date. Check the expiration date, and if it expires within 6 months of your planned travel, renew now. Remember, the whole process can take up to six weeks. Once you have your new passport, photocopy the information page and the visa page(s) for your destination(s), and pack them separately from your passport.

2. Plan to drive safely. If you plan to drive in another country, see if you need an International Driver’s License, or if your U.S. license will be enough to get to your planned destinations.

3. Stay healthy. Visit the travel section of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website to find health information and recommendations for your destination. The website also lists helpful tips, and recommended items to pack. Bring copies of any prescriptions, pack them separately from your medicine, and note the generic names. Always pack your medicine in prescription bottles, in your carry-on.

4. Consider travel insurance. Your health insurance may not cover you while you’re traveling internationally. If your trip expenses will be high, consider trip interruption and cancellation insurance as well.

5. Register your trip (free!). If you’re traveling outside industrial countries or to remote areas, you can register online with the U.S. State Department, and include your itinerary. That way, the U.S. government will know about your travel and how to contact you. You can even share your information with others—like family and friends—if they need to contact you. Registration is free.

7. Have fun! You’ve planned well. Now relax and enjoy your adventure of a lifetime!

Vacation Saving for Next Year: Strategies

August 18th, 2016

Family in car on vacation
When you’re ready to start saving for next year’s big dream vacation, keep your goal in mind to stay disciplined and on track! Whether it’s a trip to the Adirondacks, a cross-country family adventure, or an international escape, make a plan to save, and stick to it.

1. Get Everyone Involved. If you have children and are planning a family trip, let them help earn and save spending money for the vacation. Odd jobs, sales, allowance savings, you name it. They’ll learn about saving for goals, how small amounts can add up over time, and feel a rewarding ownership of the entire experience.

2. Save Before Spending. The easiest way to save is by setting aside a set amount before allocating the rest of your weekly expenses. You can set it up automatically with a regular transfer from your checking to savings account, or depositing a set amount from every paycheck into the vacation fund. It adds up quickly!

3. Have a Plan to Pay for it All. In case your saving plan doesn’t accumulate the entire amount in time, have a plan for paying the rest off after you return from your trip. Set aside so much a week (or month) so you don’t forget about it. Try to pay it off in less than a year.

4. Spread the Cost. If you must put expenses on credit, spread them across multiple credit cards to avoid approaching the credit limit on any one card (which can have a negative effect on your credit). Smaller amounts are also easier to pay off.

5. Plan for the Extras. If you’re planning an all-inclusive vacation, you won’t really need to worry about the “extras”. If not, think about what you would normally spend at home on groceries, recreation and entertainment, and budget for that plus a little more to cover the “extras” on your trip.

Need a little help? Make an appointment to meet with one of our Member Service Representatives to help you with your plan!

5 Tips for Buying a Vacation Home

August 10th, 2016

Large wood and stone log home surrounded by a cloudy sky and a lake.

Whether you call them “camps”, “cottages”, or “lake houses”, vacation homes are often a bigger investment than our primary homes.

If you’re considering a vacation home, go in with both eyes open, and you’ll make a great investment of your money, time, and leisure. Here are 5 tips to keep in mind:

1. Visit first
Before you buy, visit the area a number of times. Reading or hearing about a great vacation spot isn’t enough. Before you commit to a long-term residence, make sure you’ll truly enjoy it.

2. Understand all your expenses
Learn the real price of owning your vacation home. In addition to the cost of the property, make sure you know the taxes, insurance, and other carrying costs. Even when you’re not there, you’ll still have to pay for water, gas, electrical, trash removal, landscaping, and other maintenance. Make sure you can afford the entire cost year round. Another common cost for vacation homes is a management fee. If you don’t plan to be there for a large part of the year, you can find a reliable local property manager to maintain your home.

3. Plan for work
Remember, this is a vacation home, which is still a home. It requires repair and upkeep the same as your primary residence, and you should budget time, effort, and costs during the season (especially at the start!) for maintenance.

4. Consider renting
If you won’t be there for large portions of the year, consider renting your home to other vacationers during those times. With rental managed by a reliable property manager, you can offset your monthly costs, and even pay off your vacation home early! Check out other local rentals, and find a good local agent or rental company, so you can set a reasonable rental price, as well as get an idea of how much of the season your home will be vacant. Also keep in mind that the most popular vacation times are when your rental will be in demand, and that could conflict with your own vacation plans.

5. Remember accessibility
How easy will it be for you to get to your new vacation home? Find a place that is close enough, and easy enough, to access easily year round. You’ll be much more likely to use it.

We can help you with a number of these considerations. Make an appointment to tell us your vacation dream!

Getting Started: Teaching Community Kids Financial Skills

August 1st, 2016

Happy students in classFirst Source, initially founded as Utica Teachers Federal Credit Union in 1938, has deep roots in education, so financial literacy is very important to us. When people learn good financial habits at an early age, they benefit throughout their lifetimes. That is why we’ve offered the National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE) program for many years. We also now sponsor the Banzai Financial Literacy Program, along with a dedicated Schools Relationship Coordinator, to help students learn to spend and save wisely. The program serves middle and high school students, and a new program for elementary students will be launched later this year.

The curriculum includes lessons in written and interactive online forms, and takes students through real-life adult financial scenarios where they “choose their destination” as they go. From navigating taxes to paying auto insurance, they learn skills they can use in their lives as they become financially more independent.

Track and manage their money, make financial trade-offs, practice discipline, and make sound financial decisions. When we visit the class, we show them how to build and maintain credit, the pitfalls of revolving debt, and offer a real-world perspective that (we hope!) students will carry with them.

The online learning center also offers relationship builders for the students. Once their course is completed, if they open a new First Source youth account, we will deposit $10 in their savings!

Our biggest reward is the thanks we get from teachers and students.

Teachers Say...

Thank you so much for your sponsorship of the Banzai Financial Literacy Program in local schools! This month I had 115 students in my 7th grade Home and Careers classes complete the Banzai program. I liked how Life Scenarios presented real-world financial situations and budgeting decisions that students will face in the near future.

During the last 2 weeks of school when it’s difficult to keep students’ attention, the Banzai program engaged my students in the online curriculum, and had them asking excellent questions. Many of them were excited to have me fill out their completion certificate to take home to their parents, and one student even brought his into First Source to open an account! Thank you for sponsoring this valuable life skills curriculum for my students. Many Thanks!

– Mrs. Kristy Aldrich, Family and Consumer Sciences Teacher Holland Patent Middle School

Thank you so much for sponsoring the Clinton Middle School! We sincerely appreciate your generous contribution and love the financial literacy program. We have had many wonderful class discussions based on the scenarios and the content that the Banzai Program has provided our students! Thank you once again!!

– Miquel Grimm

Thank you for providing the materials to use in my business classes this year. It will enhance the interactive process in my classroom. Being able to use real life scenarios to engage the students makes teaching financial concepts simple. Once again thank you.

– Terry Stanimer, Notre Dame High School

Students Say...

“I learned how to space out my money responsibly, and how to be smart with payments/paychecks.”

“I learned that financial goals are hard to achieve if you don’t save properly.”

“I learned how to keep money and use it wisely on things I need. As well as how to say no to something when I don’t have enough money.”

“I learned how to manage my bank account.”

“I realized it’s hard to manage money! It’s not just telling yourself to remember to buy this or that, you actually need different accounts/jars for different things.”

“I learned the consequences of being in debt.”

“I learned that life can take unexpected turns and that sometimes you have to sacrifice luxuries for your bills.”

“I learned to be prepared for accidents and emergencies.”

“To be honest I didn’t know much of anything about checking accounts, credit cards and managing money. Now I feel like at least I know a little more than I did before, which is good to go into the future, knowing something rather than being really confused in a real life scenario.”

If you’re a local educator and want to learn more about the program, please contact Sue Maxam at 315-735-8571 for more information.

Opening a New Branch: Child’s Play at Utica Children’s Museum

July 1st, 2016

Children's MuseumWe’ll be opening a new “branch” soon: a play credit union for kids who visit the Utica Children’s Museum in Utica. Stan Kocyba, our Facilities Manager, will be creating a new financially-focused learning and play space for inquisitive young minds. Stan is in charge of our properties decisions, normally making the important calls on land and buildings, maintenance, and upgrades. This time, he’ll be thinking a bit smaller.

“We are taking two existing spaces, each 8 feet by 8 feet, and combining them into one larger space for our needs,” Stan said, as demolition started at the museum. “An old dentist office area and bank area will become the new credit union area. There was no existing technology installed, and we wanted kids to experience that, so we’ll be adding some interactive technology.”

The new space will be larger, and more interactive inside and out. The proposed design would give children a space with a play ATM, teller window with 2-way drawer, pneumatic tube system, live camera with monitor, loan area, vault, and a large erasable check.

While a good bit of general building design and construction skills are needed, creating a space like this for young people involves additional challenges. We always consider safety first, and the structure will be built to child scale. Our staff may be called in to help with maintenance of the site as well, so ease of access will be considered. Stan laughs, adding, “Kids can be a bit destructive, so our ‘functioning’ mini credit union branch will have to be built to withstand that.”

“Dramatic play is the foundation of our Exploration Station, and we‎ are so excited to welcome First Source as a community partner,” said Elizabeth Brando, the Utica Children’s Museum Executive Director.

In addition to Stan Kocyba and Elizabeth Brando, our team includes a graphic designer (for branding, wall design, and decals), and a community relations specialist. Other First Source volunteers will help with the painting. The entire project is projected to be finished in a few weeks.

“It’s fun to build for kids,” Stan says. “To know they’ll use and enjoy it. I like that they’ll be learning and playing. It makes you feel good. I have a son, and I like to build and create for him. I truly enjoy projects like this.”

Stan’s last kids’ project was a handicapped-accessible tree house outside of Rochester, for children of all abilities to enjoy playing in the trees. This one is not nearly as big a project, but he looks forward to the joy it will bring to museum visitors.

LMV Graduation: Final Lessons

June 21st, 2016

Brenda R.My official Leadership Mohawk Valley (LMV) experience has come to an end, but the skills learned, and connections made, are just beginning. I am grateful to have had this opportunity, and would highly recommend it to others.

On our LMV Graduation Day, we presented our projects. For me, this was what LMV was really about: creating a tangible idea—with a solid plan—that truly helped a community organization. I felt like my team and I did something good and productive, helping to fulfill a community need.

I was very pleased with our outcome. Our presentation was vibrant, colorful, a good mix of different people speaking, photos, and video. It was informative, engaging, and best of all, we were able to hand off what we’d done directly to the Children’s Museum. They can now use our presentation to ask for funding to put the plan in motion. That is an amazing feeling.

Preparing for our presentation was nerve-racking, but still a good overall experience. Even with all of our up-front preparation and our dry run-through to establish flow and smooth out transitions, we still had some technical kinks we were working out right down to the wire. I have given presentations before, but I didn’t have to coordinate with a larger team, and it was on material that I was very familiar with. I’ve only used Word and PowerPoint for presentations, but for this project, we included video and custom artwork. In general, it was a much bigger undertaking than any I have participated in before.

As I reflect on graduation, I recall that I had a clear objective when I started LMV. I wanted to find a cause or purpose in the community that I could identify with and become invested in. I wanted to be able to follow through with that cause or purpose, staying connected with it after LMV was complete. I am proud that these were not empty words, and that I have followed this commitment through.

The Utica Children’s Museum is pleased with the presentation and plans, and is currently using our proposal to apply for grants. I have already volunteered once to set up their new Nano exhibit, and intend to continue. My family is planning to help as well. The Utica Children’s Museum would like our team to present to their Board of Directors and Community Donors. So my team will still see each other, and my connection to the Children’s museum continues. Success all around!

Choosing to participate in LMV is like choosing to write a senior thesis in college. It’s a choice to knowingly take on an extra commitment and extra work, but it yields deeper knowledge, and a feeling of accomplishment and pride upon completion. I have benefited both personally and professionally from the experience, and it has helped better prepare me for the various challenges ahead!

Warm regards,
Brenda Rogowski


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