Scary Cheap DIY Decor And Freaky Food For Halloween

Posted on October 22, 2014 by:

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Lime Jello Brain

You use you-know-what and make some twisted, inexpensive edible decorations for gelatin.

Halloween is arguably the best holiday on the calendar. It’s fun at every age to dress up, transform your apartment into a haunted house, and use it as an excuse to eat loads of junk food. It’s no wonder most people stretch it out and celebrate for an entire week (or even the whole month of October!)

Fortunately, it’s also easy to impress your Halloween party guests without breaking the bank. On a low budget, you can produce a spectacular array of DIY decor and freaky foods. Here are a few tips.

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Get Jiggly

Jell-O is a very versatile, affordable Halloween snack food, and it’s especially cheap when you buy the value brand. You can buy dollar-store gelatin molds in the shape of spooky things like spiders and skulls. For those who are 21+, you can make a huge variety of Halloween-y Jell-O drinks. Plus, pudding is perfect for worms-n-dirt cups.

DIY Papier-mâché Piñata

Last year, my roommies and I made a vampire bat piñata. We used a big oval balloon to shape the body and attached it to a small round one for the head. We used a simple flour and water mixture with newspaper strips for the papier-mâché.

After it dried, we painted the bat body black and made a funny face with drawn on fangs. You can try adding dollar-store vampire teeth for a scarier effect. We fashioned the bat wings from a cut-up black garbage bag and chop sticks.

For our project, we just winged it (heh, sorry for the bat pun(s)…) but if you need instruction, try following this Martha Stewart tutorial.

Upcycle Glass Jars

You can make homemade Halloween candle holders with salvaged jars from spaghetti sauce, salsa, and jam. Using various paints, paper, glue, and other crafty materials, you can make your jars look like jack-o-lanterns, mummies, candy corns, and more.

The best part about making jar jack-o-lanterns is that you can re-use them (i.e., save money next year)—unlike real carved pumpkins, which often quickly rot or get smashed by tricksters.

Consider The Timing Of Your Celebration

Last Halloween, my roommates and I lucked out because we scored loads of free decorations on the side of the road. We got them because we had our party the weekend after Halloween, since the holiday was on a Wednesday.

Someone who had their party earlier left out a great pile of loot on the sidewalk, including wooden headstones, mannequin limbs, and creepy dolls. Another bonus when timing your party late: you’ll get sales on candy and store-bought decoration.

Make Or Borrow Your Costume

Don’t forget: DIY costumes are usually the best costumes. Try to dress as something you barely need to buy anything for. Store-bought costumes will make your wallet suffer.

My favorite homemade costume I ever made was “a bag of jelly beans.” I filled a clear trash bag with multicolored balloons (and avoided sitting down).

The Internet is loaded with creative ideas. If you’re not feeling inspired or you don’t have time, borrow a friend’s costume from last year!

How do you save on Halloween? Share your tips in the comments.

(Photo: hurleygurley)

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 3-Step Plan To Map Your Financial Future

Posted on September 24, 2014 by:

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Money growing in potted soil.

If you want your money to grow in the future, you need to seed the soil now.

Maybe you don’t think of yourself as much of a cartographer, but you should never set out on a journey without a plan of how to arrive at your destination. And that includes traveling into your financial future.

As 20-somethings, it often feels like we have to manage so many financial obligations just to stay afloat. Because of this, it can be hard to look past the next payday—let alone to the next year or decade. However, it’s essential to think about your finances in a long-term context. Here’s a three-step plan to help you do it.

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1. Change Your Mindset

Despite being arguably the most important factor in our lives, we often overlook financial management. Hey, it would be nice if money somehow took care of itself, but that just won’t happen. Truthfully, you need to manage your finances as strategically as your career and nurture them as carefully as your relationships.

To do this, you need to create not only a weekly or monthly budget but also a long-term plan. For your plan, remember that simply spending less than you make will not tell the whole story—your income, savings, debt, and financial obligations will all change over the course of your lifetime.

Some changes will be dramatic, such as having children or retiring from your career. Others will be gradual, such as finally paying off a large consumer or student loan debt. In any case, how much you earn and how much you spend will vary each decade of your life. Remember to think about that future when coming up with your plan.

2. Put It In Writing

The easiest way to prepare your financial plan is to sit down and write out your life goals, then write estimates of their costs right next to them. What do you want to have at age 30, 40, 50, and beyond in terms of education, family, and lifestyle?

As I finish my MBA and approach age 30, having a family will become a priority in the not-so-distant future. I know kids are crazy expensive, so I’m thinking now about putting money aside to help when my income is reduced by maternity leave. Likewise, home ownership is something I’m considering in the next few years, which means shifting my disposable income to savings for a down payment.

Planning for big goals that are a few years ahead is a simple as writing them down and then working backward to determine how much you need to save now to achieve them.

3. Stay The Course

A plan is just a dream unless you execute it. Saying you want to pay for your future children’s college educations or save seven figures for retirement is a great destination—but if you’re not following the steps to get there, you’ll never make them a reality.

One thing that you could make you veer off course? An unexpected event, such as a layoff, illness, or divorce. These instances aren’t pleasant to think about, but you have to prepare for them as well. Allocate money for such emergencies in the future, to help you stay on track with your other goals. You hopefully won’t need these funds, but preparing for the worst is better than the alternative of not preparing.

Ultimately, you don’t know yet what your financial future holds, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make a map to conquer uncharted territory.

Are you planning for your financial future? How will you get there?

(Photo: StockMonkeys.com)

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)

Are You Taking Advantage Of These 5 Employer Benefits?

Posted on September 12, 2014 by:

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Plate of bagels

Bagel Friday!

A little while ago, my fellow SALT™ blogger Bridget wrote a great piece about considering total compensation when comparing job offers.

I’d like to take it a step further and talk about maximizing those benefits after you’ve started your job. After all, just because they offer the benefits doesn’t mean your employer will remind (or require) you to use them.

Here are five you’ll want to make sure you take advantage of.

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1. Retirement Contributions And Matches

Many firms offer some type of retirement compensation, typically in the form of direct or vested contributions. At some companies, this will happen “automatically”; you’ll notice the deduction directly from your gross pay. Others, however, may require you to contribute a certain amount (say 5%) before they contribute (most likely less than or equal to your personal contribution, percentage wise).

If you’re struggling with how much to contribute to your retirement plan, selecting the maximum your company matches is a good idea. I mean, if you take nothing else from this article, remember this: If your employer offers a matching contribution, take it … all of it. It’s literally free money. No joke.

2. Tuition Reimbursement

Many companies offer some level of tuition reimbursement to further your education. Sure, maybe you just got out of college, but what else are you going to do with all your new “free time”?

The rules and amount reimbursed will vary greatly. To take advantage of this benefit, start by checking if your employer offers tuition reimbursement, how much notification they need beforehand, when they distribute the reimbursement (either directly to you or to your school, which could affect your decision to borrow student loans), and which courses/programs the benefit includes.

Also, check if there are restrictions placed on the reimbursement. The most common of these is committing to work for your current employer “x” number of years after receiving the benefit.

3. “Other” Reimbursements

If your job requires travel, check your company’s travel reimbursement policy to know what you can/can’t expense and any limits.

Some “lesser known” reimbursements? Your cell phone (the portion used for work), home utilities (the portion used during work hours if you work from home), and commuter expenses. Not all of these will apply to each company, so make sure and check.

Most important, have a system for tracking and submitting your expenses. Personally, I save receipts and dedicate every other Friday (with a reminder on my calendar) to submit my expenses.

4. Vacation

Might seem like a “no brainer”; however, according to Glassdoor.com, the average U.S. employee only takes half of their vacation time. Can you believe it? Not this guy—I love vacation!

Make sure you understand your company’s vacation policy. How much advance notice do you need to give? Do vacation days rollover each year? What are “peak times” for your industry (FYI … asking for time off during these peaks might be frowned upon).

I try to submit my vacation as early as possible. This helps me avoid any last minute requests AND ensures I maximize my time off.

5. Freebies

From pizza parties, ice cream socials, and bagels on Fridays to the more extreme (wheeee!!!), free perks around the office are awesome. Seriously, they are.

Not to mention, these “freebies” typically accompany some type of event (e.g., a “lunch and learn”) or networking opportunity. Looking to move up in your company and meet some “higher ups”? Attend these events.

And unlike college, don’t show up just for the food. Interact with people and ask questions. You are a professional, after all. (Don’t let that stop you from snagging a cookie for later, though.)

What benefits does your company offer that surprised you? 

(Photo: dearbarbz)

How To Stock Your First Kitchen On A Budget

Posted on September 5, 2014 by:

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Fleamarket at Hötorget, Stockholm: old plates.

For your first place, a cheap dining set is better than a matching one.

September is here, and across the country, students are moving into new apartments. For many of you, this marks the first time with your own kitchen. If you and your roommates are still debating who’s going to buy what, be careful—it can be quite expensive to stock the cabinets and drawers.

If you start with a well-stocked kitchen, and you learn to use all of your kitchen supplies, you can save money on food forever. Cooking cheap and easy meals at home is my number one way to cut down on living expenses. Follow these tips to get everything you need on the cheap.

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1. Ask Parents And Relatives For Kitchen Goods

The best way to stock your kitchen is for free. I’ve gotten the majority of my kitchen supplies from my parents or grandparents, after they buy new things.

My dad saved an old dish set in the attic for me for years. My mom had enough utensils for 50 people to eat at once in her utensil drawer, so she had no problem sparing a set for me. Make sure your roommates check if their parents have any spare kitchenware, too.

Once you figure out what you already have, then you’ll know what to buy as a group. It’s best to divide the kitchen supply list, so you don’t have any duplicates. When I moved in to my last apartment, we had six cheese graters, but no can opener. Buying separately will also help you figure out who should take which items when you move out later.

2. Buy Secondhand Kitchen Goods

If you can’t stock the cabinets with your parents’ used stuff, the next cheapest way is to get other people’s used stuff at thrift stores and yard sales. Buying at yard sales is probably the cheapest way, and there will still be plenty of these even after move-in time. Look on Craigslist for sales in your area.

You can also shop for cookware at thrift stores like Salvation Army and Goodwill. Keep in mind: branches of these stores in small towns will be cheaper than those in big cities.

3. Buy New Kitchen Goods At Discount Stores Or Online

Many people instinctually head to Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, or some other department store to get their home goods when they move in to a new place. However, even if you don’t like the idea of second-hand kitchen supplies, there are cheaper ways to get new things.

In the Greater Boston Area, my favorite places to do cheap shopping are discount retailers like Family Dollar, Ocean State Job Lot, and Ikea. I’m sure you have similar places where you live.

Another option is to order stuff online. Amazon.com is a magical place, which usually offers low prices and free shipping. Wayfair is another great online retail site for home goods. You can also check out deals for things like knife sets or cookware on subscription shopping sites by becoming a member of Groupon Goods and Gilt. You can also join mailing lists for your favorite online retailers and brand websites, so you can get special deals emailed to you.

4. Get Only What You Need

So, now that we’ve highlighted where to get stuff, what should actually be on your shopping list? Here’s a list of my essentials that you and your roommates can work off of to ensure you don’t forget anything:

  • Silverware
  • Silverware drawer organizer
  • Spatula
  • Whisk
  • Wooden stirring spoons
  • Can opener
  • Sharp knives
  • Dishes
  • 2-3 different sized cooking pots
  • 2-3 different sized frying pans
  • Assorted sizes of baking sheets and baking pans
  • Liquid and dry measuring cups
  • Measuring spoons
  • Cheese grater
  • Microwave
  • Toaster and/or toaster oven
  • Coffeemaker

Cleaning/Other Kitchen Supplies

  • Dish soap
  • Sponges
  • Scrub brush
  • Dishwasher detergent
  • Dish drying rack
  • Dish towels
  • Oven mitts/potholders
  • All purpose cleaning spray
  • Mop/bucket
  • Broom/dust pan

Optional Conveniences

  • Immersion blender and/or regular blender
  • Hand mixer
  • Electric Kettle

Where do you buy your cheap kitchen goods? Share in the comments. 

(Photo: vilseskogen)

4 Free Ways To Continue Your Education After College

Posted on August 11, 2014 by:

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Three presenters on stage with projection screen, room full of people seated at conference

Attending a conference is a great way to learn more about your field, and your employer might even pay for it.

During my time in undergrad, I learned that school is more than sitting in a classroom. So, even if you’re not heading back to school in the fall, that doesn’t mean you can’t nurture your love for learning into your adulthood!

You can further your education without filing that FAFSA all over again. Get resourceful, and use your connections and community to improve your skill set and beef up your résumé. Or heck—just learn something new because you think it’s cool. That works too. Here are four ways you can do it for free.

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1. Start At “Home”

You need a place to begin your journey. Why not choose the place where your last education ended: your alma mater!

You are a walking ambassador for future generations, so contact your university’s alumni center and see if any networking events are coming up. The college experience was more than just a piece of paper in an expensive frame; it’s a ticket to meet people that you otherwise never would have.

My journalism professors were editors of the Washington Post, NY Times best-selling authors, respected academics, and activists. It’s their job to help the next wave of people in their industry. Shoot them an email, and ask for book suggestions from past syllabi, any industry events, or just to keep you in mind for any opportunities they see pop up.

Professors know that students rarely do the work to follow up and engage, so the fact that you circle back and contact them shows initiative.

2. Ask Your Job

If you currently work in your desired field, approach your employer and start a conversation about how they can help you achieve your goals.

Is there a conference you’d like to attend across the country? A 6-week online course? If it will help you excel at work, your employer may foot the bill! Everyone’s company culture is different, but it’s always a good idea to prepare a formal proposal detailing how their investment will benefit them and the company goals.

Is the convention, class, or trip unrelated to your job? Get creative! Since I work for a hair website, I usually promise to be an ambassador for NaturallyCurly.com wherever I go. I post relevant pictures to social media and even contribute relevant written pieces, like showing how curly haired women in different industries rock their natural hair with pride.

3. Use The Internet

Be a self-starter! Log on and get some learnin’!

I’ve learned how to use film editing software, self-publish a book, and improve my social media marketing strategy—all relevant things to my field. Millions of YouTube tutorials and blog posts can guide you. Vimeo has a Film 101 section perfect for budding filmmakers. Google is your friend!

You’ll need to do some research on your own, but for the creative fields that I’m interested in, I subscribe to email newsletters from The Create Daily, 99u.com, and Poynters News Univeristy. They send regular updates on classes, conventions, and webinars. Sometimes they’re free. And if not, refer to tip #2.

4. Crowdsource

Hey—if you can get your friends and family to cover the expenses for some continuing education, go for it!

We all know the heavy hitters like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, but have you tried Patreon? If you have creative endeavors, it’s a way to let your supporters, fans, and customers help you fundraise!

We live in a time when information is at our fingertips. Take these steps, and treat your education just like you would any other college class. Stay focused, and reap the benefits.

What do you want to learn next, and where will you learn it? Let us know in the comments.

(Photo: wikimedia)

These Effortless Shortcuts Could Equal Big Savings For You

Posted on August 6, 2014 by:

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Pennies, nickles, dimes, quarters in pile

Save your change from fun purchases, and within a year you could have enough to make a huge student loan payment. (Don’t pay it off in pennies, though.)

I’m all about maximizing efficiencies at school and work, so it’s no surprise I look for ways to replicate these efforts in my financial life.

I’m always looking for financial life-hacks, and below are my three most effective ones for saving and paying off debt.

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1. Make Your Credit Card Company Pay You

OK, so last time we talked, I said that using credit instead of cash is a budgeting mistake you should avoid. That’s still true if you’ve been using your credit card for unnecessary spending. In that case, skip this tip until you get your shopping habits under control

However, if you’ve mastered the art of not treating available credit like extra income, using a credit card can be an excellent way to organize your bills and get some free money. All you have to do is find a no-fee, cash-back rewards card and then automate your regular bills, like your cellphone, Netflix, and utilities, to it. This will not only ensure you never miss a due date (and face late fees), but it will also earn you cash back on things you’re buying anyway.

I get a check for $50 from my cash-back credit card about every 2 months, and I always set it aside for my emergency fund. That $50 is not a huge amount on its own, but it equals an extra $300 per year in savings—without working any extra hours or cutting spending elsewhere.

2. Use Cash, Then Keep The Change

Now that I have a regular income, I take out cash from my bank account every week for “fun” spending on things like coffee and dinners out. When the cash runs out, so does my fun. But more importantly, I save the change and small bills in an old-school piggy bank to use against my MBA student loans when I graduate.

Because Canada uses both $1 and $2 coins, a little bit of change will go a long way a year from now! My piggy bank holds about $400 to $600 when full, so if I drop in whatever weighs down my wallet every week, I’ll be able to make a big payment against my small graduate school loan a year from now without feeling the pinch.

Commit to putting away anything smaller than a $5 bill, and you’ll have hundreds of dollars in a matter of months.

3. Shop Where There’s Cash Back

You might already look online for deals and coupons, but have you tried rebate websites like Ebates?

Ebates offers you 1% to 5% cash back for shopping online at stores you probably already visit frequently, like Amazon. Couple this with a cash-back credit card, and next time you buy textbooks for school or a gift for mom and dad, you’ll likely earn 2%+ cash back on purchases you had to make anyway.

***

When it comes to spending, there’s never any reason to pay more than you have to; however, sometimes the secret isn’t finding a sale, but getting money back. Pocketing extra change and cash-back rewards will help you meet your savings and debt repayment goals faster without having to change any of your behavior.

Who said money management can’t be effortless?

What’s your favorite financial life-hack? Share it in the comments!

(Photo: Wikimedia)

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)

Not-So-Common Ways To Cut Your Utility Bills

Posted on July 30, 2014 by:

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Brown cat in washing machine

To make laundry on a Friday night more fun, have your cat help.

I found my dream apartment. Inexpensive, great location, and it allows cats. The only drawback? I have to pay my own utilities.

Until this point, I didn’t even know people paid for “sewage.” Now, it’s on my roster of monthly expenses.

***

After doing some research, I learned that the average one-bedroom apartment spends about $200 a month on utilities (sans cable). That’s enough to cover coffee out every day and a gym membership! Or, ahem, to take a chunk out of my student debt every month.

Fortunately, my parents’ frugal utility habits stuck with me. Hopefully, I don’t need to tell you college-educated individuals that turning things off when you’re not using them saves money. However, here are some less common ways you could be reducing your bills.

Do Your Laundry At Night

Some energy companies charge less for using water during off-peak hours. Call your energy providers and ask if they offer this discount. If they do, find out what “off peak” means to them. It’s different for each company but usually means sometime after dark. When you talk to them, ask about any additional discounts too.

Doing laundry at night has saved me money in another way too: Friday night laundry is a great excuse to stay in at night in my PJs with a bowl of ice cream and a good book (Netflix = energy).

Set Your Water Heater To 120 Degrees

This temperature is toasty enough to kill the germs on your dishes, wash your clothes squeaky clean, and even take a nice hot shower. It also prevents you from making things too hot and spending unnecessary cash … oh, and scalding yourself.

Fill In The Cracks

The more cracks and spaces in your apartment, that more difficult it is to heat or cool. If you don’t have a spastic cat (like I do) that tears apart everything hanging from anything, put towels along the base and frame of windows and doors to help with this. If you do have a feline like this, or if you simply want something more heavy duty, foam lining is a cheap purchase to save money in the long term.

Use A Fan … In Every Season

Heat rises. So, if you’re blessed with a ceiling fan, use it in the summer to suck the hot up and out, then keep it on in the winter to push that heat down. This will keep you and your thermostat happy. Just make sure your fan’s blades rotate in the proper direction for both.

If you don’t have a ceiling fan, consider other fans and how you can place them to evenly distribute the air. My friend tells me this piece of advice is common sense and should be omitted from this post; I say she’s a smarty-pants, and I don’t think so. So, I’m including it.

Install A Low-Flow Shower Head

Water gets expensive fast—especially when your roommate insists on splitting the shower bill, even though you take a 5-minute shower and he takes a 40-minute shower every day.

One way to cut the bill (other than finding a non-aquatic roommate) is buying a low-flow showerhead. This will cut shower water usage in half and make your roommate’s shower time much less enjoyable. That will teach him.

Have A “No Electricity Night”

Make your electricity-saving endeavors into a party. Pick a night to tell stories over a flashlight and under a pillow fort, or enjoy some time by a fire outside. Invite people over for a no-electric potluck. People will get creative with what they can bring that doesn’t need to be heated—and you’ll eat for free! Win-win!

How do you save on your utility costs? Share your tips in the comments.

(Photo: Wikimedia)