Thursday, August 30, 2007

Feeling rich

It's strange how the ten bucks I made tutoring today feels more significant than the housing reimbursement check I deposited.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The awkwardnes of getting paid for work

I have a tutoring job lined up. One of the students in University Physics I was quite nervous about the class and contacted the professor looking for someone to provide one-on-one help. Tutoring is somewhat fun, and I always feel somewhat weird taking money for things I would probably have done for free anyway. Nonetheless, money is useful, and my time and experience are of value so I should charge something, right?

How much to charge is a trickier question. I've never been comfortable setting rates for my services. When I used to occasionally babysit, I just took whatever the parents decided to pay. As a result, I'm pretty certain that some of the time I was underpaid. (Based on what I've read, a responsible college student who is trained in cpr and first aid who's watching a two year old and a very rambunctious five year old for the evening and must make dinner and put the kids to bed should almost certainly not be making less than $5 an hour.)

What's the best way to bring up payment? How do I figure out what to charge? Undergrads working for the university in the tutoring center make over $7 an hour, and much of their time is generally spent doing their own homework while waiting for students to wander in. Graduate students have posted fliers advertising one-on-one math tutoring for $20 an hour or more. Does asking for $8/hour seem reasonable? Would $9 be too greedy? Should I wait to see if my student suggests a price?

Monday, August 27, 2007

Paralyzed by longing

After an exciting, all expense paid weekend at a state park in Missouri (ok, so actually sitting a conference room all day isn't terribly exciting), I should now have a very good idea of how to go about applying for teaching programs. I intend to apply to Teach for America, and possibly the Mississippi Teacher Corps. I'm less likely to apply to NYC Teaching Fellows. Two months of living and working in NYC was a great life experience but also very overwhelming. New York is wonderful in many ways, but smaller university towns can have thriving cultural scenes and a greater sense of community.

So, I know what I should be doing tonight. My personal statement needs revision. I should contact one of my references tonight by email to make sure he's willing. I should get this stuff over with. If this is my new direction, then my time and resources should be concentrated on doing this before the workload for classes intensifies.

Why am I finding that impossible? If I do this and get in, I will be forced to accept that another path in life is gone forever. Until late June, my plans for life were very different. There was a nice young man who said he wanted to spend his life with me. His plans changed quite suddenly. Actually, his plans for just about every other area of his life changed several times over the past few months, but he insisted that I remained the one constant. Teaching was still my goal, but I was planning to get a teaching degree at my university because he would be here for that year. One day he insisted that "Our plans are too different," claiming that I was uncertain about whether I wanted marriage and children. It was untrue, but he stuck with his decision and refused to offer further explanation. Now, we pass each other in the hallways each day, but he does not speak to me. He seems irked when I attempt to speak to him, or even make eye contact. I know that I must now plan for a life alone, work towards the goals I had been willing to compromise on because I valued him more, but I struggle to get through the days without tears.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Setting savings goals

It's tricky to figure out what appropriate savings goals are while in college. Most of the advice out there is geared to folks who have a full-time jobs, bills, and a normal adult lives. College students are generally assumed to be nearly broke, except in the occasional articles focusing on very young entrepreneurs who suddenly became amazingly wealthy through creativity, luck, and insane drive

I fit into neither of those categories. Through good fortune with scholarships (and parents who were happy to not have to pay for tuition or room and board and have thus been overly generous in insisting on paying for some incidental expenses) I am in better financial shape than many my age. I have no school debts and have accumulated a chunk of savings by saving scholarship stipends and summer income. Today, not including loose change and after spending money on rent that will eventually be reimbursed, my net worth is $15,746.25.

Many months ago, the goal was to save $10,000 before finishing college. It's probably time to revise that goal. It seemed like a nice round number, attainable, and enough to live on for many months in a worst case scenario. Now, if I manage to avoid dipping further into my savings between now and when I get a "real job" rather than an internship that is technically a fellowship, I'll be able to fully fund a roth and still keep the emergency reserve. Would it be silly to try to not dip into my savings for the next year but spend the interest? Is it reasonable to take a hiatus from savings?

It might be good to scrimp and save for a down payment, but buying a house will be several years in the future. An extra few dollars a week now could make a fairly dramatic difference in my day to day life, and an extra couple hundred bucks in savings probably won't make much difference once I have a job. Yet, it feels irresponsible to slack off.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Grocery shopping for entertainment/procrastination

Tonight, in an effort to further delay writing a personal statement for a workshop on applying to graduate programs and fellowships, I went shopping. Much as I hate to admit it, I sometimes enjoy browsing in stores. That, however, creates the dangerous temptation to spend money on impulse. Grocery shopping feels slightly more virtuous; I have to eat, right? I have all of these cabinets just begging to be filled, and meal planning will be much easier once I have more staples on hand. I'm still in good shape when it comes to fruit, vegetables, milk, and some frozen foods since I've been eating lots of the free pizza as my main dish. (I'm quite glad to have finally eaten the last piece tonight since I was getting sick of it.)

Tonight I went on a pantry stocking mission. I got three cans of fat free refried beans, two pounds of brown rice, tortillas, and taco sauce for making burritos. I bought parmesan cheese to go with my favorite quick dinner of cheese ravioli and tomato sauce which I already have on hand. I got a big container of oatmeal and some brown sugar for very inexpensive breakfasts. I got onion powder and garlic powder since they improve so many dishes. I got a box of my favorite macaroni and cheese for a day when I need comfort food. I indulged in dried apples and dried cranberries to encourage myself to eat more fruit. I got jello, instant chocolate pudding mix, and two multipacks of sugarless gum since I've been feeling very deprived without desserts. I also bought four packages of ramen noodles since I do genuinely like them even though I wouldn't want to live on them. The grand total was $21.10 with tax. I think I did pretty well, but if anyone has suggestions for frugal meals for the next shopping trip, please let me know.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

How I pay my bills

This afternoon I mailed bills associated with the apartment costs for the first time. The electric bill for the first five days I had service was $5.90, but I don't think I can use that to extrapolate costs for a whole month. I used the air conditioner a bit, but I didn't do laundry, use my computer much, or run the dishwasher during that time. I also mailed my rent check for September. I am pretty sure I got far too nice an apartment. $410 is a lot.

I hope that my housing allowance requisition gets processed before I have to pay October's rent. It should come through long before then, but I've seen the problems they've had with the system in the past. As part of my scholarship, I am allowed to either live in the dormitories and eat in the cafeterias or request that money to spend on a place of my own. It comes to $626.80 a month. (Regardless of where I live, I also get a stipend of $1000 dollars per semester as well. If I live off-campus, I may also request the cost of internet access, which I haven't gotten yet but should look into.) I originally hoped to cover rent, utilities, food, and household expenses using only the housing allowance. I do plan to give myself a personal allowance out of the interest from my savings account.

If I am very frugal about food and very sparing in my use of electricity and water, that might work, but I'm not sure I can be very frugal about food for ten months straight. Temptations abound.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

I am more than a little annoyed with AT&T.

My parents were fairly insistent that I needed to get a landline phone in my apartment. I grumbled a bit but eventually agreed. According to AT&T's website, the plan with unlimited local calling is $17. I concluded I could probably fit that into the utilities portion of the housing allowance from my scholarship and signed up. Because I went through the sign up process online, the initial $45 fee was supposed to be waived, and I have the email to confirm that. I did all of this on August 10 and was supposed to get service between 8am and 8pm on the 13th. By the evening of the 14th, I still didn't have phone service so I used my parents' phone to call customer service. After spending a long time trying to use the automated system to get through to a human, I became very frustrated indeed, especially since the computer insisted I had an unpaid bill (despite having never dealt with AT&T before) and repeatedly demanded I enter my social security number to confirm my identity (despite my having never given AT&T that information in the first place). I then got put on hold, talked to an actual human about my problem for 30 seconds, went back on hold, talked to another human who had none of the information I'd given the automated system of the other human, went back on hold, and finally talked to another human who had none of the information I'd previously given others but who was able to enter something in her computer to tell them to turn on my service and who assured me I did not have an unpaid bill. All told, I spent about 40 minutes trying to resolve the problem, most of it on hold.

Today I received an order confirmation in the mail. It states that my monthly rate is $23.71, not $17, and that there will be a one-time charge of $45. I don't know if there is anything I can do about the extra $6.71 a month, but I will NOT be paying them a $45 fee that I have proof they said they would waive. I'm not looking forward to spending my afternoon on hold, but I guess I need to address this as soon as I get done with my last class. I'm would almost consider switching to ham radio as my sole means of voice communication if this is what dealing with the phone company is going to be like. I am already licensed.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Buying textbooks

Classes started this morning so I bought my books on Saturday. It's generally pretty painless since my scholarship covers up to $500 of books and supplies from the university bookstore. There have been semesters when the total for books alone exceeded that, and even when I personally don't have to pay for it, I resent that they charge eighty bucks for a used paperback. Our state legislature attempted to tackle the costs of textbooks, in part by requiring that profs sign an acknowledgment of the cost to students before they assign a text and requiring disclosure of any benefits they may receive. Pretty much every student I've talked to gets annoyed by the practice of continually coming out with new editions so students can't sell their books back and the next class has to buy brand new books. In some fields, it makes perfect sense; a class on molecular cell biology should incorporate the latest discoveries. In others, it only serves to line the publishers' pockets; Calculus I is Calculus I is Calculus I and a Dover paperback of a fifty year old text might serve just as well for a tenth of the cost.

This year there was a new wrinkle. Only two of my classes had books at the bookstore, but a third requires a subscription to online content instead. I can't use the book voucher system for the website so I have to pay for it myself then requisition a reimbursement.I know that I'm very lucky I don't have to pay and shouldn't grumble about the hassle of submitting the paperwork. So $230 for two books and $60 for the online thing could be worse, but it is still a lot of money for the folks who have to come up with the cash themselves.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

My truly terrible extravagance

Ok, it was time to sit down and review my latest financial information. I didn't track my spending, but thanks to mostly using my debit and credit cards and having some awareness of how much cash I spent I can at least reconstruct the total spent and major causes of spending for the ten weeks I spent at the REU. Keep in mind that during this time, the costs of the bare necessities of my life were born by others. I lived in a dorm provided by the program, had a meal plan that covered a meal a day in the cafeteria, and had parents who fed me whenever I was home. All car related costs were (and are) covered by my parents. (Yes, I do feel guilty about this, but I've yet to talk them out of it. Whenever my mother notices a dramatic drop in my gasoline spending on the gas station card they provided for this purpose, she asks me whether I've been using my own money instead and tells me not to do that.)

This summer I made a conscious choice to be a bit more extravagant, to play a bit more and save a bit less. In part, I thought that since I had already exceeded my savings goal for my time in college it wouldn't hurt my progress toward my goals. There were also other more personal reasons why I felt like I deserved/needed to get out some and socialize even if it did mean buying dinner when I could have eaten cafeteria food for free.

Within a margin of error of $10, my spending for those ten weeks was $581.66. That's over 13% of the stipend I received this summer. Major expenditures included a new hat and a weekend in Dallas. We went to visit some divisions of TI and a couple of tech start-ups, and the trip also served as my vacation for the summer. The program paid for transportation, hotels, and a couple of meals. We kept going to moderately priced, sit down restaurants, and eating there several times adds up quickly. Also, I bought a ticket to Six Flags so I could spend a day there rather than sitting around the hotel. If you add all of this to the costs of lunches, dinners, and movies with friends, the total is staggering.

I can almost convince myself it isn't as bad as it looks. $153.29 of that bought me another year of prepaid cell phone service. However, even if I exclude that and the co-pays for prescriptions when I got sick, I still averaged around $40 a week. That feels like a huge amount of money at this point in my life. Starting September 1st, I'll start tracking every penny I spend to try to get a better handle on things. I am generally somewhat frugal by nature so I suspect this summer was an aberration, but I need to make sure it isn't the beginning of a trend.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Give a student a slice of pizza...

Give a student a slice of pizza, you feed her for a day. Give a student two whole pizzas left over from a departmental picnic, and she gets to avoid grocery shopping for the next week. Although, if she's anything like me, she'll then waste $1.39 on getting ice cream with friends afterward anyway.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Eagerly awaiting bills

This may be the one time in my life I really want to get bills. It is difficult to prepare a budget without an accurate estimate of what water and electricity will cost. I'm really eager to jump right in to my spreadsheet program and get going on PearBudget. Without a plan in place and a commitment to track my expenses, my spending may get out of hand. I know this summer I spent quite a bit more than I intended to.

I unexpectedly got a summer internship doing an REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates funded by the NSF) which allowed me to get paid to do work I planned on doing for my honors thesis anyway. It was great experience, and my savings got a nice boost as a result. However, between the unexpected income and the interest from a c.d. that matured this summer I felt fairly rich. I splurged on lots of dinners out with friends, movies, nothing that in and of itself cost enough to make much of a dent in my bank balance, but looking back it did add up. To be perfectly candid, I think if I had it to do over again I probably would, but it isn't a life style I could comfortably sustain throughout the year. If I can determine that I have X dollars to play with each month without dipping into the principal of my savings, then I'll both feel less guilty about spending on frivolous things and be more responsible.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Who am I?

I am entering my senior year of college. I'm majoring in physics with a concentration in biophysics and a minor in math. Mostly, I really enjoy school, and I'm somewhat nervous about having to finish and begin adult life. I think I want to teach for a few years before graduate school in the sciences.

I recently moved into an apartment of my own after living at home or in dorms for all of my life to date. Now I'm responsible for paying bills, buying groceries, and budgeting. Perhaps having this blog will help me stay focused.