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Monday, December 8, 2014

Things to do Between Semesters that Will Save You Money in the Long Run

The winter holidays, or Christmas break for many, is a welcome rest for most students.  Some of you will head home for a week or two, some will enjoy some leisure time, and some will work for pay.  I have a post about working from 2013 you can view here: .  For most students, there is at least some leisure time involved.  This leisure time can be used for rest and fun, but some can be used to learn skills that will save you money as well.  Here are some skills that you can learn during the upcoming break (or any break – summer is a great time to learn these too!):
1. Learning to cook.  Cooking is a skill that, if you enjoy it, can become a hobby AND save you money since you will be able to eat healthy (get sick less often); eat cheaper than with frozen food; and avoid restaurants if the food you cook is good. If you live in residence now and will be moving to shared accommodation for the next school year, this is an essential skill!
2. Learning to use tax software.  Learning to do your own income tax will save you money for years to come – I’ve had accountants do my income tax and make mistakes that either I or Revenue Canada spotted.  Starting to do your own income tax now is a good idea because you most likely do not have a lot to report: income is minimal, and you main deduction is your tuition fees and book credit.  Tax software that your parents use typically give a family enough licence to include your income tax report at no extra cost.
3. Scrounging what you need from your parents’ house: ok, not a skill in itself, this is a good time, if you are going home, to look through your parents’ closet, garage, and linen closet to find things that you need or want and that they do not use much.  This can include a table top fan for when it’s too hot, extra blankets for the cold season, towels and other bathroom items, etc.  Make a list of what you could use before you head home, just in case your parents have extra of these.  Once you are home, take note of items in your parents’ home that could make your life easier and then ask!
4. Buying in bulk: again, although this is not a skill, this is something worth doing while you are at home with a larger group of people than just yourself: maybe a 6 pack of toothpaste is not what you’d like to buy for yourself, but if your dad buys it, you can pay for your share (1 or 2 tubes) at a discounted price; hey, maybe he’ll just GIVE you the toothpaste!
5. Learning your favorite recipes from your parents’ repertoire – yes, this is very much like skill no. 1 (learning to cook) but it’s actually a tad different: if you learn the few recipes that remind you of home, you may be less homesick and enjoy that great taste too.
6. Selling your textbooks (and/or other study equipment such as a lab coat): if there is a course you just finished and is not a prerequisite for another one, or a book you will not refer to later on, sell it now.  Next year, there may be a new edition required for the course you took so selling a textbook fast is very important.  Put up ads in social media, where you are now AND where you go to school, and prepare a few posters to post once you are back at school so that the posters are up as soon as you get back to campus.
7. Start studying the courses for the next semester.  Ok, this will not directly make you money, but if you can be ahead of the lectures, you will be less stressed during the semester, can avoid hiring a tutor, and overall do better next semester.
8. Repair your clothes; a holiday break is a good time to make your clothes looking good again.  Repair what has been slightly torn, add buttons, fix hems or shorten what is too long, add patches to torn knees and elbows (elbow patches are in right now) and use a small razor to get rid of piling on sweaters.
9. Scout for a new part-time job for the next term: look online to see what is available; advertise on social media so that a friend of a friend may hear that you are looking for work.  Prepare a few resumes, one for each type of job you are considering applying for: food services; retail (non-food); tutoring; etc.  Prepare a few posters for tutoring around campus and close to high schools close to campus – list hourly cost, location (library, etc.), subjects and specific classes – don’t forget credentials such as an A or B+ in a course, or upper year status if relevant.  You can play an instrument? Prepare a flyer for private lessons – even only two lessons a week can easily give you $40-$50 per week (and that’s your groceries!).  Unless you live in Vancouver or Victoria, shoveling snow for neighbours can be a good way to earn some cash: prepare a flyer and make copies so that you are ready to drop them off in mailboxes as soon as you can in January.
10. Scout for a summer job, especially if you are planning on being at home for the summer.  Look around; find how to apply for jobs NOW, so you waste no time in March applying for jobs starting early May.  Think about the type of industry you’d like to work in, but also the type of job that will help you find permanent employment after you graduate.  Decide if you’d like to work at the university and if it’d be a good idea to start in January (part-time) to secure a summer job.  Check deadlines for bursary-based positions and check for jobs at your parents’ firms (they often favour children of employees).  Also, check for specific chain companies (retail; food industry) since they often have a centralized application process.
11. Learn a new skill that can lead to new employment.  For example, take a bartending course.  You don’t need to drink or enjoy drinking to take the course.  But students who have this course are not common, so working around campus at a student bar will be much easier with the course.  Another course may be First Aid and CPR (needed for many jobs where you are responsible for people, including babysitting and working in a day camp); lifeguard (if you already have some high levels of swimming certificates); gymnastics coaching  or other coaching.  Of course these courses may not all be available over the holidays, but you can line one up for when school starts again, when it’s not as busy as during mid-term exams or final exams, or even for right after final exams or during reading week (February break).  And finally, a skill does not have to be learnt with a course; you can learn to repair bicycles in your garage – this may lead to a job at a bicycle shop in the near future. 
12. Get a haircut!  If you have a friend at home, or a parent or relative who would like to cut your hair for free, this is a great time to do so – lots of free time and it’s free.  At the same time, ask for tips about how to give yourself a trim (especially for bangs), and get a haircut that does not need a lot of maintenance. 
13. Get your driver’s license.  This may be a good time to make an appointment and finally get your driving test done.  While having a driver’s licence is not money-saving per say, it is something to get off your list of ‘to-dos’ AND you may need a car at your first full-time job.  It’s kind of hard to test-drive used cars if you can’t drive.
14. Start a new and CHEAP hobby.  This is a great time to learn a cheap hobby and luckily for you, basic crafts are back in style.  Now, do not start investing lots of money and time in expensive scrapbooking!  However, knitting (especially with small needles and fine yarn) takes a long time and is not expensive (see if you can get free needles from a relative); same for crochet and embroidery.  Finding a cheap hobby will fill up your leisure time without spending lots of money at the mall or at bars.  Other good options are writing a blog (blog pages can easily be found for free); learning to cook (don’t try filet mignon; pasta is great!); upcycling clothing and furniture (the basic materials are free), running, cross-country skiing, bicycling (on your high school bicycle!), or drawing.
So whether you will be making money during the winter break, you also have options that can save you or make you money during the following semester as well.  For the meantime though, study well and show your knowledge during your final exams.

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