Archive for January, 2008

3 Easy Ways to Build Your Credit Score

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Now that you know what a credit score is, it’s time to figure out how you can make yours stronger. The nice thing about credit scores is that they’re pretty easy to build–it really doesn’t take a lot of effort on your part.

Here are a couple of ways you can build your credit.

Open a Checking and a Savings Account
You can’t get a credit card until you are 18, but some banks will allow you to open accounts with them at a younger age, so this is a great way to get a head start. You could also consider opening a joint account with an adult if your bank won’t let you open one on your own.

Have a Credit Card
Okay, first of all, credit cards can be dangerous for college students. Once you have one, it’s tempting to use it for anything and everything, and that leads a lot of students into debt. So, my advice would be to get one card (only one!), and use it ONLY OCCASIONALLY and ONLY like a debit card–only spend money you already have in the bank, and pay off your entire balance at the end of each month.

Caution: Paying your card of on time will build your credit. Overspending on your card will put you in debt. Be careful.

Pay Off a Loan
I’m not saying to rush out and get a loan–if you don’t need a loan, don’t get one just to build credit. But, if you already have a loan on a car, or if you have student loans, the simple act of paying your bill on time will help with your credit. Easy!

So, the bottom line on building credit is–Pay your bills on time! That’s basically zero effort, since really you should be doing that anyway.

Having trouble getting everything in order by the payment due date? Check with your bank, credit card company, lender, and other companies you pay bills to, and see if you can set up auto-bill-pay. All you have to do then is make sure you have enough money in your bank account every month, and the company will withdraw the payment for you. (Need to save more money to fill that bank account? Check out these 50 ways to save money in college!)

photo: number 540 by Scyza

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Add comment January 31st, 2008

50 Smart and Easy Ways to Save Money in College

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Finding college a little more expensive than you expected? Check out these tips to help you save cash during the college years—I’ve used a lot of them myself (and now that I’m paying of student loans, I’m finding even more!)

School & Textbooks
1. Try to get a tuition discount. (Fox College Funding’s founder, Deborah Fox, talks about how to do that on her Pay for College blog—look there for other good college & money saving info).

2. Check if your job has tuition assistance or education reimbursement program—if it does, use it!

3. Check to see if your 4-year college will give you credit to take lower division classes at a community college. They cost less to take, and should be basically the same classes.

4. DON’T buy textbooks from the campus bookstore! They are almost ALWAYS overpriced.

5. Buy your text books used (CampusBooks.com compares prices on a lot of sites for you), or to save even more, ask your professor if you can use an older edition—those are usually MUCH cheaper.

6. Sell your textbooks at the end of the quarter/semester. You’ll probably get more selling them online than you would selling them back to the school.

7. Apply for scholarships–and increase your odds by applying to quirky scholarships that apply to you, or to local ones. They have a smaller applicant pool, so they’re easier to win!

Groceries
8. Use meal points or other college meal credits that are built into your fees to their fullest (you probably won’t get a refund at the end of the year).

9. Buy store brand groceries for things that taste the same. For example, store brand cereals sometimes don’t taste as good, but I haven’t noticed a difference in canned goods, pastas, and salad dressing.

10. Buy bulk packages of the things you use the most—toilet paper, shampoo, soap, etc.

11. Don’t use paper plates and plastic utensils if you have to buy them, just wash some dishes instead. Little luxuries like disposable utensils add up.

12. When you go shopping, make a list of all the meals you are going to eat for the next week first. Buy ONLY what you need to make those meals.

13. Don’t shop hungry, and don’t give in to the impulse buys at the checkout stand.

14. Buy groceries that are on sale, but DON’T buy things you don’t need just because they’re on sale.

15. Learn how to eat well (as in real food, not ramen noodles) cheaply. Check out these $3 recipes from Cheap Eats for starters.

16. Buy local produce at a produce store or farmers market. It is fresher AND cheaper. In San Diego we have a store called Henry’s–you can also try to find cheaper fruit & etc. at stores like Trader Joe’s.

Transportation & Travel
17. Gas is expensive. Take the bus (a lot of colleges offer free shuttles or bus passes—check with your school’s transportation department).

18. Carpool and split the cost of gas. This is especially good if you’re taking a long road trip.

19. If you still need to buy gas, check GasBuddy.com to find cheap rates in your area.

20. Use student discounts when you travel. Check with the bus, train, or airline you are using, or use a student travel site like StudentUniverse.com.

Rent
21. Share a room. It’s tempting to pay the extra for your own room, but unless you REALLY need it, you may as well share. It’s good practice at getting along with someone, and it costs less.

22. Fight yearly rental increases if you live off campus! Landlords and apartment complexes will usually lower your rent increase if you just ask. Tell them you want to stay in the complex, but you can’t afford so much of an increase—they will usually compromise with you.

Utilities & Phone
23. Reduce your electricity bills: turn off your computer when you’re not using it, turn off lights when you leave the room, unplug appliances you aren’t using.

24. Track your cell minutes diligently so you don’t get charged extra. Better yet, cut down your cell minutes use and get a cheaper plan. Cut down on the frills (like texting or video messaging) that you don’t need, or see if you can get them for free.

25. Calling information? Don’t pay a fee! Call for free information at Google’s (800) GOOG-411, or another free service, (800) FREE-411.

26. Use free internet phone software like Skype to make free computer-to-computer phone calls (it will help cut down your phone bill!)

27. Use the internet at school, and skip getting it at home. Doing that saved me about $30/month.

28. If you’re buying software, hardware, or computers, check out Fry’s Electronics (Frys.com). They often have rebate deals that allow you to get software for free.

Shopping
29. Use RetailMeNot.com to find coupon codes for thousands of websites—That College Kid used it to save $70 on her textbooks.

30. Refashion old clothes (or thrifted clothes) into something you love. Check out Wardrobe Refashion and T-Shirt Surgery for inspiration, and get free patterns at Burda Style.

31. Make your own gifts. Check out these DIY gift roundups: for girls, for guys, for kids, & for teens/twenty-somethings. I made a gift for my brother this year that he LOVED, and it cost less than $5 (you can find it in “gifts for guys”–its the Monster iPod Cozy).

32. Buy the floor model for expensive items (but make sure it has a warranty). I got a floor model mattress for a few hundred dollars cheaper.

33. Bargain anywhere you can! It never hurts to ask for a lower price. I’ve gotten discounts on mattress box springs, a motor scooter, and my car just by talking the salesman down!

34. If you have a credit card, use it like a debit card—never spend more than you actually have in the bank.

Credit, Fees & Bills
35. Understand what your credit score is, and keep it healthy! It will help you save money later when you’re looking for low interest rates on car or home loans.

36. Pay your bills on time, always. Late fees for most credit cards START at $20—they could be more.

37. Ask to have yearly or monthly fees waived from credit cards or bank accounts. The worst case scenario is that you get a “No,” the best is that you save those fees!

Food & Entertainment
38. Check for student discounts at museums, zoos, restaurants, and movie theaters. They may not be listed. The San Diego zoo had a deal that allowed me to get a year pass for just a little more than the price of one regular admission, but I had to ask for it—the deal wasn’t listed.

39. Don’t eat out. It adds up quickly, and if you’re not getting fast food, you have to add a tip.

40. Use the gym at school, or exercise for free at parks or beaches.

41. Make your own coffee, or at least skip the $3 lattes.

42. Find free, legal music downloads instead of paying $1 per song. Ruckus.com has free downloads for students, and Librivox has free audiobooks.

43. Borrow books and movies from the library instead of buying them or paying a rental fee. Return them on time.

44. Buy discount movie tickets at Costco. They have discounted tickets for chains like Edwards and AMC.

45. Go to matinees, and take advantage of your local theater’s cheaper days—our AMC shows movies for less than half price if you go before 11 on a weekend morning.

46. Try to find a local discount movie theater. We have one on campus! The movies are a little older (almost ready for release on DVD), but still fun to watch on a big screen.

47. Avoid buying snacks at the movie theater; they always overcharge you. If you really want something to munch, pick up some goodies at a grocery store beforehand.

48. Sign up for freebies with your favorite restaurants. Two of my favorites–Pat & Oscar’s and Quizno’s–send out coupons via email, and you can get a FREE “Love It” (medium) size ice cream at Coldstone if you join their birthday club. Mmm!

49. Ask for a lower rate on hotel rooms and rental cars. Since they are travel industries, they are more likely to give you some kind of discount. Be polite, not pushy.

50. Look for freebies in your local paper or school paper: Some museums are free on certain weekdays, some bands play with no cover charge, and your college will probably have some free events for students. UCSD has at least two free concerts with big name artists every year.

Did you like this post? Subscribe to keep up to date with all my latest tips! Enjoy!

Photo: Piggy Bank 1 by Lynne Lancaster

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21 comments January 28th, 2008

Finally, Affordable Help with How to Fill Out the FAFSA: My FAFSA Assistant!

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Who else hates spending hours on the FAFSA every year, just to try to get some financial aid?!? I always dread it (especially since my mom always made me do it all by myself!).

In case you haven’t heard of it, the “FAFSA” is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, the form you have to fill out to qualify for federal grants, some scholarships, work-study, and federal student loans.

Well, a new tool called My FAFSA Assistant could end all this needless suffering! It includes step-by-step video tutorials that help you gather all the documents you need, AND it walks you through the entire FAFSA filing process. It even tells you what information belongs where (since it’s a government form, the FAFSA questions can be tricky!) and how to handle special situations, like what to do if you qualify as an independent student, or if you come from a divorced family.

One of the best parts is that you get instructions from an expert that may very well help you maximize the amount of financial aid you get! The videos are simple and straightforward, and make the whole process faster and much more clear.

Plus, right now it costs less than $15! I bet Mom & Dad would be happy to foot the bill on that if it meant a potential increase in financial aid (and a shorter FAFSA filing process—parents don’t like it either!) Check it out here: www.MyFAFSAAssistant.com! I’ll put a link in my sidebar, too.

(Also, remember that a lot of financial aid—even from the government!—is awarded on a first-come, first serve basis… So get started on the FAFSA ASAP so you can be sure to be in the running!)

Photo: Family’s Happy Day by Marcos Santos

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Add comment January 16th, 2008

For Love or Money: How to Choose a College Major

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A lot of people thought it was a bad move when I declared a Literature/Writing major. Really. Only my parents understood it-it seemed like everybody else responded with a quip about how I “probably wanted to wait tables or serve hamburgers for a living!” No, I didn’t!

Honestly, I wasn’t sure if it was a bright idea, either. I considered studying something that would (supposedly) make me more money when I graduated, but either out of intuition or pure dumb luck, I stuck with my passion and pursued writing.

Committing for Money

A lot of students choose their major from a monetary standpoint-they want to do whatever will make them a millionaire the fastest. The problem with that is that a lot of kids end up hating what they study-and later, what they do every day, all day to make a living. That’s the kind of issue that drives a lot of people to go back to school or make big career changes when they hit their 40’s and 50’s.

Committing for Love

So, now that I’ve graduated, I can tell you that my English major actually helped me get a job. Better yet, it helped me get a job I actually LIKE!

I definitely recommend choosing a major in something that you love, rather than in something that you THINK will make you money. Here’s why:

  1. You’ll do better work, because you’ll enjoy what you’re studying. And better work means better grades. And better grades can mean scholarships in the short term, and a better job in the long term.
  2. You’ll make connections in the field you love because you’ll be working with professors who teach what you want to DO. A big part of finding a great job after college is networking during college!
  3. You’ll be attractive to the employers you want to work for because you’ll have an expertise AND a passion for your future job. Good grades are a great start, but if you can go into an interview with enthusiasm, you’re way more likely to get the job.
  4. You’ll be more likely to be happy with your job 10, 20, or 30 years down the road. Like I said, a lot of people tire of the jobs they’ve chosen because they never liked doing it in the first place. Life is too short to spend 8 hours of every day doing something that bores you to tears.
  5. You’ll be more likely to advance if you are good at something than if you aren’t. That seems like common sense, but a lot of students still choose a major in a field they just AREN’T NATURALLY GOOD AT because they’re hoping for a bigger paycheck. Guess what? It’s pretty hard to advance to higher paying jobs if you aren’t even good at the lower paying ones!

The bottom line is, you have to work either way. There is no magical major that will guarantee you millions of dollars your first year out of college-you have to work your way up the ladder. So why not choose something you love now, so the years of climbing the corporate ladder are more fun?

photo: in the air …1 by ckgd2

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6 comments January 7th, 2008

Five College New Year’s Resolutions That Don’t Involve the Gym!

It’s the same thing every year–somehow I always make resolutions that I can’t (or, okay, don’t) follow through with (like the infamous “Go to the gym 5x a week!!!”). I do like having the opportunity to start over, though, especially on the school front, so here are a few college goals that you CAN (and should!) follow through with:

  1. Go to Class, and REALLY Be There
    It’s a big temptation to spend class, doodling, checking your email, reading as many blogs as possible, or researching the lowest price on tickets for the next Ben Lee concert. But if you really make yourself pay attention to the lecture, it will make studying WAY easier! Try to be passionate about what you’re learning-it will probably help you boost your grades! (See also: How to Stay Awake in Class!)
  2. Get to Know at Least One Professor
    There are so many good reasons to get to know some of your professors! They can be great contacts for tutoring and TAing positions, they can write you letters of recommendation for scholarships and grad school, and they can help you with coursework. It just takes a little of your time, so why not go to office hours once a week, send some helpful email suggestions about the class, or even just ask some questions about the homework!
  3. Become More Financially Savvy
    Financial experts agree that your teens and early twenties can have a major impact (good or bad!) on your later life. So take a closer look at your finances this year! Find creative ways to save money, learn what a credit score is and how to build it, guard your spending habits, know the difference between private and federal student loans, and maybe even think about how to save a little for later.
  4. Know Your Deadlines
    One of the best things I ever did in college was to make a simple list of all my due dates for the quarter. When I got home on the first day, I took out all my syllabi, found all the due dates, and typed them up in order. Then I tacked it above my computer, and crossed off each item as I finished it. It was SO simple, but it helped me make sure I was never surprised by a paper or test.
  5. Find Something to be Passionate About
    Whether it’s a class, a club, a language, or anything in between, find something on campus to be passionate about. It will give you a goal to strive for, and something to look forward to during long study hours. That’s a pretty easy one, right? 🙂

Happy New Year!!!

photo road trip 1 by markmiller

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Add comment January 3rd, 2008


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