Friday, July 25, 2014
How do you know when you are desperate for money? When do you consider yourself poor enough to ask for help?
My first answer is: it depends. If you are the type of person who finds it a need to download a new song from iTune, I’d answer, ‘later than you think’. If you are willing to go hungry in order not to burden anyone, I’d say ‘earlier than you think’.
So what does real desperation look like? As a student, it looks like the following:
- You do not have enough money to buy food so you are not eating (and I’m not talking eating out, but you are too poor to buy noodles from the grocery store).
- You do not have enough money to access the material you need to study (you can’t get the textbooks you need or the drafting tools you are required to use).
- You do not have secure shelter, warmth, clothing to keep you healthy in the weather you face every day (could be rain boots, could be a winter coat).
We are therefore describing basic student needs, not anything extravagant. Notice that I have not mentioned tuition – more about tuition in a later post.
If you are in any of these situation, please speak up – and get help. Here is where to get help.
- The Financial Aid Office – every university and college has one. They will work on strategies with you so you can get money that you need (it could be in the form of a loan).
- Your parents – they may be broke, or unwilling to help, but they may have $25 that will help with groceries for 1-2 weeks. Beware: they may not be keen on helping you if you spent all your money on clothes, partying, and electronics and now have no money left.
- The Food bank: some universities have them just for students. Most cities have them. At city food banks, you can usually get one week’s worth of non-perishable groceries per month and they help a large number of people. Do not feel that you should not use food banks: they are for people who have fallen on hard time, just like others in your situation. Once you have a job and are making money, you can donate to the food banks that have helped you. Use the food bank if you need to.
- ‘Soup kitchens’ are organisations that prepare and serve meals to people in need of a hot meal. Check your phone book.
- Some organisation will GIVE you clothes if you are in need (of course the Salvation Army has some for sell at very low prices as well); St-Vincent of Paul is one. At our local one here, you can get a loaf of bread and clothing for free.
- Use your university; stay at the library for studying (free internet and warmth and quiet); plug in your computer and phone to charge them; use the textbooks on reserve at the library or another textbook on the same topic to study. If you need to, ask the secretary for left-over food after a seminar – tell her you are short on money and could use a bite (administrative assistants have lots of experience with students struggling – they may even save you a piece of pizza after a meeting!); check out events with free food.
- Use your social circle to let people know that you are looking for a few items: a winter coat and boots, for example. It’s unlikely that nobody you know will have an extra item. Many colleges and universities have clothing drives to help students with warm clothes when winter is near – check out if there is something like this around you so you can get warm clothes for free.
- If you have lost your shelter altogether, go immediately to the Office of Financial Aid; this is a crisis and you need help right away. Ask a friend for shelter (in exchange for chores around the house and/or tutoring). Go home (if you can afford it) for a week or until you can figure out what to do. Do not live homeless; it is dangerous. You may need to forfeit your semester in order to stay safe. However, most likely there is an emergency solution to your problem.
Of course, the best idea to avoid a financial crisis is to budget well and to be conservative in your spending, but sometimes there are unexpected problems that come up: your parents suddenly withdraw their financial support; your apartment burns down and you need a new place to stay; you suddenly get ill, withdraw for a semester and need to do an extra semester that you had not budgeted for, etc. As an adult with a job, you are expected to have some emergency savings; as a student, it is very difficult to do that because your budget is tight with no extra money to put aside (unless you have more money than most – in that case, save!). However, if you are spending on unnecessary items, keep in mind that whatever reason you have a larger-than-most cash flow may not last and be smart about having a contingency fund or plan.
Also, be aware of precursor clues that you are getting in financial trouble: you money is running out faster than you had expected; you are dipping in your ‘emergency food supply’, etc.
The bottom line: if you are in a desperate situation, ASK FOR HELP; there is help for these situations and the help is designed to help YOU. Do not feel bad as there will be opportunities for you to ‘make up’ for the help later in your life. Right now, you need to stay afloat and stay healthy. Help is there; use it.