The Gift of Giving Back – Teach Your Children Early

Children work together in food bank

‘Tis the season of gift giving. But perhaps there is no greater gift that you can give to a child than the gift of “giving back.” Children who are involved in giving at an early age make it a practice and a habit that continues into adulthood. They also behave better in the classroom and reach higher academic achievement.

How can you start kids down the path to being young philanthropists and volunteers?

Start small. Host a bake sale, gather school supplies, play games with elderly residents in a or work at a food bank or other event as a family.

Talk about local needs and global needs, but hold these conversations at a child’s level. By talking with them about homelessness, hunger, etc., you can teach them about compassion and about how they can make a difference in people’s lives.

Match your efforts with your family’s time and resources. Giving should feel pleasurable, not overwhelming. Even small efforts, such as shoveling a neighbor’s walk or taking a meal to a sick friend teach children valuable lessons in giving.

Talk about giving. Tell stories about what you do to show generosity with a single kind act, with a day of volunteering or with donations of goods or money. Encourage questions and think of ways you can all donate together.

Provide a “giving allowance” to encourage both saving and giving – an allowance with three equal parts set aside for spending, saving and giving to charity. This is a great opportunity for parents to help their kids understand the value of making the right purchases, saving money and choosing the right charities.

As kids grow older, you can up your discussions to help teach about financial values and setting and achieving short-term and long-term financial goals, saving for college, getting part-time jobs and more.

If you have a larger pool of donation funds, let kids select where some of the money goes. Teaching about discretionary giving is another step toward creating stronger philanthropic ideals for older children and young adults. You can also  give your kids a budget for some of your charitable dollars and let them decide how they grant these them. Do they give it all to a single organization? Divide it among charities? This will help them consider how to have the greatest impact.

Kids mirror what they see. Teaching them how they can give back with their resources of time and money when they are younger will be one of the best life-long gifts you can share with them.

Universal Lending gives back.

At Universal Lending, we believe in giving back all year long. Our foundation’s Mortgage Bridge Program provides up to three months of mortgage and HOA payments to patients and caregivers at Craig Hospital after a traumatic brain injury or spinal injury, so they can focus on their recovery rather than their bills. We are honored to support others when they need us most.

Saving for a Down Payment: Save More and Save Faster!

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Whether you’re planning to buy a house in a few months or not for a few years, you’re probably thinking about how you’ll save for a down payment or you’re already saving. No matter where you are in the process – or even if you’re already a homeowner and just want to save more – some reminders on how to save money are always appreciated. The biggest thing to remember is that saving takes time and discipline – and it means re-thinking your budget and maybe even earning additional money.

Remember: You may not need to put 20 percent down for your home. In fact, you may only need to put down 5 percent or 3.5 percent. Saving that amount will be a breeze! Your mortgage loan officer can share information with you about loan options and down payment assistance programs.

Get started saving today:

Transfer a fixed amount of money to savings automatically. Set up a savings account that has money automatically transferred into it each month, every two weeks or every week. Every time you get a paycheck, some of that money should be automatically deposited into this account – no questions asked. Your bank can set this up for you, but you have to be disciplined enough to not withdraw from the account!

Bank any extra unexpected income. Get a tax refund? Put it into the savings account. Get a gift of cash? Put it in the savings account. Bonus or large commission? Savings. If this adds up to hundreds or even thousands of extra dollars a year, good for you!

Lower your expenses. Get an antenna and get rid of cable. Stop buying fancy coffees and reduce your trips to restaurants. Lower your data plan on your phone. If you pay your own gas or electric bills, lower your heat in the winter and raise the temperature on your air conditioner in the summer by three degrees in each direction. Wherever you can make a small change, make a small change.

Monitor your online spending. With online shopping at your fingertips and online sellers that generously store your credit card for you, it’s easy to click and spend without even thinking about how much you’re spending or if you really need what you’re buying. Track this spending with an app or keep an old-fashioned spending ledger.

Shop your insurance. If it’s been a while since you checked rates for your car insurance, renter’s insurance, health insurance, look into those costs. You may be able to save hundreds or even thousands of dollars by making a few small changes.

Save your change! Save your pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters. Never spend your change. Get glass jar and start saving. When the jar is full, put the money in your savings account. This will add up fast!

Skip vacations for a year or two. Check out what’s happening in your community, your state and your neighboring states. If you can’t stand the idea of not going away for a year, plan a camping trip and borrow your friends’ equipment. Take the money you would have spent on vacation and add it to your savings account.

Sell things. You’re probably going to purge before you buy your home anyway, so why not sell some things now. That bike you never ride? The extra set of pots and pans you never use? What do you have that has value to someone else? Sell it on Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, Ebay… wherever there is a buyer for what you want to sell. Put anything you make into your savings account.

Lose the high interest credit card debts. If you’re not paying off your credit cards each month, you’re probably paying a lot in interest. Pay off your credit cards and either stop using them all together or use them minimally. Paying credit card interest will seriously cut into your savings. If you simply cannot pay them off, transfer your balances to a card with the lowest possible interest rate.

Get a second job. Earnings money working a second job can help you save money a lot faster. Even if you’re bartending or waiting tables 10 hours a week, driving for a car service, pet sitting or working in retail, if you take every dime of what you make working a second job and put it into savings, you’ll see your money add up quickly.

Refinance your student loans. Do some research and see if you can get a better interest rate on your student loans. You just might be surprised at what you can save. Whatever money you do save with the lower payment goes into your savings account.

Celebrate your savings successes. Create a savings graph and put it somewhere that you see it. Add to it regularly – at the end of every week. The more you see your savings grow, the faster you’ll get to your down payment. And we think you’ll want to continue making saving something you do regularly.

Do you have savings tips you want to share? Add them to the comments below!

To Buy or not to Buy? Top Reasons People Become Homeowners

Happy family at home with their dogs

If you’re on the fence about buying a home, you’ve likely done a lot of research on interest rates and home prices, and have heard about lack of inventory locally and across the U.S. What you’re hearing may be enough to make you want to put your dream of homeownership on hold.

Not so fast!

Think about all the reasons that homeownership may be right for you, including the fact that if you wait even a year, it’s predicted that you’ll face higher home prices and interest rates, and ultimately a higher monthly mortgage payment. Here are a few of the top reasons people buy homes.

Pride of ownership. You can paint the walls any color you desire, attach permanent fixtures, and decorate your home according to your own taste. Home ownership gives you and your family a sense of stability. It’s an investment in your future. And a lot of people would say that the independence and sense of accomplishment that owning a home brings is an essential part of their way of life.

Build equity. Real estate moves in cycles, but over the years, real estate has consistently appreciated. As property value increases, you build equity in your home and your home becomes worth more than you owe. If you are renting a home, your landlord builds this equity every time you pay rent, and you get nothing in return.

Have more space. A lot of renters find they are short on space. They have few closets, no yard to call their own, and no attic, garage or basement. Many renters even pay an additional fee for a storage space on or off the property. Homeowners are often glad to have extra storage space, a place for their cars, and a yard to host barbecues, play with their kids or to run around with a new dog!

Make room for Fido. A recent survey by SunTrust Mortgage found that a third of millennials who had already purchased their first home said they were influenced by the need to have space for a dog. Not only do you get more space for your pet with a yard to play in and room to roam about, you can eliminate the pet deposit and monthly fee that a landlord tacks on to your rent payment.

Upgrade to your heart’s content. A lot of renters are not rewarded for upgrading their homes. The landlord may benefit from a fresh coat of paint, new flooring and overall upgrades that make the space a home, but there is no reward for the renter who sinks money into projects that benefit someone else’s pocketbook.

Keep your distance. Even if your new home has a small yard, if you buy a single-family home, you don’t have to deal with heavy-footed clomping walker above you, or the loud talkers below you.

There’s no single reason that makes homeownership the right option. But when you consider all the reasons that are important to you, you really have a reason to buy a home. What makes you want to be a homeowner? Call us today to get on the road to making your dream a reality!

Paint Like a Pro before You Hire One!


Is painting a room or two or your entire house on your to-do list? You don’t need to hire a professional to make your home look like you did. Here are some tips for making your home improvement painting project a snap.

Wash your walls. Wash your walls to ensure they are clean before you start. And vacuum floors and dust where you need to. A clean surface makes for a better paint job.

Remove wall plates, light switch covers, etc. Don’t tempt fate by trying to paint around wall plates. You’ll save a lot of time in touchups and and trying to scrape paint off of these if you just take them off.

Use primer. Primer isn’t something to use if you choose. It provides a good surface to hold the paint and it brings out the paint’s true colors. You spent a lot of time picking the perfect color. Let it shine through.

Use an edge pad. Create smooth lines around door frames, ceilings and corners to bring everything together with an edge pad.

Buy enough paint. Professional painters say you’ll need one gallon for every 400 square feet. If your walls are textured, not primed or have other details, they may require more. Better to be safe than sorry. Get a little extra in case you need it and for touchups later.

Pick the right paint. Semi-gloss is good for high traffic areas. If you have kids, it’s the best choice. But don’t hesitate to ask at the home improvement store or paint store about the best kind of paint to use for your project. They love to dish the dirt on the right paint for different jobs.

Paint when the air is dry. If you are expecting a humid day, skip painting. Your paint will dry faster if you paint when it’s not humid.

Let your paint dry. Don’t be in a hurry. Let your paint dry completely before you fix a spot or add another coat. If it’s not completely dry, you run the risk of leaving marks or streaks.

Use a roller. You can cover a lot more space in a lot less time with a roller rather than a brush. Save the brush for smaller areas and use a roller to cover the walls.

You don’t have to hire a pro. Just paint like one! 

Tips for Hiring a Contractor


You’re in your new home or you suddenly find you have a DIY project you can’t do. In any case, there’s work to be done. Choosing the right contractor is not easy. Asking your neighbors for recommendations may be one place to start. Looking online is another. You definitely want to make sure you have the right person for the job. Taking a little time up front can save you time, money and aggravation in the end.

Tips for hiring a contractor:

Make sure the contractor is licensed to work in your area and bonded and insured. The licenses show that the contractors have taken the necessary exams and know the building codes and processes. The insurance protects you against liability, should an injury occur to a worker while in your home.

Pick a contractor who specializes in the type of project you are doing. Many projects are code-specific and you want someone who knows the details of what needs to be done, and gets the project done right, the first time.

Look at work samples. This lets you see a contractor’s handiwork and may spark ideas for your project. Samples may be more important than references – what was perfect for your neighbor may not be perfect for you. Looking at a contractor’s past projects also lets you see the variety of work the company has performed – contemporary, modern, historical.

Give the contractors guidelines for working around your home. What’s the earliest the contractors can get there? What time do they need to be gone? Do you have specific start and finish dates in mind? Be clear about these at the onset of the project. Your limitations may affect their ability to do the job.

Know what your responsibilities are. Do you need to move furniture out of a room? Do you need to find alternate accommodations for your dog for a day or two, or do you need to move your cats to the laundry room? Find out ahead of time and be ready when the contractors get to your home.

Understand how a contractor puts together a bid and what it means to you. There are two basic bid types:

Time and Materials: Contractor provides receipts for materials and number of hours at a certain rate. It is your right to get a copy of receipts and give feedback as to where materials are purchased and at what cost.

Fixed Amount Bid: This provides you the amount it will cost for a contractor to complete your job. You must nail down a quantity of materials, but you will not receive a copy of the cost of materials. By signing this bid, you are agreeing that the job is to be completed at the quoted price.

There are a lot of things you can do to make sure that you and your contractor have a good working relationship. You do your part and they’ll do theirs!