Helping North Dakota Elementary Students, One Puzzle at a Time

Marketing, First International Bank & Trust 

We first came across the Connected Puzzles project in an application for our Live First Community Grant promotion on Facebook. While it didn’t win a grant, the project and its mission made a lasting impression.

ConnectedPuzzle Puzzles aims to promote geographic literacy through gifting 400+ puzzle maps to every fourth grade elementary classroom in the state. There are 53 pieces to this puzzle, one for each county of North Dakota.  Each puzzle piece is stamped with a QR code, which can be scanned by a tablet or smartphone and leads students to an online resource with more information about that county.

Our strong North Dakota roots and passion for technology made us a perfect match for this project. We loved that the mission of Connected Puzzles is to teach children about the geographic literacy of North Dakota with a fun and innovative experience.

The Connected Puzzles group was ready to hit the road to spread awareness for the project and was in need of a place to interact with the community. We were happy to host the group in our branches across Western North Dakota. On the two-day tour, we covered a lot of ground making stops in Killdeer, Watford City, Williston, Minot, Harvey and Fessenden.

puzzles #2

The support for Connected Puzzles from the communities we visited was amazing! We had a great time showing people the puzzles and even had some friendly competition going on. It’s safe to say our employees are not only experts in banking, but also in North Dakota geography.

Be sure to check out the video of our journey.

Connected Puzzles Shot

We want to thank Connected Puzzles for letting us be a part of their journey and hope that if you have moment, you too will check out how they are benefiting families and communities across North Dakota.

To learn more about Connected Puzzles visit To donate to the cause, click here!

First International Bank& Trust, Member FDIC

Have a merry little (affordable) Christmas

By: Chelsea Marcyes, Fraud Specialist, Staples, MN, First International Bank & Trust, Member FDIC

Notice that summer holidays are more relaxed? We focus on making great memories—in the back yard, on the water, at the park, with great food and simple fun like sparklers. Even travel seems less stressful.
Why can’t Christmas be more like that?
It can, with a little planning that starts now.
Like you, every holiday season, my husband and I balance the demands of gifts, travel and party hosting. Each year, those costs increase—both in terms of time and finances. Yet the last few years, planning has made our winter holidays more enjoyable.

Family at Christmas

Here are four tips to help make Christmas and winter holidays less stressful:

1.  Set Your Budget
Early on, about six months before the holiday season, we look at our discretionary income. Discretionary income is the amount of money that a household has left for spending, investing or saving after taxes and needs (such as food, shelter and clothing) have been paid. From this, we determine how much we can feasibly spend on gifts, travel and hosting in November and December.

2.  Make a List
Create a shopping plan and be a savvy consumer. This is a way to maximize your spending power and overall spend less. For instance, when hosting holiday meals, take a headcount of actual attending guests. This way you don’t overbuy and waste money on uneaten food.

3.  Get Creative
Consider making homemade gifts instead of buying. This is especially helpful for tackling the ever-growing list of people on your Christmas gift list. My kids and I love to make brownie recipe jars for their teachers. My neighbors always get a batch of my famous cookies tucked in a Christmas tin from the dollar store. This year, I found a festive ‘tea bag’ wreath I want to create for my girlfriends.

Tea Wreath

(Photo credit:

4.  Start Saving Now
Saving early (now!) prevents scrambling to find funds when you realize there are only two months left until Christmas. When I started at the bank, I opened up a ‘Christmas Club Savings Account.’ It’s an account from First International Bank & Trust that helps you save for the holiday season.

Here are the nitty-gritty details: There is no minimum deposit required to open the account. You can make as many deposits as you like for as much or as little as you wish. Here’s the catch (and the part that helps you save), withdrawals are not allowed until maturity, which is November 15 of each year so the term can vary depending on when you open the account. At maturity, the balance in your account must be transferred to another account within First International Bank & Trust. Check out the full details and disclosures here.

It’s an easy way to save for that perfect Christmas! Want to make it even easier? Set up automatic transfers from your paycheck or checking account so that it saves money without you having to remember. Open one at your local branch or visit us online to open a ‘Christmas Club Savings Account.’

With an action plan in mind for taking on the holiday season, you’ll have more time to worry less, live first and spend time making great winter holiday memories, too. Sparklers optional!

Chelsea M.Chelsea is a Fraud Specialist at our Staples location. She enjoys working with the community to educate them about fraud prevention and education. Her family includes her husband Lonnie, their two children Jackson (7) and Bentley (3), two dogs Carly and Hailey, and two horses Elsa and Woody. In the summer, they enjoy gardening, canning and riding horse. As a family, they love to watch football games … especially when the Broncos are playing!

Apply for our $3,000 Live First Community Grant!

Every day we work to help our customers Live First. We strive to provide convenient services that meet all of your banking needs so that you have more time to focus on the things that matter, like family and community.

We value the communities in which we live and work and know you do too! That’s why we’re inviting you to apply for our Live First Community Grant, which awards $3,000 to a project or cause that makes a difference in your community!

Click here to apply for the Live First Community Grant!

Many of our customers and community members are already actively involved with great causes that could qualify for the Live First Community Grant:

Community GivingHow Winners are Chosen
Our team at First International Bank & Trust will choose one project that we feel makes the biggest impact on their community. Even if your project isn’t awarded the $3,000 grant, you still have another chance to win. We’re awarding three runner-up grants for $500 each to the projects that get the most votes from our Facebook fans!

How to Apply
Here’s what you’ll need to apply: An idea for a project or event! How would you use a $3,000 grant to benefit your community? You’ll need to tell us:

  • A name for your project. This is the part people will see when they vote, so make sure it’s catchy and descriptive.
  • How the project will help your community. Be specific!
  • Who will benefit.
  • Organizations that would be part of your project (for example, a 4H chapter, a high school club or your local animal shelter).
  • Budget breakdown of how you would use the $3,000 (and how you would pay for any costs beyond $3,000).
  • The date(s) and location of where your project would take place.
  • A photo that represents your project. This can be anything that captures the spirit of your idea. People will see the photo when they go to vote.

Group Community Giving

Once you’re ready to apply, visit our Facebook page. You can also view the official rules and who’s eligible.

Then, share the entry on your Facebook page so you can ask your friends to vote for you! Just click the “Share” button on your entry.

Share Entry

Come back to the page and share your entry any time you want to remind your friends to vote. Just click View entries, find your own entry, and then “Share.”

Complete Form

Write a quick note telling your friends to vote, and click share!


Don’t forget to spread the word in other ways, too. You can put up posters, send emails and ask your friends to do the same!

Good Luck!
Best of luck to all applicants – we can’t wait to see your ideas! Applications and voting close at 12:00 p.m. CST on July 31, 2014 – so get started now!

First International Bank & Trust, Member FDIC, EHL

Our money saving expert (and mom of four) shares how to get your kids saving

By: Julie Standlee, Deposit Operations Officer, Assistant Vice President, Arizona, First International Bank & Trust

It’s a question we hear so often in all our locations: How to get kids saving money now? As a deposits officer and a parent, here are some guidelines that have helped our customers—and our own family of four kids, two boys and two girls, ages 2 – 10, including one who would prefer to spend every nickel, and one who would proudly save every penny.

Start early
Growing up, my mom was a bank teller, and she took care of the billing for my dad’s business. He’d started a small business after he served in the military. From a very young age, my mom took my sister and me along for weekly trips to the bank. My parents also helped us set up our own savings accounts.

We encourage parents to bring their kids in to the bank. Meet with a banker to open their accounts. Teach them how to fill out deposit slips. (You would be amazed at the young adults we see who have no idea how to do this!)

Standlee Kids

Julie and her husband have four kids, who they are helping learn to save money.

Get in the Kid’s Club
Open a savings account for each of your children, such as what we call a Kid’s Club Account. It has no minimum balance, no fees and the individual can keep it open until they reach age 24. That’s a great time for us to meet with young adults, too, since they’ve likely started a career and all that includes—and they are getting lots of credit card applications in the mail. We like to guide them through this new level of financial responsibilities and opportunities.

Rewards now—and later
Teach kids to save by saving. I know that sounds simple, but it also is simple. For example, when our kids get money (birthday gifts, allowance, money for chores), they deposit 75 percent into their savings accounts; they keep 25 percent.

Cash in
Kids are literal. We encourage parents to bring checks and other money in to the bank. Fill out a deposit slip, have the teller cash out the entire amount and have the kids count out the actual bills to deposit some and pocket some. This gets them accustomed to interacting with bankers—and real cash. We don’t use ATMs or online systems; once they know the basic principles, they will understand what is happening via technology as they use those tools to manage their finances later in life.

Growing up green
As kids’ financial needs change, keep them involved in the decisions. We don’t recommend debit cards until age 16. If kids do need a larger amount of money, such as for a school trip, we recommend gift cards like our Visa gift cards. They are re-loadable, and safer than carrying cash or good old traveler’s checks.

Beyond savings
Besides these guidelines, we encourage parents to involve kids in other family financial matters, as age appropriate. For instance, when they need to do a fundraiser for school, sports or activities, have them help keep track of the details. Show them the costs involved in participating in sports and activities so they understand the value of money.

Above all, teach kids to enjoy the rewards of money now—and the rewards of saving. Enjoy the moment, yet plan and look ahead, too. That seems like a good parenting principle for other issues, as well!

All our bankers are well-versed in Kid’s Club Accounts and other options for youngsters—and we love seeing your kids in the bank. Bring them in for a visit, a treat and a lesson on filling out a deposit slip!.

Julie StandleeJulie grew up in Burbank, Calif., and started her career at Warner Brothers there. Julie relocated to Arizona 15 years ago, and after time at a few other companies, she wanted to get back to working for a community bank and joined First International Bank & Trust, where she has now been for more than six years. Julie and her husband, who also works in financial services, cheer on their four kids in various sports and activities, while teaching them how to save money.

Singing for your supper and other Season to Share traditions

By: Gretchen Stenehjem, Marketing Manager, First International Bank & Trust, Member FDIC

What’s your favorite holiday tradition? Like you, our family has many, and in this season of sharing, we invite you to share yours. Comment here, or on our Facebook page.

Meanwhile, here are a few Stenehjem family holiday traditions:

On the first day of Christmas…
My mother gave me two sets of “12 Days of Christmas” glasses. There is one day or verse of the song depicted on each glass. So on Christmas Day, we sing the entire song: You sing what is on your glass! We have many friends who are like family, and they spend Christmas with us—including singing their verses. Also, as our kids have grown up and we’ve added family members, I hear there has been a bit of panic on which verse a new spouse may get. We all have fun memories of that tradition.

Stenehjem family

Cookies, of course
The neighbors tell me they love the homemade sugar cookies I bake, decorate and deliver to them. If you’d like to try it, here’s the recipe:

Sugar cookies

1 c. butter

1 c. white sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla

3 c flour

½ tsp baking powder

½ tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Cream together butter, white sugar, eggs and vanilla.  Add flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Mix together.  Dough will be stiff.  Roll out the dough on the countertop or board.  Use Christmas or holiday cookie cutters to cut the dough into shapes.  Bake for 8 minutes on parchment paper.


2 c. powdered sugar

1 tsp vanilla

Whipping cream (I never measure)

Mix all ingredients together until the frosting is stiff and easy to spread on the cookies.

Oh, Christmas tree
When our four kids were younger, we all slept under our Christmas tree: sleeping bags all over the living room floor. A lit, decorated tree looks so magical to kids, and we all have fond memories of those nights.

Luke and lutefisk
Christmas Eve always includes a traditional Norwegian dinner, with oyster stew, lefse, meatballs, scalloped corn and of course lutefisk. I’m in charge of that! Before we serve dinner, the head of the family reads Luke’s version of the Christmas Story from the family bible. Steve does that now, just as his father did before him.

Winter picnics in the Park
Speaking of Steve, he grew up with the tradition of a family picnic in the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park sometime in December. We’ve tried to continue that. We put a tarp over the shelter, build a roaring fire in the shelter fireplace and, as Steve’s dad used to say, “enjoy some libations.” That keeps the -20 degree temperatures bearable! Of course we bring most foods already prepared, but we do try to grill steaks on the grill. The Park is a very different place in winter, and it’s wonderful to enjoy the beautiful scenery and wildlife.

This year, we leave right after Christmas to celebrate a wedding in Arizona. But like you, I’m hoping we can fit in most of our most treasured holiday traditions. Please, share yours!

How to start and build college savings plans

By: Kristi Krebs, Deposit Operations Manager/Officer, Fargo branches
First International Bank & Trust, Member FDIC

Whether you’re bringing your newborn home from the hospital or sending your teenager to high school, it’s never too late to start and build college savings plans for your kids. Very few young people will receive full college scholarships (even those who do have additional school-related expenses), so help your star athletes and arts protégés, but also be realistic and start college savings plans.

Saving for college is like parenting. It can seem overwhelming, yet three guiding principles and reliable plans can help.

Consistency and Discipline

When you start a college savings plan, keep contributing funds, even a little at a time. Just as consistent rules help in raising kids, steady additions to any bank account can really add up to success. Even as the expenses of your family increase, use discipline to keep the college savings plans growing.


Most college savings plans don’t offer high interest rates, but they also don’t offer high risks. Start contributing early, and your patience will be rewarded as you see the balance grow, slowly but surely.


Have a plan, but be open to new options. This serves parents well every step of the way, and it’s a good guide for college savings plans, too. One of our bankers would be happy to help you look for the best options to start, continue and expand accounts that will help your future college students. Meanwhile, here are a few tips:

When to start

Again, as with other parenting principles, start early! A child with a social security number can have a savings account.

How to start

Our most popular college savings plans account is our Higher Learning Fund, which is basically a certificate of deposit (CD) designed especially for the student(s) in your family. It is an excellent way to save for college or other higher learning expenses.

You can start a higher learning fund account at any time, and can contribute any amount at any time. Many people use direct deposit and some even mention it to grandparents, godparents and others who are looking to help a youngster with his or her college expenses. A deposit from grandma on each birthday will really add up.

This account matures in July after the young person turns age 18. That’s typically right after he or she graduates from high school, so it’s ideal timing to use the funds—in whole or in part—for higher learning expenses. Since this account runs under the child’s social security number, there can also be some tax advantages – although you should always discuss your tax planning with a tax professional.

How else to start

Our Trust and Wealth Management experts can also help you start, grow and manage accounts such as an Educational ROTH or IRA to save and invest for your kids’ higher learning.


Good tools

At any stage, detailed information and a student loan calculator can give you personalized direction on college savings plans, based on how much time you have to save, what you can contribute, and what type of higher learning you anticipate for your future students.

We recommend this Bank of North Dakota college planning center and student loan calculator.

Kristi KrebsKristi grew up in the Fargo area and earned her degrees in business administration and marketing from Minnesota State University Moorhead.  She and her husband, a native of New England, N.D., are building a home in West Fargo, so they plan to be active members of the community for some time to come.


Come see our new Phoenix bank home

By: Larry J. Dewhirst, Arizona Regional President
First International Bank & Trust, Member FDIC

Our combination of Midwestern values and southwestern style has helped us serve customers well from our three Arizona bank offices. Now, we have a new Phoenix bank location on Camelback Road. We provide all our services from this Phoenix location, from our expertise in Trust and Wealth Management to 24-hour ATMs. Our new location is near the headquarters of several major U.S. companies, so we’re easily accessible to their employees. Interestingly, one of our other neighbors is the Arizona office of U.S. Senator John McCain.


Midwestern roots, southwestern style

This new location reflects our bank’s roots—and future. Here’s what I mean: I grew up in Grassy Butte, N.D., and worked in our Watford City bank location for many years. Those same values are the foundation of our Arizona bank services. Yet we’ve incorporated the needs of our Arizona customers to our locations here. We have ample space for our customers to meet with our bankers about their financial plans, officers with particular expertise in Trust and Wealth Management, Special Needs Trusts (read the recent blog by Bridget about this unique type of trust account), Investments and Insurance. Since summer in Arizona is like winter in North Dakota, where you don’t want to be outside too long, we have convenient parking and easily accessible ATMs.

Celebrate with us

Here are the details of our Grand Opening:

July 25
Open house: 11 a.m.- 2 p.m.
2231 East Camelback Road

We’ll serve picnic-style lunch and refreshments, and we’ll have free gifts and tours available. You can also enter to win door prizes and an iPad mini!

Please join us if you can. Or, stop in when you’re in the Camelback area. We’re excited to show you our new space, and especially eager to serve you.

Larry has been in financial services since 1977, when he started his career with Farm Credit Services. He’s helped First International Bank & Trust customers, specially with their loan needs, since 1987. He and his wife of 43 years, Pat, have three adult married children and four grandchildren, who are spread out in Minnesota, Texas and Colorado. Away from the bank, Larry enjoys hiking, exploring old mines, fast cars–and cheering on those grandkids in their sports and other action.