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Sunday, September 29, 2013

Exercise for free

Even though many will think exercising as a non-essential, it is not; exercise is preventive in physical health to keep you well and improve your immune system. It lets you dispel stress and therefore improves your mental health.  It gives you a physical break from studying and helps you concentrate.  The adrenaline and other good-feeling hormones release elevates your mood and wards off depression (which is more common than one would like to admit in university).  Exercise is part of healthy living and will help you finish your degree faster with higher grades, and make you feel better so that you can keep on living frugally.  Exercise is therefore a tool to saving money.
However, one must figure out how to exercise for free or at least very cheaply.  The fancy membership to the gym are not in most students’ budget, but luckily, college and university are well equipped with cheap or free facilities for students.  So check out which facilities your tuition and student fees entitle you to use, and use them; they can include an indoor pool, a weight room, racquetball and squash courts, etc..  However, if you are not going to use them because they are not the type of sports you enjoy, then opt-out of the fees so you can get reimburse for something you will not use.

There are lots of simple exercises you can do inside your room – push ups, situps, planches, and lunges for muscle building (you can add small weight to increase resistance); splits and other stretches to increase flexibility; and an aerobic routine from Youtube for cardio.  These may not be exactly motivating, but they work.  You can download ideas and charts from the internet for staying motived.
Going outside (as long as the weather permits) to walk, run, and bicycle lets you enjoy the fresh air and some nature scenery.  As well, these activities are cheap (save for basic equipment) and they do not need you to go somewhere first to exercise – the minute you are outside, you can start exercising. You can also use them as forms of transportation, combining exercise time with commuting time.  

If you thrive better in a group environment, there are many sports-based clubs that are cheap or free to join at most college and university campuses: from ballet to ultimate Frisbee, from curling to water polo, these are all sports available to students at a discounted price.  Most clubs also have a couple of free classes for those who want to try (typically in September) before they sign up.
Remember, investing a small amount of money in your health and fitness will keep your medical budget (medicine, OT, PT) to a minimum; as well, remember that getting sick keeps you away from classes and studying, which can lead to lower grades, loss of scholarship, delayed graduation, etc.  So keep fit and healthy!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Cheap marketing

As you are moving into university life, you may find that there are a few things you would like to have with you.  If your parents cannot bring it to you on a soon-to-come visit, you may be looking somewhere else to find it, i.e., a store.  But wait!  do you need new? If it came from your parents’ home, it may not be new.  So why not see if someone in the neighbourhood has one.

Although second-hand stores used to be the primary source of used (and cheap) items, the world is now digital and much selling and buying is done on the internet.  So yes, Goodwill and Salvation Army are still prime resources all students should know well, using the internet helps tremendously too.
Where I live, Kijiji is much more active than Craigslist.  What is Kijiji? a free ad website owned by eBay.  You can post ads there for free, wanted, selling, trading, giving away ads.  As well, you may be able to find a place to live from an ad on Kijiji, or a buyer for your old textbooks.  Kijiji works by physical proximity so every large Canadian city has a page where to find things.  All transactions are done in person, in cash (unless you are signing a lease, etc.).  This also means that you can ask a person to come to you if you need to buy something but do not have transportation to go get it (although most sellers are not keen to do this, some will).  You can also advertise the stuff you need to get rid of when you move or graduate, including textbooks (this is also a great place to find used textbooks). Craigslist is essentially the same.  Having your own account makes things much easier and is free. I once found a parking space close to campus via Kijiji.

Freecycle is even better.  Freecycle is a set of Yahoo groups (so you need to request membership in your university city) and you cannot browse the ads without being a member.  However, the one rule about Freecycle is that everything listed must be FREE!  So members offer free items and others request items for free – it’s like a large generous community.  I belong to my local Freecycle group and I have given many of my kitchen ‘extras’ such as pots and pans, some furniture, some clothing, and even some food I bought and did not like (such as herbal tea).  Joining is free and you may even meet a few like-minded students in the group!
Facebook is another great resource – you can announce to all your Facebook friends what you need for university; as well, you can go onto your university Facebook page to search for textbooks and other supplies you need.  You can also advertise for housemates for the next year, find a frugal place to stay, etc.

Finally, not all students are as techno-savvy as you are; paper posters are still an effective way to advertise for used books or when you have an available room to fill – look at the posting area on campus, there are often more than one!
When you need something or someone, use ALL your marketing resources.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Eight Ways to Eat Cheap

After tuition and rent, food is most likely to be your largest expense over the school year.  How can you enjoy your food and still not blow your entire food budget? Mac and cheese from a box can only satisfy you for a bit.  Here are some strategies that are sure to keep your tummy full, your body healthy and your wallet happy.

1. Stretch your proteins
Protein is the most expensive food, per unit volume and weight.  It is also very important to eat enough protein throughout the day, or you will not be in your best health.

A ham and cheese omelet for breakfast may see like a great breakfast – however, that’s all protein and it’s going to set you back a few dollars.  Saving the cheese for lunch (tomato and cheese sandwich?) and the ham for dinner (ham with peas and mashed potatoes) will stretch your protein budget and make you feel satisfied; have a spinach and onion omelet for breakfast.

2. Veggie proteins are cheaper than meat.
Eggs, dairy products, tofu, beans, lentils and nuts (including peanut butter) are great and frugal ways to get protein into your diet.  Eggs are about $2.50 a dozen, which means they are about 21 cents each (they last 3 weeks in the fridge).  Milk is low fat, contains proteins AND calcium.  A yogurt is a great snack and is pretty portable, as well as cheese (cream cheese has almost no protein or calcium though).  Canned beans can be reheated (once drained) with a bit of salt, pepper, and some salsa for a great wrap filling.  Raw lentils can be added to spaghetti sauce because they cook in about 20 minutes; they add proteins and ‘bulk’ to your sauce.  Nuts and peanuts as well as nut butters are pure protein – however, with many people allergic to them, they are best kept as a food for home and not for class.  Try a few meatless meals each week.

3. Eat raw
Eating raw vegetables and fruit is a fantastic habit to get into in university.  An apple, an orange or carrot sticks are some of the healthiest snacks you can have, and some of the cheapest.  They are full of different vitamins and fibres, are frugal, and easy to grab on our way to class or the library.  They also travel well in a backpack and they require close to no preparation. Add ranch salad dressing to your veg’s for a ‘fancier’ snack.

4. Eat in season
My favorite fruit is raspberries and my favorite fruit is avocado.  Living in Canada, raspberries are affordable for about 2 months of the year!  So I use them as a treat, but not as part of my every day diet because of their prices.  However bananas and apples are always a bargain, and for most of winter, so are oranges and grapefruit.  In the summer, I eat loads of fresh tomatoes and cucumbers, but in winter, I rely on frozen peas and corn, carrots and sweet potatoes.  I can’t afford to eat all my favorite food year round, so I gorge on my favorite while in season and cope the rest of the year. 

5. Store some backup food
You don’t want to have to go out because you arrive home at 7pm, starve, and have nothing to make dinner with.  Make sure you always have some basic food that satisfies you at home.  For some it can be cereal and milk; for others, banana and peanut butter.  It doesn’t matter what it is as long as you have it as a ‘backup’ food in your fridge or cupboard.  This backup food may act as dinner some days, or as a snack to give you enough time to decide what to cook some other days.

6. Find the perfect sauce and salad dressing for you
By having a few hot sauces for cooking foods, and a couple of favorite salad dressings on hand, you can make any veg and meat into a great stir fry and leftover cooked meats and crudités into a great salad.  I always have soy sauce, mayonnaise and Dijon mustard in the fridge for my meats and cooked greens, and Thousand Island, Ranch, and Catalina salad dressings for my salads.  I can therefore throw together fast salads from all my leftovers in the fridge, add salad dressing and voilà: dinner.

7. Buy in bulk
We all know that buying larger sizes, in most cases, saves you money per serving.  When shopping for one though, there’s a problem: will you get through the food before it goes bad?  One solution to this is to buy with a friend: you buy a bag of apples and split it; you buy toilet paper for your entire shared house and split the cost; you buy for a friend and you one week, and he does the same the following week.

8. Don’t go too cheap
When I was a poor and frugal graduate students, I decided to make all my food from scratch – my husband and I already had a rule about desserts (to limit spending and the ingestion of empty calories) so I decided to push this further: buy dried beans, not canned; eat more root vegetables (more turnip, less tomatoes), etc. The problem was, none of these foods were foods I really liked – so after a couple of weeks, I could not stand my own food and ended up going out for a few meals in a row.  Not the great savings I had planned!    So I went back to eating the foods I liked, but made these foods cheaper – and I enjoyed them as well!

Eat and be merry!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Gourmet coffee shop quality hot chocolate

I like coffee, and I like tea; but I LOVE a good quality hot chocolate.  Even on hot summer days, if I’m craving chocolate, I’ll have a hot chocolate to curb my craving (because it takes a long time to sip, I can keep my weight in check by having a hot chocolate instead of a huge pile of chocolate).  My favorite is the one in a small coffee shop in Los Angeles that I discovered because of a dear friend during a business trip.  My second best, and one in Canada, is the one at Starbucks.  However, both options (Los Angeles and Starbucks) are expensive.  As well, neither of them is convenient when I want my hot chocolate, which is after dinner, at home; if I start driving to Starbucks every time I want hot chocolate, I’ll spend money on gas, on a pastry, and I’ll be wasting my time.
So obviously I needed to find a home recipe for decadent hot chocolate.  So by talking to people at Starbucks and at the Los Angeles shop, and by trying many recipes at home, this is what I came up with.

For one mug of hot chocolate:
2 Tbsp of commercial hot chocolate instant powder (I like the President’s Choice light version)

¼ tsp of ground cinnamon
1 ‘squirt’ of coffee syrup (we buy the Nescafé Ice Java syrup – needs to be in the fridge after opening)

about 1/8 cup milk
boiling water.

Plug in the kettle for boiling water.  In the bottom of your mug, put the hot chocolate powder and the cinnamon.  Add the coffee syrup and the milk.  At this point, before you add the boiling water, mix well until the dry ingredients get mixed in the milk.  Add boiling water to fill the cup. Mix again, and drink.  It’s not quite as hot as if you had made it with boiling water alone (since the coffee syrup and the milk are cold), so you can start drinking faster.  This is my favorite home recipe.  I use the light hot chocolate to cut down on the calories and because I like its taste. 
Hot chocolate may not be your favorite drink – but we often have a favorite, inexpensive ‘thing’ that messes up our budget, something we often can’t resist.  Try to avoid seeing it in the store, and try to find a good replacement at home – it can be a food, a drink, a video game, a hand lotion.  Be creative!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Make poor friends

This may be your first week at college or university; chances are, you don’t know a lot of people at your new school, or if you live at home, you are bound to meet new people as well.  Regardless, you will no doubt make new friends during your post-secondary career.  Can these friends help you stay on budget? You bet!

Making friends with the ‘rich and famous’ from your education institution may seem like fun at first; that is, until you are invited to go along on a shopping spree and you feel embarrassed not being able to buy anything, or worse, until you buy something extravagant and WAY over your budget.
However, friends who are on tight budget will keep you on budget better.  These can be students who are financially not well-off, as well as students whose parents are not contributing to their studies for a number of reasons (they do not approve of the choice of studies, etc.), students who had to travel far from home to study in their field, and frugal-minded students who simply do not wish to spend more money than needed.  There are also students whose habits are simply frugal, without them trying to be frugal; for example, a student who is very environmentally aware and therefore does not want to buy new items and would rather reuse.

What will a frugal friend do for you? he will show you cheap evening entertainment like an evening of watching a favorite TV show with friends and with a shared snack.  He will enjoy simple pleasures and show you to do the same.  He will give you an ideal to try to imitate in your daily spending.  He will trade secret recipes for lunch and where to get coupons for the rare evening out.  He will help you find the free food on campus (lectures, club events, etc.).  He may suggest sharing some items so you can avoid shopping. He will help you find a cheap ride to get home for holidays.  He will show you his favorite thrift shop and teach you how to replace a button on your shirt. He will tell you his latest deal or what is on sale at the grocery store.
What will a frugal friend not do? She will not ask you to go shopping as a form of entertainment.  She will not suggest expensive shows or events to attend. She will not make you envious of tropical destination during the winter break or reading week because she will either go home to enjoy a break or work to replenish funds.  She will not suggest getting a new dress for an event but lend you hers.  She will not suggest going out to eat often.  She will not look surprised or shocked when you say that your funds are low and that you need to watch your budget – she’s in the same boat.   

Having frugal friends help you staying on budget, just like having active friends help you stay in shape and having heavy drinking friends encourage you to drink more.  Basically, it will be a lot easier to stay on budget if your environment is frugal.  And how do you find frugal friends without asking everyone their bank balance? a few tips.
Frugal students are more likely to share rooms in residence (often shy students ask to be in a double room to force themselves to make friends; rooms of 3 or more are more likely to indicate frugality); frugal students are more likely to NOT wear brand name clothes; frugal students will go to the used bookstore before going to the new textbook section; and many frugal students live at home while at college and university.  It is no harder to start a conversation with a student who shows one of these clues than with one who shows up in a Porsche!

Enjoy your first few days of partying and classes.