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

Caring and Curiosity: Meet TRIO Star Liam Edwards

When Liam Edwards first registered for classes at the Community College of Vermont, he encountered a lot of skepticism. At seventeen, he had dropped out of high school to attend college. “I got negative feedback from friends,” he says. “They didn’t think I could make it. My family didn’t believe I could make it either.”

Liam’s first day at CCV seemed to confirm everyone’s fears. “I didn’t even show up to the right class,” he recalls, chuckling. “I sat in the wrong classroom for three hours.”

There was also the financial burden. Liam’s parents couldn’t pay for his education so he worked at Rutland Mental Health, doing outreach work with adults with chronic mental health problems. He became a substitute teacher at Head Start. In the summer, he toiled long hours as a farmhand. In between, he worked in production at music festivals.

Despite the bumpy beginning and the heavy workload, Liam thrived. He left classes wanting to engage with classmates about the ideas they were learning and discussing. He earned an associate’s degree in early childhood education from CCV before transferring to Castleton, a transition he describes as “seamless.”

Today, the young man who was told he wouldn’t succeed in college has a 3.26 GPA despite a plethora of outside commitments. Until Liam began student teaching this semester, he continued his work with Rutland Mental Health and Head Start in addition to working part-time at the Calvin Coolidge Library’s circulation desk. He has also been an active member of the university’s Greenhouse and Gardens Club. In January, he discussed his experiences as a transfer student on a panel for new transfer students. 

Faculty and staff praise his appetite for learning and his determination. “Liam is truly committed to learning. He eagerly searches for new knowledge and he passionately engages with scholarly work,” says Leigh-Ann Brown, Assistant Professor of Education. Stephanie Traverse, Access Services Librarian, raves about his “incredible work ethic.”

Liam believes Castleton’s Academic Support Center is partially responsible for his success.  He has met with Math Specialist Deborah Jackson and Writing Specialist Doe Dahm during his time at Castleton. “It’s reassuring to believe that there are people at Castleton who will help,” he says. “And it’s been useful to get help with my writing, especially synthesizing and sequencing. The Academic Support Center has helped me achieve one of my goals, which is to keep my GPA above a 3.00.”

A multidisciplinary studies major, Liam hopes to pursue a career in elementary education after graduating in December. He also plans to attend graduate school. This semester, he is student teaching. He eagerly creates lesson plans for the 4-6th graders in his classroom, and despite his busy schedule, finds time to mentor fellow student teachers, sharing ideas and strategies with them.

Monica McEnerney, chair of Castleton’s education department, is supervising Liam in his student teaching role. She is impressed by his interactions with students and peers.

“It was evident from the first day that Liam had built strong connections with students and was a responsible and kind colleague,” she says. “He knows that, even when times get tough, he must be a positive presence for his students.  Liam is an excellent elementary educator.”

McEnerney believes Liam’s intellectual curiosity will enrich his work as an educator. “Liam has a broad sense of the world, has a poetic disposition, and cares deeply about his community,” she says.

Ann Slonaker, Associate Professor of Education, agrees wholeheartedly. “Liam will be a good role model for all his students,” she adds.

In the meantime, Liam hopes other students will take full advantage of the opportunities to learn and grow during their time at college. “You can’t just read what’s given to you,” he says thoughtfully. “Your professors are all hard workers, and they haven’t stopped learning. Read outside your interests.”

– Dorothy A. Dahm

Persistence and Heart: Celebrating Castleton’s First-Generation Students

Castleton TRIO and first-generation students join international students for apple-picking this fall.

When Sarah Dunbar and Brooke Knudsen arrived at Castleton in Fall 2015, they had lots of questions about college life. Neither of their parents had attended college, and they weren’t sure how they would pay for their education. “Even understanding my financial aid package was a challenge,” Sarah admits.

And then there was homesickness. “Growing up, I was a shy person, always leaning on my family and friends,” says Brooke. “I wasn’t sure how I was going to make it through college being away from them.”

Both young women found the answers to their questions – and a home away from home – at Castleton’s Academic Support Center (ASC). Through the Summer Transition Program, they made friends like themselves, first-generation students with the same concerns about college life. Staff members helped them identify financial aid opportunities and encouraged them to pursue their dreams.

Today, those early uncertainties seem very far away. Both Sarah and Brooke have thrived academically at Castleton. Sarah, a multidisciplinary studies major who hopes to teach elementary school, has a 3.80 G.P.A. This summer, Brooke, a biology major, conducted research on the effects of glyphosate-based pesticides through Castleton’s McNair Scholars program. Both have mentored and tutored other students at the ASC. Despite her avowed shyness, Brooke recently served as the Mentor Coordinator for the TRIO Texting program, a program for incoming first-generation, low-income students. She attributes her newfound confidence to the ASC. “The ASC shaped who I am today,” she says. “I have grown as an individual.”

While Brooke and Sarah’s stories are inspiring, they are far from unusual: roughly half of Castleton’s students are first-generation. These students often face a plethora of obstacles from financial problems to unfamiliarity with academic jargon. For these reasons, they are more likely to become discouraged and drop out than their peers. “They have a sense of fragility, that coming to college does not necessarily mean finishing college or having the lifestyle of one’s dreams,” observes Rich Cark, Professor of Political Science at Castleton University.

Clark knows something about being a first-generation college student: neither of his parents went beyond high school, and they did not encourage their six children to further their education. “They tended to feel that those with higher levels of education were snobs who looked down on them,” he says.

Clark applies his own experiences to his work with Castleton students. He recalls meeting first-generation students during his interview. “I felt like I had found my people,” he says. “At my previous school, many of the students struck me as feeling a sense of entitlement about their lives and their position. I don’t get that with Castleton students, many of whom have a sense of triumph about being in the room, being on campus.”

Faculty and staff agree that first-generation students bring unique strengths and insights to their studies. “Typically, first-generation students are appreciative and work hard to prove they belong,” says Andy Vermiliyea, chair of the Natural Sciences department and a first-generation college graduate.

Gerry Volpe, Castleton’s Coordinator of Disability Services, concurs. “Many first-generation students have overcome obstacles many of their peers can only imagine and have come away with a strength of character that serves them quite well,” he says. “As a first-generation student myself, I am proud to support these students.”

Certainly, Brooke and Sarah are grateful for their education. “I know how hard I have worked to get here and how hard my family has worked to get me here,” says Sarah. “So I am doing my best to make the most of this opportunity.”

Brooke agrees wholeheartedly with her friend. “Persistence and heart are the true meaning of being a first-generation student,” she muses. “We do the best we can, and our heart is always in it because we wouldn’t be here if we didn’t truly want to be.”

– Dorothy A. Dahm