Monday, August 17, 2009

Do you love your money....a latte?

I am a coffee queen. I love coffee. I am known among my friends as a serious caffeine addict and I don't plan on giving it up any time soon. I love mocha lattes as if they were a drink of water as I'm dying of thirst. I used to drink them every day.....but now I don't.

Why not? Simple reason.....I need the money.

Lattes are amazing yet have proven, time and time again, to be the silent killers of the pocket book. Unless you have your own espresso machine and limitless supply of espresso and milk, they are near impossible to just have on hand every day. Yet, going into a Starbucks or to your local Fair Trade, campus owned coffee shop is just too easy......After all, it's only $3.10 (sans tax), right?

Wrong. $3.10 comes out to $15.5 after five days are up, which leads to $62 by the time the month is over. By the time the year is up, that means you've spent $744! $744!! That can buy textbooks for a semester! For me, that's just $112.50 over my monthly rent! And remember, this is before sales tax calculations. It may not seem like a lot of money, but it really is if you're in college. Especially when you can take that money and put it toward something you really care about.

My solution? You don't have to get rid of the lattes but cut back on them. Have them once a week if you really have that craving. Get a coffee maker (or, better yet, a roommate who already has one) and start brewing your own French vanilla/hazelnut/whatever blend. If you want the latte feel, just steam up some milk and have an au lait instead. Mix hot cocoa in it, do whatever you want. It's OK (and as a full-time student working over 30 hours a week, necessary) to feed the beast that is your addiction. Just make sure you don't kill your pocketbook in the process.

Romance is.......NOT a Financial Plan!*

Ah, l''s a beautiful thing. When you're young, whether it's just a crush, a hookup, a what-are-we, or an actual relationship, it drives us to distraction and feels like it will last forever (for good or for ill). In addition to the movies, the candles, the kissing and cuddling, the lovely dinner, there is a price tag to go along with it. And right now, I'm not speaking of the cost of your heart.....

One huge problem I've had with dating is the expectation that the guy is supposed to pay all the time. I have a ton of guy friends who do it, regardless of whether they're dating a girl or they are just irresistibly sweet and just want to buy their female friends coffee or dinner just because. Now, I understand the time and place. Female financial independence is a relatively new concept and it was true that women couldn't pay for dates. Thus, in order to be a gentleman, a man had to. Otherwise, he'd be worthless scum for not considering a lady.

However, in this day and age, we women are much more independent than in previous eras. We have more control over our finances than we ever did. At the same time, when we're in school, money is understandably tight. This empty feeling in the pocketbook does not know gender boundaries so our guy friends are struggling with it, too. Hence, I do find it a bit unfair that, if the guys are struggling with the costs of rent, education, etc as well, they're still expected to pay for a relationship. I also don't think girls should get off so easy, because it gives the impression that we need to be let off easy, that we can't assume any responsibility, whether it's financial or otherwise. So, while I think it's really sweet if a guy is willing, I don't think he should be put in that situation all the time.

My solutions? I'm not saying men shouldn't be gentlemen or whatever. I'm saying that men and women are equal and this should apply financially as well. So, for the college student, I suggest a couple things.

1. Take turns paying. That way, you're sacrificing for each other and it's not just a one-way street. Seriously, you cover someone one night, they should cover you the next and vice versa.

2. Go Dutch. It's easy enough to split the cost. If the restaurant doesn't do separate checks (the one I work at does not), ask if they can split it. Of course, going Dutch doesn't often sound like the paragon of romance, so if it's not your cup of tea, go for option one.

3. Low cost activities. Going for a walk, for a cup of coffee, hanging out at each other's places, cooking for each other (that one is particularly adorable), making arts and crafts for each other, writing songs/poetry for each other and other things are every bit as meaningful and much easier on the budget than going to a restaurant or out dancing all the time.

4. Whatever you spend, always keep track and make sure it falls within your budget. If there's something special you would like to do for your amore, plan ahead. Always, always plan ahead.

5. Don't EVER put yourself in debt just because you like someone. If they truly like you back, they would not expect you to do so and in fact would worry (especially if you're like me and you worry about everything under the sun). Not to mention that, in the future, if you're hoping to enter the world of marriage and family life, keeping your finances under control is an absolute prerequesite.

Am I writing this because I want to reduce love to a bank statement? No. It's precisely because I do NOT that I am blogging about this topic. Love should be about more than the size of the pocketbook. For most of us college students, it's not very big. So let us learn to love, with both generosity and practicality.

*DISCLAIMER: I'm NOT going into arguments about either gender, sexuality or racial inequality here, or how this standard applies in different situations. I'm going by what I observe and experience and am giving my thoughts on the matter.

Congratulations! Your First Apartment!

Now, what's next?

Having just signed my first lease a few weeks ago, I've had and still have a ton to learn about managing money, how banks work (and their policies), and how to set up a budget. A couple scares and shame of my lack of knowledge have given me impetus to learn and explore. Sadly, as my mother has pointed out (yes, I am the twenty-year-old daughter in question), there are more campaigns telling college students to spend, rather than resources telling them how to be responsible. I see a lot of this first hand, as many of my own friends have either fallen into credit card debt or have taken out the equivalent of a mortgage in student loans, all before buying their first houses. Even though my parents gave me sound advice from the beginning, there are many things I had to learn trial and error. All so I could put my money toward big expenses, rent being one of them.

A few tips for the beginning:

1. If you haven't been as good at managing money before and are now in a position where you are fronting your own rent, calm down. You won't make things easier by freaking out. In fact, you will only make things worse because instead of gaining control of your finances, you will be losing control of yourself. So, take a deep breath and know that you can do this.

2. Start keeping track of what you're spending. Everything. Every dollar. Keep all your receipts and write it down. If you're like me and you haven't been as good, pick a free day and just sit with your notebook, bank statements (yay, online banking!) and receipts and write it down. At the end of the month, sit down and figure where your money went. This is the first step to figuring out your budget. It will also help you see what portion of your money went to stupid stuff (and surprisingly, a lot of it does).

3. Learn about banks' rules and policies. It may seem like a waste of time but I'll admit, when I first came to college, all I knew was how to put money in and how to take it out. I didn't know about overdraft fees until I had to pay them. I didn't know checks were no good after six months. I didn't know the bank could have you pay fees just for using your debit card (yes, this is true). Seriously, this is stuff everyone should know, but for one reason or another, I didn't. Not only that, but it could help with bank shopping, with taking time to choose the best bank before you sign the dotted line.

4. For big expenses, plan ahead. There are some things you already know you have to plan for. For us college kids, we know we have to buy books in August and January. Thus, we need to plan for that. Or for study abroad, for any trip we want to take. You know you want to do it months in advance, you should plan for that financially as well. Savings. Start now.

5. Smile. You're starting to take control of your own finances. That means control of your life. And that is incredible.