Budgeting for Life in Transition

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It's that time of year for second-year graduate students in Student Affairs programs. The time where the job search seems to be constantly on the brain. The Placement Exchange (TPE) is an incredible opportunity for job-searching graduate students. In preparation for this event, grads will hear more advice about resumes, cover letters, interview skills, and networking than they could ever imagine. All of this information is crucial, but something not as often discussed is financial wellness as it relates to the job search. TPE, and the costs associated, can leave a graduate student with an additional cause of stress to the already anxiety-ridden time of job searching.

Financial wellness is not simply about how much money you have.  Instead, think about it in a different way.  

My office refers to financial wellness as: "[being] fully aware of financial state and budgets, saving, and managing finances in order to achieve realistic goals."

Tom Rath and Jim Harter (also known for work with StrengthsFinder) describe financial wellness in their book, "Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements", as managing what you have in a way that allows you to do what you want to do when you want to do it.  

No matter how much money you may have, financial wellness is attainable. It's all about feeling confident in reaching your goals. Through my own personal experience and consultation with fellow professionals in the field, I have put together five tips on how to save money on the TPE Onsite experience. Implementing these quick steps allows you to focus on your goal: landing that job.

Book Early

TPE Onsite registration.  The early bird price for a full-time graduate student is 89 dollars (if signed up by January 9th).  The longer you wait, the higher the price gets and can even get to 129 dollars. Note: If you're staying afterwards to attend the NASPA Annual Conference, you will get a discounted rate for having attended TPE Onsite.  NASPA memberships for grads are even cheaper than for full-time professionals---take advantage!

Hotel. You will hear different opinions on where to stay during TPE Onsite. Personally, I found being as close to the interviews as possible (even at a higher cost) was incredibly worth it. However, staying a bit further away can save some money. Either way, you will want to book your room early (and share a room with a few trusted friends) to get the cheapest prices in the blocked rooms. Blocked rooms tend to book up quickly! For helpful tips for booking your hotel, click here.

Flight. Depending on where you are flying from, your flight there and back can put you back hundreds of dollars. Ouch. You will want to be aware of your timeline when booking a flight and there are lots of articles out there on when the best time to book is, like this one. Would driving be more affordable? Calculate how much it would cost to potentially rent a van, split it with fellow graduate students, pay for gas, and park. 

Dress For Less

A suit or two can be a necessity for TPE Onsite and the job search. A nice suit can be potentially very pricey. A couple of tips for how to look sharp and interview ready without breaking the bank:

Shop Now. Stores are pushing out their spring and summer clothes to prepare for fall, meaning your spring/summer suits are all now on SALE. Go into your nearest department store and make a B-line for that sales rack. New Orleans in the spring will not be comfortable in a winter tweed suit. Trust.

Don't forget stores like TJ Maxx and Marshalls. They can have name brand designer suits for a really great deal. And if you find one that doesn't fit perfectly, you can use some of that money you saved to get it tailored. Courtney Reynolds and Kelley Stier from Purdue University put together this video that illustrates how you can master the art of “thrifting” for professional wear.

Relive Your Childhood

PB&J sandwiches are your friend. Lunch options in the convention center can be very pricey, costing between 10 and 15 dollars a meal.  Enter PB&Js. When I attended TPE Onsite, my roommates and I made a pit stop at a local grocery store to stock up on snacks, bread, peanut butter, and jelly. In the mornings, make yourself a sandwich and take it with you to eat for lunch.

Sharing is caring. Brainstorm about things you may purchase that only come in bulk, yet may not need all of.  For example, something you will most likely be looking to purchase is resume paper.  You most likely will not need an entire pack so find someone in your cohort to split the cost with you that need some as well.

Scholarships, Fellowships & Awards

Fun Fact: there are scholarships out there with awards of hundreds of dollars that you can apply for. Some allow you to use the money how you like; others can either contribute or cover your registration cost for professional associations conferences.  It is absolutely WORTH it to apply for these. There is no downside and it is wonderful professional development experience. Some I have seen in the past are: Jim Rhatigan Fellowship, Golden Key, and specific knowledge communities fund grads who are interested in pursuing work in that specific functional area. In addition, your department may have opportunities to cover costs, even if it is simply your professional association membership. Search around, you may find some additional funding for your trip!

7 Dollars a Week

Starting today, put aside 7 dollars each week leading up to TPE Onsite. That gives you about 100 dollars for unexpected expenses that may come up, such as fees for your checked bags. Plus, New Orleans is an incredible city you will most likely want to take a chance to explore and eat a beignet or two. :-)

Stop Comparing

One quote that I’ve always connected with is “comparison is the thief of joy.” When it comes to many aspects of life, comparison can not only steal your joy…..but also your money.

If you are in a graduate program, it is far too easy to compare your job search experience to your fellow cohort members. Perhaps your friend has the ability to stay in their own room at the conference hotel, or another has a fantastic designer suit to help their confidence in their interviews. Maybe at TPE Onsite, everyone will want to go out to eat for every meal. Whatever it may be, there will always be something. It is important to not let the spending patterns of others change or influence your own.

Learnvest has an article about this very financially dangerous problem. Turns out, 78 percent of millennials feel the pressure to spend as much as their peer spends. This pressure manifests itself into making poor financial decisions just to avoid potential social awkwardness.

So when it comes to job searching, PLEASE stick to your budget and your financial plan. Stop comparing. You got this.

Want more tips? Follow Mandi on twitter at @mandischweitzer and her blog: mandischweitzer.wordpress.com

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