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Love Your Money

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People are willing to do a lot for someone they love such as try new things, change their style, and even relocate.  However, what are they willing to do for their money?  Sometimes it can be misplaced, torn up, abandoned, left unprotected, and even thrown away on insignificant things.  What if you treated your money as special as you would treat someone you love?  Things you may do are…

Make Time For It

When you love someone, you may hang out more and more and structure your day around him or her.  How much time do you take for your finances though?  Try carving out some time in your day or week to:

Just like relationships, your money can flourish if you put in the time to get to know it and make a point to include it in your everyday living.

Show It What It’s Worth

You may buy flowers or gifts, go out to a nice dinner, and even spoil each other to outwardly show your love and communicate your significant others’ worth to you.  However, the cumulative cost of junk food, drinks at the bar, bank fees, and other spending that will seem insignificant further down the road when you’re going to purchase a new car, have a child, or retire.  Instead, show money its worth through:

  • Smart shopping (i.e. sales, coupons, and discounts)
  • Memorable spending (i.e. experiences in place of material goods)2
  • Mindful prioritization (i.e. saving for a coffee maker later instead of a cup of coffee now)

Prioritize It

As relationships progress, your significant other becomes a bigger and more important part of your life.  This may lead to changes in how you structure your day, the traditions you create, and the sacrifices you make for the betterment of the relationship.  Likewise, your financial priorities change throughout life and become more and more necessary in order for you to accomplish your financial goals.  Some current wants may need to be cut back in to make room for saving up for more special wants (i.e. vacation) and future needs (i.e. house payment).  Steps to prioritizing your spending to enhance your financial relationship:

  1. Brainstorm financial goals
  2. Make your goals SMART3
    1. Specific (what why and how)
    2. Measurable (set dollar amounts)
    3. Attainable (realistic)
    4. Relevant (fits with bigger picture and your other goals)
    5. Timely (set dates)
  3. Calculate how to achieve your goals
  4. Tweak current budget and spending accordingly
  5. Find an accountability partner

Protect It

We want to do everything to protect the one we love both physically as well as emotionally from any pain.  Sometimes, life happens and we do the best we can to build back up and heal.  There are many ways to protect your money such as having an emergency savings to cover unexpected expenses and prevent debt or outrageous interest costs as well as consistently monitoring for identity theft and bank fraud.  Emergency savings should have 3-6 months’ worth of money in a relatively easily-accessible account to cover such things as medical bills, car repairs, or a loss of job.  You can monitor your credit through pulling a credit report at least every 4 months (https://www.annualcreditreport.com) and can protect from bank fraud by review your bank statements and utilizing credit card EMV technology when you can4.

Be Patient With It

Rushing into things can sometimes end up bad and sometimes the best things in life take time and hard work.  Your money probably won’t grow overnight (barring lottery winnings and surprise inheritance), so you’ll need to be patient with it and continue to nurture it.  Interest rates are most beneficial over time and frequent changes in investments may not pay off.  The market changes every minute, but despite dips and turns, a lot of investments pay off if you are patient and wait out the lows.

Commit

So you’ve spent some time together, you’ve gotten to know him or her more, and you’ve decided that he or she is worth prioritizing.  The next natural step is to decide whether you want to stay together in the future and beyond.  Rather than staying focused on the present, you may make a commitment for the long-haul.  Similarly, this may be something beneficial to do with your finances.  Picture your life with it in the future and what you want that to look like.  You’ve mastered saving for emergencies and upcoming trips, now what about for retirement or future children’s educational expenses?  These decisions come with more of a commitment due to the limitations on their spending, but can be truly beneficial in the future should you follow through on the commitment.  Time is your greatest ally in the realm of saving and investing.

Resources

  1. http://www.k-state.edu/pfc/planning/Financial%20Goals%20Worksheet%20-%20Specific.pdf
  2. http://www.forbes.com/sites/hbsworkingknowledge/2013/08/05/want-to-buy-happiness-purchase-an-experience/#34522db1704d
  3. http://freefrombroke.com/guide-setting-smart-goals-finances/
  4. http://blogs.k-state.edu/pfc/2015/10/05/credit-cards-are-changing-are-you-ready/

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

Amazon Prime: Is it worth it?

“Hey, give me your money,” said Netflix, iTunes, and online shopping shipping costs. As college students, there is a good chance that these expenses are present in our lives. However, Amazon Prime has made it possible—and affordable—to provide students with instant streaming of thousands of movies and TV shows, access to over a million songs, and free two day shipping.

If you’re like any other student, you seek out every entity possible providing students with a discount. Amazon Prime offers a 50 percent discount to college students. This makes Amazon Student Prime a one-time payment of $49 for a year-long membership. If you do the math, that totals out to a little over $4 a month, which is half the cost a month of Netflix.

Textbooks: an unavoidable cost for college students. Amazon advertises students can save up to 90 percent on textbooks. Begin by typing the ISBN number of your book into the search on Amazon.com. You may find the book is offered for a much lower price, to either rent or buy, on Amazon compared to other bookstores. You can use the money you’d be saving in your budget for books to purchase Amazon Student Prime, and receive your books in two days!

Other services built-in with Amazon Student Prime include free release-date delivery on video games, unlimited photo storage, exclusive early access to Lightening Deals, and free books each month through Kindle First. If any of these forms of entertainment are important to you, this could be a good investment. Another unique feature is the opportunity to share your account. This allows you to share the Amazon Student Prime services with family members in the Amazon Household, which qualifies one other adult and four children. Once you invite them to join your account in your settings you can successfully share your prime membership, regardless if they are a student or not.

To help you decide if Amazon Student Prime is right for you, there is a free six month trial. Unfortunately, during the free trial you will not be allowed to utilize the free movie and TV show streaming. After the free trial is over, if you wish to not purchase Amazon Student Prime, make sure you discontinue your account. If you do not discontinue your account, you will be automatically charged $49 for a year-long membership.

In conclusion, you have nothing to lose—including money—to at least try Amazon Student Prime. During the free trial, you may find yourself saving money, or it is possible you will find yourself barely using the different services. Whichever decision you come to, make sure it is the right one for you financially. For other financially savvy decisions visit Powercat Financial Counseling for a free and confidential peer-to-peer consultation.

Allison Becker
Peer Counselor I
Powercat Financial Counseling
www.k-state.edu/pfc

Save Hundreds While Buying Textbooks

As the Spring semester is quickly approaching, students will begin to start thinking about the supplies needed for their classes. According to the College Board, the average student will spend more than $1,200 on textbooks and supplies, per year. This number is outrageous for students who are already paying a large amount on other school expenses. The bad thing is, the costs of new textbooks and supplies aren’t going to be going down in the near future. So what can we do to keep some of the money spent in our pockets? I encourage you to consider the following to improve your awareness of the other options that are out there.

  1. Buy Used

You will want to begin looking for used books as soon as possible, because they usually sell fast. Start by going to your local bookstores, to see if there are any used options available. If not, first check online before you immediately buy a brand new book. One great thing about new books is the fact that they’ll most always be available.

  1. Buy Only What You Need

One thing that I have begun to realize, is that not all required books are really required. One way to find this out is to ask around, maybe a friend has taken the class before and says it’s not worth the money. Another option you have is to give it a few class periods to see if the instructor will be making the textbook a priority.

  1. Buy and Sell

If you are forced into buying a textbook at full-price, always remember to put it back on the market after you are finished using it. You might not get all of the money you spent, but maybe it’s enough to cover a book or two the following semester.

  1. Consider Renting

Another great buying option that you could take advantage of is renting instead of buying. First, check your local bookstores to see if they offer this. If they don’t, search online because there are a lot of places that let you rent a book for a semester instead of buying it. This could definitely be a very cheap option for you.

School is expensive. Everyone should try their hardest to save as much money as possible. Taking into consideration these buying options, are just a few of the ways you can cut back on your school expenses. This time, when the new semester rolls around, I hope you have the knowledge think twice about buying a brand new textbook.

Be sure to visit Powercat Financial Counseling for a free and confidential peer-to-peer consultation to make sure your finances are on track for the upcoming semester.  Visit our website at www.ksu.edu/pfc to schedule an appointment.

Nolan Keim
Peer Counselor I
Powercat Financial Counseling
www.k-state.edu/pfc

 

Healthy Finances for Healthy Eating

Money is already tight as a student, which makes eating healthy a difficult thing to do.  So many other things compete for our money that living on Ramen can seem like the smart thing to do.  However, it’s important to consider your health and your body when deciding what choices to make in diet.  There are many ways to save money and not compromise health as a result:

Meal Planning

Meal planning is one of the most effective ways to save money at the grocery store.  The phrase “don’t shop when you’re hungry” is highly used because it’s highly relevant.  Even when you’re not hungry, shopping without a plan can result in a cart full of items that may go bad before their used or may remain in your pantry for months along with other items that you may end up throwing away when you move out.

Instead, have a plan on what you want to eat throughout the week.  Make a list of what you need for each meal that week, excluding what you already have at home.  Find a way that is most convenient to make such a list, adding in regular or irregular grocery items such as milk, snacks, cereal, etc…

Meal planning can lighten the stress on your bank account as well as on the grocery store trip itself because you’ll be more prepared to avoid items you don’t need and know where to go to find the items you do need.

Buy In Bulk

Another great way to save money is to buy items in bulk.  Sometimes, it can cost less per unit price to buy a lot at once, especially when it comes to items such as meat or cheese.  Make sure to avoid the trap of buying in bulk when it isn’t necessary, however.  Many items may look like a deal to buy the larger containers, but that’s not necessarily true.  Check the unit price numbers to compare different sizes and prices to ensure you’re getting the best value.  Also be careful not to become wasteful when buying in bulk.  If it can’t be reasonably used or frozen before it spoils, it’s a waste of money to buy in bulk.

Freezer Meals

Now that you have bulk items, what do you do with them?  One useful and time-saving tip is to create freezer meals.  This entails putting all the ingredients for a meal in one or multiple resealable freezer bag (i.e. Ziplock), writing instructions on how to cook the meal (i.e. thaw, oven temperature, time to cook, etc…) and sticking it in the freezer to be pulled out the day of or night before to cook.  If you’re cooking for 1 or 2, it may be helpful to divide up the recipes accordingly or plan on eating the leftovers.  You can search for many recipes of this variety online.

Crock Pot Meals

Crock Pots are the perfect tool for students leading busy schedules.  Crock pots allow you to throw everything into the pot and let it sit for hours while you’re in class, at work, in a meeting, or even while you sleep at night.  When you’re done for the day, the meal is ready for you to eat.  Another perk of Crock Pot meals is that you can make multiple meals for the week at once, saving you time and money.  If you’re the type of person who doesn’t like eating the same meal twice, feel free to get creative and spice things up to the leftovers to make it unique.  Having a meal already prepared will help you resist the urge to eat out for convenience sake after a long, tiring day.

Make Your Own Servings

Generally speaking, single-serve items such as snacks, freezer meals, and individually packaged items are significantly more expensive than if you were to individually portion them yourself.  Taking the time to sort out your snacks into reusable or even ziplock bags can save you lots of money at the store while still providing you with the convenience of grabbing and going in the morning.  Not only will it help with cost and convenience, prepackaging your own portions can help you also with limiting your snacking to the appropriate and healthy serving size.

Buy in Season

One of the biggest expenses at the grocery store can come from the produce section.  It can be difficult to eat produce before it goes bad, especially when you’re only buying for yourself or for two.  On top of this, many produce items vary in their expenses month to month.  It’s important to know which produce items are in season when you’re shopping because that’s when you’ll get the best deal on them.  The following chart can help you decide which items to plan for your meals depending on what season it is.  Try to avoid getting off-season produce because it can be a burden on the bank.  Instead, experiment with new fruits and vegetables that are in season.

Brands

A simple way to save money without changing much of your habits or taking extra time in the week can be by switching to generic label items.  Brand names are more advertised and well-known, but aren’t necessarily much different than the same items made by the grocery store company itself.  Switching to Safeway, Kroger, Great Value, or Hyvee brand items will add up over time and over products without you having to change your lifestyle or even take the time it may take when planning meals, doing freezer or crock pot meals, creating your own servings, or buying in season.

Coupons

And lastly, using coupons can be very helpful, if used properly.  At times, using coupons can actually hurt your finances more than help when you find yourself buying items you didn’t need or won’t use in time.  However, if coupons are available for items that you were going to buy regardless or even if you specifically  meal plan around coupons, it can be a very financially smart thing to do.  Many grocery stores have apps with coupons on them.  You can also find coupons on the back of receipts and from simple searches online.

There are hundreds of other ways you can save money at the grocery store while avoiding compromising your health.  You can learn even more by attending the workshop Eating Healthy on a Budget on Monday, October 26th at 6:00 PM in the Union Flint Hills room.  Resources, recipes, and tips will be provided as well as free food to the first 30 attendees.

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

Lose Excess Spending:  Financial Fasts and Financial Diets

Ever get to the end of the month and wonder where your money went?  Being in college offers not only the opportunity to become financially independent, but it also brings opportunities to squander your money away.  In our society, many social events are centered around eating and this holds true on campus as well.  However, spending money on eating out can be just as unhealthy as the food you get when eating out.  Two ways to begin exhibiting better money habits are by going on a financial fast or starting a financial diet.  Both require you to differentiate between needs and wants and can help you begin to understand what to spend money on and when it may be better off saving.

Financial Fast

A financial fast is a shorter but more intense way to kick-start better money habits.  The financial fast lasts 21 days and limits your spending to only the bare essentials to living.  Items considered essentials include bills (i.e. rent, utilities, etc…), gas to get to and from school or work, groceries meant to sustain your body (i.e. not chips or soda), and medications.  This list will be different for everyone and requires you be realistic about what is a need.  The financial fast also entails spending only in cash and recording every transaction as it’s made, justifying the need.  You can use a checkbook or debit card register, a notebook, an excel sheet, or apps such as www.Mint.com to record your transactions.  Recording your transactions helps keep you accountable to the fast as well as gets you to think about your needs and wants.  A financial fast can be beneficial to do before beginning a financial diet because it immerses you more into learning what areas are and aren’t flexible.

Financial Diet

A financial diet, on the other hand, is more prolonged and allows you to be creative with your spending.  First, know what is a need and what is a want.  From there, brainstorm ways to reduce or eliminate your spending in certain categories.  Don’t be afraid to get creative.  Use what you already have and look for DIY projects.  Similar to the financial fast, spending in cash and recording your transactions can provide you even more awareness and accountability of your spending.  Below is a non-exhaustive list of examples in which you can cut spending sorted by category.

Food

  • Limit the number of times you eat out (i.e. once a week)
  • Prepare meals at home
  • Bring your lunch (and any snacks you’ll need throughout the day)
  • Split entrées when you go out to eat (make sure to know what extra charge may be assessed for doing so)
  • Ask if the restaurant does half-orders
  • Sign up for coupons at places you frequently eat

Entertainment

  • Check out books or movies from the school or public library
  • Drink with friends at home rather than spending money in Aggieville
  • Utilize services such as RedBox or Netflix instead of going to the movies
  • Invite friends to go to the park or have a game night at home

Transportation

  • Walk or ride your bike
  • Carpool
  • Stay on campus between classes instead of driving back home and back to campus again
  • Use the ATA Bus

If you don’t succeed at first, that’s okay.  It’s not easy to change your lifestyle right away and like other diets, it takes time as well as requires you to tweak it until it fits for you.  Consider finding a friend to participate with you and hold each other accountable.  Once you find success, think about what to do with your extra money.  You can use it to pay down debt, save up for emergencies or upcoming trips, or even think about investing it.  The first step though is to be healthier and lose the excess spending.  Check out our Twitter in the coming month to read more tips on saving money.

Sources:

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

Invest in Your Future

Investing may seem like a foreign concept, however, you invest in yourself every day. By investing your time studying, you hope to achieve a better grade than say spending an evening in The Ville. Simply being here at K-State is an investment. By spending thousands of dollars today, you hope to have a higher salary than you would with a high school diploma. Much like these forms of investing, financial investing occurs with the hope that if one puts a little money away today, there will be more money in the future. The financial markets can sound like an intimidating, scary, and complex world, but with a better understanding of some of the underlying terminology, you can gain a better grasp of how they operate and one day be able to invest in yourself financially.

Financial Market

A financial market is any marketplace where buyers and sellers trade assets such as stocks, bonds, commodities, and derivatives. In today’s world most of these transactions take place online and an individual can get involved by setting up an account with an online brokerage firm, such as E*Trade, Schwab, or Scottrade.

Stocks, Bonds, and What??

Stocks, bonds, and derivatives are all financial instruments, but they all come with various advantages and disadvantages. Stocks are a financial asset that give you partial ownership of a corporation. When you purchase stock in a company, you are entitled to some of their earnings which come in the form of dividends, however companies are not required to pay dividends. Stocks are extremely volatile and their prices fluctuate often as the market fluctuates. While historically stocks have performed well, the return is not guaranteed. These factors make stocks extremely risky, however the return on your investment is approximately 5% greater than the return for bonds.

Bonds are a debt instrument, thus when you purchase a bond, you are lending money to the government, a municipality, or a corporation. When you buy a bond, or give out a loan, you make your return by earning interest. Bonds are less risky than stocks for several reasons. Unlike stocks, when you purchase a bond the issuer promises to pay back the face value, or the amount you purchased the bond for. The amount of interest earned is also backed by a promise from the issuer and the interest rate is often fixed. Historically the bond market is less vulnerable to changes in market price.

There are hundreds of financial instruments out there including derivatives, options, futures, CDOs, and swaps. These assets are more complex than stocks and bonds. For more information on any of these financial instruments, you can go to www.investopedia.com.

Market Indexes

In the news you may have heard phrases such as “the Dow drops 600 points” or “the S&P 500 soars.” The Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 are both examples of stock market indexes. A stock market index simply measures the value of a section of the stock market. The Dow and the S&P 500 are two of the most widely analyzed indexes. The Dow Jones index includes 30 of the largest and most influential companies in America. Since it includes some of the most well-known companies in America, the Dow usually corresponds to changes in the entire marketplace, though it may not be on the same scale. The S&P 500 is made up of 500 of the most widely traded stocks in the U.S., and it represents approximately 70% of the total value of the U.S. stock markets. Since it is more diverse, it generally gives a good indication of the overall movement in the U.S. marketplace. Points for these indexes are simply a whole number in the index value used to more easily measure the increase or decrease in the indexes.

Portfolio

A financial portfolio includes all of the investments you have, whether that includes stocks, bonds, or other financial assets. In order to minimize risk, your portfolio should be diversified. It should include different types of financial assets, all with varying risks and maturities. For example, a diversified portfolio may include riskier investments such as junk bonds or stock in a new company as well as government bonds and stock in a well-established company. It is also important to invest across market segments (technology, energy, etc.) rather than put all of your investments in one industry. Risk is important to reduce, however, the lower the risk, the lower the return. Vanguard has created some model portfolio allocations (https://personal.vanguard.com/us/insights/saving-investing/model-portfolio-allocations). These allocations show varying types of portfolios and the historical risk and return associated with each. Many advisors recommend investing in riskier assets when you’re young, such as stocks, and investing in safer assets as you near retirement, such as bonds.

What now?

The best way to invest smart is by understanding the markets and being knowledgeable about the financial world. Paying attention to the financial news today, even if it is just looking at an article a week, will help you gain a better understanding for when you’re ready to invest. The Wall Street Journal, Google Finance/Yahoo Finance, and other credible news sources are all excellent ways to stay up-to-date in what the market is doing. Investopedia is also a great source for understanding different aspects of the financial world. As with most things, practice makes perfect. Luckily, there are several free stock market simulators out there to help you gain a better understanding of how it works without risking your own money! Investopedia Stock Simulator, Virtual Stock Exchange, and Wall Street Survivor are some of the most popular simulators out there. By expanding your financial knowledge and seeing how the market operates, you will be able to make smarter financial decisions and be prepared to invest in your future.

Sources:

http://www.vdmtrading.com/2010/05/top-6-best-stock-market-simulators.html
www.investopedia.com

Jillian Taylor
Peer Counselor I
Powercat Financial Counseling
www.k-state.edu/pfc

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