Student sits on bed and makes a budget on her laptop.

Students Can Create a Budget In Less Than 10 Minutes

By: Neya Abdi | @neyaabdi 

Budgeting is the simplest proactive measure we can take to guarantee our financial security, but we don’t take it as seriously as we should.

A big reason for this is the lack of personal financial education in schools. Many of us simply aren’t taught how to handle our money by our parents. Unfortunately, our parents may not know what they’re doing either – the average Canadian has $21,348 in consumer debt, according to TransUnion. And about 56 percent of Canadians say they have less than $10,000 stored away in an emergency fund. Forty-four percent have less than $5,000 and 21 percent have less than a grand. Financial experts recommend having at least three months of expenses (the ideal is six months) tucked away to touch only in an emergency.

Making a budget doesn’t just allow you to save up for a trip; it allows you to save up for the unexpected as well. So why are a lot of us hesitant to create one?

It’s Not As Complicated As You Think

For people I’ve spoken to, the biggest reason they don’t make a budget is because they simply don’t know where to start. They don’t know whether they should be aggressively paying down their debt, stockpiling money to paying off their student loans, or living on only bread and water. So they abandon the process before they’ve even started. If you’re just starting out, here are two key pieces of advice:

  1. Don’t be extreme.
  2. Just get started.

Your budget is a flexible tool that you can adjust periodically to meet your financial changes. Create a budget that gives you room to buy the things you like and do what you enjoy. Your budget shouldn’t be a financial straitjacket. Prioritize so that you are giving up things you care less about in order to spend on the things that you enjoy.

On that note, just get started! Your first budget will not be perfect, and it will likely be a reflection of how idealistic and ambitious you are about saving money. Following a budget takes practice, so just start off simple.

Implement the 50/30/20 Rule to Quickly Make Your Budget

Uncertain about:

  • What to start saving for?
  • Whether you should tackle your debt first?
  • How much you should put towards discretionary expenses or “fun money”?

Start off with the 50/30/20 rule. It’s the budgeting rule of thumb. Only 50 percent of your income should be spent on needs (this includes rent, hydro, metropass), 30 percent on your wants, and 20 percent should go towards savings and debt repayment.

If you do not have to worry about rent because you live at home, then throw a couple of fixed “wants” in there like your phone bill. If you have the extra money, maybe start contributing a couple hundred dollars a month to your parents just to get into the habit of paying “rent”. But try not to consider your fortunate situation a free for all to allocate 80% towards wants instead of just 30%. You can even put some of that leftover money towards your savings.

It’s as simple as striking two lines across your paper and making three categories: Wants, Needs, Future. And then fill in the sectons accordingly. It’s a quick and simple process.

If you are spending too much on your needs, moving may not be an immediate option, so see where else you can shift your budget. The 50/30/20 rule serves as a no-brainer starting point that you can organically adjust to fit your personal situation.

Should I Pay Down My Debt or Build Up An Emergency Savings?

This depends on your current situation.

If you can only depend on yourself in case of an emergency (you can’t pay rent one month, you need a repair) work on building your emergency fund up first and once you have about three months, start chipping away at your debt.

If your basic needs are met and you don’t have to worry about your food or shelter, prioritize paying off your credit card debt. Interest rates on credit cards are very high and whatever interest you earn in a savings account will never outpace the money you lose paying interest on your credit card. Beat that down as soon as you can, and allocate a smaller portion towards savings.

Whichever option you choose make sure you ALWAYS MAKE YOUR CREDIT CARD MINIMUM PAYMENTS ON TIME!!! You can live with carrying a balance, but missing your minimum payments can very negatively impact your credit score.

Respect the Effort It Took To Make Your Money – You Earned It!

Setting aside a specific amount of money for eating out or shopping quickly teaches you the value of a dollar. You’ll quickly learn the price of that pre-made salad you casually buy and wonder whether it’s worth it when you can put a bit towards that dress you wanted to buy. And you’ll become much more aware of the hard work that went into earning that cash and be less willing to give it away.

To keep up with the latest articles about budgeting and personal finance, like our Facebook page or follow @todiscursive on Twitter & Instagram

Networking in the City: It’s About Who You Are, Not Who You Know

Every post-secondary program is served with a side of advice to network aggressively.

“It’s about who you know, not what you know,” we’re told, “so you’d better start marathon shaking hands”.

Well, not so fast. Sure, people with an extensive network boast a unique advantage when it comes to landing jobs. They can save time by sending resumes to people they know will look at them. But for the most part, if a hiring manager or executive doesn’t believe you’ll vibe with their company, chances are you’re not getting the job.

Don’t believe me? Consider this: according to 67 percent of consultants surveyed by Workopolis, the top reason people don’t get the jobs they want is because they fail to set themselves apart from the competition. 

Let that sink in for a moment. The top reason isn’t lack of experience or a company insider’s referral: it’s a compatibility problem.

The Importance of Values in the Startup Scene

But what exactly does this mean? Differentiating yourself isn’t about standing out by any means necessary. If this were the case, we’d all be showing up to interviews drunk, toting a karaoke machine with every intention of using it in the name of making an impression. Clearly, companies are looking for something specific. And that something specific is:

Whether your values are aligned with theirs.

Nowhere is the urgency about values stronger than in the startup scene, particularly in Toronto’s flourishing tech ecosystem. Ninety percent of startups are expected to fail. With a fun statistic like that, startup founders are more interested in working towards their vision than convincing new recruits that their vision is great. Teaching you company policy takes the work of a week. Teaching you to share a company’s convictions, while not impossible, can take forever and even after that investment there’s no guarantee you’ll care. Consequently, who you are and what you value is very important to companies.

Companies Are On the Lookout for People Who “Get It”

The recent TechToronto Meetup powerfully drove this point home. The beauty of this monthly meetup hosted by TechToronto is the mini-presentations given by members of the tech community – just enough variety to leave you satisfied, but short enough to keep you engaged. The most recent event was a veritable smorgasbord of speakers ranging from a marketing manager in a biotech company to the married co-founders of a beauty review site to the hilariously straight-talking, potty mouthed CEO of a healthcare tech startup. While on the surface they could not be more different, what they all shared in common was a strong belief in the importance of people with shared values for the success of an organization. In each presentation, the speakers emphasized the importance of company culture and building solid teams.

Of course, a shared passion for eating is not going to overcome the fact that you don’t know how to code if you are applying for a developer position at a food delivery startup. On the other hand, if you have the necessary hard skills and demonstrate a commitment to creativity, user experience, and healthy eating, it’s clear to the person doing the hiring that you get what the organization is trying to accomplish.

At the end of the day, everyone’s just looking for people who “get it”. It’s why couples with seemingly opposite interests can work so well: they likely share core values about communication and personal growth. And it’s why an organization with teammates who fill different roles – technical, public relations, sales – can come together to make something greater than the sum of its parts.

The TechToronto Meetup and afterparty takes place every month for those looking for a job, those looking to hire, and those who just love learning about tech. The next event takes place December 5. Early bird tickets are $12, regular tickets are $20, and you can buy them at the door for $25.

To keep up with the latest articles on networking and student life, like our Facebook page or follow @todiscursive on Twitter & Instagram

Featured image via Pexels

Should I Take a Second Language as an Elective?

By: Neya Abdi | @neyaabdi

Most discussions about electives revolve around two main questions:

  1. Is it easy?
  2. Will it make me more attractive to employers?

To be honest, the best approach to electives is taking courses you are interested in. You are more likely to show up, do the work, and find practical applications for the course material when you care about it. But I digress.

Conversations around electives routinely involve a discussion on the value of the elective. It’s a course you don’t have to take, so if you’re going to take it it should either boost up your CGPA or help you win jobs post-graduation.

Learning another language satisfies two of the most worthy considerations we’ve mentioned: it’s both lucrative and it’s a course that can be enjoyable. While learning a second (or third or fourth) language requires work, it can also be rewarding and impressive giving students more incentive to pursue it.

There are Thousands of Languages in the World – Which One Should I Learn First?

There are more than 6,500 spoken languages in the world, but roughly 2000 of those languages have no more than 1000 speakers. Of the remaining languages, only a few are offered at the university level.

French is one of the most popular languages for native English speakers to learn. Before English took over the global scene, French was the superstar. Today, it is still one of the official languages of a number of prominent international institutions (the United Nations being one of them). It also holds the cute title as the “language of love”.

For Canadians, learning French carries special importance. As one of our two official languages there is much to be gained from learning French in terms of employability. Those interested in a career in public service likely already know that the federal government is the largest employer in the country. And many other industries are increasingly interested in landing candidates who are English/French bilingual.

Look to Your Desired Industry and Your Interests When Choosing a Language To Learn

Of course, there may be some readers who are uninterested in the french language or who have no intentions of finding work in a field that requires French/English bilingualism. In that case, what are the best languages to learn?

There are several factors you should take into consideration in this case. Interested in pursuing a career in international affairs, global security, or energy? Arabic may be the language you want to pick up. There are numerous non-commercial reasons to learn Arabic, including its beautiful script and rich history. From an economic perspective it can also be a very lucrative language to learn considering our contemporary geopolitical climate.

But sometimes it is not just about the commercial benefits of a language. For instance, there has been growing conversation about the benefits of learning Mandarin. Some parents are rushing to put their children into schools that teach Mandarin to make them more competitive in a world that is witnessing China’s growth as a superpower. Other observers caution that parents (and students) shouldn’t be so hasty.

While there is some disagreement, the consensus is that Mandarin is a notoriously difficult language for native English speakers to learn to speak (and even more difficult to learn how to write). In an article for the Harvard Crimson, Jorge A. Araya talks about how the cost of learning Mandarin will likely lead to a global situation where native Mandarin speakers are more likely to pick up English. While the actual difficulty of learning Mandarin could be argued back and forth (difficult for whom, exactly?) sinologist David Moser confirms how tough the language is in his hilarious, slightly bitter article “Why Chinese is so Damn Hard” that tackles the linguistic and cultural gap between East and West. In the case of Mandarin, students must have a distinct interest in learning the language because purely monetary motivation will only get them so far.

Languages Are Fun and Rewarding to Learn, Whatever the Motivation

Then again if ease is what you are looking for, consider learning how to habla espanol. For English speakers, it is considered an extremely easy language to learn. The shared cognates and the relatively simple grammatical rules make the language accessible. And Spanish just sounds sexy, even when you can barely speak it, so the motivation to become fluent will be extra strong.

Whichever language you choose to take, selecting any language as an elective is a great choice to make. Learning how to communicate with a million (or in the case of Mandarin, a billion) more people than you could with only your mother tongue is a beautiful thing. And a nice way to supplement a well-rounded, global education.

At Your Man’s House Monday: Darryl Gentil

This week on At Your Man’s House Monday we’re speaking with budding entrepreneur Darryl Gentil. With his mind focused on market trends and his heart set on helping others, Darryl is presently engaged in shaping the future of e-commerce. He talks to us about the pursuit of success, the productive power of fear, and the importance of surrounding yourself with driven people.

You started your post secondary studies in International Studies and Political Science at York before transferring to Ryerson’s Ted Rogers School of Management to study Business Administration. What prompted this transition?

Well I realized that social sciences would limit me in terms of what I wanted to accomplish. I realized at an early age that business was the way to go if I wanted change to happen quickly. Ryerson and Ted Rogers offered that opportunity to me, and it was a simple decision.

You have a very enterprising spirit, and that’s evident from talking to you or simply observing your posts on Facebook. What jobs are you currently working, or projects are you pursuing on the side?

This is a great question. I’d like to admit I’m only working on one or two things, but the truth is, I’m working on various projects, simply because my circle of friends are constantly inspiring me and themselves to achieve what they’ve always wanted – from fashion bloggers such as 53 marcel to small to medium size business owners. I realized that I couldn’t limit myself to what I wanted. Being an entrepreneur in this day and age seems like a logical thing to do. We are not living in our parents’ age where a typical life would be working for 45 years, to repeating the same routine day after day, year after year. My goal is to live my life to the fullest while I’m young, and to stay young. Over the next three years, I will create something that no one has ever done, and that’s creating my own economy on an e-commerce platform. It will take time, there will be challenges, but I can assure you of one thing, with the help of my friends and family, this goal is certainly achievable.

Aside from profit – we’re all trying to make money – what draws you in to a project or a job? Is there a certain passion or interest you have that you try to incorporate into your paid work?

First of all, money has never been a priority for me. I know what I want and I know that it has never revolved around money. I will invest my time in an idea or project if it means it will help the greater good. If there’s one thing I realized, as long as you do the right thing, by helping the right people and serving a purpose, money will always follow.

One peek at your Instagram suggests you’re definitely on the path towards getting what you want. That said, there is a very glamorous perception of entrepreneurship and hustling where people think all there is to it is inspirational quotes, and they launch into it with their sights set on the rewards, but no real conception of the work involved. What have been some of the toughest skills to pick up, or lessons to learn, so far?

This is a very interesting yet crucial question. I say this because we’ve all experienced different situations, we all come from different walks of life. Mine was like no other; it wasn’t easy, and it’ll not be easy. Three lessons I’ve learned since I’ve decided to jump into the unknown are as follows. One: keep your ideas secret and work on them secretly, and focus on them. Ask yourselves: who will benefit from it? What are the challenges you’re going to face? Who can you trust with this idea? If you’re willing to trust people with the idea, you have to make sure that they are worthy, and they agree with the vision that you have for this idea. Two: fear. A lot of people would look at fear as a bad thing, as an obstacle. The truth of the matter is, fear is a friend. Fear for me is fuel. Fear of failure is what keeps me going, and what’s kept the negativity and haters away because I realize that at no point do I want to fail. Because if I fail, the people who doubted me won’t be affected. The person that will be affected is myself. Therefore, I have no choice but to keep going. I’m working on bettering myself. Three: consistency. For something to become a habit, it needs to be done repeatedly, and I truly believe that. Consistency is to do a little bit of something everyday, and eventually those little things will add up to a greater thing – whatever it is. Regardless of fear, the naysayers, challenges, if you consistently challenge yourself to be the best that you can be, then you’ll achieve what you want.

On LinkedIn you say that you want to “learn as much as I can while helping others along the way”. Have there been important people who have guided you along the way, and what is one significant thing you learned from a formal or informal mentor?

Wow. To be great, you have to follow greatness. At different stages of my life, I had different people impact my decisions ­– from my girlfriend, Sophie, challenging me everyday to my first girlfriend’s parents encouraging me to get a job, from my high school teachers and coaches to my dear friends such as Benson Li and Andrew Chee, and my mom. Mentorship is crucial to someone’s personal development. You cannot achieve something without knowing the challenges that it takes. I find that mentorship is what guided me to the success that I’ve had so far, and there’s no doubt that mentorship will guide me to where I want to be. You have to understand that mentorship is given through many experiences. For example, I was on a plane to Miami for an e-commerce and technology conference, and the person that I happened to sit beside on the plane taught me the importance of family and balancing my life through business, friends, and loved ones. Truth is, you’ll have those people that will be physically near you, but what I value ultimately are lessons from strangers.

What advice would you give to people who are hesitant to reach out and seek mentors?

A simple lesson with a simple word: jump. Steve Harvey explains what “jump” means. It simply means, that to get where you want to be and to achieve what you want to achieve, you simply need to jump; take that leap of faith. Envision your goal and work at it, because if there’s one thing I can tell you, the right person, the right mentor will come. When they come, you’ll have something to present to them.

Is there a specific issue or cause you’d like to dedicate your energy to working on throughout your life and career?

I have to say that over the course of my adventures, I realized in order to get things done, I have to surround myself with strong and ambitious women. My mom has been working since she was 19 years old. She studied and worked her way up the corporate ladder, took care of me everyday and motivated me to be more than average. For success to occur in my life, I need to empower women to be at their best because if you can empower women to realize their vision for this world, I truly believe that we’ll be in a better place.

What’s the ultimate goal? Is there a particular industry you’d eventually like to wind up in, or large-scale idea you’d like to develop?

The one thing I can tell you is that I won’t invest my time in something that’s already been done. To be a successful entrepreneur you need to evaluate where the market is going, and the current trends. Clearly the trends now are strictly online. Through our innovative platform, we’re able to build something that will last a lifetime. With partnerships with Wal-Mart, Nike, Under Armour, Victoria Secret, and so on, e-commerce is the thing, and will be the thing, and I don’t anticipate that changing. Ultimately, I can tell you that I have one vision and one goal, and that’s to retire with my team. And by team, I mean my girlfriend, my brothers, and my family.

What are your favourite spots for getting things done in the city? 

  • Le Gourmand (Queen/Spadina)
  • Kensington Market (in general)
  • Anywhere where I’m able to observe people and to have a conversation with them

With Your Woman Wednesday: Sophie Angoh

Photo credit: Rachelle Tavas and LMG

This week on With Your Woman Wednesday we’re speaking with Psychology student Sophie Angoh. With her industrious and compassionate spirit, Sophie hopes to someday become a lawyer. In the meantime she is is flexing her business muscles as a shop consultant for shop.com.

You are currently a shop consultant for the e-commerce site shop.com. Tell us a little about shop.com, and what exactly sets it apart from other e-commerce websites.

Shop.com is a revolutionary company that is trying to change the way people shop and also the economy. Its focus is mainly on the consumers and giving them cashback from their purchases as a form of an “annuity”.

Shop.com partners up with different top producing companies and offers them an alternative to mass advertising that may cost them a lot of money. By saving the companies their money, shop.com is able to negotiate a cashback system for the consumers every time they purchase something online.

Shop.com has shop consultants like me who use word of mouth marketing to help direct traffic to our partner companies’ online websites. Word of mouth marketing is probably the most effective and inexpensive way to build your clientele. In return for helping the companies save money, Shop.com is able to create a cashback system.

To illustrate the concept, imagine walking into Walmart and spending $100. After your purchase, you take your products and go home. Now imagine, going to Walmart online and buying the exact same thing, spending the exact same amount of $100 all in the comfort of your home without the hassle of the bus, car or weather and on top of that, receiving 2% cashback every time. Which would you prefer?

Naturally, this company is a way to make an income, but what are some non-monetary aspects of working for this brand that you find rewarding or satisfying?

I have never been part of a company like this that has amazing individuals/partners that help and support you in any way they can and make sure you’re achieving the goals you set out for yourself. The team and culture that the company has is probably the most rewarding and satisfying part of it. Work never feels like work.

Tell us a little bit about the structure around shop.com involving training and payment.

It sounds a lot like individuals who decide to become shop.com partners can be creative with the job. They can blog about the merchandise, hold parties where people can sample different products, and more. What skills are you hoping to acquire or build on through your work with shop.com?

Being part of the company, I’ve developed a lot of different skills where I was able to constantly put into action. My favourite one would probably have to be customer service skills. Being able to interact with people and find out what they truly need, instead of stuffing products in their face, makes it such an easy process. Also, being able to create a lasting relationship with the customer where they come to you for all their shopping needs and advice is always rewarding.

Your ultimate goal is a career in law. Do you have an idea of the kind of law you’d like to specialize in, and what particular issues you would like to tackle with that legal education?

Currently, I have no idea what I would like to specialize in. I’ve always wanted to go into law because it has the ability to help a lot of people. One of my dreams would be to offer low-income families free or inexpensive legal services to help them in their current situation.

What is your preferred spot (or spots!) for getting things done in the city?

To be honest, one of my favourite spots to getting things done is in my kitchen when no one is home. The lighting is perfect, the work space is just right, and I have my dog who likes to keep me company no matter how boring it gets.