Budgeting & Saving

How to Stay Organized as a Busy College Student

Glossy college brochures show students hanging out on the quad, playing Frisbee, and staying up all night to watch movies with friends. It seems like college students have endless free time, right? Nope! With 80% of students working while attending school, and school course loads taking up approximately 12-15 hours a week, free time is rare. Add in labs, homework, and student organizations, and you start to realize college doesn’t offer up as much freedom as you may think.

However, there are certain ways a busy college student can stay organized and get everything done. With a little organizational skills, you can set up your schedule to work efficiently for you. Who knows… maybe you’ll even get some time for Frisbee!

As a Busy College Student, You Need to Study Smart

Your primary focus in college is to graduate. Therefore, studying is your number one priority. This doesn’t mean you have to spend all day studying. Think of studying in terms of quality, not quantity.

Keep your study time efficiently organized by using a planner. That may sound nerdy but nerds get good grades. A planner can be physical or digital. Make sure to keep it up-to-date.

If you’re most alert in the morning, create an early morning study block. If you’re a night owl, dedicate some late night time for studying. Listen to your body and study when it’s most alert.

Studying is your number one priority. It leads to graduation. Graduation leads to a job. A job leads to fulfillment (and money!).

Set Up Your Space Efficiently

A cluttered desk is a cluttered mind. A messy room is a stressful room. A busy college student doesn’t have time for wading through clutter. At the beginning of the school year, set up your room to maximize space:

  • Put things you use often, like a backpack, purse, jacket, or keys, out where you can see them. Buy plastic hooks you can hang on the wall for these items. Hang them up as soon as you get in the room.
  • Group like items together. This means keeping your shower stuff all in one area, like on hooks inside your closet.
  • Put away your clothes. I know, it sounds like something your parents might say, but seriously: put away your clothes. You’ll do yourself a favor. By organizing your clothes in ways that make sense, you’ll save yourself a ton of time in the morning. This is awesome because you’ll be able to sleep later. That’s because you won’t have to spend all morning searching for a clean outfit!

If you share a room, it will be harder to control your roommate’s mess. However, by keeping your own space clean, you’ll be able to get what you need done. Maybe your roommate will adopt your time-saving methods.

Take Advantage of Breaks

The best way to stay organized as a busy college student is to take advantage of breaks throughout the day.  If you have 2 hours between class and your job, run a load of laundry. You’ll likely have a free washer and dryer available in the middle of the day. That will save time on the weekend when everyone is arguing over the washing machines.

Have an hour between lunch and your next class? Grab a friend who’s in the same class as you and have a quick study session. You can help each other. You both get a free tutor.

If you work a relaxed on-campus job, use the quiet time to review your class notes. When I worked at my school’s library, I was able to read a book in between helping patrons. I brought whatever book we were reading in English class.

Capturing free time during the day is a fantastic idea. It may even lead to wide-open weekends. That can lead to way more college fun!

Crib Notes:

Staying organized as a busy college student doesn’t have take up much time.

Establish good study habits. Create a living space conducive to living and studying. Use your free time efficiently. These 3 tips will lead to graduation and a fulfilling life thereafter.

Good luck and have fun!

Originally posted 2015-10-12 10:00:03.

Young Finances

Avoid Lifestyle Inflation By Living Like a Broke College Student

Lifestyle Inflation is this almost irresistible phenomenon that we all encounter whenever we obtain a better position at work, more income, a new home or any other financial or lifestyle increase. If you’re trying to get out of debt, save for a home or retirement, or just improve your financial situation, lifestyle inflation can be a serious hindrance on the road to financial success.

Lifestyle inflation can affect anyone regardless of your income. According to a Federal Reserve Report, less than half of Americans earning between $75,000 and $99,000 saved any money whatsoever- and as many as 16% of those within that income bracket actually went into debt. So much for living below your means.

Initially it might be tough to stop feeling entitled to anything and everything but it can be done. By knowing firmly that lifestyle inflation can happen to anyone I combat lifestyle inflation by simply living like a broke college student.

I don’t just model the lifestyle of any broke college student however. Certainly not the ones who sleep in until noon, blow all their money on thirsty Thursday or try to ball out in Florida over spring break. I try to take tips from the hardworking college students who are so dedicated and focused on their future goals that they don’t have the time or energy to feel entitled for more. Most college students live a simple, frugal lifestyle which is perfect for avoiding lifestyle inflation. Here are a few ways to follow their example.

Follow the Free Food

In college there were so many opportunities for free food between the campus organizations and the departments that promoted participation in several events. I remember my university had an organization that served breakfast during specific times and I often participated in the academic department’s workshops for free lunch.

There are plenty of ways to eat for free outside of college as well; they just need to be discovered. From church potlucks to community events, free food is all around. If you have kids there are plenty of restaurants that offer “kids eat free” promotions weekly. I recently found out a non-profit organization offers free dinner to anyone in the community every Wednesday. Scoring a few free meals throughout the month can help lower your grocery bill.

Keep Expenses Low

College students often have small simple budgets so it’s easier to keep monthly expenses low. In order to cut your expenses you can walk or take the bus to places that are nearby to save money on gas, split utilities and bills with others in your household, share and borrow items with friends, find a cheaper gym or skip the membership altogether, and share a family phone plan with others just to name a few. The simpler you live, the better.

Find Creative Ways to Entertain Yourself

If it’s one thing college students know how to do, it’s have fun. Between stressing over projects and finals there is always something fun and interesting going on in a college town. When I lived in a college town for 2 years I not only immersed myself in the university culture but I also got involved with actual community itself outside of campus. I learned a lot of about frugal entertainment and how to find free and unique events.

Between doing free or cheap things like kayaking and biking, going to festivals, attending plays and movie screens, listening to live music, and taking cooking classes, I really didn’t need to keep up with the Joneses and spend a ton on entertainment. If you’re looking to find creative ways to entertain yourself I’d suggest getting engaged in your community and searching for fun and frugal events that don’t cost much.

Stay Busy to Avoid Shopping

In college I was so busy between going to class and doing homework, working, doing an internship, participating in my organization, and trying to get the proper rest that I didn’t even think much about going shopping, upgrading my car or ordering more things. Not only did I not have the money to do so, but it’s important to emphasize that I didn’t have the time to even desire things like that. Staying busy with your career, family and professional and personal goals is a great way to escape consumeristic desires to obtain more and more.

Don’t Be Afraid to Invest in Yourself

I love that college students are not afraid to invest in themselves. Not in terms of racking up too much student loan debt of course, but by realizing their potential and joining groups and attending workshops and networking events. Being in college is all about learning, growing and soaking up the whole experience like a sponge.

After we graduate and land our first job, I feel like people plateau and get too comfortable without realizing that life is a journey and we should be growing and learning every day. Improving your professional skills and expanding your network is a must even if you have the perfect career and make great money. When we stop reading, learning, and investing time in growing our skills and building relationships with others it’s easy to stop being humble as well. Then that entitlement sneaks in.

If you could learn anything from your former, broker college self, it might as well be how to combat lifestyle inflation by living simply and realizing that your overall long term goals are more important that rushing into living ‘the good life’. Avoiding lifestyle inflation is the key to achieving your goals and ridding yourself from having to live paycheck to paycheck.

How do you avoid lifestyle inflation?

Originally posted 2015-03-11 10:00:23.


Choosing the Right Degree for Your Career

Making the decision to attend college is a big one. The costs associated with a college degree could remain with you for several years after you graduate.

With that in mind, you might want to work backwards before choosing a degree. That is, figure out the type of lifestyle you want and how much you need to make to sustain that lifestyle.

For example, when I decided to go back to college after graduating with a Spanish degree, I researched top paying majors. I examined top majors like engineering, accounting, finance, and computer science before I settled on finance. I chose finance because I actually enjoyed learning about how money works and I figured it would help me in my personal finances as well.

According to Think Advisor, the top 10 paying degrees in 2014 are all in engineering. One of the top paying degrees is software engineering. If you have an interest in engineering then your degree choice is simple; it is a top paying degree, and you will probably find it enjoyable.

However, don’t choose a college degree just because it is a top paying field. You will be spending considerable time and money on this degree. Instead, choose a degree that will give you work that you will enjoy as well.

Though it may not be appropriate to simply choose the top paying degree, you could still use this method of working backwards to choosing a major. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has an Occupational Outlook Handbook that includes career information and job descriptions for almost any occupation you could want. It is important to take a bit of time and research your options.

Then, think about your personal skills. Not job skills, but the skills that make you, well, you.

Are you a talker?

Communications skills are necessary for jobs in sales. Are you an even better listener? You could be the top salesperson in your company. Do you find that friends often turn to you for advice? How about a career in counseling? Your personal skills can help you narrow down your degree choices.

Finally, remember that a significant decision like this one, choosing a college major, is one that you have to make for yourself. Think about what is most important to you and go from there. I chose to major in Spanish because I enjoyed speaking the language and learning about the Spanish culture. That has not changed. However, if I could do it all over again, I would likely double major in Spanish and Finance to pair my interests with a high paying degree.

What about you? Have you graduated from college? Are you working in your degree field? Maybe you’re on your way to college now. How did you choose your major?

Disclosure: This post was written as part of the University Of Phoenix Versus Program. I’m a compensated contributor, but the thoughts and ideas are my own.

Originally posted 2014-10-09 13:00:56.

Budgeting & Saving

9 Steps to Take After Graduating with Student Loans

There is no doubt that student loan debt has become a bigger and bigger problem in recent years. According to College Board, about 57% of public, four-year college students graduate with debt. So if you have student loan debt, you are not alone. I also fall in that group of college graduates with student loan debt. And though I ask myself each day when I look at my student loan balance if college was worth it, I always repeat the same words to myself. “Stop procrastinating and pay off that debt!”

I would like to help you pay off your student loan debt as well so I’ve come up with 9 clear steps to take after graduating with student loans. And in an educational fashion, each step takes us through the first 9 letters of the alphabet.

Assess the Situation

I have a friend that told me how she was scared to look at her student loan balance. She only cared that she did not yet have to pay them. Well, the day will come when she will have to start paying those loans back. If she asks for my thoughts I will recommend starting with this first step of assessing the situation. Figure out what student loan servicer has your loans. You’ve likely received an email or letter from them that lists your loan balances and due dates.

If you have multiple loans, like I did, then look into consolidation. Often, making one payment is easier than trying to make 7 different payments. Head over to and login to your account if you have no clue where to start. If you have private loans then contact your private loan servicer. You can be sure they have contacted you.

Begin Career

While you have been assessing the situation, you’ve also been looking for a job right? Hopefully you had internships and made a great impression. You’ve compiled your resume and you interviewed like a pro, landing your first career job. You’re earning the expected entry-level salary for your major and you can’t wait to get your first paycheck.

Celebrate Success

Now it’s time to celebrate! I always think getting a new job deserves a happy dance but maybe that’s just me. Grab your closest friends and head out for a night on the town. Enjoy the moment and revel in your success because after this night of enjoyment, it’s time to buckle down.

Determine a Budget

The first budget that you create based on your brand new job is going to be pretty simple. Check out your employer sponsored retirement plan and see if they offer a matching program. Many employers will offer to contribute 50 cents for every dollar that you contribute to your retirement plan. They will typically do this up to a percentage of your pay, usually 3-6%. Your first step in budgeting for student loan debt repayment is to take advantage of this free money.
Next you will determine how you want to live. If you can bring home a decent pay but still manage to live like a college student, you will have no problem paying off your debt.
A general rule of thumb is to allow for 31% of your paycheck for debt repayments. That includes credit cards (which you hopefully do not have), student loans and miscellaneous debts.

Evaluate Options

If you have started your budget and you determine that 31% of your take home pay is not enough to cover the student loan payment, start evaluating your payment options. Public loans offer Income Based Repayment, Income Contingent Repayment and Pay as You Earn as ways to lower your payment. If you realize that you truly cannot begin paying immediately, look at deferment or forbearance as an option. These options will allow you to stall your payments though you may have to pay interest that accrues.

Figure the First Payment Date

Now that you have your options fully locked into place it’s time to decide when you are going to begin paying your loans. When I graduated college, student borrowers were allowed a 6 month grace period before we had to start paying back our student loan debt. I decided to use deferment and forbearance time to stall even more. Once you have your budget and your payment plan, you can begin paying right away if you choose.

Grow Emergency Savings

Congrats on paying your loans! Each month that you pay, remind yourself that your college degree was worth it. But don’t neglect your savings. If you have extra cash that you can contribute to your loan pay off, I encourage you to put that into an emergency fund instead. Paying off student loans is a worthy endeavour, but keep in mind that emergencies may pop up as well. Make it a point to stash some cash for a rainy day.

Halt Lifestyle Inflation

As you continue to work in your brand new career, you are likely to receive an increase in pay. It’s easy to take these increases and inflate your lifestyle. A small apartment turns into a bigger apartment. One night out a week turns into happy hour each day after work. Keep an eye out for these budget busters!
I used a very simple method to combat the lifestyle inflation creep. Each time I received salary percentage increase at my company, I simply increased my contributions by the same percentage increase to my company sponsored 401k. I saved more and because they were pre-tax contributions, my paycheck was roughly the same.

Ignore Doubts

It’s easy to look at your student loan debt balance and feel like it is insurmountable. Instead, surround yourself with supportive friends and family. A strong support team will make paying off that debt much easier. I know you can do it! You made it through college, right?

This post originally appeared on

Originally posted 2014-05-21 06:00:49.


4 Tips to Landing Your First Job After College

Graduating from college is a huge step! You are almost there and ready to join the ranks of the working world and get your first job. You put in four years of hard work, sweat and tears. You stayed up late, crammed as much as you could before the final exams and you finally get to walk across the stage to receive your college degree.

But, wait a minute.

Something’s wrong.

You actually don’t have a job lined up yet.

Not to worry! I have 4 tips to help you snag your first job after college so you can jumpstart your career.

How to Land Your First Job

If you're trying to get a job, this guide will help. I used 3 and 4 to snag my first job after college.

Go To Your School Career Center

The first thing you should do is head over to your college’s career center. There you will get help to tweak your resume and cover letter. You want to make sure that when opportunities come your way, you are ready. The career center is also connected with local organizations that want you! Businesses contact the career center on a regular basis to offer open positions just for graduating college students.

Call, Email, or Meet your Professors

Using this one technique, I landed an interview with a company that I never would have known about. There are companies that specifically ask professors and department heads for top talent. If you were smart enough to become friends with your professors or if you were memorable in some other positive way then you should make it a point to contact them for help. Call and tell them you are still looking for a position.

Join an Industry Specific Organization

I used this technique to get an informational interview with someone in my field. When you meet people in your industry and continue to learn about your field, more and more opportunities will be available to you. Make sure you have some personal business cards printed up. Focus on meeting 1 to 3 people at each function. Don’t feel like you have to meet everyone there. It will make it easier for you to make a meaningful connection and keep in touch.

I Have a Job! How Do I Spend My Paychecks?

Congratulations! You finally landed a job! Before you do a happy dance, there are a few things you need to take care of to make sure you get started on the right financial footing.

Ok, maybe you can do the happy dance first.

First Job, How Do I Spend My First Paycheck?


Take Advantage of Free Retirement Money

The first thing that you want to do is to figure out if your company has a company match program for retirement. There are typically retirement options where the company will match your contributions.

Let’s say that the match is dollar for dollar for every dollar that you put up to the first three percent of your salary. In order to claim your free money, designate three percent of your salary to contribute to your company sponsored retirement plan.

Start Saving for Emergencies

Think of that contribution as long term savings that you will not get to use until retirement. You still need some emergency savings. Set a goal to save at least ten percent of your take home pay. That is a principle that I learned from the book The Richest Man in Babylon and it’s helped me so much.

That is the simplest way to budget. Start with your savings and then enjoy yourself.

Spend some money. You’ve earned it.

It’s all about balance. It’s all about what you want to do and what your personal financial goals are.

How did you land your first career position? Do you have any tips on how to budget that first paycheck?

This post was originally published for the PNC Achievement Sessions.

Originally posted 2016-06-01 10:00:41.