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

Why I Chose to Leave School (And How I Strategically Planned My Departure)

By: Kiera Dinsmore | @kieradinsmore

These past few months, I’ve seen a flurry of back to school posts on every social media platform. They feature everything from new haircuts to school supplies, class schedules, degree countdowns, and “back-on-track” goals for fitness, self-care, and the ever-elusive straight A average.

I give these online declarations a big thumbs up, hoping to encourage my peers as they hit the books once again. However, I feel a slight tug whenever I do so knowing that this time around I am not joining them.

This fall, I did what many of my peers consider to be the unthinkable – I didn’t go back to school.

During the first three years of my degree, life was an absolute roller coaster. There were times when I absolutely excelled in my studies, soaking up knowledge and theory like a sponge.

And then there were the times that outnumbered those shiny, happy moments – long periods of feeling rushed and anxious as I watched my mental and physical health swirl down the proverbial toilet bowl of life.

“I need a break.”

This year, I took the plunge and studied abroad for six months in Brussels, Belgium. I thought it was such a phoney, cliché thing to come back and be “a changed person”. Those people who “found clarity” made me roll my eyes at the predictable “eat, pray, love” endings. I was certain of who I was and what I wanted my life to look like; no plane ticket or trip of a lifetime was going to change that. 

Nevertheless, I uprooted my life. I left my relationship, my friends, my family, my jobs, my apartment, and my little campus – all the things that made me feel secure. I moved into a crappy, overpriced apartment in a rainy, cold city that I didn’t like all that much in a country I knew practically nothing about.

I spent the next seven months living in french, learning about journalism and migration and European parliamentary decorum. I made new friends entirely different from the crews I had back home. I experienced firsthand the ways in which a country and its society responds to acts of terror. I lived out of a backpack as I travelled to eleven countries, throwing myself into cultures and traditions totally foreign to me.

As I felt my time abroad coming to a close, I grew increasingly nervous about the thought of returning to my old routine as an entirely different person. I wasn’t ready to give up my risk-taking, unorthodox ways just yet.

A Choice Just For Me

Taking a time out from school carried a huge appeal for me.

I could take a break and really refocus where I wanted to direct my studies and efforts. I could be sure that my time in school wasn’t rushed, and the massive amounts of money and time and energy paid off with meaningful knowledge – not just a piece of paper.

I could pay off debt that I had accumulated from the last three years of studies and a very expensive travel season. If I was successful, I could spend my last period of study breathing easier about my financial obligations.

I could work in my field, or even just try my hand at gigs I’d never had the guts to pursue. I’d gain some more experience in the working world before graduating and having to “get serious”.

I could finally dedicate time to accomplishing goals and developing skills that weren’t covered in the classroom, like how to play the guitar or obtaining my TEFL certificate.

The Nagging Voices 

Ever since I was about 13 years old, I’ve felt like there was a “track” I was supposed to stay on. Finish high school, get into a reputable university, graduate, find a job that paid well and pushed me further up the career ladder, make waves in my field, and retire happily as part of the loyal legion of an XYZ corporation.

I already started university a year after I was “supposed to”. I didn’t excel or pass all of my courses like I was “supposed to”. I was watching my friends head towards graduation and real life, knowing I would never really catch up. Why was I trying to move at a pace that didn’t work for me?

Yet, I worried myself sick about a decision I felt so instinctively confident about. I started to doubt myself in every way – was I making a terrible mistake?

Would I be able to find a job that paid the bills? Would I make enough to cover my OSAP and other loan payments?

Did I want to be 25+ when I graduated? Was I putting off my “real adult” life?

What if I didn’t go back to school? People warned me I would lose motivation, that once I stopped it would be so difficult to restart. Would I lose momentum forever?

What about the technical aspects of school? Would I be kicked out? Would the university honour the work I had done before my time off? Would I be punished long-term and be forced to retake credits?

Would the workforce stress turn out to be worse than academia for my health?

Would I lose touch with the school community? With my academic, professional, and personal contacts?

And the thing that generated a heavy guilt…

Would people think I had failed?

That I was too stupid to work through school like everyone else? That I was lazy? That I wasn’t ambitious? That I had given up at the first sign of something difficult?

I was doing something unconventional, that people don’t talk about or see as a viable option.

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A Promise to Myself

I knew that even if university and I were on a break, I would need to fulfill my curiosity in other ways and eventually finish what I had started.

I promised myself three things:

  1. I would give myself a minimum of one year off, and then re-evaluate.
  2.  I would pay off my debt first and foremost – if I didn’t have the financial stability to support myself, then I would defer my studies until it was feasible.
  3.  I would commit myself to learning in other ways – signing up for yoga classes, guitar lessons, and TEFL courses as soon as I could afford to do so.

I threw myself into the job hunt – found recruiters, sent out stacks of resumes, pored over job postings, scoured Facebook ads, and pounded the pavement until I scored a string of interviews.

It’s All a Process

All of my hard work paid off as the mess started to fall into place.

I worked at a tour agency and a bar throughout the summer, with unconventional hours and jobs that filled the financial quota until I could find my dream job. Ultimately, I made incredible friends and finished my summer with ridiculous anecdotes and memories.

I now work a 9-5 dream gig in a high rise building in travel and tourism. I use my second language every day. I put away my savings, chipping away at bills as I go. I have a routine and purpose and an obligation to an enterprise and consumer base I believe in.

I’m learning and living outside the box of standard student life, and frankly I’ve never been happier.

Ultimately, I’ve learned that dreams have no expiration date, and it’s better to enjoy and trust the process than fret about the final product.

I will make it across that convocation stage one day. Maybe wrinkled and weary, but content and experienced just the same.

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

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.

10 Solid Strategies for Beating Study-Stress

By: Francesca Kennedy | @FrancescaK_GL

With the beautiful fall colours inevitably arrives the dreaded midterm season. It’s overwhelming, and always comes much sooner that you think it will. However, there are ways to manage and even overcome this pressure. With a little practice, this stressful season gets easier.

Sleep

Late night study sessions tear deeply into important sleep time. It may seem like the assignment is your first priority, but your health should always come first.

Train yourself to put down assignments at a cut off time like midnight, and set a morning alarm to start working again. If worse comes to worse, look at the late penalties and weigh it against the quality of your writing. Is it worth getting no sleep and handing in an average paper on time, or a solid sleep and a great mark with a minimal late penalty?

Eat (mostly) Right

Keeping on the health theme, eating right will also help you manage that study stress. Eating high-protein meals will help boost your energy levels. For snacking, turn to fruits and vegetables. Preparation in advance is key to making sure you don’t slip and order pizza for the third night in a row.

That being said, everyone deserves motivational awards, so keep a box of your favourite cookies on hand for those pick-me-up moments.

Take Study Breaks

Some people follow the 50 minute work, 10 minute break rule. Others the 10 minute work 50 minute break rule. While the latter may not be so productive, study breaks are essential to keeping yourself sane and de-stressed. Walk your dog, go out to your local Tim Hortons for a coffee. Anything to get a change of scenery.

Be Visual

Different planning tools work for different people, but having a clear visual reminder of the work you need to do helps you plan your time and avoid procrastination. Calendars hung over your desk or to-do lists posted on your fridge are something physical to remind yourself to work. I would also avoid using electronic to-do lists or calendars in this case. Even though you can set alerts and reminders, it is easy to click “ignore” or simply not open the app.

Prioritize

The key to surviving midterm season is prioritization. Look at your list of assignments, and deconstruct them. Factors you may want to consider are:

Due dates: Which assignment is due first?

Assignment length: A 15 page paper may need an early start date more than a 5 page paper.

Assignment content: Is it research-based? A report? Opinion-based? Certain types of work require more or less time. Plan accordingly.

Group work: Group assignments inevitably take longer than planned.

Don’t forget to always allow for more time than you need!

Stay Active

Sitting at a desk writing all day is not good for you. Even if you don’t go to the gym or enjoy running, take five minutes every now and then to go for a walk. Wander around the neighbourhood or even pace around the house to alleviate writer’s block and avoid that stiff neck you’ll get tomorrow.

Get Social

Midterm season often translates to students locking themselves in their rooms, pouring over a pile of textbooks. Humans aren’t meant to be away from others for long periods of time. If you have group projects, try to meet up rather than use group chat, go visit a friend, or even phone your parents and talk about non-school related topics.

Find Space

This one is hard if you’re living in residence or a bachelor apartment, but well worth the effort. Try to separate your study space from your social or sleep space. Don’t work in or next to your bed because your stress will seep into other aspects of your life. Go to the library, use a study room, or even try a coffee shop for some distance.

Be Health-Proactive

Check in with yourself. Learn to recognize destructive stress patterns and find solutions that work for you. Mood-monitoring apps are a great way to do this, but so is simply having some “down-time”. Buy a book that is completely unrelated to your courses, download a new album, and dedicate some time each day to relaxing.

Celebrate

Midterm season is long and overwhelming, so don’t forget to celebrate each little accomplishment! Each step is a progression towards your success. Met your reading goal? Page goal? Assignment complete? Take a moment to give yourself the praise you deserve, and maybe one of those cookies you bought earlier.