2012: The Year of the Economic Academic

It’s five days into the New Year and I’m sure most of us are still recovering from our New Year’s festivities. And most of us, like me, have already reneged on our New Year’s resolutions (damn you Merlot). But that’s okay. That is what the New Year is all about right, fresh starts? Last time I checked, there is no law on the books that dictates fresh starts can only be made on the first of January while you are in an alcohol and food-induced stupor (at least not in the state of Pennsylvania anyway). No, fresh starts can be made anytime, anywhere. This year I’m still making it a priority to continue living frugally (but fabulously), but I also want to become an expert in personal finance. As my graduation date creeps closer and closer, it is important that I know as much as possible before I get into the real world. So, here are the Economic Academic’s 2012 Resolutions

Resolutions:

-Do my own taxes

-Land a job :]

-Start saving for an apartment

-Find creative ways to make money

-Get organized in all aspects of my life

-Only eat out once a week

-Find new ways to save

-Save at least half of my paycheck each month

I know these are pretty dull resolutions, but let’s be honest, there a lot more realistic than my last few (you don’t even want to ask). What are some of your financial resolutions for 2012?

 

 

To Spotify or Not to Spotify? That is the question.

A final exam favorite of mine

During finals one of the major things that keeps me centered and sane is music. I like to listen to classical and bluegrass music when writing paper. However, finding great bluegrass music is time consuming and I don’t like spending too much time searching for songs and making playlists. I recently downloaded the free version of Spotify, the music streaming software that connects your Facebook friends and lets you share your music tastes with your Facebook friends (I usually turn this feature off when I’m having a Belieber or ABBA moment). Anyway, I’ve fallen head over heels in love with Spotify. The music selection is great, I love their country and classical stations and I’ve found some great artists through friends’ playlists.

I ♥ Spotify

So here is my dilemma. Spotify offers a monthly fee-based, no-ad, mobile streaming feature that lets you access songs offline, which would be AMAZING for my 30 minute subway ride to work. It is $9.99/month, and has received rave reviews. Right now I just buy my songs off of itunes which runs me between $0.99-$1.29 per song. I’ve been super paranoid ever since the whole Napster and Kazaa debacles so I stay away from the illegal dark underbelly of music downloading.

Good reason, but I'd rather not up my chances of incarceration or a lawsuit

Some months I go on an itunes shopping spree and rack up a $30 bill. Other months I don’t even open itunes. And sometimes I’m gifted itunes cards which last me a while and I love Genius, but sometimes I regret my purchases and it’s not like you can return an MP3 files. This Spotify service is very appealing but when it’s all said and done, it would cost me about $120/year :/ I have a part-time job next semester and I babysit on occasion so $9.99/month would be more than doable, but I’m still on the fence. So instead of doling out advice, I’m asking you guys for some. Oh how the tables have turned haha! Does anyone use Spotify premium or know anyone that does? What would you do? Or do you have another LEGAL music streaming service you prefer? Please help!

Christmas Gift Guide: Economic Academic Style

I love love love Christmas. I love the decorations, the cookies and the excuse to wear cherry-red 24/7 for an entire month. I love wearing red for Christmas, but I hate being in the red when it comes to holiday shopping. Christmas is supposed to be about love and holiday cheer, but many have a blue Christmas as the credit card statements come rolling in. This year I am budgeting $25 tops per person. Seeing as I only have four family members and my friends and I do Pollyanna, this should not be a budget busting Christmas for me. So how do you give a great gift without spending a ton of dough? It’s super easy if you just know where to look! Here are a few of my favorite frugal gift finds/suggestions! (Believe me there is more coming so be sure to watch out in the next few weeks!)

For Dad:

Vosges Mo's Bacon Chocolate Chip Pancake Mix $12...be the best daughter/son ever and make him the pancakes too!

For Mom:

Etsy Print $18, Great for a home office or the kitchen...I don't understand why more people don't give art for gifts

For Brother:

First Season of Dexter on DVD $17.49 on Amazon

For Sister:

Scented Gummy Earbuds $18.... because who doesn't need those?

For BFF:

Anthropologie Gold Pinnate Necklace $28

For Me (hi Mom):

Stackable Lunch Pot $22...Oh the culinary possibilities!

Guest Post: Drinking on a Dime in NYC

WordPress just informed me that my last post was my 21st post (yay!) and to ring in my 21st post, I decided that my next post should be about one of the pluses of being 21: legal drinking. Now, I’m no lush, but I have to be honest, I love a good margarita (It’s all about the salt baby) and a great glass of dry red wine. Unfortunately, the price of a drink in New York is about the same as my college tuition. Luckily, my fellow blogger Kylie has some great tips on how to stretch your drinking dollars. Here are some of her suggestions!
Times are hard but that doesn’t have to stop every college student breaking the bank when it comes to going out and drinking, despite living in one of the priciest cities in the nation. Here are some ways to enjoy going out (or staying in) without there being plastic liquor bottles involved (queue reactionary gag)

1. Pick your liquor carefully: The $10 bottle of Tequila may be tempting, but save yourself the hangover. Good, cheap booze does exist.

Unless you want to party with these guys, I suggest buying liquor that you won't be embarassed to take out of the brown paper bag

Gin: Gordon’s London Dry Gin $15, 80 proof
Great for mixing cocktails and with tonic water.

Vodka: Pinnacle  $12.99, 70 proof
They have every flavor from Apple to Le Double Expresso but, my favorites are the Whipped and Cotton Candy. The sweetness masks the alcohol incredibly.

Rum: Bacardi, $16.99, 70 proof
Mix with punch, coke, or pretty much any beverage and your cost per drink is so low, you’re practically stealing.

The earlier you get there, the better the deals

2. Happy Hour: It’s your best friend

Session House, Barcelona Bar (after seeing they have Harry Potter shots I am totally trying it), G-50 Bar and Grill, O’Neill’s Irish Bar all have drink specials and are minutes away from Lincoln Center and/or Grand Central Station.

3. Coupon It

Travelzoo’s Local Deals is one of my favorite and right now they’re offering this deal for six cocktails at the Dream Hotel for $39. Assuming you’ll split that between a friend, that’s 20 bucks for 3 specialty cocktails which would normally cost $45. Or take all the drinks for yourself and have a dreamy night. Groupon also occasionally has specials on wine and liquors.

4. BYOB

Pick restaurants that are BYOB, just make sure to find out before arriving if they have a corking fee.

5. Watch your intake: Just because you’ve saved a ton of cash on liquor doesn’t give you the excuse to get absolutely blitzkrieged drunk. Also, keep the embarrassing pictures to a minimum. Your Facebook with thank you in the morning.

Frugal Food: Potluck Dinners

Potluck dinners are a great alternative to dining out

One of my favorite things to do in college is making dinner with friends. Frugal and fun cooking with friends is the perfect way to spend a weeknight in or to ring in the newest episode of the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (yeah, I’ll admit it). But dinner parties can go downhill if people don’t pony up the cash to pay back the cook, or don’t help cleaning up. That is why I’m a huge fan of the potluck dinner. With potlucks, everyone is responsible for bringing a dish, preventing anyone from feeling like they’ve made more effort than others, and it’s a great way to show off your culinary skills. With that said, there are some guidelines you need to set to ensure a positively perfect potluck.

Potluck Rule #1: Unless cat haz cheezburger, leave him off the diner list

1. BUDGET BUDGET BUDGET: Before anything, establish a per-dish budget for the potluck, and make sure everyone is comfortable with it. Usually I find $8-10/dish is a good price point for the college student.

2. Assign courses: Remember in elementary school at Christmas parties when somehow everyone brought 400 plates of cupcakes or 5,000 bags of chips and salsa? Well, at potlucks it completely defeats the purpose of a potluck if everyone brings the same item. To avoid this, assign different courses to friends, and stick to it.

3. Create a theme: How about Mexican Mondays, Southern Saturdays or Thai Tuesdays? Themes are a great way to experiment in the kitchen and ensure that all the dishes work perfectly together.

4. Make sure it is a team effort: This applies mostly for after the meal. Make sure everyone pitches in a cleans up. Not only will it cut down on cleanup time, but it prevents any one friend from being stuck with a pile of dishes at the end of the night.

5. Keep it small: More people complicates everything. So just keep it simple, and small (about 4-5 people)

Mid-Term Munchies

My apologies for not posting for a week (or two). I have been in the throes of mid-terms and unfortunately the blog took a backseat when it came to studying. But now I’m back and raring to write a bunch of posts I wanted to do this past week, but didn’t have time for.

The Most Interesting Man in the World studies through osmosis...unfortunately, I am not The Most Interesting Man in the World

So let me tell you about my week. About 80% of my time was spent at Club Lib and the rest of it was spent sleeping or eating everything frozen, fried or delivered. Once mid-terms and finals hit my eating habits take a nasty turn for the worse and I become Countess of Carbtown. This is a problem not only because A. it’s unhealthy, but B. My body is not a big fan of gluten. I know this may seem shocking as all of my food posts have been gluten heaven, but hey a girl has to indulge sometimes. My diet is usually as gluten-free as a college student’s diet can be  as I find that I have much more energy when I don’t eat wheat and processed foods.

Ronald McDonald and I are BFFLS during mid-term week

I don’t know about you, but after a few days of pizza, low mein and $3 subs (suck it Subway), my body screams for fresh fruits and vegetables. So that’s why the other night I packed up my things, bid adieu to my designated study desk and said hello to my neglected kitchen. I had recently gone to the Arthur Avenue Market and picked up some fresh peppers, onions, a carrot and kale. My pantry was in rough shape consisting of tuna fish cans, olive oil, cocoa powder (for smoothies) and quinoa. What is a girl to do? Make quinoa-stuffed peppers!

Here is what you’ll need:

-one large bell pepper, de-seeded and decap(itat)ed

-about 1/4-1/3 cup of quinoa, cooked

-Chopped vegetables (I used kale, carrots and onions but you can use anything left in your fridge)

-Spices for seasoning (I used salt, pepper, chicken buillon, and paprika)

-shredded parmesan or cheddar cheese (optional)

Fresh ingredients > fast food

Directions:

-Preheat over to 375 degrees

-Cut off top of bell pepper, de-seed

-Cook quinoa as directed on packaging

-Dice vegetables and saute in oil or butter until tender

-Combine quinoa with veggies

-Stuff quinoa mixture into bell pepper

-Place pepper standing up on well-oiled baking sheet and leave in over for about twenty minutes or until the skin starts to blister

-Top with shredded cheese

ENJOY!

Not only is this meal healthier, but it is much less expensive than ordering out! My total for this meal? Less than $2.00!

Never pay full price for a meal again. Ever. I mean it.

Alright, I’ve been keeping a secret from you. But before I tell you what it is, I want to say that I will never suggest a product or tip unless I  have tried it myself. A few months ago a friend suggested I try restaurant.com for discounted meals throughout the US.  I signed up for their mailing list and began receiving emails about 70, 80 and 90% off sales on gift certificates. One day I decided to just go ahead and buy a few. Since restaurant.com was having one of their 80% off sales, I wound up getting five $25 certificates for less than ten bucks. For months they just sat in my account, as I soon forgot about my purchase. However, the other day I decided to revisit the site and remembered my certificates! One of them was to Ann & Tony’s Restaurant right down the block from Fordham on Arthur Avenue.  My boyfriend and I were in the need of a fresh date-night spot, so we decided to use my certificate, and let me tell you was it worth it! When I bought the coupons, I was afraid that perhaps I might see some backlash from the restaurants for my bargain hunting ways. However, our waiter was great, professional, and even explained the discount on the check when it came! Although the coupon did have some stipulations: $50 minimum purchase, does not include alcohol, cash only (which is always a good idea anyway), we ended up saving $25 on what would have been a $70 dinner. Here’s what we got for $45.00

Fresh Mozzarella and Roasted Red Peppers

Fried Calamari

Cahill's Carbonara

My Penne Alla Vodka

I also had a glass of wine and Cahill decided on an Amstel Light. We were too full to even consider desert, although their red velvet cake did look tempting. Although not my favorite on Arthur Ave, Ann & Tony’s knows how to make a meal, and with our coupon, it was the perfect place for an affordable night out.

Here are a few tips when using Restaurant.com

-Join their mailing list. They every week or so they will notify you of upcoming sales. Their sales are usually between 50-80% off, although they just had a 90% off sale.

-Use Yelp or Urbanspoon to help you decide when buying your restaurant certificates. Some of the restaurants on Restaurant.com are not the best, so do your homework. It is better to spend more money on a restaurant you enjoy than save a few bucks and hate your meal.

-Read the fine print. I know I stressed this in my last post, but it is important to read the stipulations. Some restaurants require a party of four or more, and others, like Ann & Tony’s include an 18% automatic gratuity calculated before the discount.

-Always tip your server based on the full price of the meal without the discount. Frugal and cheap are two completely different things. Servers usually make most of their money in gratuities, so be sure to give them a fair tip.

***I know lately my posts have been food-oriented, but watch out for tomorrows post on thrifting! And coming soon, my experience at the Aveda Institute and my wardrobe challenge!