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How to Overcome These 3 Devastating Budget-Busters


It happens to everyone, including even the most money-conscious student. No matter how well you think you planned your budget, after a few months, your bank account has less money in it than you expected.

There’s simply no avoiding an unexpected budget-busting expense at least once every few months, not to mention the smaller purchases that siphon off your funds so subtly that you hardly notice.

It may be something serious like a medical payment or a car repair. Or, it might just be your day-to-day habits. But few people can avoid falling off the budget wagon.

The key to overcoming the most common problems is knowing that they will strike. To better prepare, be sure to consider these three budget-busters.

Too Many Memberships

How many recurring subscription-based payments hit your card each month? The answer is almost certainly too many. Are you subscribing to Spotify, Apply Music and Tidal? Are you actually watching Netflix and Hulu enough to justify having both? Do you actually watch the cable service you pay an arm and leg for every month? How many magazines or newspapers do you actually read?

It can be all too easy to let $9.99 slide by month after month, rather than calling the company to cancel. But many people are throwing away $100 or more per month this way, simply letting the inertia of past sign-ups accumulate, which prevents them from reaching their goals. This can add up to thousands per year — forcing you to miss out on vacations or toys you really want.

One drastic solution is to cancel (virtually) everything right now. Then, try to live your life for a few weeks and figure out which services you actually miss. Maybe Spotify and Netflix both leave a big hole if your daily life. If that’s the case, renew those or other services you really need. But chances are you won’t even miss most of the rest.

Car Repairs and Other ‘Emergencies’

One good way to strengthen your budget is to look over old transactions from the past year. Chances are that you will find a sudden auto repair or maintenance cost that you completely forgot about, especially if you’re driving your parents old, clunky car.

One way to avoid this coming as a surprise the next time is by planning ahead. Wait for a good deal and then buy replacement parts that you know you will need in bulk. TireBuyer, for example, offers a discount to anyone who purchases a set of four select tires.

It’s also best to save for these things in advance. Many financial advisors recommend maintaining two savings accounts: one for your general goals and another for emergencies. Your current financial situation will determine how much you can reserve for this fund. But your objective should be having at least a few thousand dollars squirreled away. Because while each “emergency” comes as a shock, you know at least a few unexpected issues will strike every year. Be ready.

The Small Stuff

While a busted transmission or broken water heater is an immediate, obvious calamity, many people find themselves confused when they blow their budget every month. That’s because they fail to realize just how much they are spending every week on coffee, snacks or parking. If you’re going out to eat every night for $5 fast food, or hitting the bar every Friday to hang out with classmates, it’ll add up by the end of the month.

This doesn’t mean you need to cut out your less-memorable day-to-day expenses altogether. But you do need to account for them. The best way is to dedicate some time — at least one month, but ideally three — to being super-vigilant about everything you spend money on. This even includes times when you spend $1 on a parking meter.

After tracking it for a period, you can stop sweating the tiny stuff. But you will develop an ability to predict this “petty cash” outflow each month and just add this $50 or $100 or $200 per month into your budget as “miscellaneous.”

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A College Student’s Guide to an Affordable, Meaningful Christmas


The Christmas season has unfortunately become synonymous with consumerism for many families and individuals. Instead of enjoying the many opportunities to create memorable experiences during the holidays, stress about gift giving can creep in and overshadow all the joy. And if you’re a college student on an already tight budget, this can be especially draining. It’s time to trade in the anxiety for some merriment! Here are some tips to handle Christmas on a budget and still get into the spirit of giving.

Give Your Time

Before you roll your eyes at giving someone else the gift of your time, give this idea a chance! After all, if you’re at a university across the country from your family, there’s probably nothing your parents want more than some quality time with you. Think about meaningful memories you have with each person on your list and try to recreate them this Christmas.

Maybe you and your mom used to watch Christmas movies and sip hot chocolate. All you need to do is buy some hot chocolate and a couple of her favorite Christmas movies, put them in a cute basket and include a ‘coupon’ that’s good for one morning of enjoying each other’s company. You can use the coupon idea for your significant other as well and give the gift of a massage; for your best friend, give the gift of a coffee and shopping date. The list goes on and on. All that’s required is a small monetary investment and a lot of thoughtful intention!

Give Meaning

A lot of people have begun to turn away from the materialistic nature of today’s Christmas season and opt for handmade gifts or giving back in lieu of buying presents. If you have philanthropically-minded individuals in your close network of friends and family members, consider giving a donation to their favorite cause or nonprofit. You don’t even need to announce the amount you’ve donated; simply make a card that includes the organization’s name and shows that you’ve donated to it in that person’s honor.

You can even get your whole family involved! If the rest of your clan is game, make a rule that the only gifts that can be given are those that benefit families in need. Look through a giving catalog to find meaningful gifts like medical care, education and clean water or food in the poorest parts of the world. Then have fun wrapping up a description of what you’ve chosen to give and watch your family delight in knowing other people will be helped thanks to your Christmas gift.

Give Health

If you’re intent on purchasing tangible gifts for the people on your list this year, you can still do so on a budget. The greatest gifts someone could receive are love, health and happiness and, of these, health is probably the easiest to contribute to. If you have a friend who struggles from insomnia, maybe buy her a small bottle of lavender essential oils and a diffuser. Or perhaps you have an uncle who is trying to lose weight. In this case, you could buy him a subscription to a health magazine or purchase a few classes for him at a nearby boxing gym, if that’s a form of exercise he’d be willing to try. The point is to think beyond the typical gifts and find inexpensive items that are thoughtful and health-conscious.

As you gear up for Christmas this year, don’t let the hustle and bustle take you away from the real meaning of the season. You can give your time and show how much you care without breaking the bank. Some extra thoughtfulness will go a long way this holiday season, helping you save money and spread joy!

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4 Ways to Create a College-friendly Budget


Being a college student can be financially stressful, to put it lightly. Not only are you likely already in debt, but it seems like you never have enough money for your day to day life. One of the reasons it can seem that way is because keeping track of your spending and where your money is going can be difficult.

Creating a budget in college may not sound like the most glamorous or fun thing to do, but not only will it help you keep track of you money, it will also help you spend less and save up. Here are a few tips for getting started:

1. Digitize Your Money

Cash may seem like the way to go, but how often do you lose, misplace or just ignore your small bills and coins? If you digitize your money, e.g. paying using your debit card, you can track every cent and have a log of what you spent your money on without having to do it yourself. Stocking up on change might seem like a good idea, but coin machines often charge a large amount of money to convert to bills, which makes it not worth the trouble unless you have hundreds of dollars in change.

Think about getting a phone with mobile pay to make digitizing your money even easier. For example, the iPhone 6s features Apple Pay which uses Touch ID to verify a purchase made on your phone, so it’s safer than ever before.

2. Start Setting Savings Goals

Online apps and banks, like Simple.com, let you set goals on your phone to further facilitate saving. Whether your want to save up for something specific or for a rainy day, setting a few bucks on the side is never a bad idea and can help prepare you for big-time savings that will come after college.

3. Cut Out the Non-Essentials

This is the hard part. The easiest way to save money when budgeting is to take a hard look at what you’re already spending your money on and cut out the things that you don’t absolutely need.

If you have a gym membership that you haven’t used in a few months, you should probably cancel it and save yourself that money. Instead of eating out once a day, try cooking more often and eating out only once a week. If you’re spending large amounts of money on online gaming, you should probably skip a few hours a day and study anyway. Double incentive.

4. Set Money Aside for the Things You Really Need

Think about how much money you need for your essentials that will last you until your next paycheck and set that money aside as soon as you get paid. When you start budgeting for stuff like food, the easiest way to figure out how much money to set aside is to go grocery shopping with a list of all the things you’ll need for a week. Go to the store, buy your stuff and make note of how much you spend. Now all you have to do is budget accordingly.

You can also budget for future events or purchases by setting money aside beforehand so you don’t have to spend an entire paycheck on something like the gift you forgot to buy for your best friend’s wedding.

College is a trying time. You feel like an adult, but at the same time feel like there are so many things your parents forgot to tell you about adulthood. Hopefully, you now have one less adult thing to worry about.

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Creating a College Budget: How to Save and Cut Costs


collegebudgetpigNo money and no time to make money may be the hardest college equation you’re asked to solve in the next four years. How are you supposed to pay for tuition, living expenses, entertainment, travel and more when you’re in class, studying for exams, or trying to find and complete an internship? It’s hard, but it can be done.

Indeed, the best way for college students to make money is to save the money they have already earned — whether from part-time jobs or student loans — by practicing smart spending habits and using student discounts. Here are a few tips to help you get started.

Choose a Money Management Tool

Whether it’s pen and paper, a simple spreadsheet or an app, you must come up with a way to track your spending. Mint, a free app, helps you create a customized budget, track your spending, pay your bills, and even learn about how to improve your credit score. When creating your budget, set goals for your spending, but be realistic. If you’re a foodie, don’t cut eating out completely — just limit yourself to a certain dollar amount each month. The same goes for gamers, sports enthusiasts, shopaholics and adventurers. To save money and stick to your budget, you don’t have to live a boring life — you just have to plan ahead.

Save and Splurge

When money management is on the mind, every activity, cup of coffee and weekend get together all of a sudden looks like dollar signs to you. These things, as well as fixed costs and unexpected expenses, are part of life. Figure out a balance of when to save and when to splurge — and recognize when doing either will benefit or break your budget in the future.

When it comes to insurance, for example, you don’t want to skimp now and then find yourself paying big bills later. The same goes for car maintenance. If you can avoid choosing cheap repair options now, they won’t keep popping up in the future. So, the next time your car gets a blowout, see it as an opportunity to invest in high-quality tires, which will save you money in the long run.

Discounts: Use, Don’t Abuse

Whether they advertise it or not, tons of businesses offer student discounts if you just ask. From technology and travel to entertainment, food and clothing, simply flashing your college ID can save you anywhere from 5 percent to 25 percent at many retail stores. For example:

  • If you join or renew as a Sam’s Savings member, you’ll receive a $15 gift card with your student ID. In addition to groceries, varying Sam’s Club locations also offer members-only discounts on tire service, an optical center, pharmacy and more.
  • Students can earn discounts on Adobe Creative Cloud by choosing between the All Apps plan (giving you access to the latest versions of every Adobe creative tool) or Photography plan (which includes Photoshop and Lightroom).
  • The Student Advantage Discount Card from Greyhound will save you 20 percent on walk-up fares and online tickets. It also saves you 40 percent on package shipments sent through the company’s Package Express offering.

While these are all awesome discounts, remember, there’s a reason businesses offer student discounts: It’s because students usually don’t have a lot of money to spend. Don’t let yourself jump on the “But it’s such a good deal!” train. The key to saving money with coupons or student discounts is to only use them on products and services you already planned to buy.

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Why Building Credit in College is Crucial


poorcreditscoreIf you are planning to head off to college, then last thing on your mind right now is your credit score. While you may have tucked your thoughts about credit into the back of your mind, it is time that you bring those thoughts back into focus because it is important to build your credit while you are away at college.

You may be thinking right now that you can’t possibly understand why you should build your credit now, as you will have years to do it after graduation. Thinking like this can actually set you up for failure in the future. Below, we will go over some of the reason why you need to build your credit now.

It Will Teach You to Budget

One reason you should work on building your credit in college is because it will also teach you to budget. When you have a credit card, you will quickly learn that you cannot spend money simply because you are allowed to. In fact, if you do this, you will actually damage your credit score if you cannot pay the money back.

Some students enjoy having a secured credit card in their possession because it does allow them to build their credit without the worry of going negative or falling into debt from using the card.

If you want to build your credit, you should start out with one card and then add a second one later on. To limit your spending even further, choose a credit card that is store specific, that way, you won’t be tempted to use it elsewhere.

You Can Apply for a Mortgage or Auto Loan

While you are probably not thinking about buying a home or vehicle right now, you will want to at some point and having a solid credit score will help you. As you work your way through college, you should be building your credit now to secure your future.

If you ruin your credit score, it is hard to get it back and will take a lot of work to do so. In fact, many people who ruin their credit score too much will find that they are unable to receive approval for anything they apply for. Having items such as a charge off on your credit report can bring your credit score down considerably.

Therefore, if you work hard to build your credit now, it will pay you back in the end when you are ready to purchase your dream home or car.

You Can Apply for Student Loan Refinancing When the Time Comes

Later on down the road you may find that you want to apply for student loan refinancing and to do so, you need to have good credit. In fact, a financial lender will not approve your application if you have a poor credit score and a bad credit history.

Student loan refinancing is beneficial when you want a lower interest rate or lower monthly payment. If you find that you are having trouble affording your student loan payments, refinancing is an option in most cases.

How to Build Your Credit

Now that we have talked about WHY you should build your credit, you are probably wondering HOW to do it. Let’s go over some ways.

Use That Card

Above we talked about how you should use a credit card to budget for yourself. This is a great idea, but you should never just have an open account and not use it at all. To help you build your credit, take something that you do on a monthly basis and use your credit card to purchase it, then pay it off. Since you are already used to paying for this item or activity, you can use your card and then pay it off immediately without dipping into your savings account or into additional money.

Pay on Time

Always pay your bills on time. Never let one of your bills go late and if it happens to for one reason or another, pay it immediately. When you do not pay your bills, you ruin your credit score and it takes longer to build up your credit than it does to destroy it.

If you are getting ready to head off to college, it is important that you focus on building up your credit to prepare yourself for the future.

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Big Ideas for Tailgating on a College Budget


There are a lot of toys you can buy for tailgating—TVs, canopies, solar-powered generators—but it will always be at heart a blue-collar activity. The average sports fan, especially one in college, isn’t going to drop hundreds of dollars on the tailgating experience. Sometimes all we need is a place to set up shop, grill some meat, and toss around the rock. Is that so much to ask?

It is possible to have it all without busting your wallet. Before setting out on your next Saturday or Sunday morning, keep these tips in mind to craft the ultimate tailgate on a college budget.

The Grill

If there is one item where you should not skim, it’s a man’s grill. However, that doesn’t mean you need to break the bank to buy long-lasting quality either. The 18″ Weber Kettle Series is the BBQ equivalent to the American classic car. Affordable, reliable, and runs forever. Buy this grill once for $79 and it will last you a decade or more. Plus, the charcoal flavoring will surpass any propane-flamed meat from the tailgate next door.

The Food & Drinks

If tailgating is a regular affair the trips to a traditional grocery store are a waste of money. Invest in a Costco or Sam’s Club membership to buy in bulk and save money in the long run. Costco sells giant bags of frozen chicken wings (typically costing less per pound than grocery stories), buns, hamburger patties, and large cases of beer that will help you save by the end of the season.

The Games

A nice set of wooden cornhole boards can cost more than $100 (or more if you want a custom design) and every other tailgate already as them, but a ladder ball set can cost less than $20 in golf balls, rope, and PVC pipe if you’re willing to build it yourself. And, because it has the added benefit of being a less common game, you can hop around tailgates and possibly get a free beer or burger in exchange for lending out Ladder Ball for a few hours.

The Venue

Many tailgaters pay premium price for the stadium lot without question, but why? Just because you can see the stadium from your grill doesn’t make the tailgating experience any better. Merely blocks away are lots for half the price, and you can honestly find a better crowd who know how to save a buck where it counts. Next time you’re driving in for your next feast, explore around for some new lots.

“That” Friend

There’s a saying about boats: You don’t want to own one and deal with the costs and maintenance. You want the friend who owns a boat so he can invite you out on the weekend. Sometimes, tailgating is no different. There are people who buy tents, tarps, TVs, generators, and smokers that can fit a whole pig. This is the guy you want to know.

Now, that doesn’t mean you’re allowed to be cheap. Use that new Costco card to chip in on chicken wings and beer. Build that ladder ball set and bring it along. Even pack the Weber Kettle Series in case your buddy needs some extra real estate on the grill. The point is, make an effort to contribute to the party and everyone will have a good time.

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Academic Necessities Meet Student Budgets


StudentBudgetPicCollege students have to find all kinds of creative ways to stretch their budgets. Not only do they need to acquire all of the necessities to make it through another week, but they want to have just enough cash left over to actually enjoy the weekend. It can be tricky, especially if you’re in a new town with limited options. And who has time to shop around for the best price for toilet paper when you have three tests and a research paper due on Thursday? Luckily, the Internet exists to make finding a good deal easier than ever. In fact there are a lot of products that are typically cheaper when you buy them online. Here are just three necessities that students (and their parents) can purchase online to save a few precious dollars.

College Text Books

Every college student has a story about the $200 chemistry textbook they only used once and then sold back for pennies on the dollar. When you’re a new student, you can fall into the trap of thinking that your college’s bookstore is the only place you can purchase exactly the textbooks you need, but this isn’t true. Amazon has a whole section devoted to textbooks, in addition to Amazon Marketplace, where students can sell used textbooks for a slightly better price than the typical buy-back rate. It’s a win-win for buyer and seller. The one thing you need to be careful of is buying the correct edition of the book. Make sure you search by the exact ISBN number for your required textbook. If you search by title, you might end up with a very inexpensive and very worthless old edition.

Tires

Having a car on campus comes with its pluses and minuses. On one hand you have a level of freedom that isn’t available to all students. You can actually buy more than two bags of groceries at the grocery store, and you aren’t stuck waiting for the bus during a snowstorm. It’s also going to do wonders for your popularity with your carless coeds. However, owning a vehicle means you’re always susceptible to the sudden expense of maintenance. There’s nothing worse than having your car fail inspection because the tires have worn down. Just like that, a routine visit to the mechanic has turned into an $800 bill. But don’t let that red inspection sticker of doom force you into overpaying. TireBuyer.com has a full range of tires in popular brands and are priced to beat any local auto shop or big box store. It also offers free delivery, and can send your tires to a local installer. It doesn’t get much easier than that.

Contacts/ Glasses

Be warned: Your college dorm is going to eat your glasses or contacts. Between your cramped living space and your shared bathroom, it’s very likely that you will lose or accidentally destroy your glasses and contacts at least once (a semester). Just because you like and trust your eye doctor doesn’t mean you have to pay his premium price to replace this stuff. Take the time to shop around. You’ll most likely find that DiscountContactLenses.com and Warby Parker will save you a lot of money, perhaps even several hundred dollars. These companies even contact your optometrist for a copy of your prescription. Saving money on a trendy new pair of glasses means you don’t have to feel quite so bad when you step on them after a hard night of studying.

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3 Budget Tips for College Students Making Minimum Wage


CoffeeJobCollegeThe federal minimum wage hasn’t increased since July of 2009, and some would argue it has decreased. The U.S. dollar has lost about 10 percent of its buying power since 2009 due to inflation, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Put another way, an item that cost $7.25 (the federal minimum wage) in 2009 would cost $8.00 today.

Granted, 21 states increased their minimum wages in 2015, but those just scraping by still must closely monitor every penny. College students are particularly vulnerable when it comes to money. A survey by public policy research firm Public Agenda found that 58 percent of college students receive no financial help from their parents. Those who said they dropped out cited financial reasons 70 percent of the time.

Parents naturally offer unconditional love and support to their future college graduates. But it’s your experience dealing with tough financial realities that can help them through the greatest and most challenging years of their lives. Here are three budget tips to pass along to them:

Be Smart About the Smartphone

A 2013 survey by the Campus Computing Project found that 79 percent of colleges use mobile apps for courses and to communicate with students. Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat are fixtures in the lives of college students today, and smartphones are now true necessities on campus. However, it’s important to weigh the options before purchasing both the hardware and the calling and data plans.

Advise your kids to look for payment plans when shopping for top-of-the-line smartphones. For instance, T-Mobile allows 24 monthly payments on a new smartphone as part of the contract. Some plans even offer a free phone on approved credit.

Alternatively, an often overlooked way to save money on cellphone service is going the prepaid route. All major carriers have flat-rate prepaid plans that require no contract. You never have to worry about overages, late fees and other extra charges. Ask a sales representative next time you’re in a retail store of a wireless provider for details on what prepaid plans they have to offer.

Care for Your Car

A 2015 study commissioned by BankRate found that only 38 percent of Americans could pay for a $500 car repair in cash right now. A broken down car can lead to missed classes, missed days of work and more stress for your already busy college kids. A large estimate or bill from a mechanic is equally stressful. The chances of either happening can be minimized with a little due diligence.

Changing your oil every 3,000 miles is simply a marketing ploy by lube shops to scare people into spending more money. Most newer cars can go upwards of 10,000 miles between oil changes, according to Edmunds. Technology of both the oil and automobiles has made the “every 3,000″ mantra obsolete. Even older vehicles utilizing synthetic oil can go upwards of 10,000 miles without oil changes as long as you swap out the filter every few months.

However, your college student needs to keep up on all routine maintenance called for in your owner’s manual, particularly transmission, radiator and air filter service. Always get two to three estimates from different mechanics before having any major repairs done because it’s the labor costs that typically swell the final bill. Check with local community colleges with auto mechanic programs because they sometimes offer repairs at much lower costs since students are performing the work.

Be Disciplined

College students must get the maximum value out of every dollar they earn. That means making a few tax adjustments. Student workers should fill out a new W4 form with their employer and claim “exempt” on Line 7. People making less than $10,500 in a given year are not required to file a tax return according to H&R Block. Thus, students who are allowing federal withholdings are simply giving the government an interest-free loan on the money they’ve earned.

A slightly larger paycheck, however, doesn’t mean they can spend more. Students should eliminate any unnecessary expenses like cable, satellite TV and Internet bills. Students typically get free Internet everywhere on campus and can stream most of their favorite shows via Hulu or Netflix. Also, they should make it a point to save 5 percent of every paycheck no matter what. Over time, this will turn into an emergency fund that can come to the rescue when emergencies pop up.

When your kids ultimately graduate from college, they will have acquired real-life financial lessons to help them transform into successful young adults.

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