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Money Matters Blog

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

When the NCAA Tournament Becomes a Family Tradition

The NCAA Tournament is in full swing, with 16 teams still chasing after a trip to the Final Four in Atlanta and a National Championship trophy.

But at Natalie McLaughlin's household, the race is on for a different set of prizes, including a family trophy and a trip to the winner's favorite restaurant.

That's because for about 18 years, McLaughlin, Community Financial's Senior Education Partnership Coordinator, and her family have participated in their own NCAA Tournament pool as a way to bring each other closer together through their shared love of college hoops. A total of 17 people filled out brackets this year: 

“My husband designed the family pool as a way to engage our daughter when she was about eight,” McLaughlin explained. “She was frustrated we were watching as much basketball as we did. So, Jeff thought if she could pick the game winners, it might be more fun.”

The pool was exactly the spark she needed to begin enjoying the games with the rest of her family. McLaughlin's daughter is now 25 and an avid fan who follows the top teams, especially during March Madness.

There's no money involved in the pool, but the quest for family pride unites each member all the way from Florida, where McLaughlin's parents reside during the winter, to Lansing, where extended family members live. The family exchanges phone calls and emails, discussing each day's games as well as the race for the family trophy and bragging rights.

The big winner over the years has been McLaughlin's daughter, she said.

“She's won more years than any of the rest of us. When we first started doing it, she would pick by mascot or team colors, and she was very successful!”

Things have changed so far during the 2013 pool, however, with two new contenders on the rise, including another unexpected one, as McLaughlin said.

“So far the leader is my 26-year-old son-in-law, although my two-year-old niece is close behind, it's going very well for her and it's been very fun again this year.”

No doubt Natalie’s whole family will be tuned in this week to see if both Michigan teams can advance and who was skilled enough to pick the ultimate champion.

For more information about the NCAA Tournament and to view the current brackets, visit CBS’s page.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Sharing vacation pictures with technology

No family vacation is complete without tons and tons of pictures, and for many years, no trip was complete without one final side excursion: a visit to the local drug store to develop those pictures to share with the family and friends.

But times have changed, as anyone who’s visited a Facebook, Flickr or Instagram page lately knows. Sharing photos has gone from a time-consuming process to something instantaneous and yes, even cross-generational.

For Dave Heffner, manager of Community Financial’s Lending Department, technology has become a remarkably quick and easy way to share vacation photos with his kids, parents, and everyone in between. 

“The thing that always amazes me with technology is, you’re standing wherever you are, like the rim of the Grand Canyon (where he and his family visited in 2012), and you can take a picture and text it to 10 people right away, ‘Bam!’” he said.

“You can immediately share your experience with your friends and family.”

The ease of use and instantaneous features of smartphone and digital cameras sent shockwaves through the traditional film industry. The iconic Kodak film company filed for bankruptcy over a year ago and discontinued several once-popular film products due to a massive decrease in usage.

Everyone adapts to the newest technology at a different pace, but even the older generation is starting to make some progress, at least in the case of Heffner’s family.  Heffner usually posts vacation photos to a website or sends them to family members via text, but he has a different process for his parents.

“My parents are in their 70s and they’re not overly tech savvy, so instead of having them go to a website we’ll burn them a CD of our vacation  pictures and send that to them. Then they can just pop it in a computer when they go home and say, ‘Wow, look at those.’”

For the Gen Y and X crowd especially, Facebook is one of the most popular ways to share photos, with as many as 964 pictures uploaded to the site every second according to WikiAnswers estimates. Facebook also bought the growing photo site Instagram for about $1 billion in cash and stock options last year, another extremely popular way to share photos.

Smartphone photography has exploded as well, growing from 17% of all photos and videos taken two years ago to 27% according to a December 2011 study by the NPD Group, a number that has likely only grown tremendously since then. Heffner and his family are among those contributing to digital and smartphone photography revolution, especially considering the results of their last family vacation.

“I bet we had 600 or 700 pictures easy, 400 on my iPhone and 300 on my camera, with a bunch of the kids’ phone too,” he said.

When asked what he likes most about the technology, Heffner didn’t hesitate.
“The immediacy, you can share pictures right away, share the experience right away. It’s pretty phenomenal, I’m 48 years old and 20 years ago we had a completely different way of doing things.”

Sources include:

Photo of Nathan and Delaney Heffner at Zion National Park. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Baseball in Lakeland: The unofficial start of spring

By Matthew J. Martinez

One of the great things about living in Michigan is the wonderful weather we get in all of the different seasons. Summer allows you to soak up the warmth at one of our many festivals or enjoy one of our breathtaking bodies of water.  Autumn calls for scenic drives all over this great state to enjoy the amazing color the foliage provides with crisp, thick evening air.  Winter brings holidays and skiing, snowboarding and snowmobiles.  Spring brings new life with flowers and leaves on trees along with warm air and long walks.

We Michiganders love our winter, at least at first.  The first fresh snowfall blanketing the earth a bright white elicits memories of building snowmen and having snowball fights while getting an extra day off school.  The snow and cold weather, in the beginning, provide for many specific activities our families can enjoy together and provoke memories that will last a lifetime.

Then, February happens. February is the shortest month by days, but always feels like the longest month of the year.  As February progresses and the sky remains gray, more and more people get the winter blues and start to crave warmer weather.  We start searching for something to hope for.    Usually 28 days, February can feel everlasting.   Just when it feels like winter will never end, spring training starts.

There are many ways to escape the doldrums of winter.  Daydreaming of Hawaiian settings and swimming pools like Clark Griswold is one way.  Others, like myself, retreat to Florida for the entire winter to escape it altogether.  For many of us in this area, we cling to spring training.  We see our beloved heroes swimming through the heat of the overflowing Florida sun. 

We watch as Miggy and Verlander make practical jokes in T-shirts, while we are bundling up with more layers than the little kid in “A Christmas Story” just to bring the garbage cans to the backyard on trash day.   We lose ourselves in storylines and how the rotation will shake out.  We see the first glimpses of stars of tomorrow and the new veterans acquired in the off-season.  Spring training allows us to forget about the fact that ice and snow is built up around our entire lives.  For many of us, it is the exact hope we search for.  It forces us to realize that there is green grass hidden somewhere under all of that snow.  We can see a light at the end of the tunnel of winter, illuminated by the Florida sun shining on our ball team through our television.

Spring training leads to opening day, the unofficial start of spring for baseball fans around the country, but especially here.  It is the beginning of a long baseball season that spreads through three of our four of nature’s beautiful seasons.  The goal of our beloved Tigers is to win a World Series.  We have faith in our coaches and general manager to put a winning team on the field and provide an experience at the ballpark that is second to none.  They build loyalty with the fan base.

We, here at Community Financial, are not all that different.  We are a team put together by our leadership to provide service you won’t find anywhere else.  We strive to hit a home run every time a member calls or walks into one of our branches.  We set out to gain the same loyalty the Tigers enjoy from the people of this great state.  So, as we look forward to spring together, stop into one of our branches, grab a coffee and let our service warm you up!        

Matthew J. Martinez is an underwriter at Community Financial.