College…Ready or Not?–College & Money: Too Much and Never Enough

College is a lot of things but one thing it can never claim to be is cheap.

One of the things that I’ve noticed college students often have issues with is money. We’re living in a time in which the vast majority of students are receiving some type of financial aide whether that be scholarships, grants, work study, and/or the dreaded loans. Room and board, books, student fees, and tuition all have to be paid. Costs vary depending on the institution. Private schools are often more expensive than public and going to school out-of-state will often cost you more than in-state. Community Colleges are a less expensive option and there is a movement of students who are starting out at the CC and then transferring to a four-year institution after completing their first two years of coursework. This helps save money while the student pays cheaper tuition, lives at home, and works to save up for the greater costs of a four-year college/university.

 

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A source of stress that is rearing its ugly head on campuses is that many students are able to find ways to be able to afford “going to college”. They get what they need to be a student. What they don’t get covered in their financial package is what I call ” [insert name of college/university] Plus”. This is all of the other “stuff” that college students want in order to take full advantage of the college experience.

This might include:

– Fraternity/sorority membership

– Participation in certain clubs/organizations/teams

– Spring Break/Fall Break trips

-Beach Week

– Study Abroad

– Alternative Spring Break

– apparel

-late night food, coffee runs, frozen yogurt, smoothies

– money to spend on the weekend excursions (cabs, festive beverages, dinners out on the town with friends, movie tickets, concerts)

and anything else that costs extra beyond basic college expenses.

This creates a class bubble and can lead to some destructive financial habits including the dreaded college credit card trap. Stay away! If needed, get one card! Only one! Emergencies ONLY! Pay it off immediately! Money also serves as a determinant of how and if students participate in extracurricular activities and it can dictate who they choose to include in their circle of friends.

Here are some financially healthier ways to figure this out:

1. Get a job! There are always offices on campus looking for student workers. Ask your Career Center about resources on campus to help you find openings. These are also usually in the school newspaper, on flyers around campus, and some schools even have Employment Fairs for on-campus jobs. The great thing about working on-campus is that your employer will make sure that you honor your identity as a student. At many of these jobs you can even do your homework during downtime and still count those hours on your timesheet. It’s convenient and you’ll learn about another aspect of the university as well as basic skills that can help you later in life. You won’t get rich BUT you’ll earn extra pocket change for those “plus” opportunities.

Of course, you can also work off-campus. Studies have shown that it is actually beneficial for a student to work 20 hours a week as it helps establish time management skills. Be upfront with your employer about your schedule as a student. Think about the proximity of your job to campus. Unless you absolutely need to, try not to work to the point that you’re actually missing out on your college experience. If you have to work, I get it, but you don’t want to resent your job and you want to make sure that whatever you’re paying for that you actually have an opportunity to be an active participant. Don’t forget, you’re in college to get your diploma. Make sure that you’re not working to the detriment of your academics.

Babysitting is often a clutch role that many students pick-up as a college student.

Check out the Psychology or Sociology department as they are often holding non-threatening and non-invasive studies in which students can serve as subjects and make a little extra money.

A great deal of students work extremely hard over the summer to bank their income in order to serve as their bucket of funds for the upcoming school year. This isn’t a bad idea and will certainly help you to develop and manage a budget.

Make sure to set up a checking account and develop a basic budget. What are your wants versus your needs? What is your family helping you pay for versus what are you responsible to pay for on your own? Keeping track will help you avoid those pesky overdrawn fees that I became way too familiar with in college.

2. Inquire about scholarships or payment plans. For things like sorority/fraternity membership, study abroad, and even some trips there may exist financial aide opportunities in the form of scholarships or payment plans. Connect with the person in charge of finances for the organization and be upfront about your payment concerns. I know that money can be hard to chat about with a peer but if you’re interested in the opportunity then you’ve got to do the work to figure out how to afford it. Just ask the general question, “Are there opportunities for payment plans or scholarships?” Believe me, this isn’t the first time this has been brought up by a student. Contact staff in the Office of Fraternity & Sorority Life or the Study Abroad Office for more information. For many trips, you pay for it during a certain period of time and not all at once. If this is the case, figure out if the payment plan is doable for you and your budget.

3. Look for alternatives. Everyone has the ability to class pass these days. If obtaining the latest gear is important to you then it is important that you become adept at obtaining the look for less. TJ Maxx, Marshalls, Ross, Target, Old Navy, H&M, Forever 21, outlet stores, ASOS, Goodwill,  consignment shops, Charming Charlie’s, EBay, and clearance sales are going to become your best friends. Don’t let me loose in a Wal-Mart–I will make that $15.00 dress look like a million bucks. I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again. All you need is the look and not the label. Learn how to make that $25.00 dress from Target look like that $150.00 Anthropologie dress. There are so many blogs and Pinterest boards that can assist you with getting the look you want for 1/3 of the price. You wear the clothes. Also, become aware of all the discounts stores offer college students. The movie theatre, J.Crew, LOFT, Kate Spade, and many local boutiques over 10-15% off if you have a college ID. Go for the high/low approach to fashion. Splurge on the basics and save money on overly trendy items that will only be “cool” for 5 seconds. My current outfit includes a Target dress, belt that came with a TJ Maxx dress, Anthropologie flats that were 50% off and I used my birthday discount to purchase, Stella & Dot bracelet, Longchamp Tote,  Old Navy Cardigan, and basic pearl studs from Macy’s.  I could throw on another basic Target dress and have a whole new look tomorrow. Rock what you got! Confidence is the essence of style.

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For anything that people are buying that is exorbitant in price, you can certainly find a lower-cost option including the needed textbooks. Check out AMAZON or local booksellers before you settle on the bookstore prices. There are often previous students who also will cut you a great deal on their used textbooks. Don’t forget, you can make money on those at the end of the semester. The University will often hold a Buy Back OR you can sell to fellow students. Sometimes, I would get up to $250.00 back at the end of the semester. Granted that was certainly not anywhere near the amount I spent on them but I wasn’t mad at $250.00 to help celebrate the end of the semester.

Switch up your social plan so that you can still go out, but do it differently than your peers. Perhaps you engage in festive beverages before you go out, maybe you eat dinner on your already paid for meal plan as opposed to splurging on an expensive dinner, take the free student bus and not a cab, keep coffee or chai in your room so as not to make Starbucks runs that quickly add up. Have a stash of snacks for those late night urges.

4. Scour your campus for FREE opportunities. You’re in college and there is free fun happening EVERYWHERE! Make it a game and see how many free things you can attend, eat, and take home each week. Shows, lectures, t-shirts, movies, food, sporting events, and lessons, etc. can all be found underneath your nose. Take advantage of it and take a group of friends on low budget adventures.  Perhaps create a FREE STUFF resource through twitter, Facebook, or a blog to disseminate to your peers. I don’t care how much money you have, everyone loves free stuff.

5. Sometimes, you just have to accept that you can’t do all the things. I accepted that I’d never be off to Cancun for Spring Break or Italy in the summer. I accepted that I could not afford sorority membership or full-price items from J.Crew. I learned to be happy with what I had and to fill in any perceived “gaps” with all of the free or inexpensive stuff I could find. I had an amazing college experience. I’m eternally grateful that I even was able to attend college. When it gets rough, think about the bigger picture. You’re one of the privileged few that has the opportunity to receive a college education. Praise Him!

enough gratitude

The biggest obstacle is often communicating to your friend group about your finances.

What do you say when everyone wants to call a cab to go downtown to grab dinner and festive beverages at the new swanky speakeasy? 

What do you say when your girls have invited you to Vegas for Fall Break? 

I would encourage you to do this, TELL THE TRUTH.

If peeps walk away from you because of your financial situation then you might want to find new friends. College is hard enough without hiding your economic situation from people and lying your way through the day by making excuse after excuse about why you can’t do things with the group. The truth also trumps unsurmountable credit card debt that could haunt you long after you graduate.

“Y’all, that’s just a bit too steep for my budget. Would you consider [insert option here]?” 

“The old bank account doesn’t feel good about this one, y’all go ahead and I’ll see you in the morning for brunch at the caf.” 

“You know, this event is happening on campus tonight and that makes more sense for me financially right now.” 

“I’ll meet y’all there. It’ll be best for me to take the bus.” 

“Thanks for inviting me along for the trip. I’m all about it and can’t wait to celebrate with y’all, but I’m going to look into making my own travel plans.” 

“I’m going to eat dinner here and then I’ll be able to take the cab and grab a celebratory beverage.” 

“I’m planning next Thursday night. We’ll have a fun and low-key game night with my home cooking.” 

Once again living your truth invites others to do the same and it creates a learning opportunity for those that are completely oblivious to financial struggles of other students. Unfortunately, when money is not an issue for students they often assume that those around them –especially when you attend a prestigious institution that has a reputation of attracting economically privileged students–come from the same economic background and that money is not an issue for anyone and certainly not those they call their friends.

Don’t expect your friends to change their lives entirely for you but instead make the adjustments that will allow you to participate at whatever level makes you comfortable. A good friend will get it and will support you in your practices.

Money is something that we’ve been taught in the South to not speak about at the dinner table, but I think it demonstrates a great deal of maturity for a student to authentically address this matter with those who are important in shaping their collegiate experience.

Developing this practice now will also help you to not become an adult who struggles to “keep up with the Jones'”. This family has caused us all so many issues. The goal isn’t to keep up with anyone but yourself. Remember, money and stuff, will never bring you lasting happiness.

enough money

Class has to become a topic that college students become more able to discuss. College is the place to strengthen the skills to have what have been deemed “awkward conversations”. The more students can relate across class lines the better.

How are you managing your finances in college?

Hope the first year is going well. Thanks for reading.

Lata Y’all.

 

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College Ready or Not?: Come Back to Calm.

How do you rid your life of stress?

I don’t think I really thought about this until I was in college.  However, I was handed stress on a shiny antique silver platter quite swiftly as a first-year student.

To cope, I took “field trips” to Colonial Williamsburg to get away from all the noise. I found that running DOG Street brought me needed happiness and spending time on the elliptical machine and lifting weights made life a bit sweeter.

I can’t neglect sharing that when I was younger,I made my life “calm” by drinking alcohol. Going out and getting beyond the capacity for clear memories seemed to be the easiest way to release it all and to just forget all of my, in hindsight, first-world problems.

No judgment, if that’s where you find yourself at some point this year, but please know that your calm is not at the bottom of a bottle. If you’re going to drink, do it responsibly. Surround yourself with people that care about you. Don’t drive.  Recognize your limits. Work hard to ensure that alcohol does not become your only means of stress relief.

College brings a continuum of angst composed of grades, relationships, rejection, unmet expectations, homesickness, the realization that your professional aspirations ain’t always what they seem, speedy change, roommate woes, time management, financial crises, and peer pressure, etc. I’m not trying to frighten you at all. This is a moment of real talk. Like most things in life, college ain’t all sunshine, rainbows, and unicorns.

stress break up

I strongly encourage you as you venture into your first-year of college to begin figuring out those activities/items/people that bring you back to calm and  work to keep those things a part of your burgeoning college schedule.

– If you enjoy the gym, look up the facility hours and block off  time to workout. If you’re a runner, inquire about the best routes on campus or the neighborhood in which your school is located. If you want to run in a group, inquire at the rec center about groups already in existence or chat with your hall mates about starting a group.

– Perhaps you played a sport in high school but aren’t able to or decided not to be a collegiate athlete. Check out intramurals or club sports. This is a great way to keep playing a sport you love but it’ll often be less of a commitment.

– If shopping is your outlet, then please be responsible about it.  I’d advise you to look for things that calm you that are also inexpensive and even better if it’s FREE. You don’t want to replace one stressor with another like money woes. It’s totally not worth it.

– Maybe you’re into “field trips” like me. What are places on/off campus that you can escape? Perhaps there’s an independent movie theatre nearby where you can engage in “escape by cinema”? A local park? A cool coffee shop? A place where you can let your guard down and just enjoy the space. Get off campus. Breathe new oxygen. See what’s popping outside the bubble. 

stress

– Sitting in front of the TV or computer can certainly bring you calm. Stop forcing social. Put on your favorite loungewear, grab some snacks, and chill out with familiar characters.

– Read your favorite book. I know, I know. No one has time to read for pleasure in college BUT when life gets hectic, make the time. Get back to words that make you feel whole.

– Hang with your besties. Be with those that remind you that there’s a bigger story in this world in which you play a critical role.  Having a strong support system can be key to relieving stress.

– Perhaps you’re into playing and/or listening to music. Check out your school’s music department for possible practice spaces. I’ve never been on a college campus that doesn’t have at least 2 public pianos for students to play at their leisure.

– I now know that writing is a great way for me to come back to center. This space helps me release a ton of stuff. Start a blog, public or private, and get yourself a great notebook to journal your thoughts.

– Engage in a life audit. Why are you doing everything that you’re doing? Is it valuable? Do you actually enjoy it? Has it become a burden? Do you really want to spend time in college with this particular group of people? Is this experience adding energy or depleting energy from your life? Sometimes, we just need to get back to the essentials and say a strong “No” to many of the items we have on our to-do list. Remember, the word “no” is a complete sentence. People would rather you give a strong no than a weak yes.

say no

– Go to those that know you best. For me, that’s God and then my family. Speak to Him, read His word, spend time in His house.  Call your family and laugh at all that they are and absorb their love through the phone.

So, how do you come back to calm?  What are those things that give you your wings?

A wonderful part of my job is that I think for some of my students, I’ve become a person that helps them find their calm. We engage in some ultra real talk–like some, get clear, get rid of all that unnecessary crazy talk— and lots of snort filled laughter.  Look for staff members on campus who want to help. Talk to your RA and/or Orientation Leader, student organization advisor, or a faculty member with whom you’ve made a good connection.

Sometimes your stress can become bigger  than a trip to the gym or the local movie theatre can cure. I strongly encourage to seek out your college Counseling Center should you feel that your normal tactics aren’t doing the trick. Never feel alone. If you’re nervous about making an appointment or walking over to the Counseling Center ask a staff member to help you and most of the time they will make a referral and even walk you to the building. I pinkie promise you that students use the Counseling Center on  your college campus. Never feel ashamed. You’re taking care of yourself and that is to be applauded and not maligned. Make yourself a priority. 

Regardless of how you choose to obtain calm, don’t hold stress in and don’t act like it doesn’t exist. You’re human and you get stressed out. It doesn’t make you weak; it makes you real.

Lata Y’all! Enjoy the season my first-year friends.

Let the adventures begin!

In my previous blog, “Why Don’t I do that Anymore?” I listed that I wanted to go back to scouring the Internets for free adventures in Nashville. This is one reason that I adore this city. One can have lots of fun for a low cost.

After many attempts, the last resulting in a car fiasco, I made it to The Frist to see ’30 Americans’ and the Norman Rockwell exhibit. I’m still reeling from the art I had the privilege to view in Nashville.

Another bonus: I invited a long a new Nashville friend. Gotta love a good friend date.

Back to the art: ’30 Americans’ is thought provoking and that is an understatement. Regardless of what you might think, we don’t live in a Post Racial Society. That is, well, BS! Race matters and even though conversations about race are never easy, they are necessary. This exhibit is composed of 70 pieces of art by African American artists. These works of art explore the intersections of race, pop culture, gender, sexuality, class, and the impact those markers have on your identity.

I’ve spent a lot of my life discussing race and I don’t possess the privilege of not thinking about race. I don’t believe in color blindness. I know that my race has had an impact on the outcomes of my life whether good or bad. I want you to see my color and understand the oppression and the privilege that comes with my race. If you bypass that then you’ve missed an entire piece of my lived experience and can never fully know me.

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Some of the images are so startling and can almost bring you to tears. The sudden intake of breath as you round the corner to see a circle of Ku Klux Klan hoods sitting on stools with noose hanging from the ceiling. The unfortunate realization that painting an African American family at home behaving in an everyday manner is abnormal and a scene that most people don’t picture for Black families. The horror at visualizing what consumerism has done to the Black community, especially our Black males. These are not things that I didn’t know but, they are made even more apparent when presented in visual form.

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I also loved that The Frist took the time to make the exhibit interactive. Viewers could write their feelings on post-it notes. It was powerful to read people’s first reactions. I really loved when younger viewers were engaged in the conversation. I can imagine that this might have been a catalyst for a parent/guardian to begin having the “race” conversation.

I don’t really know that much about art but I enjoy the process of analyzing it and coming up with my personal meaning. I was recently given the advice to treat a museum like a cocktail party. When you go to a cocktail party, you can’t get to know EVERYONE. The best strategy is to take time to get to know 4-5 people. Do the same at an art museum. Connect with 4-5 pieces and not every work in the gallery. You’ll leave feeling like you learned a whole lot more than if you try to squeeze it all in on one visit.

Check out more information here.

After ’30 Americans’, Norman Rockwell didn’t really grasp my attention until I realized how progressive he was during the Civil Rights Movement. The three works, The Problem We All Live With, Southern Justice, and New Kids in the Neighborhood drew me into the display.

’30 Americans’ leaves Nashville on the 12th and I highly recommend it.

So happy I took this Nashville Adventure. Oh, it was free because I’m a Bank of America customer and select museums are free the first weekend of every month for BOA customers. Kinda cool, right?

Lata y’all!

Nashville 4 Free

Here’s my 2nd installment of Nashville 4 Free:

Day 2 & 3 & 4

– My sweet friend Annie, who is about to move to Rhode Island, surprised me with a free ticket to the Ryman to see Secret Sisters and She & Him. Obsessed with Secret Sisters! Not only do they have heavenly voices but they are precious. She & Him was okay, but really it was just cool to see Zooey Deschanel. She funny, cute, and quirky. My favorite moment was when She & Him did “You Really Got a Hold on Me” totally acoustic without any amplified sound (no mics). That is always a baller move in The Ryman. To be honest, I don’t really get the allure of She & Him, but it is always great to go to The Ryman.

– My free movie was a bit of a letdown last time at Belcourt but I didn’t hesitate when a colleague sent me a link to get a free pass to see “The Heat” starring Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy. I’ve been in love with Sandy since Speed and McCarthy got me hooked, like most people, with her performance in Bridesmaids. The movie is HILARIOUS! Now, the process to get into the theatre which included being searched by a security guard and relinquishing your cell phone was not that great, but I’m really happy I saw this movie. The women bring it in their performances. I would suggest venturing to the theatre for this one. Cost: $6.50 for popcorn and a soda

– Sometimes, things are accidentally free like when the woman working the ticket counter at The Frist Center for the Visual Arts asked me if I was a college student because college students get free admission on certain days at the museum. Now, this was probably really unethical BUT I work with college students all day long and all of my gray hair is the result of college students. I also still have the good fortune of being able to pass for a college student. I showed her my ID, she gave me a sticker, and I don’t really think anyone was harmed in the process. Eek! Now that I’ve made that confession, let’s talk about the actual exhibit. My friend Leslee Mitchell, who is an incredibly talented photographer happens to be obsessed with cars. Sensuous Steel: Art Deco Automobiles is certainly worth a visit. In a strange turn of events, you are actually allowed to photograph the cars. Cost: Free, but I did purchase one cider at Flying Saucer post exhibit so $5.00.

– I had so much fun at Musician’s Corner in Centennial Park last week that I ventured back out this Saturday. The Bird and the Bear, Stacy Lantz, Matt Giraud, and Humming House were the acts I was able to see before I headed out to a friend’s engagement party. My favorite would have to be Matt Giraud and anything the female lead singer of Humming House sang during their set. She’s phenomenal! “Pick It Up” and “Seven Days a Week” were great from Giraud. His soulful voice “took us to church”. I don’t watch American Idol but apparently he was on the show. He also did a cover of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Gone Come” mashed up with Jackson 5’s “Whose Loving You?” Humming House did a fun cover of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean”.

While at the show, the Music City Roots bus was present and giving away free koozies and if you could answer one trivia question you could get a hat or tickets to an upcoming show at Loveless Café. I happened to know the name of the host of MCR and I picked up 2 tickets for an upcoming show. I’ll certainly tell you about it in a future post.

The World Vision Experience was parked in Centennial Park. If you arrived early enough, you could help assemble promise packs for kids in Africa. I took a tour of the interactive World Vision Bus and went on a journey through Tanzania with a sweet little boy who told us about the difficulties his village has had with obtaining clean water, having time to attend school, and the devastation of Malaria. By serving as a sponsor, participants could donate money to purchase mosquito nets, finance a Micro Loan, donate chickens to a family, a clean water source, or just donate to the education fund. It was quite the adventure to Kisongo. We learned a couple phrases in Swahili and I also learned that we say “Tanzania” incorrectly in the States. Cost: $5.00 for some Dark Chocolate “Jeni’s Ice Cream

Can’t wait to report more fun and free Nashville adventures.

Later Y’all