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.

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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!