When you can’t afford to work

It may sound like I misspoke (or mis-typed), but not being able to afford to work is a very possible scenario and realistic problem for college students.

One thing I have learned this semester especially (my fifth of eight undergrad semesters) is that balance is key. However, working more hours and making more money is not worth losing sleep, increasing stress, and decreasing your grades. You have to be able to find a balance between all of your activities, work and school included.

I used to work Saturday and Sunday shifts in a local hospital; they were typically 8-hour shifts, and always during daylight hours, but I was always exhausted by the beginning of the next week. It wasn’t good for my health or for my grades.

This changed when I started working my second job as a library assistant. I had to find a better time balance for my full-time studies and two part-time jobs. Instead of working at the hospital two days a week, I limited it to one day a week (more on breaks). I wouldn’t always work every weekend, though. I would work every Friday at the library, where my boss was fine with me studying during my shift.

This only really worked because my boss encouraged studying during our shifts…it was a work-study job, which was part of the reason he didn’t care if we let the pile of return books get over a foot high before putting them back on the shelves. I was able to write papers, study for exams, and do the few sparse paper homework assignments I received at this job. That left me with time to work (without stress from not having my homework done) at my other job…which actually made me feel better about my performance there. I wasn’t distracted or stressed, and was able to focus on my job.

I still work at the library as a work-study, but I work at a different hospital as my other job. Transferring to another hospital also helped me in the long run; my first job was a very high-stress environment with patients who could be violent. My new hospital job is very much more relaxed and lower stress. This allowed me to find a “mental” balance and reduce the stress that I was feeling — at least from the employment aspect of me life.

But what do I mean by “can’t afford to work?”

What I mean by this is not a financial issue; I mean not being able to afford the stress and the lack of time that working causes. I already mentioned that my first hospital job was stressful and it really helped for me to transfer to a different hospital in a lower-stress environment. As for lack of time, I think students who are in my situation can understand not being able to work. If you have an especially hard semester (18 credits, hardcore science core classes and labs, etc), it is easier to rationalize to yourself why you need to cut back your hours or even quit one of your jobs. 

The biggest thing to remember about college is that no matter what, college has to be your first priority (outside of family). You are paying (or will be, if you use student loans) thousands upon thousands of dollars…if you don’t make it worth while and do the work, you’re just wasting your time and money.

So when you sit down to schedule your next semester, keep that in the back of your mind. Schedule what classes you need, and worry about talking to your boss(es) later. Especially in a college town (and doubly especially for work-study jobs), bosses have to understand that college is a full-time job that is more important at this time than a part-time job. Work-study jobs are the best solution, as the employers through these programs are required to be flexible around your class schedule (they cannot force you to work during your class times) and down time is a great time to get work or readings done.

Have you had any trouble scheduling work around classes? What did you do – work anyway or quit your job?

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Living large in a tiny house…or apartment

Over the last week, I have been obsessively watching the FYI channel’s Tiny House Nation. Anywhere from two to four people decide to throw caution to the wind and throw half of their belongings away in order to make the ultimate downsize: to a house under 500 square feet.

Everyone I have talked to about this has the same initial reaction….”That’s crazy!” I started off thinking the same thing….except now, I really admire the people how live in tiny houses and those who build them. These houses are insanely well thought out…every nook and cranny has a purpose and each piece of furniture has multiple functions. Beds pop out of walls and floors, then can be hidden away to allow for a larger daytime living space.

Maybe it’s because I’m a poor student in college who has spent the last two years of college (and eight years at home before that) in a space that’s a tight fit with all of my stuff, but if given the chance, I would like to try living in a tiny house. (My boyfriend may not like it so much, but I do think he would find the hidden nooks cool.) Or, if given the option, I would love the opportunity to re-vamp my apartment to give me more space and delight guests with my ridiculous creativity 🙂

Some fun facts I have found out since learning about this movement:

  1. Most tiny houses are constructed for under $30,000 – I guess this makes sense: less house to build, less materials needed, smaller cost.
  2. Not all tiny houses need to be connected to sewage – gross but true, there are composting toilets where your waste can end up becoming compost outside the tiny house.
  3. You can take tiny houses anywhere via truck! One episode of Tiny House Nation featured a traveling nurse and her partner who wanted a house that could travel with them.

And the coolest fact yet:

4. Despite the fact that tiny houses are mostly under 500 square feet (not sure if this is what constitutes a tiny house or not…), with all the hidden nooks and space-saving creativity, these houses can look and feel just as big as a “normal” house. (I’ve seen walls slide, beds pulled out of walls and from under steps and floors, and dog crates built into the inside of a kitchen island/table.

So what do you think? Would you ever consider living in a tiny house?

Financial Aid Officers (aka, your new best friends)

There are two points during the year when the words “financial aid” can throw any student in a tizzy: early spring semester —  when the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is released and due to be filled out — and late summer, as school is about to start.

I have to admit, summer financial aid stress gets me every time. Spring is easy, especially after the first year filling it out. You just update your personal and financial information (and the personal information may stay the same year to year, such as address and school attended). Summer is a whole ‘nother ball game.

Summer is when the financial aid office at your college receives your eligibility information from the government (from your FAFSA application) about how much money you will get in aid from the government. From there, the school will try to fill your need. It doesn’t always cover all of your expenses, however. My first two years of college, my father had to apply for a supplement loan in his name from the government so that I could finish paying my bill (my financial aid package just didn’t quite cover what I needed to pay for tuition, fees, room and board). That second year, even after a supplemental scholarship, I ended up paying just under a hundred dollars out of pocket to complete my payment for the academic year.

This year, my third as an undergraduate, I have done things a little differently. As soon as I filled out my FAFSA, I received my Estimated Family Contribution (or EFC, the amount of money the government’s financial aid formula calculates that you and your parents can afford to pay) which had more than doubled from the previous year….My dad had picked up overtime, my mom worked more, and I worked three jobs (ending the year with just two). The FAFSA doesn’t take into account medical expenses the family has, or our car payments, so it just looked like my family had a lot of extra money to pay for school with. 

When I saw the EFC number (8000+) and I realized I wouldn’t be eligible for a Pell Grant as I had in recent years, I contacted the only person I knew in the Financial Aid Office at my school….she just so happened to be the Assistant Director of Financial Aid (as I didn’t find out until much later). She was very patient with me, reading and replying to my emails all summer, answering all of the little questions I had. I kept her updated on my family situation and in turn, she helped me to find more loan money through the university to cover what I had left to pay. 

As of right now, I am just waiting on a $4,000 scholarship check to make its way through the city’s postal service to my university, and I will be all paid up for the year (with a small amount left over that I expect to be paid out to me! yay!) There is a $50 late fee on my account now (since the check is paying my school bill that was due on August 17th), which another Financial Aid worker offered to wave since I couldn’t make the scholarship check get there any faster.

If it hadn’t been for the help my financial aid office provided me with (this year alone, they were immensely helpful!), I probably would have had to take time off of school or take out another costly private loan. 

Talking to the Financial Aid office at your school may make you nervous, but I promise it’s worth it! Here are a few tips on how to deal with Financial Aid officers and use them to get you the best outcome possible:

  • Call early! (and often): Calling early doesn’t mean early in the morning, although there may be less student/phone traffic at that time of day. As soon as you have a question or realize there might be even the slightest problem paying for school, call your financial aid office. They can set you up with an appointment with a financial counselor, work with you to find scholarships or loans, or answer any questions you may have (or direct you to who may know the answer). Calling often is important, too; if they say they’ll look into your case and call you in two days, and it’s been five, call back. Especially if you attend a large university. My school has over 12,000 undergraduates in attendance, and every single one of them has a file in the financial aid office that might be cluttering the desk of the assistant you talked to. Give a polite, quick check-in call to make sure you didn’t get buried at the bottom of their desk’s pile.
  • Be truthful: As embarrassing as it may be to admit that your financial situation has changed since submitting your FAFSA (such as you or a parent lost a job, or wracked up a lot of medical bills or credit card debt), the financial aid officers will look at your situation objectively and not judge. Their job is to make sure you have the resources you need to be able to afford (in some fashion) to attend school. Plus, if the truth is that something terrible happened to you and your family that leaves you in dire financial straits, the financial aid officers may sympathize with you and go the extra mile for you….remember, they’re human, too.
  • The 4 “W’s” for the record book: No, I don’t mean world records or sports stats. Keeping a notebook with records of who you talked to, what day and time, where they are located, and why you called will help you keep track of who gave you what information and what promises. This isn’t just a rule I have for financial aid and school matters; it helps a lot with utility companies and insurance companies.

Have you had a financial aid officer that went the extra mile for you? What is the toughest part for you about dealing with financial aid officers?

T-minus 12 Days!

That’s right, folks. In 12 days, I am getting kicked out of the nest. I have to learn to fly by myself now through this cruel world.

We all need to leave the nest at some point. Courtesy of Google Images.

Okay, that may be exaggerating a little…I won’t be completely on my own. My parents will still let me crash at their place when I want to get out of the city and take a mini-vacation. My mom offered to cook me dinner still so that I won’t starve (because honestly, my cooking skills include only fajita and pasta at this point. I’m hoping this will change when I get in my new kitchen and don’t have my mom or boyfriend cooking for me!).

But I will be paying for everything — rent, utilities, food, etc. — all by myself. It makes me proud and scared out of my mind to say that. My parents can’t really afford to help me out financially, so I really am growing up and doing this on my own.

I saved up money from my two jobs this summer (one which pays a decent wage and gives me a lot of hours, and one which is more laid-back and has less hours to offer) in order to pad my bank account before I have to cut my hours back for school. I plan on working the job that gives me a lot of hours during the school year in order to help with expenses; it’s also a “foot in the door” for me with my future, post-graduation career.

Right now, I am finalizing my budget (and budget binder), organizing and packing to move, and brainstorming more ideas for this blog….so needless to say, I’m a bit busy this week. I’m going to try to give an update soon, including helpful hints on making a budget, creating a budget binder (which is actually really fun) and how to make the leap from your parents’ nest into the big, bad world. Stay tuned!

 

What to do When Your Bank Account Hits Zero…(or less)

It’s the one thing that everyone dreads when they know they have limited funds and don’t have much (or any) cash to make the purchase they are standing in the check-out line for: a declined card.

Yes, this (sort of) happened to me today. And yes, I actually had less than zero in my checking/debit account. How is that possible, you may wonder.

Well, when you shop at a store and pay with a debit card, the cashiers don’t always ask “Debit or credit?” So when my mom and I went shopping for our pre-paid phone cards and groceries late last week — and I paid because she doesn’t get her paycheck until tomorrow — the cashier just entered it as credit. At my bank, this takes about two to three business days to process. When the bank opened this morning, they decided to process all of my transactions at once (lucky me!), resulting in my account being overdrawn.

I was slightly mad at this, as I got the alert email as I headed to buy lunch at work…luckily I had $5 on me to buy chicken and fries, and I refilled the big mug that held my morning coffee with water (which is one of my favorite things: free).

I was able to do a quick fix on my account when I got home from work. I had some money in my savings account, which is attached to my checking account thanks to my bank’s “student account” set up. I put just enough in there to get me out of the negative (-$15) and leave a little bit that can tide me over until my next paycheck comes through Friday.

You won’t always be able to find such a quick fix though, unfortunately. You may not have linked accounts, or a lot of money to cover any overdrawn accounts. Here are a few facts about overdrawing on your account that can be useful to protecting yourself:

  • Most people don’t realize that they have overdrawn their account until it’s too late! It sucks to look at your account an see the negative sign where your balance was, or to have your card denied when trying to pay for something. The best way to insure this does not happen is to:
  • Create a budget!! A budget can be your best friend, especially in college when finances are tight and you don’t always have the ability to generate a large income to cover all of your expenses and then some.
  • According to a study by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), overdraft fees can range from $10 to $38, with the median being $27. Banks can also charge an additional, daily fee (such as $5 or $10) for accounts that remain overdrawn for a length of time.

Talk to your bank to find out how they handle overdraft fees. Talk to your parents (or spouse) so that you have a plan if it does happen. Trust me, you don’t want to pay your bank a bunch of money you don’t have because you weren’t careful with what you did have.

What do you do to make sure this doesn’t happen to you? Comment below!

Why I’m Getting This Started

The great majority of college students across the country are attending school on someone else’s dime. Whether it’s government loans or parents paying part of your way (or both), very, very few college students rely completely upon themselves when it comes to finances. In fact, many college students do not know basic finances that they need to know in college and beyond.

Believe me, I am not judging….I actually am one of these students. My parents paid for almost everything for me growing up; when I got my first job at 16, I used what little I earned for time out with friends and shopping trips, asking my parents for extra here and there. As long as the request was reasonable, they didn’t deny me if they were able to help.

It was only when I applied and got accepted to college that I realized how bad off my parents and I were financially. The summer before my first year of college, I had several panic attacks because of the stress and uncertainty of what lay in front of me financially. I spent my first semester not working, stressed about money and how much I had taken out in loans to go to school. My second semester, I took a less than ideal job that paid pretty well for a student with no experience in healthcare (I worked as a psychiatric nursing assistant). 

That next summer, 2013, went a little better for me because I had started building my savings. I lived on campus with a meal plan (paid for by loans), and spent summers at my parents’ home where they bought me food. I found a new job that was less stressful and kept saving while living off student loans (which I didn’t realize was such a bad thing!…but more on that later). 

My parents ended up borrowing a few thousand from me to pay for unexpected medical bills my sophomore year of college. Starting from almost zero in my bank account scared me, but I had a lot of support: my parents paid me back as much as possible, as often as possible; my boyfriend was very willing to spend more nights in cooking and watching movies we already owned, rather than going out to dinner and movies; my friends, many of whom were in school only on loans as well, encouraged and supported me….especially when I got a second job.

I have worked very hard over the last few years to save money up…with good reason. After two years of college, I currently owe over $47,000 in student loan debt! 

I’ve estimated that by the time I finish my undergraduate degree in nursing, I will owe at least $75,000.

 

So I’ve decided it is TIME FOR A CHANGE..

 

I’m taking a hold of my financial future. And I’m starting this blog because I know there are others out there who are in the same place I am, with no idea how to make sense of all of the advice and mumbo-jumbo out there about finances. I’m not a finance major, so everything that I’ll post will be easy to understand for students and post-grads of all paths. 

Check back often for advice on:

  • Budgeting: how to start one, how to tweak it, and why this is as essential as your cell phone!
  • Basic Financial Tips: little tidbits on saving money, making more money, and smart spending
  • DIYs: Do-It-Yourself projects are perfect for college students…it’s cheap, fun, and doesn’t require a lot of time away from your studies
  • …and more!

Stay tuned and let me know what you think by commenting below!