An Ode to Dollar Stores

Well, today is looking to be a strange day already. The Amazingly Awesome Boyfriend make a great dinner last night, with enough leftovers for lunch….. for him. Not realizing this, I let myself sleep in a bit, figuring I could use what would be my meal prep time for a nap and some writing. Instead, I had to make a mad dash around the house, attempting to draw on my eyebrows and cook up some sesame garlic tofurkey for two days worth of lunches. As it stands, I’m still running behind today and will have absolutely no time tonight to write or relax. Letting myself sleep in took away the time I needed to get pretty much everything done today. No time to stretch, or write much, or chit-chat with mum while she’s at work. I had to clean the kitchen, but could only do a half-assed job because there’s just no time for a full scrub-sweep-mop-scrub like I want to do. It was either fully clean the kitchen, or have to shell out of lunches for the next two days because I’m working weird shifts that don’t give me much prep time at night.

Usually, I don’t mind shelling out for lunches from time to time. The little plaza I work in has a lot of variety now for take-out options. In addition to the Tim Horton’s and Wendy’s we’ve had there for ages, we have a great little Vietnamese-Japanese-Chinese fusion restaurant, a tabbouleh place, and a brand new burrito joint. The only problem is, to get to any of these places I have to walk past either the Bulk Barn or a dollar store. Having a Bulk Barn around is bad enough on my wallet. You can’t run in there for just a little snack. You get the craving for a chocolate bar, the next thing you know you have a bag of broken nut rolls and need some bigger pants. Running in for a snack for me means coming out with some stevia sodas, dehydrated snap peas, some quinoa crisps, and a little bag of gummy candies to split with the work fam. And that’s if I don’t stop to get stuff for soup! I could drop a small fortune in there making gift bags for my coworkers for every holiday, getting a variety of kinds of rice, soup bases, noodles, and vegan substitutes like nutritional yeast, which I buy even though I’m not vegan and I love cheese.

At least with the Bulk Barn, I know there’s only so much stuff I can use. I know that there’s no use in me buying another $7 worth of chocolate when I’m trying to eat healthy this week and already have three chocolate bars in my fridge. And I know that my cupboard can only hold so much pasta, so there’s no use on stocking up on bulk fusilli when the cupboard is packed with rigatoni already. I have limits when I go in there (to a point). Yes, I will usually pick up yet another can or two of stevia soda, or grab a Pez dispenser for a co-worker. But I won’t drop the big bucks there very often unless I’m grabbing something I really need.

At the dollar store, I don’t have that sense of control. I can walk right past the Bulk Barn with no problem, even when I have time to shop. It’s almost like I’m physically unable to do that with a dollar store. Usually during my shift, I’ll run to the dollar store with the sole intent to buy a bottle of pop. That’s it, one bottle of pop. In the 45 seconds it takes me to walk to the store from my store, I’ll have somehow convinced myself that I need a small snack too. Maybe a small bag of cheap chips, or a Kinder Egg (for my American readers, Kinder Eggs are hollow chocolate eggs with a little toy inside that are illegal to bring into America for some reason). Walking into the store, the first thing in my sight is the seasonal things. That’s where I start to go wrong.

I know that I don’t need any more Christmas decorations. I have a bag full of tiny (and not so tiny) hats for work. We have two decorated trees. I even have a bag of candy to make into treat bags for my co-workers. Still, I take a quick walk through the seasonal aisle just to see if there are any new treats there. Somehow, I find two or three things I convince myself I really really need.

To get to the food section, I need to walk through health and beauty. It seems like there’s always something new there to try, and I usually end up loving what I get there. I started getting makeup remover wipes there for $1.25, instead of the $9 face wash or the $11 wipes at the drug store. Their bath sponges are amazing and cheap enough to replace as often as I need to. Hell, I even started buying makeup there on a whim. For Halloween, I needed blue and green eyeshadow and found an eyeshadow pallet for $1.25. This is quite possibly the greatest eyeshadow pallet I’ve ever tried. It’s a little harder to blend than the pricey ones I saw at Sephora, but they freaking stay on all day! I just got back from a hellacious 8 1/2 hour shift and my eyeshadow hadn’t budged or creased at all! So I have to check there to see if they have any new eyeshadows….. or lip glosses……. or makeup sponges….. or dry shampoo…….. or anything else they can possibly come out with that catches my eye.

By this point, I either have my hands full or have half a basket full of things. This is before I even hit the food section! I’ll try to grab just a bag of chips or some crackers to munch on. Then I’ll find half a dozen things we probably need at home: Rice-A-Roni, Cup-A-Soup, mini pizza crusts, discount Triscuits, Pop Shoppe soda in the glass bottles. It’s almost like they’re reading my mind, trying to figure out the best impulse buys for me. Then it’s through the candy section to get to the soda pop I came in there for in the first place. On a rough or really busy day at work, I can usually grab two or three things here just to give to co-workers. It’s amazing what leaving a KitKat in a person’s locker can do for their moral.

By the time I finally grab my soda, I’m up at the cash right next to the real impulse buys. I don’t know why I feel like I need peanut butter date energy bars, or a back scratcher, or foam nunchucks for AAB, but they wind up on the belt at the cash.

There have been times I’ve gone in there for soda and a snack and left with three freaking bags of things. A big part of me loves it, finding such a great deal on things. Another part of me, the financially responsible part, hates it. Yes, it’s always good to stock up on essentials like face cleansing wipes and bubble gum. But do I really need yet another piece of Tupperware with little sections in it? Or more pens with fuzzy balls on the end that the ever playful Bowser Kitten will attack any time I try to write with them?

This is why I pack a lunch for work. Today, I didn’t leave the store once in that 8 1/2 hours I was there. I brought food, and a book, and my soda pop from yesterday that I barely touched, and hunkered down in the break room for my dinner and my breaks. I didn’t spend a dime all day once I got to work.

Still, I wonder if they got any new eyeshadows in that I could use…..

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More Praise for the Internet

Sorry lovelies, but today my head is just a giant pile of mush. I had a few glasses of red last night and the got assaulted with cuddles all morning by the surprisingly loving Bowser Kitten. It’s already after 11am, and I have done exactly nothing all day. I played a game on my phone, checked my Twitter, messaged my mum to see how dad is doing (she’s supposed to be at work, so I can’t just call), and have been hiding in my room from roommates all morning. Even the super snuggly Bowser Kitten is in a mood, burrowed into the blankets on the bed with only his little head poking out.

I just can’t wrap my head around anything today. I’m going over to-do lists, trying to get things done, but no one else around here gets anything done so I get side-tracked. This morning, I got up to make coffee around 9:30. Instead of my usual “put the coffee on, go to the bathroom, brush my teeth, go grab coffee” routine I do most mornings, I had to wash a sink full of dishes, scrub old macaroni and some sort of brown sauce off the counters, and clean off the stove. My 10 minutes routine was more than half an hour thanks to that! And I seem to be doing everything in super slow motion today, too.

I think part of this is because I spent so much time looking at my schedule for work. They decided to open our store later on Sundays for the holidays, and the first night of this is the night of our Christmas Party. The Amazingly Awesome Boyfriend and I are supposed to head out to the party around 6:30 with the work BFF and her fiance, but I am scheduled until 8:15pm. So I have to do a little finagling of the schedule, perhaps a little bribery to switch some things around and get an earlier shift. That’s my only 8-hour shift that week, so I can’t afford to just give it up. Actually, it’s one of the few 8-hour shifts I have in the 21 straight days I’ve been scheduled. Yes, after working a 30-day stretch and getting hell from my manager for working that many days, I take two whole days off just to be thrown into a 21-day stretch. If I hadn’t taken this past weekend off, then I would be working 53 straight days.

There are a few really crappy things that come with this. First off, in our collective agreement it states that we can only be scheduled 6 days a week unless we agree to pick up hours on that 7th day. I could totally go to management and tell them I can’t do all these days in a row, and they’d just give away a shift a week. But they don’t have to make up those hours anywhere on the schedule for me. That means I would be losing 5-8 hours a week just to have a day off. Another crappy thing is that I’m working 7 days a week, and still not being scheduled for 40 hours. In the past, I’ve had weeks where I’ve worked 7 days and not even gotten 30 hours! If I want to pay the bills, then I have to work all of these shifts somehow.

The weird thing is, my managers just gave me hell for doing a 30-day stretch! True, part of the streak was my own doing. When people needed shifts covered, or we knew in advance that we would be short on certain days, I volunteered to pick up hours. But I also did that with the assumption that the days off I was already scheduled for later in the schedule would remain as days off for me. I’d plan for a 14-day stretch, only to have my day off on day 15 rescheduled as a closing shift, give me 20+ days. Even at the very tail end of my streak, I was supposed to get days 27 and 28 off, but the manager tweaked that and gave me shifts instead! On day 30, when I made it known that I had survived yet another 30-day stretch, my manager said I can’t do long stretches anymore and have to take days off. Then he turns around two days later and schedules a 21-day stretch!

All of this scheduling, re-scheduling, and long stretches makes having a life outside of work nearly impossible. It’s already hard to schedule around my job since my shifts change so often. I can be scheduled to close at 4:15, just to get a call at 8am to come in at noon instead. Or I can get a highly coveted morning shift with the expectation to be out of there by 3pm, only to get extended until 6pm. And we just found out recently that the company as started to log everything you do regarding the schedule, possibly to use against you. Every time you request a day off, call in sick, refuse to switch shifts or come in early or pick up an extra shift…….. this all goes in a report they add to your annual review. They even log the reasons why you turn down shifts!  This makes scheduling anything else in my life damn near impossible!

Take, for instance, doctor’s appointments. It’s time for my full physical, something that I simply cannot ignore. We have a history of cancer in my family, and cervical cancer is one of them. I’ve had to have cryosurgery before, to get rid of pre-cancerous cell growth that was caught before it became full-blown cancer. It’s uncomfortable enough for me to make an appointment like this already, but my doctor left his practice and was replaced by a brand new doctor. My down-under exam will be my first time meeting this doctor! I have been trying to find the time to schedule this appointment for almost a month now, and it looks like it will be another few weeks before I know for sure I can have the time to do so without penalizing myself at work. I have a physical to book, moles that need to be checked, I haven’t had my eyes checked in 6 years and need to get new glasses, and I should probably see a dentist someday to check on that wisdom tooth that started coming in a little over a year ago.

What really gets to me, though, is that one of the only ways to really advance in this company is to learn French. Actually, not being bilingual is one of the things that has really been holding me back from getting a government position in my field. There are places around here where I could learn French, but it’s impossible to both afford this and take the time to make it to these classes with the way schedules are done. The work BFF has it in her file that she is only available until 7pm on Mondays and Wednesdays. There are 8 different shifts that the manager has given out on the current schedules that she could possibly work on these days. Still, since she’s not available to close, he doesn’t schedule her at all most weeks. Taking even a few hours off of my availability each week to take French classes could mean giving up 10-16 hours of paid work each week! I really can’t afford to do that.

That’s where the third great love of my life comes in (the first two obviously being AAB and currently hiding Bowser Kitten): the internet. Ever check out Duolingo? It’s free online language lessons! I haven’t been able to keep up with mine much lately, but I’ve been chipping away at them bit by bit. As you learn, you have the option to strengthen your skills and go over things you’ve previously learned. They even have a TinyCards page with little flashcards to help you keep up with your skills. Also, they have an app that lets you learn on the go. And it’s not just French you can learn on there. There are 27 different courses for English speakers to help them learn other languages!

Duolingo isn’t the only free online resource for learning, either. Go do a Google search for free online classes. There are a tonne of resources out there! One of my personal favourites (even though I have a hard time finishing courses sometimes) is Coursera. They have a tonne of courses that you can either take for free (just to gain the knowledge and upgrade your skills), or you can pay to take them to get official credits from schools around the world. You can specialize in things from every area of knowledge in their catalog, from marketing to teaching English as a second language.

Can’t find exactly what you’re looking for on there? Well, try out Open2Study, an Australian-based website that follows the same model. What I love about this site is that it features a lot of self-paced courses. The problem I have when taking online courses is that I’ll start one, get all excited about it, and can only go so far at a time. You have to do a little bit each week, which kind of kills my motivation. With my constantly changing schedule, and putting my writing before anything else online right now, I tend to just drop courses after the third week. With self-paced courses, you can do as little or as much as you want at a time. Have a day off? Laying in bed sick all day? Don’t feel like watching reruns of Friends on Netflix yet again after a long day? You can throw on a lecture video, pull up some online notes, and do just as much work as you’re feeling up to at the time.

One thing I’ve been meaning to look into more is learning a bit of web development online. I learned some very basic HTML way back in my MySpace days, but pretty much stopped there. Having some basic development tools is essential for a lot of jobs out there now. Web development is becoming the new “proficient in Microsoft Office” in resumes. There are a tonne of resources out there, which I haven’t really evaluated for you guys at all. Like I said, this is something I’m looking into, not something I’ve actually thrown myself into yet. Still, I’ve been going over the sites listed here in this article. I’ve heard of a few of them before, like Khan and Code Academy. Maybe one of you out there has a little more insight into which online sites would be best for someone looking to learn online, and would like to leave a comment for us.

It’s actually mind-blowing how much there is that you can learn online. Did you know Yale has free classes online? University of Toronto? MIT? I mean, how great would that look on a resume? “While employed with [XXX], I independently upgraded my skills by taking online courses through both MIT and Yale”. I mean, it just sounds cool. Like, I live in the little border town, working my little retail job, working on my homework for MIT. Need an excuse to get out of a social situation? “Sorry, I can’t make it to your Silly Sock Social and Spritzer Mixer. I have to finish a paper for that class I’m taking at Yale.”

And for anyone who doesn’t think that any of this free online learning is “official” enough for them (I’ve heard that complaint from a lot of people, actually), or you specialized education like a Masters Degree or a few university classes to finish your major, there’s something out there for you too. Almost every single university out there now offers some sort of online learning. All through my two degrees, I took at least two online classes a year, usually during the summer months. I was a Teaching Assistant for an online Sociology class for three years. For us Canadians, there is even an entire university dedicated to online learning: Athabasca University. This online school is a collection of majors, courses, degrees, and certificates from universities all over Canada. Most Canadian universities will allow you to substitute online classes from Athabasca for courses you’re unable to take physically at your school for whatever reason. It’s just a matter of filling out some paperwork and using the online classes kind of like transfer credits. You can pick up a few classes here, or do a full degree. I’ve looked into a few certificates recently that would go great with my degrees, and really add something to my resume!

I don’t know, I’m in one of those moods where I feel like my entire life is falling apart, and I need to do something to get out of here. Like I said, my schedule doesn’t allow me to take the time off to upgrade my education, so I’ve been looking into all of this online learning a lot lately. These classes are perfect for anyone who needs to do a bit of learning but doesn’t have the time to dedicate the same time each week to physically going to a class.

I do have some words of warning, though. Like I said, I took quite a few online classes at my university and was the Teaching Assistant for one course. I know how easy it is to blow off work for these classes. When I had to physically go into class and participate in lectures, go to labs, hand in work, then that pressure to keep up was the motivating factor in me getting anything done sometimes. With my online classes, I could put off doing any reading at all until just before an assignment or paper was due. I once took a course and didn’t even take the plastic wrapping off the textbook until more than halfway through the semester! Unless there is some sort of schedule to the class that makes you hand things in, or take tests and quizzes, and all of this is at regular intervals, then it is ridiculously easy to dig yourself an academic hole that is stupid crazy hard to climb out of.

So, is there anything out there that you need to learn? Always wanted to learn a little bit about Ancient Rome? High school Spanish teacher always tell you that you’d never be able to learn more than a few words of Spanish, and you want to prove him wrong? There is something out there for everyone online. You just need to know where to look for it.*

*Google. Google is where you look for it. Type it into the damn search and look for it.

Back To School Anxiety: The Financial Side

Ok, so every year (even though I’ve long graduated, but still live near campus) I check out my old university’s Welcome Week. I volunteered with it for a few years, and know how much free food and stuff gets tossed out because no one takes it. So, I make it my mission to take stuff every year, to help decrease surplus waste.

And every fucking year they’re giving away copies of the same book: The Debt-Free Graduate. Yes, I know that they say every year is the new ~revised~ version with all the new tax and RESP law stuff in there, but 99% of the book is still the same. I have owned 7 copies of this book over the years. There is on my bookshelf, and the other 6 have gone to GoodWill. I figure it’s doing more good there than on a free table on a university campus.

The DEbt Free Graduate

Why?

Because a bunch of the tips have to do with stuff you have to do BEFORE you start school. RESPs, applying for scholarships in high school, getting summer jobs all through out high school and college/university, applying for loans and bursaries as a high school student. Seriously, they should give this out freshman year orientation of high school so that kids can start preparing themselves. Everything else in the book is just common sense tips that you can find online. And again, most of this shit would be most useful to you before you start classes for your first year of higher education.

Now, there are hundreds of sites out there saying the have fantastic advice on how to save money on life while you’re a student. I’d say a good 75% of these articles in some way, shape, or form mention Ikea as a decorating option. Now, I went to my local Goodwill today (it was my day off, so I thought I’d treat myself to some $2 books and $4 slippers), and they have a shit-tonne of old sturdy wooden desks there. The most expensive one I saw there was $35, plus $15 for delivery if you didn’t have a friend with a truck to grab it for you. Even still, $50 for a super solid desk is really not bad for someone who will spend a good 60% of their life at their desk for the next 4-6 years. And that’s on the pricey side of what I’ve seen! The desk I use now came with the room I rent. At my old apartment, I got a desk off the side of the road when some students were moving out and just discarding furniture. That being said, a lot of these “money saving” articles for students think that something like this is a good deal. For those of you who don’t want to click on random links, that a desk for students at the super bargain price of more than $400!!!

Ok, so I know that for a lot of us, $400 seems like nothing once those student loans roll in. But a $400 desk to save money? Even with that fresh cash in your bank, you don’t need to be throwing down big bucks for the basics. Like I said, paying $50 for the purchase and delivery of some old-school super sturdy wooden desk build back when people wanted their shit to last 500 years is a bargain for me. I’ve also used desks pulled off the side of the road when I didn’t have that $50 to spare.

So if you haven’t been saving for college or university since you started high school, don’t have a metric shit-tonne of scholarships to help you out, have very little or no don’t have RESP or any sort of educational savings from your family to help you, what the hell are you going to do. I mean, if you’re “lucky enough” to qualify for student loans, then you have those to fall back on. Or do you?

Basically, here’s a bunch of shit to remember when you’re trying to navigate financially in your post-high school education.

#1: They’re loans. It’s not free money.

PowerBall Winnings Student Loan Debt

I have seen student loan money blown on the craziest shit. I had a friend who needed a new mattress, and instead of getting something basic to last her through her degree (since she would be moving back home probably once she graduated while she looked for a job), she spent $1700 on a damn good mattress. Her rent was late at the end of the semester while she shoveled driveways to make up for the $300 she was short.

I once went to a fraternity cocktail party at a bar the beginning of winter semester. Three guys each had bar tabs in excess of $800, with two of them using their student loans to pay them off. Most of their tab was buying shots and rounds for their friends all night.

Another friend bought a car. Nothing fancy. Hell, not even something reliable. The tailpipe had to be rig-welded together with soda cans because she couldn’t afford repairs. Bought it in her first year, the damn thing barely made it half-way through the second year.

We all do stupid shit with our student loans. Hell, I know there are a bunch of things I spent way too much on over the years that I’m still trying to pay off now (flannel shirts, cheap boots, booze, and pizza are the big ones here). Loans are meant to be spent on tuition (which in my province, is automatically taken out by the school before you receive your loan), your rent, your books, food, and little important things like your phone bill. They’re not throwing a tonne of cash at you to go on a shopping spree, buying beds and cars and booze. You are getting the bare basics plus a little bit to live with.

And this money is NOT free.

If my friend had taken his $800 he spent on booze and just put it in savings, that’s an $800 payment he could’ve made on his student loan. Believe me, every tiny bit counts when it comes to your student loan repayment so that $800 could’ve covered interest for close to a year depending on how long he went to school.

The $1700 my friend spent on one mattress she had to abandon when she left the city after her degree is worth more than 6 months worth of her current student loan payments. Imagine not buying something extravagant, and being more than 6 months ahead of your friends in being debt free.

In the end, this is all being paid back. And having a ridiculous amount of student debt is a major stressor on most people. Ever wonder what triggers my insomnia-inducing anxiety more often than not? It’s debt, with the vast majority of it coming from student loans.

If you want to spend big bucks on something for yourself, mow some lawns or shovel driveways. Get a babysitting gig or something. Earn the extra coin to pay for it, or else it’s just being added to the debt that will be hanging over your head for years to come.

This is NOT your money to go out and spend! Yes, it’s in your account. But it’s a loan. A LOAN! Someone is lending you that money to use, and then pay back later WITH INTEREST!!! It is NOT free money like so many of us (myself included) spent it as.

#2: Why the hell are you buying your textbooks already?

Textbook Meme

Iknow you want to get a jump on things. It’s not easy keeping up with readings and assignments and getting a head start is better than nothing. Your professor sends out the syllabus a week or two in advance, so you can do this.

But do you really need to buy all the textbooks?

From what I’ve heard from friends from all over both Canada and the USA, most profs put a copy or two of their current textbooks in the library. Want to start reading early? Go check out a damn book! I found there is always a damn good chance that the prof with either only uses one of the 7 books they assigned, or only sporadically make you read from the main text. You have your syllabus in front of you. Why not go the library a week ahead of time, take out that textbook, read and make all your notes, and be done with it? It sure as hell beats spending $150+ on a damn book you’ll need a handful of times in a semester.

If you absolutely must have your textbooks, for the love of all things sacred, follow the advice of pretty much every “how to save money as a student” article out there: buy them used. At my old university, students could sell back certain textbooks at a greatly reduced rate, to be resold as used books to new students. I mean, I paid $100 for a book I used three times, and the used book store wanted to buy it for $20. Mind you, they were reselling it for $50.

If you need a textbook, check out used textbook websites. Just type in your college or university named followed by “used” on Facebook, and you’ll find pages for used books, furniture, clothes, everything. Pick up books for less than half price. If you have old books, get a bit of money back for them. If only one prof uses that book, and you took very careful notes and highlights, you could possibly get into a bidding war (had it happen a few times one year) to get your very coveted used text.

Don’t want a bunch of used books cluttering up your shelves? Think about renting them. There are a bunch of websites that will let you rent books from them. You can’t mark them up with highlighters, but you can take notes from them, read them all you want, and then return them at the end of the semester so they’re not cluttering up your bookshelves (or taking up room boxed up in your meager storage space, like mine are). Hell, your own school may even have a rental program set up for books!

#3: Know yourself when buying school supplies

 

*quick note: my school supplies have NEVER been as pretty, coordinated, or themed as the ones I see on Pinterest.

I don’t know why, but I can’t start the semester with old notebooks. Doesn’t matter if I’m taking notes in them or not. Hell, I probably have more than two dozen half used notebooks in my room right now, I could never use them for school. I always needed a fresh notebook to start the class off with, with a nice pen to write with.

So right there I know that I can go to any dollar store and buy notebooks. I’m not overly particular about them, just as long as they have paper in them. Some people are a bit pickier than that. They need the notebooks that are divided into different subjects, with pocket dividers and removable bookmarks. Others use binders, anything from a plain three-ring to one of those giant monstrosities I have for my old writing, full of pockets and accordion files and little zippered compartments.

I know that I can cheap out on notebooks at the dollar store, but I need good pens. Some people are fine with cheap pencils but need the organization and flexibility of one of those fancy huge binders.  You need to figure out what is most important to you when it comes to your note-taking, your organization, and your budget. To this day, I still buy my notebooks at dollar stores. I save every free pen I can find (**tip: free pens are usually really good quality, and last quite a while. Stock up on them anytime you can. Check campus tables, welcome week events, anything with a table and pamphlets really.), and grab a two-pack of nice pens every few months from the drug store. But even though I can get one for free on campus (they’re always over-stocked, so I take what they would throw out), or get one cheap at the dollar store, every Christmas I treat myself to a new day planner from the calendar stand at the mall. It’s $30+ (nowhere near as expensive as the Kate Spade ones some of my friends get, or the leather one my dad always swore by), it has stickers (I’m big on stickers for colour-coding), and has things like to-do lists and shopping lists at the back. I know that this is essential for me, whereas a notebook with compartments and pockets isn’t.

Basically, know what you need. Don’t go out buying the Kate Spade planner if the free one from campus works for you. Don’t buy a $14 pen if you lose pens constantly.

#4: Get your ass to the financial aid office NOW

Financial Aid Jar.jpg

I don’t care if you’re paying with loans, or scholarships, or your parents are paying your way. Go to the financial aid office, see what they offer. I know at my school, they had a wall of scholarships you could apply for. Going to their website brought up even more. I found out that just by receiving student loans, I qualified for Work Study (120 hours a year at an on-campus job at $12 an hour), plus I was eligible for more than half a dozen bursaries. Some of these bursaries weren’t awarded until part-way through the semester when my tuition was already paid up. That meant the financial aid office would just cut me a cheque for whatever I had gotten, and send me on my way.

There were a few semesters where I got an $800+ cheque more than halfway through the semester. Now, I know I should’ve taken at least half of that and applied to towards debt, but I was a stupid student and probably treated myself to sushi once or twice, went out for a girls night a few more times than usual, and bought more books before saving the rest for a rainy day.

It’s not just your financial aid office that can help you, either. Just go and Google things like “Scholarships + [your major]” and see what comes up. Sign up for scholarship websites. They have you fill out huge profiles and questionnaires, leading you to so many things you may not have realized could get you money. Then, Google “Scholarships + [that thing]” and see what comes up. I’ve had scholarships come up because I have family members who have worked for certain companies, or have been part of certain organizations. I had one come up because I did a lot of charity work with a Greek organization, without being a member of any Greek organization. I’ve had LGBTQ+, harmonica players, writers, cat owners, sufferers of anxiety and depression, and mature student scholarships pop up.

After that, look for contests. Your school’s financial aid might be able to help with that. I entered contests through my bank (they totally bastardized a story I wrote, which made me lose horribly because I was too ashamed to attach my name to it to promote it), writing contests, a stop smoking challenge, and two read-a-thons for money. You would not believe what some people will give you money for when you’re a student!

#5: Use what you fucking paid for!

I am the first to admit that I was the absolute worst for this, and I totally regret it right now. As a student, you pay student fees, which pays for a shit-tonne of things for you. As a student, I had prescription coverage, dental coverage, optical coverage, a free gym membership, access to academic counseling, access to psychological counseling, and a bunch of free stuff through student organizations through my major. I took advantage of almost none of this.

As a working somewhat grown-up right now, what do I miss most about school? The dental plan (my first wisdom tooth started coming in a little over a year ago, and needs to be monitored, which can get pricey in the long run). The optical plan (I can afford an eye exam during the busy season at work. It’s the glasses and contacts, which I desperately need in order to see, that I can’t afford. Even using websites like Clearly Contacts, which is so much more affordable than getting my glasses through my eye doctor, is way too expensive at this time due to my prescription).

Do you have any idea how expensive this stuff is once you’re out of school? My glasses are like $800 a pair! I can spend a good $250 easy on contact lenses, and that’s with me stretching it out until my eyes hurt! My mouth is in pain randomly because of my wisdom tooth, so I spend a ridiculous amount on bubble gum (the only gum that seems to relieve the pressure) as sort of a band-aid for the time being. Really, I should just get my eyes and teeth checked. But I have no insurance at all. Neither do a whole tonne of my friends at the moment. The worst part is, I didn’t use up all my benefits the last year I was qualified for them. I could’ve gotten my teeth cleaned, get x-rays done, saw what my wisdom teeth were o and made a plan. If I had gotten my eyes checked, I would know what fucking prescription to get for myself, and been pretty ok right now.

Have a meal plan?Make sure you use up as much of that damn things as possible! I never lived in campus residence, so I didn’t get a meal plan while I was in school. My brother was in school the same time as me and worked in residence, so he HAD to get a meal plan. There were so many students who, at the end of the year, had a bunch of money left to spend on their plan and just left. Have some money left over the last few weeks of school and know you won’t spend it? I saw some students buy meals for others who didn’t have a plan, for cash of course. My brother went to the school variety store at the end of the school year. They had a clearance on stuff they couldn’t keep for the summer months (mainly junk food and ramen), and he stocked up. You should’ve seen the look on my grandma’s face when he walked in the door with a whole CASE of Snickers for her, that he paid like $5 for. He’d stock up with whatever money he had left, and that way he’d save money over the summer by not buying this crap. Ramen is cheap enough, 3 for $1 at the dollar store. I saw people buying a case of 24 for $3 at the end of the year. What student living on their own doesn’t need cheap ramen?

Check out your school’s websites, see what your student fees buy you. If you get a free transit pass, use the fuck out of it. Explore your town, even if you grew up there. Learn where each and every bus route goes, in case you ever need to know. Check out exactly what your health plan gets you, and use it up as much as possible. Go to all the workshops, presentations, talks, extra classes, and hit the gym from time to time at least. Get the absolute most out of what you’re paying for tuition, to help unfuck your future.

 

Well, this is it for now, Sunshine. I’ve got a tonne more back to school advice coming up. My computer is just acting all laggy and crazy riught now, and it’s a real fucking pisser to try and type anymore.

Utilities Included……. To A Point

I would like to know on what planet the phrase “utilities included” means “the landlord will pay the utilities for you, and your friends, and their friends, and all your families……..”. Somehow, I keep getting these roommates who see “utilities included” as some sort of invitation for a free-for-all at our place, where everyone and anyone can do their laundry or crank the AC for free.

Now, out of all the places I’ve lived with roommates (both randoms and friends), I have had the landlord come talk to me about utility usage at every single place I’ve been in. And I’ve lived in a lot of places around here. Out of all of those places, there was only ONE that was a BS complaint. At my old apartment, the windows were drafts and leaked when it rained or snowed, there was no AC, and you could feel the heat leaking out the windows from outside. But it was my nightlight in the hallway that was using up too much power and making the energy bill go nuts.

At every single other place, the landlord had totally legitimate reasons to be pissed, and my roommates and I were completely in the wrong with what was going on in our place.

Every. Single. Other. Place.

Now, just so everyone out there is on the same page, no landlord is legally obliged to include your utilities (water, electricity, gas) in your monthly rent payment. Even if you sign a lease with them that says that utilities are included in your payment, there are legal ways for them to get out of that. Like…… say you totally take advantage of the fact that you don’t have to pay out of pocket for utilities and start using ALL THE POWER POSSIBLE!!!! There are safeguards out there for landlords to protect them from situations like this, so they don’t wind up with $700 electricity bills for a 2 bedroom house that brings in $850 a month in rent.  Depending on the local laws in your area, landlords may be to change your lease (lower your rent but make you put utilities in your own name), evict you, or increase your rent to make up for their losses.

So how do you know if you’re abusing your “utilities included” agreement? Here’s what some of my roommates did:

  1. My first place in University was a house near campus with a bunch of friends and cats and ferrets. I don’t think that place ever had real, natural air flowing through it unless I opened up my bedroom window or sat up in the attic window. There was always either AC or heat blasting. And I’m not talking, “Well, it 100 degrees in the shade,  better turn on the AC to cool the place down” like a responsible person does. No, my roommate would CRANK that AC anytime she wanted. I can remember coming home from the beach on a 90-degree day. She plopped herself down on the couch to cool off after setting the AC to 50 FREAKING DEGREES!!!! And she would do this all the freaking time!  I’m surprised we didn’t burn out the AC at some point. I only lasted 2 years there, while a few of them lasted 4 in that house. By the time they moved out, the landlord was begging them to try and conserve energy, even just a little bit.
  2. I have had multiple roommates try this one, but the worst was at my last place before where I am living now. We had in-house laundry facilities. Logically, this was so the people who paid rent to live in that house could do their own laundry there. One roommate (the one who threw away all my veggies so he could fill the shared fridge with meat) decided that the laundry room was open to ANYONE. His friends would come over and do a few loads. He’d have a small party in his room and everyone would bring laundry to throw in while they drink. He would do a load of three shirts and a sock if he felt like it. I can remember waiting for days to do laundry because he’d monopolize the washer and dryer for days on end. At one point, he and two friends slept in shifts for three days so they could do laundry 24/7.  Do you have any idea how much energy laundry takes?
  3. Right now, I live with grown-ass adults who have no idea how to adult. I AM THE ADULT HERE! If I didn’t lay down the law around here (or have the landlord email everyone with new rules to follow, giving me authority over certain things), they’d just do what they want when they want. Landlord messaged me to say the energy bill was almost $90 higher than it should have been a few months ago. Now, we have ‘peak hour billing’ here, which means the energy costs vary throughout the day. It’s always been a rule here that no one does laundry before 7 pm unless it’s a weekend or holiday. Same goes for running the dishwasher (which we never use anyway). We also have to be careful with the AC.  These grown-ass adults didn’t care though. They’d do laundry all day, crank the AC so upstairs was nice and cold, and the basement was freezing. Then they’d run space heaters in the basement. Instead of using the kitchen to cook, they got spare mini-fridges and hot plates and microwaves and cooked in their rooms. I once came home a little after 1 pm to find the dishwasher running for 2 plates, 2 cups, and a frying pan.

In every single instance here, the landlord had to contact us and say, “look, either you be a little more responsible with your energy use, or I’m going to have to take the ‘utilities included’ clause out of your rental agreement”. So in a alot of these cases, it’s one person ruining things for an entire house full of people. Do you really want to be that one person who pisses off a bunch of people and causes them severe financial harm, especially when they know exactly where you live?

 

Groceries: What The Hell Do You Even Need?

We’re in the process of re-teaching a co-worker how to shop for groceries after years of bringing fast food to work every day. So I thought this would be a good time to make up a grocery list for myself. I do this semi-regularly. It’s not like I shop entirely from a list, or have one of those pre-printed lists on the fridge that lets me check things off as we run out of them. And I’ll never be one of those people who always seems to have the well-stocked pantry, with all the ingredients for a three course meal ready at the drop of a hat. Truth be told, I’m trying to chose between semi-stale granola and toast made from bread the Amazingly Awesome Boyfriend’s parents bought for us to go with my coffee this morning. I don’t think I could handle the responsibility of having one of those Insta-worthy pantries.

Still, I like to have a nicely stocked cupboard and fridge. There are some things I just need to keep in stock, like milk for coffee, or bread and cheese slices for emergency sandwiches. For some reason the other night, though, while making a grocery list so I don’t forget cat food and bacon, I thought “Gee, I wonder if there’s other things I should be stocking, to really up my cooking game”. So, off to the Googles!

A quick search for “Grocery List Essentials” pulled up article  after  article  of   pre-made  grocery  lists.  There was everything from slide shows of sleek-looking produce, clean eating walkthroughs, and  how to live on an extremely tight budget while still enjoying pancakes and pineapple. While the lists were a great ready (although sometimes overwhelming and huge), and each one was unique, they all had one thing in common: they were full of crap I don’t want or need.

Neither AAB or I are big on fruit. I keep some bananas and berries in the freezer for smoothies on Sunday morning, and he buys the occasional apples for his lunch. So why would we need to stock apples, oranges, bananas, strawberries, and pomegranates in our kitchen? All that’s going to do turn into some mighty expensive compost. Things like yogurt and feta cheese would just go bad in the fridge, since we hardly ever use either one. And there is no way in hell I would EVER keep avocados  stocked in my kitchen. As the video says, those things can kill a damn horse!

You’re probably think, “Well shit Sunshine, how the hell will I know how to stock my damn kitchen if all these lists are full of crap I don’t even need?”

Well, sit your ass down and look at what you actually like to eat. Then, imagine eating it. Sounds crazy, right? Hear me out though: I love eggs. I love spinach. I love grains and carbs of all kinds. And I love salads. Before I make a grocery list, I have to figure out which of these things I need, and what I can do with them. One of my favourite things to pack for a quick lunch at work is quinoa, boiled spinach, and a poached egg. So if I know I’ll be getting shifts with lunch breaks this week, I’ll make sure I have those three things on my list. I never eat that at home, though, so I won’t keep all that in stock as much if I’m on evenings and nights. Also when I’m on nights and evenings, I need simple things to make for dinner since AAB doesn’t cook a whole hell of a lot. So, I’ll throw a few frozen pizzas and some crock pot friendly foods on my list.

Another great way to make a kick-ass grocery list is to look at recipes and store flyers. I like to look through Flipp on my phone and see what proteins are on sale at the two grocery stores near my work. Then, I’ll look up a few quick recipes for those: one in the oven, one crockpot, and one more complicated one for nights I’m not working. Then I’ll go through the recipes and make my list based on that, with a few changes. Depending on what is on sale, I’ll substitute a few ingredients here and there (why shell out for organic kale to sautee when you can get a bag of spinach on sale for $1?). This is great because now I have meals planned out in my head, and can shop for other things accordingly. Making spicy chicken on Monday night? Grab some peppers and onions, bust out the tortillas, and the leftovers become fajitas on Tuesday. Want to get that bag of discount spinach but only have it down in one recipe for the week? Boil or sautee some a bunch to add to omelettes, throw in with a bit of pasta, or eat as a side dish with breakfasts and lunches. Bunches of tomatoes are on sale, and you want them for pizza one night, but hate them in your salad? Make some salsa, bruschetta, or pico de gallo to snack on for the week with the leftovers.

So Sunshine, don’t think that you need to follow some sort of pre-made list to stock your kitchen right. I don’t care of Oprah or Gwyneth or Dr. Oz makes the damn list: if it doesn’t work with you, your tastes, and your lifestyle, then don’t bother with it. That’s not to say you can’t take inspiration from them. Check out the spice section of their lists, see if there’s anything there you could use but constantly overlook when shopping. Use things like lists as suggestions, not as can-never-stray-from-guides. You do you Sunshine, whether it’s in the kitchen or the boardroom. Stay golden!

Why My Credit Sucks, But Not Totally

Ok so when I talk about my credit, I don’t even include the student loans I have. Thanks to laws and bills here, I don’t have to pay back anything until I make over $25,000 a year.  Sadly, I make well under that, even in gross pay right now. This also means I’m safe from huge payments, and can chip away at my loans slowly for now. this is a big plus for me right now.

A huge negative is my credit cards. You see, while I was looking for work, I still needed to live. I managed to work enough odd jobs and get enough benefits to cover my rent. But things like food, clothes for interviews (all second-hand stuff, mind you), and transportation (busses for the most part) still needed to be taken care of. Then, after I found work, I found out that my hours drop DRASTICALLY in the new year (from 40 hours a week plus Sunday overtime, to zero hours scheduled for two weeks straight). If I scrimp and save my paychecks, I can pay my rent and credit card minimums. But there’s no money left for food (unless I get called in for shifts, which look pretty likely this year!). In the past, I took a temp job at the University, but the last few months there hasn’t been anything available for me.

So, I put things on credit. It’s not like I’m out buying Gucci handbags and Fendi wallets. I’m buying on sale Mr. Noodle and some “priced to sell TODAY” veggies to throw in with them. I’m buying “Buy tonight, cook tomorrow” meats at a huge discount. Basically, I’m buying bargain groceries. This stuff adds up over time though. And there’s always a little something else you need to get. New interview pants because yours ripped or you lost some weight (from not being able to afford food). A bottle of the cheapest wine you can find to give to a friend for her birthday. A package of bus tickets you try to stretch as long as possible.  And this just adds up even more.

So, I’ve dug myself a pretty sizeable hole. Between 4 credit card and a line of credit, I’m looking at hitting the $30,000 mark this year if I don’t do something about it.

My biggest problem is the interest. I’ve read all the books, I’ve watched the shows (Gail Vaz-Oxlade you are my Queen!!!), I know that interest is a what kills you in the end. I really had no idea how bad it was until recently.

On my largest credit card balance, I owe a minimum of around $250 a month. Of that, $240 is just the interest accrued that month. That means I’m only paying off $10 of my debt each month!

So, I spoke to a financial advisor. At my job, I’m only classified as part-time, which is not a good thing when you’re looking to borrow money. Actually, that is the kiss of death for most people. But in my case, she is hopeful that we can at least get a large chunk of my debt consolidated into one payment with a lower interest rate. Why?

1. I MAKE PAYMENTS ON-TIME

The last time I was late on a payment was 8 years ago. Even then, I notified my bank that there was a problem with my paycheck and my credit card payment would be a week late. I’ve only ever missed one phone bill payment, which I paid in full the moment I I realized it and talked to my phone company about as soon as I could (my mother was in the hospital, the doctor told her she was going to die, and I was more than a little pre-occupied at the time). My point? I made my payments! And the rare time I didn’t make them on time? I made sure to apologize, explain myself, and beg for mercy. A lender doesn’t HAVE to keep lending you money. Legally (and laws vary depending on state/province, so be sure to know yours) you can miss or be late on X amount of payments before you suffer any true consequences.

I make sure to have my payments in on-time each and every month. And the credit companies take note of that.

2. I PAY MORE THAN THE MINIMUM

No, I’m not paying my balance in full, like all the experts tell me to. But if my payment is $50 for the month, I’m throwing down at least $75-$100 on there. Not only does that free up more credit if I need it later in the month, but it also shows commitment. My lending companies know that I want to pay things off, and I’m not going to just sit around doing the bare minimum to do it.

When I spoke to a financial advisor this week, on thing she emphasised was that I was paying a good $100 more a month than the minimum on my largest debt, in an effort to make it go away. This is a huge factor in determining what I CAN pay and what I WILL pay if my debts are consolidated, which affects the amount they are willing to lend me to do this.

3. I STOPPED SPENDING WHEN I DIDN’T NEED TO

Coming up closer to Christmas, my online spending increases (hello Amazon deals, you saved me TONNES for Christmas). BUT, what I spend on other credit cards decreases (I have on card dedicated to online purchases). I didn’t touch two of my cards for a month and a half! And this is huge for your credit score!

To bump up your credit score, on thing you need to do is show that you don’t need to spend your available credit. I tried to do my in-person spending (clothes, shoes, things someone needs to try on or physically test before they buy) in the warmer months. Then, when I know I’ll be spending money online in the colder months, I put away the cards in my wallet. Now, if I don’t have the cash, I don’t buy it. Yes, it sucks. Big time. I went hungry more than a few times, had to live on ramen noodles again at times. But giving those cards a break shows that I’m not dependant on them. This is huge when it comes to determining your credit score.

Basically Sunshine, I’ve messed up my finances pretty damn bad. Once, when I was really drunk, I ordered 60 pairs of false eyelashes from China. Thankfully that only set me back like $20, but that’s the kind of stupid thing we all do from time to time. I’ve tried to show, especially in the last few years, that while I’ve been entirely stupid with my credit, I get it. I need to pay it back, I want to pay it back, and I’ve put some effort into paying back.

As I said, I have multiple cards. Sometimes, just paying off one card (while keeping up payments on the others) is enough to put a huge boost in your credit score. And your credit score determines a lot. Right now, my score is low enough that i can get a mortgage, but at a horrible rate. My goal is to bring that up to a decent rate by the end of the year, and be looking to buy a home just after next Christmas.

This isn’t an exhaustive list of things you can do to help your credit score, but it’s a start. Talk to a financial advisor if you’re in a bind. Trust me, Sunshine, it helps.

The Goal Setting Challenge

Amazingly Awesome Boyfriend has quite a bit of debt. Not as much as me (thanks Student Loans!!), but still quite a bit. When he moved in with me the beginning of the month, we agreed that I would handle all of the finances. Because you know, Criminology majors are known for their fancial prowress??

Considering how much debt I have (but how much effort I’ve put into making all my bill payments and paying some things off in the last few years), this is pretty much like the extremely near sighted leading the blind.  So, I’ve started to do what any responsible failed grown up would do: I’m marathoning Princess and anything else Gail Vaz Oxlade has put out on TV. I’ve got my little pad of paper here, taking notes on things she recommends to help people realize how much debt they’re in, and how they can get out of it.

A lot of it is simple: make a budget, get your credit report, have a resume. I’m good at these things. I’ve been working on a budget with AAB, and am pulling out old resume templates to show him the info I need to put a resume together for him. I even found where we can get our credit reports and scores, and am working on that for both of us.

The one challenge that always  stumps me, though, is the Goal Setting Challenge. The challenge itself is quite simple. Gail has the girls look at their life, and what they are doing to earn money. Quite a few of them have started and dropped out of a few different college programs, some are working the bare minimum amount of hours they can, and others just have absolutely no direction in their lives. So Gail has them sit down and look at what they want for a career, and how to set goals to achieve this. Some of them get to try out a career, others get a kick in the butt to go out and get a new job, and a few have gone on to get the requirements needed to advance in their current jobs.

That is where I get completely lost.

You see, since my goals and dreams fell apart years ago (THAT’S a long story for another day!) I’ve had one hell of a time trying to figure out what the hell I’m doing with my life. That’s pretty much step one of setting a goal for this challenge: knowing what the hell your goal is!

I’ve been putting myself out there with resumes, but as time goes by since graduation it seems like I’m getting fewer and fewer responses. I have no clue what it is I want to do with my life if I could have a dream job. And even if I could figure that out, I have no clue how I could afford to go out and get qualified for anything. The career I’m in at the moment has absolutely no way for me to work harder towards advancement, because about 95% of all upward mobility is based on seniority (and I’m near the bottom of the bunch for that).

So what the hell do I do?

This is something I’ve been looking at for myself a lot lately, Sunshine. Basically, I’m a Lost Girl. As fun as that title makes it sound, it’s not all rooster crows and Bangarang here. I’m looking at having no career, no direction, and no purpose in life. It’s damn scary!

So, you’ll see a bit more from me about this whole goal setting thing while I try ot figure out how to make it work for me. And maybe soon, I’ll tell you about that whole “I had a career in mind and worked towards it, only for it to completely fall out from under me, leaving me kinda dangling here wondering what the hell I’m going to do with my life” story.

Maybe.