New Year's Resolution

Ali Bar

On the eve of the New Year we look back at 2010, and despite the economic woes, overall it was a good year in many respects. My family members held on to their jobs, I did well in school, I have good friends and I think everyone learned to be more frugal.  We can only hope 2011 will usher in a more solid foundation to build upon. I’ve begun to think about how I only have two more semesters left in school and will soon enter the real world no longer protected by my collegiate bubble. Economic worries that others have faced will soon become very real to me, especially as I begin searching for a job. That's why I can't stress enough that I really want 2011 to turn for the better. I've already started looking for summer internships in architecture. I'm hopeful I’ll get one, but the sad truth is most don't pay. And that really isn't an option for me. I need a paid summer internship and finding one will be my top goal for the first part of 2011. I may be somewhat limited in this search because if I find a job outside Miami, it’ll have to be in a city where I can afford to pay for room and board. By this time next year, I’ll be out of school and will need to make finding a full-time job my main priority. So my New Year's resolution is to find a job and, of course, to be frugal and not overextend my resources. When I land a job, I also hope to begin saving some money. I really have no savings cushion at this point because I spent last summer studying in South America, not working. So this winter break I’m networking and getting my portfolio ready to send out to architectural firms. Any and all leads are appreciated.

Fireworks02

Happy New Year! May your wallets and hearts be filled in the coming year.

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Roman Adventures

Ali Bar

In less than three weeks, I will start my journey to Rome.  And I do mean journey. My Aer Lingus flight leaves from Miami, goes to Boston, then Dublin and finally arrives in Rome. It was the most inexpensive fare I could find when I booked, and now at least I can say I've been to Dublin. Still, at $450 one-way, I wouldn’t call the fare cheap. Once I'm in Europe, traveling should be a little easier to handle financially.  First off, there is Ryanair Airlines. Browsing their website, I found that I can fly from Rome to Paris for 10 euros or around $13.  Because Ryanair offers such inexpensive tickets, it means that weekend trips to other countries should be feasible and that makes me quite happy.  Another place to look for inexpensive flights is easyjet.com. I also just got the news that I landed a job as a library assistant at Cornell University’s facility in Rome, so that means there will be some income available for short side trips – as well as food and other necessities.  Still, I have no doubt this will be my most expensive semester ever. It also will probably be the one I never forget. I will really need to watch my euros. If anyone has any tips about traveling in Europe on a budget or buying food, send them my way. It'll be great to start 2011 in a different country.  Hope everyone has a great New Year's. Ciao (practicing the Italian).

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Finishing Up School on a Budget

Ali Bar

Amid final exams and projects and the stresses that go along with it, watching my spending was, well, let's just say I'm a little less frugal during those times. My time becomes more important than my finances. Case in point: Spending on food during finals week got out of control. Since this happens every finals week, you'd think by now I'd have some clever way of handling working really hard and eating on a budget. But no. I will also throw out there that I was plagued by the flu during finals week. While it felt like pure death at the time, I actually saved money due to my nonexistent appetite. I realize that sounds like kind of a pathetic rationalization. Hey guys, get sick. You won't want to eat, save money. Uhh, NO!

Let me tell you what I would recommend. First off when you are stressed out and feel as though you have no time and you just want to go to the super expensive French bakery downstairs, HALT. Do it once and you will eat there not just for breakfast but also for lunch and dinner. I’m sure you students and former students know exactly what I’m talking about. Just because you're super busy, doesn't mean you can totally throw your budget out the window – especially if you check your accounts as I did after the frenzy of late nights in the studio and realized my next credit card bill will be something I can’t pay in full. I’m particularly paranoid about paying off my credit card bill entirely each month. So slipping up a little here and owing a little more there is definitely a habit I want to avoid.

But back on topic, what to do when you are stressed, busy, and don't have time to make lunch. Go to grocery stores for sandwiches and subs. They are most often cheaper than restaurants or cafes. And if you really are in a bind, go to the $1 a slice pizza joint, not the healthiest, but definitely the most budget friendly. Or find a place with good prices and big portions to extend a meal's life by having it for lunch and dinner. That way you also save time. I found a little Thai restaurant near my studio that had $7 lunch specials. I got the Pad Thai with four small egg rolls. That was good for both lunch and dinner
and at $3.50 per meal was definitely better than the $11 I would have spent at the French bakery.

Here’s another option: Work really hard, and then take a longer break that allows time to go home and eat dinner. Or try to plan the day so you begin your studies early, eat breakfast at home and then manage to get home for a late dinner. Hopefully this coming finals week, I'll follow my own advice. Of course, this will be easier said than done, considering I'll be in Rome for a semester abroad and will want to try every restaurant that I come across. But I'll restrain myself.

Despite my money woes, this semester ended very well. Now I'm back in Miami to revitalize and there couldn't be a better place. Oh, 74° how I missed you.

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Soups for the Nearing Winter

Ali Bar

Being too lazy to prepare lunch for myself in the mornings before I head to class has threatened to turn into a bad habit lately. Of course, when I’m thinking more clearly at lunch-time, I kick myself for doling out $10 for a meal. It doesn’t happen too often, but enough so I regret it. And when it does, a better option would be picking up lunch at the grocery store instead of a café or some other little lunch joint. At the grocery I can buy crackers for around $2, and while that might not be the healthiest meal, it will usually tide me over until I get home. If I know I’m going to be really late, I can pick up a pre-made sandwich at Whole Foods for about $5. The most fantastic things I've found so far for curing a hunger attack are dehydrated Trader Joe's brand rice noodle soups sold at Trader Joe's for 99 cents. They’re surprisingly filling and a cut above your average noodles in a cup.  While I don’t think I should make these noodles my steady diet, they’re fine every now and then when I don’t bring my lunch. The best option, of course, is to just do a little advance planning and bring my lunch from home. Recently I did just that. A housemate and I decided to make up a soup. Using just miscellaneous ingredients we already had in the kitchen we crafted a very tasty soup. What was in that soup you ask? Well, a can of cream of mushroom soup, a can of black beans, potatoes, carrots, garlic, ginger and a dash of salt and pepper. It was very thrifty and lasted the two of us for three days. It was also easy to take to school: open refrigerator, heat up soup, pour in thermos, place in school bag. I estimate the total cost of the soup was around $10, making the per-serving cost around $1.70. As the snow nears, I expect to be making many more soups since they’re so easy and my laziness factor only increases when the weather outside is freezing.

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Thanksgiving Dilemma

Ali Bar

The big question -- how do I get to my grandparents’ house for Thanksgiving -- still looms. Although Buffalo is only about six hours away from New York, almost every option I’ve checked is EXPENSIVE. These are the times when having a microscopic income is really frustrating. But I've been doing odd jobs here and there so I’m optimistic my resource picture will be getting brighter. But let’s get back to the logistics of traveling to grandmother's house in the most economically savvy way possible.

First I looked at the bus, which was approximately $140 roundtrip. I found taking the train was a little cheaper, but my procrastination meant no train tickets to Buffalo were left. If I were smarter, I would have planned this out months ago and probably would have garnered some cheaper fares. The best, current price for air travel was $285, counting me out. That takes us to the last option: renting a car. Since I’m too young to rent one myself, this involved enticing a friend who is over 25, and therefore can rent a car, to make the trip with me. Since he had no plans for Thanksgiving, now he won’t have to spend the holiday alone and he’ll be fully stuffed by my grandmother's cooking and her abundant leftovers. With him on board, we started looking at rental car prices. Prices are absurd for a last-minute rental from an agency in the city. Try a day rate of $150. I saw my plans for a big Thanksgiving surrounded by family collapsing.

But my friend knew about a train to Poughkeepsie and suggested that taking the train and renting a car there might be cheaper. The train to Poughkeepsie is $30 round trip. The day rate for renting a car in Poughkeepsie is about $40, a much more agreeable number. We plan on leaving Wednesday and coming back on Friday. So if you’re following, that’s $120 for the car and $60 for two train tickets. I figure we’ll need about $100 for gas and tolls but I hope I’m overestimating this. That means the trip will cost $280 split two ways or $140 – the cost of the bus. But we'll get there much quicker than the eight or nine hours it takes on the bus and be more comfortable. Plus since we’ll have a car, we’ll be able to run last-minute holiday errands for my grandparents and do a little Buffalo touring. Yes, this trip will be something of a budget-buster but I hope by taking on extra jobs, I’ll be able to pay if off relatively quickly. Besides sometimes you just can't put a price on visiting family.  But just before I charge the rental car, I might see if anyone from the city is driving to Buffalo on Craiglist (this could be an extremely cheap option).  If nothing's up, then perhaps I'll put a listing on Craiglist to get some more people on board to help with the gas.

If anyone has any better suggestions, send them my way – quick.

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Advice for the Money Conscious

Ali Bar

I suppose to manage your money wisely, you need a little money. But right now I’m in student-pauper mode. That may be why I like the name of American Express’ website for Gen X and Gen Y: getcurrency.com.

As I’ve noted, I’m scratching to come up with money for daily expenses and school supplies (and why I’m going to demand a discount for a package of cardboard I ordered for model building that arrived with about $30 worth of material too bent up to use…ugh). At any rate, I decided to check out getcurrency.com to see if there were any money-saving tips that could help me.

What you’ll find here: blogs, articles by leading financial writers and even an iPhone app that allows you to share purchases, sales and other shopping info with friends. There’s even a 25-minute course on managing student loans – complete with quizzes. I decided to check out the loan consolidation section. When you have a string of government loans with different due dates each month, I learned, sometimes it’s good to combine them in one loan. It generally won’t lower your interest rate much, if at all, but you can stretch out the payment terms and you’ll get one bill.

An article about four ways to save on holiday travel caught my eye because I’d really like to go to my grandma’s house in Buffalo for Thanksgiving dinner but am thinking I can’t afford it. I didn’t learn much I didn’t already know from this one: use travel sites like Travelocity and Expedia to compare air fares, travel either early in the morning or late at night to save or consider flying to a nearby airport – ie. West Palm instead of Fort Lauderdale or Miami – if fares are lower. Not much help there. The article also suggested that renting a car could be as expensive as a flight. Since I was going to look into this option, perhaps another article – “Hosting Your First Thanksgiving Without Freaking Out’’ – may be useful.

Just in case I have to do my own Thanksgiving, I did find an article about serving a cheese course interesting. It suggested serving three to five different cheeses – any more than that will overwhelm your guests, and serving cheeses of varying milks – cow, goat or sheep. I also found some of the suggested cheese pairings – blue cheese with honey and Manchego with quince paste – interesting.

So if I don’t end up going over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house for a dinner with more courses than I can name, maybe I’ll serve cheese.

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Agent Anything

Ali Bar

If you’re a student living in New York City, you may have seen an advertisement for something called Agent Anything. The premise is that people in the city come up with missions for college students to accomplish for pay. I was certainly somewhat skeptical of the Agent Anything website, because I can see ways in which it could be abused.  However, a friend of mine accepted a mission to help move some boxes. I went with him as a safety precaution. I'm really strong and can scare people away (sarcasm -- in case you didn't get it). But it turned out to be a good experience. The guy offering the job was nice and friendly. On top of the $40 he offered for the job, he gave us a $20 tip. At first we refused but he insisted. A few days later my friend accepted another mission, moving boxes once again, for $60. This time he got a $10 tip.

Of course, not all the missions are as fruitful and some are definitely strange. One rather weird one is reading a bedtime story every night to a man whose only other requirement is that once he falls asleep, the reader locks up and leaves. You can ask questions about the missions before accepting them. Someone asked the bedtime story man, “Is this serious?" The answer was a sincere yes.

I'm still a little wary, but most of the people we’ve been in contact with so far just seem to want to help students out. It’s nice that these jobs are only offered to students. To sign up for Agent Anything, you must use your college e-mail address. To get paid, PayPal sends an e-mail that you link to an account. Once you finish a mission, you go to the Agent Anything site and mark a mission as accomplished. The person who requested the mission also must mark it as accomplished. Then you get paid. :) I think I might start a profile and maybe do some missions.

If anyone has had any experiences with Agent Anything worth mentioning, let me know (good or bad). Click the image below to check it out.

Alogo

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Clothing Diet

Ali Bar

Heidi Hackemer, a strategist at a New York advertising firm, has launched what she calls "a global experiment examining the power of what we don't wear." Six items or less is the game. Meaning all you can wear for one month is six items of clothing from your closet. Heidi says generally people who try this experiment fall into one of four categories:

--The uniform type. The thinking behind this is that if you are freed of choice in clothing, then you can focus that energy on something else. (That’s most likely what they were thinking when they imposed navy or khaki bottoms and polo shirts at my middle school.)
--The creatives. These people want to see how creative they can be with such a limited wardrobe. A savior for this concept might be the fact that accessories aren't limited.
--The anti-consumers.
--The curious.

Another challenge that people are trying is to not buy clothes for an entire year. To some, this might be difficult. Others, probably without giving it a thought, may not have bought a new piece of clothing in more than a year.

Heidi says this experiment changed how she related to her clothes. Staple pieces that have a certain longevity became more valuable to her. She also remarks how the clothes she wore weren't built for the way she used them. That brings up environmental and economic factors. While one shirt might be less expensive than another shirt, take into consideration the quality. A more expensive shirt might last longer that the cheaper shirt. Perhaps the more expensive shirt, in terms of quality, might be the equivalent of three of the cheaper shirts, making the more expensive shirt, in the long run, the better option. Of course, some fashionistas would rather have three shirts than one, but I guess it just depends on your thinking. I was contemplating trying out the six-items thing, but that means laundry more often, so that's out for me.

But maybe I'll try the not buying any clothing for a year. So, as of November 16, 2010, I will not buy any new articles of clothing until November 16, 2011. Ha, this is really not going to last – especially since I’m going to Rome in January. But, we'll see. It isn't too difficult now considering I have no money to spend on clothes.

Here is the site that started it:
Six Items or Less

and the sister site that followed it up:
The Siol Collective

Via Six Items or Less here's an interesting entry on College Girls in 1941.

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Not so Cheap to Stay Clean

Ali Bar

Doing laundry is sooooo expensive in New York.  When I lived in Ithaca, N.Y., laundry rates at both the Cornell dorm and my apartment house were about the same: $1.25 to wash and $1 to dry.  I usually  do two loads, which amounts to a grand total of $4.50.  The laundromat near my  New York  apartment has three washers, one for small loads, one for medium loads, and one for large loads.  I need  to use the medium washer,  which costs $2.50 . The dryer, which charges on a per minute basis, costs me about $1.50  a load. That means I end up spending $8.  Okay,  so maybe it isn't so much more, but I was still shocked the first time I saw it.  Not to mention, the first time I  used this laundromat, I didn't realize the machine costs differed and I ended up using the large ones  at a cost  of   $3.75 per load . Cost of doing laundry: $10.50.  I can only blame that on my unobservant self.  A plus  for this laundromat is that it's  open 24 hours.  I'm not saying I'm going to do my laundry at 4 in the morning, but I have done my laundry around ten at night.  It's convenient for a student 's  schedule  -- actually probably  for   most people's schedules.   Since doing laundry is just one of those things you can't find your way around, I must do it.  I'm sure when  I  get back to  Ithaca I'll exclaim how inexpensive the laundry is there.

To cut down on laundry costs, I've always wondered about making my own soap. But since I'm in perpetual motion, moving every four to six months, I haven't gotten around to it. The recipes I've seen make such  large quantities of laundry soap, however, that I wouldn't know what to do with the leftovers every time I moved . And I certainly don't want to be lugging around a large vat of soap.

But here are some recipes for laundry soap via Tipnut if you'd like to try your hand.

If you have any  other laundry ideas you'd like to share, feel free.

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Searching for Supplies

Ali Bar

The time has come.  I'm finally  at the point where I need to purchase materials for the models I'm building in my architecture studio.  So far  studio has been  mostly  drawing and research, and I've been spared  this expense.  There are a couple places on the East Side near the Cornell Studio to purchase supplies. In fact, A.I. Friedman  is  right across the street, which makes for convenience but the store tend s  to be a tad pricey on certain things.  Today, I went to Pearl's,  where I also used to buy supplies when I lived in South Florida, and managed to spend  only  $7 on bass wood dowels and metal tubes, both about an 1/8 inch  in  diameter.  I'll use these for some study models.   We are doing disaster relief projects . My case study is Chile and I'm working on designing an immediate deploy tent, a tent that is given out after a disaster (hurricane, earthquake) strikes.  Studio seems to be going well,  but  I'm quite terrified  of the building costs that lie ahead.  A partner and I have to build a 1:1 scale model  -- meaning life-size.  How expensive will this be??  Probably quite.  I'll keep you updated on crunching the numbers to make the model feasible.  As of now,  I don't know if that's possible.  I'll really need to research the best prices  and search for new sources rather than just settling on convenience.  I have a feeling I am going to be very broke as the semester continues. :(

If you know any places to get supplies for cheap (Miami or New York), PLEASE let me know!

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