Posts filed under 'life 101'

Real World Roundup: How to Get an Apartment

There may be no bigger step into adulthood than getting your own apartment (even if it is shared with a bunch of other students)–but do you know what it takes to get one? Read on my friends, and maybe you, too, can rent your own little slice of real-estate heaven.

Baby Steps

  1. Find some roommates. Unless you’re rolling in scholarship dough or Mom and Dad have offered to foot the bill, you’re probably going to want to split the cost (and responsibility) with a roomie or two (or more). So before you even start the hunt, line up some buddies to live with. George Fox University posted a great, practical article about how to choose a roommate. Trust me, this is a big decision!
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  2. Talk budget. Now that you’ve got your roommates, you need to decide how much you can each afford to spend. If you’ve got a bigger budget, you may opt for a room of your own. To save some cash, you might want to share. Tally up your funds and decide your total monthly budget for rent and utilities, and talk about how many bedrooms/bathrooms you want to get.
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  3. Go On the Hunt. Your roomies are secured, your budget is set, now its time for the fun part–apartment hunting! Scout the area for complexes you might like to live in, and be sure to talk to other students and/or the student housing office for more info. Once you find some spots you like, take tours, check out their online reviews (at sites like apartmentguide.com, forrent.com, or apartments.com), ask questions, and build up your pro/con list.

Ask the Right Questions

Apartments can have a lot of hidden costs and requirements, so while you’re visiting your prospective new places, be sure to ask these crucial questions so you know what you really need–and what you’ll really pay.

  • Does your complex allow co-signers?
    A co-signer is someone with good credit who signs your lease with you if you can’t qualify to rent an apartment on your own (either because you have a low credit score or you don’t earn enough income). My roommates and I had to have a co-signer (one of our parents volunteered) for our first apartment.
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  • What is included in the rent?
    Are there community amenities like an office, pool, or gym? Does your rent cover some of the utilities? Find out if your rent entitles you to any extras!
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  • What utilities will we have to pay for?
    Will you have to come up with money for things like gas, water, and trash on top of electricity, internet, and phone? Find out what your complex covers with rent and what you’ll have to pay for on your own.
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  • What is the average cost of those utilities?
    Most complexes can give you an idea of how much the above items will cost you.
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  • How much is the security deposit?
    Most rentals require you to put down a security deposit (money to cover any damages that may occur while you live at the apartment). You may get all or some of this money back when you move out, depending on how well you’ve cared for your unit.
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    (If you have a pet, you will most likely have to pay an additional deposit, and possibly additional rent to keep it in the apartment, so be sure to ask about that, too.)
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  • How much rent do you require upfront?
    In addition to the security deposit, most rentals also require you to pay the first month’s rent before you move in. Some require both the first and the last month’s rent before they’ll hand over the key.
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  • Do you have any specials going on? Can you work with my budget?
    Apartment complexes don’t like to have their units empty for long, so often they will run specials such as one month of free rent or even a monthly discount. If they don’t have a special, you can still make them aware of your rent budget and ask if they can work with you. Just remember–whenever you’re asking for a discount, be nice!

Compare, Contrast, and Sign

Now that you’ve got your questions answered, your tours completed, and your budget worked out, talk to your roommates and figure out which option is the most practical for you. Once you’ve made your choice, and have the funds available, you can arrange to sign your lease–and schedule your move-in day!

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2 comments June 6th, 2011

Stick the Summer Slump–Get Happy!

I hope the title of this post is cheesy enough for you, but rest assured I am serious about getting you out of your summertime slump–you don’t have to be miserable just because you’re spending the summer back home!

Sure, we’d all love to run off and find balance in some exotic foreign country à la Elizabeth Gilbert, heroine of Eat, Pray, Love–but most of us don’t have the time (or funds!) to drop everything and adventure into the wide wide world. So for the last couple months I’ve been sampling my way through a fantastic book, Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project–a book about how one woman took simple steps to make her life happier. Her steps are basic, but I’ve been trying a few, and they really work! Here are a few of my favorites:

Tackle a Nagging Task. You know that thing in the back of your mind–that little project you’ve been putting off for weeks (or months!)? Get it done. Whether it’s your annual checkup (ugh–I personally hate having my blood pressure taken) or cleaning out the chaos under your bed, get it done. It will take a little of the weight off your shoulders.

Remember Birthdays. You know how good it feels when someone remembers your birthday? Pass on that good feeling (with more than a wall-post on Facebook). All you have to do is shoot out an email to your BFFs asking for their birthdays and add them to your calendar (you can even have Google Calendar email you if you’re worried about forgetting). Making other people feel good can give you a nice mood boost, too.

Take Time for Projects. Don’t skip this idea if you’re not in to arts and crafts! All this means is to choose a goal, and make the time to do it. Always wanted to learn about photography? Skip some TV time and check out some library books, peruse photography blogs, or just play around with your camera. Trying to get a little healthier? Take a nutrition class, round up a running group, and make yourself a calendar to help chart your progress.

Laugh Out Loud. My Dad laughs out loud all the time, even if he is alone watching TV–I can hear him from across the house when I go home to visit–and it is part of what makes him so fun to be around. Too often we feel too self conscious to really let loose and laugh, but you know what? It feels good–I’d even say it can be kind of cathartic. So why not?

Want more ways to get happy? Pick up Rubin’s book at the library, or check out her blog, happiness-project.com.

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Add comment June 2nd, 2011

Real World Roundup: Grocery Shopping Secrets

I don’t care how prepared you think you are, living on your own is no walk in the park. If balancing your school-life (or brand new career) and social life isn’t hard enough, add to that all the mundane tasks that keep your world afloat (laundry, grocery shopping, remembering to buy gas before your car stops in an intersection or something). Oh, yeah–and you have to manage your finances on top of that.

I’ve been on my own for a few years now, and while I’m still no expert at being a “grown-up,” I’ve definitely lived and learned. This little series–a combo of helpful tips and links about life on your own–should give you the benefit of my experience without the headaches of learning it the hard way! Yay!

Today we’re going to talk about one of my personal favorite topics: food. ♥

You Don’t Have to Eat Ramen.

Ramen noodles as a dinner entrée is a college cliché for a reason–after all, its not only cheap but also easy to cook. But guess what? You don’t have to eat Ramen. You can eat real food. Grown up food. Food that doesn’t have half your daily recommended value of sodium in one bowl!

So, you don’t have to eat Ramen. But you do have to do a little legwork. Read on to find out how to get good food for less.

Plan Ahead

One of the best ways to save money at the grocery store is to plan ahead. If you wander aimlessly through the aisles picking up what you think you might want/need, you will probably end up with a cart full of odds and ends you don’t need, and you might forget the things you do. Here’s how to start:

  • Step 1: Make a Meal Plan. This is step one, and it is easy. Plan out the meals you want to eat for a week. You can keep it simple–cereal for breakfast, sandwich for lunch, and simple meals for dinner. Then make a grocery list based on the ingredients you need for those 7 days, and only buy those things at the grocery store.
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  • Step 2: Shop Sales. Once you’ve got the meal planning thing down, you can move on to step 2! Most grocery stores have their weekly sales fliers online, so once you’ve got the hang of meal planning (and give yourself some time if its tricky) start checking the sales fliers before you write out your dining schedule. Cooking based on in season produce and other sale items will really help reduce your food budget.
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  • Step 3: Add Coupons. Once upon a time you had to spend hours clipping coupons–not something most college students want to do. Now there are tons of blogs that tell you exactly which coupons you need (you can clip them or even print them off–so easy) and which sale items to use them on so that you can get things for cheap (or sometimes even free!). Here are some great sites to start with (I recommend just choosing one store to use coupons at, though, or it will be way too overwhelming):

Shopping Smart

  • Don’t Shop Hungry. Seriously. Have a snack before you head to the grocery store. Shopping hungry leads to impulse buys (because everything looks delicious when you’re starving) and that means spending money you weren’t planning to spend. Curb your appetite, spare your wallet.
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  • Stick to the List. Remember that list you made when you were making up your meal plan? Don’t buy anything that isn’t on that list!

Splitsville.

One more thing that is college-student specific: you can split stuff with your roommates. This is awesome if you find something cheaper in bulk, as long as you can be sure the sharing is even. To keep the peace, I’d recommend only splitting things that come in finite amounts (like veggies or prepackaged items) so nobody gets their nose out of joint when you polish off the last of the milk. 🙂

Oh and p.s. our sister site, the Pay for College Blog recently posted some more tips about saving on groceries, so don’t miss out on those great ideas!

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Add comment May 30th, 2011

4 College Life Lessons from the Military

Since the hubs is paying for medical school with a Health Professions Scholarship from the Air Force, he had to spend the 4 1/2 weeks this summer in Alabama in their Commissioned Officer Training program. While a month of training is only a small taste compared to the intense training enlisted military personnel go through, it has been enough to teach us some pretty awesome college-applicable lifestyle lessons:

Earn Your Rewards. When he first arrived at camp, my future-doctor stepped off the bus and got yelled at. For a long time. About everything from his attire to his haircut (too long–he had to shave most of it off when he got to his room). He and his fellow officers were also basically on lockdown: little contact with the outside world, no TV, they even had to be escorted from their dorms if they wanted to go anywhere, including the cafeteria. As the weeks progressed and they proved themselves, they earned more privileges–internet access on their own computers, TV time, and finally the freedom to go off-base.

Lesson learned? Give yourself a “carrot“–a little treat or motivation to help you get through a hard class or difficult study session. The reward makes the work feel more worthwhile!

Eat Regularly and Stay Hydrated. I know that sounds like advice from your Mama, but the US military promotes it, too (and the military does NOT behave like your mom, I promise). While he was gone, my sweetie ate at 5, 12, and 6 on the dot without fail, and carried a military-issue “Camel Pack” (a backpack specifically for holding a water supply) with him at all times to stay hydrated.

Keeping a healthy eating schedule and drinking tons of water gave him and his squadron the energy and stamina to keep up with a much more intense lifestyle than they were used to–keep that in mind for finals week!

Get Physical. Med school isn’t exactly conducive to exercise. After 9 months of sitting in lecture or the library all day, the obstacle courses, early morning workouts, and constant requirements to stand at attention were a big switch for the hubs–but he liked it. Working out in the morning kept him more alert during hours of military history lectures, and helped him fall asleep fast and sleep hard all night (which is good, because he had to get up at 4:30 every morning!).

Skipped that last paragraph? Basically, keeping your body active helps your brain stay awake, too–and helps you be worn out enough to get a really good night’s sleep. No more tossing and turning.

Regiment Doesn’t Mean No Fun. True, my honey faced lots of yelling, marching, and uniform inspections so close that he has had to go over his clothes top to bottom with a pair of scissors (stray threads earn you another round of yelling and disapproval from your commanding), but strict schedules and tough superiors didn’t mean “no fun allowed.” In fact, he really enjoyed most of his time at training. The spirit of camaraderie was great (think first day of freshman year–everybody is looking for friendship and support!) and they found time to have fun whenever it was an option.

So yes, you should study. You should work hard. But when you get the opportunity to enjoy a well-earned break, a weekend road trip, or even just a quick laugh during the exhausted-but-giddy phase of finals week–seize it!

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1 comment September 13th, 2010

Prioritizing & Balance: Defining Core Values

It’s about time to wrap up my thoughts on how to find balance (and move on to something new) but I have one more thought to share. Since I moved to the east coast, I’ve found living in a new place (far, far away from my family and friends) has been both challenging and liberating. I love the sense that this new home–and the new school year–are opportunities to start fresh and really get my life in order.

On Finding Balance

For the past couple weeks I’ve been sharing some thoughts on how to balance your life, and I’m actually enjoying working on this right along with you. It’s no simple thing, really. How do you decide what time gets allotted where?

A few months ago I came across an article in Real Simple that talked about defining your “Core Values” and how it could make your life more streamlined and successful. I tucked it away for a long time, but pulled out the article a few weeks ago, and decided to give it a shot.

If you worked in your personal mission statement, you’re already halfway there. If not, why not get started with me now?

Core Values as Priorities

The point of deciding on your “Core Values” is to help you pre-align your priorities, before the opportunity comes up for you to get off track. I literally have a list of them written down, and plan to post it where I will see it all the time–that way if I’m wondering if I should take on a new bit of work or spend more time with my friends, I’ll have my personal values (and pre-made decisions) staring me in the face.

For me, a Core Value is either a “focal point” or a “way of life,” so to get you started, here are a couple of example core values (some are my own) and how they could apply to everyday life.

  • Education. The way of life here is to “always be learning” so this will apply even after school. During school, it means education is a priority and deserves time and effort devoted to it–so no skipping out on study sessions to watch TV (especially when you can DVR it for later).
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  • Family First. This is one of the first items on my list, and it basically means that if necessary I will drop everything to support my loved ones. I will buy a plane ticket using money I’d saved for something else, I will miss a big deadline, I will do whatever it takes in an emergency situation. And in day-to-day life, it means I will make time for my family, even when I’m tempted to do something for myself.
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  • Health. Besides eating well and making time for exercise, this could apply to getting enough sleep (a common problem in college, especially for yours truly). It also applies to mental health, so taking time to relax could fall into this category.

These are just a few ideas. You could really go anywhere with it. Some other items on my list are “People Before Things” (or “forgive your brother when he breaks your bike”), Gratitude, and Communication.

The Bottom Line
Again, there is no sure-fire way to get yourself completely organized and balanced, but making a list like this helps you be really aware of what you want out of life–and that can help you make better decisions in the long run, because you know where the balance of your priorities will go.

It’s as simple as asking yourself: How does this fit in with my core values? Give it a try–How does taking on an extra class/quitting your job/spending free time reading/anything else fit in with your core values?
What about you? What focal points, goals, and values get the most attention and emphasis in your life?

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Add comment November 9th, 2009

Define Yourself: Your Style

One thing I loved about getting out on my own was the lack of parental commentary on my wardrobe. I never went too crazy–I’m a jeans-and-T-shirt girl at heart, hence my choice of sunny, beautiful UCSD–but I tried pairing black nail polish with pearls, got an extra ear piercing, and considered going by my middle name.

Reinvent

College can be an amazing time–the freedom to be yourself, finally, and most times the ability to leave your high school label behind. If you were the criminal, the jock, the princess, the nerd, (yeah sorry, I love The Breakfast Club) then, now is your opportunity to break the mold. To redefine yourself.

Now that I’m out of school, I’m working on redefining myself once again. Hey, if Madonna can do it at age fifty-something, I think we have the right to do it at twenty-something. Right? So I’m working on finding a look, a style, that encompasses who I am.

Find Your Look

First, obviously, you need to find your look. I love scoping out the amazing style at Lookbook.nu/ (found via Charade), a website that lets everyday people post their fashion forward looks for all to see. Because they aren’t models or magazine editors, their looks and fashion choices are much more accessible to our teeny budgets.

For more inspiration, check out The Sartorialist, a blog devoted to fashion on the streets of cities like Paris, Florence, and Milan.

Three Secrets

If you’ve ever read a good fashion article, you’ve probably been able to piece together these three secrets of good style:

  1. Be yourself. Your clothes should reflect the person you are on the inside, projecting an honest image. Remember, first impressions make a difference (one of my best friends caught the attention of her now-husband with a pair of Converse tennis shoes!). Plus, you should feel comfortable (at least emotionally, even if those heels are killing you!) in your clothes, and comfortable with yourself.
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  2. Start With Basics. I just adore Tim Gunn. He is all about being positive and projecting the best you. And he–and other fashion pros like him–recommends starting with the basics. Get a couple of good quality classic, neutral pieces that will go with anything you wear. He’s written a whole book about style, but here are his top 10 essential wardrobe elements.
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  3. Tailor. The difference between looking professional and chic or sloppy and clueless isn’t money–it’s fit. A tailor (or, if you’re lucky, your mom, grandma, or fashion student BFF) can make simple, inexpensive adjustments to your favorite clothes. A good fit looks good and feels good.

That’s about it for my style expertise. Please feel free to share your fashion tips and go-to links in the comments!

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1 comment August 15th, 2009

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