Self-Defense Tips

A few weeks ago, Team Casco had the opportunity to take a Self-Defense Class at a local martial arts studio and it was THE COOLEST THING EVER! We learned so much in an action packed hour and a half class. I think everyone learned some valuable tips on how to protect themselves. Plus it was super fun and you left feeling really strong and confident. I’m pretty much a ninja  now . . . so watch out . . .

Team Casco at Self-Defense Night. Don't we look tough?

Team Casco at Self-Defense Night. Don’t we look tough?

It’s been just about 3 weeks since the class, and though I don’t remember every single technique we learned, there are a few things that stuck with me that I thought I would share with you. Here are the “5 Most Important Lessons I Learned at Self-Defense Class”:

5. Carry One Key at the Ready. That weird thing you’ve seen people do where you put one key in between each set of fingers so it looks like a claw? Yea, that doesn’t really work. It’s hard to get the keys in the right spot, it’s difficult to carry, and you’ll probably hurt your own hand more than you hurt a potential attacker. Instead, Doshu (our teacher) recommends that you get out just the key you are going to need , whether it’s your car key or the key to your front door, and hold it at the ready in between your thumb and first finger. This way, it’s ready to unlock your door ASAP and it’s ready to be used as a tool to defend yourself against an attacker. You can use all of your force to shove that key into the neck or leg of your assailant. One key used correctly and forcefully can be much more effective than a fist-full of keys jammed awkwardly between your fingers.

4. Pay Attention. For me, this might be the hardest tip to follow. I don’t think I’m total space-cadet, but I can be a little oblivious to my surroundings at times. I constantly have headphones in, whether I’m sitting at my desk or walking to my car. And I’m very guilty of talking on or scrolling through my phone while walking somewhere. When I’m traveling from place to place, my attention is rarely on what’s happening around me, which could be very dangerous. I’m so easy to sneak up on it’s not even funny. Not paying attention to what’s happening makes you an easy target; you’re unsuspecting and unaware. Look where you’re going. Put your phone down for a minute. If you see something that you don’t like or makes you nervous, avoid it.

3. Make Direct Eye-Contact. Think someone’s following you? Make direct, sustained eye-contact for a few seconds. Looking a potential predator directly in the eye for a few, continuous seconds with a strong, serious look on your face might be enough to convince them you’re not a good target. Nervous, hesitant glances in their direction show that you’re scared and vulnerable. A strong, fierce stare proves that you’re alert to their movements and you’re ready to defend yourself.

2. Pinching Hurts! For real y’all. We practiced a lot of different self-defense “moves” or techniques for dealing with an attack, but nothing seemed more effective than pinching. During one exercise, I was the lucky demonstrator who got to choke Doshu around the neck while standing in front of him. All he had to do was reach up and pinch the skin of my underarms and I screamed and dropped my hands instantly. It hurt so bad! I even had two little bruises the next day where he got me. Although it didn’t take much strength, it was the most effective move we practiced all day. It just does to show that you don’t have to be big or strong to defend yourself, just smart.

1. Listen to Your Gut. We all have instincts, we just don’t always use them! If something tells you a situation is weird or unsettling, it probably is. If your gut feeling is that you should leave, then do it. Don’t wait for something to wrong because by then it could be too late. Listen to that little voice in your head that tells you you’re in danger. You’re instincts are rarely wrong and, as mom always told you, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Again, this is just a fraction of what I learned during the class. If there are Self-Defense Classes in your area, it’s well worth your time and money to take one. It’s an investment in your safety and piece of mind. I guarantee you will leave feeling more confident and ready for anything.

If you live in the Portland, Maine area check out the Greater Portland School of Jukado. They taught us our Self-Defense Class and they’re awesome.


What Is a Payday Loan, Anyways?

“Need cash now? We can help!”

“$100 – $1,000 approved in just 2 minutes!”

“No credit? No problem!”

We all hear those commercials. They’re everywhere. On TV. On the radio. Online. You can’t escape them. Apparently these people really want to give you cash. And they want you to get it fast! But chances are, unless you’ve been in bad enough financial shape to need one of these loans, you might not know what they are, how they work, or how dangerous they can be.

Loans like the ones in these advertisements are called payday loans. A payday loan is a small consumer loan, usually for under $500, which uses your paycheck as collateral. They’re not offered by traditional banks or credit unions, but rather by Check Cashing Agencies or PayDay Lending Companies.

Here’s how it works. Say you need $400 to pay to get your car fixed. You don’t get paid for another week, you don’t have any money saved, you’ve maxed out your credit cards, and you know your credit is terrible. So you go to a payday lending company and apply for a loan for $400. They won’t check your credit. They won’t ask for references. All they need is your basic contact information, proof of employment, and your checking account number. Then, you write them a check for the $400 plus a loan fee, which is typically around $15 per $100 loaned. In this case, you would write the payday lender a check for $460. They hold on to that check as collateral and then give you $400 in cash. When you get your next paycheck, you use it to pay them back the $400 plus the $60 fee. Or at least that’s what’s supposed to happen . . .

The thing is, most people who use payday loans are doing it as a last resort. Fast cash won’t solve their financial problems, it will just get them through the next few days or the next few bills. That $400 might have paid to fix their car or for groceries for the week, but 2 weeks later they have more bills to pay. Now they need money to put gas in their tank. They need to pay the electric bill. They need to fill a prescription. Basically, they need that paycheck for new expenses when they’ve already spent it on old ones and suddenly they’re right back where they started before they got the loan.

So the payday lender gives them two options. Option 1: pay back the loan in full and end the transaction. Option 2: pay a small fee to extend the loan for another 2 weeks. In our example, that’s a choice been paying the lender $460 today or just $60. To a lot of the customers using this kind of loan, that’s not a choice at all. They need the $400 for other bills. So they pay to extend the loan instead. The paycheck after that isn’t enough to pay for bills and repay the loan either, so they extend the loan again. Unless they get a new job or a major expense magically disappears, they will never have enough money to pay off the loan completely so they just get caught in a cycle of endlessly paying the extension fee over and over again.

unbanked 2


Why the P.S.A. about the dangers of payday lending, you ask? Because the biggest misconception about payday loans is that only people who regularly struggle with money need them. You might be reading this post from the comfort of your office at your well-paying job. If so, you’re probably thinking that you wouldn’t ever be so strapped for cash that you would actually respond to those cheesy commercials offering “$500 in just 5 minutes!” But the truth is, a growing majority of payday borrowers are middle class. They were financially stable adults, until one or two things went wrong and threw their financial world into turmoil. As Jonathan Mintz, CEO of the Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund put it, “The picture of the financially unstable is the picture of you and me but for a couple of breaks.” Often people fall into the payday lending trap because like me, they ignored those ads. They didn’t know what payday lending was or how financially harmful it could be, so when they suddenly became strapped for cash the product payday lenders pedal seems appealing, even life-saving.

The good news is, there are alternatives to payday loans available. Many credit unions and small banks offer short-term “emergency” loans, that provide a small amount of cash to a borrower based on their income. For example, here at Casco FCU we offer a Safety Net Loan. Members can borrow up to $1,000 for 6 months. Like a payday loan, your credit score doesn’t matter, approval is based on proof of employment. Unlike a payday loan, however, a Safety Net Loan is repaid in fixed monthly installments over a short period of time. Making payments also allows you to build a relationship with a reputable financial institution and to improve your credit score so you increase your access to traditional loans in the future. And perhaps most importantly, a loan officer will help you go over your monthly budget and give you advice on how to better manage your bills; the Safety Net Loan isn’t just a temporary fix like a payday loan, it’s a solution to help you build a better financial future.

Long story short – stay away from payday loans! They’re never a good idea.


579 Is Just A Number . . . Unless It’s Your Credit Score

If I asked you for the following numbers, would you be able to accurately give them to me off the top of your head?

  • Your phone number?
  • Your social security number?
  • Your date of birth?
  • Your credit score?

Chances are, the first three numbers came to you easily. But that last one . . . that one is a little trickier. You might have an idea of what you think your credit score is, but you probably aren’t 100% certain. Would your guess be within 10 points? Or even 50? 100?

A recent study revealed that around 47% of Americans don’t know their own credit score. This is partly because getting your score isn’t always easy. You are entitled to one free copy of your credit report per year (which you can access at, but it doesn’t report your score. Americans typically find out their score when applying for credit.

However, there’s another reason people don’t know their credit score – they don’t want to! A lot of consumers are concerned that their credit score is low or problematic, so they just avoid finding out what it is. They say ignorance is bliss, but it can also be costly. Low credit scores can significantly increase the cost of financing, or limit your access to credit all together. Knowing you have a low credit score isn’t fun; it can be embarrassing, it can remind you of financial hardships, and it can be frustrating. But at least if you know what your score is, you can start taking steps to improve it! If you hide from your score and try not to think about your bad credit, chances are it won’t just disappear, no matter how much you wish it would.

So here’s where my plug for my credit union comes in . . . Throughout the month of June, Casco Federal Credit Union is hosting a Free Credit Report Month. Stop into any location and we will spend 15 minutes helping you with your credit report. Not only will you get FREE access to your score and a copy of your report, but a Member Service Representative will also take the time to go through your credit history with you to help you understand what it means. They can tell you if your score is high, low, or average. They can help you search for and report errors. They can help you identify problem areas. And most importantly, they can help you take steps to improve your score!

So don’t be shy! Don’t be embarrassed by a potentially bad score! We don’t judge. Finding out your score is the first step to making your credit work for you. Check out our website for more info on Free Credit Report Month.