5 Things You Don’t Need to Buy for Back-to-College

They say the hardest part of college is getting in. But I think it might actually be the packing. Right now, around 20 million college students are preparing to head back to campus and there’s no shortage of retailers out there telling those students just how badly they need this or that to make their dorm room complete. Some things, like flip-flops for the shower or duct tape, are actually integral to surviving life in the dorms. Others are just a drain on precious funds that could be used for books or late-night pizza deliveries (to help power your studying of course). Here’s 5 purchases you can skip to save some money in your back-to-campus budget.

  1. Memory Foam Mattress Topper - I feel like almost everyone I knew in college had one of these on top of their dorm-room bed, as if the 2 inches of foam makes a crappy twin mattress magically softer and more luxurious. I’ll let you in on a secret: I’ve slept in dorm beds with the memory foam and dorm beds without it and you can’t tell the difference. Save yourself the $30-$100 by skipping the memory foam and investing in good pillows and a cozy comforter instead.

    This one from Target also claims to have a "fresh scent." Does that creep anyone else out?

    This one from Target claims to have a “fresh scent.” Because that’s not creepy at all, Target.

  2. Iron and Mini Ironing Board – I never ironed anything in college. Not once. Because sweatshirts do not need to be ironed. Unless you’re a business major who has to dress up for class or maybe a hipster who has decided to bring Perler Beads back into fashion, you won’t use an iron again until you have a real job.

    I used to love Perler Beads! Maybe I'll bring them back . . .

    I used to love Perler Beads! Maybe I’ll bring them back . . .

  3. Shoe Organizer, Pencil Organizer, Organizer Organizer – The retail industry truly believes that college kids are unorganized. And while they’re probably not wrong, in my experience none of the myriad of different plastic contraptions they have come up with to help students be more organized actually work. Instead of buying expensive organizers, invest in those big plastic storage bins, especially the rolly ones that can slide under a bed. You can stuff them with whatever fits when you need to pretend your room is clean for parent’s weekend.
    This you will fill with all your stuff you don't have a space for in your room. It's worth the $8 you spend on it.

    This you will fill with all your stuff you don’t have a space for in your room. It’s worth the $8 you spend on it.

    This you either will never use or will cram with so much stuff that it will be impossible to find anything and will be too heavy to hang.

    This you either will never use or will cram with so much stuff that it will be impossible to find anything and will be too heavy to hang.

  4. Mini Fridge – What? No mini-fridge?! Don’t worry, I’m not suggesting that you skip out on this dorm-room staple. Just that there are cheaper options to buying one new, which can cost as much as $300. Many schools now participate in mini fridge rental programs, where students can rent a fridge for the school year at a fraction of the cost of purchasing one. Check online to see if your school participates in a rental program. Additionally, plenty of people have a mini fridge in their garage or basement from their college days that they no longer need. Before you buy, ask relatives or friends if you can borrow theirs or hunt around yard sales to see if you can buy a used fridge for less.
  5. Television – Not gonna lie, I was definitely a kid who thought a TV in my dorm room was a must. What else am I supposed to do in my spare time? Read? It’s not like I was an English major or anything . . . oh wait. But as a reminder, I headed off to college way back in 2007 when streaming TV online was very new, very blurry, and mostly illegal. Now-a-days every student has a laptop, which means every student has access to unlimited television 24/7 (and no commercials). So skip the TV and invest in a Netflix or Hulu Plus subscription. Your wallet will thank you.

Best Weekend Ever

I did 2 AMAZING things this weekend.

Amazing Thing #1 – I baked banana bread without eggs. And it was still delicious. Here’s how it went down:

chocolate-chip-banana-bread

My roommates and I have approximately 10-15 old bananas frozen in our freezer. I have trained them both to throw bananas that are over-ripe into the freezer because they make the best banana bread. But we reached a critical point where there were so many bananas that at least one fell out every time you opened the freezer door. So when the mood to bake finally struck me this weekend, I stopped off  for some chocolate chips, thinking that I had all of the other ingredients to make banana bread at home.

Wrong. We had no eggs. For once we actually tried to be normal human beings and cleaned out our fridge. Which meant that someone tossed my 1/2 dozen eggs that had been in there since Christmas. I’m not sure how long it takes for eggs to go bad, but I think mine had reached the limit and then some. The only thing is, I am a naturally lazy person. And this whole no egg situation meant that I either had to leave my house to get eggs or make the sad decision not to bake banana bread that night.

Wrong again! Using the magical power of the internet, I googled “egg-free banana bread” and found this delicious recipe. I was worried at first that it would taste weird because I am generally skeptical of anything that claims to be “vegan” or “healthy,” but the bread proved to as yummy as ever. Here’s the recipe if you want to give it a try:

Egg-less Banana Bread w/ Chocolate Chips

**Note: if you add in ample chocolate chips (which is the only way to make banana bread), this recipe is no longer vegan.

1/4 cup canola oil

1 snack-sized container of applesauce (about 1/3 cup if you’re an adult who doesn’t eat applesauce out of to-go containers)

3/4 cup white sugar

1 & 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

3 very ripe mashed bananas

1 cup chocolate chips (again, optional, but c’mon . . . you know you want them)

_________________

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Lightly grease an 8×4 inch pan.

2. If your bananas are frozen, place in microwave for 1-2 minutes on defrost. It’s okay if they get mushy, this helps you mash them. 

3. In a large bowl, mix the canola oil, applesauce, and sugar. Then sift in the flour, baking soda, and salt. Finally, blend in the mashed bananas and chocolate chips. Stir well. 

4. Pour mixture into pan. Bake for 60 minutes or until not batter sticks to a toothpick.

5. EAT YUM YUM!

And now that I’ve shared this easy banana bread recipe, onto the more important event from this weekend . . .

Amazing Thing #2 – I went to a One Direction and 5 Seconds of Summer Concert. Judge me if you want! I don’t care. It was glorious. And I loved every minute of it. “And we danced all night to the best song ever . . .”

1D collage

Debit or Credit?

“Debit or credit?” is kind of a trick question. It seems like it should only have two answers (I mean there’s two options in the question, right?). But really, you have three options when it comes to paying with a card at the register. If I just confused you, don’t worry, I can explain.

To start with, remember the basic differences between your debit card and credit card. Debit cards are linked directly to your checking account. They take the place of cash or a check and the money comes directly out of your checking account. Credit cards are a line-of-credit from your credit card company. They are basically lending you money to make purchases up to a certain credit limit, then you pay them back later with interest.

But “debit or credit?” isn’t just a question about which physical card you want to pay with, it’s asking you how you want your transaction to be processed. That’s where the three choices come in. They are:

DEBIT AS DEBIT

In this option you:

  • Swipe you debit card and enter your PIN number.
  • The transaction posts immediately from your checking account (meaning the money is withdrawn from your account in real time).

CREDIT AS CREDIT

In this option you:

  • Swipe your credit card and sign for the transaction.
  • Your credit card company pays for the transaction, you have not yet paid for this item.
  • Your credit card company charges you interest on the balance of your card. You must pay back your balance in monthly installments.

DEBIT AS CREDIT

In this option you:

  • Swipe you debit card and sign for the transaction.
  • The transaction typically takes 1 – 2 days to post in you checking account. The length of time it takes to post is dependent on the merchant, not on your bank or credit union.

This third option is the one people most commonly forget about. Just because you used your debit card does NOT mean that your transaction was processed as debit. The key thing to remember is, unless you entered a PIN, the transaction was done as credit.

So let’s say you went through the Dunkin’ Donuts drive-thru to get your morning coffee. They grabbed your debit card, swiped it, and passed it was to you. That was a credit transaction because you didn’t enter a PIN. You might not see that $2 being withdrawn from your account for a day or two, so don’t forget about that transaction when you check your available balance. What your mobile banking shows for your balance might not include transactions run as credit!

Next trick question – “Is one way of using a card better than the others?” The simple answer is – not really. There are benefits and drawbacks to all three options, so the best answer is to do whatever is most convenient for you. As a credit union member and employee however, I will point out that your credit union benefits more from debit as credit transactions than the other two options, so if you want to help out your financial institution I encourage you to swipe and sign with your debit card!

I hope this post helps you feel more confident about your answer the next time you’re at the register. :)

3 Signs You’re Better with Money Than You Think

You know what we all need sometimes? A good pep talk! And while I usually rely on the pre-game speech from Miracle (“This your time! Now go out there and take it.”) to motivate me, Herb Brooks’s advice is applicable more to times when I need to convince myself that going to the gym is worth it than to times when I want to cry about the size of my student loan payments.

I paid all of my loans on time?!

I paid all of my loans on time?!

But where are all the inspirational money speeches? If there’s one thing I’ve learned since I started working in the financial industry, it is that there’s an endless list of “mistakes” to be made when it comes to money. I read a lot of articles, blogs, and tweets about financial literacy during my day at work and a solid 90% of them tell me about things I’m doing wrong. The general theme seems to be that there are a million better things I should do with my money rather than spending it on going-out tops at Forever 21. Needless to say, it’s easy to come away from those reading sessions feeling discouraged about my financial situation.

So, I did a little research and am happy to say that I can provide some financial encouragement to you today! Chances are, if you’re doing any of the following three things, you’re on the right track. You might not be a millionaire. You probably still make a financial mistake here and there. But you’re doing the best you can. And you should feel good about that! Money is difficult to manage. So give yourself credit for the things you’re doing well.

Here are 3 signs that you’re better with your money than your think you are:

  1. You Pay All of Your Bills On Time, Every Month - I was catching up with a friend from college the other day and we were talking about my blog when she said, “I don’t have a budget. I’m too poor to have a budget. I pay all of my bills and student loans and rent and then I have no money so there’s nothing to budget.” I think we all know how she feels. Salaries in your early 20’s are the reason the phrase “living paycheck-to-paycheck” exists. But I would like to point out that, if you are successfully paying all of your bills on time each month, you actually do have a budget. And even more impressive, you follow it. A budget is just a plan for how you will spend the money you earn. Not having a budget would mean spending your money impulsively on whatever you want at the moment, disregarding necessities you know you will need to pay for later. And although my friend’s budget doesn’t include a lot of wiggle room for fun stuff like buying new clothes or having a social life, the fact that she manages to pay her bills means she’s doing something right. If you’re paying all your bills on time, you are too!
  2. You Know Your Checking Account Balance - What’s your checking account balance right now? If you could answer that a fair amount of accuracy (let’s say within $5-$10 of the actual balance) you’re doing something right. Even if the answer is that you have $0 in your account, knowing your approximate balance means that you regularly check your account activity. You have an idea of how much you’re spending and where. It also means you would notice if there was fraudulent activity on your account. If you have no idea what your account balance is, you’re in trouble. Avoiding your balance doesn’t make it grow; if anything ignorance about your financial situation just makes it worse. So don’t feel guilty about checking your mobile banking app religiously. Who cares if it’s because you’re worried you don’t have enough money for coffee? At least you’re checking your balance before you spend!
  3. Your Savings Account Has More than the Minimum Balance - Have you put money into your savings account since you opened it? Then you’re doing better than a lot of other adults out there. Studies show that about 75% of Americans do not save money on a regular basis. Even if you’re just taking your spare change jar into your bank every month and depositing the money into savings, that’s better than nothing! Fifty cents here, three dollars there . . . it can start to add up. And at the very least, you are consciously making an effort to save. This means that you value money and aren’t apt to spend it willy-nilly. So keep rolling up those nickels and bringing ‘em in to deposit in savings! Don’t let the haters get you down.

I hope this helps you feel a little better about your financial skills. You might not be doing everything right (like maybe you don’t have a 401K or you’re still not really sure what a 401K is . . .) but having a few of the basics down means that you’re successfully managing the day-to-day aspects of your money well. Go you!

5 E-mail Mistakes We’ve All Made at Work

Let me start by confessing that I have made each and every one of the mistakes on this list, probably more than once. I use smiley faces, I forget to spell check, and I have definitely been known to say a lot when a little would have done just fine. But the key is to recognize your e-mail weaknesses and to work to improve them. Studies show that the average working American sends about 35 e-mails a day, which equals plenty of opportunity to mess up, but also plenty of chances to write better e-mails today than you ever have before! Here are some common errors we all make with our written workplace correspondences and tips on how to fix them:

  • Replying All, All the Time – We all think we’re the main office prankster, but sometimes an awesome joke about that mandatory staff meeting on Monday is better kept to yourself. And no, there’s no one in the office who doesn’t wish Phyllis a Happy Birthday, it’s just that your birthday sentiments would have meant just as much if you sent them only to her and didn’t CC 50 other people.  For the most part work e-mails are meant to be about work, so help your coworkers keep their inbox clean by asking yourself, “Do I really need to reply all?” before you hit send.
Is it necessary to reply all with this hilarious meme?

Is it necessary to reply all with this hilarious meme?

  • Expecting an Instant Response – If you just asked someone out on a first date via text and all you’re seeing are those three little dots that mean they’re typing, it’s okay to freak out and need a response RIGHT THIS SECOND! Otherwise, chill out. The recipient will answer you at their convenience. It’s not that they didn’t see your e-mail, it’s that responding to you might not be their top priority at the moment. General rule of thumb: allow 24 hours for a response back to your e-mail. If you need an answer quicker than that, go old school and call the person directly.
  • Sending an E-mail Too Early or to the Wrong Person – This might seem like a mistake that shouldn’t happen too often, but it does. You meant to forward an e-mail from a client to your supervisor but instead you replied to the sender with a thoughtful “WHHAAAAT????!!” message. Whoopsie daisy. One trick you can use to avoid any e-mail misfires is to leave the “To:” Box empty until you’re ready to hit send. But the real key might be to slow down. E-mail makes communicating faster, but it can also make it sloppier. Better to take the extra 10 minutes to compose a well-written e-mail to the right person than to send a half-finished one to the wrong one; people will appreciate your thoughtful reply much more than your 30 second response time.
  • Forgetting Your Audience – Is this an e-mail to your best friend to her private account? Then include all the emojis, swear words, and gifs of One Direction that you want. Is it an e-mail to your boss or a potential client? Then you should probably avoid all three of those things. Electronic communication provides us with a certain distance from the person we’re speaking to, which sometimes means we say things via e-mail we wouldn’t say in person. You want your e-mails to coworkers and clients to present you in a professional manner. Make sure your grammar, tone, and content reflect that.

And last but definitely not least . . .

  • Not Editing Before You Hit Send – U might b the smrtst person EVAH, but if u dnt type like it no1 will no. If it isn’t an AIM conversation with your middle school dream guy, then no one is impressed by your creative T9- style spelling. Take the extra 5 minutes before you hit send to re-read your e-mail. First check for basics like grammar, spelling, and manners (always say please and thank you). Then do a quick check for more subtle mistakes, like not including a greeting (rude!), coming across as angry or sarcastic when you don’t mean to, or saying way too much when a little would have sufficed. Not every e-mail needs to be edited like it’s the next great American novel, but it deserves more thought than that comment you posted on Tumblr. Speaking of grammar, if you are a super cool English Major like me, you might also enjoy this new Weird Al song “Word Crimes” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Gv0H-vPoDc. It’s pretty funny.

Happy E-mail Writing!

To Shred or Not to Shred: A Guide to Maintaining Documents

In the Gillespie household, we love to shred things. It’s a trait we inherited from my grandfather, who used to wait until you were at the critical turning point of a good movie to wander over to the shredder with 50 pieces of paper he “needed to destroy immediately!” Nothing ruins the climax of a story like the “EGGHHHHHHGGGHHH” sound of a shredder.

While shredding is super fun and an effective way to ruin family movie night for everyone, there are some documents you need to keep on file for longer than it takes to build up a good “To Be Destroyed” pile. Here’s a guide to which documents you should maintain and how long you need to keep them on file.

CLIP ART SHRED PIC

FOREVER & ALWAYS

Documents that you should never shred or throw out:

- Birth Certificates

- Marriage Licenses

- Divorce Decrees

-Adoption Records

- Passports

- Educational Records (diplomas, etc.)

- Military Service Records

- Life Insurance Documents

- Social Security Cards

BUT DID YOU MEAN IT, BABY?

Not to get all T. Swift on you, but you only need to keep the following documents temporarily. After the specified period of time you can shred them.

- Tax Records = 7 years from filing date

- Will = Until updated

- Real Estate Deeds = As long as you own the property

- Home Purchase Documents = As long as you own the property

- Home Improvement Records = As long as you own the property

- Investment Certificates = Until you cash or sell the investment

- Investment Statements = Shred monthly statements when you get the most recent one, keep annual statements until you sell the investment

- Loan Documents = Until loan is paid off in full

- Vehicle Titles = Until you sell or dispose of the vehicle

- Medical Records = 5 years, or longer if medical condition is chronic/ on-going

- Medical Bills = 1 year

- Receipts for Large Purchases = Until you sell or discard the item

- Service Contracts or Warranties = Until you sell or discard the item

- Insurance Records = Until you renew your policy

- Social Security Statements = Shred old statement when you receive the most recent one

- Bank Statements = 1 year, unless needed to support tax filings

- Pay Stubs = 1 year, make sure final stub matches W2 then shred them

- Credit Card Records = Until Paid

- Contracts = Until Updated

NEVER GETTING BACK TOGETHER, LIKE EVER

These are documents that you can shred right away, because you’re so over them.

- ATM/ Bank Receipts = Once you confirm that this record matches your online banking history, chuck it

- Receipts for Small Purchases = Same as above

 

Remember, anything with sensitive information (name, address, social security number, account number, card number, PIN, etc.) should be shredded, not just thrown out. Or if you just love to shred go ahead and put everything in there . . . I wouldn’t judge you. :)

 

Declutter Your Financial Life

Do you ever find it strange that, in an increasingly electronic world, it’s still so easy for clutter to pile up? With so many receipts, statements, and bills stacking up, it can be hard to keep your financial life in order. Here are a few easy tips to help you keep your money world organized.

  1. Stop the Snail Mail – I think the real cause of global warming and deforestation might be credit card offers. I feel good about myself for 0.2 seconds when I see an envelope in the mail that says, “You’ve been pre-approved!” And then I see the other 5 credit card or insurance offers that also came in the mail today and remember that I’m not special. You can actually stop these offers from cluttering your physical inbox by going to OptOutPrescreen.com. The electronic form will stop you from getting offers for 5 years, which is good for you and the environment.
  2. Get a Shredder – Spend $25 on a shredder at Target, it’s a smart investment. Any receipts, statements, pay stubs, or other documents that have your personal info on them should be shredded to help prevent identity theft. Plus shredding things is weirdly therapeutic.
  3. Have a Money E-mail Account – I read this tip in Cosmo, proving that the magazine has more content than celeb gossip and embarrassing moment stories! It can be easy to miss bills or other important alerts in your crowded inbox. Try setting up an account like KelseyBills@gmail.com specifically for financial stuff so those e-mails don’t get lost in the shuffle. You’ll never miss an E-bill again.
  4. “Yes, please e-mail the receipt!” - A lot of retail stores now ask you if you want your receipt printed, e-mailed to you, or both. Take advantage of the bills e-mail you set up in #3 and have the receipt e-mailed. It saves paper, decreases your risk of losing the receipt, and keeps any personal information safe.

You don’t have to be a neat freak to keep your financial clutter to a minimum. What are your tips for keeping your money organized?