Posts Tagged ‘Money’

Money Tips from a Professional Student: On Expensive Eating

This is the second 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 can save money and help to reduce expenses. This series is dedicated to these suggestions. In the previous article I looked at textbooks.

After the costs of textbooks are taken off the table, the next area in which spending can easily get out of hand is food. Everyone has to eat, but the question is how you can eat without hurting much in the wallet? Here are a few of the things that I have seen that could help in managing costs of eating.

Attend Cultural Events: Every college campus has an international student organization and as a current (and former) member of several international student organizations I can attest to food being a major item in planned events. Most of these events take place on weekends, during dinner and cost little to no money. So instead of spending money at a Chinese buffet off-campus, support the Chinese Student Organization by attending their cultural event. You get the added bonus of interacting with people of other cultures in addition to eating well. Check your campus newspapers for details on these events and prepare yourself for some delicious dining.

Buy groceries: This is the most common way to save money. Knowing how to cook is an advantage but even if you don’t know how to cook there are easy food packages from Ramen to 5-minute rice to Hamburger Helpers. It’s a guarantee that you will save with a $2 ground beef and $2 hamburger helper package because it costs less than buying a similar food item that’s premade and you will usually have enough left over for a full meal. There are plenty of cheap and easy-to-make food packages ranging from oatmeal to Ramen to 5-minute rice. This is useful whether you live on or off campus. For more on grocery shopping tips, check out an older article from Get Rich Slowly

Cook in bulk: If you’re already buying groceries, take time on the weekend to make 2 – 3 different meals in bulk and refrigerate them for the rest of the week. Cooking more than one meal provides the variety required in a regular diet and reduces the monotony of only eating one meal (Of course if you’re like me and loves eating rice for days on end, there’s nothing wrong with that either). Another way this helps to save money is when it comes to resisting invitations from friends and co-workers who are constantly asking you to go to lunch when you just can’t afford it. Now you can say “I packed my lunch already.”

Make friends: If you don’t have a kitchen on-campus, offer to cook for a friend/classmate that lives off-campus and you both can share the meal. If you do have a kitchen off-campus and can’t cook or don’t have the time to, invite someone who can but doesn’t have a kitchen. This is basically an exercise in trade by barter. It still works even in 2009 (and beyond)!

Organize a Potluck: Although potlucks are usually organized as social events to foster camaraderie and conversation, it can also be another way to cut expenses. Consider that instead of eating out at a restaurant and paying individually, you can have a variety of dishes at a low cost. Although graduate students organize potlucks more frequently than undergraduates, this is a benefit to both parties. Using this idea, potlucks can be organized around themes (Game Night), sporting events (Super Bowl) or even T.V. shows. And if you are unable to cook, you can always offer to provide drinks.

Coupons: Before you skip over this section, remember that using coupons are more of a mental hurdle than anything else. How would it look eating at Applebee’s with a coupon for $5 off? Does $5 really make a dent in a $30 meal? It’s an internal battle, but when you think about it $5 is essentially half of a movie ticket or a haircut or 2 cups of coffee from the campus shop. Websites like campusfood.com and restaurant.com regularly offer deals and coupons to local restaurants. For those living off-campus, there is regular bulk mail delivered featuring pizza coupons and fast-food deals. Although these foods are inherently unhealthy, and minimizing them in your diet is the most beneficial habit, the focus here is not to eliminate bad habits but attempt to reduce their cost.

Brew your own coffee (or tea): From helping you make it through an all-nighter to giving you that extra kick in the early morning, caffeine intake usually increases proportionally with the time spent in college. A cup of coffee can range from $1 – $5 depending on the temperature, flavor and size. Yet this cost can be highly reduced if you make your own beverage from home. A little research using Wal-Mart and Walgreens website provides the following

Item

Cost

Coffee Maker with a Timer

$20

Folger’s Classic Roast (33.5 oz)

$13

French Vanilla Liquid Creamer (For Flavor)

$3

Coffee Mug

$10

Total

$46

Some people don’t consume that much coffee, but if these numbers are way lower than the amount you spend on coffee (Check out these useful tools) it might be time to modify.

Eating well does not have to come at a premium and food doesn’t have to bite into your pocket money if you network with people and make some of the things you pay high prices for. What are some of the other ways in which you have been able to reduce costs? I’ll update this article based on the suggestions I receive.

Coming up next in the series – Money Tips from a Professional Student: On Housing

Image from PhD Comics

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).

ProfStud_Book_1
  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 Spending Pyramid: Personal Values and Financial Planning (Part I)

Do you ever find yourself wondering where the time has gone at the end of the day? It starts out bright and you perform the required tasks for the day, but the rest of the time has flown by before you realize it? This is often also the case with money.

In his book The Six-Day Financial Makeover, Robert Pagliarini warns that when spending isn’t planned, it often follows this pyramid with money flowing from the top to bottom and reducing in quantity as it trickles down.

Pyramid_Fig1

Like required tasks of the day, Basic Living Expenses are the first things that normally come out of a paycheck. You pay rent, water and electricity bills, insurance, buy groceries etc. However, if there is no plan in place for the rest of the money, whatever is left over often gets spent on Miscellaneous Expenses such as shopping, entertainment and the occasional dining out. Before you know it, there’s very little left over and this little is stretched into the remaining part of the pyramid. This is the kind of lifestyle that tends to lead to living paycheck to paycheck and a continuous cycling of debt.

Robert then suggested a different sort of pyramid which he termed the “Optimized Spending Pyramid”

Pyramid_Fig2

The top part of the pyramid is still Basic Living Expenses while the Miscellaneous Expenses lie at the bottom. Everyone in the finance field will agree that this should always be the case i.e. Pay bills first and then spend chump change on wants. The disagreements arise in the middle portion of the pyramid and the order in which those items should occur. Should Debt be paid off first before establishing Emergency Reserve? Should I give to Charity or the Church when I have debt piling up? Should I be saving for Retirement when I don’t have an Emergency Fund established? And so on and so forth.

The fact is there is not one correct answer. Even when there is an answer that makes sense mathematically, it can be hard to tailor emotions to the arithmetic. This is where personal values come into play. A bible verse says

“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12:34)

The order of priority simply depends on how much value you place on each area of the pyramid. If it’s more important to you not to owe anyone anything, you will find yourself focused on Debt Reduction. If you care a lot more about things going on with the less-privileged in your community, Charity will rank higher in that pyramid. If you care a lot more about developing your skills e.g. learning new software for your job or improving your reading skills, Personal Improvement will rank higher on the list. Whatever the case may be, this portion of the pyramid will be ordered entirely on the things you value most.

Money, like time, if not planned wisely often trickles into the areas of life which don’t rank high on the priority list. Therefore establishing a plan is important, but more important is that it should be your own plan. When the created plan is yours and based on your values, you’re more prone or at least have a stronger desire to follow it.

As a follow-up to this article, tomorrow I will connect Dan Pink’s talk about the three aspects of motivation and relate it to how you can begin to arrange the middle portion of this pyramid to fit you.

Note: I found out this morning through Get Rich Slowly that Robert Pagliarini is offering his E-Book Plan Z: How to Survive the Financial Crisis as a free download. I haven’t checked it out but his Six-Day Financial Makeover was easy to read and comprehend and I expect this book to be the same.

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.

Excel_Overall

The template is divided into four main areas:

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

Income

Excel_1

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.

Excel_2

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

Excel_3

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

Excel_4

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.