I’m all for fun in the sun, but when I read College Candy’s spring break article suggesting that you skip the beach this year, it got me thinking. Summer break sur la plage may let you work on your tan, but there’s nothing like taking a crazy, kitschy road trip to liven up your “What I Did on My Summer Vacation” storyline. Here are some funky alternatives to the typical beach-bum break.
Graceland (http://www.elvis.com/graceland/) is a sight whether or not you’re an avid Elvis fan. Visit his personal home, learn some rock and roll history, and hey, pick up a T-shirt to prove you were really there.
Dollywood (http://www.dollywood.com/) is another hot spot for music lovers (well, Dolly lovers, anyway), but it isn’t just about the music–Dollywood also has it’s own roller coasters, festivals, and even a water park.
Madonna Inn (http://www.madonnainn.com/) is famous for it’s waterfall urinal and 109 uniquely vintage-kitschy themed rooms, like the cave room, which looks to be made entirely of rock. (And if you need the kinks worked out after sleeping in a cave, they have an on-site spa, too.)
Solvang (http://www.solvangusa.com/) is a little slice of Europe in southern California. A Danish-style “village,” it has quirky old-European style hotels, lots of pastries, and a unique shopping experience. Definitely a cute and giggle-worthy vacation spot.
Hearst Castle (http://www.hearstcastle.org/), pictured above, is an extraordinary “castle” built as a seaside getaway by media baron William Randolph Hearst in the early 1900’s. Take one of four tours of the insanely gaudy-but-fascinating house, but try to resist jumping into the indoor pool.
The Wigwam Motel (http://www.wigwammotel.com/) in CA or Teepee Motel in TX (http://www.teepeemotel.net/about.html) give you what is probably your first chance to stay in a hotel shaped like a teepee–that should make for some good photo-ops.
The Biltmore (http://www.biltmore.com/) touts itself as “America’s largest home,” this castle style house in Asheville, NC has amazing gardens, an incredible house tour, a farm, and more. You can even stay on the estate if you’re willing to pony up and pay the price.
This last one may not be quirky, but it is an excellent spot for a week-long trip. I went for a few days before my Junior year of college, and I will never forget it!
New York City (http://www.nycgo.com/) is the perfect collision of culture and history. Take in a Broadway show, explore the ins and outs of Chinatown, and shop (or daydream) at Tiffany’s. Then take in the historical side of the Big Apple by visiting historical icons like the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, and the NY library. The list, obviously, goes on and on. My best tip for NY travel? Grab some friends and look on travel sites like Priceline–you could split a really nice suite for a pretty good price. Why not live in style for a few days–especially if you can do it on a budget?
July 18th, 2011
Filed under: academics summer travel & transportation
When I first moved away to school, I was a little shell-shocked by how much it cost to enjoy the luxuries of non-ramen food and brand-name laundry detergent. To keep our wallets happy, my roommates and I quickly figured out what we could share (and to keep the peace, we figured out what we couldn’t, too–hands off my Ben & Jerry’s, guys). If you want to live a little without breaking the bank, think about splitting these 5 things with your roommate, BFF, or significant other.
- Costco Membership (and Food). Buying in bulk at Costco can save you a ton of money if you plan ahead, but it also means you have to pay the membership fee AND consume in bulk–unless you share. Split the cost of a membership with someone you trust (or if you can piggyback on your parent’s account, even better!) go shopping together. Members can have one extra bill per trip, so they can bring a friend. Divvy up things you might both need, like bulk food, TP, shampoo, etc. (Tip: If food sharing is an issue, divide up your items before eating time comes around, and be sure to label or keep them in your own spot.)
- Netflix Subscription. My roomies and I really enjoyed hanging out and watching movies, so when we ponied up the cost of ¼ rent, utilities, and water, we also split a Netflix subscription 4 ways. You can either agree on things to watch together, or figure out how to make sure each of you has 1 DVD to rotate (AND access to the instant watch feature, which sucked up a good portion of my free time this summer).
- Carpool/Roadtrip Costs. If you or your roomie drive to the same place everyday (like, um, school?) why not go together and halve your gas costs? And if you’re heading home–or off to Vegas–for spring break don’t go solo for the drive. Get a group together and split the cost of gas and hotel stays. Driving with the right bunch is way more fun than going it alone anyway!
- Textbooks. I’ve mentioned before that sharing a textbook with a classmate can be a great way to save some cash (they’re so expensive!), but you will need to work out a rotation for the actual reading time. Still, cutting the bill in half might be work a little extra scheduling. (Check out this article about how to save on textbooks for more ideas.)
- Appliances. If you and your roomie can be respectful of each other’s property, there’s no reason to bring two of everything. Share fridge space, split TV time (or find some common ground–maybe you can bond over some reruns of Ninja Warrior?), and if you need a land line, share a phone. Just be sure you draw lines (i.e. which fridge shelf is who’s, and how you feel about sharing your iPod, computer, etc.) before the sharefest begins.
Anything else you’ve successfully shared or big flops we should avoid? Let me know in the comments!
July 14th, 2011
Filed under: budget & finances roommates
Congratulations, you’ve gotten your first college–or post college–job! (And if you haven’t, go ahead and check out the archives to learn about how to get job experience and how to write a resume and how to apply for a job.)
Welcome to the workforce… Now what?
Fill Out Your W-4 Correctly(!!!)
Before you start working, your new employer will hand you a scary looking tax form called a W-4. Don’t toss it in your bag and forget it–this little form will help determine how much you owe in taxes at the end of the year.
The most confusing (but important!) part of this form is the “Allowances” box, where you enter a withholding number that tells your employer how much they should take out of your paycheck to pay towards taxes. If you don’t have them withhold anything (or enough), you will owe a ton of taxes at the end of the year. (Guess how I know that?)
Not sure what to enter? Don’t worry–try using the IRS’s Withholding Allowance Calculator.
Walk the Line
Now that we’ve got the scary tax stuff out of the way, on to the rest of the basics–the things that will make you look good to your boss (which can obviously lead to more responsibility, a promotion, or at least a good reference when you move on to greener pastures). These are pretty obvious, but they can make a big difference!
- Watch the Clock. Time management is a big deal when you’re on the job, and you can bet your boss will notice if you’re good (or bad) at it. So be on time (or better yet, early!) for work, be honest about your break time, and don’t stay late at lunch.
- Look the Part. Have you heard that cheesy saying, “Dress for success”? Well, in some ways, it’s true: the way you dress–and the first impression it gives–usually makes a difference in the workforce, because it sends a signal about how seriously you take your job. So, look good (and professional) for work, and save your sweatpants or fishnets for after hours.
- Skip the Surfing. Think your employer doesn’t notice you poking around Facebook when you should be filing? Think again. Many offices have software that keeps track of your every click (yikes!), but even if they don’t, most bosses will notice how your internet time detracts from your productivity. (BUT it is totally fine to surf on appropriate sites during break time as long as your boss doesn’t say that’s taboo!)
- Trash the Trash Talk. Want to know what’s not fun? Office politics–especially if you’re on the wrong side of them. You can moan and groan about your co-workers as much as you want to at home (if you must), but keep the smack talk and gossip out of the workplace as much as possible. Negative energy is contagious and does not make for a fun work environment.
- Work Hard. Really. You’re going to be spending a lot of hours doing whatever you’ve just been hired to do, so do your best work–it will make it feel more worthwhile. Plus, it should (hopefully!) be something your employer will notice and reward you for.
- Be Honest. This one can be hard–for example, who wants to confess to the boss if they’ve messed up?–but it is also, in my opinion, the most important. Honesty, even when you’ve completely bungled something, is what will allow your employer to trust you, possibly encourage him or her to give you more responsibility (and maybe a raise eventually!) and want to keep you around.
June 9th, 2011
Filed under: academics
There may be no bigger step into adulthood than getting your own apartment (even if it is shared with a bunch of other students)–but do you know what it takes to get one? Read on my friends, and maybe you, too, can rent your own little slice of real-estate heaven.
- Find some roommates. Unless you’re rolling in scholarship dough or Mom and Dad have offered to foot the bill, you’re probably going to want to split the cost (and responsibility) with a roomie or two (or more). So before you even start the hunt, line up some buddies to live with. George Fox University posted a great, practical article about how to choose a roommate. Trust me, this is a big decision!
- Talk budget. Now that you’ve got your roommates, you need to decide how much you can each afford to spend. If you’ve got a bigger budget, you may opt for a room of your own. To save some cash, you might want to share. Tally up your funds and decide your total monthly budget for rent and utilities, and talk about how many bedrooms/bathrooms you want to get.
- Go On the Hunt. Your roomies are secured, your budget is set, now its time for the fun part–apartment hunting! Scout the area for complexes you might like to live in, and be sure to talk to other students and/or the student housing office for more info. Once you find some spots you like, take tours, check out their online reviews (at sites like apartmentguide.com, forrent.com, or apartments.com), ask questions, and build up your pro/con list.
Ask the Right Questions
Apartments can have a lot of hidden costs and requirements, so while you’re visiting your prospective new places, be sure to ask these crucial questions so you know what you really need–and what you’ll really pay.
- Does your complex allow co-signers?
A co-signer is someone with good credit who signs your lease with you if you can’t qualify to rent an apartment on your own (either because you have a low credit score or you don’t earn enough income). My roommates and I had to have a co-signer (one of our parents volunteered) for our first apartment.
- What is included in the rent?
Are there community amenities like an office, pool, or gym? Does your rent cover some of the utilities? Find out if your rent entitles you to any extras!
- What utilities will we have to pay for?
Will you have to come up with money for things like gas, water, and trash on top of electricity, internet, and phone? Find out what your complex covers with rent and what you’ll have to pay for on your own.
- What is the average cost of those utilities?
Most complexes can give you an idea of how much the above items will cost you.
- How much is the security deposit?
Most rentals require you to put down a security deposit (money to cover any damages that may occur while you live at the apartment). You may get all or some of this money back when you move out, depending on how well you’ve cared for your unit.
(If you have a pet, you will most likely have to pay an additional deposit, and possibly additional rent to keep it in the apartment, so be sure to ask about that, too.)
- How much rent do you require upfront?
In addition to the security deposit, most rentals also require you to pay the first month’s rent before you move in. Some require both the first and the last month’s rent before they’ll hand over the key.
- Do you have any specials going on? Can you work with my budget?
Apartment complexes don’t like to have their units empty for long, so often they will run specials such as one month of free rent or even a monthly discount. If they don’t have a special, you can still make them aware of your rent budget and ask if they can work with you. Just remember–whenever you’re asking for a discount, be nice!
Compare, Contrast, and Sign
Now that you’ve got your questions answered, your tours completed, and your budget worked out, talk to your roommates and figure out which option is the most practical for you. Once you’ve made your choice, and have the funds available, you can arrange to sign your lease–and schedule your move-in day!
June 6th, 2011
Filed under: first apartment life 101
I hope the title of this post is cheesy enough for you, but rest assured I am serious about getting you out of your summertime slump–you don’t have to be miserable just because you’re spending the summer back home!
Sure, we’d all love to run off and find balance in some exotic foreign country à la Elizabeth Gilbert, heroine of Eat, Pray, Love–but most of us don’t have the time (or funds!) to drop everything and adventure into the wide wide world. So for the last couple months I’ve been sampling my way through a fantastic book, Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project–a book about how one woman took simple steps to make her life happier. Her steps are basic, but I’ve been trying a few, and they really work! Here are a few of my favorites:
Tackle a Nagging Task. You know that thing in the back of your mind–that little project you’ve been putting off for weeks (or months!)? Get it done. Whether it’s your annual checkup (ugh–I personally hate having my blood pressure taken) or cleaning out the chaos under your bed, get it done. It will take a little of the weight off your shoulders.
Remember Birthdays. You know how good it feels when someone remembers your birthday? Pass on that good feeling (with more than a wall-post on Facebook). All you have to do is shoot out an email to your BFFs asking for their birthdays and add them to your calendar (you can even have Google Calendar email you if you’re worried about forgetting). Making other people feel good can give you a nice mood boost, too.
Take Time for Projects. Don’t skip this idea if you’re not in to arts and crafts! All this means is to choose a goal, and make the time to do it. Always wanted to learn about photography? Skip some TV time and check out some library books, peruse photography blogs, or just play around with your camera. Trying to get a little healthier? Take a nutrition class, round up a running group, and make yourself a calendar to help chart your progress.
Laugh Out Loud. My Dad laughs out loud all the time, even if he is alone watching TV–I can hear him from across the house when I go home to visit–and it is part of what makes him so fun to be around. Too often we feel too self conscious to really let loose and laugh, but you know what? It feels good–I’d even say it can be kind of cathartic. So why not?
Want more ways to get happy? Pick up Rubin’s book at the library, or check out her blog, happiness-project.com.
June 2nd, 2011
Filed under: health life 101
I don’t care how prepared you think you are, living on your own is no walk in the park. If balancing your school-life (or brand new career) and social life isn’t hard enough, add to that all the mundane tasks that keep your world afloat (laundry, grocery shopping, remembering to buy gas before your car stops in an intersection or something). Oh, yeah–and you have to manage your finances on top of that.
I’ve been on my own for a few years now, and while I’m still no expert at being a “grown-up,” I’ve definitely lived and learned. This little series–a combo of helpful tips and links about life on your own–should give you the benefit of my experience without the headaches of learning it the hard way! Yay!
Today we’re going to talk about one of my personal favorite topics: food. ♥
You Don’t Have to Eat Ramen.
Ramen noodles as a dinner entrée is a college cliché for a reason–after all, its not only cheap but also easy to cook. But guess what? You don’t have to eat Ramen. You can eat real food. Grown up food. Food that doesn’t have half your daily recommended value of sodium in one bowl!
So, you don’t have to eat Ramen. But you do have to do a little legwork. Read on to find out how to get good food for less.
One of the best ways to save money at the grocery store is to plan ahead. If you wander aimlessly through the aisles picking up what you think you might want/need, you will probably end up with a cart full of odds and ends you don’t need, and you might forget the things you do. Here’s how to start:
- Step 1: Make a Meal Plan. This is step one, and it is easy. Plan out the meals you want to eat for a week. You can keep it simple–cereal for breakfast, sandwich for lunch, and simple meals for dinner. Then make a grocery list based on the ingredients you need for those 7 days, and only buy those things at the grocery store.
- Step 2: Shop Sales. Once you’ve got the meal planning thing down, you can move on to step 2! Most grocery stores have their weekly sales fliers online, so once you’ve got the hang of meal planning (and give yourself some time if its tricky) start checking the sales fliers before you write out your dining schedule. Cooking based on in season produce and other sale items will really help reduce your food budget.
- Step 3: Add Coupons. Once upon a time you had to spend hours clipping coupons–not something most college students want to do. Now there are tons of blogs that tell you exactly which coupons you need (you can clip them or even print them off–so easy) and which sale items to use them on so that you can get things for cheap (or sometimes even free!). Here are some great sites to start with (I recommend just choosing one store to use coupons at, though, or it will be way too overwhelming):
- Don’t Shop Hungry. Seriously. Have a snack before you head to the grocery store. Shopping hungry leads to impulse buys (because everything looks delicious when you’re starving) and that means spending money you weren’t planning to spend. Curb your appetite, spare your wallet.
- Stick to the List. Remember that list you made when you were making up your meal plan? Don’t buy anything that isn’t on that list!
One more thing that is college-student specific: you can split stuff with your roommates. This is awesome if you find something cheaper in bulk, as long as you can be sure the sharing is even. To keep the peace, I’d recommend only splitting things that come in finite amounts (like veggies or prepackaged items) so nobody gets their nose out of joint when you polish off the last of the milk.
Oh and p.s. our sister site, the Pay for College Blog recently posted some more tips about saving on groceries, so don’t miss out on those great ideas!
May 30th, 2011
Filed under: discounts deals & freebies food & recipes life 101