The Real World is Expensive: Advice for Recent Grads

Last weekend one of my best friends graduated from the University of New Hampshire. This made me feel both incredibly proud and incredibly old. Over the past four years she has been my connection to my alma mater. I am occasionally able to pretend to be a college student thanks to her, which I think makes my obsession with boy bands somewhat more acceptable. But she graduated and so I am now forced to accept my life as an aging fangirl. **Sigh**

Since I am officially old now, I thought I should pass on some wisdom about life post-graduation. Just call me Dumbledore. Here are a few things to keep in mind if you too are a recent grad and are entering the real world for the first time:

1. Keep your post-grad plans financially realistic. Graduation can be a confusingly competitive time. On the one hand you’re all, “WOOHOO! I graduated! I’m so smart!” But on the other it’s super intimidating to have to compete with everyone else’s answer to, “What’s next?” When I was graduating I remember thinking that everyone’s plans sounded much cooler than mine. People were moving to NYC or backpacking around Europe or going to grad school. And I was moving back to my parent’s house in Maine. Whoomp, whoomp. Glamorous post-grad plans sound great to all the inquiring adults, but that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily the best plans. The majority of recent graduates are attempting financial independence for the first time after college. The real world is an expensive place and the older you get, the less acceptable it is to ask your parents for money. So make plans that fit your budget. Live within your paycheck. You should look forward to life after college, but just remember that it’s probably going to be more Girls than Sex and the City.  

My freshman year roommate and I at our graduation. Bang game strong.

My freshman year roommate and I at our graduation. Bang game strong.

2. It’s Okay If It’s Not Your Forever Job. I was an English Literature Major in college. There was a lot of Jane Austen and feminist rants (which I loved), but not a lot of career planning. When people asked me what my plans after college were I would say, “I’ll read! They pay you for that, right?” and then laugh awkwardly until the other person felt uncomfortable enough to change the subject. I honestly had no clue what I wanted to do when I graduated. And in the first few years post-graduation I bumped around from job-to-job a little bit. But ultimately I think I might be the better for it. I’ve had experience in a lot of different fields, doing a lot of different tasks. I’ve learned a ton. Did I ever think during college that I would get a job as a Marketing Coordinator? No way. Will I stay at my current job until I retire? My boss says yes, but realistically I probably won’t. I might move on in a few years, but for right now I’m having fun with the job I have and I know I am acquiring skills that will help me do a different job in the future. Most people don’t do the same job their entire lives. So if you don’t land your dream position right after graduation, don’t sweat it. You have your whole life ahead of you to find it.

3. Brace Yourself – Student Loan Payments Are Coming. In sixth months, to be exact, when the grace period ends and you have to start paying them back. You could try going off the grid to avoid them, but I’m pretty sure they don’t have Netflix or take-out there. All kidding aside, I was a little overwhelmed when I realized for the first time exactly how much my monthly student loan payment would be. If I remember correctly I actually cried. At the time I was working as a bank teller. One month’s payment exactly equaled my two-week paycheck. I literally had to work for 80 hours to make one payment. That’s insane. But if you’re smart and you plan ahead, that payment won’t take you by surprise. Maybe you’ll even save some money in that 6 month grace period to help make your payments. Have a plan for how you’re going to handle that payment so it doesn’t throw you for a loop.

4. You is kind. You is smart. You is important. But seriously, you’re doing great. Don’t sweat it. I remember stressing a lot the summer after graduation. I didn’t have the job I wanted. I missed being with my friends 24/7. I was living in the boonies sharing a car with my mom. It was a weird time. And I remember not feeling like my normal, confident, sarcastic, quirky self. Don’t let those feelings overwhelm you. You’re smart, you graduated from college, and you’ll figure out where you want to go from here. Things are going to change, but doesn’t mean they’re going to get worse. It’s just going to be different. Know that whatever happens, you’ve got this!

If all this sage advice fails you, it’s totally okay to put on your PJs, listen to T Swift, and cry. Even adults with real people jobs need to let it out some times. Congratulations to all of the recent grads out there! You guys are going to kill it in the real world! Good luck!

Food Pantry Donation Tips

Ending Hunger

All year round, my credit union collects donations for our local food pantry. Employees have to bring in a donation in order to wear jeans on Friday, members often drop things off to add to our collection, and we frequently do fundraisers like bake sales or 50/50 raffles to help raise money. Because we work so closely with our food pantry, we get a lot of questions about what things they need, what stuff is okay to donate, and what stuff is not. So here are a few simple guidelines to follow when you are making a donation to your local food pantry:

Keep it simple. Consider donating things that are easy to open and easy to prepare. The living situation of some food pantry clients can be unstable, which means they might not always have access to stuff like an oven, a microwave, or even a can opener. Foods that require little to no preparation are therefore super valuable to these clients; consider donating things you’d pack in a school lunch like granola or protein bars, goldfish, peanut butter, etc. Similarly avoid food that requires a lot of extra ingredients to be cooked properly. For example a cake mix that you just need to add water to is better than a cake mix that calls for milk, eggs, and butter, because the recipient might not have access to those extra food items. If the recipient can’t open the packaging or can’t cook it, your donation is thoughtful but not very practical.

Keep portions small and items in their original packaging. Our credit union buys a lot of our supplies in bulk at BJ’s so we often pick up items for the food pantry while we’re there. It’s great because you can get a lot of food for a good price, but what’s not always so great is the portion sizes. A gallon jar of peanut butter for $11.99 is an awesome deal, but it only feeds one food pantry client because it can’t be portioned out to multiple people. Four 12 oz. jars of peanut butter would be better because they can feed four people instead of one. However, let’s say you’re donating a 12 pack of granola bars. Keep all 12 bars in the box they come in when you donate it. Don’t open the box and separate them out. Depending on the need, the food pantry can decide whether to give the whole box to one client or give the bars individually to multiple clients.

Ask what’s needed. The volunteers at the food pantry know exactly what things their clients need most. If you’re not sure what to donate, just ask them! They’ll have plenty of ideas. They might also request non-food items that can’t be purchased with food stamps like paper towels, toilet paper, tampons/pads, soap, or deodorant. I also never would have guessed that the food pantry wanted all of my old plastic shopping bags, but when I asked one of our food pantry friends what she needed they were on the top of her list! Clients use them for shopping, so instead of being annoyed by the 300 plastic bags I gave them, they were grateful.

Don’t donate anything that has expired. A lot of food pantry donations come from people cleaning out their own pantries, which is awesome. Instead of throwing stuff out, why not give it to someone who would eat it? But it’s important to check the expiration date before you donate these items. I know I don’t want to eat crackers that went bad in 2007, so chances are food pantry clients don’t either. Plus you don’t want anyone to get sick from eating food that has gone bad.

Consider donating cash. Often times non-profit organizations can get better deals on food than you can shopping as an individual, so making a cash donation to your food pantry can be very valuable to them. If you’d like to help out your food pantry but aren’t sure what to give, inquire about how you can make a cash donation. It’s less work for you and potentially more food for them.

I hope these tips help make your donation decisions a little easier. Food pantries are so crucial to making sure no one in our community goes hungry. Our local food pantry serves over 100 households every month – that’s a lot of food! However you can help, big or small, $1 or $100, your food pantry will appreciate your contribution.

Overheard at the Financial Fitness Fair

Today I helped out at a Financial Fitness Fair at a local high school. What is a Financial Fitness Fair, you might be asking? Well, it’s basically a more realistic version of the game LIFE for high school students. Usually it’s juniors and/or seniors who participate. They start with the idea that we are time-traveling to the future when they’re 22. The students are assigned a job with an entry-level salary and then are set with the task of creating a monthly budget based on that salary. The fair has nine different booths the kids have to visit that cover different expenses like food, transportation, and student loans. It’s a valuable learning experience for the students and I believe the general consensus is that it is much better than going to class.

My friend Paige hanging out at the Clothing Booth.

My friend Paige hanging out at the Clothing Booth.

To give you an idea of what the Financial Fitness Fair is like, hear are five things I overheard today while volunteering:

1. “Why didn’t we have this when I was in high school?” At every Financial Fitness I go to, I hear this from the adult volunteers and teachers. I’ve said it myself like a million times. Before I started working at a credit union, I knew nothing about money besides how to spend it. We learn so much in school, but often times practical skills like how to budget, how to save, or how much college really costs unfortunately get left out. A study done by Learnvest and Chase Blueprint showed that 52% of teenagers want to learn more about money, so the Financial Fitness Fair is a great opportunity for them to gain some of that knowledge. Although we only have an hour of their time, the fair gives the students some basic financial skills that they can build on as they get older.

2. “Dude, I got totally wrecked on student loans though. $50,000 – that’s an outrageous number! Like no one actually has that much in student loans.” I heard a kid say this today after his buddy gave him a hard time about ending up in the red when he finished his monthly budget. And although I agree with him that $50,000 in debt is an outrageous number, it’s sadly not an unrealistic one. The average student loan debt for a four-year degree in the U.S. is $29,000. And if you’re a doctor, like this kid said he wanted to be, that number goes up to $166,750. So his estimated student loan debt was actually kind of low. Too often kids go off to college without really thinking about how much it costs and definitely with no idea of what their monthly student loan payments will be once they graduate. It was interesting to see kids start to understand how much a student loan payment could really affect their future lifestyle.

3. “I don’t need clothes, I’ll just go to work naked.” I volunteer at the clothing booth, where the kids have to figure out a monthly clothing budget for their work wardrobe. At least once at every fair a kid makes this same joke about how they will just save money by going to work naked. High school humor at its finest. I also once had a boy ask me which store I recommended he shop at. “Not like budget-wise,” he said, “but from a fashion standpoint.” This is why clothing is the most entertaining booth.

4. “It’s all about choices, Brian!” I heard a kid say this to his friend today in his best dad-voice. He might have been being sarcastic, but this is actually a really great point. Being successful at the Financial Fitness Fair is really all about making good decisions with your money. When you’re still in high school your parents pay for everything so it’s easy to imagine that you’ll have a ton of money when you’re an adult. It’s fun to go through the fair buying the most expensive clothes, purchasing a Ferrari, and eating out every night. But in the real world, very few people have the budget for such a luxurious lifestyle. At the fair you see kids making compromises in some areas in order to make room for an expense in another, like living with a roommate so they can buy a nicer car. We all have to make those choices in real life, so it’s cool to see them start to think that way now.

5. “This is super helpful. I’m like actually going to save this budget sheet so I can use it when I graduate.”  A student said this to her friend when she was walking away from our booth today and I was like, “You go girl!” It always surprises me how engaged the students are in the fair. You volunteer expecting a certain amount of teenage apathy, but workplace nudity jokes aside, most kids tend to be pretty interested in the activity. It gives you hope that they’ll leave with some valuable information that they can apply in their real lives once they graduate.

If you want to see more about the Financial Fitness Fairs put on at high schools across the state by Maine’s credit unions, you can check out this cool video.

22 Inexpensive Ways to Celebrate Earth Day

Happy Earth Day! I am notoriously an indoor person, but that doesn’t mean I don’t care about the environment. Despite my vampire tendencies I am all about going green, because it saves energy AND money. So in honor of Earth day, here are 22 inexpensive ways to help the environment.

earth day

1. Turn off your computer. Sleep mode uses a lot of energy, because even though you’re not using it your computer it’s still on. At the end of the day at work or when you’re done using your computer at home, shut it all the way down.

2. Use both sides of the paper. Every year American businesses throw away 21 million tons of paper. That’s about 175 pounds per person. You can cut your paper waste in half by setting your printer default to double-sided. Or once your done with one side of the paper, use the other side as scrap paper to scratch notes on.

3. Get a power strip. Plug all of your electronics into it and then turn it off before you go to work or before bed.

4. No more snail mail. Switch all the bills you can to electronic statements to save paper. You can also see if your credit union or bank as online bill pay, which would allow you to make all of you payments securely online. It’s fast, easy, and a lot less hassle than paper.

5. Reuse gift bags and wrapping paper. When you get a gift, don’t throw the wrapping away! It’s expensive and can usually be reused a few more times. I’m pretty sure my mom hasn’t bought Christmas wrapping in about 8 years.  She even leaves the name tags on bags and just puts stuff for that person in a bag from the year before. She has it down to a science.

6. Get reusable grocery bags. This is actually the simple solution to my plastic bag problem from my last blog. Plastic bags are terrible to store and terrible for the environment. Invest in a few reusable ones to keep in your car so they’re always handy when you go shopping.

7. Use matches, not lighters. Lighters are made of plastic and are filled with butane fuel, both of which are petroleum products. Using matches instead saves a lot of precious fuel. Also cardboard matches are usually made from recycled material. Or you could just avoid lighting anything on fire in general . . . safety first, kids.

8. Use E-Tickets. You can get e-tickets now for a lot of movie theaters and concerts. Plus using e-boarding passes when you fly saves time, paper, and money. It take $10 to process a paper ticket when you fly, but only $1 for e-tickets.

9. Get a reusable water bottle. Plastic water bottles can be handy, but they’re terrible for the environment. There’s also a misconception that bottled water is safer than tap water. But actually, tap water has almost the same requirements for purity to bottled water in the United States, so fill up a reusable bottle at the tap and bring it with you wherever your day might take you. You’ll save money, resources, and probably be more hydrated.

10. Work from home. If your company gives you the option to work from home, take them up on it! You’ll save on gas money. Plus you can wear your pajamas all day. :)

11. Carpool. We all have busy schedules so it can seem cumbersome to share a car. But when you can, ride with a friend. It will help you save on gas. Plus road trips are more fun with a buddy.

12. Get the junk out of your trunk. Carrying extra stuff in your car decreases your fuel efficiency. Empty that trunk out once in a while to lighten your load.

13. Use cruise control. I always forget that my car has cruise control, but I paid extra for it so I might as well use it. On long trips, using cruise control can get you p to 15% better mileage.

14. Go vegetarian once a week. I love bacon too much to be a vegetarian full-time, but at least once a week I try to have a meat-free menu. It takes a lot of resources to raise livestock and manufacture meat. For example, it requires 2,500 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef. That’s a lot of water! Plus meat tends to be more expensive than vegetables or grains. One meat-free meal a week will help the environment, your wallet, and your diet.

15. Reuse items for crafts. I. LOVE. TO. CRAFT. It’s a great way to make gifts or decorate your home in a personal, fun way. Plus it can often save you money. I have an awesome blanket that my friend’s mom made me out of old swimming t-shirts. My dining room at my apartment is entirely decorated by old wine bottles. And I made awesome valentine’s this year using magazine clippings. Before you throw something out, get a little creative and see if there’s a way you can reuse it.

16. Take the stairs. Not only will you save electricity, but you’ll get a work out at the same time. Plus in the event of a fire or zombie apocalypse, you’ll know where the stairwell is.

17. Take a shower, not a bath. This tip actually makes me sad because I love baths. Especially bubble baths. I tend to read in them and then fall asleep. But my love of baths aside, they do use more water than showers. Take short showers during the week and then maybe treat yourself to a luxurious bath on Sunday.

18. Avoid dry-clean only clothes. Dry cleaning is expensive. And it uses a lot of chemicals. And you generally have to drive there to drop-off and pick up your stuff. All things that are bad for the environment. My sister, a noted fabric expert, recommends googling the material your clothing item is made out of to see if it really needs dry cleaning or if you can hand wash and air dry. Hint: if it comes from Forever 21, the fabric is not quality enough to need dry-cleaning. :)

19. Only do laundry when you have a full load of clothes. The average washing machine uses about 30-40 gallons of water per cycle. The less you do laundry, the more water you save. Sounds like the perfect excuse to wait until you’re down to your last pair of underwear to do laundry to me!

20. Donate. Before you throw anything out, think about donating it instead. Is it still in good enough shape that someone else could use it? If so, check out places like Goodwill, the Salvation Army, or other second hand stores that take donations. It’s not just clothes they want, it’s also stuff like books, DVDs, toys, electronics, and so much more.

21. Borrow. Don’t buy that new book, borrow it from the library. Don’t purchase a new dress for that upcoming wedding, raid your roommates closet. Avoid buying if you don’t have to. And when you can, purchase second hand.

22. Plant seed. Plant a flower. Plant a rose. You can plant anyone of those. Keep planting to find out which one grows . . . Sorry, I had a Hanson moment there. But really, doing a little gardening is great for the environment. Plant some flowers, a bush, or a tree in your yard. They’ll look pretty and make our air a little fresher.

I got a lot of info for this post here. It’s a great article and you should check it out for more ways to go green.

Life Hack: Save Space, Fold Bags!

Bags s

To say that my apartment has a lot of plastic bags would be the understatement of the century. The picture above is only about 1/3 of the bags that are jam-packed into a small cupboard in my kitchen. My roommates and I tend to go grocery shopping, crumple the bags up, shove them in the cupboard, and pray that to door closes. We use some of them as liners for trash cans and one every few months I donate a bunch to the local food pantry, but for the most part they just take up storage space in our kitchen.

NOT ANY MORE! I recently discovered what can only be called “Plastic Bag Origami” on Pinterest. It seemed like an easy way for our bags to take up less space, but you can never trust something you see on Pinterest until you do it yourself. So I set out to see if I could turn our cupboard from something you might see on an episode of “Hoarders” into a functional cabinet. Here’s step-by-step instructions on how to fold your plastic bags:

Bags 1

1. Smooth out bag so it lays flat. FYI – this step can be time consuming if, like me, you previously crumpled a ton of plastic bags into a small space.

Bags 2

2. Fold the bag in half.

Bags 3

3. Then fold it in half a second time so you have one long rectangle.

Bags 4

4. From the bottom end of the bag (aka the end that’s not the handles) fold the bag into triangles.

Bags 5

5. Keep folding bag in triangles until just the end of the handles are sticking out.

Bags 7

6. Tuck handles into flap of triangle so you have one, neat football that you can use your fingers to kick at your roommate. Just kidding! Now your plastic bags are easy to store or carry and they take up WAY less space than before.

Bags 9

This is all 94 plastic bags I started with all neatly folded. It doesn’t even look like 94 bags. It’s crazy how much space this saves!

Bags B&A

The before and after shot is so visually pleasing. I couldn’t even get all the bags in the first photo without standing on my chair. Now look at them.

It was brought to my attention while I was sitting at my desk folding all 94 of these, that you can roll your plastic bags so they look like this.

Bags 10

This might work well, too. I even saw people on Pinterest putting rolls of bags in old Colorox wipe dispensers so they were easy to carry and , which is a neat idea. I personally had a much harder time keeping the roll neat while I was rolling it. Plus it kept coming unrolled while it sat on my desk. Also you cannot play finger football with a roll of bags.

You might be asking yourself, is it really worth the time and effort it probably took to fold all of these just to save a little space? And the answer is . . . no, it’s not if you fold 94 of them all at the same time like I did. But the folding honestly only took 15 or so seconds per bag. So if you did a week’s worth of grocery bags (say 4 or 5), it wouldn’t take long at all and therefore might be worth it. Plus I really like folding things so yea. Give it a try!

5 Inexpensive Things to Boost Your Mood

It snowed today. Snowed. It’s April 9th. It was 65 degrees last week. MAKE IT STOP!!!

WHHHHHHY?!

WHHHHHHY?!

If you couldn’t tell, I’m over the whole snow thing. I’m ready for spring and warm weather. So I’m a little grumpy this morning. To help get me out of my snow depression, I thought I would make this list of awesome inexpensive things that always make me happy. Because there’s nothing better to lift your mood than things that are both fun and thrifty. Here they are:

1. Discounted Holiday Candy: Never buy candy before the holiday. Always wait til just after it’s over. Easter candy is crazy cheap right now. I got a giant bag of Cadbury Mini Eggs yesterday for $1.99 at Rite Aid. Those are normally like $5.99. Bargain! Stock up my friends.

2. Jam Sessions: Some people (aka my dad) would say that my taste in music is questionable. I prefer to think of it as eclectic. But no matter what’s on your playlist, I think we can all agree that nothing lifts your mood faster than turning a favorite song up loud and dancing like no one is watching (which in my case I really hope they aren’t). Dance therapy is the best because at the most you’ve invested like $1.99 on your song of choice, which when you take into account the approximately 1 billion times I have listened to She Looks So Perfect by 5 Seconds of Summer makes for a really low cost per listen. #math

3. Theo and Beau: If you don’t already follow this toddler and his puppy on Instagram, do it now! They are adorable. They are best friends. They nap together and snuggle and it is impossible to look at their photos and not smile. Plus now they have a new little sister named Evie who joins their naps so their photos have gotten cuter, if that is even possible. Scrolling through their Instagram is the best free therapy there is.

4. Old Episodes of Lizzie McGuire: Were you aware that you can watch all the episodes of Lizzie McGuire online for free? WERE YOU?! This is a phenomenal fact that can make any bad day better. This show was my childhood. I wanted to be Lizzie McGuire. And re-watching old Lizzie episodes brings back all the things from the early 2000’s that today’s world is missing: weird multi-level ponytails, instant messaging, and saying “I’m outtie” when you leave a room. Watch it. I promise you will not regret it.

Remember cartoon Lizzie? She was so sassy.

Remember cartoon Lizzie? She was so sassy.

5. New Nail Polish: Bright finger nails make the world a happier place. Even if it’s still winter outside, you can bring a little spring into your life with pastel nail polish. Or skip right ahead to summer with neon pink. Go crazy! The best part is you can get super cheap nail polish for $2.99 at Rite Aid and paint it on yourself, saving you the cost of a professional manicure. Plus you can always ask your roommate to help you with your non-writing hand.

What are your favorite fun and thrifty things?

Funny Money

Happy April Fools Day! I’m not great at pranks. I think they’re really funny and I definitely always fall for them when someone else pulls one on me, but I’m not sneaky enough to ever successfully pull a prank on someone else. I am, however, particularly good at telling really bad jokes. So in the spirit of April Fools Day, here are some of my all time favorite money jokes:

bah dum tss

What does one penny say to another?

Let’s get together and make some sense.

Why didn’t the quarter roll down the hill with the nickel?

Because it had more cents.

Why can’t you borrow money from a leprechaun?

They’re always a little short.

What did the duck say when he went shopping?

Put it on my bill.

Why is money called dough?

Because we all knead it.

What do you get if you cross a sorceress with a millionaire? 

A very witch person.

Where do penguins keep their money?

The snow bank.

Knock, knock.

Who’s there?

Robin.

Robin who?

Robin the piggy bank again.

And then to finish it off, here’s a One Direction knock knock joke just because One Direction.

Knock, knock.

Who’s there?

Urine.

Urine who?

Urine secure, don’t know what for . . .

Happy April Fools Day!