Tis the Season to Be Saving: Financial Tips for Break and the Holidays

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For many students, college life means being broke – and this is especially true around the holidays and winter break. With gift shopping, holiday parties, and outings with friends, the pressure to spend money can leave students feeling less than festive. What should be a time of joy and relaxation becomes a burden.

Fortunately, it is possible to save money and enjoy the holidays. Here are some tips to help you stay in good financial health over vacation.

1.) Think Modest. You’re a full-time college student. No one expects you to give extravagant gifts. Give small, thoughtful presents, go homemade (baked goods are always a hit), or consider limiting your gift list. Some families do a Yankee Swap; others pull names from hat and select a present for the person whose name they pulled. Be honest about your financial situation with your loved ones. You even might ask siblings, friends, and extended family to take a break from gift-giving this year. They may be glad you suggested this!

2.) Check Your List – Twice! If family members ask what you want for the holidays, think about your needs. Do you have enough clothing to last you through the next year? Socks? Do you need help buying books or school supplies for next semester? Could you use a gas card or points for your meal plan? Don’t be afraid to ask for necessities: most loved ones will be happy to help you pursue your goals. If you receive money, save it or earmark it for next semester’s expenses.

3.) Be Selective. During break, you may be tempted to spend money on entertainment, including movie tickets, restaurant meals, concerts, and nightclubs. Of course, you want to have fun with friends, but you don’t want to lose your savings. Limit your outings, or plan less expensive ones. Consider going to a matinee – or staying home and watching DVDs with popcorn. Check your local newspaper and see what free events are going on in your hometown. Clip coupons for your favorite chain restaurant. (Sunday newspapers usually include them.) Can’t afford that lift ticket? Try bundling up and taking a walk in the snow.

4.) Treat Yourself. Maybe you really want that concert ticket, dress, or season pass. It may even be worth it. But before you open your wallet, think about what that splurge might mean. Will seeing your favorite band live be worth a few months of being broke? Will you have opportunities to wear that dress? How often will you be able to get to the mountain this winter? It’s normal to want to reward yourself for hard work, but a smaller treat, whether it’s a book, garment, or a trip to your favorite café, might make you just as happy.

As the year and the semester draw to a close, think about your financial goals for the year ahead. How can you save money and reduce your debt? This sounds like a grim process, but it doesn’t have to be. After all, the more money you save in college, the less debt you’ll have after graduation. Think of being frugal as preparing for the future – just one more step on your journey to the life you want.

– Dorothy A. Dahm

FAFSA: Don’t Delay, Do It Today!

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Have you completed your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)? It’s easy put off tasks that are complex, boring, and time-consuming – and many students consider the FAFSA all three. (That’s why so many professionals don’t do their income taxes until the last minute!)

But just as you shouldn’t procrastinate about your homework, you shouldn’t delay your financial aid application. This year, you can fill out the FAFSA as early as October 1, 2016. Here’s why you should complete the FAFSA before the end of the Fall 2016 semester:

1.) States Don’t Wait. Remember: you use the FAFSA to apply for aid from the federal government, your state, and your school for the coming academic year. Many states have deadlines – usually in February or March – for state-specific aid, including grants. (Vermont has a first-come, first-served policy, which means you should apply as soon as possible after October 1, 2016.) Find out your state’s deadline, and make sure you submit the FAFSA well before that date. You don’t want to miss out on any aid, including grants and scholarships, which you won’t have to repay! (Please note that if you are a Vermont resident and want to apply for a VSAC grant, you should apply online after you complete the FAFSA.)

2.) Early Birds Get the Institutional Worm. Technically, you have until March 31, 2018 to apply for financial aid for the 2017-2018 year at Castleton. But the sooner you submit your FAFSA, the greater your chances of receiving aid from Castleton – or any college, for that matter. Castleton plans to start awarding financial aid to returning students in mid-February 2017, so be sure to complete your FAFSA by the start of the New Year.

Of course, there are legitimate reasons why students put the FAFSA on the backburner. Fortunately, you can apply early even if the following apply to you:

1.) You – or Your Parents – Haven’t Done Your Taxes Yet. No worries. This year, you can use your 2015 income information.

2.) Your Financial Circumstances Have Changed. Maybe you or your parents have lost a job. Maybe you’re working fewer hours than you did last year. If that’s the case, you may be reluctant to report last year’s income on the FAFSA because you’ll probably receive less aid than you need. Here’s what you need to do: report last year’s income on the FAFSA. Then, contact the Financial Aid Office. Explain that your income has changed and ask the staff to complete a professional judgement review. This will give you an opportunity to report your estimated income for the coming year. Bear in mind that you may have to provide proof of your income change, such as a layoff notice or information about unemployment benefits or severance pay.

Whatever your circumstances or concerns, you should never postpone the FAFSA. If you have questions about the application process, please call Academic Support at 468-1347 or stop by to schedule an appointment with a counselor. You can also contact the Financial Aid office at 468-6070.

-Dorothy A. Dahm

 

A Way with Words: TRIO Star Jadie Dow

jadiedowAt first, the numbers didn’t add up. Jadie Dow was a good student, but she struggled with calculus. And sometimes, the first-generation college student wondered if she’d be able to pay for her education.

Fortunately, Jadie took advantage of the TRIO Student Support Services Program at Castleton’s Academic Support Center. She visited the Center’s Math Clinic. Thanks to the math tutors, she got through calculus. The TRIO Grants she received her freshman and sophomore years helped defray the cost of attending Castleton. Finally, she met with Academic Services Director Kelley Beckwith, who helped Jadie understand her bill and loan options. “With the grant and Kelley’s advice, I no longer had to worry about money,” says Jadie.

Today, the senior Journalism major with a minor in Business Administration is thriving at Castleton. A strong student with a GPA of 3.57, Jadie has been the editor of The Spartan, Castleton’s student newspaper, since Spring 2016 after writing for the paper since her freshman year. She also sings in Vocal Unrest, Castleton’s acapella group.

Jadie also has a gift for teaching. She is a Teaching Assistant for the Communications Department Feature Writing course. Since Spring 2015, she has been a Writing Tutor at the Academic Support Center. A gifted writer, Jadie finds teaching rewarding. “There’s that moment when you finally see it click in someone’s head – even when you think you’re not explaining it very well,” she says. Writing Specialist Bill Wiles praises her work with students. “Jadie is patient with struggling writers. She meets them where they are and brings them (sometimes kicking and screaming) to where they should be,” he quips.

Despite her current success, Jadie hasn’t forgotten what it felt like to be a new college student. For two years, she served as a Student Orientation Staff leader, helping freshman acclimate to college during orientation weekend and throughout their first semester in their First Year Seminar class. Dr. Andy Alexander, chair of the English department, felt grateful to have Jadie to support his class of TRIO students. “Like you hope all SOS will be, Jadie was an excellent role model for my first-year students, in just about every way,” he says. “She was funny, but she knew how switch gear when needed… it seemed to me that Jadie represented a quiet source of comfort to those students who needed it. One very important thing is that Jadie let the students know that she took her studies seriously AND that she had to actually work at things to do well.  She shared her study habits, and I think all these things combined served the students very well.”

Although Jadie is enjoying her final year at Castleton, she’s excited about what comes next. In the spring, she’ll begin an internship at the Rutland Herald’s newsroom. After graduation, she hopes to be a journalist and eventually edit her own newspaper. Someday, she plans to earn a graduate degree and teach journalism at the college level.

Jadie credits the Academic Support Center with her success and advises new TRIO students to visit the Center. “It’s all free and everyone is so helpful,” she says. “It won’t always be like that, so take advantage of that while you can.”

-Doe Dahm