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

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!

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