My Financial Experience - My Imperfect Budget

08 November, 2017

Having a budget is something that has helped me stay sane while in school. As a freshmen in 2014, I felt ready to begin managing my finances. I was excited to see what I could do with my money, and how I could slowly accumulate my wealth. I decided to open up an Excel spreadsheet, and I began to create what I now use today, on a daily basis.

Although I use this budget today, I was not able to say the same thing for my freshman year. The budget I created was awful. I started by creating some rows, and I ended up with a list of some expenses that I knew applied to my lifestyle: groceries, car maintenance/gas, dining out/snacks, and other categories.

These are just a few examples of what I included. I also created a section with my checking account and cash balances. This may seem like I knew what I was talking about, but the truth is, I had no idea what I was doing—after a few times of attempting to utilize my budget, I realized that it was not going to work. I was frustrated, because I put so much thought into my budget, and in return, it was doing nothing for me. I thought that I had everything I needed to budget successfully, but it turned out that I needed a little more, based on my needs.

Each budget is different, and it will change depending on the person that it belongs to, as well as the financial state that the person is in. For me, I wanted something that would track my daily expenses, income, savings, and I wanted it to be specific. I also wanted something that would keep track of my debt, and even give me an overview of my year. Today, my budget may seem very complex to others, but I know the ins and outs of it. I know how to adjust things if it is needed, and it has become a very easy process for me. Three years ago, I would not have imagined myself using such a complex budget.

The thought of budgeting prior to college would scare me. Today, I can look forward to it, because it has become so simple. I have made a list of tips for any of you who are thinking about creating a budget.

• Start anywhere, whether that be tracking your expenses, or what you need to save; understand that it will not be perfect, but starting is the first step!
• You cannot create a perfect budget for yourself from the start, because part of having a budget, is discovering how your finances work.
• After your draft is complete, have friends, family, and/or professionals look at it!
• From there, you may find that your needs change, because budgets change all the time, so be flexible! You will learn as you go!
• Because you are learning as you are making your budget more complex, you will find that what once may have seemed scary, is no longer a threat!
• Overall, start your budget, and do not give up on it! Modify it where you need to. Be flexible, and if things do not work out, then go a different route, be patient, and it will be worth it!

It took me three years to perfect my budget, but it could still change for me today. Once I start having to make mortgage payments, or pay my car bill, my budget will change as well. The point is, you just have to give it time!

Written by: Sergio Torres, peer mentor @ Student Loan Education Office 

5 Things You Love That Are Draining Your Budget

24 October, 2017

1. Living Close to Campus: Trust me, I know that a 5 minute walk from all of your classes is nice and convenient but it’s also taking a toll on your income. Apartments close to campus cost considerably more than apartments off campus. When you are thinking about renting a new apartment, remember to do your research and weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each option. If you are worried about transportation, Cyride buses are running continuously to off campus apartments and there is free parking available in the commuter lot. Living off campus can be a great way to save money on your living expenses.

2. Your Pet: Fluffy might be better off staying at your parent’s house. On average, having a pet can cost you over $1,000 the first year and $500 each additional year. Between vet bills, pet food and boarding costs, the expenses can really rack up. There are multiple shelters around Ames that are always looking for volunteers to hang out with the animals but you should think twice about adopting and the effect it would have on your budget.

3. Going Out Every Weekend: Take my Newly 21-Year-Old word for it, the bars are expensive. Going out every weekend for 2 or 3 nights when drinks can cost up to $6 can make a huge dent in your income. FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) can be rough but I promise your friends will still love you if you cut back on the partying. Check out things you can do around Ames for entertainment that are free of cost or volunteer as designated driver for the night to save some change.

4. Eating Out: Ramen noodles and PB&Js can get old but when the average American spends $232 a month eating out at restaurants, it’s a sacrifice you might want to make. There are great opportunities on campus to take advantage of, such as cooking classes and cheap lunch options during events like Homecoming. Consider shopping at discount grocery stores around Ames like Aldis that can help you cut back on your food expenses and learn a valuable skill.

5. New/Designer Clothing: I want to look as hip as anybody but honestly, nobody is going to notice if you don’t have the newest $140 Patagonia sweater or if you wear the same outfit a couple days in a row. Get your Macklemore on and start rummaging through those thrift stores, borrow from your friends, and don’t be afraid to rock a free t-shirt that you picked up on campus.

 

Written by student peer adviser - Serine Isenhart 

October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month

09 October, 2017

October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month! It promotes raising awareness to the importance of cybersecurity and protecting your identity when surfing the web. It is important to keep your identity and financial information protected while you are using a public wireless connection. Here are a few tips to keep in mind.

Avoid using university/public wifi to pay bills, check your bank accounts, or online shopping. Using the wifi at coffee shops, libraries, or even universities may seem convenient at times, but they are often not secure enough for sensitive information. The Federal Trade Commission suggests using websites that are encrypted when you must use an unsecure wifi network.

Research has shown that mobile applications do not adequately encrypt information, which is why you may not want to file your taxes, purchase items online, or access your bank account through an unsecured wireless network. For tasks like these, it may be best to use a secure network or use your mobile data.

Be aware of your surroundings. Shoulder surfing is a spying tactic used to obtain PINs or passwords. Try not to leave your electronic devices unattended, if you must do so, be sure they are locked. Remember to log out of your student/personal accounts when using public computers.

Lastly, monitor your accounts for suspicious activity. Follow these simple steps to reduce your chances of becoming a victim of identity theft or a data breach and teach your family and friends to do the same!

I Know You Don’t Want to Do This Stuff, but The Office is Here to Make it Easier

27 September, 2017

1. Just sit down and file your FAFSA (hopefully BEFORE December 1st if you want to get some institutional aid). Some of you probably think, “Why? I won’t qualify for anything?” Well, let me tell you something; at the absolute bare minimum, you will qualify for federal loans that have a lower interest rate compared to most private loan options.

 

 2. Meet with your academic advisor early and often. Set up your four year plan and stick to it. Iowa State’s tuition for full-time students will stay the same after you hit that 12 credit mark. If you don't plan properly, you may be stuck taking an extra semester, which only means you'll be taking on more debt. Graduating within 4 years is the way to go!

 


3. If you’re a full-time student, remind yourself to make school your top priority. By all means, please enjoy your life still. But don’t skip studying for a test to go out with your pals (for the third night in a row). It’s OK to say “No, I need to study!”

 

4. If you’re overspending and quickly running out of money, change one of two things. Stop spending so much or have more money. Some people do well with budgets, buuutttt the rest of us just can’t let go of our habits. Get a job or pick up more hours! Have you heard how much the dining centers are paying?? 

 

5. Follow the wise words of Lil Dicky and “Save Dat Money”! Get in the habit of putting a portion of your paycheck into savings. This will help build a safety cushion for now and will become second nature when you get a full time job. 

 

6. Remember you are in college and it’s OK to act like it. Take the bus, shop second hand, and take advantage of freebies (this includes food and activities)! Practice conscious spending and learn to live below your means. In the beginning, it will be difficult because when you’re in college your means are about as meager as they come. Instead, focus on how you can get the greatest value for every dollar you spend. 

 


7. Think about the long-term value instead of short-term pleasure when making decisions. Yeah, it’s pretty easy to walk into a restaurant and get a job. But if you work towards something like an internship in your chosen field, it could lead a full-time position after graduation.

 

8. Take 5 minutes and apply for scholarships through the financial aid office and your college. Most programs now use a single application that qualifies you for a tons of scholarships. When writing essays, be sure to share your story in detail and try to answer the questions in a memorable way. Don't forget to have a friend proof read for you. Yay for free money and reducing your loan debt!

Written by Ericka Kadner, Student Loan Education Office Peer Mentor

Sporting Events on a Budget

15 September, 2017

The weather is starting to cool down (hopefully), students are back in school, and that means Cyclone football and other fall sports are here! If you were not one of the lucky students to snag an All Sports Package, or Football Season tickets from the lottery system, there are still some other ways students can save money while attending their favorite sporting event.

For football games, the best “bang for your buck” is definitely the student pass, which comes out to be about $20/game, or $125 total for football season tickets. With most students not being able to make every single game, make sure to ask around and see if you'd be able to snag a friend's ticket who would be willing to sell their ticket to you at face value (or less!). It is recommended that incoming students enter their name by June 30th in order to be considered for the lottery. Scalping tickets right before kickoff can also be a great way to get a good deal on a ticket. The scalpers are usually willing to bargain with you, but be careful of potential scams! 

There are various reseller websites students can use to buy reasonably priced tickets, such as CycloneFanatic.com, StubHub, or Craigslist. If you wait closer to the date of the game, the seller may be desperate to sell their tickets, so they may drop the price in an effort to get their tickets sold as soon as possible. However, buying the tickets online may include a wide range of "convenience" fees that can, in some cases, double the total cost of your ticket. You can usually avoid these fees by purchasing tickets at the stadium box office. If you can't get to the stadium in advance, order the tickets and have them mailed to you. You may also have some of the fees waived by selecting “Will Call,” or by selecting the option to print tickets from home. These days, it may also be possible to avoid some fees by entering the game using a ticket displayed on your mobile phone.

Timing your purchase can also be important. If you suspect a game will sell out, it may be better to buy early than risk having to pay above face value on a reseller site. This is especially true for NFL games. The longer you wait to purchase tickets for popular games, the more expensive the tickets will become as they are typically in high demand. 

Another budget breaker with sporting events is the cost of stadium food. If you don’t plan ahead of time, you might be stuck shelling out $10+ for a hot dog. We suggest filling up on a big meal before the game to help you avoid food cravings while you're watching the game. (Hello, endless options for tailgate food!) Beverages can also be very expensive. Jack Trice Stadium lets you bring in one 20 oz unopened bottle of water per person. 

As a student, don't forget to take advantage of the free admission offers at other sporting events in Ames! Iowa State students receive free admission to all regular season wrestling, gymnastics, volleyball and women's basketball events (women's basketball excludes holiday break games). All you need is your student ID. 

Use these tips and tricks to help make your next memorable sporting event fun AND affordable!

Save Money Shopping Online - Use Honey!

28 August, 2017

It is a no brainer that online shopping has become consumers' preferred retail method, with e-commerce businesses like Amazon, Walmart, and Apple growing by 10 -12% a year and raking in over $201 billion dollars total, according to Emarketer. In fact, 51% of Americans prefer to do their shopping online. It’s easy, convenient, and gives consumers the opportunity to take advantage of “online only” sales. 

With our email inboxes constantly being bombarded with online shopping coupons and codes, it may be difficult to spot the best deal. What if you could make sure you’re maximizing your hard-earned dollar by using every coupon available? There’s a web extension for that!

It’s called Honey. Honey is a service that automatically finds coupon codes for the site you’re shopping at and applies them to your order when you’re ready to checkout –saving you time, AND money!

Simply install the Honey browser extension and you’ll see the button placed in your browser bar, near the top right corner. While shopping at a supported store, click the ‘honey’ button and you’ll be able to view all available sales and coupon codes. During the checkout, click on “find savings” and honey will automatically find the best coupons that apply. If a store you’re shopping at does not offer Honey, simply make a store request here.

When you download Honey, you’ll also become part of the Honey Gold Rewards Program. When you shop at any of the 3,700+ participating sites, you’ll earn a percentage back in Gold. The reward you receive will be a randomized amount and the percentage back varies from store to store. Claim your Honey Gold by simply clicking the "Find Savings" button while shopping or by clicking the "Activate" button on the exclusive Honey Gold offers on the Offers page. Then, shop as normal! You’ll be able to see your Gold in your account once you complete your purchase. Once you accumulate 1000 Gold, you can redeem your Honey Gold via a $10 electronic Gift Card at Amazon, Groupon, Sears, and more. Of course, this is only an additional perk of using Honey. You can still save money by just using the extension. 

You may be familiar with the other shopping coupon app – RetailMeNot, which will pull up coupons and deals by searching for a particular store, but honey does a lot of the dirty work for you –they find the applicable coupon codes, and add them to your cart for you without having to search for the store, and deciphering between in store and online coupons. With being one of the most popular online shopping “life hacks,” Honey has grown in popularity, with currently over 4.7 million users and an average customer rating of 4.8 out of 5 stars.

There is currently no “mobile” download option, but they have a plan to offer a mobile app in the near future. Here are some reviews from the happy customers who use Honey.

"I don't shop without this app anymore! It takes the hassle out of searching for coupon codes and has surprised me by saving me a good amount of money so far. Even when it doesn't find codes, I'm at least happy I didn't spend time searching for them.” -Catherine R

"Wow! This is effortless. I have wasted so much time searching for coupon codes online. Honey does all this for you. Takes all promo codes and whether they apply or not, tests each one to make sure you are getting the best discount! I'm in! I love it." – Jess B.

Install the browser add-on today, and you'll find the savings will be sweeter than, well... honey! 

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