Monday, March 18, 2013

Savings Challenge #2: Try a No-Store-Shopping Spring

We all have items we bought with good intentions that have rarely, if ever, been used.  This spring avoid retail stores (except maybe JCP...they have rock-bottom prices and deserve kudos for the Ellen commercials, even if the concept was an epic fail).  Instead host a Spring Swap.  Here's how it works.

Go through your closets.  Kitchen, hall, bedroom; if it is a closet at least take a look.  Pull out anything you (a) haven't used or worn in the last 2 years and (b) no longer like/want.  For me that includes a kitchen swiffer, tennis racket, chic blouse (what was I thinking), and more two-pocket folders than anyone should own.  The quality should be good enough you'd offer it to your best friend.  Convince one or more friends to do the same.

Name a date, place and time and swap!  Limit the time to 15-60 minutes.  Rules are optional. For an additional twist, send a note to participants ahead of time with requests (I'm looking for a summer top, light blue, size small good for yoga).  Anything that is left over give to a shelter or non-profit (Hope Chest) or Goodwill.

This can be done over lunch, 15 minutes before class (I'm thinking of my adult night students who meet once a week), or as a fun weekend event with pizza ($10 or less a pizza...Papa Murphy's or Kashi with a coupon are great).

Even if you don't score big, you'll give the good stuff in closets more room to breathe, and have fun in the process.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Savings Challenge #1 - BYOW

Welcome to the first savings challenge! Over the next few weeks you'll learn how to recover when  your financial aid award gets reduced.   The first challenges target ways to cut expenses.  The second set of challenges will present creative (or downright boring) ways to earn lost funds from a different source.

Break it down. Let's say your work study award is slashed by $2,000.  First, break it down. These funds are typically earned through a 5-10 hour/week on-campus job at around $9/hour.  That's roughly $35-$75/week cash in your pocket to spend after taxes. Be honest. These funds are probably not going toward the big bills like tuition or room and board.  And, they aren't earned soon enough to use toward books.  More than likely these funds buy everyday stuff from toothpaste, to extra class supplies, bus passes, and - yes - fun.

Challenge #1:  BYOW One of the highest margin items we buy is non-alcoholic drinks (alcohol is addressed in a later challenge).  Ever notice how pricey soft drinks are on restaurant menus?  That's because soft drinks & coffee drinks cost the vendor pennies, making soft drinks one of the highest profit items on the menu. That's how coffee kiosks and soda machines make billions of dollars from students annually, one $2 pepsi or $5 double mocha latte ($6 with tax and tip) at a time.

Chances are, some of your hard-earned $35-$75 bucks are going directly toward that profit. Rather than hand over your cash to beverage industry executives, do your budget - and your health - a favor.  Invest in a Brita water bottle with filter ($17 at Target) and trade the coffee shops and pop machines for each and every water fountain you pass by.  The water is cold, the filter makes it taste great, there are no long lines to make you late for class, and you are doing the environment a favor by reducing the number of plastic cups and bottles in land fills.

At $5 spent per day on average for soda or coffee, that is $35 per week you won't miss from reduced work study funds (besides the hours spent earning it).  And if you feel bad not buying from your roomate the barista, put a tip jar in your room and donate daily.  You'll still save money and the roommate won't have to share the tips. Everyone wins.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Sequester Threatens $148 Million in Financial Aid

Last Friday as colleges were preparing 2013-14 financial aid awards the sequester hit, threatening $148,000,000 in federal work study and grants.  That means more than 21,000 students in the 10 worst hit states alone will lose campus jobs that help pay for their studies and keep student loan debt manageable.

To be clear, this is not free money. These are low-wage campus jobs for which students must apply, interview, and be selected.  The federal funds merely supplement a college's wage costs, allowing a college to offer more positions that it could otherwise afford.

Federal grants are also at risk.  For example, while Pell grants are exempt from the sequester, Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (SEOG) which target some of the poorest students are on the chopping block.  See a state-by-state breakdown at Diverse Issues in Higher Ed.

If you're affected by these cuts, don't give up hope!  Over the next few weeks I'll be posting ideas to help you bridge the gap.  As always I welcome your questions and comments.