Archive for the ‘Personal Finance’ Category

Pay It Forward

December 10, 2008

There’s something to be said for being a graduate student on a fixed income during an economic crisis.  Every store seems to be having a massive sale on at the moment, which makes our stipends stretch farther and, err, lets us buy new clothes.  I recommend spending some of your savings from the sales to help out those in need.

The New York Times recently published an interesting article about American food banks, which are making a number of innovations at the moment aiming at making their food offerings more efficient and more effective.  Near the end of the article are some disquieting quotes from food bank employees:

“I keep hearing that demand is up and up and up,” said Ross Fraser, a spokesman for Feeding America, which provides more than two billion pounds of food annually to food banks around the country. “I heard one person saying they’re feeding schoolteachers. The needle is moving higher up the socioeconomic class, and people making more money are needing emergency food assistance.”

Bill Bolling, founder and executive director of the Atlanta Community Food Bank, said he had “never seen anything” like the current economic situation.

“I’ve had people call me personally who have been donors for years, and said ‘Bill, I need help,’ ” Mr. Bolling said. “That’s disquieting to get those calls.”

In this time of increased hunger, some food banks are sadly being forced to close their doors due to decreased donations.  You can find food banks in your area from the website Feeding America.  I was amazed that I was able to buy three whole enormous bags of non-perishable groceries for only $20.  I encourage you to pick up at least one or two cans the next time you’re at the grocery store to donate to a local food drive.  As graduate students, we’re lucky to be relatively insulated from the economic crisis, so it’s a good time to pay it forward.


Maybe There Are Free Lunches After All

November 29, 2008

Graduate students have to pay especially careful attention to their personal finances.  We’re on a relatively fixed and entirely low income.  Plus, we have to concentrate so much on our work that taking on side jobs is a major professional risk.  401(k)?  Roth IRA?  Not yet, buddy.

One strategy to survive and even to save in graduate school is to cut costs.  Another strategy is to find little freebies and money-maximizers.  I try to do both, but the second strategy is by far more fun.  Along these lines, I recently enjoyed this post over at I Will Teach You To Be Rich about how to use your credit cards’ free rewards.  Genius!

Dear readers, today I want to share with you one of my fave ways to get a “free lunch” — or really, in my case, a free dress or shoes.  It’s MyPoints.  MyPoints is a website that gives you a small number of points for reading daily e-mail advertisements and a larger number of points from making online purchases from their huge number of affiliated retailers after clicking through the link on their website.  Different retailers give different amounts of points per dollar for purchases; one reason MyPoints is so good for grad students is that offers an especially large number of points.  You can redeem your points for free gift vouchers.  That’s right, free.  I tend to get around $200 in free gift cards each year.  

My strategy when it comes to using MyPoints is to save up at least $150 worth of points, which I then spend to make a major new purchase — for free!  I get something that is a “practical splurge” (i.e. something that is practical but at a splurge price point) that makes me feel like I’m not actually a grad student for a fleeting moment.  My latest purchase was an awesome Soia and Kyo coat.  Since the e-mail advertisements might get annoying, I send them all to my junk mailbox and then go through them around once a week when I am in need of a procrastination device.

So, sign up for MyPoints and you, too, can get a free lunch!  If you would like to be referred by me (which I think would give you extra points), please just leave a comment.