How to save big on summer travel

07 May, 2018

With spring classes officially in the books, summer break is finally upon us – except for anyone taking summer courses starting next week. (Whomp whomp… but kudos to you for being ambitious and continuing that grind. You go Glen Coco!) Nothing says summer more than planning a relaxing trip or vacation. Whether it’s with family or a few college buddies, start mapping out your warm weather vacation strategy ASAP to save some money. Here are our tips :

When to book a bargain
A general rule of thumb is to purchase plane tickets at least six weeks in advance. That goes for domestic travel around the US, but worldly travelers should be looking as early as six months out. It has been rumored that Tuesdays and Sundays can be the best days of the week to get the lowest fare on plane tickets. Are you traveling during a holiday? Use this site to help plan your holiday travel and utilize the help of Hopper, an app that analyzes flight prices to predict when ticket costs will hit rock bottom. 

Fly the (budget) friendly skies
There are some great sites out there that can help you find low fares, and while the list can seem endless – Kayak and Google Flights are among the most well known services for bargain hunters. Scott’s cheap flights is a site that delivers great results for international travelers. Their team of humans (not computers) search for cheap flights all day every day, and when an airline makes mistakes or offers a great sale, they will email you with instructions on how to book. Sign up for their newsletter to be in the loop of the rarest of rare travel finds. This is a great way to find travel inspiration, too!

Land supercheap lodging
Everyone knows the lodging part of a vacation can turn out to be the most expensive. Turn to to find the absolute cheapest hotel rates. Of course, sites like Airbnb and VRBO are becoming popular because the rates are usually cheaper, AND you’re offered more amenities/room space which = more bang for your buck. Consider contacting the host directly to kindly inquire if there’s room to negotiate on price. You’d be surprised how often there is, especially during off-season times of the year.

App, app and away!
In addition to plane tickets and lodging, we know there are little travel expenses that tend to add up along the way. Baggage rates, rental cars, Uber/Lyft, food, the list goes on! To make the most of your vacation dollar, use these handy budgeting appsTrabee Pocket helps you set a vacation budget in advance so you can plan easier, and even offers a function to use multiple currencies and set exchange rates. When you're all done, you can view and export your travel expense report. (Calling all budget nerds!)

Be a savvy spender
Let's be real. Traveling is fun but it can get expensive if you don't play your cards right. In addition to using these tips, make sure you are not relying on a loan or credit card to fund your vacations. Credit cards should be a no go unless 1) You are taking advantage of the reward/airline points and 2) You have the cash on hand to pay off the credit card purchases in full. The only thing you should be paying for after your trip is a bad sun burn, not the interest on your credit card!

It's Dead Week. How to Financial De-Stress

23 April, 2018

Your projects are nearing their deadlines, you have two more papers to write, a group presentation AND a Biology final that’s 30% of your final grade. Eek! Were they really thinking when they named this week “dead” week? For most students this week feels anything but dead. (Only because a steady supply of coffee and Red Bull is keeping you alive and functioning). If you’re feeling an increased amount of stress this time of the semester, you’re not the only one. In addition to study woes, you might be worrying about paying another months worth of rent, or if you’ll have enough money to move for your first full time job. We don’t want to add financial stress to the mix, so take these precautionary tips to help financial de-stress your life!

Create a Budget – At first, you might think that budgeting your money is only going to add to your financial stress, but it is actually the opposite. Budgeting is the best tool you can use to get control over your spending and make sure you’re not shorted at the end of the month. Start thinking about what expenses you will need to have covered by next month, and take the steps today to implement some saving strategies into your budget. Instead of going out every weekend, or spending your paycheck on a new summer wardrobe, set aside some money for your upcoming summer events.

Get an Emergency Fund – If you set aside some money for an emergency fund, that will create peace of mind for you and will alleviate any feelings of stress if something unexpected happens. We all know flat tires and last minute medical bills pop up out of nowhere and are never at the right time. With having the emergency fund, you will be prepared to cover that bill instead of relying on credit cards or parent’s help – no sweat! Shoot to have at least $500 - $1,000 saved up in your emergency fund to start with. Investigate an option with your bank to have a portion of your paycheck automatically deposit to your savings account. It's easy and stress free!

Make an Appointment with us! If you are struggling with creating a budget or developing a savings plan on your own, we can help make the process stress-free. We can walk you through step by step to help you get a handle on your spending, in addition to providing other resources, such as taking a personal finance class here at Iowa State. (HDFS 183 or 283) If you are feeling overwhelmed by your student loan debt, we will make it easy to understand your loans and your repayment options. Contact us via email or phone below!

Check your Credit Report Regularly Identity theft is no joke. This financial stressor can be prevented by regularly checking your own credit report, and monitoring your statements. If you see erroneous activity on your credit card statement, be sure to dispute the charge with your credit card company. If you see an account on your report that is not yours, contact the bureau and the creditor to get it removed. Also – do not fall victim to the many student loan scammers that are out there. They prey on student loan borrowers by promising loan forgiveness and lower payments. If it sounds too good to be true, just hang up the phone!

Strive for Balance Finally, it is importance to find the balance between work, school, saving and enjoying your life. Take time to relax regularly and know that you cannot conquer all of your financial troubles in one day. It takes time to get the hang of budgeting and choosing to save your money over spending it. One month you might be a savvy spender, but the next you decide to ‘treat yo self.’ It’s all about balance!

If you’d like to make an appointment so you can financial de-stress, email us at or call 515-294-0677.

How do I build credit as a student?

03 April, 2018

Building good credit is a must. We know why credit is important because it helps you qualify for loans, auto insurance, apartment leases, and other credit down the road. But as a student, you typically don't have a mortgage, or a lengthily credit history, so how can you be proactive about building your credit now? Consider these tips :

1. Become an authorized user on your parents’ account.
If your parents already have an existing credit card account, they can add you on as an "authorized user." This is a good option to ease into credit building, as long as your parents are responsible credit card holders and are okay with you “piggybacking.” You can make purchases as an authorized user as if the card was your own, but paying the charges legally remains the primary cardholder’s responsibility. Your parents or family member will still be able to monitor what you spend, but this can be a way for students to get experience using a credit card without trying to apply for one on their own.

2. Open up your own credit card and use it for occasional, small purchases.
Since responsible and on time payments help build your credit history, having the card alone won’t build your credit, you have to actually use it. Sounds scary right? But the key point is to only use the card for purchases you can afford –like a tank of gas, or a trip to the grocery store. After you use the card to complete your purchase, pay it off immediately. When you apply for the card, make sure you are not agreeing to open an account with hidden annual fees, or sky-high interest rates. If you are unable to get a credit card on your own, you may need to assign a co-signer. 

3. Open up a secured credit card.
This is another safe way for students to build credit. Secured credit cards require a “down payment” or security deposit that becomes your credit line. For example, you can get a secured credit card with a credit limit of $200 if you put down up to that amount from your checking or savings account. This is a great concept because it prevents you from spending money that you don’t have. We recommend reaching out to your personal bank or credit union if you're interested in opening a secured credit card account. 

4. Practice good credit habits.
Once you get your first line of credit –whether it is a credit card or student loan, you will need to make sure you manage that wisely. Paying off your balance on time and in full is the best way to show lenders that you are responsible with your debt payments. Payment timeliness is a big factor in how they calculate your score, in fact, it makes up about 35% of your score. Also, be cautious of opening too many accounts at one time. This might look like risky behavior to the lender because you have a short credit history and don’t want to appear credit reliant. When it comes to your student loan payments, never miss a payment (even if it's a day late!). Be sure to utilize the auto pay option to save 0.25% off the interest on your loans and in return, gain piece of mind that your student loan payment will always be on time.   

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 

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