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5 Staycation Ideas to Save Your Summer

woman lying down

Let’s face it; summer looks a lot different than it did when you were a kid. You used to spend the entire school year counting down the days until the carefree fun of summer vacation. But now that you’re a responsible adult with a grown-up job, summer just means your daily work commute is hotter than usual 

OK, maybe the situation isn’t quite that bleak. But if you’re not careful, summer will come and go before you get a chance to enjoy it. Even if you can’t take a week off for vacation this year, it only takes a little creativity and last-minute planning to map out a staycation worth remembering. If you need a little spark of relaxation inspiration, these five suggestions may be just what you’re looking for: 

Book a night at a fancy hotel in town. Yes, luxury has a price tag, but hey—it’s just for one night. Sometimes it’s worth the extra money to pamper yourself. And since you’re staying close to home, think about all the money you’re saving on gas and travel expenses! Want to make the most of your five-star staycation? Check in as early as possible and take advantage of every complementary service the hotel offers. 

Take a tasting tour of your city. It’s easy to settle into a routine of dining at your favorite restaurants, so why not break out of that rut and spend an entire day expanding your palette? The beauty of this culinary adventure lies in its flexibility. You can plan your itinerary or play it loose and go wherever your taste buds take you. Start with an early breakfast and end with a late-night snack. And if you want to include mimosas, aperitifs, and after-dinner drinks in your tour—that’s why they created Uber, right? 

Spend all day in bed. How many times have you started the morning by cursing your alarm clock and wishing you could stay under the covers all day long? Here’s your chance to make those lazy dreams a reality. Stack your favorite books and magazines on the nightstand, queue up your Netflix watchlist, and keep your favorite takeout restaurants on speed dial. You’re about to take your day off to the next level. 

Rent a convertible and take the scenic route. Sometimes you want to answer the call of the open road, but it’s hard to make travel exciting in the same car you drive to work every day. So, add a little fun to your staycation plans by renting a sports car (preferably a convertible) and cruising around for the day. If you have a specific destination in mind, that’s great. If you don’t, that’s even better. The magic is in the journey. Not sure where to find scenic routes near you? Download the Round app for expert recommendations. 

Unplug and get off the grid. We saved this one for last because, depending on who you are, this suggestion can be exhilarating or terrifying. Since we’re talking about shutting off your mobile phone and unplugging from social media, we understand you may need to start slowly. Use a resource like AllTrails.com to find the nearest hiking or walking trails, leave your phone at home (or at least in the car), and spend the day exploring the great outdoors. The fresh air, exercise, and lack of email will do wonders for your body and your mind. 

Whether you pick one of these ideas, find a way to do them all, or come up with a fresh staycation of your own, the most important part is permitting yourself to have fun. Even if they’re only for 24 hours at a time, vacations (or staycations) offer benefits that can make every area of your life more enjoyable.

 

5 Ways to Throw a 4th of July Blast on a Budget

fireworks

5 Ways to Throw a 4th of July Blast on a Budget

Like the rockets responsible for the legendary red glare, 4th of July business is booming!

According to a National Retail Federation report, Americans spent more than $7 billion on Independence Day celebrations last year. That figure is pretty steep—especially when you consider that Americans only spent $151 million (approximately $2.4 billion when adjusted for current inflation) on the Revolutionary War itself.

With our country’s birthday quickly approaching, you may be wondering whether it’s possible to show your star-spangled spirit without overspending on the festivities. We’re happy to report it’s entirely possible, especially if you follow these five tips:

  1. Use DIY or dollar store decorations. Thanks to your Pinterest page and local dollar store, it’s easier than ever to stretch your decoration dollars. Before you spend your hard-earned money on red, white, and blue decorations from big box stores or trendy boutiques, see if you can give the holiday a personal touch with some simple DIY projects. If you don’t have enough time to get crafty, swing by the dollar store and load up your patriotic cart for less.
  2. Host a BBQ potluck. There’s nothing like celebrating the 4th with family, friends, and food. But just because you’re the one hosting the party doesn’t mean you should foot the entire food bill. If you’re going to grill out, consider providing the main course (burgers, hot dogs, chicken, etc.) and asking your guests to bring their favorite fixings and sides. While everyone gets to show off their individual tastes, you get to hang on to more of your hard-earned cash.
  3. BYOB. If your gathering is going to include adult beverages, there are a few great reasons to adopt a BYOB policy. First, when everyone brings their own beverage, they’re sure to have something they enjoy. Second, unlike kid-friendly sodas and juice boxes, grown-up drinks can be pricey. Just like buying a round at the bar, providing beer or wine for all your cookout guests can put a serious dent in your budget.
  4. Do not BYOF. Not familiar with this abbreviation? BYOF stands for “Buy Your Own Fireworks.” And if you’ve ever experienced the sticker shock that happens in a fireworks store, you know exactly why purchasing your own explosives can be dangerous to your wallet (not to mention your health). Check your local news outlets and social media accounts for information on community fireworks shows instead.
  5. Plan for next year. One of the best things about 4th of July festivities is that the theme is always the same. That means you can score some incredible deals on Independence Day trinkets and decorations by shopping on July 5th and beyond. Since most stores don’t want to hold holiday inventory for an entire year, they often offer drastic discounts that will let you pick up next year’s decorations for pennies on the dollar.

However you choose to commemorate our nation’s birthday, a little creativity and advanced planning can help you celebrate in style—and within your budget.

How Can You Steer Clear of Financial Fraud?

Card lock

How Can You Steer Clear of Financial Fraud? 

With the rising popularity of online banking, mobile apps, and digital payment services like PayPal and Zelle, financial transactions are easier than ever. Bills can be paid online. Recurring payments can be automated. Funds can be transferred with just a click. The convenience of cashless commerce is welcome, but the reduction in physical exchanges can lull us to sleep when it comes to protecting ourselves against potential fraud. 

Financial fraud is nothing new. In fact, we probably hear the warnings so often that we hardly notice them anymore—and that can be a problem. In a Washington Post article detailing the vulnerability of credit card users, Kate Silver noted “Last year, analytics firm FICO found there was a 10 percent increase in the United States in payment cards that were compromised at ATMs and merchant card readers—following a 70 percent rise in 2016.” Statistics like these point to the fact that while security measures are improving, enterprising criminals are stepping up their games as well. 

Keep a close eye on your cards.

Much has been written about security advances within the financial industry, and rightfully so. EMV chip technology and digital wallet services like Apple Pay and Android Pay are dramatic improvements that go a long way towards foiling information theft. But with all of the focus on innovation, old-school credit and debit card activity still leaves many of us at risk. Card skimmers, hardly more than an urban myth in 2002, have evolved from clunky contraptions to barely perceptible devices that scan and record sensitive card data. If we’re not careful, mundane tasks like buying gas or getting money from an ATM can put our financial information at risk.

Safety can be simple.

The good news, according to Silver, is that commonsense precautions can significantly increase financial protection. Shielding the keypad when entering a PIN, making ATM withdrawals on weekdays (when the machines are inspected on a daily basis) instead of weekends (when they’re not), and only using gas pumps with security cameras and security tape are just a few practical steps we can take to protect our financial data. While all of these steps reduce the chances of theft happening in the first place, credit unions are making impressive strides towards safeguarding their members if their information is compromised. 

Credit unions are stepping up account security.

With convenient tools like online banking and mobile apps, credit unions make it easy for members to monitor their account activity—an essential step for early detection of fraudulent activity. Many institutions are also lessening the risks associated with physical card transactions by offering a two-pronged approach to security. Since most debit cards and check cards are issued in partnership with VISA or MasterCard, the first protective measure consists of security enhancements like chip technology and a Zero Liability policy for fraudulent transactions. 

Avoiding financial fraud doesn’t have to be difficult. Implementing personal precautions and teaming up with a trustworthy credit union, like Great Meadow, are simple, yet effective ways to ensure maximum protection. Even if it requires us to take additional steps and exercise a little more caution than we’re used to, preventing fraud is always easier than recovering from it.

Online Savings: These Aren’t Your Mother’s Coupons

Congratulations free shipping laptop image

When they opened their virtual doors in 1994, Amazon.com was merely an upstart online bookstore. Since then, the company’s growth has been nothing short of legendary. After launching its wildly popular Amazon Prime membership program in 2005, the company has cemented its reputation as a leader in the e-commerce marketplace. But for a company that generated almost $178 billion in revenue in 2017, it seems strange to consider that despite their eye-popping income, much of their success hinges on helping people save money, not just spend it. 

All the coupons. None of the clipping. 

While Amazon Prime allows members to enjoy exclusive offers and free two-day shipping, one of the company’s lesser-known features, Amazon Coupons, combines the benefits of old-school coupon clipping with the 24/7 convenience of online shopping. Now, before you smirk at those memories of your mom or dad dutifully leafing through the Sunday paper in an attempt to save a quarter on toothpaste or 50 cents on laundry detergent, it’s important to remember that today’s coupons are a big deal. How big?  According to a recent NCH study, consumers redeemed more than 2.06 billion coupons for more than $3.1 billion (that’s billion, with a “B”) in savings. 

While web-based purchases used to be primarily for hard-to-find specialty items, companies like Amazon make it easier than ever to buy everyday products online as well. Sure, you can find incredible savings on big-ticket items like electronics and home furnishings, but since you only purchase these items once every few years, the savings average out over time. Smaller discounts are available on grocery and cleaning supplies, but since you use these more often, the savings can really add up. Whether it’s a huge discount on a big-ticket item or steady savings on everyday items, keeping more of your hard-earned money is a good thing. Savings big is exciting. Saving small is smart.

Saving money is big business. 

With more than 44% of all U.S. e-commerce sales in 2017, Amazon has certainly positioned itself as the leader of the online retailer pack. But they’re not the only game in town. There is a staggering array of online coupons and discount codes available. A quick Google search will reveal page after page of potential saving options. In fact, the savings are so plentiful that companies like RetailMeNot and Coupons.com created their entire business models around compiling online promo codes and coupons in one easy-to-find location. With so many deals available, it’s always a good idea to search services like Amazon Coupons or Coupons.com before you shop online or head to the store. 

Save big. Save small. Save often. 

The Sunday newspaper may be a thing of the past and coupons may look different than they used to, but saving money remains an essential habit for building a strong financial foundation. And with the mind-boggling multitude of deals and promotions available through services like Amazon Coupons, RetailMeNot, Coupon.com, and others, it’s never been easier to save money on big purchases, small purchases, and every purchase in between.

 

 

 

 

Home Buying

Can You Really Buy the House You Want in a Tight Market? 

If you haven’t purchased a home in the last few years, you may be surprised to find that buying a house isn’t as easy as it used to be. Gone are the days of cautiously comparing your top 5 choices and engaging in a prolonged volley of offers and counter-offers. Demand is high, and supply is low. According to a recent Kiplinger report, existing-home sales were down 3.2% in January 2018. The national inventory of listed homes was down 9.5% overall, continuing a downward trend that spans almost 3 years. While these statistics may sound discouraging at first, a tight housing market can actually be a good thing if you’re a prospective homebuyer who knows how to play the game. 

Fortune favors the bold.

Whether you’re shopping for your first home or relocating to a new area, it’s important to know exactly what you want in a house. Bedrooms, bathrooms, lot size, neighborhoods, schools—these are the details that drive the search process. But once you find a house, you need to be ready to move. When asked about how quickly an interested buyer should be ready to make an offer, Justin Boyd, a realtor with Keller Williams responded, “In this market, buyers have to be prepared to make an offer immediately!” 

When it comes to making a winning offer, speed isn’t the only factor. The strength of your offer plays an important role as well. Drawing on his experience, Boyd shared a few additional tips that will help you submit a strong offer that stands out from the rest. If you’re serious about finding your next home, the following pointers could help you land your new home sooner rather than later: 

Pre-approval is key.

In a tight housing market, it’s not uncommon for a seller to receive multiple offers. Since anyone can make an offer and then look for financing, you can dramatically improve your chances of acceptance by being pre-approved by a mortgage lender. Highlighting the importance of being prepared, Boyd points out, “It is important to start with preapproval before looking so that when you walk into the house, you are ready to complete the offer and submit immediately.” When you’re pre-approved for financing, you give the seller confidence that your offer is solid.

Find out what the seller wants.

Every buyer has a list of what they’re looking for in a house, but few consider the fact that the seller has a list of their own. Some sellers are in a hurry, which makes a quick closing date important. Others have had previous contracts fall apart, so they’re in favor of shorter contingency periods. This is an area where it pays to have an experienced buyer’s agent on your side, one who can communicate with the seller’s agent to find out what really matters. Surprisingly, it’s not always money! Over the years, Boyd has seen the benefit of uncovering the one thing that’s most important to the seller. “Finding out what that one thing is could be the difference between getting the home or not. I have had sellers accept an offer for less money because it met more of their goals.” 

Go big to go home.

Everyone loves a bargain, but this may not be the time to hold out for one. While it may seem counterintuitive, Boyd suggests being prepared to offer full asking price—or more—on your first offer. “Sometimes you can make a great first impression and skip the multiple offers game with a great first offer! You don’t want to spend time fighting for a home you love only to find out that you didn’t win because the other offer beat you by $500.” Additionally, he suggests submitting an offer with as few add-ons as possible. Removing conditions like seller-paid home warranties and seller paying for buyer closing costs can be a game changer.

It’s time to get started.

If you’re already house hunting, you owe it to yourself to follow the advice listed above as quickly as possible. If you’re planning a home search in the future, preparing ahead of time is a great way to make the process as stress-free as possible. Either way, getting pre-approved is the first step, and Great Meadow FCU is the perfect place to start. A basic conversation about your housing goals and financial situation will help our loan specialists determine how much you can afford to pay for a house. Once those details are in place, they can help secure a pre-approval and position you to make the strongest offer possible when you find the home you want.

Click here to take the first step toward your new home.

 

Meal Delivery Services

Are Meal Delivery Services Really Worth the Money? 

With almost $5 billion in sales in 2017 alone, it’s safe to say meal delivery services are catching on. If you haven’t sampled the savory selections from companies like Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, or Home Chef already, you’ve probably seen more than a few of their sponsored ads pop up in your social media feeds. You may even know someone who uses the services for themselves. While these chef-designed, pre-packaged meals can be a phenomenal way to try new recipes, are they a solid choice for stretching your grocery budget? 

According to a recent Morning Consult poll, 59% of survey respondents listed high costs as their main concerns. But with projections suggesting the meal-delivery industry could become a multi-billion dollar market by 2022, it seems like plenty of consumers are still willing to jump on the meal delivery bandwagon. The widespread appeal appears to be based on a variety of factors other than monetary savings.

Costs can be measured in more than money.

Meal delivery services enjoy the highest popularity among millennials and individuals earning more than $100,000 a year, particularly those living in cities. These results point to the fact that busy people appear to value time savings and food quality as much as, if not more than, financial savings. 

Time Cost

There’s no denying that it takes time to plan your meals, create a grocery list, and actually shop for the food. By creating recipes and sending all the ingredients right to your door, companies like Blue Apron and Hello Fresh can save you the time you’d normally spend on planning and shopping. The busier you are, the more valuable this service becomes.

Quality of Ingredient

If saving money on your groceries is your main goal, it’s easy to reduce costs by buying low-quality food. Unfortunately, this strategy usually leaves you with an abundance of processed foods that lack nutrition and flavor. The most popular meal prep services rely on culinary chefs to design meals that combine high-quality ingredients to create a meal that’s healthy and delicious.

Financial Expense

With the most popular 2-person meal plans starting at $60 per week for 3 meal kits, the cost averages $10 per meal. While you can certainly spend less shopping for yourself, these options are considerably less expensive than the average meal at a restaurant. So, if your busy schedule leaves you dining out on a regular basis, meal delivery services may provide financial savings after all. 

What kind of savings do these services actually deliver?

There’s no denying the growing demand for meal delivery services like Purple Carrot, Green Chef, and Blue Apron. The fact that retail giants like Amazon and Walmart are scrambling to be part of the meal kit market only serves to confirm the rising popularity.   

As you try to decide whether one of these services is the right solution for you, the value depends on your expectations. If you’re looking to spend less than you would by planning your own meals and shopping for yourself, you’ll probably be disappointed. But if you view these services as a time-saving bridge between home-cooked meals and going out to eat at restaurants, the value is much easier to see.

 

Should You Be Using Your Home’s Equity? 

Should you be using your home's equity?

Should You Be Using Your Home’s Equity? 

Maybe you’ve heard of home equity loans and lines of credit, maybe you haven’t. There’s no need to hang your head if the terms are unfamiliar to you. It’s easy to get lost in all the terminology of the financial world. But when the discussion turns to home equity, it’s important to know more than just the lingo—especially if you’re a homeowner. Whether you just purchased your first house (congratulations!) or you’ve been in your home for decades, it pays to understand the power of your equity.

What is equity? (And why does your home have it?)

With details ranging from fixed rates and loan terms to property appreciation and market value, home equity can be a complex topic. For the sake of conversation, we’ll stick with the basic premise that your home’s equity is the difference between what your home is worth and how much you still owe on it. As your home’s value goes up over time and your monthly payments chip away at your mortgage balance, your equity increases.

It can be reassuring to know that if you ever choose to sell your home, that equity would come back to you as profit. The beauty of home equity loans and lines of credit is that they let you leverage that equity without requiring you to sell your home. If your house is currently worth $250,000 and you have a principal balance of $150,000, you’re sitting on $100,000 in equity. Those funds may be comforting in theory, but they can also be an effective tool for your financial future.

Does it make sense to use your home’s equity?

Since it represents debt you’ve already paid off, you may be wondering why you would ever tap into your home’s equity in the first place. That’s a fair consideration, and it’s always a good idea to discuss the decision with a trusted financial advisor before proceeding. However, there are a few key benefits that make home equity loans and HELOCs a solid financial solution:

· Because they’re considered secured debt, home equity loans traditionally offer lower interest rates than credit cards and other consumer loans.

· A fixed-rate loan lets you lock in a low rate for the duration of the loan, protecting you against market fluctuations.

· If you don’t need the money in one lump sum, a home equity line of credit provides as-needed access to the funds and only requires you to pay interest on the amount you borrow. 

After you secure a home equity loan or HELOC, you’re free to spend the money however you please, but some of the top uses for home equity funds include:

· Consolidating high-interest debt

· Medical bills

· Home improvements

· Emergency fund

· Education costs 

A word of caution 

It’s important to remember that using equity as a quick fix without considering the budgetary impact is a dangerous proposition. If you’re consolidating debt without changing poor spending habits or if you’re making home improvements that won’t add value to your house (e.g., swimming pool, landscaping, solar panels, etc.), you could be setting yourself up for a financial crisis. Since you’re using your home as collateral, it’s important to honestly assess your financial situation before rushing into a decision.

If you’re wondering whether a home equity loan or HELOC is right for you, contact your credit union today and schedule a consultation with one of our mortgage experts. If you’re not a credit union member yet, this is the perfect time to change that. Like finding the right home equity solution, joining a credit union offers benefits that can put you on the path to financial success.

The Pros and Cons of Becoming an Airbnb Host

Do you have what it takes to be an Airbnb host?

Do You Have What It Takes to Be an Airbnb Host?

If you’re a homeowner in 2018, there’s a good chance you’ve kicked around the idea of renting out your house through Airbnb. Whether you travel for work or suffer from a perpetual case of wanderlust, you’ve probably thought about opening your house to Airbnb guests while you’re on the road. Maybe you don’t travel, but you’ve considered renting out a spare room to earn some extra money. Either way, you share the same enterprising spirit that helped Airbnb’s founders stumble across a simple idea that changed the way people travel.

 Big business with humble beginnings

When a popular design conference led to a sellout of San Francisco hotels in the fall of 2007, Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia decided to rent out their apartment to Bay Area visitors. After a positive hosting experience, Chesky and Gebbia saw the potential for success on a larger scale. In August of 2008, the roommates teamed up with Nate Blecharczyk and launched Airbnb.

Since then, the company has brokered more than 260 million guest arrivals and amassed more than 4 million listings across 191 countries. While the global scale of Airbnb’s success is impressive, the genius of their business model lies in the fact that it offers average homeowners an opportunity to participate in the $1.6 trillion travel industry

Make your home work for you.

If you travel throughout the year or have a spare guest room, listing your house on Airbnb can be an excellent way to leverage your investment, generate additional income, and accelerate your progress towards your financial goals. But before you get blinded by the prospects of teaming up with a business that reported approximately $1 billion in Q3 revenue, it’s wise to consider what it takes to be a successful Airbnb host. 

Creating an inviting home atmosphere is important, but there’s more to it than that. As with any business venture, there are risks and rewards. Before listing your home with Airbnb, here are a few pros and cons to consider: 

Pros

· Extra income. We can all agree this one belongs in the “pro” category.

· Cultural engagement. Since Airbnb offers global exposure, you have the potential to connect with people from diverse cultures around the world.

· Improved maintenance. When you routinely welcome others into your home, there’s a greater tendency to keep your house in order even when you don’t have guests. 

Cons

· It’s a business. Operating a quality Airbnb property requires regular attention to business-related details like marketing, customer communication, insurance, and property maintenance.

· Digital business still involves real people. If you’re not a people person, extended interactions with customers may prove frustrating.

· Risk of loss or damage. While you’re careful with your things, guests may not always be as considerate. When you rent your home, you assume the risk of accidental property damage and unexpected repairs. (This explains the aforementioned insurance.) 

When it comes to business opportunities, it’s always a good idea to count the costs before launching your venture. However, if you’re a homeowner searching for an additional income stream to help you establish an emergency fund, pay off student loans, or set aside retirement savings, Airbnb may be the opportunity you’re looking for.

Debt and Dating

Debt and dating flowers

Debt and Dating: Can Poor Financial Habits Keep You in the Friend Zone?                                 

Dating is all about discovery. It can be fun to open up and share a few personal details with someone we’re attracted to. In turn, learning more about the other person is a great way to spark conversations that go beyond polite formalities. But while we’re more than happy to show our highlight reels, we all have those things we’d rather not talk about. You know, things like misspelled tattoos. Failed relationships. An affinity for Nickelback. High school, in general. But what about our financial habits? 

Is it possible that the way you manage money could have an impact on your relationship prospects? It’s a fair question, and a recent survey of 2,000 millennials uncovered some interesting opinions about debt and its impact on a person’s dating potential.

Does debt matter? Yes. And no.

In short, significant debt is frowned upon, but according to survey responses, it’s not viewed as negatively as being a workaholic. That’s the dating game in a nutshell, isn’t it? Don’t work too little and don’t work too much. Apparently, sensible moderation is attractive. So, what do you do if you’re interested in someone but your finances aren’t as solid as you’d like? 

Before you start fumbling for the right words to confess your mountain of debt, don’t get ahead of yourself. Less than 10% of people thought that this kind of information should be shared early on. More than 87% thought it best to wait until the relationship becomes exclusive or moves to the point of sharing household expenses. So, if you’ve just started seeing someone and have more debt than you’d care to admit—relax.  You’ve got time. 

To share or not to share, that is the question. 

Maybe all this talk about debt and dating has you wondering whether you’d be willing to share your most intimate financial details with a potential partner. The survey designers wondered the same and posed an interesting question: Would you rather tell your partner about your large debt or a pre-existing STD? Not surprisingly, the majority of respondents said they’d rather spill the beans about bloated borrowing. But it’s worth noting that more than 39% said they’d find it easier to divulge their most personal medical details. 

If almost 40% of people would rather reveal their personal medical history instead of discussing monetary struggles with a potential partner, it’s safe to say debt-related anxiety can impact us emotionally as well as financially. If there’s a takeaway from this survey, maybe it’s the fact that debt and relationships have something in common: Neither improves when ignored. 

Three tips for navigating the debt discussion 

1)  Understand your debt. Rather than lumping everything you owe into one negative category, it’s important to remember not all debt is bad. Home mortgages and student loans are traditionally viewed as desirable, while credit card debt and payday loans can be roadblocks to financial success. Knowing the details of your debt is essential to managing it effectively. (It can also help you sound smarter if, and when, the topic comes up on a date.)

2)  Eliminate bad debt ASAP. High-interest credit cards, auto loans, and title loans can throw you into a tailspin of making minimum payments that never pay down the principle balance. Whether you cut frivolous spending or pick up a side job, find ways to pay off the accounts with the highest rates first.

3)  Get a good wingman. When it comes to your finances, there’s no shame in admitting you need help. With debt management tools ranging from credit counseling to low-interest consolidation loans, credit unions can play a pivotal role in your financial success. And judging from thousands of survey responses, a solid financial foundation may improve more than just your credit rating.

 

Random Acts of Kindness Day

 Random Acts of Kindness Day 2018: Let’s Do This!

“No act of kindness—no matter how small—is ever wasted.”

-Aesop 

February may be the shortest of all the months, but with two separate days dedicated to helping others feel special, it certainly seems like the nicest. Just three days after Valentine’s Day celebrates the beauty of romantic love, Random Acts of Kindness Day comes along on February 17th and encourages charity.

Though the day may seem like an appeal to selflessness and altruism, helping others is usually a mutually beneficial experience. Kindness tends to reward the giver as well as the recipient.

Being kind is good for everybody.
We’ve all heard that being nice to others makes you feel good, but did you realize science backs up that claim? According to researchers at Dartmouth College, simply seeing an act of kindness causes our bodies to produce oxytocin, a hormone that lowers blood pressure and increases optimism. If just observing kindness can improve our heart health and social outlook, imagine what can happen when we get involved!

Okay, I’m in. What do I do?
There are endless ways to be kind, but sometimes the myriad of options makes it hard to decide what to do. While randomness offers a world of freedom, it also leaves room for overthinking. To help you avoid analysis paralysis, we’ve come up with a few ideas for you to consider on Random Acts of Kindness Day:

Look back and pay it forward.
If you’re hitting the drive-thru for coffee or breakfast on the way to work, paying for the order of the car behind you is a great way to start a chain reaction of selflessness and smiles.

Sweeten up the office.
When it comes to the workplace, stumbling across free food in the breakroom is one of life’s simple pleasures. You can boost everyone’s mood with nothing more than some bagels, donuts, cookies, or candy (or fruit, if resolutions are still unbroken).

Put your phone away.
Just for the day, commit to keeping your smartphone out of sight while you’re talking with someone else. The notifications will be there when you’re finished, and the people who got your undivided attention will feel valued.

Smile. Seriously, just smile.
A genuine smile can make you and everyone around you a little happier. But did you know a fake smile can do the same thing? That’s right, as far as your brain is concerned, a smile’s a smile. It releases endorphins either way. So even if you’re not feeling it at first, go ahead and grin. When you start getting return smiles from others, you won’t be faking it for long.

Let the kindness begin.
Now, before any of us try to excuse ourselves from participating with rationalizations like “We should be kind EVERY day, not just once a year,” let’s remember that every perpetual motion needs a little nudge to get it started. Random Acts of Kindness Day 2018 may just be the friendly push we need.