5 Ways to Start the Semester Off on the Right Foot

09 January, 2018

Welcome back, students! We hope you have all enjoyed an exciting, yet restful break. With the first week of classes already underway, here are our tips to starting off this semester on the right foot!

1. Read the Syllabus
Take full advantage of “Syllabus Week” and actually take time to read it! This one may seem like a no-brainer but reading the syllabus can help you understand how your professor grades the classes, and what you can expect to get out of the course. It can also help you plan for the semester ahead by being aware of important test dates, assignments and quizzes. Take the initiative to introduce yourself to the professor as well during this week. This will show them that you care about their class and have an interest in what they are teaching. This will come in handy later in the semester, if you find yourself needing help or extra guidance.

2. Stay Healthy
If you’ve noticed the temperature has gone down, chances are you’ve also noticed the amount of people coughing and sniffling around campus has gone up! We are in high tide cold & flu season so do you best to ward off potential sicknesses by washing your hands often, eating healthy foods, and getting lots of sleep. Maybe it's time you finally visited the salad bar at the dining centers. French fries do not count as vegetables!

3. Stay Organized
If you haven’t already invested in a planner… go buy one! They are an excellent tool to ensure you stay on top of everything you have going on in your life –group meetings, deadlines, assignments, tests, work schedules, and of course, fun social events. :) As soon as you get your course syllabus, jot down the dates into your planner, or use the weekly planner to plan your homework schedule for the week. No matter the way you are using your planner, at least you will be less likely to forget an important date!

4. Practice Time Management
Along with keeping a planner to stay organized, try to set up your schedule so that you have multiple breaks throughout the day, and then use those breaks for studying. Have a slow lull at work? Put in some extra studying time! Start preparing for your exams from day one so you aren’t cramming for them later. You’ll retain all the information easier by reviewing the content on a daily basis. 

5. Track Your Spending
You thought this blog wasn’t going to bring up finances… well think again! :)With this being the first month of the year, everyone is on a mission to better themselves not only physically, but financially. You don’t have to aspire to be a personal finance whiz by the end of the spring semester, but you can start small by tracking your spending. Our website has a whole section on budgeting and some tools you might find helpful. Your wallet will thank you later!

How to Avoid Holiday Financial Stress

04 December, 2017

With the first week of December well underway, many people have holiday gift shopping on their minds. With a little planning and preparation, you can create your own holiday game plan to help save yourself time AND money this holiday season. Here are a few tips to help keep that financial stress of the holidays at bay.

1) Shop Year-Round – Holiday shopping doesn’t have to be done all in the month of December. If you are one to avoid the crowded malls and shopping centers during this time of year, you should consider jumpstarting your list earlier on in the year. If you end up empty handed when it comes to gift ideas for your friends or family, keep a running list in your phone when that person says ”I wish I had a…” or “One thing I’ve always wanted...” etc. Doing this will alleviate last minute scrambling for gift ideas. If you are a Pinterest fan, you can also create a “secret” Pinterest board where you can save potential gift ideas that you find throughout the year. Only you can see what you pin, so there’s no opportunity for others to spoil the surprise!

2) And Save Up $$ Year-Round –The holidays can take a big punch to your budget if you’re not prepared. Start setting aside money in a separate savings account early on in the year so you are prepared to pay cash for all your presents. If you wait until the last minute to buy all your holiday gifts, you are more likely to rely on credit cards to make your purchases –which is a big no no!

3) Seek out the Deals – Whether you are a big Black Friday shopper, or Cyber Monday, make it a goal to not pay full price for any gift you buy this season. Most stores will offer free shipping, or coupons for select weeks throughout the season, so make sure you scope those out and plan your gift shopping around the deals. This goes for comparison-shopping as well. If you’re buying a big ticket item for someone on your list, look at different stores to see who offers the best price, or look into the store’s price match policy.

4) Make a List & Stick to It – Just like your regular budget, create a budget or spending limit for each person on your list and do not go over it. If you don’t do gift exchanges already with friends and family, be sure to implement a spending limit policy to make sure everyone spends the same amount on their gift. The holidays tends to get everyone in a generous and giving mood, but don’t throw your budget out the window in doing so!

5) Consider Homemade or “Food” Gifts – If your holiday budget is really tight this year, and you know your way around a kitchen, consider giving baked goods as gifts this year. With everyone being self proclaimed “foodies” nowadays, no one is going to turn away a tin of cookies! Are you a crafter? Giving a homemade gift does have more sentiment than a store bought gift. Even better? They are an easy to put together at the last minute. A crocheted winter hat or scarf, a hand painted wooden sign, or a homemade sugar scrub –the list is endless!

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

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