Blog Challenge: Mallory L.

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The Big Bank Blunder
By:  Mallory Lavoie, 2014 Young & Free Maine Spokester Finalist

Saving up some extra cash for a well-deserved expenditure can be satisfying.  But what is DIS-satisfying, is discovering that one hundred and eighty-six of your hard-earned savings have been lost to bank fees. 

This year, I discovered that I surrendered a big chunk of my personal savings to bank fees, without even knowing it.  Hence, my big money blunder.  

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In 2011, I applied for and received a $5,000 scholarship to study abroad in Québec City, Canada.  How exciting, right?  But I was not about to carry around a $5,000 check in my back pocket.  Knowing what I know now, a credit union would have been the better option! But at the time, I was uneducated about the differences between a bank and a credit union, so I stuck my money in a bank, and I learned about bank fees the hard way.

All was well while I was living in Québec City.  For a total of four months, nothing bad happened – because I was actively using my bank account through my bank’s debit card.  I enjoyed the many things that Québec City had to offer through each swipe of the card.  Good times were endless:  the Winter Carnival, the restaurants, and the winterized water park, Valcartier.  

After moving back home to good old Maine, I had much to talk about with my friends and family.  And so, with the swipe of my credit union debit card, we chatted over coffee, dinner, and shopping.  Now, I no longer had much use for my bank card.  So, away it went, only to be used on the few occasions where I traveled internationally, to our neighboring country.

Time went by since my great travel abroad adventure.  Admittedly, I was quite proud of myself for leaving a good part of my scholarship in the account, for savings purposes.  This April, I decided to look at exactly just how much was in there, only to find that fees had been charged every month for the last seventeen months!  Panic struck as I scrolled back through old online bank statements.  $10.95 for July, $10.95 for June, and $10.95 for May…Please stop!, I thought to myself.  But no, the fees went on.  I could not imagine what the fees could possibly be for, so without hesitation, I picked up my phone and called the toll-free (thankfully!) number for the banking hotline.  

“For having your checking account, and for not using your ten transactions per month,” was the ridiculous reply that I received.  I never thought that fees could be charged simply for having your own savings stored in an account.  So there I was, left one hundred eighty-five dollars short and awestricken that I had been blind to these outrageous fees.  Since this experience, I decided to be extra careful with my money.  I now always make sure that I can trust my financial institutions!  


Blog Challenge: Andrew S.

Cars – More Tolls Than Just the Interstate

Imagine this scenario: You're in a restaurant ordering a meal that you've wanted to try for some time now. You checked the price in the menu before ordering, making sure you had enough for the meal, the tax, and the tip. The meal is fantastic – it's a kind of food you've had before, but made with higher quality ingredients by a better chef, and the flavors dance around your taste buds. 

After fully enjoying said meal, your waiter brings your check, and to your surprise the total is substantially higher than you had anticipated, almost absurdly so. You call your waiter back and ask for an explanation. 

“We charge our customers for the use of our silverware,” he replies. “Customers are also required to pay a fee to eat in this building as well.”

But that's ridiculous, you say! Why wasn't there any mention of these costs before you ordered?

They were listed on the back page of your menu, the waiter points out. And since ignorance is not an excuse for reducing or removing the price of services rendered, you begrudgingly agree to pay the obscene total. The difference in costs cuts a huge hole in your wallet, and you have little spending money left for the rest of the week. 

Sounds odd and unfortunate, right? Well, the truth is a fair amount of people run into a situation just like this sooner or later, myself included. What could anyone possibly go through that would relate even remotely to this, you ask?

Buying your first car. It's not just the value of the car itself and the gas you need to get from point A to point B that needs to be considered when making the purchase, but the cost of maintenance and repairs, the price of registration and insurance, and even the terms of your loan payment (assuming you financed said car, that is). These numbers quickly add up to a significant amount almost as soon as your new wheels leave the lot. Believe me, the price on the sticker should be one of the last things considered. I learned that one the hard way.

Back in April of last year, I was in the market for a new car, and since I was commuting a significant amount at the time but wanted something relatively sporty, I set my sights on a 2005 Scion tC from a dealer in Richmond, Maine. For the sake of keeping things simple, I'm going to round the cost of the car (tax included) to $9,000. After some deliberation, I decided to put $4,000 towards it immediately and finance the rest through my local Credit Union, Ocean Communities FCU, amounting to a $5,000 loan. My payment per month was set at roughly $116. 

Everything sounds on the up-and-up so far, right? Right. Easily manageable!

As soon as I made my way home with my fancy new hatchback, I remembered the two most important things I had to take care of before I got to take the puppy out for a spin: registration and insurance. I made my way down to City Hall soon afterward and paid the $150 required to have the tC registered, then had my insurance set up quickly after that, payments of $300 every three months being the price set. 

Okay, nothing too major just yet. The insurance payments were a little high in my opinion, but nothing I couldn't handle. And now I've got my new car all set to go wherever I please! I gassed up at the nearest station and cruised around to my heart's content. Solid start to my summer, I'd say. 

Spring changed to summer, then summer changed to fall, and as the colder weather started blowing in I decided to purchase snow tires on steel rims for the obnoxiously snowy season heading straight for Maine, protecting my lovely, shiny set of rims from the salt, the sand, and the wet. Winter specific road tires and the rims to go with them – used, I might add – ran me somewhere in the ballpark of $300. I put them on myself, and changed the oil for the third time since the car had come under my ownership, another $40 or so every few months for oil, filters and the works. 

Winter went by without a hitch, and as spring rolled around again I found myself preparing to pay for registration once again.

But wait, inspection! Oh. Another hoop to jump through. Handling this one meant taking the tC to a local shop and leaving it there for the day, letting them give it a once-over to make sure everything's all set before popping a new sticker on and letting me take it back home. Sounded simple enough until I found out my front brakes wouldn't pass as-is and needed to be replaced. 

Okay. Another $275 for that ordeal. Everything should be fine now, right?

Wrong. I found two of my summer tires nearly bald, needing to be replaced. There goes another $200.

Now let's stop right here and do some math. From April of last year to what is now June of 2014, a car that – on its face – was supposed to cost me $116 a month has now cost me way more than I had originally anticipated. Here's the breakdown:

  • Loan payment: $116/month x 14 months = $1,624 to date
  • Registration: $150 x 2 = $300 to date
  • Insurance: $300/3 months ($100/month) x 14 months = $1,400 to date
  • General Maintenance (oil, filters, etc.): $40 x 5 replacements = $200 to date
  • Everything else: $300 (winter tires) + $200 (summer tires) + $275 (inspection and brakes) = $775 to date

All in all, $4,299. And there's still another $3,500 or so to be paid on my loan, not to mention the cost of gas wasn't factored in (conservatively estimating $30 a week spent on gas over 14 months, that's another $1,680 not accounted for). That fancy new ride that I wanted so badly has actually been costing me roughly $427.07 a month. 

$116 sounded much nicer. 

What's the moral of the math here? Do your homework. Don't make large purchases blindly without considering what the real cost is going to be. There are absolutely things that can't be predicted beforehand, but making sure you know what you're getting into before you can't change your mind will save you plenty of headache in the long run, and those unpredictable surprises definitely won't sting quite as much. Let's take myself as an example here again and make a list of the things I could have done to properly prepare for buying my car.

I could have:

  1. Called my insurance agency to get an estimate on how much a Scion tC would cost me to insure.
  2. Called my local City Hall and asked how much registering the car would be.
  3. Gone to my local auto shop and estimated prices on oil and filters.
  4. Researched the actual city and highway gas mileage the car gets, then estimated how much I'd be spending on fuel per week based on how much I travel.
  5. Done the math on exactly how long it would take me to pay off the car, interest included.
  6. Looked online for prices of parts that commonly need replacing on cars, like tires, belts, brakes, pumps, and others. 
  7. Roughly factored in what percentage of my monthly earnings would be going toward said vehicle (I can't stress this one enough. Over the summer of last year, almost half of my paycheck earnings were going to my car alone, which put a significant strain on many of my activities. Financial experts recommend no more than 36% of your income should be allocated to your debt payments).

All of these steps combined would have taken me less than one day to do all the work for, and would have saved me days worth of stress over the coming year. Save yourself the headache; do the math beforehand. You'll thank yourself for it in the long run, even if it means waiting a little while longer to get that shiny new ride in your driveway or dine at that restaurant with the ridiculous fees and and fantastic food. 


Blog Challenge: Alexis A.

Sometimes the thought of money can create a grim gray cloud of confusion in your mind. Trying to determine what to spend versus what to save will likely burst that little puff of gloom into a much anticipated downpour of uncertainties: a muddled money mess. To avoid said predicaments, I have had to learn it is a good idea to always set aside some time to think before making any major purchases.

Not always having been exemplary of the thinking-things-through model, I, personally, have done my fair share of overspending on goods over the years. I’ve always been a very “gung ho” person when it comes to trying new things. As most young people are, I am eager to take on new hobbies and interests in hopes of finding the latest and greatest thing to be passionate about.

Upon meeting someone new, be it acquaintance, friend, or significant other, you generally start out by taking the time to get to know one another. In the ever-looming  world of making first impressions you have a few hopeful minutes to put your best foot forward. You state the basics- your name, age, where you’re from- then the question is always “what do you like to do?”. For me, the answer is “try everything at least once!”. With that, I take the opportunity to experience my new companions’ favorite hobbies- which it turns out is an expensive habit to be in. There have been multiple occasions for me to learn from in which I let my enthusiasm get the best of me… and, namely, my wallet. Here are a few examples:

1) I once had a very adventurous co-worker. Always talking about her grand treks as an avid mountaineer, I thought, “I would love to do that!” We planned our first excursion together, but I thought “I have to be prepared.” I went all-in. Buying all types of outdoor clothing, gear, first aid and so on, I was able to convince myself this was not going to be just a passing phase. As the story goes, this pastime was short-lived. Had I started out slow, I may have bought used (or less expensive) equipment, or even borrowed it from a friend. Thus, my costly hiking paraphernalia would not now sit lonely, collecting dust in the back of a closet somewhere.

2) One dreary day at work a regular customer came in bearing good news. She informed me a truckload of rescued puppies was soon to arrive at her nearby home- free for the taking. A TRUCKLOAD OF PUPPIES. Naturally, my feeling-grown-up self couldn’t resist the thought of owning a puppy. I went over after work, picked the friendliest pup from the bunch and took him home to be my own. My first own real pet. Unbeknownst to me at the time, having a dog was similar to having a child- you had to feed him, love and make time for him, give him toys, and be responsible for him. A few hundred dollars spent at the pet store later, I knew I was not yet ready for this kind of accountability for another life. Not only was money going out, but it wasn’t coming in! I had to give up several shifts at work in order to take care of the little guy. As heartbreaking as it was, I put logic first and found him a nice new home who was much more capable of taking in the new family member. Had I not let the splendor of “FREE PUPPIES” entice me, I may have sooner rationalized and realized I wasn’t ready for this particular adventure.

When you start to think about bills, spending and debts, the notion of money can seem scary. When approached with caution and a clearly made-up mind, it doesn’t need to be. I had to learn that some spending versus saving mishaps can be avoided by not making drastic decisions on the spot. My new routine involves… wait for it… waiting. As dreaded as the task of postponing your life-at-large may seem, it is a necessary evil. Taking a day or two to think before I buy things has helped me improve my finances greatly. I remind myself I can always go back and get something later. I am young, so it doesn’t need to be now or never!


Finalist: Mallory L.

Mallory's links

Challenges

Mallory's situation

I have been living in Orono since I began studying at the University of Maine in 2009. Upon graduating with a B.A. in Journalism and French in 2012, I have had the wonderful opportunity to work for the Indian Island Elementary and RSU 26 school systems. It is extremely rewarding to work alongside local students! 

Aside from work, I love to figure skate. As a skating coach, I work with students toward achieving their skating goals. It is great to watch them succeed and progress as skaters. This year, I even found some time to skate for myself, and competed in the 2014 Adult National Championships in Hyannis, Massachusetts! 

In my spare time, I love reading, horseback riding, playing the piano, staying fit by going to the gym or by running outside (now that the weather is warming up!), and spending quality time with my family, friends, and cat, Ruby!

Mallory's writing

My Role as the Young and Free Maine Spokester

The 18-25 year old crowd is a fast-paced and social media savvy group, and I can relate! Between balancing school, work, friends, and extracurricular activities, social media makes life a whole lot simpler. In this day and age, who really has the time to sit down to learn all the ins and outs of credit unions and financial management? Yet learning practical money-managing skills is such an asset, and being a credit union member, and former employee, has helped me tremendously. That is why, as the next Young and Free Maine Spokester, I will engage with this crowd to make finances fun and easy to understand!

As a young professional myself, and a recent grad of the University of Maine, I understand that juggling a busy schedule, while trying to pay off student loans and having a social life, is no easy feat. This is where I, as the next spokester for Maine's credit unions, will come in! Through fun and entertaining videos, blogs, interviews, and across all social media platforms, (you name it!) I will be there to answer tough financial questions - in simple terms! I will apply basic money-managing skills to real-life situations that are important to this age group, and I will demonstrate the endless possibilities.

I will help 18-25 year olds realize that finances do not have to be a headache, or the most dreaded part of the day. Contrarily, successfully managing money can be quite rewarding. For instance, saving up for a spring break vacation...outside of Maine! Or even tracking spending and expenses more efficiently to get to a favorite waterfront concert! It is all possible through Maine's fantastic credit unions, and I will make sure the message is heard! Through creativity, music, traveling, and everything that is appealing to 18-25 year olds, I will help my generation understand and effectively manage finances through Maine's credit unions!

Finalist: Alexis A.

Alexis' situation

I am a recent graduate of the University of Southern Maine's Communication and Media Studies programs. I live and work in Old Orchard Beach, Maine. My current position is in the restaurant industry where I take on a variety of roles from hostess to management- because I like to try everything! I'm looking forward to being able to move forward in utilizing my degrees and working toward a career. I'm excited to try out a new adventure where I can hopefully simultaneously continue to learn and grow while helping others do the same.

Alexis' writing

Hi there! My name is Alexis Albert and I think the Young Free Maine Spokester position and I are a match meant to be.
First and foremost, I have recently obtained degrees in both Communication and Media Studies, which I would be thrilled to utilize for this job experience. Throughout my schooling I dabbled in all different styles of writing and self-expression. At my current job in the hospitality industry, I cater to and converse with new (and quite diverse) individuals daily. Through both of these experiences I have gained a keen social perceptiveness and, thus, feel strongly that I’d be able to identify with others in the 18 to 25 crowd. I have discovered that I am a great, natural storyteller and that people actually seem to like to listen to me!

Secondly, I live for creative tasks- I love to write; to design; to do hands-on activities in general. Amidst my portfolio there are examples of projects done for school and work and projects done just for fun. I tend to go above and beyond my given role(s) to make everything in my surroundings proceed flawlessly. This is exemplary in my current position where I’m always the one to turn to when a question arises. I’m very self-motivated and curious, liking to know (and relentlessly research until I am certain that I know) all aspects- inside and out- about my assignment(s) at-hand. I’ve even taken on an endless variety of positions in the hospitality industry: from hostess and prep cook up to management and marketing roles and everything in-between. This is largely due in part to my Communication background; I want to be able to relate to everybody, understand their experiences, their perspectives. Having held leadership roles both at school and work, I am organized, an excellent multi-tasker, and am entirely comfortable holding responsibilities.

I think this opportunity would befit my needs as an individual, as well. I’ve been searching for my next endeavor as a young adult with an undergraduate degree and know that I want to start a new adventure. I love to travel and I have a sincere passion for the state of Maine. My high level of independence and strong work ethic would guide me through taking the role as the Young & Free Maine Spokester seriously, but also allow me to make sure I don’t lose sight of having an enjoyable, memorable experience. I am excited for the prospect of being able to learn and grow while helping others do the same.

Ultimately, I would be thrilled for the opportunity to utilize my degrees, gain valuable experience and knowledge, and to represent, communicate and connect with other young individuals by teaching and learning at the same time- I don’t think I could ask for anything more!

Finalist: Andrew S.

Andrew's situation

I'm Andrew, 20 years old from Biddeford, Maine. I'm currently working at exploring my career options, and I hope to trade the wealth of information I've gathered concerning media and publications for the learning experience available through the Young & Free Maine Spokester position.

Andrew's writing

I hate the phrase “Think outside the box.” 

It implies I was thinking inside one in the first place. It's the reason why even profound idealists occasionally fall short in their creative endeavors. 

Boxes are flawed. The idea of thinking “outside” one just to expand that very same conceptual cubicle is just wrong. Boxes don't deserve to expand. 

I like spheres. Circles. The universe's perfect shape. Thinking around a circle and improving its symmetry, its complement to itself, sounds far more productive and rewarding than looking for answers outside some box. If I had it my way, I'd throw away all the “boxes” and tell the world to start building circles instead. 

But I can't do that. What can I do? I can take all the boxes I work with personally and chisel them into spheres like a sculptor perfecting his passion. I'll take those rough, unrefined, often jagged edges and sand them down into smooth, symmetrical, unique works of art.

And I've already picked the next box I want to ply my craft to. Young and Free Maine. The potential of a project like that stands nearly unbounded, its implicit reach blocked only by the four corners of “the box.” It should be a circle. It should radiate in all directions, identical and unwavering, curving to fit the contours of whatever the 18 to 25 crowd of Maine needs. And yet, right now, it's still a box, albeit a much larger box than when it started. 

Let me fix that. I have the tools to turn that box into the biggest circle you've ever seen. 

That first corner: Community involvement. Let me sand it down with my extroversion, my social skills, and my ability to relate and form friendships with nearly anyone. 
That second corner: Media and social networking. Let me chisel away at the online image of Young and Free Maine with my years of graphic design, writing, and marketing experience. I've been recognized on a national level for all of it.

That third corner: Content. Let me take the fantastic information already available through the program and reorganize and mold it into convincing, persuasive points that make Maine credit unions so appealing that even flat broke students and young adults will want to make some money just to put it into those financial institutions. 

And that fourth and final corner: The impact of public presentations. Let me use my considerable experience with public speaking and performance to convince your target audience that they should demand nothing less than everything Maine credit unions have to offer them. 

Boxes are for squares. Young and Free Maine deserves to be a circle.