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Monday, December 23, 2013

Being Thankful

It can be easy to feel resentful during a study semester, especially if you are on a limited budget; other students have more money, a better apartment, go out most nights, etc.  It’s often easy to want to forget the whole ‘frugal’ idea and just blow money and have fun.

Now that the semester is over and that you are surrounded by family more than classmates, take a few minutes to be thankful for the situation you are in.  Specifically, be thankful for:

- a country where if post-secondary education is not free, it is accessible to you

- a country where you live long enough to attend post-secondary education, and that it is available to both women and men, people of all races, and of all sexual orientations

- parents that support you emotionally and financially

- high school teachers that prepared you to succeed in college or university

- knowing that you will be in great financial shape when you finish your studies because of your hard work and knowledge

- new classmates and friends you have made last semester

- being one semester closer to finishing!

Life is good.  Enjoy the holidays.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Reflecting during the holidays

Whether you are religious or not, whether you celebrate Christmas or not, the winter break between December and January are a must for all college and university students.  Since you will most likely be free of assignments and studying during at least two weeks, this is a great time to reflect about your successes and your mistakes of the last semester.

Why do this? First, because it is a useful exercise to avoid making more mistakes this upcoming semester, and two, because with your mind free of school stress for a little bit of time, you will be able to calmly analyze your mistakes and your successes.
Spending mistakes: your first step is to write a list of your impulse buys that you later regretted, and their cost.  Add them up and look at the figure so that it sinks in.  Find at least three ways to avoid these impulse spending events so that the mistakes can be avoided more easily; here are some ideas:

      - Never buy anything that is more than $10 without thinking about it for 24 h
      - Use cash only when shopping to avoid going over budget
      - Put spending money in a ziplock bag, put the bag inside a plastic container, fill the container with water, close with lid and freeze.  Only this money can be used for ‘fun’ spending, so the thawing time will ensure you think twice about the purchase.

      - Limit yourself to an allowance for ‘fun’ – say $15 per week; you then have the choice to a burger on Friday night, or wait two weeks and buy a CD.
      - Write EVERY purchase down so that you keep track of the running total and be aware of how much you are spending each day, week, and month.

 Second, list all the ways you should have worked better (not more, but better) such as attending all classes and tutorials, working on assignments with a classmates, reading the textbook ahead of time, borrowing an alternate textbook from the library, etc.
Third, list all the ways you saved money last semester: the free pizza at an event you attended, how you split a family size box of cereal with a friend, and how you scored free theatre tickets by volunteering at the opening night.  Add up the amount of money you saved, and vow to do 50% better next semester.

Four, list at least five ways where you can save money this upcoming semester.  This could include:
      - Working on an energy plan with your housemates: decreasing the heat in your home, taking shorter showers, and studying at the library instead of at home (to save on electricity)
      - Buying second-hand textbooks instead of new ones (and selling the old ones),   
      - Using the municipal library to borrow books instead of buying them or downloading them on your e-reader (cheap, but not free)
      - Attending free movie night on campus instead of paying the big bucks to see new releases
      - Having a beer at home before going out to limit bar alcohol purchases
      - Inviting friends over for a BBQ instead of going out on Friday night
      - Attending campus events to reduce the cost of entertainment
      - Traveling by bus instead of taxiing to the local mall

 Five, list at least three personal goals that you want to achieve before the end of the next semester, such as:
      - A fitness goal like a distance to run, a gymnastic move to complete, or a number of push-ups to do in a row
      - A personal knowledge goal like joining the Spanish club to learn a few sentences in Spanish, learning ballroom dancing, or taking a philosophy class or another class outside your major
      - A personal mental health goal like starting to meditate, attending seminars to learn to manage stress better, or talking to a counsellor about your worries and personal conflicts
      - A personal social challenge such as overcoming your shyness at least three times to attend parties or functions you normally would not, or starting a conversation with that attractive classmate of yours.

Reflecting is difficult; it means admitting a lot of mistakes, and writing down goals that will make you more successful next semester, but that will also give you more work.  However the satisfaction that you will fee, not only in April, but also in January when you go back to school and you feel a sense of control over your student life is worth the work.  Enjoy the holidays!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Making Money at Christmas Time

You are most likely looking forward to the winter holiday; planning on seeing friends, hanging out, and maybe spending a bit of time with your family.  Of course all this free time is very tempting, but it is also a great time to make money! 

First of all, many regular employees of stores and restaurants will be celebrating the holidays as well, which means that if you are or were a part-time employee of a retail establishment, the manager is most likely looking for students like you to fill the absence of regular employees; however, training a completely new employee for a few shifts is not worth it so it’s not a great time to apply for a new job.

If you know families with small children, the parents will most likely like to go out at least a few times during the winter break – and will be looking for a babysitter, i.e., you!  Letting a few family friends know that you are available to babysit during the holidays will most likely be your best marketing.  Keep in mind as well that if you make yourself available for New Year’s Eve, this is the most lucrative night of the year for sitters.  You could even organise a sleep-over of little kids at your house to maximize your earnings.  This means that you would miss out on the celebration yourself, but if your friends are in the same situation as you, surely a party on the 1st can make up for the missed celebration.

If your exams are finished a bit before Christmas, you can offer to clean houses for family friends – many of them will be trying to have their homes ready for the 25th and would like help; a good pair of arms is all that is required (good music will make the task less boring!).

And if working is not possible for you, another idea to save money is to cook a few meals, or to ask your parents to teach you to cook a few favorite recipes so you can do it later back at school.  And if mom is the one who cuts your hair for free, now is a great time to get a haircut!
Enjoy a relaxing, working winter break.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Winter holidays on the cheap

Christmas is coming fast and although I do not enjoy seeing red and green in all the stores starting shortly after Halloween, the reality is that for all students, the winter holidays equal a break in studying and most likely a trip home (if you live away from home).

If you are living at home during your studies, lucky for you! You do not have to try to schedule traveling with your exam schedule.  Relax, study hard for those final exams, and be empathetic to your classmates who need to make (perhaps) expensive plans for traveling home.

If you are living away at college or university and will be going back home for the break, plan carefully about your trip.  Your first step is to look at your final exam schedule to see when you can leave campus. 

First of all, do NOT book a plane or train ticket until you know when your exams end – I had friends who purchased plane tickets for mid-December, assuming they would be done; the choice was then to fail a course or give up and expensive ticket once the exam schedule came out and … surprise! Their last exam was on the 19th.  Yes, plane tickets are cheaper when purchased in advance, but you cannot afford to miss a final exam (you can reschedule one for medical reasons – not travelling reasons).  You CAN book a ticket for after the last day of exam – this may be your cheapest option, if not a fun one if all your exams are finished by December 12th and your ticket is for the 20th. 

If you are not traveling far, bus and train tickets can be obtained for a reasonable price close to departure date, and you may be able to car pool with a friend or friend’s parents (remember to thank them profusely and to bring a small gift for the driver, as well as offering to pay for gas). 

If you are lucky enough to have your parents pick you up or you have your own car to drive, be generous and offer someone a drive; if you don’t know anyone going in the same direction as you, post a note on your campus (paper or virtual) so that you can offer a ride to someone – this will help your budget in a number of ways: - you can share the cost of gas; you will meet someone who can help you at a later date; you will share the problem if any occurs (you need a nap but want to drive non-stop); you can share other expenses (a large coffee split in two is cheaper than two small ones); you will have good company which will make the trip more fun (ok, not a financial saving unless you were going to buy a new CD for the drive).

Unless your parents are coming to pick you up with a large mini-van, or you are allowed unlimited baggage, limit your size and number of luggage; you often have to pay a surcharge ($25+ per bag) for bags, so the fewer the cheaper, and one large bag is better than two small ones.  Remember that if you will receive many presents, these may need to be taken back with you so plan accordingly (and light foldable bag inside another is a great idea).

Finally, use this trip to bring home what you are not using (may seem to be a counter-point to my previous advice to limit luggage) instead of waiting until the end of the school year.  If you are flying, a 2nd piece of luggage is cheaper than excess luggage (3rd + pieces) and you will have lots of stuff to bring back later.  However, if you have any textbooks that you will keep (instead of selling back), beware of taking them back home right now – they may be good reference for your 2nd semester courses.  When you go back in January, think of what you need for the 2nd term that you don’t want to buy in your college/university town and bring back with you, including the winter clothing or items you didn’t think you needed.

And most of all: after all this planning, enjoy being home!