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?

 

 

Have and Have (Nots)

My Dad's Car on Freshman Move-In day

So this post should have been written before school started, but hopefully you can still find it useful. I remember before my freshman year of college, I was bombarded by catalogs, credit card offers (this was when you still could get one at 18), blog posts, and my own university’s recommendations on what I need for college.  For the most part I got everything that was suggested and I thought I was good to go. How wrong I was. I found myself lugging home a ton of unnecessary knickknacks and clothing on breaks. I also got a rude awakening on things I should have packed. So here is my list on the must-haves and have-nots of college living.

Must-Haves:

-Bank Account at the college or local bank: Unless your regional bank reimburses you for ATM fees (are there still any out there?), open an account with the bank that provides the on-campus ATMs or another local bank. Additionally, if you have a job or receive a check, it is much easier to deposit it when you have an account with a local bank.

-Checkbook: Never written a check before? Well you better learn how. Although checkbooks seem outdated, they still come in handy when you need to make your housing deposit or pay bills.

-Insurance card: Make sure your parents give you a copy before you leave.

-Formal Business and Business Casual attire: Don’t wait until senior year to begin your business wardrobe. Whether you are a freshman or a grad student, it is always smart to have at least one formal business and one business casual outfit in your closet at all times. This means: one suit or a dress with a blazer, khakis and a nice blouse (or the equivalent), and a professional pair of heels or flats. You never know when an internship or employment opportunity may arise, and you don’t want to be stuck with jeans and a sweater for the interview.

-Business cards: When someone asks for your information, sending it to them via text message is efficient but not professional. Invest in some business cards to hand out while networking. It doesn’t have to be super fancy, just your name contact info, university and perhaps major. You can usually order a few hundred online for less than ten dollars.

-Cooking Skills: If you are entering college or in college, now is the time to learn how to cook. There is nothing worse than eating ramen noodles for the fifth night in a row. Ask your parents or consult food blogs or even YouTube to get some great tips and meal ideas. Cooking for yourself is not only fun, but healthier and less expensive than eating out. Here are a few of my favorite food blogs: Brokeass Gourmet (how fitting), Smitten Kitchen, Green LiteBites, Noble Pig, and for my vegetarian/vegan friends Chocolate Covered Katie and SpaBettie.

-Sewing Kit: I absolutely guarantee you will need this at least once during college, and it is definitely something I overlooked while packing.

Must Have (Nots):

-Pets: Sure that puppy/kitten/gerbil was absolutely adorable when you first bought it, but having a pet in college is a bad idea. Not only do you have to spend money on vaccinations, food, pet visits and toys, pets can also take up an enormous amount of time and energy, two things most college students lack. Who wants to house-break a puppy when you have a final to study for? Or who wants to argue over whose turn is it to clean the kitty litter box? I don’t and I don’t think you do either. If you are in desperate need of an animal companion, consider a fish or volunteer at the local animal shelter once a week.

-Car: Okay, I’m going to be honest here, I wish I had a car at school. It would be easier for groceries and trips home, but cars can be a big financial burden on college students. Living in NYC, it is completely unnecessary for me to have a car when I have a ton of affordable transportation options off campus. However, if you absolutely do need a car in college consider carpooling to grocery stores, class, or back home that way you don’t have to pay for all the gas. Also, never let anyone borrow your car. That is just setting yourself up for disaster.

-Printer: Yes, having a printer in your room is convenient, but having to blow $30+ on cartridges each month isn’t. At-home printers also have a wonderful way of not working when you need them to. Do some research and see if your school offers free printing or has multiple printing stations across campus. If schools do charge it is usually only between 5 and 10 cents per page.

-Credit Cards: This is a point of contention amongst college students and parents. I personally do not have a credit card and have never had the need for one.  I disagree with having an “emergency” card especially if you know you like to shop. If you and your parents decide to go ahead and get you one, do not use it without your parents’ knowledge or if you don’t have room in your budget to do so. Also, NEVER EVER EVER bring it out when going out to dinner or out to the bars. Bring enough cash to cover yourself and perhaps a bit more for a taxi, but leave the plastic at home. You wouldn’t be too happy waking up to a $300 credit card bill from TJ Shenanigans because you were in a generous mood and decided to buy the bar a round of shots.

-Decorations/Knickknacks: Having a great looking dorm room is a must. However, your dorm room shouldn’t resemble an audition video for Hoarders: Buried Alive. Bring a few pictures, and a knick-knack or two but keep in mind how little of a space you will be living in. Apartment Therapy has some great ideas for dorm room decorating.

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!