Helping Beat Food Insecurity in Milford

By Celeste Lohrenz

Food insecurity is defined by the USDA as “a household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food.” As amazing as it may seem, nearly 13% of Americans overall – and 17.5% of children – live in households that are considered “food insecure.”  That’s about 13 million children.

What that means for those children is that the only place they are guaranteed to get a full, nutritious meal is school. Outside of school, it is often a different story. This can result in malnutrition, higher rates of illness and hospitalization, poor academic performance, insecurity, lack of social skills, and other chronic issues.  Ironically, it can also result in obesity for those who experience partial food insecurity because they often overeat when food is available in an effort to make up for missed meals, or they fill themselves up with inexpensive junk food.

Food insecurity is a problem that knows no geographic boundaries and impacts even the wealthiest states in the nation. In Connecticut, the child food insecurity rate is lower than the national rate, at 15.6%, but New Haven County registered a 17% child food insecurity rate.

There are many food banks and other programs that do their share to help collect food and money to provide food for these hungry children. Many of them are modeled after a weekend food program started in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1995 when a school nurse asked for help providing food for students that were complaining and stomach pains and dizziness.

Milford Food 2 Kids was created to help stem the food gap for children in Milford.  With help from many selfless volunteers, the organization hands out bags of child-friendly food each week to children in need.  Its mission to feed hungry children began in 2016, when it initially delivered 26 weekend food bags to children in two schools.  By the end of the recently concluded school year, it had expanded its service to 166 children in 13 schools.  Its goal is to continue to expand the Food 2 Kids program into a sustainable program that will provide food for children on an ongoing basis.

In order for programs like Food 2 Kids to succeed and effectively help close the food gap, they need help from individuals willing to donate to their cause, as well as from local organizations who help to organize donation drives.

As a local presence in Milford for more than 140 years, The Milford Bank has been very active in serving the needs of its communities beyond providing banking services. Each year, the Bank provides event sponsorships, charitable donations, and hosts its own events, like its recent paper shredding and e-recycling day.

In its ongoing mission to give back to the community it has been a part of for so long, The Milford Bank will be active in supporting the Food 2 kids program and will be accepting cash donations at all of its Milford locations throughout the month of September.  Donations are tax deductible and 100 percent of finds raised will help Food 2 kids meet its 2018 goals.  Contributions of all sizes are welcome:  $7 will feed a child for a weekend, while $280 sponsors one child for the entire school year.  For more information, please contact any Milford Office of The Milford Bank.

In addition to the collection drive, many employees of The Milford Bank are planning their own ways to raise funds for Milford Food 2 Kids throughout the month. Do not be surprised to see or hear about a special contest or bake sale. The Bank Employees have set a fundraising goal of $20,000. This matches Bank donations to the program for each of the past two years.

Food 2 Kids is always looking for more volunteers to help with shopping and picking up food, packing, delivering, stocking, and spreading the word throughout the community. Interested volunteers should contact Food 2 Kids directly at 203-877-4277 or milfordfood2kids@gmail.com.

Safety Tips for Online Banking

By Dave Wall

As with most services today, banking has moved into the digital world. Online banking provides an easy way to manage personal finances quickly and conveniently, without the need to worry about mailing checks to pay bills or going to the bank for simple transactions. But, the rise of digital commerce gave rise to a cyber underworld of hackers that requires caution and diligence with online activities, especially those that include financial transactions.  To keep you accounts and personal information safe, there are several best practices to follow when using online banking services.

Strong Passwords
Always make sure you use strong passwords that are not easily guessable. They should be long and include both upper- and lowercase letter, numbers, and other characters.  Using names, birthdates, and other easily guessable personal details is not recommended.  Even with the number of high-profile hacks featured by media outlets, some of the top passwords in use include “123456” and “password.”  Avoid using the same password for multiple accounts.  That way, even if one is compromised, your other accounts will be safe.  Change you passwords regularly.

Secure WiFi
Only use secure WiFi networks. Open, unsecure public WiFi networks are an easy target for hackers, who can intercept data transmitted between you and the bank.  The safest policy is to limit your banking activity to your secure home network, but if you need to make transactions while away from home, use secure networks, or even use your mobile device’s cellular connection instead of WiFi.

Secure Websites
Make sure any website you use for financial transactions is secure by checking the URL. If it begins with “https” the site is secured with an SSL certificate.  Chrome browsers are starting to identify non-secure sites with a “Not Secure” label starting this month to help identify them.

Mobile Devices
If you are using a mobile device for your financial transactions, using the bank’s official mobile app is a good option. It is often even more secure than websites and is much less susceptible to hacking.  Make sure you update the app when required, and while most users tend to avoid automatic app updates, setting your banking app to update automatically ensures you’ll be using the current version with the latest security measures.  Turn off your Bluetooth connection when using your mobile device.  Bluetooth signals can be hijacked, just like open WiFi, allowing hackers to intercept your data.  This is a good policy at all times when not using your Bluetooth capability for communication.

Account Security
Regardless of how you access your accounts, it’s advisable to request text or email alerts whenever transactions are made or if balances drop below a certain threshold. This immediately alerts you if any unauthorized transaction has taken place and allows you to react quickly.  If available, you should always enable two-factor authentication on your accounts.  That means you will have to use two means of authorizing yourself as the user, but it makes it much more difficult for hackers to gain access, even if they have gotten your password.  One example of two-factor authentication is entering a required passcode to be entered, which is sent to a specified mobile number when a login is attempted.  Similarly, disable any automatic logins on your devices.  While logging in each time takes additional time, the added security can make sure your accounts aren’t accessible to hackers gaining access to your device.

Separate PC for Banking
If you have access to a separate computer to use only for your banking activity, you can reduce risk of threats from gaming, web browsing, email, social media, and other activities. If you have an old laptop or PC that you’re not using anymore, consider cleaning it up, updating the operating system and browser, and using that as your dedicated banking device.  It may not be powerful enough for gaming, streaming videos, and other popular activities, but it can still be very useful for securing your online banking.  If you don’t have access to a separate computer, you can still use a dedicated browser – one you don’t use for any other online activities.  That will still reduce risk.  Regardless of the device, make sure you keep your antivirus, browser, and operating system up-to-date to ensure you have the latest security patches.

Be Aware of Scams
Every day, hackers and scammers send countless fake offers in an effort gain access to devices and personal information. If the offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  Delete suspicious emails and texts immediately, and never share account information online.  Similarly, we won’t ask you for account details or other personal information over the phone unless you have initiated the call.  If you aren’t sure if a call is legitimate, hang up and call back.

Check you Accounts Regularly
Even the most diligent customers can have their account information or identities stolen from other sources. It’s a good policy to monitor your accounts and credit report regularly to check for any unauthorized accounts or transactions.  The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires each of the three national credit agencies to provide a free copy of your credit report once every 12 months.  That will allow you to check your credit report every four months at no cost.

Regardless of what transactions you’re making online, following these guidelines will help protect your assets and credit standing.

Why You Should Recycle Your Old Electronics

By Lynn Viesti Berube

Over the past decade, we’ve watched the world’s adoption of new technology grow exponentially, to a point where there are more mobile devices than people on the planet. We’re also seeing the rate at which electronics are replaced increase, driven by affordability, shorter lifespans, and a desire to have the very latest and greatest products.

While the continued investment in new technology may be good for the economy, it’s also created a massive amount of electronic waste (e-waste). Americans alone generated almost 12 million tons of electronic waste in 2014, including more than 150 million cell phones and almost 52,000 computers every year according to the EPA.  But global e-recycling rates are only around 20 percent, which means the majority of these electronics were either incinerated, dumped into massive landfills releasing pollutants into the environment, or collect dust in homes.

Aside from the impact on waste management, the environment, and health issues, recycling electronics provides a rich source of raw materials. The EPA also says that every one million recycled cell phones can produce 35,000 pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, 75 pounds of gold, and 33 pounds of palladium.  In addition, recycling one million laptops saves the energy equivalent to the electricity used by more than 3,500 homes per year.

When it’s time to recycle your cell phones or other electronics, first make sure you delete all personal information, followed by a factory reset, after taking out any removable storage cards. You should also remove any batteries, as those should be recycled separately.  You should also make sure you are using a reliable recycling service that certifies data destruction and recycles 100% of the e-waste they collect through legitimate facilities.

Just as recycled electronics can be used for materials for new products, recycled paper also have many applications. The cleaned and processed paper is used to produce many products we use every day, including toilet paper, school writing paper, masking tape, coffee filters, and many more.  Even documents with personal information can be recycled, provided they are shredded first.

Recycling electronics and paper provides a constant stream of resources that have countless uses, helps reduce the amount of junk that piles up in landfills across the globe, and reduces the environmental impact of dumping.

But, it’s hard to change old habits, and one of the key drivers in the rate of e-recycling is providing a convenient way for people to get rid of their old devices. In 2007, Connecticut was one of the first states to adopt an electronics recycling law, making it easier for residents to dispose of their old electronics.

This Saturday, June 23, The Milford Bank will be sponsoring a Shred & Electronics Recycling Event at 119 High Street, Milford, CT, from 10:00am-1:00pm (or until the truck fills up.)  Electronics recycling is free for everyone; document shredding if free for all customers of The Milford Bank, with a $5 fee for everyone else. All funds collected will be donated to Milford Food2Kids.

Five Financial Challenges to Test Your Saving Skills

By Tina Mason

One of the best ways to invigorate your saving strategy is by issuing yourself a challenge. Not only does the competition make it a little more fun, but you’ll also learn valuable lessons about the long-term benefits of discipline, the way your daily spending habits impact your quality of life, and just how much you can accomplish when you set your mind to it.

If you’re looking to make improvements to your financial planning and add a little extra padding to your savings account, here are five financial challenges you can try.

Take a new look at a favorite vice: There’s nothing wrong with splurging every now and then. But if you’re spending $5.00 on a cup of coffee every day, you may want to take a fresh look at how you get your morning pick-me-up. Could you live with making coffee at home and saving yourself over $1,000 a year?

Dive into the gig economy: If you find yourself with lots of free time and aren’t sure what to do with it, challenge yourself to finding a part-time gig. If you love nothing more than driving around town listening to music, maybe Uber would be a good fit. Fancy yourself a writer? Try to get published as a freelancer. There are tons of opportunities that will fit where, and how, you need them to.

Live like you’re single: Remember when you were young and single? You could somehow survive in an apartment the size of your living room. You ate Ramen noodles for breakfast. And even if you had less money saved up, you may have felt more financially free. Granted, your spouse may not appreciate Ramen the way your 20-year old self did. However, we all behave differently when we engage with others. By focusing solely on your own finances for a brief stint, you may be able to indicate where you’re letting money fall through the cracks.

A dollar a day: This one’s simple. Get a jar, and add a dollar to it every day. If you’ve got something you’re saving for, simply wait until you’ve gotten there. If not, consider it a rainy day fund for an emergency. You’d be surprised how easy it is to forget about a dollar every day.

Pile up your perks: Perks are everywhere these days. Debit and credit cards will often offer discounts, deals or cashback. Some people go coupon crazy at the grocery store. In this challenge, you are tasked with taking cash equal in value to the perks you’ve accumulated and putting it into a new savings account. It is a way of making your savings seem tangible, and will always help to remind you  to look for savings in your day to day life.

At The Milford Bank, we’re always looking for great ways to help you grow your wealth, protect your family and live your best life. To learn more ways to save, stop by any office location in Milford or Stratford or check out our Online Learning Center here.

 

‘Tis the Season… For Community Cleanup and Major Project Planning

By Mark Gruttadauria

After a long winter that included a 10-day period with three different Nor’Easters hitting the area, it looks like Spring has finally arrived. Lawns are started to become brighter shades of green, trees are starting to bud, and of course, temperatures are on the rise. The change in seasons also signifies the start of the outdoor activities, as youth sports teams are seen practicing across communities and parks and other communal areas once again become daily meeting sites.

For local communities, it means preparing for annual spring cleaning, repairs and maintenance. The to-do list can get quite long after a harsh winter, with many cleaning,  landscaping and gardening jobs taking priority to replenish and revitalize buildings, gardens, planters, water features, playgrounds, and walkways.  The good news is if your community or neighborhood association has done its job, you’ll see a large turnout of residents lending a hand to take care of their communities.

This is also the time to assess larger and longer term needs – especially anything that might require larger capital investment. Larger, higher cost projects require advance planning and a lengthier approval process for funding.  They could include office or garage renovation,  new construction, parking area paving, speed bumps, pool installation, tree removal or planting, or any other capital improvements to make the community more attractive to residents and businesses.

Smart associations understand that, just as regular maintenance (including spring cleanup) help to build a positive daily perception, these larger developments are a long-term these are long-term investments in the community’s future. It’s simple: a cleaner and more modern community is naturally going to have maximum curb appeal.

The catch, though, is that community organizations may not have a lump sum available to fund larger projects, which is why future planning is critical. When big-ticket items are approved, funding plans must also be in place, whether that means local fund raising, business sponsorships, city funding (less and less likely, unless residents are willing to endure tax hikes), or project loans (hopefully from local banks that are happy to work with community organizations).

Whatever the plan, it has to be put in place long before the project breaks ground. So, when your planting flowers, trimming hedges, or sowing grass this spring, take note of any larger community improvement opportunities and bring them to your community association board, so they can consider them early enough to make a real difference.

Many local financial institutions, like The Milford Bank, work closely with community associations and other similar organizations, understanding they, too, have a role to play in supporting these communities. If you are considering a major project that will require funding, be sure to talk to a representative from The Milford Bank representative to find out how we can help.

With Winter Over, Now is the Time to Get Ready for… Yep, Winter

By Matt Kelly

Having been blasted with several Nor’easters in recent weeks, you may be ready to put down the snow blower and forget about the winter blues for a few months. But before you start compiling your Spring cleaning list, we implore you to think about Winter just a while longer.

As you’re well aware, the inclement wintery weather isn’t just an inconvenience. It’s an added expense. But with a little early planning, you can ensure that next Winter doesn’t break the bank. You never know, maybe you’ll even have a little extra holiday shopping money!

Here are some of the key considerations you should make now, before Winter escapes your mind like a receding tide on a tropical beachfront.

  • Lock in rates with your energy supplier. You’ll typically pay a much higher price for heating when demand is up and supply is down. This typically occurs in late Fall and throughout the Winter. You will likely be able to find optimal rates before the Summer heat hits. Fix your rate now and you’ll be assured of a consistent and affordable price all Winter.
  • Take advantage of seasonal sales. Besides fuel, there are plenty of other items you need throughout the Winter. If you’re a skier or snowboarder, you’ll likely find all your gear at reduced prices at this point in the season. Maybe you simply need new winter jackets. Whatever your need, businesses are eagerly letting go of their inventory while they can.
  • Not all firewood is created equal. Stoking a fire isn’t just for show in Winter time. It can be a necessity if the power goes out in a storm. It can also support your basic heating needs to reduce reliance on other fuels. However, it’s important to shop your prices and also the type of wood. Some types are not meant to burn indoors, and all wood should be properly seasoned. Otherwise, you may not get full efficiency from your wood.
  • Weatherize before the rush. The elements are constantly doing battle with your home. Weatherization can help you to keep up energy efficiency. There are plenty of businesses in the Milford and Stratford communities that offer energy audits that can help you find and fix inefficiencies.
  • Keep up with routine maintenance. By keeping up on routine maintenance now, you can save yourself tons down the road. After a particularly icy Winter, it’s important to make sure ice hasn’t dammed on your roof or in your gutters. Seal cracks in your driveway to prevent further damage to the concrete, and take good care of all the mechanical components in your home.

 

I’m sure the last thing you want right now is someone reminding you that you need to prepare for Winter. We’re ready for beaches and barbeques, too! But a little foresight can go a long way, especially when it comes to the Winter. To learn more about managing your finances, check out our Online Learning Center or stop by any office of The Milford Bank in Milford or Stratford today.

ABA Announces Consumer Awareness Observance Days for 2018

By Rebecca Tudor

Every year, the American Bankers Association releases an annual calendar including specific dates for consumer awareness observance days. While “Earned Income Tax Credit Awareness Day” might not have the same ring as Halloween or Independence Day, such observance days can be incredibly useful for taking a moment to assess your own financial status and learn something new about managing your wealth.

This year, we’ll be following the ABA’s calendar closely, tying in articles to provide some extra information for you to celebrate observance days. Pay close attention—we may even be running special events to celebrate some of these festivities at our office locations!

Read on to see the ABA’s schedule for 2018. Each month will provide you different financial perspectives, so we challenge all Milford Bank customers in Milford and Stratford to get creative and show us how they plan to celebrate!

January

1/26: Earned Income Tax Credit Awareness Day

1/28: Data Privacy Day

1/29-2/2: Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week

February

2/26-3/3: America Saves Week

March

3/4-3/10: National Consumer Protection Week

3/20: National Agriculture Day

April

National Financial Literacy Month—celebrated all month

Records and Information Management Month—celebrated all month

4/1: National 1 Cent Day

4/16-4/22: National Health Care Decisions Day

4/17: National Tax Day

4/20: National Teach Children to Save Day

4/29-5/5: National Small Business Week

May

Older Americans Month—celebrated all month

Military Appreciation Month—celebrated all month

June

American Housing Month—celebrated all month

National Internet Safety Month—celebrated all month

6/15—World Elder Abuse Awareness Day

6/28—National Insurance Awareness Day

July

National Make a Difference to Children Month—celebrated all month

August

Back to School

September

College Savings Month—celebrated all month

National Preparedness Month—celebrated all month

9/9—National Grandparents Day

October

National Cybersecurity Awareness Month—celebrated all month

National Crime Prevention Month—celebrated all month

Family Health Month—celebrated all month

10/1-10/5—Customer Service Week

10/1-10/5—Financial Planning Week

10/18—Get Smart About Credit Day

November

Military Family Month—celebrated all month

National Scholarship Month—celebrated all month

National Family Caregiver Month—celebrated all month

December

Identity Theft and Protection Awareness Month

At The Milford Bank, we’re committed to helping you stay focused on your bottom line all year round. So be sure to check out the ABA calendar and find some topics that pique your interest, as we’ll be putting together supplemental educational resources to correspond with the ABA’s observance days throughout 2018.

If you’re interested in learning even more about a particular subject from the calendar, be sure to check out our Online Learning Center too. It’s a wealth of resources designed to help all our customers achieve the best possible financial outcome for their family’s needs and wants. To learn more, click here.

Millennial Spending Habits Leave Little Room to Save

By Cortney Meng

It was only three years ago that Millennials became the largest generation in the U.S. labor force, surpassing the Baby Boomers with employment numbers of 53.5 million. This seemed to be a coming-of-age moment for Millennials, but new research indicates that in spite of three straight years as the top demographic in the labor force, Millennials have yet to turn their earnings into savings.

According to a new Bank of America survey, it was found that 46 percent of Millennials had no money in a savings account in 2017. Even more startling, this number actually increased from 31 percent over the span of just one year.

Given the fact that Millennials are working more but spending less, this financial epidemic may be rooted in poor spending habits. Let’s take a deeper dive into how Millennials are spending their money in 2018, and what they can do to break the cycle and bolster their savings.

Spending on comfort and convenience

A Charles Schwab report found that Millennials, more so than previous generations, are willing to spend frivolously on comforts and conveniences. 60 percent admitted to spending more than $4 on coffee, 79 percent would splurge to eat at the hot restaurant in town and 69 percent buy clothes they don’t necessarily need. Millennials also surpassed both Generation X and Baby Boomers when it came to shelling out cash for the latest tech gadgets and live events, as well.

Bills, bills, bills

Though Millennials do their share of frivolous spending, not all the bills in the mailbox are a choice. In fact, a recent Mother Jones study compared Millennials to young families from the 1980’s and 1990’s and found that young adults today pay about $1,000 more on healthcare, $1,500 on pensions and Social Security, $2,000 more on overall housing and $700 more on education.

Simply put, cost of living increases have put a damper on what earnings Millennials have generated. That said, the need to save for the future must remain a top priority. Millennials must reconcile the lifestyles they wish to lead with the realities of the world they want to live them in.

So what can Millennials do to start getting their savings accounts in the black?

Forbes recently outlined some of the ways in which Millennials can begin breaking the bad habits that have gotten them to this point. Here are a few key points:

  • Millennials, natives of the Social Media age, are often pressured to be at every event, party or Happy Hour. FOMO, or “fear of missing out”, is a very real phenomenon and can often lead individuals to spend money they don’t have, simply to ensure they’re in the picture—both literally and figuratively.
  • Setting clear goals is crucial, especially if you’re not where you should be or want to be financially. Even if it’s just saving $10 from each paycheck, it’s a start. By clearly defining your needs, and your limitations, you’ll soon be able to turn $10 into $100.
  • Checking and savings are two different things, yet many Millennials try to use a checking account for all their cash. Not only does this curb your growth potential, but it becomes all too easy to draw from that money in a particularly tight week. If it’s visible and easily obtained, you may have a hard time saving it.

To learn more about developing an approach to saving that will get you where you want to be, stop by any office of The Milford Bank in Milford or Stratford, or check out our Online Learning Center here.

Investment Tips for an Uncertain Market

By Matt Kelly

At the end of January, the Dow Jones Industrial Average capped off another record-setting month of growth, settling in around 26,600 points. Just a week into February, and the market had shaved off nearly 2,000 points as analysts began to question whether the bull market had finally slowed to a halt and whether we were in for a correction, recession, or more.

Now, investors find themselves quickly fluctuating between rapid sell-offs and frenzied buying sprees, uncertain about the more long-term economic outlook.

Of course, it’s not advisable to simply liquidate your assets and keep it all as cash under your mattress just because the stock market is volatile. Instead, this is a good point to calmly evaluate your needs, your long-term goals, and consider tweaking your investment strategy to make sure you don’t waste any time growing your portfolio.

While you should never make an investment without first consulting your advisor, here are a few tips to help steer you in the right direction.

You don’t need to abandon the markets entirely: Even when the markets suffer huge losses, there are still plenty of successful companies that weather the storm. You don’t need to pull all your savings from the stock market, but you do need to address whether or not your portfolio is diverse and conservative enough to be protected from a bear market.

Check out indexed and whole life insurance policies: Not only is life insurance an important component of your family’s financial planning, it can also act as an investment vehicle depending on the type of life insurance you procure. A whole life insurance policy will provide you with extra cash every time you pay your premiums. Indexed policies use that cash value and invest it into accounts tied to an index like the S&P 500. They have a floor of zero, meaning that you won’t lose money in a bad year, but still retain upside potential.

Consult with your financial advisor: Watching the stock market go up and down can be more emotional than an Oscar-nominated drama. And if you’re emotional, you may not be making sound financial decisions. Consult with your financial advisor before making any sudden changes to your investment strategy. This will ensure that your goals, and your financial needs, are both working in conjunction to secure your future and maximize your wealth.

To learn more about the savings opportunities available to you, stop by any office of The Milford Bank in Milford or Stratford, or check out our Online Learning Center here.