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Setting Financial Goals

April is Financial Literacy Month, and Powercat Financial Counseling is taking this opportunity to write a series of articles related to basic financial management.  To kick the month off, we’re starting with setting financial goals.

Planning Ahead

Setting goals, especially financial ones, can be a challenging, and sometimes daunting, task.  Having goals is important, though, in that they give you something to aim for and work towards.  To quote Zig Ziglar, “If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.” A good place to start is to think about your life in the future.  How do you want to live?  What do you want your life to look like?  Do you want to be debt free, buy a car and a house, start a family, or travel?  How will you accomplish these tasks and get to the life you really want?  Thinking about these things now is important.  When you graduate and enter the workforce, it is easy to get caught up in your daily routine and not give much thought to your future.  You will probably be inclined to think a few weeks or months ahead, but it might be hard to think a few years ahead.

Short-term vs. Long-term:

A short-term goal is one that is set for two years or less, and a long-term goal is one that is set for five or more years.  Some examples of short-term goals are planning for spring break and summer trips and building an emergency fund, while long-term goals might be buying a car, buying a house, or paying off student loans.  Even if you have trouble coming up with specific savings goals, you should still try to save whatever you can.  A good first goal for everyone, which should be a priority, is an emergency fund.  An emergency fund is a separate store of money which you access only in emergencies (ordering a pizza in the middle of the night because you don’t have food around is not an emergency).  If your car suddenly got a flat tire, how would you pay for it?  If you lost your job all of a sudden, where would the money come from to get you by until you get another job?  These are the types of situations in which an emergency fund would be useful.  It is recommended that you work up to having three to six months’ of living expenses saved up in the event you lose your job or are unable to work due to an injury.  This may seem like a lot of money, and depending on your situation, you as a college student could probably afford to wait a little while to get to the point of having this much saved.  Your parents may be willing to bail you out if something comes up.  But it is still a good idea to have at least $500 to $1,000 on hand in case of emergencies.  Life happens: will you be prepared when it does?

SMART Goals

When setting goals, it is important to define them well.  Your goals should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely, or “SMART.”  If your goal doesn’t have these characteristics, you will likely give up on it.  This is why it is important to write out your goals with these specifications and keep it somewhere where you will see it on a regular basis.  You will also want to prioritize them.  It is important to note that your goals may change over time and to review them periodically to make adjustments as necessary.  Set a reminder for yourself every few months to review your goals and see if you need to adjust them.  Maybe something came up since you set and prioritized your goals, or perhaps your goals will drastically change once you graduate; if so, you will want to make the necessary adjustments and re-prioritize.

Motivation to Save

Some people find saving to be difficult for them, whether it is because they feel like they are depriving themselves or they have loans to repay that they don’t think that they can save.  One way to save without “missing” your money is to ask your employer or your bank to direct deposit a portion of your paycheck to a separate savings account.  The general recommendation is that you save 10% of each paycheck; however, be careful not to set aside so much that you aren’t able to pay for your immediate expenses.  Every little bit adds up, so save as much as is within your means even if it is only $10 or $20 a month.  If you are able to save more than 10%, that is great too.

“If you are failing to plan, you are planning to fail,” said Benjamin Franklin.  Planning really can be a challenge, especially if you don’t know how to start.  One website that might be helpful is Sorted.org: https://www.sorted.org.nz/a-z-guides/setting-goals#s6.  It helps you to organize your goals with its “goals worksheet” and walks you through the planning and implementation process, offering tips along the way.  It even talks about goal-setting in relationships, which can be even more of a challenge than setting goals on your own.

In closing, it is important to set goals in order to achieve the life you want.  Start thinking about it now and begin developing a plan to get you there.  You will want to evaluate the short term and the long term, but allow for some flexibility in case your desires or values change.  Saving as much as you can now and building up an emergency fund will pay off in the long-run.  Be on the lookout in the next few weeks for more helpful tips about personal financial management during Financial Literacy Month.  If you have any questions about setting goals or financial management and would like help with any of those, please make an appointment on our website: www.k-state.edu/pfc/services.  We provide free and confidential counseling to all K-State students.

Rachel Vogler
Peer Counselor II
Powercat Financial Counseling
www.k-state.edu/pfc

The Most Convenient Way to Keep Track of Your Budget

It’s important to keep track of one’s budget for many reasons.

  1. First of all, a budget let’s you decide where your money goes before you spend it, instead of wondering where your money went at the end, or worse in the middle, of the month.
  2. Secondly, by keeping track of your budget you can find categories that you spend a lot of money on. It helps you get an exact picture of your spending and helps you decide whether or not it depicts your priorities. Is spending $30 a month on coffee where you want your money to go? Do you really like TV enough to spend $100 a month on it? What else could you do with that money?
  3. Further, keeping track of your budget allows you to plan your financial future. Saving for emergencies, a trip or retirement and repaying loans is only possible if you have a good grip on your finances.

All the benefits of setting up a budget can empower and motivate you to try and follow everything to a tee to get your finances in great shape. Unfortunately, the reality of tracking all of your spending can be tedious. When you have to keep all your receipts and enter the amounts, one by one, into a spreadsheet or even a notebook, staying on top of your budget can become a pain.

A good and reasonable budget is important and is actually tied to financial success. At PFC, peer counselors use the budgeting process for many different personal financial situations. Budgets uncover spending leaks, show how large an emergency fund needs to be, can give college students an understanding of how much the first job out of college should pay, how much student loans are needed and last, but not certainly not least, to decide where the money should go before it’s spent.

One thing that we have found very helpful and has found much resonance with clients is Mint.com. The website comes with an app for iOS and Android and is the best resource we have found to track spending and manage finances. When a user first opens an account with Mint, he or she is prompted to enter access information to all checking, savings, and investment accounts, credit cards, and even loans. There is also an option to enter property, such as cars and a home, to the account. This approach allows the user to examine his or her entire financial situation.  Mint has a triple layered security system to protect this sensitive information, which one can read more about on their site before creating an account.

The main function of the site, however, is tracking spending and budgeting. By entering credit card and bank account information, the user allows the website to track all transactions. Mint automatically places the expenditures into categories. So a purchase at a supermarket, such as Dillon’s, will automatically be placed under “Groceries”, and a transaction with Chipotle will automatically go into the “Restaurant” category. There are a problems with misplacement, especially with one-stop shops such as Wal-Mart, however the website allows one to change the category of a particular purchase and to split the transaction into multiple categories.  If you spend cash, there is also the option to manually input transactions.

Spending in each category fills up a bar graph representing the budgets the user sets on the budget tab. Mint will come up with an estimate of an appropriate budget based on past spending and US spending averages, but they can also be manually adjusted by the user. The Website will send alerts via email when spending approaches budgeted limits, keeping the user on track. Besides setting budgets, users also have the opportunity to set goals, such as for a spring break trip, paying down debt, or saving for a down payment. Mint has preset goals that walk the user through the process, while custom goals are also an option.

On the trends tab, users will find statistics about their spending, income, debts and assets. This tab, among other things, can be useful in determining what the biggest spending categories are and give users a visualization of net income. While most investors find this information with their brokers, Mint’s investments tab can be useful by having all the information in one place. Lastly, the “Ways to Save” tab gives suggestions for savings and checking accounts, loans and credit cards, as well as investments and insurance. If a user is actually in the market for any of these items, this tab can be a great place to start researching, however it should not be the only place to look or and should not encourage one to take on new, unneeded credit.

Overall, Mint is one of the easiest money management and budgeting tools out there and a gold mine for anyone who struggles to keep up with tracking, no pun intended.  Mint is one of the best websites/apps to help track spending, because it’s able to integrate with users’ bank accounts. Mint currently collaborates with more than 7,500 financial institutions, more than any other budgeting website (Rapacon*). Transactions are updated and put into categories automatically which makes it the easiest to use application out there.  Try it out today by going to http://www.mint.com.

*Source:  Rapacon, Stacy. “The Six Best Budgeting Sites.”  Kiplinger.com.

Lara Blomberg
Peer Counselor I
Powercat Financial Counseling
www.k-state.edu/pfc

Money and Relationships

Research shows that money is the number one argued point in all relationships, and therefore we all need to spend more time talking about our finances with our partners. Sometime throughout life we have all probably experienced the profound effect money can have on our relationships. Money is a hard issue to talk about because it is usually a subject we are not necessarily overjoyed to sit down and figure out. Whatever relationship you may be in, when money is involved, you need to be taking time to talk with your partner and figure out your financial situation.

One major issue with money in relationships is where and how each person spends money. It is essential that a spending plan is made, with each person contributing to it, that each person will stick with. When there is a concrete spending plan in place that each person is willing to adhere to, the relationship can progress, and you can work towards accomplishing your financial goals. Listed below are some tips on what to keep in mind while you are making your spending plan.

1. Make money rules together
• Both you and the other person in the relationship need to agree on how you are going to spend your money. If one person comes up with a spending plan alone, the other person may not agree to it and therefore will not follow through with the plan. To be able to stay motivated to stick to a spending plan, each person needs to be involved in the planning process.

2. Be willing to compromise
• Both of you need to be willing to make compromises. For example, one person may not like the idea of spending money on eating out, but the other person may spend more money eating out than getting groceries. When sitting down together, you can figure out the perfect mix of eating out and buying groceries that works for both of you.

3. Express each of your perspectives about money
• Each person in the relationship needs to be honest in how they spend money and the reasoning behind their spending habits. Putting it out on the table for the other person to understand will make it easier to find a compromise in your spending plan and help the process.

4. Save for emergencies
• Each person should be putting money aside for emergencies. If you don’t save for emergencies, such as an unexpected car repair, it may cramp your other finances. By putting an emergency fund into your spending plan, you can be more prepared for unexpected expenses that may arise. The rule of thumb is to have 3-6 months of living expenses in your emergency fund.

5. Seek outside help
• If you are struggling on how you should make a spending plan and are unsure if it will work, seek outside help. At Powercat Financial Counseling, we offer free, confidential counseling sessions for K-State students. Go to our website at www.ksu.edu/pfc and make an appointment if you want help in making a spending plan.

**For a spending plan worksheet, go to www.ksu.edu/pfc/budgeting/. On that page, click on spending plan worksheet and begin the process of creating your spending plan. **

Brooklyn Hnizdil
Peer Counselor I
Powercat Financial Counseling
www.k-state.edu/pfc

Preparing for Next Semester

With finals right around the corner and winter break fast approaching, you may not even want to think about next semester yet.  However, it can save money to get ready for it sooner rather than later and you won’t have to worry about it when returning to campus.

There are many things you’ll need to consider when thinking about next semester including budgeting, financial aid, school supplies, textbooks, class registration, and class drop dates.

Budgeting

The first thing to do when preparing for next semester is to determine a budget.  A budget can help keep you on track and set financial goals, such as saving up for spring break.  It can help you know what spending money you have available and where you can work on spending less (and can even help you determine some New Year’s resolutions).

Financial Aid

Part of the budgeting process may involve student loans, scholarships, grants, and fellowships.  Look back over this past semester and see how much financial aid you accepted and determine if it was just enough or if you could have gotten by with less.  This involves taking a hard look at your spending over the past semester and seeing if there were times you could have saved money.  If you could have gotten by with less, then contact the financial aid office (http://www.k-state.edu/sfa/) to ask them to reduce the disbursement for next semester.  This will not only help you learn to control spending, but will also save you money in student loans and interest costs down the road.

School Supplies

School supplies can be relatively inexpensive by themselves, but over time, the total cost accumulates to a big amount.  Some ways to save money on school supplies are:

  • Make a list of what you need and stick to it.  It can be tempting to want to buy some supplies that could be useful, but you may not use them or need them when it comes time.
  • Buy in bulk.  If you know you will be using a certain supply frequently, it will save money to buy the large quantity that’s cheaper per unit.  For example, if you know you’ll be printing a lot of articles, contemplate buying the multiple pack of ink cartridges or the carton of paper instead of a ream each time you run out.  Costco can be a good place to look for bulk supplies
  • Look for coupons.  Many stores have coupons or weekly ads available on their sites and may advertise for upcoming sales.  Before setting out to shop, make sure to look for coupons or sales by going to the stores’ websites. Staples also has a 20-25% off brown bag sale for back-to-school times, so keep on the lookout for when that will be!
  • Think about holiday sales.  Some stores also have sales on holidays such as Boxing Day (December 26th) that can save you money.
  • Look around for what you may already have.  It can be easy to lose pens, pencils, highlighters, etc. Before going out and buying new supplies, scour your room for these missing items.

Textbooks

College textbooks can be a major drain to the bank account.  You can learn ways to save money on them by implementing these few tips.

Book requirements can be found at http://courses.k-state.edu/.  You can click course schedules, then select the year, select course schedule and finally select the department (which are arranged by colleges).  There’s a book icon you can click that will list the required, recommended, and optional books.  The direct link for next semesters’ books is http://courses.k-state.edu/spring2014/schedule.html.

Consider buying used instead of new.  Used books range from like-new to acceptable and are offered at a significantly reduced price.  Used books are sold by bookstores, major companies such as Amazon, and private sellers such as students who took the course previously.  You can compare used book prices at the following sites:

Consider renting textbooks instead of buying.  For some textbooks, you may only want to have the book for the course and won’t use it afterwards.  There are many sites, including Chegg and Amazon, that offer the option to rent the book for a month, a quarter, or a semester.  If you decide that you want to own the book after using it, you can pay the difference between the buy price and rent price and not have to return the book.  Beware when renting to return the book on time.  You may be charged late fees, an extra semester, or the cost of the book if you are late.

And finally, email your professors about buying international editions or previous versions.  Many textbook makers make a few changes and rerelease the book as a new version that can be charged at a higher price for those few changes.  Many times professors use the older version book anyway and would allow you to buy the old version as well.  This can shave a lot off the list price of the new version.  International versions typically have different covers, page numbers, and chapter orders than the United States versions, but contain the same information.  This can complicate reading assignments when you’re given the page numbers or chapter names, but can cut costs sometimes up to 50-75%.  For both of these options, make sure to ask your professors before making the purchases.

For more information on saving money on textbooks, you can visit http://lifehacker.com/5613591/the-complete-guide-to-getting-cheap-textbooks.

Registration/Drop Dates

You probably are already registered for classes next semester.  However, since your tuition is calculated based on the courses you are enrolled in, if you are contemplating adding or dropping a course, it may be helpful to make the final decision sooner rather than late.  That way, you won’t have to deal the complexities of either paying extra for a class added or going through the process of getting a refund to your account for classes dropped.

It’s also important to know when the refund drop dates are for courses.  These dates can be found by going through the academic calendar at http://www.k-state.edu/cgi-bin/eventview/registrar/academic.  For the spring 2014 semester, the last day to drop a course, but still get 100% of the tuition costs back is February 10th.  After that, you will only get 50% of the tuition cost back.  The last day to get 50% of the cost back will be February 17th.  If you are contemplating dropping a course, try and make this decision before these dates in order to get back your tuition costs.

The academic calendar will also inform you about the last days to drop a course before receiving a W or a WF.

Resources

For other money saving tips throughout the semester, check out these sites:

http://www.shmoop.com/college/save-money-in-college.html

http://moneyfor20s.about.com/u/ua/studentloans/best_college_savings_tips.htm

http://collegelife.about.com/od/moneyfinances/a/ManagingMoney.htm

http://blog.chegg.com/2013/08/02/on-a-budget-top-10-ways-to-save-money-at-college/

Christyne Stephenson
Peer Financial Counselor I
Powercat Financial Counseling
www.k-state.edu/pfc

There’s an App for That!

Between homework, quizzes, papers and exams, many students find that they don’t have much time left in their days to keep their finances organized. However, many apps are now available to help you keep track of your financial situation, without the hassle! Check out this list of apps that can help you out:

Mint.com (Free on Android, iPhone, and on the web) – Mint.com is a free, easy-to-use personal budgeting application. With Mint, users can monitor their online bank accounts and track their spending. Signing up at mint.com takes about 5 minutes and users can set up a budget, make goals, and track their progress. Mint is safe and secure and very user friendly. It has been named the Best Finance App by the 1st Annual App Awards.

Credit Karma (Free on iPhone) – Credit Karma provides free credit scores and free credit monitoring. With the Credit Karma app, you can check your credit score for free, from anywhere. There is no subscription or credit card required. Credit Karma will also alert you when something important changes in your credit report. This is a great way to protect yourself against identity theft. This app is currently only available for iPhones.

Pageonce (Free on Android and iPhone) –  Pageonce is a bill payment app that allows users to pay their bills from anywhere at any time. All of your account balances are readily available in one place for your convenience. Pageonce will also send reminders and alerts so you don’t miss a payment. Users can also track their frequent flyer miles, rewards, mobile minutes, and text and data usage.

Lemon Wallet (Free on Android, iPhone, and Windows Phone) – Lemon Wallet is an app that lets you store a digital copy of all the cards in your wallet on your phone.  This allows you to have a digital backup of everything in your wallet in case it is ever stolen, lost or misplaced. Lemon Wallet also provides a “Lost Wallet Service” that will provide you with an agent to help you with the process of cancelling your payment cards if your wallet is lost. All data entered into Lemon Wallet is encrypted and a PIN is required to access your cards. Also, you can remotely unlink the app from your Lemon account if you ever lose your phone.

 

Jamie Engelken
Peer Counselor I
Powercat Financial Counseling
www.k-state.edu/pfc

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