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Monday, February 10, 2014

Alternative housing

Living in residence is not cheap – the average residence room is a similar price as a room in a shared apartment, where you’d have access to a kitchen, living room, and would share a bathroom with a handful of people, not an entire floor.  As well, in many universities, if you live in residence the meal plan is mandatory.  Why is it this expensive? because it includes many services such as cleaning of the common areas, resource people that are very useful when you live on your own for the first time, people who run seminars about sex, alcohol, managing academic life and the like, and repairs and up keeping of your residence.  As well, the residence is fully furnished, which an apartment would most likely not be.  And why is a meal plan mandatory in most residences? two reasons: the most important one is that if there is a meal plan, the students are less likely to run out of food money before the end of the school year; as well, the residences are not equipped for a large number of people to cook for themselves each day – they have very limited kitchen space.  Living in residence may make sense in first year because of the support that is offered; however, it’s very expensive.

For second year and up, and for some first year student (if you are very independent, for example), NOT living in residence is recommended.  However, there are many options for living arrangements and their prices vary.  Before you decide where you want to live (and this can change from year to year – not all four years need to be spent in the same place), read further.

Option 1: living with a relative

Ok, we have already established that you will not live at home during university (see my posts of August 3 2013: The Value of the Family Home about living at home and August 11 2013: Choosing to Live at Home or Not about how to choose a city to live in); however, living with a relative may be the cheaper options of all available in your university town.  Living with a relative will most likely be cheaper than living on our own because the relative may or may not change you for the room (+ access to the house and food) but most likely the price will be cheaper than sharing an apartment.  Check if there is a relative your parents can approach about this.

Option 2: renting a room in a house

In many university towns and cities, people with large houses are happy to rent out a room.  These people are typically people for whom keeping the house is a bit expensive so they welcome the extra money; people whose children are gone to university (they then have the extra room and would like to offset the tuition and rent of their own children away); retired people who would like the company and the extra income (since they do not work anymore); recently divorced people in search of extra income; etc..  Because you are not sharing a house, but rather have a room and some access privileges to the common areas, this will be cheaper than sharing an apartment.  If you are in an academic program that sends you out to work (either a co-op program or a program with practicums such as teacher’s college or physiotherapy) sometimes in a different city, some home owner will allow you to pay only for the months you are at university, not the entire year – again, a great saving if you will spend some of your 12 month year back at home.

Option 3: residence as supervisor

Yes, residence CAN be frugal, if you are willing to work for the residence.  Very often, a university will hire upper-year students or graduate students to be the resource person for a residence.  In exchange, instead of financial payment, you will get free room and sometimes free room and board.  The quality of the living quarters then varies enormously from place to place: sometimes a small apartment, sometimes a single room only.  However, having free housing for the school year is a HUGE saving!  The work typically consists of seminars and help sessions with the students, lots of help the first few weeks of school, and availability (even during the night, or maybe especially at night and evenings) when a student needs to talk, vent, and get counselling for different problems.  You also need to attend some meetings and some training sessions. 

Option 4: sharing an apartment

This is definitely not the cheaper option, unless you can find a cheap but liveable apartment to live in.  However, if you do choose to live in an apartment, sharing one is definitely cheaper than renting even a studio apartment on your own.  When sharing, you share a bathroom, and all common areas, which is where the savings come in, compared with living alone.  Also, with everyone pitching in, you should be able to furnish the apartment reasonably cheaply, including equipping the kitchen and a few luxury items like a TV and DVD player.

Option 5: trade dwelling for work.

This may sound unusual, but it actually benefits both of you, the student who is trying to attend school the frugal way, and the owner of the dwelling who needs help with grocery and cleaning, or babysitting, etc.  If you are looking for one of these unusual arrangement, keep in mind to have a well-defined contract that defines what you get (room and house access? room and food? room and cooked meals?) in exchange for what work (babysitting after the kids’ school for 2 hrs – does it include homework help, or just keeping the kids safe ; getting groceries once a week or daily trips to the store? full house cleaning once a week or daily dusting?).  If you don’t, there are bound to be misunderstanding and consequently, unhappiness on at least one side.

Option 6, or 17: living in a trailer, van, or tent.

Ok, you may say, this woman has gone crazy!  Yet, some (a few) students have managed to live in a camping trailer, a van or a tent during their studies.  Most of these were living in the less cold parts of the United States, making keeping warm in winter not much of an issue.  However, you may want to consider pitching a tent one someone’s land (someone that you know and have prior permission) if you can shower at school, for example, during the warmer months.  If your parents have a camper trailer, or an RV, would it be possible to borrow it in order to use it as your home during the school year?  Ken Ilgunas did it for his Master’s degree – he moved South so he could live in his van throughout winter, and managed to live, get a degree, and not be in debt at the end of it.  An example of his adventures is here:  His months living in a van put us, frugal-wanna-be, to shame in terms of how ‘spartanly’ one can live. 

So before you sign that lease for a great apartment, ask yourself: ‘is this the most frugal way to live?’ and ‘did I consider all other options for my dwelling?’ You may surprise yourself!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Cheap Dating

Cheap dating

Being in love is a wonderful feeling; however, dating can be expensive and you should neither deny yourself spending time with a love interest nor break your budget.

One of my rules of dating when on a strict budget is to ‘fess up’ to the tight budget – not talking or whining about being poor, but at the first suggestion of an expensive outing, just stating : ‘I’m sorry, I can’t afford this _____________ (trip, activity, restaurant) because I’m on a tight budget; can we do XX instead?’ Being honest about it right away will avoid the uncomfortable feeling of making excuses for not doing certain activities, and suggesting another will make the other person feel like there is a quick ‘out’ to the problem of an expensive outing. Of course, dating someone with similar low means will help a lot, but one cannot always control love afflictions.

If you are at loss for fun activities to do as a couple on a budget, here is a list of suggestions for cheaper outings.  I’ve divided them into ‘romantic’ and ‘fun’ so you can choose depending on your mood.

romantic dates (better for more serious dates)
fun, more casual dates (great for a fun time or dates early in the relationship)
-    make a picnic breakfast and go see the sun rise together (a sun rise is much more romantic than a sunset because it’s more unique – few people watch the sun rise)
-    bring a flashlight, a book about astronomy or at least a map of the stars, some bug spray and a blanket and go star gazing
-    dance at home on your honey’s favorite music
-    pack a picnic and go for a bike ride to a secluded area
-    buy a used copy of your favorite childhood book and read it together
-    visit a botanical or outdoors garden – most cities have one
-    plant something together – a flower, a tree, tomatoes etc., and monitor its growth over the next few weeks.
-    describe the most romantic place (NOT event) you have visited – find images on the web or draw images.
-    if one of you has artistic talents, draw a portrait of the other
-    listen carefully to some street musicians or other outdoor concert
-    eat cookies dunked in milk by a fire (fireplace? BBQ? bondfire?) at night; or make S’mores
-    bake cookies together (from refrigerated dough if you want!)
-    go on a hike; feast on chocolate at mid point
-    read from a favorite book to each other (The Hobbit is a great one; Socrates is also fun for a night of discussion on philosophy)
-    go window shopping downtown in the evening
-    go book browsing at a local bookstore but do not buy anything
-    go on a ferry together, even if there is nothing you want to see on the other side (not having a vehicle on the ferry makes it very cheap or free)
-    study together; not highly exciting, but more romantic than studying alone and it shows you care about your date’s academic success.  Even if you don’t study the same subjects, you can be side by side and take breaks at the same time.  Stock up on snacks and coffee!
-    save together for a small project or outing: a camping trip, tickets for a upcoming show.  It’s very romantic to save cash is a jar if this jar is common because it shows you both believe the relationship will last at least until the event and because you are both contributing, showing each other that you each care about going to the event together.
-    visit the municipal local library and find fun books to share or just read side by side
-    go pick apples at an orchard.  The apples are a good deal, there is no rule against eating some, and there is romance about being surrounded by trees and nature.
-    give each other massages – borrow a book from the library if you are hesitant and follow the instructions.
-    make it a potluck dinner for two: he brings dessert and you make spaghetti; or she makes salad and you cook hotdogs.
-    make a bird house (or paint one) and install it.
-    visit open houses for sale – dream a little!
-    take a ferry instead of a cruise

-    go see an art exhibition of student work (at the university or a local high school)
-    go play Frisbee in the park
-    borrow a dog and go dog walking (much fun, especially if you can go to a dog park where dogs are allowed without a leash)
-    find an old movie on Youtube and watch it while munching on a snack from the 70s (jellied salad? Cheeze Whiz on crackers?)
-    predict the Oscar winners in each category and earn a candy for every correct answer while watching the ceremony on TV
-    get all dressed up to watch the Oscars; eat smoked oysters on crackers and smoked salmon cream cheese on cucumber slices.
-    go to splash pad and play as if you were kids
-    build a sand castle together – at the beach or in a sand box at the park
-    fly a kite together
-    go to a lake and try snorkeling, fishing, or skipping rocks.
-    go tobogganing together; if you don’t have a toboggan, use a garbage bag to sit on or invest in a crazy carpet.
-    volunteer together
-    take silly photos of each other around the town or campus
-    organize a beverage tasting for each other: hot chocolates, soft drinks, etc. and see who can find out which drink is which; ditto for chocolate bars or candies (buy at the bulk store)
-    use your transit pass and ride the bus around an area of town you do not know – no need to get off!
-    admit to a long list of embarrassing favorites: singer; actor; movie; book; comfort food; etc. prepare a list of categories beforehand, and propose to experience some of them (find the singer on Youtube; eat mac ‘n cheese with hot dogs in it).
-    play croquet, horseshoes, air hockey, or foosball
-    play one-on-one basketball, beach volleyball, or badminton
-    visit the poster sale on campus together
-    make your own play dough movie with a still camera
-    attend a local craft fair and come home inspired to make something together
-    make up a bowling game with plastic bottles and a basketball – enjoy a game
-    attend your university team game: football can be relatively expensive, but hockey and other sports are much cheaper (if not free). 
-    pick a popular song and change the lyrics to make it funny.  Sing is together.
-    teach each other your different sports: weight lifting and gymnastics; squash and rowing; etc.  Just the basics, or a few moves (make sure it’s safe; one cannot ‘try’ gymnastics by doing a back flip in the air!)
-    go cycling, running, or rollerblading together
-    visit a large pet shops so you can look at the animals and talk about your ideal pet
-    go fishing – you may even catch dinner!
-    learn some new card games and be very competitive about them – other games could be chess, checkers, backgammon, etc. 
-    make a large pot of coffee, tea or hot chocolate and be ready for a long evening of board games.
-    mini-golf is not as cheap as it used to be, but it’s still not hugely expensive.
-    have a snowball or a water balloon fight; you can also build a fort or a snow man, or wash someone’s car together.
-    make a giant sundae for the two of you to share (instead of dinner?)
-    share the smallest ice cream cone or milkshake at the cheapest place in town; ditto for the a small serving of fries at a food truck.
-    go snowshoeing, skating or cross-country skiing – you can most likely borrow the equipment and there are no fees to practice these sports outdoors.
-    try geocaching – most smart phone are GPS-equipped.
-    go exploring or hiking in a spot you have not visited before
-    go to a thrift store and try on silly outfits; you may even find the perfect top for $5!
-    make it a challenge to come up with a meal that costs less than $5 from the grocery store; go shopping together and then prepare and eat the meal
-    buy common groceries and then split the food (and the bill); since it’s often cheaper to buy in large(r) quantities, you’ll save money while turning a chore (I hate grocery shopping) into something fun
-    make the fanciest and most decadent grilled cheese sandwiches at home together – stinky cheese, French bread, pear or chutney, and designer chips on the side.  Still cheaper than eating out!
-    cook something time-consuming (like lasagna) in large quantities, eat some for your meal together, split the rest and take home; lots of ready to eat meals and you’ll think of each other when you eat them.
-    visit a flea market – not to buy but to look.
-    visit a kid’s petting zoo or a traveling kid’s exhibit – lots of silly fun.
-    take a single class together; most athletic center offer a trial class, such as dance or karate.  Take one together.
-    climb trees together
-    create some graffiti on a large piece of board – collect left-over spray paints first.
-    read a play together, role-playing the different parts
-    go to the beach or a park for a cook out
-    each of you can prepare a similar dish separately at home and meet at the park to eat and compare the results
-    make portraits of each other
-    go pick your own fruit (apples, strawberries) and share the bounty
-    pretend you are tourists where you live and re-discover your own town
-    make the best nachos you can with the help of your microwave – it can’t be that expensive if the dish is based on chips!
-    discover the graffiti’s of your town or city
-    go view free outdoor movie showings
-    clean up at a local park or beach
-    go to a drugstore and find funny birthday cards to show each other.