Goodbye and Hello

Dear Frugal-Community Readers,

This is the last post that you will read from me, Grace, the author of the frugal-community blog. I will be leaving my job at the Center for Stewardship Leaders at Luther Seminary and moving to a position at Kairos and Associates. Writing for this blog for the past two years has been one of the highlights of my work at Luther Seminary. This blog has given me the opportunity to explore many aspects of frugality—from grocery shopping to student debt to new year’s resolutions and so much more! This blog has also challenged me to live my life more frugally in concert with my writings for the blog. I have learned, as I hope you have too, that frugality is not only practical but fun. Frugality has helped me to align the ways that I use my money with my values and for that I am grateful.

While my time at frugal-community may be coming to an end, I am eager to share that I will be continuing my frugal tips and musings in my new blog, the Classy Frugalist. The Classy Frugalist will focus not on graduate students but on living frugally as a young professional. If you are interested in digging into the New Year’s Resolutions, that will be the topic of my first series of posts. I encourage you to check out the blog, the twitter and maybe even subscribe.

There are great things yet to come with frugal-community, stay tuned to learn more!

Sincerely,

Grace

The Classy Frugalist

2014 New Year’s Resolution Poll

This week I am beginning a new series on the New Year’s Resolutions based on the New Year’s Resolutions post I wrote last week. If you haven’t seen it yet, check it out! I will be going in-depth with tips and advice into three of the resolutions but before I can do that I need to know which resolutions interest you the most. Take this poll below to vote on which resolutions I should explore:

Thank you for participating!

Gifts that Give Back 2013

Since today is #GivingTuesday, it seemed appropriate that I would kick off my series of holiday posts with gifts that give back. Over the past few years, I have become obsessed with these sort of gifts that keep on giving. It all began with a birthday gift from my brother gave me: a cooking stove from Oxfam America. On my birthday I received a card with a picture of the stove and a message saying that this stove would help displaced women keep warm and cut down on their need for firewood. It is one of the best birthday gifts that I have ever received!

Since this gift, I have discovered a few other companies that also help you give back like TOMS, Giving Keys, Sevenly and many more. Here are some great ways to give gifts this holiday season that will actually make a difference for both the receiver and someone in need:

  • Sevenly: Every week Sevenly teams up with a different charity. For that week, Sevenly will give $7 to that charity for every item purchased from its curated collection of t-shirts, jewelry, prints, accessories and more.
  • Raven+Lilly: Raven+Lilly is a socially-conscious lifestyle brand that empowers women through design.The site sells eco-friendly apparel, jewelry and homemade accessories made by marginalized women in developing nations. Purchasing one of this company’s items helps provide these women artisans with a sustainable income.
  • Laughing Man Coffee and Tea: A company created by Hugh Jackman which sells coffee, tea, chocolate and gear to help entrepreneurs around the world. 50% of their sales go to education, community development and new business development.
  • 31 Bits Jewelry: Unique, fashionable jewelry created out of 100% recycled paper, posters and magazines by internally displaced women in Northern Uganda.The women earn a sustainable income, enabling them to provide for their families. 31 bits cares for the women holistically through counseling, health education, finance training, and business mentorships. After five years in the 31 bits program, the women are ready to graduate and have their own business.
  • FEED Project: The Feed Project sells bags, accessories and apparel with the intent of feeding and educating people in need. They are known for their classic FEED 1 Bag that provides food for 1 child for 1 year.
  • The Giving Keys: This business employs people transitioning out of homelessness to engrave old, recycled keys with a word of hope to make a pendant for a necklace. The best part is that these necklaces are not meant to be kept, but rather given away to someone who needs the message.
  • Out of Print ClothingOut of print celebrates the world’s great stories through fashion by creating products, like t-shirts and stationary, featuring iconic and often out of print book covers. For every product sold, they donate one book to a community in need through their partner Books for Africa.
  • Give Prints: This for-profit business offers a selection of photography prints and apparel. It gives 50% of its profits to charities around the world.
  • Open Arms: This company provides women refugees resettled in America with a living wage and uses repurposed materials to create ethical fashion items. Check out their skirts, dresses and accessories online or in their retail stores.
  • MiiR Water BottleMiiR offers cutting-edge water bottles in a variety of colors, shapes and sizes. The purchase of a MiiR water bottle provides one person in the developing world with clean drinking water for one year.

There are so many items that you can purchase that give back to our neighbors in need around the world. For more ideas, check out my 2012 post on gifts that give back or take a look at the variety of items offered in the new TOMS Marketplace.

Join the Conversation: What are some of your favorite gifts that give back this holiday season?

Being Grateful

Photo Credit: See-ming Lee Via Flickr

Photo Credit: See-ming Lee Via Flickr

One of the things that I am most grateful for, in my life, is my education. I absolutely love to read and I love to learn. I realize that you can learn things in many different ways, and for many people school is not always the right decision, but for me it was. I loved being a part of a community of learners. I enjoyed having great conversations with students and professors as well as the great authors from across history. I received an education that prepared me to be a leader in the world.

I had always dreamed of going to a good college and going on to Seminary to receive a degree in theology. My dream was made possible by gracious gifts from many people, some that I knew and others that I did not. One of the largest gifts that made my college education possible was a scholarship from the university that my mother works at. This was a piece of my mother’s benefits package that she received after working at the university for many years. I am incredibly grateful that my mom stayed in her job at the university long enough to allow us to have this benefit so a large portion of our school tuition would be covered every year.

Another gift that made my education possible, was a Presidential scholarship from Luther Seminary that covered all of my tuition as well as a small stipend. I still remember opening the financial aid letter and being overwhelmed by the generosity of the offer. I could now go to Seminary without fear of the mountains of debt that might accompany it. My dream of getting a theological education could become a reality!

We all have something to be grateful for, but we don’t always remember to say thank you. We have to be intentional about giving thanks, not just one day a year but all year-round. One way that we can say “thank you” is by writing a thank you note or simply taking the time to tell someone “thank you”. It is all too easy to let the moment pass you by and forget to thank the people who helped your dreams become a reality. It is never too late to say thanks.

Another way that we can say “thank you” is by living frugally. By living frugally, we honor the gifts that we receive by spending them wisely. We don’t use them to be cheap towards others or ourselves, but to be smart about what we need and what we don’t and to invest in what matters. We value the time, effort and love that went into the gifts that we have received and choose to use them to their fullest.

A last way that we can say “thank you” is by following the example of generosity. Now that I am out of school, I haven’t forgotten the generosity that got me where I am today. I give to the institutions that I graduated from so that I can make dreams a reality for other students who were just like me. I give as a way to say thank you for all of the people who believed in me and trusted me with their hard-earned money. While I may not be able to give very much at this point in my career, I hope to grow my gifts to be able to fund a scholarship for someone else. I honor the gifts that I have received by passing that gift on to others.

I challenge you to take some time over the course of the month of November to consider the people, places and gifts that you are really grateful for and take the time to say thank you.

Join the Conversation: Who/what are you grateful for?

How to Use Student Loans Wisely

I recently read an article on using student loans wisely where the author posited that there was a pervasive “epidemic” among college students because they were using their loans to pay for things such as beer, clothing and flat screen TVs. Whether this is truly an “epidemic” or not, I could not say. His description certainly does not match my college experience, but I am sure there are some students who do use their loans this way. While I do not agree with the author’s blanket characterization of college students, I do agree that there is a large misunderstanding around loans and how they can be used wisely. I think that some of the blame for this misunderstanding should fall on the shoulders of the students, some on their parents and some on educational institutions. As my primary audience is students, here is what I think that a student should know about using his/her loans wisely:

  • Don’t Forget Your Loans Are NOT Free Money: When you get a loan disbursement, it is easy to trick yourself into thinking that you are receiving a free gift. The money seems to come in with no strings attached, when in reality this money has massive strings, called interest. Check out a loan calculator to see how much paying back this loan will really cost you over time.
  • Borrow Only What You Need: Make sure to return the loans that you do not need. Even if it is just an extra $100-200, that is extra money that you do not have to pay back later. Most people who hold on to money “just in case” are likely to spend it because it is available. Even if you put it into a savings account, remember that you are likely earning less interest in that account then the loans are accruing in interest so don’t take out more than you need.
  • Create A Budget: Make sure that you know exactly what your expenses will be before you accept your loans. The best way to do this is by creating a budget. Join the fall budget challenge for more information. Resist the urge to just estimate. Take the time to stare your income, expenses and lifestyle in the face.
  • Reduce Your Expenses: Ask yourself if you can reduce your expenses. Can you cut down on how often you eat out or go shopping? Could you try to take the bus a few times per week? Try to find a healthy, frugal balance between funding your needs and wants.
  • Supplement Your Income: Ask yourself if you can increase your income. Can you work while you are in school? How many hours can you work without sacrificing your school work, social life or peace of mind? Can you find other scholarships or grants? Check out fastweb.com for additional scholarship opportunities. Every dollar you earn will save you a lot on what you have to pay back later.
  • Pay Yourself in Installments: One of the smartest things that I did with my loans was pay myself every month. I kept the loan money in my savings account and “paid myself” my loan money in monthly installments to my checking account so the only money available was what I would need for that month. This allowed me to pace myself with my loans and kept me from thinking that I had more money than I really had.
  • Fund Your Education First: Remember that these are “student” loans. Use your loans to pay for your tuition and books first. Then pay your bills and groceries. Lastly, you can consider other lifestyle related purchases such as dining out, entertainment and travel.
  • Emergency Fund: Make sure that you do have some money available for emergencies during school that you do not touch unless absolutely needed. You may not need this if you have savings or a friend/relative who is willing to help you out if you have car trouble or health emergency.
  • Cover Large Expenses: In some cases, loan money can be used wisely to cover large expenses. For instance, if you need a computer, car or another large item while you are in school it is possible to use student loans wisely to purchase it. But, I encourage you to consider these questions: is this purchase a need or want? Is it necessary to my education? I am ok paying it back plus interest for years to come? If yes, go for it! If not, you may want to consider another way to make the purchase.

Contrary to some popular belief, student loans can be used wisely to pay for your education and support you while in school. With some careful forethought and planning, student loans can help you live frugally and maybe even teach you a little about finances along the way!

 

Back to School Budgeting: How to Live on a Graduate Student’s Income

Back to School PicIt is back to school time once again! Luther Seminary, where I work, is buzzing again with students and professors beginning the new school year. The start of a new school year is always full of excitement and anxiety. How will your classes be? Will you be able to complete all of your assignments? How will you be able to pay for all of the tuition, books and living expenses? This last question is especially hard if this is your first year in graduate school, and even more difficult if you are entering school again after a salaried position. How will you survive on such a small income made up of some student work money, scholarships and loans?

As a seminary graduate, I can tell you wholeheartedly that it is possible! Here are some tips to help you downsize your expenses and begin living like a student:

  • Values: Start by considering your values. What are the things that matter most to you? Family? Giving? Saving? Travel? Make sure that your spending reflects these values and priorities. When you are in school, it can be really difficult to completely match your spending with your values because you are trying to live as frugally as possible. However, it is vital that the things that are important to you stay at the top of your list. Resist the urge to give priority to the urgent expenditures over the important ones.
  • Create a Budget: Whether you have had a budget before or not, having a defined budget that you can stick to is vital to living frugally as a graduate student. A budget is just a plan for where your income will go over the course of a month. Need some help creating a budget? Check out these articles and stay tuned for budgeting 101 coming up in two weeks!
  • Needs vs. Wants: Distinguish between needs and wants. Just because something is a want doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t have it. But, you may need to do some prioritizing to see if this is possible. This step is incredibly important if you are coming from a salary or if this is your first time supporting yourself. You may be used to a certain standard of living that you can no longer afford.
  • Savings: While it may seem difficult to save money while you are in graduate school, it is a good practice to start. Even if you can only save $20/month, that $20 can make a big difference when unexpected expenses come up. Start building an emergency fund for yourself.
  • DebtMore than likely, you will need to take on some sort of debt while you are in graduate school. Be aware of how much you are taking out and begin formulating a plan for how you will pay it back after graduation. Resist the urge to treat your loans as “free money.” Only take out what you will need, there is no harm in returning money that you will not use. The less that you take out now, the less that you will need to pay back later.
  • Giving: Some people choose to give money regularly during school, others do not. Giving, even just a little bit, during graduate school to the church and other non-profits was one of the most freeing things that I did during graduate school. So often, I felt like I was just receiving (loans, scholarships, knowledge), it was wonderful to be able to give back and make an impact. Even if you start small, this a great habit to form. Similarly, there are many creative ways to give back that don’t involve giving money.
  • Frugal Lifestyle: Most likely, your lifestyle will change as you enter grad school. Take some time to think about the little places where you can save money. Look for places where you can save on regular expenses like your grocery bill, rent, transportation expenses and other regular bills. Also, take a look at how you can save on your variable expenses like shopping and entertainment. This blog features a whole host of tips to help you save money on just about everything from fitness to vacations! Frugal living can be a lot easier and more fun than you think!

While living on a graduate student’s budget can initially seem really daunting, it is definitely doable. It is all about trimming the fat. Distinguish between the needs (meat) and wants (fat), and trim the meat keeping in just enough fat to keep your meat tender, not tough. In other words, budget in just enough money for “extras” to keep yourself sane and happy.

Happy New School Year!

Join the Conversation: What advice do you have for new students who are moving from a salary to a graduate student’s budget?

Frugal-Community Survey

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Budgeting for Recent Graduates: Moving from a Student’s Income to a Salary

You’ve just graduated and you are about to start your career. Whether this is your first full-time job or your tenth, the transition from a student’s income to a salary can be tricky. Here are some tips to help you as you create a new budget:

  • Values: Start by considering your values. When you are in school, it can be really difficult to match your spending with your values because you are trying to live as frugally as possible. Now is a great time to think about how you want to spend, save, and share your money. What are the things that matter most to you? Family? Giving? Saving? Travel? Make sure that your budget reflects these values and priorities.
  • Financial Goals: Create a set of goals that reflect these values. You will want to set up short (2 years or less), mid (2-5 years) and long range (5+ years) goals. If you really value family, make a short range goal of going on a family vacation, a mid range goal of saving for a family-oriented purchase like a camper, and/or a long range goal of saving for your children’s education.
  • Savings: Graduate school can be hard time to save money. Now that you have a job, make savings a priority. Begin by building an emergency fund, experts recommend that you have about six months worth of living expenses saved. You will also want to save for retirement, it is never to early to start. Some employers will set up and contribute to a fund for you or have opportunities for matching funds, take advantage of those. In addition to these, you may want to set up additional savings funds according to the goals that you set.
  • Debt: More than likely you are coming out of graduate with either student loan debt, credit card debt or both. Look at the total amount owed and make a plan to pay it back. Begin paying these off as soon as possible. Include these payments in your budget right from the beginning, don’t just wait until your loan’s grace period is over. If you can afford to pay more than the minimum, do so! If you are at all confused about what you owe, contact your lender.
  • Giving: Some people choose to give regularly during school, others do not. Now that you have a regular salary, consider giving more regularly to organizations that you care about. Automated giving is a great way to do this. Even if you start small, this a great habit to form.
  • Lifestyle: When someone gets a full-time job, especially if it is their first one, they often consider lifestyle changes first rather than the items above. If you lived a very frugally in graduate school more than likely you will have more money for regular expenses such as groceries, rent, and shopping, even if you are taking the above into consideration. Enjoy it, but don’t go overboard! Take a few months to get a feel for your budget before making any large purchases or lifestyle changes.

Happy Budgeting!

Join the Conversation: What advice do you have for recent graduates moving from a student’s income to a salary?

How to Eat Out on a Budget


Eating out is one of the easiest ways to break your budget. Eating out can be very expensive, but it is also a lot of fun. If you are living in a small apartment or dorm room, this may be the best way to get together with friends. So, how do you eat out on a budget? Here are some tips to help you save some money and still enjoy going out:

  • Coupons: There are a plethora of different online sites that offer discounts and daily deals that can save you lots of money. Sign up for Groupon or Living Social. Check out Restaurants.com to find deals on gift certificates for your favorite restaurants. Join the e-club for your favorite restaurants to get exclusive deals and discounts.
  • Happy Hours: Many local restaurants have fantastic happy hour food and drink menus that can save you money and allow you to enjoy food in smaller portions.
  • Save on Your Entrée: Most restaurants serve large portions, why not split an entrée with your dining companion? Or, just eat half of your order and take the rest to-go. Check the appetizer menu, many restaurants offer smaller portions of their entrées as appetizers for half the price.
  • Kid’s Meal: If possible, order off the kid’s menu. This works really well at fast food restaurants that offer kid’s menus with smaller portions for lower prices.
  • Save on Drinks: Save on drinks by ordering water, to add some flavor to your water ask your server for some lemon, lime or a sprig of mint. If you want wine with your meal, call the restaurant ahead and ask about their “corkage” fee. Some restaurants will let you bring your own bottle and charge only a small fee to have the waiter serve it.
  • Skip the Extras: Adding appetizers and desserts can add a bundle to your check, either skip the extras or order one for the table. One great way to save on dessert is to have your entrée at the restaurant and then pick up dessert at the grocery store or local bakery on your way home.
  • Take Out: Enjoy food from your favorite restaurant without the additional temptations by ordering take out. You save on the tip and get to enjoy dinner in the comfort of your own home.
  • Seek out local, ethnic restaurants: Every neighborhood has fun, local, “hole in the wall” type places with good food at a bargain price. Ask friends for recommendations and you may be pleasantly surprised at the deals that you find.
  • Get Social: Follow your favorite restaurants on Twitter or Facebook to hear about good deals and weekly specials. “Check in” to the restaurant while you are dining and you may receive an offer for a free appetizer or drink.
  • Check for Specials: Many restaurants offer specials, beyond happy hour, at specific times during the week. My current favorite is the “date night special,” generally offered on a week day evening or Sunday. They offer a cheap and tasty dinner for two for a reduced price. You don’t have to be on a date to enjoy the special!
  • Don’t skimp on the tip: Just because you want to save money on eating out does not mean that you should skimp on the tip! If you are too cheap to tip properly (15%+) then you shouldn’t go out at all. Remember, even if you use a coupon, you should always tip on the original amount. Tipping on the discounted bill is cheap, not frugal.

Join the Conversation: What frugal tips do you have for dining out on a budget?

Ways to Eliminate Your Credit Card Debt

Do you have credit card debt piling up? Maybe you brought it with you to graduate school. Maybe you have accrued it during graduate school. Regardless, you have some debt that is eating away at you. Here are a few simple steps to help you eliminate your debt while you are in school:

  • Take Stock of Your Debt: Figure out where you stand, honestly. Don’t estimate it. You can’t fix the problem if you don’t know the reality. Write down the total debt and the interest rate on every card that you have.
  • Analyze Your Spending: Take an honest look at your income, expenses, and spending. Track your spending from the last few months. Are there ways that you could cut down your spending, even just $25 a month, to help pay down your debt? Every little bit adds up.
  • Create a Budget: Create a new budget for yourself that is focused on debt elimination. Wondering how to create a budget? Check out this post.
  • Generate Some Extra Cash: Look for ways to earn some extra cash. Sell a few of your items online. As a student, you probably have some old books that are lying around that you don’t plan to read again that you could sell. Do some odd jobs: yard work, babysitting, tutoring, etc. Give up something for a few months: eating out, junk food, Starbucks coffee, new clothes, etc. Put all of the money that you save towards your debt.
  • Choose Your Payoff Strategy: There are two common payoff strategies. One is to put all of your extra cash toward the highest interest credit card while paying the minimum on the other cards. Once the first one is paid off, you will have even more extra cash to apply to the card with the second highest rate and so on. For more information about this method check out this article. Another way is to start with the lowest balance first, paying the minimum on the others. Though this is not the most cost effective it is certainly a great way to motivate yourself as you are starting out. For more information about this method check out Dave Ramsey’s Debt Snowball.
  • Ditch The Plastic: During this time, hid your credit cards and just go with cash. It may seem archaic, but it is very wise. You spend 20% less when you pay with cash than when you use credit cards. This will also help you to keep on budget by only taking out as much cash as you need.
  • Motivate Yourself: Make concrete, trackable goals so that you can watch your progress. Celebrate your little achievements along the way. If you gave up coffee, you might treat yourself to a Starbucks or if you gave up eating out you might treat yourself to a meal at your favorite restaurant. It is up to you! Just make sure that these celebrations don’t involve you spending outside of your budget or, even worse, using your credit cards.
  • Get Help: Debt elimination can be very challenging, particularly if you have a lot of debt and/or you are dealing with many different credit card companies. There are many great debt elimination programs that can guide you through this process. I highly recommend Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota’s Financial Counseling Service. They have debt management plans to help people, not just Lutherans, pay off credit card debt and avoid scams for a nominal monthly fee. Another great resource is Dave Ramsey‘s debt management classes.

Join the Conversation: What are your tips for paying off credit card debt?