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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

How many students can you fit into an apartment?

The luxury of a single bedroom in residence is wonderful but expensive.  Residence is already expensive for what you get (a room and bathroom access), although there are benefits: making friends with other first year students; a fully furnished room; access to lots of programs and sympathetic dons or upper-year students; internet and TV; access to a kitchen; etc.  However, living in residence is mostly for first year students (of both college and university) so come second year, most students opt to move away from residence and into an apartment or a house close(ish) to campus.  Most likely, you will need to share this place to make it financially viable.  With a fixed rent for the entire home, there are only a few ways to reduce your own monthly rent.

First of all, although most people decide on the number of students that can fit a house/apt by the number of bedrooms, remember your residence year: perhaps you shared a room and it wasn’t all that bad an experience.  Could you do the same once out of residence?  There is not rule that each student must have a single room; see if the largest bedroom could be shared by two students.  Then these two students would get a reduced rent rate, and everyone sharing the house/apt would get lower rent as well since the total number of people paying rent would be more.

Second, sometimes extra bedrooms can be ‘added’ to the house, reducing everyone’s share of the rent.  For example, if a house has a basement that can be used, can bedrooms be added there? Or can someone use the living room as a bedroom if the common room is the kitchen or part of the basement?  I’ve seen a student house in which the front entry way, closed by a door, could have been a great bedroom (with windows and all) as long as everyone agreed to use the side door of the house at all time.

Third, are all the bedrooms created equal? Most likely, there are better and less good ones and the rent share should reflect that – don’t go entirely by the square footage because everyone will have the same access to the bathrooms and the kitchen/common rooms, but it’s perfectly reasonable that the best bedroom be $50 more per month than the least desirable one.  If you are willing to take the ‘worst’ bedroom, this is a saving of $600 per year.

As you can see, simply taking the monthly rent and dividing it by the number of bedroom isn’t enough math to save you money; therefore, sit down with your future housemates to discuss what everyone is willing to do in order to save money – if they aren’t willing to budge, you may have the wrong housemates, or perhaps you can convince them by pointing out how many nights out or beers the savings equate to.  Have a good search, and divide in order to conquer your finances!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Become a guinea pig

For years I worked in medical research; I was a researcher, and ran clinical trials where a device (or a drug) is tested on people.  I know the risks, but also the benefits of being a research subject.  And yes, I DO suggest you become one.  Here is why.

When researchers need to test a theory on human subjects, they must submit a detailed protocol of what is entailed, what the risks are and how these risks are minimized, to an ethics committee whose sole task is to ensure the research is done ethically when it involves people (a different committee is for animals); if the research is for a new medical product or treatment, this has to be approved as well by Health Canada (the Canadian equivalent of the US FDA).  Therefore, there is no deception (no lying of what will be done and the risks), the risks are minimized, the research has some value for further use, and similar tests have been done before on people and have shown to be relatively safe.  So the risks to you are pretty small.

As well, these research projects are interesting.  These are not things you will hear about in a magazine; no, these are the forefront of research, projects that have not been published before, not even at conferences yet.  So you are part of the advances of science.  You and the researcher will share knowledge nobody else will for a while – as a scientist, it is a buzz better than any alcohol can bring.

Finally, you will make some money.  To compensate you for your time and effort (driving there, using up a couple of hours of your time, etc.), you will receive (most likely) money, as a thank you.  The amount has to be disclosed ahead of time, and if you choose to not complete the study, you still receive an amount proportional to the fraction of the study you have completed. 

So is this the way to fund your studies? No – there just isn’t enough studies to do this full time (and you would not qualify for many of them – cancer drugs are tested on cancer patients who may benefit from them).  However, it is a fun and educational way to learn a few bucks for a dinner out or a gourmet coffee.  You sit with a psychology graduate student, answer a questionnaire and perform a few tests, and leave with $15 or even $20 in your pocket.  The best part is, you’ll be able to schedule your appointment to when is best suitable for you (between two classes? on the weekend?); the researchers are happy to accommodate the subjects.

Now, you may ask, where do I find out about these great entertaining ways to spend time and make money? Try the campus newspaper and different departments that need subjects most often: physiology, biology, psychology, and sociology.  These departments often have paper posters on bulletin boards in the main entrance to their buildings, or on the website of their department. 

Now, go out and help research advance!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The (Too) High Price of Beauty

I once knew a first year engineering student who had a monthly beauty budget of $200.  Two hundred dollars a month?! That was my entire food budget and I ate well!  Most of us can’t afford $2000+/year on our beauty.  But we still want to look good.  Here are a few tips.
  • Choose a haircut that grows well so you don’t need a trim more than once every 3 months
  • Or enjoy a buzz cut by purchasing your own clippers at about $30-75.
  • Color your own hair – and buy your hair color when on sale
  • Learn to trim bangs so you can do your own and your friends’
  • Find a training program and hairstylists – for a fraction of the price (or just tip), you can get a professional haircut since the students are under the supervision of a qualified teacher stylist (look at collage and private schools and call for their schedule).
  • Find generic version of your favorite hair products
  • Find simple styles to deal with a bad hair day so you do not waste money and effort when your hair is not to your taste.
Makeup and skin
  • Buy generic – since we lose makeup and/or replace it often, there is no need to pay designer prices
  • Do your own makeup, even for formal events; or, enlist a talented friend to help out
  • Buy a skin/acne cleaner that is suitable for your skin and use it – it won’t work if you don’t use it.  Use it on your back and your chest if you are prone to acne and sweat a lot.
Body and facial hair
  • Dry your disposable razor ASAP after using it: first on a dry towel and then air-dry it for a few minutes before putting the protective cover back on.  It will last much longer; I don’t use more than one per month!
  • Use a mixture of cheap hair conditioner and water to lather your legs – they will be smooth and well moisturized after you shave!
  • Shaving (any body part) in the shower may save you time, but it is expensive if you pay for water and/or hot water.  Shave before going into the shower.
  • Prevent rather than treat: wear sunscreen to avoid sunburns (and skin cancer), wear flip-flops in communal showers to avoid warts and athlete’s foot
  • Before throwing out the ‘empty’ bottle of hand lotion or shampoo, add a bit of water to the bottle and use the diluted product
  • If you have a tube of ointment/body cream, cut it in half before throwing it out – you will be amazed at (or horrified) at how much left there is.  Use it all before discarding it.
  • Close all bottles, tubes, and jars when not using, to avoid spillage and drying out
  • Find new use for products you don’t use anymore: don’t like the job the conditioner does on your hair? Use it as a body moisturizer; Sunscreen lotion expired? It’s a great hand lotion.
  • If you can’t use it, give it away; being generous is always paid back one way or another.
  • If you enjoy spa treatment, massages, and nail treatment, prepare a session with friends when you take care of one another
Overall, be as wise with your beauty budget as you are with the other parts of your budget.  Be frugal and beautiful!