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.

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10 Acts of Self-Care For Your Extra Hour on Sunday

By: Neya Abdi | @neyaabdi 

We often put jobs, school, and even friends ahead of taking care of ourselves. Presumably under the assumption that those other things will pay off towards our happiness in the end. But small personal sacrifices in the name of a happy boss or a perfect grade can add up, and even have a detrimental effect on our life goals. Embracing your Sunday by performing these ten acts of self-care can help set the tone for a relaxed, healthy, and fulfilling week.

1. Prepare Healthy, Delicious Meals for the Week

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Eating healthy is so much easier when you cook your meals in advance. Do all of your shopping and cooking Sunday afternoon to prepare simple, grab-and-go meals during the week. In fact, you can limit the amount of energy you put into meal prep and planning. Think about which foods you enjoy eating most and then decide to eat the same meals every day. You’d be surprised how much time this saves, and the amount of energy it allows you to put towards things you care more about.

2. Put on a Hair Mask or Conditioner (Especially If You Have Curly Hair!)

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It’s not the case for everyone, but Sundays are traditionally the laziest day of the week. Put either a store bought or homemade conditioning mask in your hair so it can soak up some essential moisture. Leave it in for as long as you think your hair needs while you do other things like prep meals or clean your room. Making sure your hair is moisturized and conditioned is especially important for keeping your locks shiny and luscious if you have curly hair.

3. Read a Non-School Related Book to Unwind

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When you’re a student and you have hundreds of pages of dense academic articles to read each week, it can be easy to forget that once upon a time you adored books. Find a book that you enjoy simply for the sake of the story and dedicate an hour to reading it. Even if it takes you a month of Sundays to finish one book, you have a weekly reminder that books don’t have to be a stressful word count you’re obligated to plow through, but an enjoyable afternoon as well.

4. Get Your Nails Done

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Nails are an underserved part of our personal appearance that others often judge us by. You could have an entire outfit perfectly pulled together, but if there is dirt under your nails or they are chipped and peeling you run the risk of failing to make a good impression on that date or interviewer. Quality nail care doesn’t require a trip to the salon and a tip. Simply keep them neat, trimmed, and filed. If you don’t care for coloured polish, put on some nail strengthening formula or a clear topcoat.

5. Do Some Stream of Consciousness Writing

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We can get so caught up in our day-to-day responsibilities that it can be easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. You may be stressing over an assignment that is worth 10 percent when there are bigger academic fish to fry. And at times we carry around a lot of anxiety without getting to the root problem of what is causing our distress. Dedicating a few minutes at the start of your week to writing your thoughts without worrying about sense, sentence structure, or punctuation, can help you get all your plans and worries down on paper where you can tackle each issue head on.

6. Take a Walk Around the Block

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Fresh air plus physical exercise is a terrific combo and a tremendous way to clear your mind. It’s also a fantastic way to explore your neighbourhood. You’d be surprised at how little you know about your community, especially if you often zoom in and out of the area to work or school. A half hour walk around the block can help you discover little local treasures and maybe even say hello to a neighbour for some much needed community connection.

7. Remind Yourself of Your Goals and Dreams

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You may have gone into Environmental Science with a dream to change the world by starting an NGO, but now you’re up to your ears in course work that it’s grown difficult to see the forest for the trees. Each Sunday, take a moment to reflect on your higher level macro goals. Taking a step back to remind yourself of what fuels your curiosity can help re-motivate you to tackle your week of part time jobs and essay writing.

8. Take a Free Class at Your Gym

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If you have a gym membership at a place like GoodLife there are a number of classes that come included in your membership. If you’re someone who doesn’t like directing their own workouts or has no clue how to use any of the equipment, find a Zumba class or a group cycling workout to get those endorphins flowing.

9. Prepare a Weekly Budget

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This is especially important if you just got paid. Decide how much you are going to spend that week before the week really starts. If you are at a complete loss as to how to allocate your money, use the budgeting rule of thumb: the 50-30-20 rule.

50 percent of your income goes to fixed, necessary expenses like rent, utilities, and groceries (although groceries can be a variable, necessary expense)

30 percent of your income goes to variable expenses like unnecessary groceries, eating out, entertainment, your cell phone

20 percent goes towards saving for your future or towards debt repayment

Doing this on Sunday can help ensure you go into the week with a more mindful, purposeful approach to your money that honours the hard work you put in to earning it.

10. Spend Some Time With Your Family

Whether we live at home or on our own, it’s amazing how little time we actually get to spend time with our families. They may drive us crazy, make us laugh, or give us a hard time, but at the end of the day they are the people we come home to (even if we don’t live with them). You can even combine quality time with your family with some of the other items on this list. Do a deep conditioning treatment with your mom. Some meal prep with your dad. Or even choose something as simple as watching a show on Netflix. It may seem small, but these cumulative moments of bonding will mean a lot later on.

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How to Organize Your Shit Before You Lose Your Shit

By: Neya Abdi | @neyaabdi

When I was in high school there were times I’d look at the disaster I called my room and think, “I would rather set everything on fire and be forced to start from scratch than organize this mess”.

As a procrastinating student and bookworm there were loose papers, crumpled notes, and books everywhere. In the last few years, my collection of shit has been considerably reduced – I find throwing things out therapeutic – but I still struggle with keeping an organized space.

I know exactly where all my important day-to-day items are, like my keys and debit card and my non-everyday important items like my birth certificate and my passport. But challenge me to hang my clothes up when I get home, for five days in a row, and I’d fail even with my life on the line.

Keeping a somewhat neat space is something I’ve had to work extremely hard to do. But I’ve developed five key strategies that keep me (relatively) organized. You know…so that I don’t have to turn to arson.

1. Survey the Scene of the Crime and Make a Spot for Everything

As with most valuable life lessons such as “be nice to others” and “keep your hands to yourself”, the most important cleaning lesson I learned was in kindergarten.

“Everything in its place and a place for everything.”

For instance, deeming your desk “the space for only school related items” is the simplest, but most helpful step you can take towards gaining some semblance of order in your bedroom or apartment. Do this for every spot and category of belongings. And by the way, the classification “school-related items” does not extend to your keys, hat, and wallet. Keep it tight.

In fact, if your living space has reached an almost tragic level of disarray, this can be a great way to start actively tackling your mess without feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work you have to do.

Sit cross-legged in the middle of the room with chips, chocolate, or whatever semi-legal substance makes this activity easier for you and start surveying your space. Mentally decide where everything will go. This way, when you start physically cleaning, you will think less about where everything should go and put things away in a semi-automated manner.

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2. Clear All Your Surfaces and Start Sorting

If your entire space is a catastrophe and you simply don’t know where to start, clear every surface and put everything on the floor.

If everything is already on the floor, you can skip right to the next step which is to start making obsessive piles. Clothes, school supplies (textbooks, crumpled syllabi), clothes, toiletries. Make general piles. Don’t worry about throwing things out or hanging anything up just yet. Make sure you desk, dresser, and bed are clear.

(Especially your bed. If you decide you’d rather die than continue cleaning, your bed will be there to help you make the less tragic choice and take a nap in between making piles.)

After this is done, grab a garbage bag and start thinning out the piles one by one. Don’t think about the next one until you have removed the unnecessary crap from one. Tackle the entire collection of piles in circuits, starting with only removing obvious garbage before moving on to making more difficult decisions. Seeing your progress with each rotation will help you gain momentum and feel encouraged.

Once they are all in manageable groups, put them in the assigned places you decided on earlier.

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3. Put Up All Your Clothes with the Hangers Backwards

Most of us are unwilling to let things go: grudges, old souvenirs…clothes we’ll never wear again. When we try to purge our closets we convince ourselves that one day we’ll need that item and decide to keep it, and so on and so forth until the entire purging exercise becomes pointless.

Maybe what you need is a little verification that you will never ever return to that “Betty White Is My Homegirl” shirt you bought six years ago. Go to that pile of clothes you made earlier and hang them all up with the hangers backwards (whatever you consider “backwards” for a hanger). Each time you wear something, when you hang it back up, turn the hanger forwards. After six months, any clothes that are still on a backwards hanger go to people who really need them.

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4. Clean At Night – Especially At The Beginning

You’ve likely heard people refer to the “harsh, cold light of day”. It is a hella accurate expression. Once you leave the flattering light of your bathroom and head out into the street, you get real verification of whether you’re looking fabulous that day. Natural light can be the best light, but it’s also the most brutally honest light and it’s unforgiving of flaws. So when you’re in the first hour of tackling your mess, don’t throw open the curtains or blinds.

This may sound counterintuitive, but natural light will make your pigsty of an apartment look ten times more hopeless. Every speck of dirt, crumb, or ball of hair will be exposed. You want to be able to see those things so you can tackle them, but not until later when you’ve already cleared the larger debris. While you’re organizing everything clean at night with the lights on and then once it’s time to do a deep clean get to dusting and polishing in the day when you’ve made enough progress to stay motivated.

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5. Make Your Bed, Make Your Bed, Make Your Bed

This one’s a cliché, but only because it’s so so so so necessary.

Making your bed gives you an instant sense of accomplishment and as the focal point of your bedroom – even if it’s not in the middle – it will determine the direction of your cleaning efforts by setting a standard. And if you’re cleaning at night you get the (almost) immediate satisfaction of falling into a beautifully made bed after your day of cleaning.

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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.

With Your Woman Wednesday: Naomi Wolfe

This week on with your woman Wednesday we’re chatting with Naomi Wolfe. Leaving school doesn’t mean the end of your education, and for a lot of people deciding to take a break from college or university is a frightening step. Naomi was generous enough to share her current experience navigating her academic career, and she provides thoughtful insight about making honest decisions when it comes to pursuing post secondary studies and looking after your mental health.

Please give me a brief outline of your academic path after high school.

  • Started at the University of Toronto in September 2012
    • Decided to leave the following year (September 2013)
  • Returned in September of 2014 with a major declared in Women and Gender Studies and Environmental Studies
  • Left midway through the first semester of the 2015/2016 school year

Deciding a program is not for you or not in line with your goals is something a lot of students go through. Deciding to make a change is so much scarier, and something few students actually do. Tell me a little bit about your thought process that led to this transition.

In my first year of university, I struggled with some mental health issues that really pushed me to re-examine why I was in university, or rather, why I was in such a rush to figure it all out. Leaving high school, I really had no concept of what it was like to exist outside of an education system that was structured to teach us in a very specific way. Despite that, I went right into another educational institution that had been pre-ordained by that same system. While what I learned in university was hugely eye-opening and beneficial, something didn’t seem to click, so when the time came to decide to stay or go, there was a thrill in leaving that meant exploring a side to me that maybe I hadn’t thought of before.

The idea of making that jump is pretty scary, because there really is no plan when you finally do it, but that’s also part of the excitement. It presents new challenges and forms of stress, but in doing so, also teaches you the skills to manage them. When I left, however, I knew that I would go back to University at some point. I guess I hadn’t completely let go of the structured system to which I was so attached. When I returned to U of T in 2014, I expected to be a new version of my academic self – one that was more committed, engaged, and maybe slightly less of a procrastinator. I was very wrong. It turned out to be the worst academic year of my educational career. The confusion and self-doubt that came out of it really sucked, for lack of a better word, but instead of letting it consume me, I forced myself to again re-examine the choices that had led me there. When I finally decided to leave my program a second time, I was less certain I would return. In some ways it was scarier, and in others, not scary at all.

While I didn’t know what I was going to do, I knew that I was finally open to exploring new options and experiences. It’s important to allow ourselves some room for creative, personal growth outside of the things we know, and more often than not, this can lead to amazing things. While I don’t have more certainty, answers, or even direction, I can safely say that I’m confident in the decisions I’ve made. It’s amazing how believing in those choices really helps you understand the personal strength we all have.

What program are you considering now, and what things do you want to do before diving into it?

I am currently hoping to pursue a career in midwifery, but since it is quite a jump from my plans earlier in life, there is some catching up that is required. In high school, I was determined to be a lawyer, and ignored the sciences to follow other passions. Unfortunately, this now means I have to complete grade 12 biology in order to meet program requirements. I never thought that high school, of all things, would be such an experience in self-motivation. I also need to start saving toward the program itself. Luckily, having taken time off has helped me build some work experience and an understanding of how to manage work and leisure in a way that allows for some balance. So on the whole, I’m just trying to learn and save, while leaving room to continue exploring my passions.

What are the biggest lessons or takeaways from your time in your previous program?

I think that I can safely say that the most important thing my previous program taught me was how to critically think about the world in which we live, and how to apply that thinking in a way that promotes positive change. So, I guess I would say that the lessons were both personal and academic. In the realm of academia, it has allowed me to further explore and challenge the material with which I engage, in a way that has changed how I think about information in relation to the greater social, cultural, and political contexts. On a personal level, however, the takeaway has been so much more. Critical thinking allows for a re-examination of our own beliefs and preconceptions in such a way that we are able to form, and continually re-form, our opinions. I guess you could say that before university, I had ideas of what my opinions should be, but after I left, I could believe in the things I was preaching. I think that believing in what you say is so important in the process of knowing and liking who you are, and so this skill has been valuable in some of the most important ways.

What are you currently doing for work, and how does your current job allow you to learn new skills and stay challenged?

 I currently work for a couple of farmers who both grow organic food and produce baked products for farmer’s markets around the city. It is a job that not only continues to challenge me both on a creative and social level, but also has a customer service and management aspect that works together in building valuable workplace skills. As someone who hopes to pursue a future career that focuses on relationship building and one-on-one interaction, I have found it to be an invaluable experience. I have also had some amazing opportunities to get involved in Toronto’s neighbourhood communities and meet some interesting, dedicated people. Interacting with people who are passionate about food systems and ethical farming has not only taught about a realm of labour about which I had previously never thought, but has also increased my awareness about local environmental and community issues. It has pushed me to re-examine the way that I exist within these systems, and has opened my eyes to an important economic and lifestyle choice.

What are some issues or causes you are passionate about, and how do you plan on incorporating them into your future work or career?

I think that part of the reason that I left my program was that, while I was passionate about the topics I was studying, they were fields into which I was already engaged and exploring on my own. While I loved the information I was learning, it felt like my time could be better focused on a career that put those principles and beliefs into action. I think that midwifery appeals to me for this exact reason. Issues surrounding female health, support, and access on a local level are hugely important to me, and as a career, it focuses on the importance of self-agency in decision making, allows for healthcare access where other options may not exist, and can be a great opportunity for building positive female relationships.

If you were a trust fund baby with terrific connections, and you could work at any organization or on any project or initiative, where/what would it be?

 It would probably be a mental health initiative. Having seen so many people struggle with mental health issues, I see the major problem to be solved being that of communication between, and for, those who are living with what can be debilitating illnesses, or just simple day-to-day life. Often, the conversation surrounding mental illness is about eliminating the stigma of the illness itself, but I don’t think that’s enough. Part of eliminating that stigma is about allowing for people who go through these experiences to feel able to connect with others who may be experiencing similar things. Medication has been something that has hugely helped me in my daily life. While mental illness itself has started to be destigmatized, certain forms of treatment are still often frowned upon. I think that people being able to share their narratives with others who may be struggling means a break down of those prejudices. It means that we can fully understand the tools and resources available, and continue working toward positive relationship building that allows for different experiences and informed decision making.

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

I have to say, I love the UC Junior Common Room at U of T. It’s cozy, has lots of outlets, and is home to some leather couches that are GREAT for naps. (Just remember to bring some headphones!). Otherwise, I tend to be a coffee shop kind of girl. I like to visit a small cafe in my neighbourhood and get my work done, or visit some beautiful parks around the city, and pray that my computer battery doesn’t die in the process. That can really prevent you from getting things done.