First-timer’s budget

It was not a typical post on a public Facebook group, but Chelsea Rollay had to know,. “Is anyone else running out of money?”

It was the only way to find out what she was doing wrong. “I’m eating Ramen noodles and I’m trying to be smart about my money,” she said. Responses from friends in Rollay’s internship program commented with similar struggles.

Rollay came to Washington, D.C. with $1000 to last eight weeks while she interns and takes classes at Georgetown University. Though this is not her first time balancing a budget, new challenges were immediately presented.

“When you’re in a new place and there’s so much to do, it’s easy to spend money on things that you don’t even think you’re spending money on,” she said.

Rollay saw her internship as a networking opportunity, but did not realize how costly a good impression can be.

“I wanted to go out and make friends with my [co-workers] and my boss,” she said.“That first week…I spent around $10 per day on lunch; Friday came along and I was like whoa, I just spent $50.”

Rollay posed her question on Facebook seeking advice from others because after only four weeks, the lack of income worried the junior from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Between a full-time unpaid internship and six credit hours from Georgetown, Rollay’s only monetary source came from her savings.

“I don’t have parents that can just wire me money,” she said. “[They said] they wish they could help me, but [they] really can’t do anything.”

Budgeting is a skill that everyone needs, but many do not possess. College students are usually not aware of the cost-of-living and its hidden fees, nor are they aware of the tools made specifically to help.

A budget begins with the right type of bank account. Student checking accounts are available and typically have lower minimum balances and fees.

Joan Goldwasser of Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine said that the key to successfully budgeting is being wary of what is available and which fees can add up quickly. For example, using an ATM from a different bank charge fees that fall around two dollars, but some do not realize that their banks also charge for using these machines. So, a $20 withdrawal could end up costing $24.

For those who do not closely monitor their balances, linking checking accounts to a back-up savings account might seem like a good option, however Goldwasser says this could lead to less-strict spending habits. A $30 overdraft fee might seem extreme for some, but draining a savings account without realizing it could have longer-term ramifications. According to Moebs Services economic research group, banks collected almost $30 million last year in overdraft fees.But when you have a depleting savings account, Goldwasser said keeping a closer eye on spending habits instead of using overdraft protection can go a long way.

“You have to put a little effort into it,” she said. “The only thing you actually have to do is look at [your statements] and see what you’re doing with your money.”

Keeping track of spending can be done through balancing a checkbook or reviewing monthly bank statements. Most banks now offer instant access to accounts online or through mobile applications. Account statements are available as soon as the transaction is made and most sites allow users to search through their history in monthly increments.

Signing up for a checking account or credit card is easy, but managing expenses and actually cutting down on unnecessary spending is where most first-timers struggle. Experts debate how much of a person’s income should go to certain expenses, but there is no magical equation to tell consumers how to slice their paycheck. Monthly bills–such as rent, car insurance or loan payments–give a relatively solid foundation to maintaining a budget, but individuals have other recurring expenses that vary, like gas or groceries, to keep in mind.

There are websites that help users create budgets using their past spending habits and salary. The sites suggest categorizing the last three to six months of expenses in order to establish a spending pattern and build the budget from there.

“When you have a really good record of what you’re spending [the most money] on, you’re more likely to take a second look,” said Georgetown Finance Professor James Angel.

Rollay and her parents did not make a specific budget before she left Minnesota for the summer. “I didn’t just because I have been on my own many times before and because college isn’t new to me. I assumed, and my parents assumed, that I would be responsible enough to budget myself.”

Categorizing every expense seems like a daunting task and many do not utilize the online tools to create personal budgets. However, taking that second glance at the day-to-day purchases might make those same people think twice.

“It’s a reality check,” said Rollay. “At this point, I only really have money for food.”

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There’s always one…

Coming to a new place brings a fresh start: new places, new schedules, new experiences, but regardless of where I’ve been or what leadership program hands out the t-shirts, I tend to see the same people.

There’s always one… who has never been away from home. They freak out and recluse themselves into a comfort zone for the entire program. They’ll do the minimal amount of work, but mostly just stay in bed or stick to the friends they brought from home.

There’s always one… who doesn’t take anything seriously. They’ll blow through the program with more focus on the weekend than their internship and classes. When the summer’s over, they always seem to wonder why their killer networking at the bar didn’t quite pay off.

There’s always one… who takes it too seriously. They’ll stick to the scheduled events, tours and activities laid out by the program. They’re cordial to peers and roommates, but any kind of personality trait (other than uptight and determined) rarely appears.

There’s always one… who tries to do it all. Someone who wants to do, see and go everywhere with everyone. This one is usually me. I’m focused on interning, focused on classes, focused on blogging, focused on making friends, focused on seeing everything in Washington, focused on…you get the picture. My theory: I can sleep in August.

So, which person makes the ideal intern? What mindset do you need to have the best experience? Or is there a balance somewhere that I’m not seeing? Maybe I’ll be able to answer after I’ve caught up on sleep.

Things to Avoid This Summer…

Countdown: 4 days

 

For as long as I can remember, all I ever wanted to do was get out of Connecticut. Small town life was not for me. I knew it; my parents knew it; my friends and teachers knew, too. But after three years of college and four internships within driving distance of home, the big dream seemed further from reach every summer I stayed home. This summer is different.

Over winter break, I applied for every internship I could find that was anywhere but southern Connecticut.  After swimming upstream in the pool of undergraduate applicants, I got hired in Washington D.C.

The dream became a reality again—and right after the excitement came the panic. Of all the things I’ve seen and learned in my life, the Huggies diaper jingle was the only thing that came to mind, “I’m a big girl now!”

Oh. My. God. This is real life—and a real internship. It’s the beginning of a career; it’s the beginning of the real world. In my panic, I asked everyone and their brother how to prepare. Most of the advice ended up being what I shouldn’t do. So, this is what I’m going to try to avoid while I’m in D.C.:

  1. Asking stupid questions- The phrase, “There’s no such thing as a stupid question,” needs to be modified. It should state, “There’s no such thing as a stupid question, unless you can Google the answer.” If I can figure something out before having to ask, it shows that I take can take the initiative. So instead of blurting, “What’s that?” I can form a more intelligent question.
  2. Slacking in front of/behind my boss- I’m going to be a senior next year, which means every recommendation counts five times as much. Future employment depends on who you know and who you’ve impressed in the past. Facebook, I shall miss you, but I’ll see you on my lunch break.
  3. Making rookie comments- Everyone makes mistakes, yes, but there are obvious things rookies can avoid—aka posting inappropriately on social media. My boss is now following me on twitter, meaning I’ll be keeping my outfit photos and song lyrics to a minimum (if any at all). I also will avoid the pity-the-poor-intern statuses. If it was easy, it wouldn’t be called work.
  4. Spicing up my wardrobe- Clothes I wear to class or out to the club are not clothes I’ll be wearing to the office, but what about the couple outfits that could go either way? When in doubt, I was told to ask whether or not I’d wear it in front of my grandma or grab a sweater just in case.

I think that covers some of it. Do I feel better about the situation? Sort of, but these butterflies in my stomach are not going away any time soon. If you see a girl on the side of the metro hyperventilating next Wednesday, it might be me.

 

 

Preparations II: Books, roomies and minor panic attacks

Countdown: 18 days.

Books-bought.

Roommates- met.

Panic attack- almost.

I can handle classes. I can handle being thrown into a new place with new people. I felt a little sheepish sending the “Hey! We’re going to be roommates! I’ll bring the coffee pot if you bring the vacuum cleaner!” email. I guess since I’m being housed with four other upperclassmen we’re all used to it by now though. Everyone seems just as peppy and excited as I am, so we should have a good time as long as my nerdy habits don’t get in the way of anyone’s eight week vacation.

The looming thought of my internship is still scaring me a bit though. Maybe I’m doubting myself, maybe I’ve been putting off my homework for too long, or maybe it’s somewhere in between. I wanted a challenge this summer after out-growing one weekly newspaper’s and one radio company’s summer internships. I wanted to get out of small town Connecticut and put my hard work to the test. Be careful what you wish for…

Preparations Part 1

The semester at Stony Brook is officially over. I’ll move out Friday and spend the next few weeks at home. It’s almost a tease having to wait three weeks to leave. My new boss gave me my first assignment–research. Research the crap out of business reporting.

My strengths have always included people skills, reliability and a knack with the written word. My problem areas are the ones that include technology and anything having to do with numbers. So naturally, I’ll be spending my summer at a broadcast station helping with stories about the world of business. One thing I don’t do is fail. Bring on the business.

About this Blog

My name is Alexa Gorman; I’m a senior at Stony Brook University. I’m a journalism major and political science minor. This summer, I am attending The Fund for American Studies’ Institute on Political Journalism. I have an internship at the Washington D.C. branch of PBS’ Nightly Business Report.

Since NBR is primarily focused on broadcast, I wanted to find a way to continue writing. This blog will focus on one intern from the Washington D.C. area. Thousands of students flock to the capitol in the summer to soak up the work experience, but no two journeys are the same.

My personal experience and thoughts will appear throughout the summer as well.