Thursday, July 31, 2014

Comfortably Living on a Student Budget

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Taking a crash course in financial reality - this is what it seemed for Anna, a new student, living for the first time on her own. Away from her parents, from free meals, free room and laundry service and car rides to school, sports and parties she had to learn how to live on a small student budget.  Which is often foreign to many post-secondary students. 
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What's for Free in Your City?
Anna, a smart journalism student at Carlton University, used her internet search skills to find solutions for her financial challenges. She started with the most common word: FREE and added Ottawa plus Furniture, Entertainment, Books and Sport.
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Save on Living:
As Anna had to furnish her student apartment, her first web search turned her to http://www.ottawa.craigslist > for sale / wanted > free stuff. 
She also searched and posted to http://www.kijiji.ca,  and to http://www.freecycle.ca.
Within three days she picked up a bed frame, two book shelves, lamps, an antique desk in need of TLC,  three wicker chairs, several indoor plants and a mirror - all for free!  She declined an offer for a free mattress and went instead to IKEA for a brand-new one and to check out their prices on cushions.  She was lucky: Every Wednesday  IKEA offers huge savings on selected items and this time it was by chance mattresses, exactly the size she needed. As she arrived a bit too early in the morning, she even was greeted with a free coffee and later she discovered the famous $1.00 IKEA breakfast.
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Save on telephone, banking and transportation:
Anna opted for the free Skype phone system through her computer. This way she could talk on her computer - not paying anything - with friends and family who lived 2,000 kilometers away. She choose free online banking and found reasons why NOT to use a credit card. Anna spared her money for a car, planed a long oversea vacation instead and uses OCTranspo. The Day Pass entitles her to unlimited same-day travel on the bus and the O-Train. At an OCTranspo unclaimed-items sale she found a bicycle for only $10, which helps her with grocery trips.
Anna also gathered information on car-sharing/car pooling and "hitch a ride" for trips in Ontario. 
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When ordering software she saved almost $100 on student rebate. And on her next Mac laptop she will save as a student as well. Textbooks are much cheaper or even free with textbookrevolution.org.
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Save on Nutritional Food:
Anna is a coffee lover, but also very smart and did not fall into the fast food/cafeteria coffee trap that would have added up to $500.00 /year. She makes her own coffee and brings a thermos mug to school. As bottled water is a real scam, she never buys it.
She compares the grocery flyers to plan next week's meals and find the best deals on produce (always seasonal), meat, fish or dairy products. If these specials are sold out, she asks for a "rain-check" and can buy it later at the same favorable price.
For nuts, cereals or peanut butter she goes on Wednesdays to Bulkbarn and receives a 10% student discount. Loblaws offers students 10% discount on groceries.
She also learned that volunteering at the City's free Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter Dinners will earn her a free meal and lots of food to take home.
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Save on Entertainment:
Renting books, magazines, movies and music from the City Public Library is a non-brainer. But who knew that most museums are free on Thursday afternoons or Saturday morning and generally on Canada Day? 
Anna likes art and visiting gallery vernissages are often an invitation for free wine & cheese. She also likes to attend concerts, movies, ballet and theater. Armed with a first-aid certificate, she got several volunteer jobs at theaters and concerts, seeing lots of premieres for free. 

For free in Ottawa, Canada: 

  • Free Canada Day Concerts (the largest on Parliament Hill). 
  • In spring Anna attended admission-free introductions to kayaking and canoeing. ........
  • St. Pauls University, Carlton U and Ottawa U are offering international movies 
  • The RA photoclub has great photo shows once a month. 
  • In summer a free light & sound show is performed every evening at the Parliament.
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How to Make the Most out of Your Dollars.
Just as Anna shows, every student can learn strategies to spend less and still live well. Discover the best bargains and have fun saving for a nice vacation, new car or to keep education debt down!
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