How to Start a Budget in College

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As a recent graduate ready to step into adulthood, you’ll find college is the best time to start working on your financial knowledge. To start, you need a budget! Whether you make a few bucks at your student job or if you have no bills to pay, having a budget can teach you how to manage your money and prepare yourself for later in life. Not sure where to begin? Here are the first steps you must take when starting a budget in college.

 

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Step 1: Collect the Evidence

Here’s your first challenge: for one month, keep every receipt, every pay stub, every bill, and collect it in one place. If it uses money, you keep it. At the end of the month, you will use this data to help you set the groundwork of your budget. Just be sure not to change your spending habits. You want this month to be as accurate as possible.

Step 2: Lay Out the Income

Add up last month’s spending numbers, and write down how much you brought in (after taxes) in a spreadsheet or piece of blank paper. This number is your “Income” – highlight it in yellow or another cheery color!

 

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Step 3: Record Your Bills

Next, go through your last month and look for necessary bills. These may include a credit card statement, car insurance and gas, or rent and utilities if you live off campus. Write down the name of the bill, when it was due last month, and how much it costs. Then, total it all up at the bottom of the line and label it as Must Pay!

Step 4: Track Your Additional Spending

Just like you did with your bills, make another column and write down the name of what you bought (or a nickname like “Dinner Out with Jane”) and how much each item came out to be. Add everything together and label it as Additional Spending.

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Step 5: Do the Math

Take the amount from your Additional Spending and Must Pay and subtract it from your Income. This is the amount you have leftover.

Step 6: Savings Plan

Let’s say you have money left over after you’ve completed Step 5. We suggest using that money by dividing and conquering. Split the amount in three: one part goes towards your savings for a trip or a non-essential purchase, one part goes towards paying more than the minimum towards your bills (or towards your student loans if you’re paying early), and the other could go in a retirement account.

 

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Step 7: Getting Out of Debt

What if it’s the other way around, and your bills add up to more than what you make? Now that you know what the damage is, you can do one of two things — spend less or make more. Sometimes cutting back on eating out can do wonders while other times you may have to get a second job, such as grabbing babysitting hours to make the bills. Whatever you do, just don’t stop paying bills or rely on credit cards to get you out of debt. You’ll only end up worse than when you started.

Step 8: Replicate

Every month, sit down and repeat these steps with the new numbers from the previous month. If it’s too much work, consider using pre-made budget spreadsheets or tech like Mint.com that tracks your spending for you. With practice, budgeting and spending your money wisely will come easy to you!

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Drop Your Debt in 5 Years!

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Drop Your Debt

 

 

What student doesn’t worry about paying off their student loans? With tuition rates rising every year and the beginning of loan paybacks rapidly approaching (or even already here, for some of us), there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel. Whether you have federal loans, private loans or even any other kind of debt to be repaid, here are 3 ways from The Daily Positive that you can begin strong and challenge yourself.

1. Sacrifice is key! If you choose to live the way you have always lived, chances are that you will not be saving enough for normal cost of living expenses and loan payments. Little purchases gone unmonitored can really add up and take resources away from your repayment schedule. This is an intentional step that forces you to buckle down and will prove to be instrumental in keeping you focused.

2. Talk to your employer. Many employers will work with you if you explain to them that you would be willing to take a lower salary in exchange for help paying off your student loans through a compensation package. More and more companies who are looking for new hires straight out of school have loan assistance written into the initial compensation package. If they want your skills, talents, and education, most likely they are willing to provide you with education-related help.

3. Turn your love for something into a side business. Have a passion for interior design? Take a class on staging and make some side money staging homes for sale. Can you speak another language? See if a local school or a group in your community teaches English as a Second Language courses. Do you love making treasure out of trash? Pick up a DIY project from a local flea market or yard sale and breathe new life into it with new paint and funky designs to sell online. You never know how much revenue you could make on the side by simply turning a hobby into a job.

Don’t get so overwhelmed when looking at the big picture that you are idle in taking small steps towards freedom. Being diligent and aggressive in your approach will help you to stay focused on the end goal.

Check out The Daily Positive by Dale Partridge and read more about How To Pay Off Student Loans in 5 Years. Don’t forget to check out the awesome infographic he has as well!

Summer Before College Series 36: OCM Sweepstakes and Coupons!

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Good morning, my lovely bloggers!

Have I got a treat for you on this wonderful Tuesday! Throughout the summer, I have advised you on what to buy and what not to buy, but I have failed to address the costs associated. Yes, going to college is extremely pricey, no matter where you go. There are many supplies to buy, not to mention tuition, room and board, and meal plan costs. You must learn to budget and to take advantage of every deal and sale that the world has to offer! That is why I would like to talk about OCMÔÇÖs newest sweepstake contest today.

As of last week, OCM has created a sweepstakes and giveaway for their Facebook followers. Each week, a random winner will be drawn and receive a $250 shopping credit to RHL.org, a website providing the best source of dorm linens and accessories for the college lifestyle. RHL.org is also affiliated by over 900 colleges, proving its credibility. The website offers bedding, bath, d├®cor, furniture, storage, and essential items. The site also sells pre-assembled packages to make shopping quicker and easier! Additionally, any student who enters the sweepstakes receives $10 off their order of $100 or more on the site! How great is that? You are bound to spend that much based on all of the necessities that you will need to purchase, so why not try to get some of them for free?

Have I convinced you yet? Well, if you are interested, you only need to follow a few steps to save money and possibly win $250!

First, make sure that you like the OCM Facebook page. This is a must if you want to win! Then, hit the green and blue ÔÇ£enter to winÔÇØ link at the top of the Facebook page. Finally, enter your information and cross your fingers! It is as easy that! A winner will be picked every week throughout August, so be sure to keep entering each week!

I would definitely advise every student to enter. You could save yourself up to $350 on supplies and, in turn, use it towards tuition and loans! What is better than that?

So, do not forget to enter for the seven remaining prizes! Good luck!

Offsetting the Cost of College

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College can be expensive. Sounds like a no-brainer, doesn’t it? Fact is, there are many alternatives out there for college students that they don’t consider until after the fact. Worry no more. This post is about the ways you can save during college so you have money left over after graduation.

  1. Skim on tuition. No, I’m not talking about ripping off the government. Many high schools offer students a chance to receive college credits for their high school courses. Think they have nothing to do with your major and you won’t need them? Think again. Many universities require students to take general studies courses to make them a well-rounded student, and these include classes you took in high school like your social sciences and your sciences. If you can get the credits in high school, you can focus more on the courses you need for your major, or even graduate early and jump into your field? Sounds good, huh?
    In addition, you should look into the alternatives to a major university. Branch campuses, more often than not, are cheaper than a main campus. Community colleges are also things to look into. You can get your general studies there and head to a bigger university, receiving your final diploma with a major school attached to that. The price? Much less than going straight into a big name university.
  2. Look at book-buying alternatives.There are many websites out there now where you can buy your books for much less than a university’s asking price. You can rent your textbooks, or even get online editions. Amazon is a great website to use, and so is Boundless and Textbooks.com.
  3. Make a budget.You’re living away from Mom and Dad and are completely independent, aside from the occasional crazy roommate. There’s no one to tell you what to do or how to spend your money, right? Wrong, because eventually you’re going to get a bill or have an emergency and need money, but you spent all of it going out to the local hang-out every night. Set a budget for yourself. Some banks have an online application that allows you to budget your money, or you can do it yourself. Get an envelope and every chance you get, slip in a couple dollars or a larger bill and save it for a rainy day. You’d be surprised how much you can save and how handy that will be in the long run!

Got anymore money saving tips? Let us know in the comments section, send in asks, or send in an e-mail! We want to hear from you!

Summer Before College Series 15: Work Study Facts

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Hello again!

Were you planning on working at school in the fall? Were you awarded work study? I am here to give you the five must-know work study facts. For those of you who do not already know, work study is granted by FAFSA and “provides part-time jobs for undergraduate and graduate students with financial need, allowing them to earn money to help pay educational expenses” (http://studentaid.ed.gov/types/work-study). I have been awarded work study each year and have worked the same on-campus job throughout my career. If you were not awarded work study, do not fret! You can still work to earn some extra cash to help you pay for college! In fact, most work study jobs are just regular on/off-campus jobs.

Below are the five must-know work study facts. They were all based on my personal experiences!

  1. Federal work study is awarded after completing the FAFSA application. If you and your family meet the financial criteria, then you will be granted federal work study. The dollar amount you are awarded will vary on different factors, such as your income, your parent’s income, when you apply, etc.
  2. Like I said above, work study jobs are usually just on/off-campus jobs. Therefore, you could work for any department of your school or any local business that participates in the federal work study program. I work with an on-campus organization where I give tours of the university to prospective students. I work with other work study students as well as regular students, which is very typical of many jobs you will find. If your school’s tour organization involves students, I would definitely recommend asking for a job application. It is a great way to get involved on campus and to gain some extra cash and resume experience.
  3. In your FAFSA reward letter, you are given a dollar amount for the federal work study you are awarded. For example, your letter may say $1,000.00 or $2,000.00. This dollar amount is the most that you can earn in your job for the year. Your boss and your financial aid office will make sure that you do not go over. If you have questions on how to exceed the amount you are awarded (make more money), talk to your financial aid office. They will let you know what you can do to earn some extra money in a way that will not violate your federal work study.
  4. Finding a job at school can be difficult, but if you use the right resources, then you will make it easier for yourself. Two good resources for you are your financial aid office and any career fairs that your school offers at the beginning of the year. The financial aid office will lead you to the correct locations that offer work study, and your school’s career fair will show you how many different jobs you can choose from. Most businesses/departments that go to the fair will advertise for work study so that you know which table to go to.
  5. Once you find a work study job, you are able to keep the same job throughout your entire college career, so it is not necessary to do the job search each year. With that being said, you can also have a different work study job each year. It is really up to you and what you like.

The work study process may seem scary and extremely difficult, but in reality, if you use the right resources, it will be a piece of cake!

Remember: if you were not awarded work study, you can still get a job to help you to pay for college! Also, if you have ANY questions on the work study process whatsoever, ask you financial aid office!

When I was researching for this blog, I used the website: http://studentaid.ed.gov/types/work-study. If you want to learn a little bit more about the process, check it out!

FAFSA Fiesta

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For those of us already in college, it’s that wonderful time of year once again. For those of you who aren’t, you have this wonderful time to look forward to. It’s FAFSA time.

FAFSA stands for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. What it is is exactly what it sounds like. It’s an application for students enrolled in college to determine what they can receive as far as financial aid goes. How it works is you use your financial information and your parents’ information from the last tax year, plug it in on the official FAFSA website, and submit it for processing. From there, your expected family contribution (EFC) is determined. This is NOT the amount of money you and/or your family actually has to pay to your selected university, so don’t freak out. Your EFC is subtracted from the cost of attendance (COA), and that total determines your financial need.

Maybe it’s better if I use an example. Let’s say my EFC score is 18000. The COA score for my university is roughly 24000. My financial need would then be $6,000, just enough to receive Stafford loans. In some cases, you may be eligible to receive different kinds of grants, or nothing at all. It all depends on the EFC and COA factors.

Now, let’s talk deadlines. I was always raised to believe the early bird catches the worm. Why do you think so many stores and restaurants have early bird specials? You want to fill this out as soon as possible. The earlier you fill out your FAFSA, the more financial aid you may be available for. You don’t want your folks or legal guardians to yell because you procrastinated, do you? I’ve been there, and I cringed every single time. Anyway, you want to find out what your state’s deadline is for the FAFSA so you can fill it out as soon as possible.

This can all seem overwhelming. I’ve been there, too. I was one of the people to procrastinate filing my FAFSA. However, I have a couple tips that will definitely help you along the way.

  1. File your income taxes as soon as possible. This is crucial to make filing a FAFSA easier. You don’t want to have several different W2s in front of you while trying to fill this out. It just gets confusing. Filing your taxes puts most of the crucial information on one form, making filing the FAFSA much simpler. This goes for your parents and guardians as well.
  2. Don’t procrastinate. You never know what state aid you’re missing on, what’s already been snatched up from those who filed their FAFSA as soon as they possibly could.
  3. Get a second opinion. I screwed up my FAFSA my first time, and my mother had to go back in and actually saved us money. Asking for a second opinion isn’t a bad thing, neither is asking for help.

What are you waiting for? Get to filing! You never know what you’re going to get unless you try. Good luck!

Cutting the Costs of College Expenses: Loans, FAFSA, and You.

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It’s no secret that student loan debts are on everyone’s mind in today’s economy. Students and parents struggle with the decision of attending affordable, in state schools and limiting college experiences versus going to that prestigious school out of state and with sky rocketing fees. Naturally, parents want the best for their children and many believe the college experience is worth the debt, as once you gain that degree you can start chipping away at those loans and get a return on investment. In fact, a study by PewResearchStudy notes that “86% of the population believe that college is a good investment” (See: “Is College Worth it?“, 2011). This 86% of the population also includes parents, who encourage their children in college to study high-paying degrees to maximize their potential income upon 4 year degree completion.

Similarly, many parents and students are getting scholarship-savvy, tapping into their local religious groups, local school alumni organizations, company benefits (scholarship options offered to employee’s children) high school, and applying colleges for scholarship opportunities. Many students are realizing that local organizations and public, in-state schools are a great way to search for low-candidate pooled scholarships and save some money on tuition. As a student, you want to apply for as many scholarships as you can. Your parents can help set up scholarship opportunities with you, but once those applications are in your hand, they are your responsibility to complete and follow through. Make sure that you keep your options open and apply for as many scholarship opportunities that you possibly can. Even if the amounts are smaller than you’d think would be beneficial, ie- $200 here and there, take them anyways. A few scholarships with lower budgets will add up over time and can help cover your books, supplies and some personal expenses.

The second thing to look into (and be proactive about from an early start) is the FAFSA application, which stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Filling out the FAFSA is a normal part to many student’s college application processes and is convenient to fill out in whichever way you’d prefer. Many state that filling the FAFSA out online is the best choice as the online application will actually calculate your total applicable earnings and tax return amounts whereas on a printed form you’d have to calculate the numbers yourself, leaving room for error. By filling out the FAFSA, you can determine if you are applicable to receive federal student aid (including work-study, Pell Grants and Federal student loans) and if so, how much.

After you have worked with your parents to find a tuition option that both of you are comfortable with and you have scoured for as many scholarship opportunities as you could find, it’s time to decide if you want to take out loans or foot the bill in cold hard cash. You also have to decide (if applicable) if you want to take out private or student loans. If you aren’t sure, read this blog for a few tips. Also do your research, both options are different and can impact your future. This is a decision that takes a lot of financial planning and guidance, so make sure you explore every option with your parents and consider ALL factors before making a decision. If you find all of your scholarship options early and save efficiently, you may just have to end up borrowing a small amount that with careful budgeting and frugal spending could be more manageable to pay off.

If you aren’t applying for colleges just yet but the idea is on your radar, make sure you start learning how to budget your money and manage your finances as soon as you can. The earlier you learn to budget your money (try using easy, online services and smartphone apps such as Mint.com, Pocket Money, Ace Budget, Money Book and more) the better. To help your parents and cover your own personal expenses, you should look into getting a work study or part time job on campus. A great place to start would be a local coffee shop or retail store. While working and attending class, you’ll feel more persistent to get your tasks done while making money at the same time. This really helps take a little weight off your parent’s shoulders financially as you learn to budget your money on meals, clothes, supplies and maybe even part of your tuition.