Archive for June, 2008

Smart Money Advice for New High School & College Grads

Smart Money Advice for New High School & College Grads

Handling your own finances isn’t easy (in fact, far too many full-fledged adults still struggle with it) but luckily for you, there are a plethora of resources you can turn to for help. From books to blogs and everywhere in between, money advice for new grads abounds!

Here are a few of my favorite recent articles from around the web to help you out as you start to figure out the how-to’s of money management:

The New York Times’ article A Primer for Young People Starting Their First Job

Ooooh, a job with “benefits!” Health insurance and a retirement plan–that must be awesome, right? If you’re like most new grads, you probably don’t know a good insurance plan from a bad one, or how to start planning for retirement. Click through the above link and two pages of reading later, you’ll find yourself just a little more prepared for the reality of the real world.

Surviving College Life’s article on How to Set Your First Budget

Um… is it cheating to refer you to my own article? Hopefully not, because I think it’s a relatively important topic to wrap your head around (plus I created a free budget worksheet for you.) If you want some off-site budgeting help you can also try Gather Little by Little’s tips about how to Create a Budget AND Follow It.

Being Frugal’s clues about Frugal Living for Beginners

Once you’ve started budgeting, these five simple steps can help you start whittling down your excess expenditures-fairly painlessly-so you have more to live on (and to save!). One suggestion I should start following is #4 Carry your own water with you. A bottle of water should cost a few cents, but at a coffee shop (or, say, a very very warm graduation ceremony) you’ll pay more like $2!

Get Rich Slowly’s special post Life After School: Advice for New Graduates

I love that this article covers money-management from a more emotional standpoint-it takes into account the natural human reactions to things like finding a job and getting a raise, and tells you how to overcome the impulses that will drag you down financially. (You should also check out the article there about paying yourself first–it will get you started saving. Did somebody say “early retirement?”)

Do you have any great advice to share–or bookmarks with other people’s money tips?



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1 comment June 30th, 2008

10 Software Freebies Every College Student Should Know About

Oh, I just love free things, don’t you? So why waste time jabbering… on to the list of fantastic free software!

Free Operating System: Ubuntu (ubuntu.com)

Tired of messing around trying to get your copy of Vista to work right? If you’re ready for a change, you might want to try the free operating system, Ubuntu-it has several editions, frequent updates, and free tech support. It also has its own web browser, word processor, instant messenger, and other free software.

Free Office Software: OpenOffice (openoffice.org)

Need a word processor, spreadsheet software, or a way to build databases–without handing over the hard-earned cash from your last paycheck? OpenOffice is your new (FREE!) best friend. With familiar formatting to other (pricier!) office productivity software, it can usually read any files you may have created/saved in that other office suite. Did I mention it’s free?

Free Sound/Music Editor: Audacity (audacity.sourceforge.net)

Audacity lets you record and edit music or other sound, and supports Ogg Vorbis, MP3, WAV, and AIFF sound files. You can cut, copy, splice, mix, change speed, add effects, and much more, and… yep, it’s free.

Free Multi-Platform Chat Software: Trillian (download here)

Need any easy way to be able to talk to friends using AIM, Yahoo, MSN, ICQ, MSN and IRC all in one place? Trillian–a free, skinnable software that supports all of the above–may be the perfect solution to your problem.

Free YouTube Downloader: YouTube Downloader (download here)

A basic interface that lets you download YouTube files and convert them to other files that you can play on your computer, iPod, phone, etc., so you can take them anywhere. (Just keep it legal.)

Free Spyware/Adware Remover: Ad-Aware (lavasoft.com/products/ad_aware_free.php)

One of download.com’s top downloads, Ad-Aware is a great addition to your computer-safety campaign. The free home edition (here) helps keep your computer free of ads and spyware.

Free Photo-Editing/Organizing Software: Picasa (picasa.google.com)

Google’s done it again–for free of course–with this handy photo editor & organizer. Even the most disorganized student should be able to find photos now: Picasa combs your computer for image files & helps you decide where they belong, plus offers the capability to edit and add effects to photos or share them online.

Free PDF-Maker: PrimoPDF (promopdf.com)

Super-easy free software that creates PDFs out of hundreds of file types from images to web pages to office software documents.

Free HTML Editor: HTML-Kit (htmlkit.com)

Whether you dabble in web design or are learning HTML for a course, HTML-Kit is a great free tool–bunches of helpful features, hundreds of free plugins, and even tech support if you need it. I’ve been using it for years and am a big fan (plus it sure beats Notepad!).

Free Budgeting Software: Mint.com (mint.com)

Still trying to figure out how to budget? Mint has been a big hit with financial bloggers and magazines alike: it helps track your spending, shows detailed graphs of where the money goes, and helps you learn how you can save. It can even remind you when bills are due!

What are your favorite software freebies?!?

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17 comments June 19th, 2008

Fifteen Fun, Fabulous, Cheap Date Ideas

Living on a shoe-string budget doesn’t mean you can’t go on awesome dates-it just means you have to be a little more creative. : ) Here are fifteen of my favorite ideas for great dates that won’t break the bank:

Foodie Dates

1. Cook together. Shop for favorite pizza toppings & whip one up together, or use a recipe from Copykat Recipes (http://www.copykat.com/) to recreate your favorite restaurant fare.

2. Progressive dinner. Plan a meal with a few other couples. Everyone meets up at one house, has a course, and moves on to the next-all the way from appetizers to desserts!

3. Pizza for Dessert. Try throwing together a dessert pizza with a cookie dough or brownie base. Gather your favorite candies, fruits, and syrups for toppings and wing it, or follow this recipe.

Nostalgia Dates

4. Relive your childhood. Head over to an elementary school or playground for some swinging & tetherball, make chalk drawings on your driveway, and finish up the evening watching your favorite childhood cartoons and eating sugar cereal in a blanket fort.

5. First-Date Do-Over. Live your first date over again: Try to get the details as close to the first time as possible, and talk about how you each felt & what you remember most. (If your first date was a catastrophe, do it over the way you wish it went!)

6. Home Sweet Hometown. Visit one of your home towns, and show your sweetie the spots that are most important-or most fun-from your past.

7. Play Teacher. Teach your date something new-something you’re an old pro at and passionate about-and enjoy reliving your own learning process. Anything from skateboarding to painting, kickball and beyond. Be patient and make it fun (and if it goes badly, just make up for it with some ice cream at the end. It worked when you were a kid, didn’t it?).

Mixed-Up Timing Dates

8. Picnic in the Rain. Add the fun of a picnic to a rainy day by packing a lunch and eating in the car. Watch the rain come down & enjoy some hot soup or cocoa. If you’re feeling adventurous, go puddle jumping after. : )

9. Pajamafied. Make an ordinary activity goofier and more fun by adding pajamas to the mix. Catch a matinee movie in your PJs, or check around for local hangouts that offer pajama discounts (some Color Me Mine locations offer a 50% deal for pajama-wearers!).

10. Good Day, Sunshine. Break with the traditional sunset-watching date! Get up early, pack breakfast (cereal and a thermos of milk will do if you’re not a chef), and watch the sun come up.

Coffee & Culture

11. Ifs, Ands, and Buts. Pick up a question book (I like “If…Questions for the Game of Life“) and grab a coffee or two. Snuggle into a comfy chair at the shop and quiz swap questions.

12. Amusing Museums. Many museums offer free admission on certain weekdays. Check the calendar of your local one and go peruse the dino bones or modern art.

13. Local Literates. Stop by an open mic night or other event at a café or bookstore (search through Barnes & Noble’s events here) and see what local culture has to offer. If you’re feeling brave, you might even jump in for a spontaneous poem or song yourself.

14. In the Park. Fair-weather cities often offer summer series of free (or very low cost) movie screenings or concerts in local parks. Take a picnic or some beach chairs and settle in for some relaxation and hand-holding.

15. L’Artiste. Spend some time with some wonderful art-for free. Browse through local art galleries, check out your campus’s art department offerings, or scour the local paper for upcoming art shows or festivals, like Santa Barbara’s annual chalk arts festival.

photo: couple by Andrew C.

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2 comments June 16th, 2008

Where to Watch Free Full TV Episodes Online

I was out sick last week, which meant a whole day on the couch resting & drinking OJ. Since we don’t have cable, I tried to get creative with keeping myself entertained and ended up finding a bunch of places to watch good TV online, for free:

Network Sites

The first place I always look is the network websites of shows I like to watch. The following all have full episodes, but if I’ve missed a channel you watch a lot, make sure you check their site!

  • ABC (abc.go.com) Features episodes of shows like Dancing With the Stars, Pushing Daisies, Grey’s Anatomy, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and Lost. Some are in HD!
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  • NBC (nbc.com) Shows like The Biggest Loser, Law & Order, Heroes, and The Office.
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  • Fox (fox.com/FOD) Episodes of Bones, Cops, House, The Simpsons, and many more.
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  • ABC Family (abcfamily.go.com/abcfamily/path/section_Videos/page_Video) Lots of free episodes here, including shows like Kyle XY, Grounded for Life, and one of my dad’s favorites, Eek the Cat.
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  • Discover (video.discovery.com) Features shows from three different channels (Discovery, Animal Planet, & TLC). Currently they have shows like What Not to Wear and The Alaska Experiment. They usually offer episodes of only 4 shows at a time, and rotate which shows are offered every couple of months.
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  • Bravo (video.bravotv.com/player/?id=0 ) Bravo only occasionally offers a free full episode of shows like Top Chef or Project Runway, but if you’re a true fan its worth a look.

Other Sites

For a more eclectic mix of shows-especially older ones-check out other video sites like these:

  • AOL’s In2TV (television.aol.com/in2tv) AOL’s free full episode player has a plethora of shows: from classic cartoons like The Jetsons, The Flintstones, and Bugs Bunny to old-school faves like Gilligan’s Island and Growing Pains. No new shows here, but lots of fun nostalgia to catch up on.
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  • Hulu (hulu.com) Hulu offers a long list of free TV shows AND movies with minimal commercial breaks (seriously, only about 30 seconds!). Shows range from old-school favorites like The Addams Family, Mary Tyler Moore, and Doogie Howser, M.D. to more current shows like Scrubs, Hell’s Kitchen, and Prison Break. They also have lots of movies like Dude, Where’s My Car, Sideways, Weekend at Bernie’s, and Meet Joe Black.
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  • TV.com (tv.com) Here you can find bunches of full episodes of shows like Bionic Woman and 30 Rock, plus other TV show clips.

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photo: Green Retro TV Isolated with Clipping Paths by CraigPJ

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6 comments June 12th, 2008

Smart Tips for Scheduling Your College Classes

Setting up my class schedule always stressed me out-would I get the classes I wanted, at the times I wanted? Would I have time to get my homework done, and have a job? Here are my top 5 tips to make your class schedule the best it can be. (This might be a little early since it’s just the opening of summer, but for since some schools make you set up your classes over the summer anyway, I thought I should get these tips out ASAP!)

  1. Sign Up for an Extra Class. Every quarter, I signed up for one extra class (I usually took 4 classes, so I signed up for 5). The first week, I went to all 5 classes, picked the one I liked the least (because it seemed too hard, the professor was weird, the topic was boring, or whatever) and dropped it. That way I had an easy out of one class: I didn’t get stuck with something I didn’t like and still had the credits I needed. [Note: Commenter Elizabeth shared that her registrar’s office penalizes if they feel you are abusing the registration process, so be sure to check your school’s add/drop policy!]
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  2. Back-to-Back or Hours Apart? Decide ahead whether you can handle back-to-back classes or if you’ll need more than a 10-minute passing period between.  Some students feel pressured rushing from building to building in the passing period because they don’t know the campus, or find it hard to keep focused with one class after another. Others like to get all their classes over with in one fell swoop and use the rest of the day for work, study, and socializing instead.  If you do schedule you classes with extra in-between time, use it to review your notes from the class you just took. According to Strategies for Success, “extensive studies have shown that one’s recall rises immediately after a learning period, such as a lecture, and then declines rapidly until after about twenty-four hours, recall has diminished by about 80%. However, the decline in recall can be dramatically reduced if one reinforces the learning by a short review within one hour.” Translation: Shorter studying time later! You can also use the extra time to do homework, grab a snack, or get to know the campus better.
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  3. Take Some Fun/Easy Classes. All through your pre-college school days your schedule revolved around the requirements-college is your turn to call the shots. Take at least a couple fun or easy classes in subjects you’ve always wanted to take (as long as you can keep up with your major). One of my favorite classes was a Pass/No Pass class in Gospel Choir-it was easy, relaxed, fun, and had a very enthusiastic professor. I looked forward to it every week.
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  4. Don’t Schedule Classes You’ll Sleep Through. No matter how devoted you are to BioChem, you’re not going to get much out of it if you fall asleep in class-or worse, if you don’t even get out of bed. Be realistic when you’re scheduling your classes. If you’re going to skip anything before 9, set your classes up for 9:30 or later!
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  5. Block Out the Rest of Your Day. When you’re setting up your class schedule, plan out how the rest of your life will work in around your classes. Give yourself time to go out with friends, have a part-time job, do homework and study, and set aside time for these things on your calendar-in writing. You can always move your activities around later, but figuring them out early will help you wrap your mind around everything that has to get done in a single day.

These 5 things helped me make a pretty good (sometimes great!) schedule every quarter. If you do nothing else, I definitely recommend that you take action on Tip #1 – sign up for an extra class. It gives you so much freedom to know you can drop one of your classes without falling below your credit requirements!

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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16 comments June 5th, 2008

Pre-med Basics: Getting Started with the MCAT

There are few things pre-med students dread more than the MCAT (a.k.a. the Medical College Admissions Test), and too little preparation can make a big difference in your overall score. I almost feel like an expert on this topic since I’ve recently observed my husband prepare for and successfully take the MCAT. Here’s what you need to know to get started. (If you want a lot of detailed info, take a look at AAMC’s Official MCAT Essentials guide.)

Know the Format

Once upon a time the MCAT was a handwritten “paper-and-pencil” test. Lucky for you, you’ll be taking the new computerized MCAT which, at about 5 hours, is significantly shorter than its predecessor (can you imagine having to take the old one?!? Ugh!). The test is divided into four parts:

1. Physical Sciences (Chemistry and Physics)

2. Verbal Reasoning (Reading comprehension, evaluation & application)

3. Writing Sample (Essay questions)

4. Biological Sciences (Organic Chemistry and Biology)

Generally there are breaks between each section that are about 10 minutes long.

Choose a Practical Test Date

Your med school applications will be due two summers before you want to enter med school (so for most of you, the summer following your Junior year of college). That means you need to take the MCAT before then, and remember to allow time for the test to be processed and your results sent out. A late application to med school can affect your chances of getting in, so don’t let anything push it back!

You can see a list of 2008 test dates & times here.

Register on Time

Registering for the MCAT is pretty easy. Just go to the AAMC’s MCAT website (http://www.aamc.org/students/mcat/start.htm), and click on the “Registration” link. You need to create and AAMC username and password if you haven’t already. Then you simply select a date, fork over the fee ($210 for 2008), and mark the date on your calendar so you don’t accidentally sleep through it or show up on the wrong day…

Check out AAMC’s PDFs with 2008’s registration deadlines to keep yourself on track.

Study Early (and Often)

Since you probably have a life outside the MCAT–school, a job, a social life, etc.–its better to start studying ASAP, and give yourself a good few months.

If you have a busy schedule, I personally recommend giving yourself at least 6 months of study time, and really dedicate yourself to putting in the hours every week (or every day!). If you have a long stretch of nothing where you can study often (like summer break, for example) 3 months might be enough.

Want to Know More?

Stay tuned… I’m planning to discuss some of your MCAT study options & resources as we get into summertime, so if you haven’t already subscribed, do it now! Otherwise just keep your eyes peeled (and feel free to email or comment with questions or suggestions!).

Already taken the MCAT? What helped you get through it?

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Add comment June 2nd, 2008


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