4 Books in 4 Sentences Or Less

Update on my New Year’s Resolution to read 24 books this year – I have finished 3 books plus 1 bonus book that was not on my list! I know, I know . . . I’m such an over-achiever. But I listened to the bonus book on Audible so that made it a lot easier.

In case you were curious what I thought, I have come up with super short reviews of each book. Each one is 4 sentences or less (P.S. parentheses don’t count as sentences! That’s why they are the best).  And then I gave each book an “Official Kelsey Rating.” Here they are:

Divergent by Veronica Roth – Like the Hunger Games except better because there was no annoying love triangle (an obligatory feature of all teen fiction now-a-days). If you like post-apocalyptic semi-science fictions, you’ll definitely enjoy it.  It’s a quick, fun, fast-paced read. Plus Tris, the main character, is way more Katniss Everdeen power girl than obnoxious Bella Swan pushover which makes you want to root for her throughout the story.

Official Kelsey Rating: 2 thumbs up!

Insurgent by Veronica Roth- The sequel to Divergent. This is definitely a series like the Hunger Games or City of Bones where you need to immediately read the next book so you know what happens next. I am starting the third one ASAP. And I can’t wait for the movies to start coming out.

Official Kelsey Rating: Can’t put it down!

PS If you’ve read the books you can take this quiz and find out which faction you’d be in: http://www.divergentfans.com/page/faction-quiz. I got Candor which is almost as bad as getting Hufflepuff for your Hogwarts House!

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern – This book just straight up confused me.  Here’s my best attempt to summarize what happened: there’s a guy and a girl who are in some sort of weird magical competition that has no rules, no time limit, and no one knows how you win or how it ends and it takes place at a circus. I think it might have all been a metaphor for something but the writing was so all over the place that I have no idea what that might be. It made me feel like I did when I watched the movie Garden State – angry that I am missing out on the deep, life-changing experience everyone else seemed to be having as a result of the film/book.

Official Kelsey Rating: Don’t bother

Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg – ** bonus book** Everyone of my generation, female AND male, should read this book. I don’t care if you “don’t think you’re a feminist,” it’s still an important read. Women may have come a long way since the Madmen days, but we still have work to do in order to achieve actual gender equality. This book isn’t just about large scale changes that society as a whole should make – it also makes you stop and think about the gender-related things you do every day that might be holding me back from achieving your goals (I, for example, frequently answer questions I am 100% positive I am right about in an unsure tone. You know the one I’m talking about. “I’m not sure but, I think that maybe . . .?”)

Official Kelsey Rating: Read it. NOW!

So what do you think? If you’ve read any of these books, do you agree with me? I’d love to hear what you think! Hit me up in the comments section.

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Kelsey’s Special Delicious Oatmeal Treats

I hate oatmeal. It’s gross. It’s goopy and mushy and just straight up yucky. So why did I feel compelled to by a 10 pack of instant oatmeal 2 weeks ago at the grocery store?

Because I want to like it!  That’s why. Nutrition experts say your taste buds change every 7 years, so you should try foods you don’t like occasionally to see if you might like them now. Apparently I defy scientific fact because I have definitely had the same taste buds since age 5. Chicken nuggets – delicious. Cheese sticks – a must have! Oatmeal – bleghhhhhhhhh.

I am, admittedly, a very picky eater. The list of foods I like is much shorter than those I don’t like. But there are a few, simple, healthy foods I don’t like that I keep trying every now and then anyways because life would be easier if I did like them. Like eggs. Or hot dogs. Or oatmeal.

Bode is not impressed by my pickiness. He eats anything. ANYTHING.

Bode is not impressed by my pickiness. He eats anything. ANYTHING.

I made apple cinnamon oatmeal, the oatmeal described to me by other picky eaters as “the only kind they will eat.” It was disgusting. I only ate 2 bites. I even tried one of the maple brown sugar flavors afterwards because it sounded yummy and that was no good either. I should have known better but c’est la vie!

Anyways, my attempted foray into the world of oatmeal-eating left me with an open box of instant oatmeal that was missing two packets. Which led to this conversation in my kitchen the other day –

Me: Why do I buy oatmeal I know I don’t like? It’s so stupid.

Roomie #1: Haha you are so picky! Who doesn’t like oatmeal?

Me: ME! I don’t like oatmeal. Will you eat it? Because I won’t.

Roomie #1: Maybe. I mean eventually I will if you don’t ever eat it.

Me: Is it awkward if I donate the leftover packages to the food pantry? I feel bad because I opened the box.

Roomie #1: Umm I’m not sure. Maybe you shouldn’t. They are individually wrapped though. What if you used them for something else? Like oatmeal cookies or something?

Me: You are the smartest person EVERRRRR!!!!

My favorite breakfast food . . . NAHT.

My favorite breakfast food . . . NAHT.

This is how I got the idea to use my extra oatmeal to make cookies or some sort of granola bar. I surfed the web and finally came up with my own recipe for what turned out to be a no-bake-cookie-granola-bar hybrid. I liked the recipe because it didn’t include chia seeds (yuck!) and I wouldn’t have to use the oven. Plus I already had the majority of the ingredients in my kitchen. It seemed like a great way to make sure excess food didn’t go to waste while making something I might actually eat. Here’s the recipe for my extra delicious oatmeal treats:

1 cup of instant oatmeal (any flavor, but I happened to have maple brown sugar)

1 cup Chex rice cereal (which I had left over from making Muddy Buddies)

1/2 cup peanut butter (also hanging around my apartment)

3 tablespoons honey (had to buy this but it was only $1.49)

1/4 cup milk (milk is the best drink ever so obviously I had some in the fridge)

1/2 bar dark chocolate (bought a bar of Lindtt Dark Chocolate for $1.59)

Directions:

1. Put Chex cereal in plastic baggy and crush so the pieces are small.

Smashing Chex is a great stress-reliever.

Smashing Chex is a great stress-reliever.

2. Mix Chex and oatmeal in bowl.

3. Combine peanut butter, honey, and milk in a seperate bowl. Melt in microwave for 2-3 minutes (until melted). Mix.

4. Combine dry and wet ingredients. Mix well.

5. Break off bit size chunks of chocolate and mix into batter.

6. Make bit size balls and place on cookie tray.

7. Leave try in freezer for 1-2 hours.

8. ENJOY! 🙂 

YUM!

YUM!

Even though mine came out in kind of weird blobs, they were still pretty good! I have been eating them, which is saying something. Roomie #1 tried one and approved. Roomie #2 seemed like she didn’t trust my cooking abilities (which I can’t say I blame her for) and said she would just take my word that they were good. Not only did these oatmeal treats use up some extra ingredients around my kitchen that otherwise would have gone to waste, they also tasted like a store-bought granola bar but cost a lot less! I made 7-8 treats for $3.08. A box of 6 granola bars at the grocery store is easily $0.50-$1 more than that.

If you have any great recipe ideas that help use up leftover ingredients, please share them in the comments section! I am not a great baker or cook, but I am having fun experimenting in the kitchen. Especially if the recipes save me money 🙂

The Final Frontier: First-Time Home Buying Part 3!

house 2

In case you missed them, here are the 2 blogs to read before this one:

https://kelseyatcascofcu.wordpress.com/2013/12/03/no-more-barbie-dreamhouse-first-time-home-buying-part-1/

https://kelseyatcascofcu.wordpress.com/2013/12/16/save-save-save-first-time-home-buying-part-2/

Now that you’re all caught up . . .  you’re going to do it! You’ve checked your credit report. Your job is secure. You’ve been saving every spare penny for months. You’ve been staking out IKEA living room sets on your weekends off. You’re ready. You’re going to buy a house.

What now?

Unfortunately, buying a house isn’t as easy as going to Target and picking one off the shelf. So where do you start? Once again I have turned to my good friend Erik the Mortgage Officer, and he helped me come up with these steps for buying a house. Each person’s experience might be a little different and you might not follow this timeline exactly but this should give you an idea of how the purchase process should go:

  1. Determine Your Must-Haves – Although these things might change as you go through the home-buying process, I recommend having an idea of what you want before you do anything else. Make a list of 4 or 5 things that are important to you such as location, number of bedrooms, or style of house. You might need to refine your “must-haves” when you get approved for a certain dollar amount or when you start to visit homes for sale in your area, but these guidelines will give you some place to start. It’s important to be flexible, but you also don’t want to walk into this process blind; having a visual of the end-goal will help you make important decisions along the way. This step is especially important if you have a partner-in-crime for this purchase – what if your significant other wants a 70’s era one-level ranch when you dream of a three-story Victorian mansion?! It will be better to find this out at the beginning of your home-buying journey when there’s time to negotiate rather than once you’re ready to make an offer on your dream-house and your better-half isn’t on board. Save yourself time – have guidelines in place.
  2. Get Pre-approved – The next step is for you to visit your financial institution and get pre-approved for a mortgage loan. Hopefully, you’re going into that office with your best financial foot forward. Check out my previous blogs for tips on how to get your finances ready to buy a house.When you get approved for a mortgage loan, your financial institution will tell you that you are approved for up to a certain amount. For example, you might be approved for up to $150,000. IMPORTANT: this doesn’t mean you have to use that full amount! It just means that is the maximum limit to your spending. If you find a place for less, then that’s great. A pre-approval is generally good for between 60-90 days. Don’t worry if you haven’t found the right place by the end of this period – there’s no penalty for not buying a house during that time! It won’t negatively affect your credit, it just means you will have to reapply. A good tip: don’t do anything that would change your credit during that 90 day period, like apply for a new credit card or buy a car. You don’t want to think you are approved for a certain amount, find the perfect home, and then find out your credit has changed and you can no longer get a mortgage approved for that amount.
  3. Get a Realtor – Oh, to get a realtor or not to get a realtor? That is the question? There’s a lot of debating out there about whether or not you truly need a realtor to buy a house. But unless you are in the housing business yourself, chances are you could benefit from the help of a professional. Navigating the home-buying process is tough, especially if you are a first-time home-buyer! Why go it alone when you can have someone who has been through the process hundreds of times be your real estate spirit guide? The key is to comparison shop. Look at a lot of different realtors in your area. How long have they been in the business? Do they have any references? Does your mortgage officer have anyone they recommend? You want someone with experience who is familiar with the neighborhood you are looking to buy in and who understands your vision for your first home. You can still look at home-listings in your area and request to see certain properties, but your realtor will be able to make recommendations, as well. This is the stage at which you will actually begin shopping around for your new place. Hopefully with you realtor’s help you will find a house that feels like home and you will be well on your way to Step #4 . . .
  4. Get a Home Inspection – Mortgage-Officer-to-the-Stars Erik, told me that this is one step people commonly skip in an effort to save money. But it’s one of the most important ones. Once you find a place you like and think you are ready to make an offer, GET A HOME INSPECTION! If you don’t, you might end up costing yourself more money in the long run. A home inspection before buying could alert you to major problems in your potential new home that are costly to repair. Would you rather spend $1,000 to get a home inspected before you buy it or move in and find out about a $10,000 mold problem? If the home needs small repairs, you might be able to negotiate with the seller to have them fix it before you buy or get the price decreased. If the house needs a lot of work, you might be better to cross it off your list. Doing an inspection can give you peace of mind that the investment you’re making in a new home is a sound one.
  5. Closing Time – “One last call for alcohol, so finish your whiskey, your beer . . .” If you don’t remember that song, you are too young to buy a house. But in all seriousness, closing is the last and final step of this process. Once you find a place you like, your realtor will work with you to make an official offer on the house. This is where the haggling ensues and is when you realize how glad you are that you have a real estate agent helping you out. More than likely, the seller of your would-be home will make a counter-offer aka they will ask for a little more money than what you want to pay. Since we don’t barter or negotiate price very much in our everyday lives, this process is a tricky one to navigate alone. Your realtor can help you decide whether you make your own counter-offer, accept the seller’s price, or walk away from the sale. If you and the seller can agree upon a final price then they accept your bid, you visit your financial institution to close on your new mortgage loan (hopefully there will be no hiccups there because you were a good boy/girl and didn’t do anything that would affect your credit recently), and then you move into your new place and stay up all night celebrating! Yay for you! You bought a house! If your offer isn’t accepted by the seller, you will have to continue your search. It’s ok to be sad and maybe even cry a little, but dry those tears – there’s plenty of houses out there and you will find the right one for you.

My last and final tip for the first-time home-buyer – Don’t be scared to ask for help! If you were going to take up golf, you’d probably take a lesson or two from a pro. Maybe read a few golfing magazine. Watch some YouTube videos about perfecting your swing. Basically, you’d do some research before you went out there and just started wacking your club at balls. Buying a house is no different. Take advantage of all of the resources out there. Ask friends, family, and co-workers for advice. Reach out to your financial institution. No one expects you to be an expert the first time around and your house-hunting experience will be a lot less stressful and more successful if you have people guiding you in the right direction.

Best of luck to all you first-time house-hunters out there! I’d love to hear about your experiences. Please feel free to leave a comment telling me about your journey to your first home.

Phishing Is No “Phun”

Unless you have been living under a rock, you have probably heard about the Data Breach at Target this holiday shopping season. You might even be one of the 40 million customers who unwittingly had their account, debit card, address, and other personal information stolen while shopping for Christmas knick-knacks.

What the Target scammers did is called “phishing.” This type of scam refers to any criminal activity that attempts to obtain sensitive information without the owner’s permission.

We're not talking about the fun kind of fishing here!

We’re not talking about the fun kind of fishing here!

All of the media hype makes it seem like what happened at Target is a unique situation and that Target is a terrible, awful, no-good, greedy corporation that doesn’t care enough about the little people to secure customers’ private information.

However, the idea that what happened at Target is a unique occurrence is both flat out wrong and potentially dangerous.

The truth is, personal financial information is stolen every day. When I worked as a teller I saw countless members who had their debit card number stolen and as a result had fraudulent activity on their account. Just to give you an idea of how frequently this happens, according to IT security vendor Kaspersky Labs 37.3 million internet users faced phishing attacks during the last 12 months. All financial institutions have security measures in place to monitor and prevent unauthorized transactions, but scammers tend to be one step ahead of the game and are constantly discovering new ways to access your private information.

I might have a flare for the dramatic (as evidenced in my most recent post where all I did was yell at my Brother In-Law about the plight of the working man . . . or something like that), I don’t think it’s unreasonable in this day in age to be overly cautious about protecting your private information. You might not need to hunker down in your post-apocalyptic bunker, cut your internet cords, and use only cash from now on, but it is important to be aware of potential scams.

Here’s what you can do:

Be suspicious of any e-mail that includes urgent requests for your private information.

  1. Typically scammers ask for info such as your date of birth, social security number, credit or debit card number, online username/password, etc.
  2. Your financial institution already has this information on file. We would NEVER ask you to verify personal information via an unsecured e-mail.
  3. Scammers may use upsetting or exciting statements to get you to take immediate action, before you have time to fully analyze the situation. Don’t fall for their trap. Example statement: “Your debit card has been compromised. Please confirm the following information immediately to continue using your card.”

DO NOT use links in e-mails, instant messages, or texts to get to a webpage if you are unfamiliar with/ suspicious of the sender. Call the business directly if you have questions or type in the address of a familiar website yourself.

DO NOT fill out forms that come embedded within an e-mail.

  1. You should only give personal information via a secure website or phone.
  2. Some financial institutions, like Casco FCU, may use an online document signing company like Docu-Sign to allow members to complete applications electronically. It is important to remember that you will never be sent one of these electronic forms unless YOU REQUESTED it. If you receive an unsolicited electronic form, contact your financial institution directly by phone.

Just because the URL says https:// DOES NOT mean the site is secure.

  1. Phishers can forge the https:// part of a URL, create a legitimate looking URL address, and forge the lock symbol that pops up next to the web address. Seeing any or all of those features is not a sure sign that the website is secure.
  2. To ensure that you are truly on a secure site, double click on the lock symbol. A security certificate for the site should pop up telling you that it has been verified and is safe to use. Likewise, double clicking the lock symbol will tell you if a site cannot be verified, in which case you should not enter any personal information.

 

This is a screen shot of our online banking page. See the green box/lock symbol at the top? Double clicking that makes a security certificate pop up saying our site has been verified.

(See how the https:// and lock symbol are green? When I double clicked on that it popped up to tell me the site had been verified and was encrypted. An unsecure site comes up in red and when double clicked says that the site cannot be verified.)

Still not feeling secure? Here’s a few everyday things you can do to prevent scammers from phishing successfully for your information:

  1. NEVER e-mail personal information. E-mail is not a secure form of communication.
  2. Use trusted security software and set it up to scan your computer automatically.
  3. Review your account statements (credit card, checking account, etc.) on a regular basis. Put a reminder on your calendar so you don’t forget. Report any unusual or unfamiliar activity to your financial institution ASAP.
  4. Check your credit report annually. You can get one free copy per year at https://www.annualcreditreport.com. Report any errors or issues immediately to the credit bureau.
  5. Invest in some form of Identity Theft Protection that will help you monitor your credit and your accounts. LegalShield, for example, has a very affordable Identity Protection Plan which you can check out here https://sites.legalshield.com/gs/init?grp=cascofcumembers.

 

I hope these tips help you keep your information private and secure!

 

My Future Bro In-Law Learns to Love Credit Unions

On the whole, my family is not very good at keeping our opinions to ourselves. When I lived at home after college, watching the evening news with my dad often erupted into loud, spirited debates where I yelled at him about the importance of women’s rights, universal health care, marriage equality, etc. He would then insist that, while those things are all well and go, I have no idea what the value of a dollar is and one day when I have money I will understand fiscal conservatism. My mom during these all too common scenes could typically be found in the kitchen rolling her eyes, occasionally suggesting that we agree to disagree and just shut up already so she could hear the TV.

The tendency to stand staunchly and stubbornly behind our beliefs is not unique to my father and I; every Gillespie has that gene. One of our most legendary family stories is about a time during a holiday get-together when my grandpa hollered at my dad, “STAND UP AND TELL ME YOU’RE AN AMERICAN!” We are, if not right, at least very passionate about our beliefs.

This inherited inability to accept defeat and allow someone else’s opinion to go un-changed got me in trouble this holiday season. My sister and her fiancé were visiting us from California when I had what I thought was an informative discussion with said fiancé about why he should switch to a credit union. After the duo returned home to San Francisco, my mother informed me that it was less of a discussion and more me just yelling at my Future Brother In-Law about how he is a spoiled rich kid. My mom may have a point, but I still think he walked away with some valuable lessons from that conversation.

I thought I would give you some snippets of what I remember from my debate with my Future Brother In-Law because I think it explains the credit union difference and why it’s important to support businesses that are locally and charitably motivated. Plus I will be able to edit out all of the yelling and cursing that occurred in the original, so hopefully what follows will be a succinct, intelligent defense of the credit union philosophy.

www.donttaxmycreditunion.org has great info on the credit union difference.

http://www.donttaxmycreditunion.org has great info on the credit union difference.

Disclaimer: in general, when I get all worked up and intense about feminism, how Nicholas Sparks is the worst author ever, or some other important issue, Future Bro In-Law seems to find it hilarious. Neither he nor his ego were harmed in the making of this blog. Additionally, this is only a transcription of how I remember the conversation. I am sure he would disagree with a lot of it. But if so, he can get his own blog and write a rebuttal. So there.

A Conversation About Choosing Credit Unions Over Banks

Future Bro In-Law: Does your credit union have a mobile banking app?

Me: Yes. We sure do. It works on phones AND on tablets. It’s easy to use, you can do transfers, check balances, whatever you need. It even has graphs so you can track your spending vs. earning. It’s super cool.

FBIL Questions #2: Can you use the app to deposit checks? Because I can take a picture of a check and deposit it.

Me: We cannot do that YET but we are looking into adding that feature. Do you even deposit that many checks?

FBIL: No like one or two per year. From my Nana . . .

Me: Loser. So it’s that’s not a deal breaker. Stop stealing money from your elderly grandmother.

FBIL:  Do you have a coin machine that counts your change for you?

Me: Yes! And it only takes 3% of your total as a fee instead of the 9% CoinStar takes.

FBIL: At **insert name of big bank here** they don’t charge you the fee if you put the money on an Amazon gift card.

Me: Yes, but then you have to use the money on Amazon.

FBIL: You can buy anything on Amazon.

Me: True. But again this isn’t really a deal breaker. How many times have you even used the coin machine?

My Sister Steps In: One time. We did it one time.

Me: Ask some important questions already.

FBIL: **Big Bank He Uses** has locations literally all over the country. Which is convenient because I opened my account in Pennsylvania when I was in high school, used it in New York in college, and now can still use that same account in San Francisco. I could even go to a **Big Bank** here in Maine and do a deposit or something. Doesn’t your credit union only have like 2 branches?

Me: First of all we have THREE branches, thank you very much. And we are a part of something called Shared Branching, a service that connects credit unions across the country. There are over 5,000 locations nationwide that you could go to and use just like your local credit union. So I could find a Shared Branching location in San Fran and go there to deposit a check into my Casco FCU account. It’s amazing. And it means we have just as many convenient locations as any big bank.

FBIL: Ok, but I don’t want to have to switch all of my stuff. Like I have a direct deposit from work for my paycheck. So does your sister. We have all sorts of auto-payments set up. It would just be a pain in the butt to switch everything to a new account.

Me: Funny you should say that because at Casco FCU we actually have something called the Switch Kit to help people with that very problem! You fill in the info of the Switch Kit Form and we do the rest of the work for you. We switch your Direct Deposit, all of your auto-payments, everything. You don’t need to do any of the work.

FBIL: I guess that’s nice but I don’t really see any reason to switch. What’s wrong with **his Big Bank**?

Me: The main difference between a credit union and a bank is that credit unions are not-for-profit organizations. Your Big Bank is owned by shareholders. Any profits (and they make a lot of profits) earned by your Big Bank go directly into the pockets of those wealthy shareholders. You’re investing in their business but what do you get out of it? As a member of a credit union you are a part shareholder of the business. Any net profits made by a credit union are returned to the members in the form of lower interest rates on loans, lower fees . . .

FBIL: I don’t get any fees.

Me: YOU might not get any fees, but other people at your financial institution do. Bigger banks require minimum balances on checking accounts and often charge heftier fees for overdrawing your account, having a check returned, and other stuff like that. If you live paycheck to paycheck like a lot of Americans now-a-days, it can be hard keep a minimum balance. A $25 fee for an overdrawn account could be a big part of someone’s weekly budget.

FBIL: Yeah but that never happens to me. I’ve never overdrawn my account. So it doesn’t really matter to me.

Me: (Note: this is the point where I started to yell a lot about how FBIL is spoiled and should have more sympathy for people who are not as fortunate as him. For everyone’s sake I will edit most of that out.) It’s not all about you! Even if you’re not getting the fees, do you really want to support a corporation that takes advantage of its customers?! Wouldn’t you feel better knowing that you are investing in a company that cares about its members and is going the extra mile to help people?!

FBIL: (starts sentence that he will never finish because I am unstoppable)

Me: Credit Unions are all about people helping people. We are owned and operated locally. If you were applying for a loan at my credit union, the decision to approve you would be made by the people right in my office. If you were a risky applicant, they could decide to take a chance on giving you a loan because you seem like a decent, hardworking person. And they would most likely be able to approve your loan within 24 hours! Can your Big Bank do that for you? Does anyone at your Big Bank even know your name?

FBIL: No.

Me: Exactly! They don’t care what your name is! We know everyone’s name. Credit Unions are all about service to our members. And you may not be getting fees or be denied a loan today, but it could happen to you in the future. Will your Big Bank that doesn’t know your name help you then?

At this point the conversation deteriorated into me talking over anything FBIL said. My dad suggested he just give up and tell me he would switch his account to a credit union even he didn’t mean it just so we could change the subject.

I think there are a few key takeaways from my FBIL’s credit union education:

  1. Being a member of a credit union means being a thoughtful consumer. You aren’t just buying financial products or services based on marketing gimmicks or apathy for investing time into finding a financial institution with a social conscious. You are choosing to invest in a financial institution that cares about its members and will make decisions based on what is good for the membership as a whole, not just what is best for a few shareholders.
  2. A credit union can offer virtually all of the same products and services as a bank. We are fully functioning, technologically up-to-date financial institutions. Being a member of a credit union doesn’t mean missing out on the convenience of a bigger bank.
  3. Being a credit union member is a great way to support your local community. Because of their non-profit roots, credit unions generally are huge supporters of charitable efforts within their communities. For example, here at Casco FCU we actively participate in fundraising for our local food pantry year-round. We help host a free tax prep event every February. We participate in many local road races to raise funds for different causes. Not only do we help our community by providing low to no cost financial solutions, but our employees go above and beyond to help our communities outside of their financial needs, as well.
Words to live by. Waffles. Friends. Work.

Words to live by. Waffles. Friends. Work.

So if you aren’t already a part of a credit union, consider switching today! If I haven’t convinced you yet, I am always available for a good discussion about the credit union difference. Just know that I will not stop talking until you give in and agree with me. I am the Leslie Knope of credit unions, meaning that I love them almost as much as I love waffles.

The Hangover Meets Bridesmaids

Last week I had quite possible the best idea ever. Literally. I’m a genius.

I was sitting at home, casually eating dinner while flipping through the channels when I landed on an E! News Special “I Am Britney Jean.” This gem of a television program is all about Britney Spears, her new album, and how she now lives at the Planet Hollywood Casino in Las Vegas where she preforms almost nightly. And then all of the sudden it hit me – SEEING BRITNEY SPEARS IN VEGAS WOULD BE THE BEST BACHELORETTE PARTY EVER!

I immediately text my sister, feeling only 35% confident that she would think I was being serious. Lucky for me, her inner 16 year-old came through and she liked the idea enough to start checking when they had concert tickets available. I should have had more faith in her because she did spend most of her high school years in our living room wearing a head set and pleather pants and dancing to Britney, but then again she laughed me off when I suggested that she have a bacon bar at her cocktail hour so you just never can tell with her (I mean it’s a bacon bar. BACON.)

So, after much looking at tickets, hotels, and flights online, debating whether it was crazy of us to go through with it, and me sending pleading/threatening e-mails to the other bridesmaids, we made it official. We are going to Las Vegas in April to see Britney Spears for what will be the greatest bachelorette party in the history of weddings! Even if I do nothing else for the rest of the wedding, I feel like this contribution should get me some sort of “World’s Best Maid of Honor” award.

Legend . . . wait for it . . . DARY!

Legen . . . wait for it . . . DARY!

The purpose of this post is not just to brag about how great of a little sister I am. Although someday they will make a combination “Hangover”/ “Bridesmaids” type movie about our Vegas weekend, I think I learned a few money-saving tips in the process of booking the trip that are probably more applicable to your everyday needs.

I am by no ones a frequent flier, but I’d say on average I fly once or twice a year, which is just enough to be familiar with buying plane tickets but not enough to be a pro. I’m never 100% confident that I got the best deal on a plane ticket. So I’ve done some research and complied a few useful tips for purchasing flights on the cheap. I think they helped me find tickets to Las Vegas that didn’t totally empty out my “Darcie’s Wedding” Account (I think I have $0.25 in there 🙂 ).

1. Book Early – most sites seem to recommend booking your flight 6-8 weeks before you plan to travel. If you’re last minute, airlines can charge you more because there are less seats available and they know you need the ticket. Buying early gives you time to comparison shop for the price as well as the flight itinerary that best meets your schedule and your wallet.

2. Use Bing.com Travel – http://www.bing.com/travel/?FORM=L8SP22 The great thing about using Bing to help book your flights is that they actually seem to want you to get the best price! You type in your travel information (departing, arriving, date, etc.) and it not only lists possible flights but also gives you an indicator of whether or not now is a good time to buy. It gives you a green upwards arrow if prices are expected to rise and now is a good time to buy, or a downwards red arrow if you should wait because prices will drop. It also automatically pulls up results from travel sites like Priceline or Orbitz when you search with Bing so you can compare prices. It’s a great place to start your search.

3. Search Alternate Routes – Is you travel route flexible? How about your destination? Are you flexible about the dates of your trip? The more flexible your travel schedule, the better your chances are of finding a low-cost deal on flights. For example, it is way cheaper to fly on a Tuesday than on a Friday. Or having one or two lay-overs might be less expensive than a direct flight. Be open to different travel routes and you may save yourself some money. If you aren’t set on a certain date or location, maybe just looking into a vacation, try the Kayak Exlpore feature http://www.kayak.com/explore/. It lets you view a map of different locations around the world and deals on travel based on the date you fly. Very cool and great for the whimsical adventurer.

Where do you want to go?

Where do you want to go?

4.Get a Refund if Fares Go Down – Don’t be shy! If you booked a flight and a few days later you see it go down in price, ask the airline for a refund for the difference. They might not give it to you, but it doesn’t hurt to try. Orbitz even has a “Best Price Guarantee” where they pledge to refund you the difference  if another user books the same itinerary as you for less. Check it out here: http://www.orbitz.com/mktg/best-price-guarantee/.

Even if your next trip doesn’t take you to see Britney in Sin City, it can still be cheap and easy! Hope these trips help you travel happier.

Update: New Year’s Resolution

Happy 2014! I hope your first day and a half of the New Year have been great.

So like I said in the last post, one of my New Year’s Resolutions is to read 26 books this year (which will be about 2 a week depending on how slow/ fast I read). After a lot of great suggestions, I have compiled my official 2014 Reading List! I have already started “Divergent” by Veronica Roth and it’s super good. I will update you every now and then and let you know if I’ve made any progress. Here’s my list:

  1. Divergent by Veronica Roth
  2. Insurgent by Veronica Roth
  3. Alligent by Veronica Roth
  4. Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
  5. Don’t Get Too Comfortable by David Rakoff
  6. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
  7. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
  8. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon
  9. The Edge of Normal by Carla Norton
  10. I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai
  11. The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida
  12. Ulysses by James Joyce
  13. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
  14. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
  15. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  16. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
  17. Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
  18. The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer
  19. Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk
  20. I Wish Someone Were Waiting for Me Somewhere by Anna Gavalda
  21. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
  22. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
  23. The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor
  24. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
  25. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
  26. The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

My other New Year’s Resolution is to walk on the tread mill in the basement at work for 10 minutes every lunch break. I figure at the very least, even if I don’t fit in any other exercise, this means I’ll have 10 minutes a day done!

Do you have any good/fun/interesting resolutions for the New Year? I’d love to hear what they are!