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!

It’s Okay to Say No!

Seriously. It’s okay. Don’t feel bad about it.

Tina Fey says in her book Bossypants, “Say yes, and you’ll figure it out later.” I love me some Tina Fey but this seems like a risky life policy, especially when it comes to finances. It’s great to say yes to new opportunities, to adventures, and to challenges. But you can’t do it all. And unless you’re Bill Gates, you definitely can’t pay for it all. It’s tempting to buy something you want now and figure out how to pay for it later. If it’s a $3 coffee you want, this plan might work. If it’s a $30,000 car, not so much. Successful budgets take thought, planning, and some self-restraint. Learning to say no is essential to financial success.

I don’t know about you, but saying no can be REALLY difficult for me. This is especially true when I’m saying no to paying for something I want. We all want to buy that pretty dress we saw on Mod Cloth. We all want to go on that spring break vacation with our roommates. We all want to throw our older sister the most awesome bachelorette of all time. Plus as a girl, I think I might be physically conditioned to say yes to everything. Saying no often makes me feel uncomfortable or worse, it can make me feel like I’m letting people down. Don’t give into saying yes just because it’s easier. If you struggle to say no, here are 3 easy steps you can take to make the negative seem a little more positive.

leslie-knope-no

1. Take a deep breath before you say it. I often find myself agreeing to things before I really think about them. My default setting is YES! But oftentimes once I’ve had a minute to think about it, I find I’ve yes’d myself into something I don’t really want to do. I try to avoid this by pausing before I agree to anything; having a minute to take a deep breath gives me time to check in with how I truly feel about the question. If it’s still a yes after the breath, then great! If it’s a no, I feel more confident in my refusal since I’ve thought things through.

2. Offer another possible solution. Saying no can be easier if it’s not the end of the sentence. Let’s say your friends really want you to go out to dinner and a movie with them but you don’t have the cash in your budget for it this week. Just saying, “No,” is sad and final. Or if you give a reason like, “No, I don’t have enough money,” your friends might try to talk you into splurging. But a, “No, I can’t swing that in my budget right now. How about we cook dinner and have a movie marathon at home instead?” presents an alternative that works for everyone. They get to hang out, have dinner, and watch a movie and you get to save money.

3. Think about all the times you’ve said Yes! Guilt is often the biggest reason we cave and do something we don’t want to. Whether is breaking your budget or working extra hours, you don’t want to disappoint anyone, including yourself. Assuage some of that guilt by reminding yourself of all the things you have said yes to recently. Maybe you had to pass on that weekend road trip, but you were able to pay off your credit card this month, redecorate your bathroom, and get tickets to that Ed Sheeran concert. Thinking of what you were able to pay for can make turning down other purchases worth it.

Remember, no isn’t a four-letter word! It’s not wrong to say no to things that aren’t in your budget or don’t match your financial goals. If you need to, say that no loud and say it proud. :)

Credit Report Updates!

It’s not every day that you hear good news about your credit report. But this Monday was the American consumer’s lucky day! Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, the three major credit reporting bureaus, announced this week that they are overhauling the credit reporting process. They will be instituting some major changes that will benefit the consumer, changes like making it easier to dispute an error and not blaming consumers for late payments made by their health insurance company. It’s like they’re finally listening to years and years worth of complaints!

Plans to improve the credit reporting process were lengthy, but let me break it down to the important stuff for you.The changes include:

– Medical debts won’t be reported until after 180 days, so that if an insurance company is late making a payment the consumer won’t be personally penalized. Additionally, the credit reporting agencies will remove previously reported medical collections that have been or are in the process of being paid by insurance.

– Credit reporting agencies will stop the reporting of debts that the consumer did not agree to pay by signing a contract or agreement. So things like tickets or fines will no longer show on your credit report.

-Consistent standards will be enforced by the credit reporting agencies to entities that submit data for inclusion on credit reports. All three credit bureaus will enforce similar standards.

– If you get a copy of your annual free credit report, dispute information on it, and the dispute results in a change to that item, you will no longer have to wait a year to get a new copy of your credit report. You will be able to get a second one right away.

– Consumers who dispute an item on their credit report will receive info with the results of their dispute with further steps they can take if they’re not satisfied with the outcome.

– There will be more free educational material available on www.annualcreditreport.com to help consumers understand their credit reports.

– A group will be formed to regularly review the data collecting process for credit reports to help ensure consistency and fairness.

Sounds like good news to me. Thanks, credit reporting agencies! For more information, check out this spot that was featured on the NBC Nightly News.