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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

My Saving Obsession that Saves Me Money

I have this one obsession with water: I like to save it and not waste any of it.  It all started when I wanted to wash dishes and it took FOREVER for the water from the kitchen tap water to warm up.  This happened every time I wanted hot water from the tap and I soon discovered that it’s because of the pipe length between the water heater and the kitchen is very long.  I could not let all the cold water go to waste so I started collecting it in pitchers in the kitchen.  My obsession was born.
I do not skip washing in order to save water, and I do laundry as much as other people.  However, I ALWAYS turn off the faucet while brushing my teeth or washing my face and I use the water from my pitchers in the kitchen to fill the kettle, boil noodles or rice, and drink water.  I also wait until there are enough dirty dishes to be ‘worth’ washing them and I use dirty dish water to water my plants.  Outside, I collect rainwater to water my tomato plants and I drive my car on the lawn before washing it so the water used also waters my grass.  I run the dishwasher on the shortest cycle will get my dishes clean.
My husband’s saving obsession is turning off lights.  As soon as I leave a room, he asks me to turn off the light (even if in my head, I know I’ll be back within 5 minutes).  Because I don’t like a house that is dark, I tend to keep a few lights on around the house, especially in winter.
Another of my obsession is to use natural light in winter; first thing in the morning, I open all the curtains and blinds in the house to let the heat and light from the sun come in. As soon as the sun sets, I cover all the windows so that we do not lose any heat through them (we have very large windows). 
You may not have an obsession yet; however, it`s relatively easy to find one.  Pick just one thing that you can focus on: electricity, heat, water, paying fees to exercise, wasted food, etc.  Pick any one thing where you can reduce your consumption, and go all out!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Case FOR Summer Courses

Is taking a summer course a good idea? In most cases, yes.  Even though you’d like to take a break, and yes, a very well deserved break, taking a summer course (or 2) is a good idea.  Here is why.

- A summer course or two will let you catch up on dropped or failed courses, or let you get ahead

If you are behind in your program, summer courses are fantastic opportunities to catch up.  You may not be able to take the specific course you are lacking, but taking another course in your program is also useful because it ‘frees up’ a spot for a class in your upcoming year.  So if you failed History of China 101 and it’s not available as a summer course, taking a geography class you will need this coming semester will give you the schedule space to take History of China 101.  Alternatively, if you are missing an elective, you can get it ‘out of the way’ in the summer a course that is offered; it may not be your first choice for elective, but if you do not have a strong preference, pick a course that is offered and complete it.

If you are not behind at all, but have found taking a full load hectic (and it is), taking a summer course will give you a lighter load in the upcoming year.  Taking two courses during the summer will give you a lighter load for both semesters.

- Summer courses let you concentrate on one course at a time

Some courses are harder than others.  A summer course lets you concentrate on one course at a time, even if you are working during the summer.  A job is very different than taking a course in terms of mental worry.  If you are taking a summer course, you can concentrate on the one topic, one set of assignments, one grade.  The advantage of NOT juggling many assignments and deadlines can be the difference between an ok grade and a grade you are happy with.  I find that a humanities course is a course I can think about while doing menial tasks (mow the lawn, do the dishes) and that thinking time gives me a chance to mentally prepare to write an essay for an assignment – basically, I did part of my assignments while working on something else and then sat down to do the writing part of it.  I could not do that at all with science classes; most of them required sitting down with problems and equations, not thinking time. 

- A summer course may let you graduate early

If you take two courses every summer (assuming three in-between year summers), you’ll have a total of 6 courses completed before your last year.  If all of these are courses requested for your program, this could mean graduating in January instead of May – a semester earlier than everyone in your program!  Even though the tuition saved is almost inexistent (you’ll have to pay for the summer courses), graduating early means that you can start working full-time a semester early, move back home (for a few months) to save on rent, and get a head start on job-hunting (you get ahead of the competition by being available to be hired a few months before everyone else).

Summer courses are not fun; you’d probably rather work during the day and party with friends at night.  However, unless you are working two full-time jobs (one during the day and an evening/weekend one), there is time to take a course, work, AND party a couple of nights a week. 

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Cheap and Free Activities that Improve your Mental Health.

Taking care of your mental health, your emotional self, can be difficult, especially in your first year away from home.  You miss home and your parents (even if it’s hard to admit). The lifestyle is different away from home.  The studying is much harder than you expected or have ever experienced.  The level of stress is high, and your parents aren’t in the kitchen, ready to listen to your concerns.  What do you do?
Luckily, most colleges and universities have free help for young people: counselling, health care providers, nurses and physicians ready to listen to you.  But what if simply need a few outlets or escapes from all the noise and the stress?  A Caribbean vacation during Reading Week would be great, but unlikely to ease the financial stress.  Ditto for the posh yoga studios or the personal trainer.  Here are a few budget-friendly ideas to find mental peace and feeling zen.
Seek Nature
Studies have shown that spending time surrounded by nature boosts both mood and self-esteem; exercise surrounded by nature has even more effects and the effects are even more powerful if there is water (a stream, a pond, a lake) in the environment.  Most campus have a few green spots, even downtown.  If you feel that you need to study 24/7, try studying outside when the weather permits it, or make your walk to your building via a wooded area.
Hold a Baby or a Pet
Not that a baby or a pet are equivalent (I do not want to insult any parent here), but the effect of holding a young or vulnerable life in our hands puts us as peace and reminds us of what is important in the grand picture.  Offer to babysit late at night – the baby will most likely sleep a lot, but you’ll get to hold him or her a little too.  Offer to pet sit or just take a dog out for a walk.  You don’t know anyone with a pet? go to a dog park and ask owners if it’s ok to play with their dog. 
Play Music
If you play a musical instrument, make time every week (or every day) to play.  It can be a favorite piece, or a new one you want to work on.  Seeing progress on a new project may lift your spirits when everything else seems to be stalled.
You physician will tell you, Public Health Centers will tell you, exercise keeps you healthy physically and mentally.  And it doesn’t have to cost a penny!  If you don’t enjoy the free access to sports facilities where you are, go for a walk, a run outside, work on push-ups or sit-ups, start cycling to school instead of taking the bus, or do yoga with a YouTube video. 
Renew with your Church, Synagogue, Mosque or Temple
You don’t need to be very religious to enjoy a service.  Maybe you grew up going to a weekly religious event ; maybe you’d like to explore your cultural beliefs.  Try it a few times.  If anything, you may feel the peace and the serenity you are looking for.  However, you may find a home away from home, and the strength to rely on a higher power in tough times.
Learning to meditate isn’t hard.  What is difficult is to keep the practice going on a regular basis and the discipline to meditate even when we feel to hurried to find the time to meditate, even though it’s when we are rushed that we need meditation the most.
I never liked gardening; as a child, I did not even play in the sand!  However, buying a few plants and taking care of them has brought me a few bits of inner peace.  Repotting a plant from a small to a larger pot, cleaning up the dead leaves, observing the new leaves and maybe a few flowers open is magical.  In the Spring, I buy a few potted herbs to grow and use over the summer.  I use to have a ‘black’ thumb and now, it’s just dark green… I guess anyone can learn!
As you see, there are many ways to improve your mental health for little or no money.  As students, we often do not see mental health (or decreasing our stress level) as a priority; however, I have seen many students ‘crash’ as they are too stressed, too tired, too bothered by little things.  It IS important to take a few moments once a while to decompress.  You CAN do it without it impacting your budget.  And on a purely financial aspect, feeling blue all the time is not efficient will demotivate you to study, and make you more at risk for failing a class or two.  Therefore, mental distress CAN hurt you financially.