Be a Rule Breaker

Yesterday was the first day back in classes for my College, and although I have not officially graduated, I finished all my classes that I needed to in the spring. One thing I have been reflecting on more and more is how grateful I am that I did not quite follow all the rules and thoughts of my department.

Don’t let your imagination go wild and assume the worst, I in fact did not break any laws. However, let me state the ideas and guidelines that I was told or felt during my time at school.

1. You cannot have a job while studying for this degree.

2. Student loans are acceptable and required.

3. The older students are better in the position.

4. School is more important than anything.

 

Again, don’t let your imagination run wild, especially with the last number on the list. Several times in JUST my first year I was told that I should quit my part time job in order to focus on school and the assignments I was given. Many of these were said because my teachers did not know much about me at the time and assumed it would be too much for any student. It was true many times that I felt overwhelmed, but I made it work. I also had teachers tell me that I should take out student loans if I was worried about money. I am extremely grateful that I did not. One teacher mentioned that she has student loans and it wasn’t a big deal. I encourage you reader to do what you can to avoid having student loans follow you around for years! I wanted to have the feeling of being free when I graduated, not feeling the handcuffs of a loan.

The third rule I did not follow was assuming that the students in the year above me were better. WRONG. They are learning as much as I am in their own classes. The older students were great to get some information from, I am not saying any of them were horrible, because I did get a lot of advice from them. In your own classes and paths, take advice from tons of people, but use your own thoughts and ideas to determine the best approach based off of them. When I started my program, I had an older student in charge of me and at the time, I thought this person was fantastic at their job, but as I continued, I saw the flaws I could not see before. I still think they did a good job, but I knew they could have done better. This continued all through my schooling, because we are ALL still learning and lack the experience in order to master our skills.

Finally, the last point, and frankly the biggest change I noticed. Yes, school is important, don’t get me wrong. it was important for me to do well, get good grades and keep my financial aid. It was also important for me to make friends with those in my field, because networking is crucial to my profession. Also, I met incredible people who are smart and know their field like the back of their hand as well as being awesome people to work with. What I did notice is that I did not forget about my friends and connections outside school, that networking in your classes is not nearly as helpful as networking outside classes and in the professional environment. Now that I am outside of school, I hardly talk to many students I saw in the halls, because they are focused on school once again. It is hard to keep one foot outside the school environment, because it requires so much of your time, but it is possible and highly advisable.

for those of us who have finished school, we could tell you the importance of networking and getting to know professionals who could help your future, but it is up to you to start the effort and break the rules.

The Dreaded “B” Word

Thats right guys! its time the talk about the “B” word… BUDGETS!!!

First a Disclaimer: Each person has their preference for budgeting, and I am merely suggesting what works best for me and possibly you as well if you are still struggling with it.

In my high school days, I managed to get a job at a clothing store, and then a restaurant. The first thing my mother taught me was to put half of my paycheck in savings. WOAH THERE! 50% you say? Yes, because at that time I was 17, lived at home and got free food from mom and dad and didn’t own a car. Now its a significant amount less that I put into savings, but I had good foundation to build off of when the time for budgeting came around.

Before you start dividing out your income, write down what is most important to you, and BE HONEST! I love music, A LOT, so I had to plan some money each month that I could spend on albums and what not. I admit I am using the cash system right now, because I know myself enough that if I did not see the physical limitations on what I was allowed to spend, I would probably go over my budget. I say this with every post, but I feel its important to state again TO DO YOUR RESEARCH! because I have been buying food for myself for about 3 years, I know that $50 per week is plenty. What may surprise you about this post is the extra things you may not realize you need to save money for as you leave college.

1. Rent: Right now since I have just finished classes, I am finishing off a lease graciously paid for by my parents. HOWEVER that does not mean I am not planning on rent. I am also currently trying to find an apartment with some awesome friends. A separate post will be written on that subject as I journey through it. If you are currently not paying your own rent, it is a GREAT idea to put money away from each paycheck to get you started for rent. When you rent a place, there is generally a down payment and first month’s rent due, so try to plan accordingly for it. I am currently discovering a whole other world in terms of what to be prepared for when house or apartment searching, so be prepared for an entire blog about it!

2. Utilities: Here is where my theory comes into play. The way I budget is to “Over Think”. What I mean by this is to assume I will be spending the highest amount. For utilities, I like to think it is the height of summer with the AC blasting full. I will look back to the highest utility bill I had and use that as my template. I hate spending a lot of money on utilities so I try and be careful where I can, like using natural daylight instead of my bedroom light and not using a lot of water. Think about your phone bill as well. I do not have a smart phone (as hard as it is to believe) so my phone bill is very cheap each month, but if you have a smart phone, then your bill is somewhere near $85 or so.

3. Transportation: In terms of fuel, you generally know how often you fill up your car and how much it usually costs. I usually fill my car up with gas 3 times in 2 weeks. so I usually spend about $150 a month. My work is a parking lot over from target so I try to walk there is I need something instead of driving. My car is also a little older so something I am doing is saving up for when my car breaks down or I need more tires or coolant. I do $50 a month, I think its a lot but considering how old my car is, I figure i will need it sooner than later.

4. Insurance: I am not old enough to be kicked off of my parents insurance yet (luckily) however, since we have established that I like preplanning, I am already saving some money each month to get me started on my own health insurance as well as car insurance.

5. Food: Like I said, I know myself pretty well when it comes to food. I know $50 a month is plenty to buy, besides usually you shop for two weeks. Coupons are great and can help you stretch your $100 for two weeks.

6. Savings: I am putting several things in this category. The first is clearly retirement savings, since the future of 401K plans scare me, I feel better when I know I have a backup plan. I know this is extremely premature but there is nothing wrong with thinking ahead. I promise it doesn’t have to be half your paycheck! Putting $50 a month in savings is a great idea since Most of you have MANY years before retirement. Another category I have are wedding savings. Yes, I believe both men and women should save up for this. I am a minimalist in terms of wedding ceremonies, HOWEVER it is an expensive event and I don’t really believe in the father of the bride paying for everything. In today’s world, parents tend to help out but cannot afford to pay for everything. My Third category is not exactly savings, but other areas you may need to consider. CREDIT CARDS: When I was in my first few years of college, I raised my credit card debt a significant amount. This is the time to put money aside each month and pay off your cards! I don’t think I need to go into more detail on this.

7. Entertainment: This is the fun part! Take a look at what you normally spend and figure out what is something you need each month. For myself, I need money for music and office supplies, where some need monthly budget for clothes.

Like I said before, I use the cash system. I have a wallet which contains pockets like an accordion folder. These pockets are labeled with the categories. I need to be able to see how much I have left to spend. The great part of it is that if it is an emergency, I have my debit card as a backup. Since I underestimate how much I make, I tend to have a decent size chunk left over after I divide up my paycheck. I also have friends who like using their phone apps to track their spending. One friend of mine described how he tracked his spending and put them in different categories on his app, which would then tell him how much he could spend in that category. Find the best way that works for you to budget. I find I get really excited to sit down and divide up my money, and for me, thats how I keep on track, because I get excited to budget.

Good luck to you, new budgeteer!

 

 

Needs and Wants

Yet another project we had to do for our class was in fact a “Needs and Wants Chart”. This project was nothing more than a detailed and glorified pros and cons list. HOWEVER it became extremely helpful to me in the future (such as when it came to budgeting)

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If you can take a look at the image, great! Some people are like me and do better with visuals! Let me walk you through what is going on here.

1. For the project itself, you had to use both your current city (CityA) and a city you might have though about living in (CityB).

2. There are 4 rows to fill in. Of course we were given the column topics already but these are ones that you could fill in yourself.

3. If you notice at the bottom, this tab is for financial needs, the other two are labeled “Personal needs” and “Moving expenses” (we will get to that another time). The point of this is crucial. Personally, I may live somewhere extremely cheap but hate being far away front my family, so its important to be honest with yourself when making decisions.

4. RESEARCH is key. I spent hours checking the housing market, the price of food and gas in both cities. All of the research you should do is to keep any information from surprising you. For instance, I might mention to someone that I want to live in a city on the west coast, to which they would probably reply “But Its so much more expensive!!!” your rebuttle might be “Actually I’ve taken a look and the housing market is in fact a little higher, but the gas prices in that city are generally much lower than here, and in terms of food costs, its about the same. I would also be traveling less to my work, therefore saving myself money in gas”.

Go ahead and try a chart for financial needs, maybe just like the one above, or make your own. Maybe you have several more cities you are thinking about. When you are done, move on to the personal needs.

As you start thinking about your personal needs and wants, fill out a row at the top with the following:

-What kind of weather do you want

– what kinds of activities or social things would you like nearby

– what kind of transportation would you prefer to depend on?

– do you prefer big/little towns

– distance from family?

– religious opportunities?

These are just a few examples. Try filling out the column for what you personally want first, then fill out the columns for the cities you are thinking about. This compare what you want with what might be offered to you. AGAIN I can’t stress how important it is to be honest in what you want. If you have never lived away from home, I am sure you think being far away is great, but there is a really good chance you might get home sick. If you are like me and want to live far out in the country, remember what your job may require of you. So yes, I would love to live outside a city but I don’t really want to drive for an hour to get there and back everyday.

Moving expenses! I thought about moving across the country to the west coast, so when working on this project, I tried to calculate the amount it would take to get there. Let me show you what my results were.

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Ladies and Gentlemen, in case you can’t see the grand total, it came to over $3,000!!! To get this price, I researched all the categories. I found a website to calculate the milage I would have to travel and the price of gas, give or take. This chart was great though, because ultimately It helps you think of the things you need to do such as first and last month rent, utility startups and groceries to get you started. I hope everyone enjoys my side comments on how my mom will probably give me TONS of cleaning supplies.

I ended up not making the trip and moving out west, but if/when the time comes for me to move, I feel prepared with these charts! I suggest you try it.

April 15 is not the worst day

“You must pay taxes. But there’s no law that says you gotta leave a tip.”–Morgan Stanley advertisement

Taxes are the forbidden topic of discussion for recent college grads or even those close to graduating. Most students depend on their parents to take care of it. I will admit, taxes were once a scary thing to me, but now I feel more confident about them. For those who have not had experience with their own taxes, it is in fact a scary thing. Luckily, there are ways you can avoid biting your nails each year when you have to do them.

  1. The government provides instructions for all the forms you have to fill out. I know it seems like a lot of work, BUT it is worth it. TRUST ME. It may take time to read it, but there are things you will learn.
  2. KNOW the kinds of deductions you can get. This is incredibly important!!! For my career, many of the jobs I will be doing involve form 1099 (independent contractors). In this form, I am able to deduct things that you would not even think about, saving me more money in the process.
  3. GO SLOW. The first time may be difficult, but after that, it gets a lot easier, and then all your friends will be jealous because you can do something they all thought impossible.
  4. EVERYONE should know how to do taxes. Don’t depend on a spouse or sibling to know how to do it.
  5. On your first attempt, be prepared for a rough draft, then you won’t stress out if you make a mistake.
  6. There is no shame in asking for help. Unless you are a certified IRS employee, I guarantee you have or will have gotten stuck on at least one thing on a single tax form. In fact, even the teacher who taught us how to do our taxes got stuck on a few things.

So let me break to down for you:

1. the 1040 form is the basic form that the IRS needs from everyone, even if you are self employed. This is the starting place for most of you who are just out of college. The IRS provides instructions for the 1040 and in general they are pretty easy to figure out.

2. As you go along the form, you will notice words such as “Schedule A” there are several “Schedules” which are attached forms you might have to fill out as well.

Schedule A: for Itemized deductions. Most college grads are better off taking the standard deduction (which is $6,100). You may fill out schedule A to make sure yours are not more when itemized. Really it just means going into detail about all of the deductions you may receive.

Schedule B: for Interest and ordinary dividends. You will probably not need to fill this out, but just for you to check, you can go to this web address and see: www.irs.gov/scheduleb

Schedule C: For determining Profit or Loss from business. Unless you were a sole proprietor during college, you probably don’t need to file this one either. I had to file on as part of the make believe project and its pretty simple to follow.

Schedule D:for capital gains and losses

Schedule E: Supplemental income or loss. again, you probably won’t have to file this one either, unless you rented out real estate and such.

Are you noticing a pattern??? thats because if you studied at school and maybe worked a few hours a week, your taxes won’t be nearly as bad as you think. AND GUESS WHAT! each schedule has its own instructions if you do in fact have to file one. The IRS seems to understand how frustrating taxes are for each person in the country and have tried to make it easier.

HOWEVER, be aware of one thing:

I ended up working more hours in a year then the government thought appropriate for a full time student who did not have to pay tuition. There is a maximum amount line, and unfortunately I went over that amount, therefor resulting in owing the IRS a good chunk of money. Of course I was mad and felt punished for working too hard.

 

I hope taxes are a bit less frightening than you had originally thought at the start of this post!

Happy Filing!

 

 

Careers Class

In my last semester of college, I took the most helpful class I could ever take. It was called “Careers in Production”. The class was geared towards my specific area of study, but it was still the most beneficial class I have taken. The projects we had to do involved several drafts of our resume, business cards, letter heads and cover letters. After each round of drafts, you got feedback on what to change. The downside to this was that it was the opinion of one person. I found that every single person who took a look at my resume had a different opinion on how it should look. So there are absolutely some tips I received from my teacher, but ultimately it is your choice.

Some other projects we did involved doing our own taxes, writing a 5 year plan, and writing a needs and wants chart. All of these deserve posts of their own, so  I will go into detail on them another time.

Other important things we had to do were practice interviews. These were wonderful. Try finding people who would be willing to do a fake interview with you and see how you handle an interview. In our class, we had to fill out 100 interview questions. I found that most of the time, I end up winging the answers, because I try to form them to the place I am interviewing for. Do yourself a favor and write out the answers to at least 30 interview questions, or try to fill out more. This might seem like a bit much, but I easily forget everything, so going over past experiences and figuring out 1. What the problem was, 2. How I delt with it or contributed, and 3. How did it turn out. The best thing you can do is take the negative and turn it to a positive.

Ironically, what I discovered is that interviewer is not someone to be scared of. Be prepared with questions of your own, but nothing that they are likely to answer during the interview. be aware of how many times you use “umms” or “ands” I also have to be careful since I use my hands to express a lot.

These are just a few things I have learned from the class. Trust me, there will be more.