How can I prepare my apartment for winter break?

Winter break is here again, and most college students couldn’t be more excited! Some much needed rest and relaxation await as soon as that last final is done, and many are headed back home for well-deserved time with family and friends. While a 3-4 week break sounds great when you’ve been working hard all semester, don’t get too wrapped up in the excitement and then forget to prep your apartment before you leave. Apart from packing clothes to bring with you, there are a few other things you may want to get done before you leave to save money and avoid the potential for headaches when you return for the new semester.

  1. Leave your heat on at least 65 degrees so your water pipes don’t freeze. You may also want to leave sink cabinets open so that some heat can circulate. Nobody wants to come home to inches of water in their apartment.
  2. Make sure all doors and windows are locked. Don’t make it easy for someone to get their hands on your stuff while you’re gone!
  3. Take your valuables with you, just to be sure, if the locked windows and doors don’t deter intruders. The last thing you need is to buy a new laptop for the new semester because yours “went missing” over break.
  4. Clean out your fridge and take out all trash. You don’t want a stinky mess when you come back from break!
  5. Unplug appliances like televisions, microwaves, toasters, and other items that draw energy even when not in use in order to save some on your electricity bill. No need to pay for it when you’re not there!
  6. Be sure to turn off (even unplug) those pretty holiday decorations! While they were pretty while you were at your apartment, there’s no need to waste the electricity and leave a potential fire hazard on when you’re gone.
  7. Pay rent for January! Just because you’re not there doesn’t mean you don’t have to pay. Either pay it before you leave or give yourself a reminder so it doesn’t get overlooked in all your relaxing time. Save some money by avoiding late fees.

Written by Brooke Shrewsbury, Consumer Economics Program Coordinator, University of Illinois Extension, 2018.

Reviewed by Kathy Sweedler, Consumer Economics Educator, University of Illinois Extension.

What is the Time Value of Money (TVM) and how does it impact my investment?

The Time Value of Money (TVM) refers to situations involving the exchange of something of value (money) at separate points in time. Basically all investments relate back to the exchange of money at a certain point in time for the rights to the future capital associated with that investment. In very simple terms, the TVM proves the idea that a dollar today is worth more than that same dollar amount tomorrow; it shows the impact that time has on money.

For example:

Say you are considering putting $10,000 dollars into a savings account today that would earn 3% interest.

  • In 1 year that $10,000 dollars would be worth $10,300.00
  • In 5 years that $10,000 dollars would be worth $11,592.74
  • In 10 years that $10,000 dollars would be worth $13,439.16
  • In 20 years that $10,000 dollars would be worth $18,061.11

As you can see above, because interest (earned in one year) continues to earn interest (later years), your original investment grows by just letting the TVM work its course. This is a very basic example, but it shows the importance of the TVM and how it can impact your investment.

So remember, take advantage of time! The more you invest now, the more that investment will grow in the future.

If you would like to see more real life examples schedule a “Steps Toward Investing” workshop with the Financial Wellness Peer Educators where we can talk more about the effects the TVM can have on a portfolio or retirement account. You can also schedule a one-on-one appointment with a peer educator by emailing financial.wellnessuie@gmail.com.

Written by Brandon Wyeth, Financial Wellness Peer Educator, University of Illinois Extension, 2017.

Reviewed by Kathy Sweedler, Consumer Economics Educator, University of Illinois Extension.

Why should I build an emergency fund?

It’s easy to spend all the money in your budget (even if you don’t have one), but what happens when you have an expense you can’t anticipate? Whether you have a flat tire or need to make a surprise purchase, having an emergency fund can be a financial lifesaver.

Of course, some emergencies don’t impact the amount of money that you spend, but the amount that you earn. A common issue people face is losing their job. Suddenly, you have little or no income, but your fixed expenses stay the same. Any surprise that causes you to spend more money than you earn is an emergency.

So, what is an emergency fund? Simply put, an emergency fund is an amount of money that you set aside to cover expenses that you can’t anticipate. Generally, an emergency fund is kept in a bank account to accumulate interest until it is needed, as well as to ensure that the money is safe, both from being lost and from accidentally being spent. The best part is that starting an emergency account is easy!

  1. Know your Needs and Wants: The first step is knowing how much money you would need if an emergency occurred. If you lost your job, how much would you need to live your life for a month? Two months? Also, be realistic about your needs. You might be able to cut back on your trips to the movies if money is tight, but it’s unlikely that you can instantly move to pay lower rent.
  2. Know How Long to Prepare For: Do you feel safe having one month of expenses on reserve, or do you need more? After the Great Recession, many people agree that you need between three to six months of expenses to be completely safe.
  3. Get Started: This is the hardest part. Start with small goals and add to it over time. If you can only start with a few dollars a week, it will grow over time and be a lifesaver when you need it!

Written by Collin Smith, Financial Wellness for College Students Peer Educator, University of Illinois Extension, 2017.

Reviewed by Kathy Sweedler, Consumer Economics Educator, University of Illinois Extension.

How can I lower the cost of my utility bills?

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, energy use for air conditioning has doubled since 1980, and U.S. households currently plug in more appliances and electronics at home than ever before. Natural gas and electricity are the most-consumed energy sources in homes as the home electronics market is constantly innovating new products integrating to our modern lifestyle. While certain appliances have long been standard in homes, such as refrigerators, stoves, and cooking equipment, owning other appliances like dishwashers, clothes washers and dryers has increased over the past 30 years. One reason for high utility bills may be due to unawareness of energy use that could be easily avoided. Although it is almost impossible to completely eliminate any of these three from your utility bill, there are several methods to assist in reducing utility costs:

  1. Turn off lights when you are not using them
  2. Unplug chargers while not charging
  3. Increase/decrease the temperature of your thermostat by a couple degrees depending on the season
  4. Use natural energy such as sunlight for lighting
  5. Wash clothes in cold water
  6. Hang-dry clothes instead of machine drying them
  7. Replace traditional incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent light bulbs

Being aware of your energy usage may be the greatest step you can take to help lower your utility costs!

Written by Rex Wang, Financial Wellness for College Students Peer Educator, University of Illinois Extension.

Reviewed by Kathy Sweedler, Consumer Economics Educator, University of Illinois Extension.

How do I lower my weekly food costs?

If you’re struggling to keep your personal food costs down, there are several ways to cut your spending while still getting the most bang for your buck.  A good way to start reducing your own personal food costs is to first track your spending on food for a period of time—week, month, etc.—and see the amount of food you spend.  Ask yourself a few questions such as how much you spend on at-home cooking and eating out?  What do you spend more on?  Do you find yourself in need of eating out more or eating at home?  Once you figure out your personal expenses and answer these questions, you can start to sort out way to minimize them.

There are quite a few ways you can cut your costs on food such as:

  • Going out to eat less. According to The Huffington Post, the third largest way students waste their money is by eating out too much. If you cut back on your expenditures while you eat out or become more aware of the prices of food you are eating that is a large point of spending for many people.
  • Cooking with a friend. If you are eating meals with more than one person it is typically more economical to cook food, reducing the cost per head for food.  If you live with roommates, shop together and buy certain items together that you know you would not finish on your own which can also reduce food waste.
  • Utilizing sales and coupons. Saving a few cents on several items can quickly add up and give you more money to spend elsewhere.
  • Buying staple items in bulk. Many non-perishables can be bought in bulk at cheaper prices thus reducing your average costs on them and resulting in you visiting the store less often.
  • Shopping at cheaper retailers. This can give you the opportunity to buy most traditional items for a cheaper price.
  • Freezing fresh produce. This can extend how long fresh produce lasts and can reduce food waste in general.

If you take small steps in your day-to-day life it is very possible to reduce your food costs resulting in an overall reduction in your expenses.  Good luck!

Written by Libby Cocagne, Financial Wellness for College Students Peer Educator, University of Illinois Extension.

Reviewed by Kathy Sweedler, Consumer Economics Educator, University of Illinois Extension.