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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Try Free Before Paying

Very often when we want something, we go straight for what we think is best quality or the ‘best’ choice for us, without looking at the expense.  After all, why pay $25 for something that is mediocre when we can get something really good for $32? The other argument is that you may not want to spend $25 to later find out you need the extra that the $32 device offers.  However, if you could try something for free, you would not be out any money if you changed your mind about buying something.

Often what we want is available for free.  Maybe not exactly what we want, but a good substitute, and for no money!  Even though they may not be what you want, the savings are tremendous and if you later choose to buy something, your first trial would have cost you nothing.

Here are a few examples of what you should try for free before spending money.

- Apps for your phone.  Often there are less fancy equivalents to non-free apps; they the free one first and only when they do not do the job should you choose a paying one.  And remember that there are many free ones to try for each purpose!

- Information: there are so many sources for free information nowadays, that subscribing to a paper newspaper is almost obsolete (ALMOST).  You can get your news from the internet, the radio, TV, free newspapers, etc.  I still like some paper news once a while, but only when I need to look at something more in depth.  You can really keep track of what is happening in the world without paying a cent.

- Movies; if you want to see a movie that is not recent, why not try borrowing it from the library (the school’s or the city) or a friend or even see if you can get it online (Netflix?) before buying it.  And even though the large video rental stores have closed, there are a few smaller ones still open; renting is cheaper than buying.

- Books: books, including recent ones, are the main focus of city libraries; borrowing a book is no more complicated than going to the library and asking for it.  You can often reserve the book online first and get an email when it is available.  I have a friend who used to say that any book worth reading is worth owning; I disagree.  Many books are worth reading and a few are worth reading multiple times; only the latter are worth purchasing in my opinion.

- A night out: entertainment can often be had for free if you look hard enough.  Many cities offer movies in the park throughout the summer (yes you need to mind your money in the summer too as it affects your overall budget!). Universities often offer performances for free throughout the year – or check out the dress rehearsal! If you volunteer as an usher at the local theatre for the performance nights, you automatically get to see the show the nights you are working.  Libraries often have poetry readings.  A book club will keep you reading and discussing fun books.

- Food: yes, even food can be free, although not all the time (or not enough so you can survive).  Many events, especially in September when many clubs are eager to attract you to join, will offer free food in exchange for you going.  It is NOT dishonest to attend these functions mostly for the food – the clubs expect that, and are offering food to lure people to try a club, or at least consider it.  Unless there is a club you are morally opposed to joining before you visit, ‘club’ hopping for food is perfectly legit. Once you are a bit more advanced in your studies, you may notice that many seminars at your college or university offer free food.  In an engineering department I knew, weekly lunch-time seminars included pizza (1 slice per person) and soda.  At another university, the physiology seminars always had free donuts for the eating (and a few left after the seminar).  Unfortunately for first year students, these are typically of a level reserved for graduate students or at least upper-year students.  Grabbing food and not attending the seminar is not only rude, but professors attending will remember you and your relationship with people grading your assignments or from whom you will later want a reference letter is not good policy.

- Food at the supermarket or from other vendors: although more and more rare, some supermarkets have promotional product demonstrations where you can sample the food for free.  Although this does not constitute a full meal, it’s a great appetizer.  And yes, it is ethical to have some of the samples even if you have no intention to buy the product.  The same often happens at farmer’s market; you won’t get to make a meal from the food, but you’ll get a taste, which is always pleasant. Many products are available for a taste at cultural fairs where vendors present their products.  Check out the local paper for these.  This past weekend, at an art fair, I sampled some dip on crackers, 2 types of local cheddar, shortbread cookies and hot sauce (given to me on a cracker).  Although it was far from a meal, it was fun and it filled my 4 o’clock snack spot!  I also did not feel the need to buy a snack from a vendor since I could taste a few delicious items.

- Clothing: yes, this is a hard one (do you really want your cousin’s old undies?) but some items that will not be worn often can be borrowed for free.  Recently, my daughter lent her prom dress and shoes to a friend who was going this year as the date to someone graduating.  If you let family and friends that you will need a winter coat this season, you may well find one coming your way (used, but warm).  My mom and step-mom both have small feet like me so we often exchange shoes that are still good but that we don’t wear anymore.  As a graduate student, my husband inherited my dad’s old skies so our cost for skiing was considerably reduced.  We even do this now that we have good paying jobs and our own children; I receive many pieces of trendy clothes from my younger sister – and I send her way all my daughter’s clothes when she outgrows it (my nieces are younger).  It’s good all around!

- Furniture and appliances: of course you can get quite a bit from family (see the post of June 19 2014) but even once set up in your dwelling away at school, you should ask friends who live close by if they happen to have the item you are looking for; an extra bookcase may have been left by a previous housemate and is taking too much space at a friend’s place.  I received a very sturdy wooden bookcase for free from a fellow student; I repainted it black to hide the pale pink it was originally.  April, during exams (if you are done yours or need a break) and just after exams, is a perfect time for scouring around the ‘student ghetto’ around your school for free items.  As well, many students bring a toaster or a coffee maker to their first shared house/apartment, so these dwellings often overflow with appliances.  Before buying a new blender, ask your friends if they have too many!  And only if the one you get for free is not adequate should you try to obtain one by a paying method!

Generally, try a free option before opting for a paying one.  You literally have NOTHING to lose!

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Cost of Being Sick

I recently needed some emergency surgery and the recovery gave me some time to ponder about the cost of being ill.  Thanks to the wonderful no-cost-per-use health care system that we enjoy in Canada, I did not have to pay for my stay in hospital, the surgery, and the pain medication I received while there (or the meals for that matter).  However, there were a few financial and personal costs to this unanticipated event.
First, I had to be transported from home to the hospital by ambulance.  If you have never taken an ambulance trip, beware: there is often a cost that is billed to the patient afterwards.  Mine is $45 (obviously that is not the entire cost of an ambulance trip; it’s just the portion charged to the patient).
Second, there were some costs to my family: once admitted for an overnight, I needed some basic supplies: toiletries, reading material for something to do during my recovery, some clean clothing (underwear, shoes) etc.  While these were found easily at my home, it required someone to come to the hospital to visit me (the visit was lovely).  Financial costs included transportation and parking (many hospitals are downtown and parking can be very expensive).  Even without the need for some personal effects, my family (and yours possibly) wanted to visit and make sure I was all right.
Third, once I got back home, I had some prescription medication to take for a few days (your medical insurance from college/university/your parents should cover most of the cost); I could not do anything physically taxing for a while, including cooking (yes, you need to stand to cook and I needed to sit or lie down mostly) which increased our food expenses.  I also had a special diet for a few days (increased food expenses).
Forth, I had to miss a few days of work because of the surgery (even though it was minor surgery, I was ‘lucky’ my time in the hospital was mostly over the weekend – it minimized my missed work time); now as an adult with a job and good work benefits, I did not lose any pay for my sick days.  However, with a job paid by the hour, an hour that you do not work is an hour you are not paid.  If you have to miss some hours at your part-time job, this will hurt you financially.
A close friend broke her leg in university.  Even though all her medical costs were covered (except for the ambulance cost), the cost of the crutches was $25, the plastic cover for the cast had to be purchased in order to bathe (another $25), and she needed a cab to get to classes every day because it was winter (the slippery sidewalks were too dangerous on crutches).
Finally, the time missed from classes will have to be made up in terms of time studying; this can eat up into your work time or your social time.  However, if you are homebound but not feeling too bad, you can study from home.  I was once sick with the flu over a long weekend and while getting better, I decided to avoid my long commute (it was winter too) and avoid other people’s germs.  I stayed home and called the prof of each of my lecture 20 min before the start of the lecture to ask what he was going to cover during class; the professor would tell me, and I would study the same content at the same time in order to stay current.  If I had a break between classes, I would nap.  I did this for an entire week and it really helped me with sleep AND not falling too much behind.
Illness and injuries may be treated for free in Canada, but there is a time and financial cost to having health problems.  Of course many health problems occur with no fault of our own; however, some can be prevented: eat healthy; exercise; get enough sleep – these habits will give your body the immunity it needs to fight viruses and bacteria.  Exercise well, not carelessly, and wear your protective gear, to avoid preventable injuries.  Of course, these precautions will not guarantee perfect health, but at least it will promote it.
I wish you a semester of healthy studying!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Thanksgiving is Coming – Be Thankful!

As Thanksgiving is looming this coming weekend (for us, Canadian, Thanksgiving is October 12 this year – to our American readers, if we waited until November, all our fields would be frozen by then!), some students will be able to go home for the long weekend, and some won’t.
If you go home this coming weekend, be thankful for the family you have and the time you have to enjoy them.  Enjoy a home-cooked meal, hugs from relatives perhaps, and a relatively clean bathroom.
If you cannot be with family this weekend, do not feel lonely.  Be thankful for what you have regardless, and why not enjoy a meal with friends? You are not alone in your situation because for many students, the trip is too expensive to take for 3 days, and the mid-October holiday often means mid-term time too.  Set aside two or three hours on Saturday or Sunday night for dinner (you have to eat, right?) and get together with friends for a shared meal.  You don’t even have to cook!  Prepared entrees can be found in the frozen section of the grocery store and if you organise a pot-luck event, nobody will be stripping their wallet down for the event. You may not be able to get Mom’s pumpkin pie, but you can certainly get a store-bought one or use the recipe at the back of a can of pureed pumpkin; add some real whipped cream (the type in a can that you shake and ‘spray’) or some ice cream, and it’ll feel like Thanksgiving.
There is one thing you can do for another: international students and students from the other side of our beautiful country will most likely not be able to go home.  While organizing your plans for Thanksgiving dinner, why not ensure that everyone you know also has fun plans: invite a student you don’t know so well, just because you suspect he or she won’t have a Thanksgiving dinner.  Invite someone who has not traditionally celebrated Thanksgiving because it was not in their culture to do so.  This person may have their first Thanksgiving dinner with you – and remember it for the rest of their lives.
Finally, if all your friends are going away for Thanksgiving but you are not; if you cannot find another person in your situation and the thought of having a weekend alone is depressing, volunteer.  Many places, such as woman’s shelters, soup kitchen, churches, and the likes need people to help cook and serve Thanksgiving dinner to others.  There, for certain, your presence and your work will be appreciated. 
Most of all, don't feel lonely; you are NOT alone!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Dirt Cheap Clubs and Activities

Although I keep promoting free activities and not spending any money (or the least amount of it), there is something to be said for joining clubs at your college or university, even if they have a fee attached to them.  Why join a club that charges a fee? Here are a few reasons.
1. Clubs at college and universities in Canada are inexpensive.  VERY inexpensive.  Compared to similar clubs in the community, campus clubs are dirt cheap because they receive funding from the institutions and free use of the facilities.  For example, Queen’s dance club only charges between $55 and 80 for their one-hour dance classes; that’s one hour PER WEEK from September to March!  What a deal (if you are unfamiliar with dance lesson prices, the 45 minute class I signed up my daughter for cost over $300 per school year, and that’s a cheap one).
2. In order to fee happy in your surrounding on campus (whether you are there for the day or you live on or close to campus), you need to be able to enjoy yourself in an activity that does NOT bring a lot of stress (like classes – even if you LOVE math, math classes can bring stress) and where you meet people who share an interest outside of academics.
3. Trying new activities is important in discovering yourself, who you are and what you like.  Post-secondary institutions are typically much larger than high school so there are more choices of activities to try.  For example, you can play sports recreationally in universities, in a club or a league, not just as part of an official university team.  You can also try activities like ballroom dancing; Asian cuisine; and Quidditch.  
4. If you do not spend any time having fun, you will be more likely to go on a shopping spree, go drinking at bars, or join some other activities that will cost you much more money.  Therefore, joining a club is a smart investment into frugality.
5. Many clubs have a try-out period: early in September, you can often try a few classes for free or there may be a welcome session where you can meet club members and eat for free – not a bad deal for just checking out the club!
6. If you feel lost because you feel out of place or very different from everyone else on campus, don’t.  With thousands of people registers at your institution (most likely), there is at least one other person that understands you and can be your friend.  If may be hard to find a few of these people, but if you join a club that promotes your values or what you are interested in (no matter how unique or geeky these are), you will probably find someone you can spend time with.  On most campuses (or would that be ‘campi?’), there are religious associations, cultural associations (Chinese Associations; Indian Associations), and causes-based groups (animal-rights; children wishing foundations; Heart and Stroke raising fund club; etc.).
7. If you cannot afford the low cost of these clubs, do not despair – the ones that charge (even a small amount) do so because they have running costs, such as hiring teachers (for lessons), buying and maintaining equipment (canoes in the outdoors club) or renting out space outside campus (a gymnastics club).  However, most clubs in which members work at raising funds for a charity do not have entry fee – you are a volunteer in the club – so you can join for free.  Clubs like these would be a Cancer-awareness club, a blood drive organisations, etc.  Find a cause that is dear to you and join!
Colleges and universities offer an almost endless variety of clubs and organisations.  They are a fun and inexpensive way to meet similar-minded people and make friends, as well as enjoying an inexpensive hobby.  Go join!