Archive for March, 2008

10 Secrets to Getting the Best Deal on a New Car


It has been a little over two years since I wrote a check for my first car payment–I bought it the summer before my junior year of college, and because of some hard work (and the help of a trade-in) I was able to keep the payment low enough that I could afford it even on a college student’s miniscule budget.

To celebrate my 50th post here at Surviving College Life, I’m going to let you in on the ten car-shopping tips that helped me really drop the price of my car!

  1. Know What You Want. If you’re on a budget, you probably aren’t buying your dream car, but it is still important to know what you want. Know the exact specs of your future car–not just the make and model, but the details, too–how many airbags and cup holders, power steering, manual or automatic transmission, manual or power windows, alarm or not, everything. Choosing exactly what you want beforehand will give you the confidence to tell a dealer NO when they try to sell you something “bigger and better.” (And they WILL try to do that!)
  2. Know What It’s Worth. Too many people walk on to a car lot with only a vague idea of what the car they want is worth, making impossible for them to spot a good (or bad!) deal. Whether you’re buying new or used, you should find out the current value of the car you want to purchase. The Kelley Blue Book‘s list of car values is a great place to start.
  3. Pre-Set Your Monthly Payments. Before you even set foot in a dealership, you need to figure out your ideal numbers, especially if you will be financing your purchase. Pencil out how much you can afford to put down, and how much you can afford to pay each month. Find your “upper limit” number for a monthly payment, but don’t tell the dealer a number that high! Don’t forget to figure it tax, license, and registration. When you’re sitting down with your sales rep, make him figure out your total monthly payments and give it to you in writing.
  4. Shop Around (and Don’t Be Shy About It). I’d recommend going to at least 3 dealerships when you’re looking for a good deal. Make sure you get the exact same car so you can compare prices accurately, and if you can, get the number in writing before you move on to the next. Also, don’t be shy about letting salesmen know that you’re shopping around–it can sometimes get them to give you a better deal if they feel a little insecure.
  5. Ask for a LOW, LOW Price. For some reason, a lot of people don’t do this. In fact, a lot of people walk in to a dealership ready to pay the retail price. But to get the best price, you need to start low. Lower than you think they’re willing to go. Then you work up from there, negotiating until you get a price you like. Salesmen will NOT offer you a price unless it works out well for them, so you just need to worry about getting a price that works out for you.
  6. Be Ready to Walk Away. Nothing makes the point that you are serious about your price requests more than your readiness to walk away. I continually repeated to my sales rep that if we couldn’t get the price I was looking for, I didn’t want to spend any more time there–and I meant it. I could just have easily bought a car somewhere else, some other day. No rush. He responded by getting the price down to where I wanted it, and even figured out how to include a car alarm without raising my price by more than a couple dollars a month.
  7. Bring in Backup. Bring someone along when you go shopping–or at least during final negotiations. (Preferably someone who knows about cars!) Having someone to back you up will give you a confidence boost, and give you someone to talk to if you’re tempted to make an impulse buy. Salesmen can be intimidating, so it can really help to have someone on your side.
  8. Get a Co-Signer With Great Credit. You’ve probably seen car commercials offering something like “a 4.5% APR on approved credit.” That means if you have a high enough credit score, you can get a really low interest rate if you finance your car. If you’re in college or even your early twenties, you probably don’t have a perfectly stellar credit score yet. Instead of forfeiting those savings, try to get a parent or grandparent with a good score to co-sign for you so you can get their low interest rate.
  9. Shop Summer for the “Clearance” Advantage. The new year model cars usually appear on the lot around the end of summer, and that means that dealerships want to get rid of their current year’s stock ASAP! Shopping towards the middle of June through the middle of July can garner you great deals on current year stock, because they basically go “on clearance.” Plus, it’s still a brand new car!
  10. Shop Sunsets. Timing is everything when it comes to car shopping–not just the time of year, either, but also the time of day. If you want to up your odds of getting a good deal, go in to make your final purchase towards the end of the day. Salesmen work on commission, and they’ll want to get their last sales of the day wrapped up–that means they’ll be more likely to work through a deal quickly and maybe even negotiate down more. (Shopping on the last day of the month can also result in a lower price out the door since dealerships want to meet quotas for dealer discounts given to them by car manufacturers if they sell a certain volume of cars for the month!)

Happy car shopping!

photo: Keys 1 by tap78

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1 comment March 27th, 2008

Your Résumé-Writing Questions Answered

Tips About How to Write a Resume

Now that you know the basics of résumé writing, let me fill you in on some of the most common questions college students have about how to write a résumé. (And don’t forget, you can download the sample résumé at the end of this post!)

How Long Should it Be?

A good résumé will be only about 1-2 pages. There is no strict requirement that it be ONLY one page; you can definitely stray onto a second page if you need to-just remember to keep your wording concise.

Even if you don’t have a lot of experience, try to fill in at least one page. You can always add more details about your previous positions or extracurricular activities to fill the white space.

How Far Back Should I Go When Listing Jobs?

My personal opinion is that you can list anything you did during high school as long as you are still in college. Once you graduate college, it’s better to rely on your collegiate achievements, and let high school go.

Do NOT list anything from pre-high school years, like your reading award in 6th grade, or your babysitting job in 8th grade. I can almost absolutely guarantee that your potential employer does not want to read that far back into your life. In fact, listing that far back will probably make you look like you haven’t achieved much since then-so be on the safe side and leave that stuff out.

Can I Put My Cell Phone # as a Contact #?

Yes, but make sure your voicemail sounds professional! It needs to say at least your first name, and make sure it is appropriate for potential employers to hear.

Same goes for your email address–I suggest getting a secondary email address that is just “” to use for professional purposes. You could also use your basic school account if appropriate.

What is a Cover Letter? Do I Have to Include One With Every Résumé?

A cover letter is a brief letter stating which position you are applying for, why you are interested, and what qualifies you for the position. It’s a great opportunity to personalize your message to a particular employer and add information about your personality, which may not come through in your résumé.

You should definitely include a cover letter with your application and résumé. It will show your potential employer that you took some extra time to customize your communication for their business, and it also positions you to come across as mature and professional. If you apply by email, include the cover letter as the body of your email, and your résumé as an attachment. has a nice collection of sample cover letters that can help you get started.

Where is that Sample Résumé Download You Promised?

Download your sample résumé right here! Just remember to replace all the sample info with your own info!

photo: Big Apple by windchaser

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2 comments March 25th, 2008

How to Write a Basic, Easy Résumé

It’s hard to know how to start a résumé when you haven’t had a lot of job experience. Luckily, there are some handy tips and tricks that can help you make your resume look healthy even if you haven’t had a lot of jobs.

Check out the steps below, and you’ll have your own résumé written up in no time. (Check back next time for a downloadable .doc copy of this sample résumé!)

How to Write a Basic, Easy Resume Right Out of College

  1. Primary Contact Info
    This is easy-just your name, your primary contact number (cell phone is fine) and your email address. TIP: Make sure your email address & voicemail are professional! It’s easy to set up a new email account, and an inappropriate email address could cost you the job!
  2. Addresses
    Usually you could just put your address with your primary contact info, but college students have a unique situation. Your “Current” address should be wherever you live now-your dorm, apartment, or wherever. Your “Permanent” address is probably going to be your “home” address (parent’s house, grandparents, etc.).
  3. Education
    Even if you are just out of high school, you should still list this. If your GPA isn’t so hot, you can leave it out.
    High School:
    Make sure you at least mark down the school name and grad year.
    Write down your current grade level, Major & Minor (if you’ve chosen them), and school. If your Major GPA (the GPA listed for all the courses in your major) is higher than your overall GPA, you might want to list both.
  4. Paid Experience
    This is your previous work experience. You can enter anything relevant-even if you’ve maintained a website for your mom and only gotten $20 for it, that’s still paid experience!Try to use “active” verbs, and use specifics if they help you seem more capable. Instead of “Was in charge of answering phones” you “Managed call center with 4 lines.” Especially write down anything unique or valuable that you did to change your workplace for the better.
  5. Extracurricular Activities
    Use this space to list your unpaid activities, like volunteer work, club participation, honor society, etc.
  6. Computer Skills
    Employers are very interested in computer skills, so feel free to write down things that seem very basic or easy to you (like “blogging,” for example. I wrote that on a resume and it was one of the key things my employer wanted to talk about during the interview).

Next time I’m going to be offering a downloadable copy of this sample resume, plus I’ll write up some more résumé tips (like how far back to list, how long it should be, etc.) so don’t miss out!

(Update: Here’s a link to those extra résumé tips–you can also find the free download there!)

Did you like this post? Don’t forget to subscribe in a reader or for email updates to keep up with all my latest tips!

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11 comments March 20th, 2008

OEDB’s 100 Ways Your iPod Can Help You Learn


You take your iPod with you everywhere anyway-why not put it to work? The Online Education Database has compiled a list of 100 Ways to Use Your iPod to Learn. Though it gets a little repetitive (there is some overlap between the categories) there are still a surprising number of resources I was completely unaware of-it’s worth a look. Here are some of my favorites from their list:

1. Spark Notes. I don’t know how I would have made it through school without Spark Notes or Pink Monkey. Now you can download Spark Notes text & audio for your iPod, so you can listen & study anywhere. Titles cost about $3.95 apiece-not bad if you’re in a fix!

2. Free Classic Audiobooks & Librivox. Want to get more done? How about listening to your reading assignments while you’re driving, working out, or cleaning your room. Both these sites offer free (yay!) downloads of audio books, so you can get your lit homework done without ever cracking a book.

3. Steadman’s Medical Terminology Flash Cards. If you’re prepping for med school, or even struggling through your pre-med or bio major, these could be really helpful. Learning the roots of l terms makes it so much easier to understand words you’ve never heard before; having flash cards on your iPod means no shuffling through a deck (or losing random cards!)

4. iGadget. This neat bit of software can turn your iPod into way more than a music/video player-it lets you download a list of gas prices in your area, driving directions, Outlook info like calendars and contacts, and RSS feeds. It also makes it easy to reverse sync, so you can put all the music from your iPod back onto your computer.

5. Budget Travel’s Podcasts. This won’t really help you study, but it might just help you prepare for a little Spring Break vacation-for-less. Check out their podcasts with insider tips to help you soak up the fun of Las Vegas or Miami.

For the OEDB’s complete list of iPod add-ons and downloads for students, click here.

Photo: The grass is always greener on the other side by LazySunday

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2 comments March 17th, 2008

Note-Taking Tips Part 2: What to Write


You can’t copy down an entire lecture, word-for-word. If you did, you probably wouldn’t be able to focus on the content; you’d be much too busy trying to get all the words down. That’s why it’s important to know which information to keep, and which to let go.

Drawings, Diagrams, and Charts.

If you’re a visual learner (like me!) you should try to copy down as many of the graphs & charts your teacher shows as possible. In fact, if something isn’t making sense, it wouldn’t hurt to make up your own diagrams and charts, too. Imagery such as diagrams (like the internal workings of the kidney), as well as flow charts of processes (like how a bill becomes a law) can be easier to visualize during tests.

Charts and graphs are one thing you don’t always need to copy down. Often times they are used simply to underscore a key point. However, if your professor tends to use lecture material heavily in tests, those charts or graphs could pop up again, and you’ll want them to look familiar!

Read the Professor.

One of the best ways to know what information is important is to key in on your professor’s verbalization and attitude (as the NY Times wisely suggests). Your professor will give you hints about what is important, so watch out for topics that cause the following:

  • Louder speaking voice
  • Increasingly zealous body language (like arm-waving, pointing, etc.)
  • Verbal clues (lots of professors will actually say, “This is important!” or “You don’t need to copy this down.”)
  • Visual clues (like circling something, drawing on an overhead/laptop, adding a star, etc.)
  • Repetition of certain words, phrases, or concepts
  • Asking the class to repeat something back

All the above indicators mean he/she is talking about something important, so be sure you write it down and LEARN it!

(Also check out Note-Taking Tips Part 1: Keeping Your Notes Organized)

photo: Paper clips by Fran GC

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6 comments March 11th, 2008

Note-Taking Tips Part 1: Keeping Your Notes Organized


Note-taking is one of those critical skills most people don’t really learn in high school. Here are a few basic tips that will help you get a handle on the note-taking process–and help you out when its time to cram later!

Class, Date and Time.

You might think writing the class/date/time at the top of your notes is a waste of time, but if your notes get disorganized, it is your best way to figure out which notes belong to which lecture-you can just compare the date to your syllabus.

Lecture Number & Title.

Especially helpful for profs whose lectures spill over into the next time class meets. Track the lecture number and title (especially if your professor changes lectures midway through class) so you can refer to the right sections of the book for backup.

Note to Self.

I am a big believer in the “note-to-self” aspect of note-taking. Writing notes to your future self saves a lot of time and confusion, and can help you keep from missing out on (or forgetting!) important information. Make sure you mark the following things down for your future self to review:

  • “Missed 1st 20 min of Lecture.” Mark down if you doze off mid-lecture, come in late, or leave early so you can borrow a friend’s notes & catch up later. I’ve missed quite a few test questions because of incomplete notes.
  • “Not sure what he said here. Sounded like Golgi?” If you didn’t understand something the professor said, let yourself know so you can look it up/check with a classmate later.
  • “***This WILL BE ON TEST***” If your prof gives you a heads up that something will be on the test, write it down!!! It’s like a free answer!
  • “See Diagram 9B, pg. 618” Instead of trying to copy down diagrams that are already in your book, just note the page number at the relevant point in your notes. If it’s helpful, copy it down later.

Page Numbers.

So basic, but numbering the corners of your pages is a lifesaver when you’ve been shuffling papers around during hours of studying (or if your roommate turns a fan on during a study session).

Photo: office tools 2 by lusi

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7 comments March 6th, 2008

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