Beating the Winter Doldrums

For some, it comes when all the torn wrapping paper or empty champagne bottles have been put out with the recycling. For others, it’s the day after Super Bowl Sunday. Either way, when the short days, long nights and cold weather hit, the winter doldrums oftenWinter follow. The seemingly endless wait for spring can wear on anyone; here are a few tricks that can help you to keep midwinter melancholy at bay! 

Release those endorphins. The natural feel-good chemical that our bodies produce during exercise is a great elixir for the winter “blahs”. By making a commitment to raising your heart rate, you can also lift your spirits. Already have a workout routine? Mix it up by engaging in winter sports — lace up the skates, strap on the skis or snowboard, get that sled or tube out of the garage. All of these activities will reduce the boredom of the season while getting your adrenaline and blood pumping. They may also help you to look your best when the warmth finally does arrive and it’s time to shed those extra layers.

Surround yourself with friends.  Now that the hubbub of the holidays are over, your calendar suddenly looks wide open. During the dead of winter, many of us tend to make fewer plans or decline social invitations, but spending time with good friends is crucial to our well-being. Plan a theme party or night on the town, or schedule poker nights or cozy movie nights at home. Nothing makes you feel better about the cold and desolation than laughter and good times. Reconnect with pals and inject some fun into your winter weeks!

Allow a small splurge or pamper yourself. A little retail therapy or a spa session can go a long way in brightening your day. But remember that if one of your New Year’s resolutions involved fiscal responsibility, over-spending will only add to your stress. So whether it’s that small item you saw while shopping that made you think “I wouldn’t mind having that myself” or the “no-special-occasion” manicure or pedicure, go for it — but be frugal as well as frivolous and keep it guilt-free.

Learn something new. Challenge yourself and have something to look forward to each week. Often times during winter we find ourselves trapped indoors, sitting on the couch watching TV. Get out of the house and sign up for a class — cooking, yoga, martial arts — anything that may have piqued your interest in the past. Break free from the monotony and lethargy of the post-holiday winter months and find a new hobby or passion.

Embrace the light and color. Remember the wondrous transformation from black and white to Technicolor in the classic film, The Wizard of Oz? Winter often seems draped in shades of gray, so grasp every opportunity to let the sun shine in! Throw open the curtains and blinds; brighten up your home with colorful flowers or houseplants; ditch the drab and add splashes of vibrant color to your wardrobe. Bundle up and get outside for a brisk walk in the crisp air with the sun glistening on the fresh snowfall.

Above all, be positive. Studies have shown that optimists live longer and healthier lives. Keep an upbeat attitude and you’ll get through these ho-hum winter months and be welcoming the spring before you know it!

 

Improving Your Fuel Economy in Cold Weather

The start of a new year means we’re nearing the height of the winter driving season, and colder temperatures could have an impact on the fuel ecoman pumping gasoline fuel in car at gas stationnomy of your car. Fuel economy tests show that, in short-trip city driving, a conventional gasoline car’s gas mileage is about 12% lower at 20°F than it would be at 77°F. It can drop as much as 22% for very short trips (three to four miles), and can be even worse if you drive a hybrid.

Why is winter fuel economy lower?  Cold weather affects your vehicle in more ways than you might expect:

  • Engine and transmission friction increases in cold temperatures due to cold engine oil and other drive-line fluids.
  • It takes longer for your engine to reach its most fuel-efficient temperature. This affects shorter trips more, since your car spends more of your trip at less-than-optimal temperatures.
  • Heated seats, window defrosters and heater fans use additional power.
  • Warming up your vehicle before you start your trip lowers your fuel economy — idling gets 0 miles per gallon.
  • Colder air is denser, increasing aerodynamic drag on your vehicle, especially at highway speeds.
  • Tire pressure decreases in colder temperatures, increasing rolling resistance.
  • Winter grades of gasoline can have slightly less energy per gallon than summer blends.
  • Battery performance decreases in cold weather, making it harder for your alternator to keep your battery charged. This also affects the performance of the regenerative braking system on hybrids.

In severe winter weather, your MPG can drop even further:

  • Icy or snow-covered roads decrease your tires’ grip on the road, wasting energy.
  • Safe driving speeds on slick roads can be much lower than normal, further reducing fuel economy, especially at speeds below 30 to 40 mph.
  • Using four-wheel drive uses more fuel.

What can I do to improve my fuel economy in cold weather?  You may not be able to completely mitigate cold weather’s effect on your fuel economy, but you can do some simple things to help your gas mileage:

  • Park your car in a warmer place, such as your garage, to increase the initial temperature of your engine and cabin.
  • Combine trips when possible so that you drive less often with a cold engine.
  • Don’t idle your car to warm it up. Most manufacturers recommend driving off gently after about 30 seconds. The engine will warm up faster being driven.
  • Don’t use seat warmers or defrosters more than necessary.
  • Check your tire pressure regularly.
  • Use the type of oil recommended by your manufacturer for cold weather driving.
  • Remove accessories that increase wind resistance, like roof racks, when not in use.
  • If you drive a plug-in hybrid or electric vehicle, preheating the cabin while plugged into the charger can extend your vehicle’s range.
  • If you drive a plug-in hybrid or electric vehicle, using the seat warmers instead of the cabin heater can save energy and extend range.

Community Bank reminds you to be safe while driving in winter weather!

Young Adult Blog Series: Renting Your First Apartment

The day has come—you’re finally ready to move out of your parents’ house and find your own place!New Houses series

Renting that first apartment can be exciting and a little bit scary. You will probably look at several apartments to find the one that has the location you want, includes the amenities you need and is affordable.

That’s the exciting part.

Before the landlord will hand over your keys, you’ll need to go through the process of signing a lease. Often times, you’ll also need to do an application before the landlord will rent to you. Be sure to understand all the details, fill out the application completely (and honestly) and ask questions about anything you do not understand before signing anything.

As you go through the process, remember that the landlord is running a business and you are the customer. However, unlike making a purchase at a store, this transaction will span a much longer period of time, and your relationship with the landlord will continue as long as you live in the apartment. Starting the relationship on a good note and living up to your responsibilities as a renter can make the relationship (and your overall experience) more pleasant.

Here are some of the things you may encounter when applying for the lease:

Personal Information – You will probably need to provide information on your prior places of residence, your employment, contact information in case of emergency, information on your car and whether you have pets. You may also be asked about any legal record you may have.

Application Fee – You will probably have to pay an application fee which may be non-refundable. This covers the cost of the landlord processing your application. It’s worth it to ask your landlord if your application fee can be applied to your rent. You may not get it, but there’s no harm in asking.

Security Deposit – Once your application is accepted, the landlord will probably want a deposit that could equate to a couple months’ rent. The landlord holds this as security in case there are damages when you move out. Be sure to inspect the apartment before you move in to find any existing damages. Discuss anything you find with your landlord immediately, and make sure you are not charged for them when you move out.

Credit Report – It’s normal for a landlord to run a credit check on you before approving your application. This is one of the ways the landlord gets some comfort that you will pay the rent each month, based on your creditworthiness.

Guarantor – Depending on your situation, the landlord may require that someone else guarantees your lease. Remember, the landlord is in business to make a profit and he wants to make sure that the rent gets paid on time and that the apartment is well taken care of. It’s especially common of the landlord to ask this of young tenants who haven’t rented before. Don’t be alarmed or frustrated—ask a parent or guardian to be the guarantor.

Finally, be a good renter. Renters and customers that are pleasant to work with and pay their bills promptly usually get better service. A good relationship with your landlord can be important if things go wrong. Remember, your landlord is whom you are going to call if there is a leak in your roof at 3 a.m. or there’s no hot water. A good relationship may get the problem resolved easier and sooner!

Make your first renting experience a good one—check out this article for tips on avoiding 7 common mistakes among first time renters!

Young Adult Blog Series: Student Loans

If you’re spending the dollars on a higher education, you likely have the prospect of student loans hanging over your head. You’re not alone—Forbes.com reports that two thirds of students graduating from American universities today are carrying some amount of debt with them. Even more staggering, the total student loan debt in the United States is estimated at around $1.2 trillion, with the average graduate owing $26,000.

In the flurry of excitement that comes with graduation, job searching and (hopefully!) snagging that first job, it can be easy to put off thinking about loan payback. Consequently, nearly one quarter to one third of borrowers are late or delinquent on their student loans, a misstep that can have a negative impact on a financial future down the line.

When it comes to student loans, it’s beneficial to take the time to understand your personal situation. Every student is different, so be sure to find out who you owe, and how much you have in debt. As you go through that process, there are a few things to keep in mind:

What type of repayment plan will you have? Many loan programs allow you to defer starting the repayment process until you graduate and then have level payments for up to ten years to pay off the loan. Depending on the type of loan you have and your situation, you may be able to extend the term or have variable payments.

What are the terms (repayment and interest rate) of your loan? As you review your loan, be sure to compare the student loan rate with any other borrowing you may have. For example, it may sound nice to pay off your student loan just to get it behind you, but if that means that your credit card balance would grow, it may not make sense.

Would consolidating your loans or refinancing them make sense? Again, you need to review all of the terms of any existing loan with the terms of a potential consolidated loan. Be sure to consider rates, terms and any costs of consolidating or refinancing.

What if you are having trouble making your required payments? Living up to your repayment responsibilities is serious. Missing payments may trigger penalties and ultimately that may be reflected on your credit record. If this is an issue, contact your lender immediately. You may be able to work out an agreement to extend the repayment period or change the terms to ease the problem. Your lender does not want to see the loan go into default and neither do you.

Looking for additional tips for managing your student loans? Click here to read more.

Hot Tips for Summer Vacation Savings

Summer becomes a hot time to give yourself and your loved ones a badly needed break. But with rising food, fuel, and hotel costs, for many people, a summer vacation may seem out of reach financially.

Rest assured, however, there are some ways to cut the cost of summer vacation and ensure you get your time in the sun.

• Be flexible – it pays. If you’re open to trying different vacation spots, you’ll increase your chances of saving money. For example, look at both lake vacations and beach locations for the best deals, and make your decision accordingly. Having flexibility on your vacation timetable will also make saving easier, especially if you choose a cruise, which can offer significantly lower rates during summer season.

• Stay out of the hot spots. While a lot of us love to be where all the action is, vacationing in crowded “hotspots” can cost you a lot more. By staying away from these locations, you won’t just avoid crowds and traffic; you’ll save money.

• Cash in your rewards. Do you have a credit card that offers travel rewards? Summer is a great time to cash in. You may be able to reduce or eliminate the cost of hotels, airfare, entertainment, and rental cars. Plus, if you stay at the same hotel or use the same airline, you can earn rewards that can be redeemed for next year’s vacation. How’s that for smart vacation planning?

• Get a vacation rental. One way to save significantly on your lodging costs is to rent a condo or cottage. Research has shown that renting homes is a lot more affordable than staying in hotel rooms. Plus, with a home, you’ll have more room and privacy – always a plus when you’re traveling with children.

• Dine in. Another advantage of renting a home is that you can make your own meals, putting more money in your pocket. If you plan on staying at a hotel, see if you can book a room with a stove or refrigerator to allow you to make your own meals and store snacks.

• Team up on your vacation. Invite family members or friends you enjoy spending time with to accompany you. With a vacation rental, you can split the cost of the home, making your vacation a whole lot more affordable.

These are just a few simple ways to save. Find more information on ways to save on vacation planning all year long with help from National Geographic.

Young Adult Blog Series: Do you know your credit score?

If your answer is “no”, don’t feel bad; a recent study by the Consumer Federation of America and VantageScore Solutions found that there are many misconceptions and a general lack of knowledge among Americans when it comes to their credit score.

When you’re young, a credit score probably isn’t something you regularly think about, but as your level of financial responsibility increases, it becomes an important thing to keep track of. So what is a credit score, and how do you find out yours?

Essentially, your credit score is a snapshot of your borrowing history, comprised of information from credit card companies, financial institutions and other companies. This history is used to calculate your creditworthiness—in other words, your likelihood of being able to pay back money that you borrow.

Each time you apply for credit, whether you complete a credit card application, apply for an auto loan or sign a lease for an apartment, someone is probably checking your credit report. When it comes to loans, your credit score is a major determining factor on whether or not a lender will approve you. It can also affect your interest rate; the lower your credit score, the more likely you’ll end up paying more in interest.

Here are some tips to help you build and maintain a solid credit rating:

-Make your payments before the due date Remember, promptness counts! Making your payments ahead of schedule will not only help you avoid late fees, but it will keep your account from delinquency.

-Pay more than the minimum on all credit cards if you can. Having a high credit card balance relative to your credit limit can negatively affect your credit score. If you have a high amount of credit card debt, make every effort to pay down your balances as quickly as possible.

-Order a credit report once a year There are three major bureaus that house credit card information: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. You are entitled to one free report per year from each of the financial institutions, so make a yearly credit check-up part of your life! If you notice any errors on your credit report, contact the issuing bureau immediately.

Want to test your knowledge? Take this quiz and see how much you know about your credit score!

The Business of Online Advertising

Learn through customer analyticsOne thing is certain about today’s consumers–more and more of them are spending more and more time (and money) online. If that’s where they are, shouldn’t your business be there too? If you’re a busy small business owner and not sure where to start with online advertising, here’s a brief background and a few best practices to get you digitally dialed in.

The Basics
Email marketing, display advertising, search engine marketing, search engine optimization, online video and social media marketing all fall underneath the digital umbrella. You can click here to for a quick reference guide http://www.quirk.biz/resources/emarketingone to find more information on the different channels and which are best suited to your current strategy.

And if you’re like most business owners, decisions about how to allocate limited resources will also play a significant role in which channel(s) to explore. This easy-to-read chart http://moz.com/learn/local/digital-marketing-options can help you compare options based on the amount of time and money you can expect to invest in each.

Best Practices Before Getting Started
As with any type of campaign, make sure you set out with a clearly defined goal. Whether it’s generating more awareness for your brand, driving traffic to your site or increasing sales be sure your objectives are designed to help you achieve a certain end.

Dare to be different, and don’t be afraid to try something a new. http://www.inc.com/ss/7-successful-viral-marketing-campaigns Take advantage of the ability to provide prospects with interesting and engaging content. Whether this is an interactive game, funny video, a little creativity can go a long way in getting you noticed by more users.

A great ad with eye-catching imagery, compelling copy or an irresistible offer is only the beginning. If you promise something in your ad, be sure you’re delivering on the other end through a custom landing page, a digital storefront or an information request form. The last thing you want is to get your prospects to act only to find the destination confusing or completely irrelevant. http://www.forbes.com/sites/drewhendricks/2014/02/28/5-landing-page-mistakes-that-are-killing-your-chances-at-conversions/ And it doesn’t end after “going live,” don’t forget to test your ad to ensure everything is working properly!

Measure Your Success
A challenge marketers face with traditional forms of advertising is navigating the murky waters of the measurement. This can make it difficult to determine the return on investment and overall effectiveness of a campaign.

However, you can track and trace you online efforts easily with the help of tools like Google Analytics http://www.google.com/analytics/. The wealth of information in these reports can provide you with data and insights you can learn from to help sharpen your strategy and improve your messaging and conversion rates over time.

Do you plan to include online advertising to help your boost your business’ bottom line?

Young Adult Blog Series: Buying Your First Car

Car Care Tips to Save You MoneyOne of the first big financial steps you’ll likely take is making the decision to buy a car. Buying a car can be exciting, a little stressful and will have a big impact on your financial life. You’ll need to consider what you want, but also what you can reasonably afford. Owning a car doesn’t just involve making a monthly payment on your loan; you will also need to consider things like gas, insurance and maintenance before making a purchase. And always remember that a car isn’t an investment—it’s just a means of getting from one place to another.

Buying a car is essentially a three-step process: choosing the car you want, negotiating the purchase and actually paying for it.

Step One: The New or Used Decision
The automobile industry spends millions of dollars each year to bring you advertisements for sleek, shiny, new cars with countless features and custom furnishings. But as you can imagine, luxury comes with a high price tag, so as you begin your search be sure to set a limit on how much you’re willing to spend.

There are pros and cons to both new and used cars; new cars usually come with a warranty that will cover unforeseen expenses, but can be expensive. Buying used can be a cost-savings up front, but you’ll need to do extra homework on the car’s history to avoid getting stuck with a clunker. Sites like Carfax.com offer history reports that can tell you if a car was ever stolen, salvaged or recalled, so make that part of your research process. It’s also a good idea to have a qualified mechanic take a look at the car before you buy.

Step Two: Negotiating
Negotiating the purchase of your car can be the most stressful part of the process, particularly if it’s your first time. It helps to go in knowing the facts about the car you’re interested in and be firm on your price limit.

The Internet is a great resource for comparing prices. Check out sites like Autobytel and CarsDirect to get quotes beforehand. Don’t be afraid to share competitive pricing with your salesperson. While you negotiate, stay focused on the purchase price of the car you want and keep discussions about trade-ins or financing options separate. Be wary of expensive add-ons, too; often times, dealerships offer things like rust-proofing or extended warranties that are profitable for the dealer but can be very expensive for you.

Finally, if you feel that you cannot get the price you want or you aren’t being treated with respect, don’t be afraid to table the negotiation and take your business elsewhere. There are many dealerships out there who would love to have your business!

Step Three: Paying for the Car
When it comes to paying for your car, you have several different options.

The first and easiest option would be to pay cash in full, that way you’ll avoid any interest expenses. If you’re buying a new or more expensive used car, though, paying cash might not be possible. In that case, most people choose to make a down payment and then finance the rest of their purchase with a loan. You can take a loan through your bank or credit union, or through the dealership itself. If you’re not planning to finance through the dealer, secure your loan before you walk into the showroom.

Another option is to lease a car, which avoids the need for a large down payment. When you lease, you make monthly payments until the lease is up, at which point you return the car. The obvious drawback here is that you don’t actually own the car.

Whether you’re leasing or buying, be sure to fully understand the terms and conditions before you sign any documents.

Are you ready to take your first steps toward owning a car? Community Bank offers auto loans to help you finance your purchase. Stop in and talk to us anytime!

Young Adult Blog Series: Find Your Financial Co-Pilot

CoffeeWorkerIf you think of your financial life as one giant road trip with financial stability as the end destination, one of the first things you’ll need to do is find yourself a good co-pilot. Someone dependable, who will have your back if the going gets tough. Someone who understands you—how you operate, what your needs are—and someone you’ll enjoy having along for the ride!

In the context of finance, that co-pilot is your bank.
A good working relationship with a financial institution is part of a solid financial foundation, and it’s important to find the right one to work with. Depending on where you live, you’ll probably have several to choose from, so here are a few things to consider when selecting a bank:

• Location of branches and ATMs — While the days of traditional banking are giving way to online tools and mobile apps, it’s still good to find one that is conveniently located, in the event that you need to physically visit the branch. Also, consider their ATM locations in relation to where you live and work. Is there a branch ATM nearby? Many branches are also part of networks that don’t charge fees, so be sure to find out as you research different banks.

• Fairly priced products and services — Different banks will offer different accounts and services. Be sure to do a good comparison between banks you’re considering; take into account interest rates and fees associated with their various accounts.

• The overall “vibe” — Remember, you’re choosing a partner accompany you on your journey toward financial success. Interacting with your bank should be a positive experience, so be sure to find a bank that will take the time to understand your needs and genuinely wants your business. Trust your instincts—if you’re not getting the right feeling when you walk into a branch or speak to someone on the phone, find another institution.

When you walk into the branch, be prepared and know what you need, but also ask questions. Make sure you’re getting the products and services that are best for you. If you’re opening an account for the first time, you’ll need your Social Security number, identification and proof of residency. Consider signing up for some basic accounts and services: a checking account, savings account and ATM card are a good place to start. You could also consider enrolling in direct deposit to make it even easier to receive your paycheck.

Having all of these services under one roof and getting to know your personal banker can help keep your financial life simple, and can help down the road when you need other things like loans or mortgages.

 

Telecommuting: Is it good business for you?

There’s a popular trend that’s taking place in companies today; a growing number of employees are trading in their cubicles for their living rooms and working at home for at least part of the time. According to a report based on U.S. Census report statistics, 50 million U.S. employees hold jobs that can be conducted from home.

It’s easy to see why employees like working from home. They get to eliminate commuting time, save money on fuel and clothing, and gain valuable time in their personal lives. But what’s the impact for employers? Is allowing your employees to telecommute good or bad for your company? Here’s a look at the pros and cons:

The Pros

Increased employee productivity. Research has shown that employees who work at home are often more productive. When they are in the office, they have to stretch out work over an eight-hour day, whereas at home, they have an incentive to get their work done in less time. They also don’t have normal office distractions, such as socializing with co-workers and taking long lunches. Research has shown that employees who telecommute are also less likely to take sick days.

A valuable work/life employee benefit. One of the biggest benefits of telecommuting is that it reduces the time employees have to spend commuting to work, giving them more time in their personal lives. As a result, telecommuting can be a smart and cost-effective benefit for attracting and retaining employees, particularly those who have young children.

Cost savings. Telecommuting can impact your bottom line by allowing you to reduce expensive office space and other overhead costs, including office supplies and equipment.

Improved morale. Employees who have a work life balance are likely to be happier, and work harder to maintain their jobs.

 The Cons

Decreased personal interaction. The most successful companies are those that foster a spirit of collaboration and teamwork with employees. Having employees physically separated can limit their personal interaction.

Reduced control. When your employees aren’t physically present, it’s more difficult to monitor their work and progress. You can counter that by arranging to have in-person meetings from time to time and regular check-ins.

Security risk. At many companies, employees have access to critical and sensitive data. Providing remote access to this data on their home computers or allowing them to bring home confidential information can put the security of your information at risk.

Do your homework before allowing employees to work from home.

For more information on telecommuting, including helpful strategies, check out these articles from Monster.com http://hiring.monster.com/hr/hr-best-practices/workforce-management/employee-benefits-management/telecommuting-strategy.aspx and Mashable http://mashable.com/2014/01/27/employees-work-from-home-considerations/