Archive for the ‘How To’ Category

Money Tips from a Professional Student: On Expensive Textbooks

This is the first in a series of articles directed towards college students – both graduates and undergraduates. As a PhD student in my 5th year after being an undergraduate for 4 years, you can call me a professional student. Through various experiences, I have learned a few things that might save money and help to reduce expenses. This series is dedicated to these suggestions.

So you have a stipend or loans or money from the parents to cover your books, somehow it still doesn’t make parting with $400 for textbooks any easier. Even more painful is paying $120 for a new book and only to sell it back to the bookstore for a measly $40. I know this experience very well and I learned (as a senior) that I could have saved a fortune over the course of three years. Some of the methods I tried require more effort than others and one of these methods (using older editions) you may never try. However, the goal here is to get to keep more of that textbook money in your pocket (or bank account).

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  1. Buy Used Books: The most common technique is to buy used books from sites like Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com and half.com. These sites usually have various editions and versions of the book and connect you to other vendors (usually students) who are selling the book. A disadvantage with this method is that you may not know the required text until the professor hands out the syllabus on the first day and then you have to spend more money on shipping to receive the books on time.
  2. Contact your professor: When you aren’t aware of the required books, email the professor(s) over the break to ask about the books for the class. You can let them know you want to get them ahead of time to cut down costs. Almost all professors will oblige you. Once you get the response, go to the aforementioned sites. An added advantage to this route is that the professor will already know your name before the course begins and that never hurts.
  3. Bookstore Website: Once in a while, you come across professors with tardy responses or no response at all. In that case another option is to try your college’s bookstore website. The bookstores get the list of course textbooks way ahead of time and then list the books on their site for purchasing. Take advantage of this and look up the required books on the site and then get them cheaper from other sites. Think of this as sticking it to them for buying back your books at ridiculously low prices.
  4. Use the Library: Request the book from the school library and use it while waiting for your book to arrive from the site that you will order from. Better yet, use the book over the course of the quarter and renew it as many times as possible. In the state of Ohio, all public college libraries are linked so if you don’t find a book at Wright State University, you can rent them from from Ohio State University. Ask your school librarian if there are opportunities like this at your school. This means you should know where the library is if you don’t already.
  5. Use preceding edition(s): Something I have noticed (especially in the sciences) is that material doesn’t change much from one edition to the next especially with books that have undergone several revisions (Really good books undergo very few revisions and revisions are years apart) Changes usually involve extra examples, problem sets and pages with the subject material unchanged. When I went this route, I just made photocopies of relevant questions using my friend’s textbook. If you want to insure yourself against risk, borrow from the library to compare how drastic the changes are to help you make a decision on obtaining the newer edition. Note: If you decide to do this, make sure to check with someone in the class who has a recent copy to make sure that assignments are the same.
  6. Rent and Exchange: While writing this post, I learned about two other opportunities I haven’t tried, but are useful nonetheless.
    • A student of mine recommended chegg.com and rentabook.com which are sites where you can rent textbooks. I would advise anyone who is doing this to check the math just to make sure that it’s worth it. Sometimes it’s better to own than to rent especially in cases where you might need the book for a whole year. If you’re into nature preservation, you will like that chegg plants a tree for each book you rent. Environmental Awareness and Expense Control all at once.
    • Another student referred me to a book exchange website hosted by the school’s student senate. I am not sure if other schools have this sort of network, but I know that most schools maintain a listserv dedicated to students trying to sell their materials at really low prices. Your Resident Assistant might be a helpful resource here.

Buying textbooks are a basic part of any college student’s career and the experience is that much sweeter when you know that you won’t be breaking the bank every semester.

Coming up next in the series – Money Tips from a Professional Student: On Expensive Eating.

Image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/pleasewait/ / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The Beginning of The End: 6 steps to making the most of the rest of 2009

After today we will be in the month of October. OCTOBER . . .  2009!?!

I’m literally taking a moment to digest how nine whole months have flown by . . . . . OK! Moment Over.

With about 90 days (92 days to be exact) left in 2009, I want to mention 6 steps using the Achievers Focusing System (click image below to enlarge) from Success Principles to make the latter part of 2009 your best yet.

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Step 1 – FOCUS AREA: In what aspect of your life do you want to make the most impact?

The Achievers Focusing System has divided areas of life into seven

  • Finance & Wealth
  • Career
  • Free Time
  • Health and Appearance
  • Relationship
  • Personal Development
  • Community & Charity

When the year began, you probably thought about making a change in 1 or more of these categories and somewhere along the way that got lost in translation (9 months wheezing by can do that). No matter, a lot can still be done in 90 days by making minute and incremental changes.

By the yard it’s hard, but inch by inch anything’s a cinch – Brian Tracy

Instead of trying to cover all these areas at once, start by selecting the most important area where you want change and then select the next most important area and so on.  Consequently, you will be creating a ranking system for the next three months.

Step 2 – GOALS: What are your goals for the rest of the year?

Write down one goal in the area(s) that you have chosen previously. Using the document, this can be written in the boxes provided.

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This is where problems arise. In defining goals, they have to be measurable i.e. there has to be some sort of finish-line related to  an accomplishment and/or  time frame. The lack of a time frame usually results in complacency. The lack of defined accomplishments usually results in a loss of interest and boredom. Using goal #1 above, I will have to pay off $1,000 in the next 3 months. With this, I have defined the accomplishment and the time-frame. How can you measure the goal you want to attain? Is it a series of accomplishments or is it one you can measure with time?

Step 3 – ACTIVITIES: What steps need to be taken to accomplish this goal?

Outline the necessary steps to completing this goal. This can be done using the time-frame or accomplishments as a guide. The point of doing this is breaking down the goal into manageable chunks. By so doing, the viability of the goal is maintained and it would seem neither large nor looming.

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For my goal, here’s what I’m thinking:

Time frame based

Accomplishment based

  • October 31st: Have paid $334
  • November 31st: Have paid $667
  • December 31st:  Have paid $1000
  • Pay off first credit card ($173)
  • Pay off half of second credit card ($413.5)
  • Pay off half of second credit card ($413.5)

In addition, list some non-activities as well i.e. activities you shouldn’t engage in which will also help with accomplishing your goals.

  • Leave credit cards at home ALWAYS
  • Pay for purchases using checking account

Using the Achievers Focusing System, these activities are then spread out over 12 weeks. This allows for looking at the overall picture while keeping track of the activities spread out over the 90 days.

Step 4 – SMALL VICTORIES: What happens when you complete an activity?

Sometime ago I mentioned how celebrating small victories are essential to boosting morale. As you slowly advance towards your goal week by week, remember to take a moment to digest how far you have come. This moment of reflection can be used:

  • to further fine-tune future activities
  • to ensure that the pace is still being kept
  • to rest before going on to the next task

Once each activity is completed, take a breath and congratulate yourself on making it this far. For me I will take great joy in seeing Balance: $0.00 and I will also update my account at NetworthIQ at the end of every month because seeing that bump provides additional motivation. Then keep pressing on knowing that you are closer than when you first started.

Step 5 – ACCOUNTABILITY: Should I involve others in my goal?

The Achievers Focusing System includes a section for an Accountability Partner. This is the person who you have shared your goals with and you know will be a willing motivator in your cause to improve. Sometimes goals are like a new toy: you play with it for a few days excitedly; then over time, the excitement fades and the toy starts to collect dust. This is when your partner(s) can help to dust off some of that dust and remind you of what you set out to do.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw everything that hinders . . . . and let us run with perseverance the race set out for us. Hebrews 12:1

Your accountability partner serves as that witness to your commitment to yourself in that area of your life.

Step 6 – FINISH LINE: When does my goal end?

As mentioned in the beginning, this goal(s) should be tailored to cover the remaining 3 months/12 weeks/92 days of the year. Therefore while striving to complete each activity always keep in mind your finish line by:

  • Tick off the days on the calendar
  • Cross out your to-do list each week
  • Little steps will yield great results

By so doing, you are constantly reminded of where you are trying to go

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Image courtesy of Mr. Mystery

How to use Microsoft Excel to manage finances

In a previous article, I mentioned how to use online sites to see and keep track of how your money is spent. Another way of managing finances and tracking expenses is done using Microsoft Excel. On the Microsoft Office site a search for “Personal Finance” in templates will yield a list of different templates that can be used. In this article, I will show how to use this template (Download Here) to create a monthly budget. Even without an overall grasp of Excel, this template makes life easier as you don’t have to do any calculations, just plug it in and the spreadsheet does the rest.

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The template is divided into four main areas:

  1. Income
  2. Itemized Amounts
  3. Total Cost
  4. Balance

Income

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At the top of the spreadsheet is the Income Section, the money in (link) part of the equation. It is divided into the Projected Monthly Income and Actual Monthly Income. The value of the Expected Income is placed into the Income 1 box (shown here as $1000). If more than one source of income is expected, the other amount(s) can be placed in Extra Income. This is especially useful if paychecks arrive biweekly or when income is generated from more than one source. The total is automatically summed in the Total Monthly Income.  Once the actual paycheck is received, these values can be placed in the Actual Monthly Income section.

Itemized Amounts

This is the best feature of the spreadsheet. This section is divided into

  • Housing
  • Transportation
  • Insurance
  • Food
  • Pets
  • Personal Care
  • Entertainment
  • Loans
  • Taxes
  • Savings or Investments
  • Gifts & Donations
  • Legal

Each of these sections is further sub-divided into other areas.

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Most areas of spending are covered in the sections and sub-sections and the names can be changed to better reflect your own costs. Just like the income section, the amounts are divided into Projected and Actual. In addition, when the Actual value is below the Projected value, the Difference shape will remain a green circle. However when the Actual value exceeds the Projected value, the Difference shape changes to either a yellow triangle (difference is less than $20) or a red diamond (difference is greater than $20). Finally, the total is automatically summed up at the bottom of each section.

Total Cost

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After all values are placed in the Cost Section, the respective totals are calculated at the bottom of the spreadsheet. If the Total Projected Cost is less than the actual value, the difference in cost shows up red and in parenthesis to denote a negative value (as in the graphic shown above).

Balance

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This section is the difference between the Income and Expenses. If the Projected Cost is greater than the Projected Income, the Projected Balance will be negative and will appear in red. The same applies to the Actual Balance. The above Actual Balance here is negative because while I was making this spreadsheet, I didn’t put in a value for the Actual Income.

Overall, this spreadsheet helps to better plan your finances and make sense of how your money can be spent in the coming month. Like planning and organizing time, organizing finances in this manner help to get a better picture of where you can spend less and cut costs. I hope this tool can be as useful to you has it has been to me this past year.

Note: The Savings Section of the spreadsheet (although subtracted from the income) is still part of your Networth, but is here as an expense because it’s coming out of the paycheck.