My Holiday Budget for Happiness 

As a university student, I take budgeting pretty seriously. While I was fortunate enough to receive a four-year scholarship for my undergraduate study, I still want to make sure I have an emergency fund, and that I am spending responsibly. Particularly around the holidays, my spending can get a little out of control as I go on the hunt for Christmas presents for family and friends, but I have a holiday gift guide/budget plan that minimizes overspending and maximizes happiness. I was introduced to Earnest.com with this post, and they have a great student loan refinancing service that can help university students save money and pay off loans with custom payment plans. Who knows, I might need this service after grad school. 

Setting Limits

Each month, any incoming money is divided into separate accounts for living, saving, and emergency. It is important for me to set an overall spending limit of my savings on presents, as well as price caps on gifts for each person so I know going in how much I am going to spend. 

Resist the Call of the Red Starbucks Cup

This one is so hard for me, especially around the holidays when the Christmas cups come out and my favourite drink, the peppermint mocha, is officially back, but this is an easy cost cutter. While I am by no means a daily drink purchaser, I still think that saving money in little ways like this can amount to big savings at the end of the year. That being said, I do treat myself to the odd one though, and maybe even a frosted snowman cookie. 

Gift Experiences, not Items

Something new I have been doing the past few Christmases is gifting someone an experience like a travel voucher for a weekend getaway, a certificate for an adventure like camping or zipining, or even something simple like a dinner out together. This really helps with coming up with gift ideas, plus I find the memories last longer than giving someone an item that won’t last as long. 

Homemade Presents

The past month or so, I have fallen in love with Pinterest and all its Christmas knitting patterns. One in particular that I think is just adorable is for little stocking christmas tree decorations. I have made about 7 so far in various colours and patterns and I am planning to give them to my family members, particularly my grandparents who, at ages 86 and 87 don’t need clutter but would love something sentimental. 

Homegrown Gifts

While I am not much of a gardener myself, people like my grandparents gift jam made from raspberries they grew themselves and small spice plants, and other people I know gift handmade candles from backyard bee hive wax. I think this is such a nice way to gift something special and useful while not having to go out and battle the shopping malls. 

Essentials and Splurges

Instead of trying to think of unique gift ideas for people, think about what they use on a daily basis like a particular beauty product and gift that. Some might say this is unimaginative, but it is guaranteed that the gift will be loved, appreciated, and used. Another great gift idea is purchasing something that you know someone would like but would never buy for themselves. These splurge purchases make such nice surprises and show that you were paying attention, plus stores usually have really good sales going on so you can scoop up splurges at fractions of the original price. 

Gifts From All of Us

I remember as a kid thinking that a group present was just a way for people to get off the hook for finding someone a unique present, but really it is genius. Luckily my grandparents don’t have Internet so I don’t have to worry about ruining the surprise for my grandfather, but my mother and grandmother and I all pitched in and bought him a DVD recorder that he can use to convert his 800 or so VHS tapes to DVD format. While this item was more pricy and well over the price cap the family set for presents, pooling our money and getting him a nifty gift like this that he will get so much use out of is a great way to save money and give a gift someone will love. 

What are some ways that you budget for the holidays while maximizing happiness???

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How To Stay Financially Fit This Summer

With the end of classes and the arrival of sunny summer weather, many people put together a fitness plan to get swimsuit ready, however, far fewer people create a financial fitness plan for the summer to help budget for school, travel, and living expenses. I was contacted by Credit Card Insider with the idea to publish a post to assist young people such as myself with managing credit cards and making sound financial decisions.    

Credit Card Insider is an excellent online resource for unbiased consumer and commercial lending options. Many financial things are complex and so we tend to avoid them,  but Credit Card Insider makes financial education simple and easy, helping customers understand credit and debt and how to use credit cards responsibly. They provide research and comparisons of credit cards for various financial lifestyles, along with assistance with applying for a credit card.  In its simplest terms, there are different types of credit card, such as for students, business, travel, or rewards. In other words, the primary purpose of the card. Then there are different issuers like American Express, Capital One, and Discover. And both of these rest in credit rating, which ranges from excellent to limited or none. 

Getting involved with money and becoming financially savvy was an important part of growing up for me and helped me learn to make good decisions before I began attending university, which involves more financial responsibility. I find the summer months to be the best time for a mid-year check-up on my finances when I can set and adjust financial goals based on short-term needs for the summer and long-term needs for the coming year. So here is an outline of my financial plan:

Find a Summer Job

I have returned to my summer job that I have now held for the third consecutive summer. Being financially independent from my parents is really important, while also making sound choices. Not only does this job in the tourism industry provide me with a bi-monthly paycheque but it has really improved my interpersonal skills, professionalism, customer service, and organization, abilities that will look good on my résumé when I look for jobs in the future.

Direct Deposit

While many employers directly deposit paycheques into into employees’ bank accounts, some still give paper paycheques, which does not help curb unnecessary or impulsive spending. Arranging a direct deposit can help avoid overspending, and also means that there is no need for a trip to the bank to deposit the cheque.

Have a Separate Savings Account

I have two bank accounts: one that I operate out of and pay my bills from, and a high-interest savings account where I squirrel away a portion of my paycheques for a rainy day, a big purchase, or in case of an emergency. I pay myself as though I am paying a bill, transferring 10-15% of each of my paycheques into this account so I always have a little nest egg of cash.

Research Different Types of Bank Accounts

From student accounts, to high-interest savings accounts, to tax-free savings accounts, to chequing accounts, there is a myriad of account options. The simplest way to compare accounts and select the best one for your financial lifestyle and goals is to make an appointment with a financial advisor at your bank and seek their recommendations. Some accounts offer no annual fees, while others offer better interest rates, unlimited transactions, free e-transfers, and so on.  

Find Ways to Save Money on Products and Activities

There is a plethora of sources for rewards programs, coupons, and student discounts, which have greatly helped me save money on everyday items and on things I have wanted to do like movie theatre ticket discounts on Tuesdays, vouchers for a free game of bowling, and 2 for 1 dinner coupons in the local newspaper. Every little bit helps.   

Apply For and Use a Credit Card

This may sound counterintuitive as many kids are warned early on about the danger of using credit to purchase things, but starting early to build up a good credit score is really important, especially if one is looking to apply for loans for school or a vehicle or a mortgage in the future.  One method I use is that I only purchase things on my credit card that I know I can afford and immediately pay it off online. That way, I am building a good credit score while never having to worry about missed payments or accruing interest. An automatic monthly payment can also be set up through online banking, but my one issue with that is it doesn’t force you to look at your purchases for the month and evaluate which were necessary and which could be avoided next month. 

Learn Self-Control

This goes hand in hand with what I wrote just above about purchasing something on credit. It is an easy way to build up a good credit rating, but it is important to learn to delay gratification, i.e. waiting to purchase those to-die-for shoes until you actually have the money to pay for them up front. There is nothing worse than getting shoes on sale, only to pay for them on credit, forget about making payments, and then having to pay all that you saved on the shoes to the bank in interest. 

Know the Ins and Outs of Your Money

By this, I mean keeping track of the sources and amounts of money that are deposited into your bank account each month, and the sources and amounts of money that are withdrawn or spent. Doing this makes it really easy to see how small daily purchases like coffee or lunch can add up to hundreds of dollars in a month, and provide a big picture view of where expenses can be cut down to ensure expenses never exceed income, and clearly show where savings can be made. 

Prepare your own Tax Returns

Honestly, I haven’t done this one yet, but I plan to for the 2016 year. I just think this will help me better understand my finances, income tax, and the calculation of net pay in relation to monthly expenses. That, and then I can save myself the fee each year by having a company do it for me. 

What is your summer financial fitness plan???  Blog logo  

10 Ways to Save Money at University

The decision to attend college or university is the most expensive choice many young adults will make until they decide to purchase a new vehicle or a home. Classes cost hundreds of dollars each, making each semester of classes costing in the thousands. Because of this, I, like many other students, look for ways to cut back costs in other ways, so I wanted to share with you 10 of the ways I save money while attending university.

1. Pack a lunch and snacks

Admittedly, the library café’s muffins and sandwiches have beckoned to me from time to time but I really try to bring my own food with me each day. Those few dollars spent each day on food amount to hundreds per month that could easily be saved through some savvy meal planning. I have found leftovers to be a saving grace.

2. Bring coffee or tea in a travel mug from home

Similarly, the money spent on coffee or tea on campus could be saved by bringing drinks from home. Many universities have places on campus to get hot water so always pack a few extra coffee grinds or tea bags in case you want another cup later in the day.

3. Look for used textbooks or online versions

I think the most expensive textbook I have ever bought was around $200, and I seriously contemplated testing my luck by going into the course without one. The publishers say that students get a reduced price, but that didn’t soften the blow when I gave up $200 of hard-earned money for a required text that we only ended up using maybe three times. Thus, please please please look for used textbooks at the university bookstore or online, or try to track down a free PDF or an e-book for a much lower price. 

4. Take the bus

I cannot stress enough how big of a money suck driving a vehicle to campus is. At my university, a parking pass costs around $800. That doesn’t even factor in gas, insurance, maintenance, or any repairs that the vehicle might need during the terms. Comparatively, my student card is a bus pass from September to April for one automatic payment of $75 as part of my tuition. I believe other universities have similar setups so it baffles me why people would drive to school if they can help it, barring of course if they live too far away from campus to bus or if they have to drop others off first on their commute. 

5. Try to opt out of courses

University courses are really expensive, so see if any of the courses you have previously taken allow you to bypass others. For instance, I took AP English in grade 12, which let me skip out on paying $500 for a mandatory introductory English course that covered basic grammar and essay writing. 

6. Carefully map out your courses

Electives can be really tempting. Like my plan is to get a BA in Psychology and Linguistics, but that hasn’t stopped me from taking courses in astronomy and American literature. Problems can arise though if you don’t prioritize the requisite and prerequisite courses for your program, so plan out which courses are mandatory and make sure they fit in the class schedule before you start looking at electives. This can end up costing extra money if you have to spend an extra term taking the required courses you missed. 

7. Stash money away in a high-interest savings account

For some of my friends, seeing money in their bank account is enough motivation to go and spend it, not because they blow through money easily, but because they forget to subtract their monthly expenses first. I mean, I don’t think many people in their twenties are expert money managers yet. But squirreling money away in a savings account means that you can be generating interest while blocking it off from being spent on a new lipstick shade or a newly released hardcover book. 

8. Create a spending syllabus

Similar to planning out classes, make a detailed chart of the necessary monthly expenses and monthly income if you work a part-time job, and then budget how much money is leftover for you to spend on luxury items. 

9. Plan fun evenings at home

Going out for dinner, to the movies, or for a drink at a local bar with some friends can be fun, but also expensive. Instead, try planning a night in with everyone bringing something to snack on, or a game to play or movie to watch. 

10. Collect coupons and take advantage of student discounts

There are so many opportunities for savings, and even more for students. From restaurants to retail stores to recreational activities, many establishments offer students a reduced rate, which is always nice when money is tight. Having a bulletin board to keep all coupons sorted by product type or expiration date can also help save a bundle on groceries and other necessities. 

What are some ways that you save money at university or college??? Share them in the comments below 🙂 🙂 

What’s in my Backpack???

For many people the start of school is near, or has already happened. The beginning of a new school year is often a time of excitement to see friends and break out new school clothes, but it can also be a time of stress. As of tomorrow, I will be in my third year of university, so I feel like I have done enough first days of school, both high school and university, to provide a few helpful tips. So with that, I figured I would do a post on what is in my school backpack. Give it a read if you are wondering what to pack for your first day of high school or university, or if you just want to have a good snoop.

imageThe backpack: The backpack that I take to university with me is the Herschel classic backpack mid-volume in electric lilac. I do not think this colour is still available, but it comes in a plethora of colours and other styles, which you can browse here. What I really like about this backpack is the simple design. I don’t want a backpack with too many pockets that things could get lost in, but the front pouch gives me somewhere to put things where they will be easily accessible.

Image from Amazon.ca
Image from Amazon.ca

iPad Air 2: For those of you who are tech savvy or looking for an alternative to taking notes on paper, an iPad is a great tool to have. It takes over the role of a laptop, and is super light, making it a great way to keep a backpack from being too heavy to carry.

imageDay planner: I know some people are not fans of paper schedules and would rather use the calendar on their iPhone, but for me, having a hard copy of what I need to do is super useful. In my day planner, I write down all the readings, assignments, and tests that are upcoming, and when I am going to do them. I also colour-code things using different highlighters so I can see at a glance what types of work are upcoming. A day planner is also great to have to note doctors appointments, office hours of professors, or meetings with teachers. Even after school commitments like extra-curriculars or volunteer work can be noted so that nothing gets forgotten . Just find a system that works for you to keep everything on track and avoid the stress of last-minute panicking over a forgotten test or assignment.

imageNotebook: Note-taking is inevitable when it comes to school, but it is important to find a system that works for you. Maybe that means one notebook for each class, or a three-subject notebook for different days, or a binder full of loose sheets of paper. All through high school, I used the one notebook per class system, and it worked fairly well. The one problem with that though is if you start missing classes (and I say missing, not skipping). It can be hard to judge how many pages to leave blank for the missed notes, and leaving too many or not enough can be irksome. In university, I have a clipboard that I write notes on, and all my notes stay clipped to it. Then I paperclip them together at the end of each section and tuck them in the clipboard’s side pocket so I know where they are come exam time. That way, if I miss a day, it is easy to insert the missed notes. It is also easier to lend them to a classmate because I don’t need to give them my entire notebook.

*Note: For university classes, make sure to get to know at least one person in each of your classes. Many professors do not post notes made in class on any online templates, and may not post any notes online at all, so you need to find someone whose notes you can borrow if you miss a class*

imageWater bottle: It is really important to stay hydrated throughout the day, so toting a water bottle around will make sure you have quick and easy access to water. Drinking water will help keep you feeling alert during your classes if you’re feeling a little snoozy.

Image from 710keel.com
Image from 710keel.com

Snack: While high school classes do not allow snacks to be brought to class, university classes almost necessitate it. You create your own class schedule, and unless you are fortunate to have a 12-1 lunch block (which is very hard to get) you will most likely get hungry during your classes and not have a proper lunch block. I recommend packing something both easy and healthy. Apples and bananas are great, because they don’t need to be refrigerated. Sandwiches, or wraps are also good options. Smoothies are a quick way to get a bunch of nutrients on-the-go. Microwaveable foods like leftovers or heatable meals can be brought as well, but make sure there is a microwave close by, and that the smell of your food won’t waft through an entire lecture hall.

imageUmbrella: This is only a must-have if, like me, you live in a place where it rains all the time, and is not necessarily easy to predict. It is always best to be prepared for a deluge, and a little collapsible umbrella is an easy way to go.

IMG_5043Pencil case: This one may seem obvious, but there are many things you might need, and it’s good to have a checklist of things to include. Plus it’s an opportunity to show off some personal style with a classy black pencil case, or a home-made one, or, in my case, a cosmetic bag-turned-pencil-case. I used a cosmetic bag one year because I’d lost my pencil case the year before, and I’ve done it ever since. They are really easy to clean, and have plenty of space. Plus most of us have one lying around from that free gift with purchase we got that time.

Pencil case contents:

  • Pencils (remember to pack extra graphite if using mechanical pencils)
  • Pens (check that they have enough ink-most exams require blue or black ink)
  • Eraser (we all make mistakes sometimes)
  • White out tape or liquid white out (sometimes we make mistakes in pen, too)
  • Highlighters (good for noting important things to study in notes)
  • Sharpie ultra fine point permanent marker (useful for labelling things)
  • Ruler (many classes will require the drawing of diagrams on tests or in labs, and they will necessitate the use of a ruler for straight lines)
  • Calculator (there’s always a math class lurking in the schedule)
  • Sticky notes (not essential but I love making notes and putting them directly on textbook pages so I can read the text and my notes at the same time without going between textbook and notebook)

imageLip balm: Particularly in autumn and winter as the air gets dry, a lip balm is good to have tucked away to avoid dry or cracked lips. I really like using Fresh’s sugar lip balm because it is super hydrating, it smells delicious, and it comes clear or in a variety of tints if you want to hydrate your lips and have a bit of lip colour too.

imageHand cream: Once again, very good to have as the air gets dry, because your skin will dry out too. Your hands will be exposed and be busy writing and carrying books and holding up umbrellas, and they will need some TLC during the colder months.

Image from Amazon.ca
Image from Amazon.ca

Hand sanitizer: This is a really big one, because the start of school also marks the start of cold and flu season. With hundreds or even thousands of students back together, germs abound and it is important to always have clean hands before eating, after sneezing or coughing, or after touching something in the public domain that may have been touched by a sick person, like a door handle. It is always best to wash your hands regularly, but hand sanitizer is a quick, on-the-go way to help reduce the spread of germs and keep you from getting sick.

Image from Amazon.com
Image from Amazon.com

Tissues: If all the hand washing and hand sanitizing doesn’t do the trick and you get a cold or the flu, you will be grateful you have a few tissues tucked in the bottom of your backpack. Some cough lozenges also wouldn’t hurt.

Image from Amazon.ca
Image from Amazon.ca

Laptop/iPad/cell phone charger: This is one thing I usually forget to pack, and immediately regret when I turn on my laptop or iPad and find I only have 20% battery left. The phone charger is important, but less so than a charger for your laptop or iPad. You don’t want your device dying in the middle of you typing up an important essay or doing an online homework assignment.

*Note: To be safe, always plug in your laptop or iPad before starting to draft or edit an essay, or start an online homework assignment. This will help you avoid any panic if your device runs out of battery partway through, and will ensure no progress is lost*

Image from Amazon.ca
Image from Amazon.ca

USB memory stick: This one is HUGE, regardless of what level of schooling you are in. I know so many people who have lost entire essays because their computer crashed and they didn’t back up their files. Always keep a USB memory stick with the drafts of any major essays, papers, or projects on it. If you don’t have one, I strongly recommend you get one, and I would say don’t start your first day of university without one. It’s good to get in the habit of backing things up early so that you won’t lose any hard work.

*Note: I cannot emphasize this enough: BACK UP YOUR FILES!!!*

Image from Networksolutionsbd.com
Image from Networksolutionsbd.com

Student card: I am not sure how relevant this one is for high school students, since I only ever needed mine to prove what grade I was in when attending a school dance but in university, it is imperative that you have your student card with your student number on it when you when you go to write exams. They may not let you in the exam room or let you hand in your exam without this card, so it is best to always keep it on your person. Also, many student cards are a bus pass, and a reloadable food card to purchase food with if living on campus.

Image from Amazon.ca
Image from Amazon.ca

Change purse: You never know when you might need some bus money or a few dollars to buy a snack, so having some change on you is always a smart idea. Of course, you can tuck a few bills in there too since you won’t want to carry around a ton of change and be jingling across campus.

And that’s everything that’s in my school backpack!!! I hope this has been helpful for some of you starting up school again, either your first year or your last. Let me know in the comments below what your must-haves are for your school bag or backpack!!!

Thank you for stopping by, and I hope you have a lovely day 😃😃