3 Ways To Make College Food Delicious And Affordable

Posted on October 14, 2014 by:

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Cafeteria meat, Wismer dining hall, Ursinus College, Sept. 21, 2007

Who could get sick of this?

I have a love/hate relationship with my college’s dining hall.

As someone who hates cooking for herself, I like the ease of walking to the cafeteria and grabbing a meal. But I can’t say I’m the biggest fan of dining hall food, and believe it or not, sometimes I get sick of eating pasta every day.

Whether you have a meal plan or not, eating well on a college budget can be a challenge. Here are three ways to spice up your diet without emptying your wallet.

***

1. Be A Smart Shopper

Find the most reasonably priced grocery store in your area, and do your food shopping there.

Freshman year, I bought food from the overpriced convenience store closest to my school, but sophomore year, I realized that a grocery store just a little farther away had options that were much cheaper. You may have to try a few different places, but you’re bound to find a grocery store within your budget.

Farmer’s markets often have fresh food at inexpensive prices. If there’s one in your area, you could find some great produce, meat, and seafood that will enhance your diet without busting your budget.

You’ll want to get familiar with meal planning—it’s the best way to save money and ensure you don’t buy food you won’t eat. If you have roommates, consider splitting food costs with them on items you can share, like milk and sugar.

If you save money on your everyday purchases, you’ll be able to splurge for occasional meals or drinks out—perfect for when you’re tired of cooking the same meals for yourself each week.

2. Find Free Food

My college has tons of events that provide free food; I bet yours does too (that’s how they get people to attend). There is no shame in stopping by a lecture or a trivia night so you can get some free pizza or wings. I also bring leftovers from my mom’s home-cooked meals back to school (not that that’s my primary motive for visiting home … ).

If you have to, there’s always the option of taking food from the cafeteria. My roommate actually brings Tupperware when she swipes in to the dining hall and makes herself sandwiches for the next day. While your school may not condone taking full bags of bagels, they shouldn’t stop you from bringing some bread or salad back to your dorm if you’re in a pinch.

3. Make Creative Meals

If you’re on a meal plan, you may get tired of what your dining hall has to offer, but resist the urge to turn to takeout. I’ve had an unlimited meal plan for the past 3 years, and when I’m bored with the same meals every day, I get creative by combining different types of food.

My favorite dining hall meal is grilled chicken with pasta, sprinkled with parmesan cheese on top—you can throw in some chickpeas or broccoli if you’re health-conscious. My roommate is a big fan of taking pita bread from the sandwich station and then piling on veggies from the salad bar.

If you cook for yourself, you may fall into the trap of making Easy Mac every day. Check out the Eats tag on the SALT™ Blog to find some simple and affordable recipes. I also get a lot of great recipes from Pinterest—search “easy meals” or “college student meals” and you’ll find food that’s easy to make and cost-effective.

***

With some planning and creativity, you’ll have delicious and budget-friendly meals all four years of college, and you’ll be able to say goodbye to the meal plan blues.

How do you save money on food? Let us know in the comments!

The One Resource You Need To “Navigate” Choosing A College

Posted on October 8, 2014 by:

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Bowdoin campus in winter

A campus tour won’t tell you everything you need to know about a school (except how cold it gets! No tours in the winter, folks).

It’s October, and here in New England, the telltale signs of autumn have arrived: leaves are changing, apples are being picked, and of course, students are freaking out about which college to attend.

OK, that last one happens all across the country.

***

Whether you’re in high school or at a community college or 4-year school and considering transferring, starting your school search can feel overwhelming. Luckily, you can turn to the National Center for Education Statistics’ College Navigator to put you on the right track.

Here’s how this resource can help you make an educated decision, i.e., one not based on how pretty a campus looks.

So Many Search Options

If you are looking for schools that meet specific needs, the College Navigator is the perfect place to search. It has more filters than you may know what to do with: location, degrees, types of programs, tuition, housing, setting, selectivity, test scores, sports (the list goes on). You can be as specific (or not) as you want.

The various search options will help you figure out schools to consider and apply to. You may even find colleges that fit the bill that you never would have thought of otherwise.

It Can Get You Organized

The College Navigator does more than just search through your preferences for college matches; it also allows you to build lists using the “My Favorites” tool.

In addition, you can save your search results, favorites, and lists, so you can return as often as you like to analyze your choices. This shouldn’t be a one-and-done search. Take your time, and really consider where you may want to go to college.

Even better? You can also export your search results to Excel spreadsheets. For organization nuts like Monica (OK, and maybe me), this is awesome!

Find Out College Vitals

The College Navigator has a wealth of information that’s more objective than your campus tour guide might be, as it lists each school’s vitals—all of them.

  • Is student success important to you? You can compare retention, graduation, and cohort default rates.
  • How do the schools measure up cost wise? Find tuition, financial aid, and net-price information to see how students fare financially at each school.
  • Is mom worried about how safe you’ll be? You can even view school crime statistics from the last 3 reported years.

Most importantly, you can consider your top choices against each other to see which one really meets all of your needs the best or can come the closest to your ideal school.

***

While statistics are important in thinking through an investment as big as higher education, don’t dismiss your overall feeling about the school either. Being comfortable in the culture and location the school is in are just as important as the hard numbers are.

In the end, your gut may turn out to be the best evaluation tool you have, but you do have the Navigator to help you narrow down the choices. So, what are you waiting for?

Have you used the College Navigator? Tell us about your experiences. 

(Photo: Gwyn Fisher)

3 Ways To Safely Build Your Credit Score In College

Posted on September 26, 2014 by:

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Kerry_Washington_Met_Opera_2010_Shankbone

Watch your favorite TV shows and build your credit at the same time? Now, that sounds scandalous.

You check your grades, emails, and missed calls, right? But have you checked your credit score?

If you read this with a glazed look over your eyes, it’s OK—in college, I also had no idea what a credit score was or why it’s so important. Until, like Sasha, I tried to rent my first apartment. I didn’t have a long credit history. “That can’t be so bad,” I thought. At least it’s not bad credit, right?

Well … I had no way to convince leasing offices that I’m capable of punctually paying rent. To them, I was still a risk!

***

Ashley wrote a thorough post here on the SALT™ Blog about credit score calculations, which I highly recommend you read.

Thankfully, my father guided me through college and helped me begin to build credit. Everyone’s financial situation is unique, but if you have a little income in college, you can begin to build your credit history by doing three simple things!

Watch Your Favorite TV Shows

Easy enough, right?

According to Ashley’s article, 35% of your credit score (“FICO score” is its proper name) is based on payment history. This means the first goal for building credit history is to be consistent! Start lines of credit that you KNOW you will pay on time. For me, that’s inexpensive subscription services, like Netflix, Hulu Plus, and HBO Go.

In college, I lived in a dorm, so I had no rent or utilities to pay—it was all through financial aid. I didn’t have a car, so no monthly car note either. However, I had a paid internship and a small research assistant job, so I could afford those monthly subscription services. For $10/month, you could build your credit and catch up on Breaking Bad and Scandal! Win-win!

Pay Your Student Loans (Kind Of)

With my minimal wages, I definitely couldn’t afford to pay back my student loans, but I could afford the interest accruing on them. If you can manage it, don’t wait until the grace period is over to begin paying back your student loans. You could easily spend the first few years of your entry-level job chipping away at just the interest instead of your principal balance.

Unfortunately, it’s common for students to apply for financial aid without really knowing what it all means. Subsidized? Unsubsidized? Stafford. Perkins. PLUS. Huh?? Set up a meeting with your financial aid adviser or a similar service available at your university to look at your options.

And, if you haven’t already, take a look around this blog and visit saltmoney.org to get a better understanding.

Ask The Bank Of Mom And Dad

Because of the CARD Act of 2009, it may be difficult for you to get your own credit card. However, you can still build credit this good old-fashioned way. If you’ve proven to be responsible and your parents have great credit, ask if you can become an authorized user on their credit card. Hey, closed mouths don’t get fed!

Once they report you as an authorized user, when they pay the bill on time (like Grown Ups do, right?), you enjoy the benefits of a consistent credit history. Since they can monitor your spending and keep you in check, you should all agree on your card usage. Maybe you only use the card for textbooks or other consistent purchases.

If you are able to get your own card, resist the temptation to open up multiple accounts. That can negatively affect your score and make you seem like an unstable borrower. Slow and steady wins the race!

***

Hopefully these tips help! I’m still on the road to building my credit and being a responsible and reliable borrower. If there’s ever a home or business in my future, I want to ensure that the financial choices I make now have a positive impact!

Know of an easy way to build your credit? Share it below.

(Photo: Wikipedia)

How To Snag A Great Part-Time Job In College

Posted on September 19, 2014 by:

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Man asleep reading

Be sure to balance your work with your studies!

In April of my freshman year of college, my Politics 101 professor emailed me asking if I’d take a job as his research assistant. I was excited and honored, but also scared that I wasn’t capable of taking classes and working at the same time.

I’m now going into my third year as a research assistant, and it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made. It looks great on my résumé, I’ve learned how to better manage my time, and I’m making money. I recommend finding a part-time job to everyone—it’s taught me as much as some classes I’ve taken.

You, too, can handle working while you’re in college. Here’s how to find a job that’s right for you—without work affecting your grades.

***

1. Determine How Much Time You Have

If you’re a freshman and need time to adjust, or if you have a time-consuming major, you might not be able to work a lot of hours. But your college likely has plenty of opportunities to increase your cash flow without taking too much time away from studying. My school hires a lot of dorm monitors and security escorts, and you’re allowed to do homework when you’re not checking student IDs or walking people back to their dorms.

Now, if you’re a year or two into college and have become a pro at time management, you can work more hours and you’ll have more options when it comes to jobs. To narrow those options down …

2. Figure Out What’s Important To You

If you want a job that looks good on your résumé, you’ll want to find something in your field of interest. Many academic departments look for teaching or research assistants if you’re interested in academia; see what’s available in your major. Other major-specific jobs: You could be a tutor if you’re interested in education, you could write for your school’s marketing department if you’re a marketing or communication major, or you could do tech support if you’re into computers.

If you just want to make money, or if you want to pick your own hours, check out different departments of your college, like the fitness center, the career center, or the residence life office. They may need receptionists or assistants, and they’ll likely understand how busy college life can get when scheduling your hours.

If you want something off campus to get a change of scenery, visit your local coffee shops or convenience stores—but make sure your manager knows when your classes are so you’re not scheduled at those times.

3. Surf The Web For Jobs

For on-campus jobs, visit your school’s employment website—it may be in the financial aid section. There, you’ll find a list of all available positions. Your school may also have an employment directory for off-campus positions and internships.

If you want an off-campus job, you can go directly to the business’s website, or you can check LinkedIn and other sites with job listings.

4. Network With Faculty And Staff

While your school’s website is a great resource, you may have a better chance landing a job through networking. Talk to professors in your major and see if they know of any opportunities. They could ask you to work for them or help you find a job in their department.

If your friends have on-campus jobs, ask if there are any open positions or if you can talk to their manager. If you know a coach, see if they need a team manager. Your favorite club probably has a faculty advisor who could help you find a job. Don’t be afraid to reach out—it could lead to something great!

***

Once you land a job, remember Tom Petty’s wise words: “The work never ends, but college does.” (But ignore his not-so-wise words, “Spend money you don’t have.”) Don’t work too many hours and miss out on other opportunities—networking events, special lectures, or time with friends. Once you find your balance between school, work, and friends, you’ll realize you can have it all.

Do you juggle school and work? Tell us about it in the comments!

(Photo: quinnanya)

How College Grads Can Inexpensively Recreate The Feeling Of College Life

Posted on September 16, 2014 by:

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Bacon, Eggs, and Hash Brown

Swap expensive dinners out for breakfasts. You’re used to getting up early now anyway, right?

As much as you might hate it, the back-to-school whirlwind hit this month. For those of you lucky enough to still be in college, I assume you have that special feeling in your stomach that marks the beginning of a new semester.

But for those of us who have graduated, that feeling isn’t coming back. We had our time in the sun, and it seems over for us. I don’t want to accept that, though. I want to bring that feeling back. And as always, I want to do so without spending a pile of money.

***

Sure, my friends and I could fly to Fiji for a week, and things might start to feel like college again. But as much as I might yearn for that, it’s not worth breaking the bank over—especially with loan payments, cellphone plans, and other new, real-world costs to deal with.

Instead, let’s explore some affordable options to develop some fun college nostalgia.

Talk To Your Friends

This suggestion seems obvious, right? I acknowledge that. But specificity will clear up my point.

Texting, Facebook posts, and other online interaction are all great ways to keep in touch with friends from school, though none of them will feel true to the actual experience of friendship.

So, take things further. Set up a Skype date with a friend. Even better, my friends and I have done a couple Google Hangouts with a big group, including one for our fantasy football draft (another great way to keep in touch).

We laughed and bantered like we used to when we lived together, and none of us had to spend any extra money to do so.

Keep Learning

Your education is the most important part of college, but when you get nostalgic about your time there, it’s rarely for academic reasons. More likely, your academic memories feature late-night study sessions and stressful essay experiences.

I certainly had my fair share of those, yet I also miss the feeling of a really great class. Whether it was a course you couldn’t wait for every week or a particularly interesting lecture or reading assignment, experiencing the feeling of learning something brand new is special.

How can you match it? There are lots of ways you can continue your education. My favorite? Go read some fascinating non-fiction, or find a documentary on a subject that’s new to you. And for maximum points, tell your friends to read or watch the same thing and host a Google Hangout to talk about it.

The Most Important Meal Of The Day

I miss the late nights out in college, but I miss the mornings after even more. Having breakfast with all my roommates, recapping the previous night and looking forward to more, was always a joy.

While I no longer have a meal plan to pay for it, going out to breakfast is still a cost-effective option. It’s certainly cheaper than going out to dinner with a group of friends.

So, gather up a group and head to brunch. You’ll spend less than if that same group went out to dinner, and your bellies will fill with eggs, bacon, and that fleeting feeling of college days.

How do you carry that “college feeling” into your post-college life? Share your tips in the comments.

(Photo: www.bluewaikiki.com)

3 Non-Academic Things To Do Before Your Freshman Year Of College

Posted on August 25, 2014 by:

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Students sit on grass in front of brick building

Before you head to orientation, you’ll want to check some items off your to-do list.

August is winding down, and fresh high school graduates (like my brother) are preparing to take on a new stage of their life.

Incoming college freshman need to do a lot of official things before you finish “THE LONGEST SUMMER OF YOUR LIFE.” However, you’ll want to accomplish some less official things before leaving home, too—like spending time with loved ones and exploring all you can.

For the Syracuse-bound Little Goose, his big sis’s to-do list for him includes preparing for the cold north. “Chancletas” (flip-flops) are not meant to be worn year round in the northeast. No matter how much you wish you could. For you, here are three other suggestions on what to do.

***

1. Make Some Money—There’s Still Time!

Time is in abundance during summer. With so much of it on your hands, a job is suggested—wait, no, more like required.

It may be late in the summer, but it’s never too late to get a random, short-term job, like washing some cars or cleaning the gutters. You could become a pool boy or find something more geared toward your career of choice (presuming “pool boy” is not your intended career, of course).

Anything that can help you get some cash is encouraged. And once that income comes in, remember to set a budget. You don’t want to spend too much of your summer cash on adventures. The money you make during the summer will help you those first months of settling in. I guarantee it.

2. Just Keep Reading—Even If It’s Something Silly

Maybe you haven’t picked up a book since the school year ended? That’s OK, but now it’s time to get back in the habit. Reading keeps the mind active, and this will be a big help once the semester starts.

When you start school, you will face an overwhelming quantity of things to read. If you’re unprepared, this can set you off to a bad start. That’s why you should read ANYTHING and EVERYTHING: comics, random movie scripts, tweets, whatever. All you want to read, do it!

You’ll warm your brain up for learning, and you’ll get to do so with funny blog posts, memoirs, and other things you may not have time for once classes kick in. If you want to go a little bit further, set a reading schedule, like 50 pages a night or “one book in 1 week,” and see what you can do.

3. Create Healthy Habits

Heard of the freshman 15? If not, you will.

Gaining weight and destroying your sleeping schedule are common symptoms of being a freshman. Take preemptive action by starting an exercise regime that you can carry on during school year now. Pick a time and days of the week, and try to stick to it as soon as you get to school.

Exercise is a great de-stresser, and it can keep you focused on what you have to accomplish: getting that degree. Same thing goes for a good night’s sleep. A rested mind can help you stay healthy and more attentive in class.

What are some things you did the summer before you went to college that you wish you’d continue doing during the school year? Let us know in the comments!

(Photo: Wikimedia)

What It’s Like To Go Back To School After 10 Years Off

Posted on August 15, 2014 by:

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Brown building on grass with brown tree sculpture

The Open University in the U.K. allows you to take as many or as few classes as you have time for.

College in the U.K. (or as they call it, “uni,” which is just adorable) is different from in the United States, but it’s still subject to a lot of the same pressures and interruptions.

Aaron Weber spoke with someone in Scotland who took almost a decade off after his second year. Find out what it was like.

***

So, what’s the background for your story?

I started university when I was 17 years old, intending to study computer science and history. My maths weren’t all that strong, but I was good with computers.

I got married when I was 19, and my wife wasn’t working, so I had to do something to bring in money. Of course, it was still 2000, and the dot-com bubble hadn’t burst yet, so I found a job at an e-commerce consultancy that was acquired a few months after I joined. I spent 2 years there drinking too much coffee and holding meetings in the smoking room before the purchaser shut it down and laid everybody off.

In spring of 2002, I signed on with a startup in the U.S., working remotely and flying over every few months for meetings. That one went pretty well, and we got bought out by a bigger company, and I didn’t get laid off again until 2007.

What made you decide to return to school?

At that point, I sort of pondered going back to university to do a computer science degree. On the other hand, I had 7 whole years of working, so I thought maybe I didn’t need it. I knew I didn’t want to attend full time, but a part-time bachelor’s degree takes 8 years in Scotland at traditional colleges.

I decided to pursue a degree from the Open University. You can take as many classes as you have time for, and I set out on a pace to be done in just 5 years with almost no breaks.

By the time my classes began, I’d found another job, this time developing software at an investment bank. I initially intended to study maths and economics to go with my banking job, but I still didn’t like the maths part that much, and switched to politics, philosophy, and economics, which I enjoyed more.

What were your classmates like?

The OU has a very different age profile from brick universities; I tended to be one of if not the youngest people, and most of my classmates were people in their mid-50s and upward. As the recession progressed, though, more and more people my age or younger began to join us.

How’d you pay for it?

I didn’t qualify for need-based financial aid, so I paid the full tuition price out of my own pocket.

Fees have gone up dramatically in the U.K., but the OU is still about half the cost of a traditional brick-and-mortar residential university. And of course, education here is still loads cheaper than in the U.S.

A year’s tuition costs about as much as a month’s rent in Glasgow: just over a thousand pounds, or about $1,500. Books were extra, of course, but it wasn’t a real strain on my budget at all.

How’s it feel to be done?

Right now I’m still waiting for the result of the my final exam, but I’m pretty sure I’m getting my official diploma this summer. The weird thing about being done with school is that I have free time. I felt bored the other day. I haven’t felt properly bored since 2008.

How has going back to school affected your career?

It’s definitely been useful at work, more even than I thought it would. A lot of the statistical analysis you study in economics is useful in machine learning. And I’m currently working for a recruitment firm, so my knowledge of labor markets has also come in handy. But the most useful thing, really, has been having another prism through which to view things.

Any final thoughts for people considering returning to school?

Even without the content of the courses, there are two huge things I learned that made just going to school worthwhile: I had to get much better at managing my time, and I learned that sometimes good enough really is good enough.

Did you go back to school after a long break? Let us know in the comments what it was like for you.

(Photo: Wikimedia)

8 Things Incoming Freshman Must Do The Summer Before College

Posted on August 8, 2014 by:

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Mailbox in rocks on mountain

Just graduated from high school and walking on air? Enjoy, and remember to check your college email for important tasks due this summer.

When I asked my soon-to-be-college-freshman son what to include in a pre-college to-do list, he said: say goodbye to your girlfriend or boyfriend, buy a good alarm clock, and watch a movie about balancing partying with education.

Well, at least one of his suggestions mentioned education (sort of).

Based on what my other kids have experienced, there is a lot more to do before you arrive on campus. If you’re heading to school in the fall, be sure to check these eight things off your to-do list.

***

1. Accept Your Financial Aid

If your school awards you financial aid, you need to review the types they offered and “accept” the ones you want. For example, if your award includes subsidized and unsubsidized Stafford loans, you might accept only the subsidized one to avoid the extra interest costs.

If you take out a loan, you need to complete your college’s loan entrance counseling requirement. On top of that, you also need to sign the loan’s promissory note. Without completing these, your financial aid award will not be available to pay your tuition and fees.

2. Decide On Parental Access

If your parents pay your college tuition, you will definitely want to grant them access to your school’s online payment portal. This will let them see what is owed and by when.

Also, you need to decide whether you want your parents to have access to other things—like your grades. Even if they fully pay your tuition, they aren’t entitled to see your grades (although I’m sure they will want to …).

3. Determine Housing, Food, And Roommates

Some schools require a deposit for on-campus housing. If so, send yours on time. You will also have to consider dorm and meal plan options. Many meal plans are “use it or lose it,” so if you have options, start out with a smaller number of meals and bump up if need be.

If your school offers a roommate matching system, consider whether to fill out a questionnaire or let a random selection seal your fate. Based on my kids’ experiences, both have pros and cons. If you complete a roommate profile, just be honest about who you are. (Live knee-deep in dirty laundry? Admitting it is your best strategy!)

4. Take Entrance Exams And Register

You may think you are done with exams until next fall—and no doubt you deserve a break! Yet, many colleges require placement tests to ensure incoming freshmen sign up for an appropriate course level. (Why pay for a class that’s too easy?) Once your results are in, you can select your courses.

When registration opens, try to be first in line. Since freshman get last pick of classes, being timely may mean the difference between an 8 a.m. calculus class or a more relaxing 10 a.m. start. I had 8 a.m. calc. With no inherent math gene, let’s just say I needed a lot of caffeine to get through it.

5. Sign Up For Optional Orientation

Many colleges offer optional orientation programs for a fee. Some schools have outdoor adventure programs offsite; others have programs right on campus. One of my sons, who attends a large university far from home, found this to be a great way to connect with other students—many of whom are still among his closest friends today.

6. Check Your Medical Coverage

Your college will require your medical records to ensure you have the necessary vaccinations, such as for meningitis. The health center will also need to see proof of health insurance. Otherwise, you will be automatically enrolled in the campus insurance program—at a cost to you. If you have your own insurance, you will need to complete the steps to obtain a waiver from the school insurance plan.

7. Check Your Inbox For What’s Left

Once you send in your deposit to your college, a flurry of information arrives in your new college inbox. If you haven’t opened your college email lately, do so to figure out anything you missed.

Summer reading? Check it off.

Mandatory classes on alcohol/drugs/sexual harassment? Complete them. It’s great information to have—and even more beneficial than a movie about balancing education with partying.

8. Plan Your Move

Once you complete all of the above, it’s time to prepare for moving day. Make a realistic plan for moving in by setting aside the time you think it will take—and then add a day to it! You will be surprised at how many details go into setting up your dorm room, and just how many trips to the store you’ll make.

What’s on your personal summer-before-college to do list? Let us know in the comments.

(Photo: summitcheese)

3 Ways That Apps Can Help You Survive Long-Distance Friendships

Posted on August 5, 2014 by:

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White sphere with symbols for apps

Using free apps to stay in touch makes the world seem a little smaller.

In high school, I counted down the days until summer vacation. But now that I’m in college, I’m really starting to understand the “Summertime Sadness.”

With classes and homework out of the way for 3 months, there’s plenty of time to hang out with friends. In high school, most of my friends were a short drive away, so pool parties and bonfires were weekly events for us. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case in college.

***

I’m in touch with a few high school friends but much closer with people from college. By closer, however, I mean emotionally, not geographically. Financially, I can’t travel to New York or Maryland every weekend (or Australia … at all), so I’ve had to find ways to connect with the people I love without emptying my bank account.

You probably know that free apps like Skype and Snapchat can help with this. However, even with great services like these, you can still lose touch—if you don’t have a plan. If you’re in a similar situation, follow these three steps to ensure your relationships can go the distance.

1. Put It On The Calendar

Video chatting, especially through Skype, is hands down my favorite method of communication this summer. Until hologram technology takes off, video chatting with friends is the closest thing to hanging out in person. But with summer internships and plans keeping you busy, it’s easy to tell your friends, “Oh, we should Skype soon!” and never actually do it.

Instead, schedule weekly virtual dates with your friends. You might think you don’t have time for these, but if you mark them on your calendar like you’d schedule gym time or lunch plans, staying in touch gets easier. My best friend and I have a weekly Skype date, and that half-hour is one of the highlights of my week. It makes the distance between Massachusetts and Maryland seem just a little smaller.

2. Share Moments And Messages

When I first got Snapchat, I was all about just sending and receiving selfies. Now, my friends and I use it to share moments with each other from our everyday lives: pictures of our vacation spots, Frisbee games, and jury duty (hey, it can’t all be fun).

While you can use Facebook or Instagram to share photos, Snapchat is different because your pictures go to individuals—making them more personal than a public post. You can also add text on top of the pictures, captioning them with a heartfelt note or an inside joke.

So, this summer, send pictures of the fun things you do to your friends, but be sure to add a message to let them know you miss them. Think of it as like a postcard (without the cost of postage!) telling your friends you wish they were with you.

3. Remember You’ll Be Together Soon!

You can find a ton of free apps to count down the days until you see your friends. A countdown is a good reminder that while this summer may seem endless, you’ll reunited be soon enough. I use Dreamdays Lite because it’s pretty and I can customize my countdowns with my own pictures.

Pick an app and set up a countdown until the next time you’ll see your friends. By keeping busy and staying in touch, the days will fly by, and that’s the best cure for “Summertime Sadness” I’ve found.

How do you stay in touch with your friends over the long summer break? Let us know in the comments.

(Photo: Wikimedia)

3 Unexpected Expenses That Go With Moving Off Campus

Posted on July 16, 2014 by:

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Thermometer, sign that says "furnished apartment for rent," and Coca-Cola sign, all hanging in window

You may not have to buy new furniture, but there are other expenses to be aware of when renting your first apartment.

This fall, my daughter is moving off campus with her friends. Of course, this process started in the spring, when they went on a waitlist for an apartment complex they wanted to live in.

When they reached the top of the list, they had 24 hours to accept the available unit … or drop back to the bottom of the waitlist. So yes, “we” started paying rent on May 20—three full months before she’ll actually move in.

And while those extra months of rent proved to be an unexpected expense, they were far from the only one students moving off campus face.

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Lately, it seems like I have co-signed or guaranteed too many leases for my college-aged kids, who have had enough of college dorm life. This makes me somewhat of a reluctant expert on the subject of rentals and leasing, from the eyes of a tenant (or, rather, the eyes of a tenant’s parent).

If you signed on the dotted line for a place to live this fall, you’re likely excited to get away from your folks and move in with your friends. However, first and last months’ rent payments might not be the only expenses awaiting you. Here are three others you need to be aware of before packing the moving truck.

1. Surprise Deposits For Utilities

By the date your lease begins, you and your roommates will need to show your landlord proof that you have transferred all the utilities into one of your names. Talk with your roommates about how to manage these costs—you may want to each take responsibility for a specific utility. Paying a bill in your name and on time is a good way to build your credit score.

But be warned: Some utility companies require an initial deposit. When my daughter signed up with the local electric company, it surprised us both that they required a $250 deposit. If you have to deal with a deposit as well, decide whether you will pay it yourself (and get all the money back some day) or split it equally among your roommates. If you choose the latter, keep track of how much everyone chipped in.

2. Insurance May Be Mandatory

My daughter’s landlord required proof of $100,000 in liability insurance for all tenants, in case something crazy happens, such as a person getting hurt or the property getting trashed during the lease period. This unexpected insurance cost added another $129 to the annual expenses of renting.

And in case you were wondering, liability insurance does not cover your personal property. For that, you would need renters insurance. (Considering how my son’s stuff was ruined in a flooded storage unit, I can attest that the extra expense of renters insurance can be worth the money.)

3. You Must Complete A Property Condition Form

This one is to prevent future unexpected expenses from coming your way.

When your lease begins, you have a short period to let the landlord know of existing damage or problems with the unit. It is really important to fill out this property condition form by the deadline, as well as to take pictures of any existing wear and tear. That way, you and your roommates cannot be held responsible for any existing damage.

My son’s very inexpensive rental house in the Rocky Mountains came complete with broken glass and screens, dirty carpets, holes in walls, mold, rodents, and more. When I saw the squalor, I was appalled he was going to live in such a place. I also thought we’d never get his share of the security deposit back, but we did—thanks to the property condition form.

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There are a lot of other details to manage with signing a lease and all the startup activities. But once you have it all done, you and your roommates can get to work on the more fun part, like hunting for good used furniture, stocking your fridge, and scheduling your house warming party.

Have you signed a lease with your friends? Let us know in the comments what surprises you encountered in the process.

(Photo: turkeychik)