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?

 

 

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!

Budgeting 101

Cher was clueless when it came to budgeting

So before I post another fun-filled blog, I decided I needed to talk about budgeting. As a college student (or anyone really) it is important that you not only budget you money but understand your spending behavior as well. Establishing a monthly, weekly, or even daily budget early on in life will allow you to manage your money much better down the road. Plus, its kind of a challenge to see how much bang you can get for your buck! Here are some tips on setting up a budget.

1. Set up monthly and weekly budgets with some wiggle room. And by wiggle room I don’t mean “new purse” wiggle room, I’m thinking more along the lines of “the last bus left so I had to pay for a taxi” kind of wiggle room. For example let’s say you have $400/month to spend, which equals to $100/week. Instead of allotting yourself the entire $400 for the month, put away fifty or so. As many of you may know, expenses in college have a way of creeping up on you when you least need them, so leave yourself some emergency cash. Also, if you didn’t spend what you put away, don’t spend it the next month, perhaps put it in a savings account, CD or invest it. Or if you are feeling oh so generous, donate it to a worthwhile cause.

2. Track your spending for 1 month. This may seem tedious, but it is necessary if you are going to budget effectively. You can use a checkbook, online banking, or simply a pen and a pad, but you must ensure that no expense goes unaccounted for. When the month is over, write a list of your biggest expenses: Rent, Utilities, Food, transportation etc. From that list break your budget down into categories starting with monthly expenses: $800 for rent, $100 for utilities etc. Then onto weekly expenses: $50 for food, $30 for weekend activities, $20 for transportation. Sometimes this may change from month to month for example: you don’t need as big of a book budget in November as opposed to September, or you’ll be at home for half the month of December so your food budget may shrink (don’t forget those Christmas presents though!). However, your budget shouldn’t vary too much. You want to get into the habit of only spending a certain amount on certain items.

3. Always make sure you are checking your account balances. Keeping a close eye on your finances will not only keep your spending in check, but will help you spot credit card fraud quickly.

4. Know when to say no. Before you buy something new, take a few seconds to reflect on if you really need that item, if you have something that will do, and in some cases, do you actually already have it? If you can say yes to any of these questions, put it down and walk away. I also like to follow the two week rule. If I am still thinking about something two weeks after I last considered purchasing it, I’ll consider buying it if it fits my budget.

5. Get creative! Want to go out for dinner and drinks on Friday? Find other cheap/free activities to do the rest of the week. Need to save money on food? Look for meetings, talks, hall programs and get-togethers around campus, they often have food for free, and who knows? You may discover a new passion! Want new accessories? Have an accessory swap with your friends. Everyone can participate regardless of size and you might find the perfect necklace to glam-up an old top.

If you have any more tips, feel free to leave them in the comments!

No Money, Mo’ Problems

this guy's a mind reader

Living on a strict ramen noodle diet? Are you on a first-name basis with employees at the neighborhood blood plasma center? When people on campus talk about the day that will live in infamy, are they referring to your legendary 2010 meltdown at the ATM? If so, you’ve come to the right place.

Okay perhaps I’m being a bit over-dramatic.

College is expensive. There is no getting around that. So if you can actually relate to the first paragraph or simply wish to stretch your dollar a little further, the Economic Academic is here to help. It’s my goal through this blog to aid cash-strapped coeds in their quest to find the best in fun, fashion and food all while on a shoe-string budget.