Posts Tagged With: Money

The One Year Anniversary of the New Me

Even our Amish parents and siblings made it to our beach wedding.

Even our Amish parents and siblings made it to our beach wedding.

One year ago I was working a dead end job and “investing” in a business by going into credit card debt, I was several thousand dollars in debt, I was living in a big house with people I wasn’t getting along with anymore, I had too much stuff, I was addicted to Mountain Dew, I was struggling with personal upheavals related to a fundamental shift in my worldview, and I was dreaming of someday getting a college degree.

I had always planned on enrolling in college as soon as I was financially stable–as soon as all my debts were paid off, the business was doing well, and I could afford to take a several year sabbatical to pursue an education. Then almost exactly a year ago, I was encouraged to enroll in college despite my responsibilities. I was encouraged to enroll in college even if it was just to take one course at a time. I was persuaded to enroll in college and try it despite my constantly-changing plans for the future.

It didn’t take a lot of consideration before I decided to enroll. My life was getting stagnant, and college, it seemed, was exactly what I needed. I enrolled in college, but I did way more than that. I took the opportunity to completely reorganize my life and my priorities.

The first thing we (myself and my fiancee at the time) did was move out of the big house where we lived with 5-7 other people. We moved into my aunt’s nice vacation home and cut some of the toxic personal relationships that had been dragging us down for the past year. I quit the minimum wage dead end job that I had been using to help make ends meet until my online business brought in more sales, and I stopped deluding myself into thinking that I would be able to survive on my business income anytime soon. I quit pumping money, energy, and time into the business. Instead, I began a part-time lawn care job. The work was hard, but it paid way more than minimum wage.

By transferring my time from internet marketing and a minimum wage part-time job to lawn care, I was able to pay off several thousand dollars of debt that I had incurred over the previous three years. In fact, working only 2-3 days a week, I was able to pay off most of my debt and still have the time and money to go to college full time. The only debt I have left is a bit on my vehicle loan (which I had purchased a month before losing my internet marketing job about three years ago). To help support my addiction to higher education, I also sold most of my stuff and cut my expenses as much as I possibly could.

Because my life was changing so much, I decided it was also time to quit my excessive inhalation of Mountain Dew. I quit that without a problem and even cut down on my smoking.

The biggest change in the last year, however, was getting married. When I asked her about 9 months ago, we had been dating for more than 5 years. Why so long? First of all, we lived together for most of those 5 years, so getting married wasn’t something that seemed like too big of a lifestyle change. More importantly, much like college, I had been waiting to get married until I was “financially stable” whatever that means. Enrolling in college without that financial stability forced me to question my justification for waiting to marry. Long story short, we got engaged and had an awesome beach wedding five days ago.

That, in a nutshell, is how my life changed over the past year. Sometimes, you gotta know when to fold ’em and start fresh with a new hand, and that’s what I did a year ago. So far, life is looking much better. My only regret is that I didn’t do all of this when I first lost my job instead of wallowing around for next three years in various entrepreneurial pursuits.

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Categories: College, College Life | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

I Saved $500 a Year by Switching Cell Carriers

It's not a cellphone, but you get the sentiment...

It’s not a cellphone, but you get the sentiment…

You know how Verizon charges you $200+ for the latest cellphone, and then they don’t allow you to use it with any other carriers? Yeah, that’s absurd. I finally scrounged up the courage to wean myself from the great big teat that is Verizon Wireless. While I can’t complain about their coverage or cellular service, I can complain about their high bills. I was paying $90 per month, and that was the lowest plan I could get with a smartphone.

Despite being only halfway through my latest 2-year contract with Verizon Wireless, I decided to switch to Straight Talk. Why? Even if I pay a hefty termination fee, I’ll be saving money over the next year. Unfortunately, with Straight Talk I won’t have Verizon’s amazing nationwide coverage. Originally, I come from the boonies of Montana, so giving up that coverage really feels like giving something up. However, I live in the city now, and Straight Talk has me covered, so why not? Here’s how my savings stack up:

  • Verizon annual access charge: $1080
  • Verizon annual technology cost: $100 ($200 every two years if I get the best new phone)
  • Total Annual Verizon Cost: $1180

My early termination fee is $230, but I should be able to recoup that by selling my old phone on eBay. Used S3’s are going for approximately $250.

  • Straight Talk annual access charge: $576
  • Straight Talk annual technology cost: $95 (assuming I buy a lesser quality phone every 2 years)
  • Straight Talk incidentals: $3 ($15 SIM card spread out over 5? years)
  • Total Annual Straight Talk Cost: $674

Total Annual Savings: $506

In making this switch, I had to give up my Samsung Galaxy S3 ($700) for a smaller, older, and more modest Galaxy Ace Plus ($175 on eBay). Downsizing isn’t that bad, though. I’ve always thought the S3 was too large–it barely fit in my pocket. Why do I need a large screen gadget in my pocket when I use my laptop for virtually all internet access?

The switch itself wasn’t entirely free of headache. To save my existing phone number, I had Straight Talk “port” it in from Verizon Wireless. The moment that happened, Verizon disabled access to my online account. I was completely unable to log in to download old statements or check the existing balance on my account. I had to endure a lengthy chat with a customer service agent just to find out how to pay the rest of my balance and the early termination fee. As for Straight Talk, my data didn’t work at all for the first couple of days. I spent a long time on the phone with an agent before he told me that I would just have to give it more time. After several days and still no data, I started searching online for APN settings that would give me data access. After about six tries, I finally found one that worked. It was for iPhones. Yeah… I’m running Android, and the APN settings given to me by Straight Talk don’t work, but settings for a completely different operating system work perfectly. I’m glad that’s over. Now that everything is running smoothly, I’m very glad to be rid of my $90/month two-year contracts.

Image credit: Smashed phone image copyright (c) 2012 Solarbotics and made available under Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Categories: Affording College | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Summer 2013 College Cost: $843

My first semester in college (Summer 2013) is almost over, and I’ve decided to take a look at what it cost me, financially. First, I want to show what it could have cost me, and then I want to show what it really cost me. I saved a lot of money… I think. Let’s see.

Note: This semester I took only 3 courses (9 credit hours) instead of the full 4 (12 hours).

My college’s cost of attendance calculator for summer 2013, was as follows:

  • Books and Supplies: $550.00
  • Personal Expenses: $533.00
  • Room and Board: $3110.00
  • Tuition and Fees: $1383.00
  • Transportation: $509.00
  • Total Cost of Attendance: $6085.00

Here are my actual costs:

  • Written Communications textbooks purchased from the school: $154.59
  • Sold above textbooks back to the school: ($58.00)
  • Literature Textbook from Amazon: $15.50
  • TI-84 Plus calculator from Craigslist: $40.00
  • Writing Textbook: $4.19
  • Backpack from Target: $72.75
  • Notebooks from Walmart: $7.02
  • Poetry textbook: $14.86
  • Personal Expenses: $0
  • House sit for my aunt for three months: $0
  • Transportation: $43
  • Tuition and Fees: $549.32
  • Total Cost of Attendance: $843.23 (Total Savings: $5241.77)

The first set of textbooks I purchased, I purchased at my college bookstore. Nothing could have prepared me for the sticker shock. $155 for two textbooks! It was utterly absurd. Then and there, I vowed to buy all of my textbooks online, if at all possible. If I would have known the outrageous prices I could have saved an additional hundred bucks by purchasing that first set online.

Instead of paying $90 for the calculator at Walmart (or $130 at the school), I looked on Craigslist. It didn’t take more than five minutes to find one and another three hours to have a perfectly good TI-84 Plus calculator in hand for only $40.

I admit, I splurged a little on the backpack. It took me a good half hour to find one at Target that I deemed suitable. Instead of saving money and going with one that would last for a year or two, I decided to pick a good one and hope it would last eight or ten years.

Here in Florida, rent is ludicrously high (compared to some random place like Ecuador). Here we would pay $500+ per month for a bare studio apartment. Fortunately, I have an aunt that owns a winter home here in Florida, and she needed someone to house-sit over the summer. We pay all utilities and expenses, but hey, we still save thousands of dollars.

I saved on tuition by applying for and receiving $413 from FAFSA. I may have made a grievous error. Keep in mind that I knew nothing about college. I’m the first from my family and the first of my friends to go to college. Keep that in mind before judging too harshly. Before I applied for FAFSA, I researched it a bit and learned that I could get FAFSA for a maximum of six years. Okay, no problem. However, I assumed they used the same definition of “year” as most people do. I had no idea that the current year would be over in several weeks. Well, I received $413 for those several weeks, but I used up one of the six years. If I would have applied several weeks later at the start of the next school year, I would have received closer to $5000. Let’s just hope I don’t need six real years to finish my undergraduate degree.

I live about 15 miles from campus so how could I possibly get through a semester on $43 in gas? Elementary, my dear Watson–I opted for online courses. My college offers most of its course selection online. For both of the writing courses I took, I never had to visit campus. For the algebra course, however, I had to be on campus for orientation, the mid-term, and the final.

I love online courses for several reasons. I suffer from moderate to severe social anxiety which makes it harder for me to learn in a classroom environment. The online courses allow me to study without distraction, and they allow me to revisit lectures again and again–something that is not so easily done with classroom courses. Taking the online courses saves money on gas. Last, but not least, taking them online, allows me to fit them into my random part-time work schedule.

My goal is to complete the first two years of my undergraduate degree at the community college, and do it without incurring debt. This means saving money at every chance I get, and it means working my ass off to make money when I’m not studying. So far, it’s looking good!

Categories: Affording College, College | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Doing College on the Cheap

Here are some things that are making college a lot more affordable for me.

1. Do the first two years in community college before transferring to a university
2. Submit FAFSA every year
3. Buy textbooks online (e.g. Amazon)
4. Sell textbooks back to the school if they have a buyback program
5. Take web/blended courses where possible to reduce transportation costs and to accommodate work schedule
6. Get reimbursed for costs through income tax deductions and credits
7. Apply for scholarships

If you have any money-saving tips for college, please comment!

Categories: Affording College, College | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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