Sometimes it’s just way too hard to choose only one topic for my weekly writing adventure. This week there are two things that both seem to need urgent attention, so the Moneywise Tip is going to be a twofer.
First up, September 4 is the last day for students to purchase the Penn State Student Health Insurance Policy (SHIP) for fall semester. And while you are young and healthy it’s easy to think you can get away with not having insurance. But you really shouldn’t. One broken bone. One bad case of the flu. One inflamed appendix. Any one of these can happen at any time, and without health insurance it can easily set you on the path to a lifetime of medical debt. You can read more about that here. But know that the choice to skip insurance is a game of Russian roulette you really shouldn’t play.
And for the second topic of the day, a student came to me last week to discuss something that scared both of us. She came in to say, “I came to give you the information you called me about this morning.” She went on to tell me that she had received a phone call from me asking for her birthdate and Social Security number for a student job she was applying for. One big problem: I hadn’t called her. The caller had used my name, but I didn’t place the call. It was a scammer. The reality is, anyone with access to the internet would be able to figure out that she is a student at Penn State Law, and I am the Financial Aid Director at Penn State Law. I’m actually kind of stunned that someone would do this level of research to try to run a phone phishing scam. But it happened. So how do you protect yourself against this kind of thing? My rule of thumb is that I never give out personal information on a phone call that I did not initiate. No date of birth. No Social Security numbers. No credit card numbers. If I didn’t place the call, no one is getting that kind of info out of me over the phone. Period. And thankfully, this student was smart and didn’t share that info on the phone, even though she thought it was me on the other end of the phone. WHEW! (Just so you know—I would never ask for that kind of info on the phone. I would always ask for you to bring physical documentation of these things.) Scammers are still everywhere, so make sure to protect yourself!
Time and money are a lot alike. They are both limited resources. Everybody seems to need more of both. You often find yourself swapping one for the other. And both need to be budgeted with care.
The beginning of a new academic year is a great time to look at how you are budgeting both your time and your money. It’s kind of a “clean slate” time of year. You have a brand new schedule of classes that you need to plan your study schedule and other responsibilities around. You may have just received a large refund of student aid funds that you’ll be using to cover your living expenses for the next several months.
It’s easy at a time like this to feel wealthy. You have a lot of money in your bank account. You have months before exams. And that’s when it’s easy to make a lot of poor decisions. If you make poor decisions and squander your time, you’ll find yourself trying to play catch-up at the end of the semester instead of heading into exams less frantically and more prepared. If you make poor decisions and squander your money, you’ll find yourself struggling to pay December rent and wondering how to spruce up your daily ramen noodles at the end of the semester.
The best way to avoid these challenges is to spend your limited resources wisely. Both your money and your time. This is best achieved with a plan.
By now you are likely familiar with the assorted tools used to plan your time. An electronic calendar in your phone. Or perhaps an old fashioned paper calendar. Maybe even a Pinterest-worthy bullet journal. Gather your syllabi from your classes. Mark in important deadlines. Plan where you need to be in your outlining process by what dates. With it all spelled out there for you it is much easier to avoid the last minute rush.
Money always seems to be more challenging. It feels like “budget” really ought to be a four letter word, the way it makes people cringe to think about it. But there are a lot of tools available to help you deal with it. Your first step really should be to make sure that your student aid refund is in a savings account. Then decide how often you are going to “pay yourself” from that savings account by moving money from savings to checking (I like monthly, but many prefer weekly or bi-weekly). Divide the money by that many transfers, and that’s how much you have for each budget period. But then comes the hard part. You still have to decide how much goes to each expense. Some things decide themselves for you—you don’t really have any way to control the amount of your monthly rent once your lease is signed. But groceries, clothing, and fun money are a lot easier to adjust. You may want to try an online budgeting program such as You Need a Budget or Every Dollar. Or you may prefer to just create a spreadsheet using Excel in Office 365 or a Google Sheet.
How you go about your plan is as malleable as the “recreation” line item in your budget. But the important thing is that you do it. If you are failing to plan, you might as well be planning to fail. Just do it.