5 Budget-Friendly Ways to Beat the Winter Blues

25 February, 2019

Whether you're spending a little extra on takeout during these cold winter months or finding yourself indulging in online shopping a little too often because you're snowed in from a blizzard, make sure you're taking steps to keep the reins on your spending. Fortunately you have the ability to control your budget -unlike the weather! Here are some budget-friendly ways to kick those winter blues to the curb.

Cook at home more frequently. Even though it's convenient to order Jimmy Johns for the millionth time this month or go out to eat at the local restaurants on a chilly day, your food budget will take a giant hit. Plan on cooking at home more frequently to save on the cost of food, and consider doubling a few recipes to freeze and store for future meals. These winter months are a great time to master the art of meal prepping! This will help you save some money on last-minute food runs.

Check out free events on campus. If you're feeling a little stir crazy and want to get out and do something fun over the weekend, take a look at the Iowa State events calendar for free events such as craft workshops, winter seminars and live music or dance performances on campus. This can be a great way to meet new people and enjoy some cultural or community events at little or no cost. Staying social is a great way to beat those winter blues!

Log in a good workout. Exercising regularly is good for your health and has the added benefit of boosting your mood. Whether you enjoy running, swimming, or indoor sports, hit up State Gym or Lied Recreation Center a few times a week to give your mood a boost on a dreary day. Regular exercise can also help you sleep better which in turn will help you look forward to a more positive day. Also, your access to these gyms are FREE with your student ID card! 

Host a movie night with friends. Maintaining a social life when the weather calls for many nights in can be challenging, but consider taking the lead and hosting a movie night for your friends. Prepare some snacks for the group, or have everyone pitch in with a snack or dinner item to turn the event into a potluck. This can be a fun way to reconnect with friends without spending a lot of money on dining out and entertainment. If planning a movie night with friends isn't your thing, don't forget to take advantage of Cyclone Cinema! They're sponsored by the Student Union Board and host showings of all the latest movies in Carver 101. 

Recycle and re-purpose items for your apartment or dorm. If you want to spruce up your place on a budget, think of ways to recycle and re-purpose items you already have. From furnishings to home decor, think out of the box to work on a few creative projects this season. Paint existing furniture in a new hue, make new cushion covers or wall hangings out of material from the craft store or simply rearrange the furniture and decor to create a new look. Okay, you may not be able to re-purpose your dorm furniture, but you can follow these tips to make your dorm look like "a home" on a budget! 

 

4 Creative Ways to Save Money

28 January, 2019

Saving money is a lot like working out at the gym. It’s hard to get motivated sometimes (especially in this cold!), but we're told by everyone that it's good for you. But just like the feeling you get when you finish a workout, it feels good to be saving money! Sometimes we just need a little push. This year, get a grip on your money and start saving with these creative ideas.

Round Up That Change!

After each purchase round your amount to the nearest dollar. For extra savings, roundup in five-dollar increments. Every time you purchase something, round it up and add it to your savings. There are many apps out there that will do this for you, such as Qapital or Acorns. Both apps help you round up on your recent purchases, and you can even invest your spare change with pre-built portfolios that make it possible for anyone to start investing. It's always a good idea to automate your savings because you don't even have a lift a finger to start your savings snowball -the app does it for you!

Learn New Things

There are many expenses we could cut back on if we could just do them ourselves. Oil changes, haircuts, and simple household fixes are all things that we generally rely on other people to take care of for us. Instead of paying others to do it, learn how to do it yourself. It may take a few times before you are comfortable with cutting your child’s or spouses’ hair, but it will save you money in the long run. Especially with tax season coming upon us, don't forget to take advantage of our Volunteer Income Tax Assistance service for students. They will prepare your taxes for free! No need to pay someone else.

Don't Save Your Credit Card Info Online

Try not to save your credit card number and billing address on your favorite sites. Depending on the site, this may not be a secure option, and it can be hard on your budget! (Calling all online shoppers...) It is likely that after you hit the “add to cart” button you may reconsider your purchase. Once you remember that you must go get your wallet and type out your card information and address, your spending spidey senses should kick in. Take a step back and think about your purchase before you click "buy."

Time Yourself at the Store

Do you ever find yourself going grocery shopping while hungry? Chances are if you have, you've probably bought more food than you need! The more time you spend at a store, the more likely you will be to make impulse purchases. If you go on a busy day when you only have a short amount of time between classes, you will find that it is a lot easier to stick to your list, as you need to get in and get out quickly. Same rule applies for those Target trips! We know how easy it is to spend HOURS inside a Target but try to stick to your shopping list!

How do you plan on being creative with saving money in 2019?

What can I use my financial aid refund for?

14 January, 2019

Have you checked your bank account recently? If so, you may have noticed we started disbursing financial aid last week. We recommend you don’t spend it all at one place! Here are some helpful guidelines on what financial aid can, and cannot be used for. 

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Room and Board? Yes! Maybe you recently moved off campus so you are relying on this money to pay your bills. The financial aid refund can be used to pay your housing (on or off campus living), utilities, renters insurance, meal plan, and any other living necessities. You may also use your refund to pay your fraternity or sorority bill. If you’re paying your bills on a monthly basis, we recommend you place the refund in a savings account, and withdraw the monthly amounts as needed. You don’t want to be short on rent money come May. The financial aid you receive is intended to last the entire semester, and if you've maxed out all of your options, we are unable to award additional funds.

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Tuition & Fees? Yes! This one might be a no brainer, but this is typically the first thing covered with your financial aid. Since financial aid disburses over the Ubill first, it covers any current charges, like tuition/fees, books (if you charged them to your Ubill), dorm/meal plan charges, unpaid parking tickets (you know who you are), and potential course fees. 

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Concert Tickets? No. We know you’ve been waiting all year for your favorite artist to go on tour again AND they're going to be at Coachella, but financial aid shouldn’t be used for entertainment purposes. We hate to sound like huge fun haters, but you’ll thank us later when you make the smart decision to buy those tickets with money from your part time job instead. For many students, their financial aid refund may be partly consisting of student loans. It's like you're paying interest on materialistic items or experiences; not a good move.

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Transportation & Childcare Expenses? Yes! Anticipated transportation and child care expenses can be covered by your financial aid. If you have commuting costs that are expensive, you may look into completing a cost of attendance adjustment form that is completed through our main financial aid office. However, financial aid is not meant to cover the purchase of a vehicle, auto loan payments, insurance, license/registration and general maintenance. We can also consider any weekly childcare expenses through your childcare provider.

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Spring Break Trip to South Padre? No. Again we hate to be the fun haters here, but financial aid should not be used to fund any extracurricular trips outside of study abroad experiences. Now would be a good time to see if you can save a little extra money, or pick up more hours at your job to help pay for a trip come March. You know, the responsible adult way to do Spring break!

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New Wardrobe? Tempting…but no. If you have some extra cash or gift cards leftover from the holiday season, consider using those instead. New clothes and/or shoes can really eat into your budget if you’re not careful. If that was you last semester, make sure to set a monthly budget for clothes and entertainment so you can monitor your own spending habits and achieve your savings goals quicker.

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Books & Supplies? Yes. Students can purchase course materials, school and art supplies, calculators, and even laptops using their U-Bill both in-store and online. Your financial aid refund can also be used to buy textbooks outside of the University after the money is in your bank account. If you need more money for a laptop purchase and you've already utilized all options for financial aid, you may look into a cost of attendance adjustment.

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These are just a few guidelines to help you get off on the right foot this semester. If you need help budgeting your financial aid refund, you can meet one on one with one of our advisers through ISUappointments (use the Budgeting/Credit appointment type). Wishing all students a great and fiscally responsible 2019!

Your Ultimate Winter Break To Do List

18 December, 2018

Congratulations, Cyclones! Fall 2018 semester is officially in the books, and it’s time to breathe in a sign of relief –winter break is here. Whether you’re planning to spend your break by catching up with friends, or wearing pajamas until your mom tells you to go change, we don’t judge. However, we do have some suggestions that will ensure you start the New Year off on the right (financial) foot.

1) Check your Ubill and financial aid award
Applying for financial aid and paying your Ubill is quite the cyclical process. Every semester, your bill is due August 20th, and January 20th. We don’t mean to act like the Grinch or Ebenezer Scrooge, but if you don’t complete the proper financial aid steps, your bill will be susceptible to late fees. By the end of this month, you’ll be able to view the charges on your Ubill for tuition, fees, housing and meal plans. Many students who are registered for classes will most likely see Spring 2019 tuition charges already assessed on their account. We recommend taking a look at your Fall Ubill to use as a guideline for what you’ll be charged in the Spring. As long as your ducks are in a row, your financial aid will start applying to your Ubill starting the night of January 8th! You may contact our main financial aid office at 515-294-2223, or financialaid@iastate.edu for your financial aid questions. Refunds and Ubill questions should be directed to 515-294-7388 or ubill@iastate.edu. Refunds typically take 2-3 business days to get direct deposited once your Ubill is paid.

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2) Apply for scholarships
Have you heard about OneApp? Just like it says in the name –it’s just ONE application! While the 2019-20 FAFSA was due on December 1st for priority aid consideration, you still have time to get yours on file for next year. Did we mention the financial aid process was cyclical? The OneApp is available for current students until March 1st but we recommend that you file this before your college aid deadline. By completing the simple application, you’ll automatically get considered for hundreds of scholarships offered through our office and your college or department. Winter break is a great time to submit scholarship essays and you can do them from the comfort of your mom's couch in your PJs! Look at it this way, if you spend 4 hours applying for scholarships and you get awarded $500-you just made $125/hour! 

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3) Find an on campus job
Students who work while in school tend to have higher GPAs than those who don’t, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Not only are you earning extra income, but you’re learning valuable time management skills and building your resume. A lot of students, especially freshmen in their first semester, get the hang of the classwork and study commitments before they take on a part time job, so the spring is a great time to find the perfect campus job. If you have work study on your financial aid award, put it to good use! Having the eligibility means that your employer doesn’t have to pay 100% of your wages and they get to pay you partly from the work study funds. This sounds confusing but let your employer take care of the rest -it’s just like working any other job, rest assured. Find all available opportunities by checking out the online Student Job Board on your Accessplus Account and learn more about the work study program here

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4) Review your loan amounts
Every semester, or at the beginning of every year, students have the option to decline or reduce their federal loans. In addition to planning out how you’re going to pay for your Spring bill, we want to make sure that you’re not borrowing more than what you need. The federal student loans you accept on Accessplus have low, fixed interest rates, so always utilize those before borrowing a private loan from a bank, like Wells Fargo or Sallie Mae. Students have access to their loan history through the Financial Aid tab on Accessplus (it's called Loan Pmt Estimate). There you will find your total indebtedness (from all schools attended), your estimated student loan payments, and your loan servicers. If you're stuck having to borrow more loans than you'd like this year, consider working full time in the summer to save up some money for next year, and trying to apply for more scholarships. Basically, points 2 and 3 have a direct correlation to your student loan debt! Work more and earn scholarships = less debt. It's science. Trust us, you do not want to borrow student loans and put your plan for repayment on the back burner. Be proactive about your debt now by making small payments towards the interest. 

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5) Schedule a one on one appointment
We understand to do lists can be anxiety enducing and are not for everyone! We are here to help along the way. Our staff in the Student Loan Education Office can assist you one on one with navigating any of the aforementioned material. We specialize in assisting students with understanding their student loan debt, budgeting while in school, and making the most of their tuition dollars. You can request a meeting through ISUappointments and yes, we are open during break! As an added bonus, students who come in and meet with us are automatically entered into our Live Like a Student award drawing. One freshmen, sophomore, junior, senior, and graduate student gets selected every semester and the award totals $2,500. The best part? It goes towards your student loan debt! Let us help you take the fear out of your finances as we start a new semester.

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Wishing a restful and enjoyable break to all!

What I learned from my biggest financial mistake.

22 October, 2018

One of my most notable financial mistakes happened after I graduated from college. Surprisingly, it wasn’t my first student loan bill that came in the mail, or the fact that I had to adjust to living off an entry-level salary in a big city. For me, my financial struggle came from the misconception that my lack of credit history was going to set me back. After graduating with my Bachelor’s degree, I was able to pay off my student loans thanks to some savings I had from working over the summers in high school. While I was thrilled for being able to pay off my debt so quickly, I soon realized that was the only type of credit I have ever had. 

When I went to check my credit score, I was discouraged to see my score fell somewhere in the lower 600’s. A small panic started tightening in my chest. Why didn’t I take out a credit card and start using it earlier in college so I would have great credit now? I didn’t understand that just because I had an average credit score now, didn't mean I was going to have an average credit score forever... and that I could work on building that over time.

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I remember feeling as if I had to make up for lost time.I quickly called my bank in my hometown and asked them to send me a couple credit card offers in the mail. I decided to apply with Capital One, but due to my average credit score, they offered me an account with 24.9% APR. At the time, I really didn’t understand if this was a bad or good rate, I just assumed it was normal. 

I quickly started charging purchases to the card. I went to buy some clothes at JC Penney, I bought a tank of gas, and some groceries. In my first month, I had charged about $83 to my card. Easy enough. I could get that paid off by the due date, no problem. I thought I had gotten the hang of this credit card thing.

It wasn’t until months later that I was out shopping and was being bombarded with the store credit card offerings –“Would you like to save 40% off your total order today by opening up a rewards card?” Who wouldn’t want to take advantage of those savings? The deals were almost too good to be true. Hook line and sinker, I took the bait. Had I read the fine print, I would have found out that the store credit card interest rates are sky high! And paying interest for materialistic things is not fun.

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Since I was new to using credit cards, there were a few months where I wouldn’t pay my balance off in full, but I kept using the card. By only making the minimum payment, I was delaying the pay off by months, even years. It was at that moment I knew I had to take control of my credit card debt. I stopped using the cards every time I went shopping, and instead, tacked more onto my minimum payments to get the balances paid off sooner.

Going a little “overboard” with credit cards after college turned out to be a my biggest financial mistake. I was in such a hurry to establish and build my credit history when I truly didn’t understand how credit worked. If I had just used my first credit card for a few more years, (and paid it off in full every month), I could have built up a decent credit history without feeling the need to juggle multiple cards at once.

In fact, the age of your accounts makes up 15% of your credit score. If the average age of your accounts is not very long, it's just going to take time to build that up. The "age" of your account refers to when you initially opened the account. That's why it's important to not close your oldest account. This graph explains the different ranges that can effect your score. Don't be worried if you fall into the "poor" category -time is on your side with this one.

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Knowing what I know now would have saved me a lot of worry and money, but it has helped me make smarter financial decisions. I may have learned the hard way when it comes to managing credit cards but behind every mistake is a hidden learning opportunity. I am choosing learn from my mistakes and not let my past define my financial future! In summary, you don't need to juggle multiple credit cards to build credit quickly. There is no need to panic! Your score will get better over time. 

How much do you know about credit cards? Look at our website here to learn more! https://www.loaneducation.iastate.edu/credit#view-credit-score

How to save money on a tight budget

24 September, 2018

Living paycheck to paycheck (or financial aid refund to refund…) can be a tiring cycle. You may think that there is NO room in your budget to spare even $20 a month for savings. However, most students forget that you can start small when it comes to saving. Breaking large amounts into smaller portions makes saving seem less daunting. Let's say you commit to saving $5.00 a week. That commitment can turn into $20/month easily by deciding to cut out one $5 purchase a week. Let's be honest. We all spend at least that amount per week (maybe even more) on things we don't necessarily need. Here are some more ideas on how to save money on a tight budget:

1. Find small savings that add up.
Maybe you’re feeling short handed at the end of the month but you don’t know why? Start tracking your spending. You may be unaware of all the little things that add up quickly. The daily coffee on campus, the vending machine snacks, and going out for lunch a few times a week. While those purchases may only be $2.00 - $5.00 at a time, they add up quickly. Those spending decisions alone may be the reason you’re not finding any extra money for savings in your budget. Try cutting back on those small daily purchases and you will see the difference!

2. Comparison shop to find the best prices.
On the note of going out to eat, your #1 solution there is to grocery shop for your food so that you can make coffee, snacks and meals at home for a fraction of the cost. In our last blog post we talked about grocery shopping at Aldis and how cheap their prices are and it's because they don't sell name brands. There are many benefits to buying generic products over brand name. In most cases, the generic versions are made up of the same materials or ingredients as the brand name. While the price difference can sometimes come down to pennies, those decisions add up over time. When buying other items, compare prices at Walmart, Amazon, Ebay, etc. to make sure you’re getting the best price.

3. Sign up for automatic transfers for savings.
Your bank or credit union usually offers this, and it’s as easy as 1-2-3. Simply log into your account online, and set it up for a small amount to be transferred from your checking account to your savings account automatically. This happens without you having to remember to “put into savings,” and that small amount adds up in no time! Remember, savings accounts are not ‘put and take’ accounts. The idea is that this money is set aside only for specific purchases. Don’t dip into the account unless you absolutely have to for emergencies.

4. Use a coffee tin for all your loose change.
Your grandparents can totally get behind this method. Spare change adds up quickly. Next time you’re emptying your pockets, find a canister or jar to put your change in. This may be the easiest and most effective way to save your money. Bonus points if you put away a dolla dolla bill, y’all! Mega bonus points if that made you remember the old Akon song called “Dolla Bill.” :) Hmmmm are we sounding old, yet? I just found out that song came out in 2009 thanks to Google... May have been before your time but you get the point!

5. Don’t be afraid to use coupons.
This one may speak for itself, but it’s a good habit to get into. I don’t know about you, but I hate paying full price for stuff. Sites like Retail Me Not or Groupon can have discounted activities and coupon codes for shopping online. Apps like Ibotta & Drop also make it easy to get money back on purchases you already make at large retailers and restaurants. Check them out!

The truth is –small savings add up to big savings over time so don't get discouraged whether you're putting away $5 a week, or $5 a month. You're still saving more money than the next student who isn't saving at all. :) Happy Monday, all!

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