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Sunday, December 15, 2013

Reflecting during the holidays

Whether you are religious or not, whether you celebrate Christmas or not, the winter break between December and January are a must for all college and university students.  Since you will most likely be free of assignments and studying during at least two weeks, this is a great time to reflect about your successes and your mistakes of the last semester.

Why do this? First, because it is a useful exercise to avoid making more mistakes this upcoming semester, and two, because with your mind free of school stress for a little bit of time, you will be able to calmly analyze your mistakes and your successes.
Spending mistakes: your first step is to write a list of your impulse buys that you later regretted, and their cost.  Add them up and look at the figure so that it sinks in.  Find at least three ways to avoid these impulse spending events so that the mistakes can be avoided more easily; here are some ideas:

      - Never buy anything that is more than $10 without thinking about it for 24 h
      - Use cash only when shopping to avoid going over budget
      - Put spending money in a ziplock bag, put the bag inside a plastic container, fill the container with water, close with lid and freeze.  Only this money can be used for ‘fun’ spending, so the thawing time will ensure you think twice about the purchase.

      - Limit yourself to an allowance for ‘fun’ – say $15 per week; you then have the choice to a burger on Friday night, or wait two weeks and buy a CD.
      - Write EVERY purchase down so that you keep track of the running total and be aware of how much you are spending each day, week, and month.

 Second, list all the ways you should have worked better (not more, but better) such as attending all classes and tutorials, working on assignments with a classmates, reading the textbook ahead of time, borrowing an alternate textbook from the library, etc.
Third, list all the ways you saved money last semester: the free pizza at an event you attended, how you split a family size box of cereal with a friend, and how you scored free theatre tickets by volunteering at the opening night.  Add up the amount of money you saved, and vow to do 50% better next semester.

Four, list at least five ways where you can save money this upcoming semester.  This could include:
      - Working on an energy plan with your housemates: decreasing the heat in your home, taking shorter showers, and studying at the library instead of at home (to save on electricity)
      - Buying second-hand textbooks instead of new ones (and selling the old ones),   
      - Using the municipal library to borrow books instead of buying them or downloading them on your e-reader (cheap, but not free)
      - Attending free movie night on campus instead of paying the big bucks to see new releases
      - Having a beer at home before going out to limit bar alcohol purchases
      - Inviting friends over for a BBQ instead of going out on Friday night
      - Attending campus events to reduce the cost of entertainment
      - Traveling by bus instead of taxiing to the local mall

 Five, list at least three personal goals that you want to achieve before the end of the next semester, such as:
      - A fitness goal like a distance to run, a gymnastic move to complete, or a number of push-ups to do in a row
      - A personal knowledge goal like joining the Spanish club to learn a few sentences in Spanish, learning ballroom dancing, or taking a philosophy class or another class outside your major
      - A personal mental health goal like starting to meditate, attending seminars to learn to manage stress better, or talking to a counsellor about your worries and personal conflicts
      - A personal social challenge such as overcoming your shyness at least three times to attend parties or functions you normally would not, or starting a conversation with that attractive classmate of yours.

Reflecting is difficult; it means admitting a lot of mistakes, and writing down goals that will make you more successful next semester, but that will also give you more work.  However the satisfaction that you will fee, not only in April, but also in January when you go back to school and you feel a sense of control over your student life is worth the work.  Enjoy the holidays!

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