Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Student's Guide to Getting Organised

Photo Credit – Amy's Journal

So hopefully by now, you've figured out which uni you are going to, and where you are going to live for at least the first semester of your new academic career. Now it's down to getting organised, both for moving, and the start of semester!

Packing/Storage – First things first, go and buy some durable plastic storage containers, or a bunch of cardboard packing cases. Packing cases are great because you can fold them back down and store them for when you have to move out again, whilst the plastic ones are great because you can see what's in them, and they can be used to store clothes, food, books, you name it, without fear of water damage. Having everything packed into labelled boxes makes moving and then finding things later so much easier than rummaging through the pile of stuff you just threw into the boot of your car. The boxes also make great furniture when covered with a sheet or something, I used one as a printer table, and another as a nightstand for months! Clothes, scarves, socks, etc make great padding, and save on bubble wrap or paper. And don't feel you have to pack every single thing you own. You still want your room to feel like home when you come back during holidays, and your space at uni is probably finite.

Clothes – Don't feel you have to take your whole wardrobe to uni with you. I don't really consider myself a fashionista, and I certainly don't blog heavily on fashion. I leave that to people with real flair and talent in that area (Will try to upload a list of my favourite reads later this week!). Styling aside, when deciding what to pack, consider the climate where you are, what you plan on getting up to, and how much wardrobe space you actually have. I moved to a much cooler climate, so I packed a lot of winter weight gear, scarves, and jackets, then a very small amount of summer wear. And, it all fitted into two suitcases (Now it's about 4 packing cases and a suitcase or two, my collection has some serious bulk!). Remember you can always ask the family to post you something if you find you really need it later on. If you are a biology or chemistry student, remember that you need to have clothes that are appropriate to wear in the lab (closed shoes, covered legs, few frills/ties/etc that can get accidentally coated in something nasty or set on fire). As a general rule, I never wear anything in the lab that I would seriously be distraught over having to throw away or that could not be replaced – Contamination can and does happen, and I've had to throw out a favourite pair of jeans, and put up with odd stains on my favourite t-shirt. Lab coats unfortunately only do so much.

Stationary – Now is the time to buy! With all the primary school kids going back in the next week, there will be some great specials floating around. Pick up some good pens (Get some cool colours as well as just red/black/blue, a great way to colour your day), a few pre-hole punched notebooks (perforated makes rearranging into folders easier later), one folder for each subject you are taking and a couple of extras, just in case, folder dividers & plastic pockets, anything that you think you might need to make your start to uni life easier. If you're a science student, do yourself a favour and get a Sharpie or four! They are fantastic for labelling in prac classes, they're permanent (except when faced with ethanol, beware when labelling cell culture flasks), bright, and have a great line. I've got a black with both wide-tip and fine tip ends, as well as a bunch of fine tips in various bright colours, and use them for everything, including labelling the boxes in point one!

Household Stuff – This list will vary greatly depending on where you're staying. If you're moving into a rental, you obviously need to take everything, so figure out now how you're getting everything moved, and start packing! No matter where you are, you are probably going to need towels, cooking utensils, laundry powder & pegs, and bed sheets. If you are moving into uni accommodation, they usually provide a list of things included in the room/unit, and a list of things they recommend you bring. Consider whether some things can be taken with you (the frying pan you got for Christmas), or if it might be better to buy when you get there(washing powder, bathroom products), and save the packing space for something else!

The Fridge - If you are living in dorms/halls/on campus, check if you are allowed to have a bar fridge in your room, and if so, consider investing in one! This was my life saver at uni, as it keeps your food separate from everyone elses (helpful not only if you have allergies, but also prevents 'resi shopping'), and gives you somewhere to chill that six pack without fear of 'sharing'. Considering we had 12 people to one normal sized fridge, having one in my room made life so much easier, meant things didn't get mixed up, lost, or accidentally thrown out, and I didn't have to worry about finding space for my cold stuff when I got home from the super!

The Computer – Before you do anything, backup everything on your computer. I highly recommend getting an external hard drive before you go to uni, and making sure you backup regularly. I made the mistake of not, and have experienced the pain of losing a whole semester's work two weeks before exams. Lecturers are incredibly unsympathetic to this kind of situation. I went through three motherboards and two hard drives during my undergrad, before it died completely and I upgraded to a new laptop back in August. Every time, I lost stuff that was seriously important. If you don't have an external hard drive, try loading onto the uni server, backing up on discs, emailing things to yourself, and as a last resort, printing hardcopies. Also make sure your antivirus is up-to-date. You'll more than likely end up hooking into the uni network, get into some completely legal file sharing, and start accessing all sorts of new and marvellous websites during your degree. Unfortunately, this also means smartass IT students practicing their hacking skills, the usual virus threats, and all that jazz. Make sure you're protected! Other things to consider are making sure you have plenty of space left for your new work, and making sure your computer meets the uni's recommended minimum requirements.

Unit Stuff – If you already know the units/subjects you are undertaking this semester, jump online and read the unit guides. If you're like me, and like having them to hand, print them out and store them in the folder you bought for that subject. Have a look at the recommended reading list, but dear gods, don't actually buy any of them yet! Many textbooks on the recommended reading list find themselves looked at once or twice in that semester, and then relegated to the back of the bookcase. Wait until a week or so into semester, talk to your lecturers and tutors, and you may well save yourself some seriously $$$. Don't stress too much if the assignment questions are already sitting there, just take note, and file it away for later. This is more just to get you familiar with what you're diving into than to motivate you to start studying!

Documentation – Make sure you have a copy of your birth certificate, and any other important documents you could possibly need. You'll be amazed how often you need 100 points of ID, and only have about 80. What might you need them for? Applying for Centrelink or scholarships, applying for work or passports, providing proof of ID to real estate agents. Also consider whether you need to transfer your Electoral Roll address, or your drivers licence. If you're on residences, you can usually get away with it, especially if you're moving home during breaks, or after uni. If you're living in a rental, you may have to seriously consider the change.

Well my friends, that's all I can think of at this very moment. What are your top tips for getting ready for uni? Have I left out something seriously important?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Happy Monday – 25/01/10

I was reflecting earlier today that I cannot remember the last time I suffered a serious bout of Mondayitus. In fact, my number of depressed, blah, can't be stuffed days have decreased dramatically in general. Huzzah! This has been thanks to a lot of time invested in some self assessment and self improvement, including a totally new outlook on life, a process that has been ongoing for the last 2 years. Interested in reducing those dnasty days, but don't want to spend two years doing it? The first entry for this weeks Happy Monday round up might be for you then!

Make Your Life Amazing – Megan at has been running a series this month, called "31 Days to Make Your Life Amazing", or MYLA for short, and it's now on the home stretch. I've been reading Megan's blog for quite a while now, and love her inspirational writing and her sense of style. The MYLA series encourages readers to take a good look at themselves, their lives, and encourages you to be the best you possible, the "illustrator of your own existence"! Each day she has been posting a piece that outlines the idea or thrust of the day, a three point summary for direction, and a piece of homework. The exercises are great, the concept is well thought out, and the whole is beautifully executed. MYLA has been great for me, helping me focus on my goals, where I want to be, and who I want to be, and from the looks of the comments, I'm not alone, so please, head over to Charade, and give it a read. If it doesn't help Make Your Life Amazing, I will eat my hat.

Buying New Furniture – Mum and I went furniture shopping for the new digs the other day. We were only supposed to be looking for a bed/day bed/comfy sofa for the spare bedroom, and ended up finding not only the perfect day bed from Bev Marks (I can't find a photo, will post one ASAP!), but also a cute small dining table for the kitchen/living area. I fell in love with a round one (Mustang by the same company), but it would have been impractical, as you can't push a circle table up against the wall when you're not using it. Last Monday I also bought a couple of deer wall decals from Typo, and picked up my amazing new sheets. This, combined with organising to get the power/gas connected (on a green plan of course) makes it feel like moving in is soooo close. Wednesday next week, the keys are in my hot little hands, and I can start taking more photos, and decorating, and unpacking, and blogging the goodness of having my own lair! Are you excited? I'm excited.

Loving My Job – I've said it once, and I'll say it again. I am insanely blessed to have my current job. I've had a bit of a rough week from a personal/family prospective, but everyone at work did everything in their power to help me through, and even covered one of my shifts when I had to go meet up with my Mum. Add to that awesome hours, great workmates, and a good environment, right next to the beach, with school holidays coming to a close and conference season about to start, and I don't really want to go back to uni come March! If you're in Lorne, drop in to say hi, and I'll whip you up a latte or a toblerone!

Upmarket – This new shop in Lorne is amazing! It's got a great mix of vintage clothes (including re-works), second-hand random goodies, gorgeous new designer frocks, local artwork, coffee, a huge selection of wall decals (on my shopping list!)

Honourable mentions – Discovering toeless pantyhose (!), writing at Cocco Lounge in Geelong, having more than 1 pair of heels in my room, being allowed to wear black jeans to work, Barry Hall leaving a goodly sized tip even after a stuffed wine order, my brother not becoming the latest case study for this year's forensics students, having my first official follower, arranging furniture in my head, making a good pina colada/toblerone, watching kids watching their parents throwing a tantrum, getting to see the family, the prospect of public holiday pay rates, black nail polish.

Well darlings, I need to go pull my clothes out of the wash, but what is keeping you smiling this week?
Have a wonderful Australia Day tomorrow!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Foodie Friday - Pavlova

Tuesday is Australia Day, which means lots of yummy Australian food will be on the menu as everyone breaks out the BBQs and lamingtons to celebrate our Aussie pride. And what is more Aussie than pavlova? Below is my favourite pav recipe (courtesy of the Common Sense Cookbook), and my favourite pav topping. Who said you had to top it with banana, kiwi fruit and strawberries?

Makes 1

4 Egg whites

Small pinch of salt

175g castor sugar

1 teaspoon cornflour

½ teaspoon of vinegar

Preheat the oven to 140oC

Put egg whites into large, clean mixing bowl, add the salt, and whisk until they form stiff peaks. Whisk in the sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, to make a soft, glossing meringue. Whisk in the cornflour and vinegar.

Pour onto a cornfloured or papered baking sheet or ceramic plate

Bake for 45 minutes on middle shelf of oven, then turn off the heat and let it go cold.

Chocolate, Macadamia & Pear Pavlova
Makes 1

1 unit Pavlova mix from above recipe

Thicken cream

Vanilla bean

2 blocks chocolate

Zest 1 orange

½ teaspoon ground ginger

1 tin pears in syrup

Macadamia nuts

Make the Pavlova as per instructions in recipe above, making a largely flat shell. The meringue should be crisp on the outside, but still chewy on the inside.

While meringue is cooking, put the macadamias on a baking tray, and place on bottom shelf of the oven until toasted.

When meringue has cooled completely, place thickened cream and the seeds from the vanilla bean into a bowl and whip for a short while.

Melt the chocolate over a low heat, with the rind, ginger, and some of the syrup from the fruit.

To construct, pour the cream over the meringue, it doesn't have to be entirely covered. Drizzle the chocolate mixture over generously. Place pieces of pear at random on top, then crush half of the nuts, and sprinkle both whole and fragments over to finish.

This would work well with any fruit and chocolate combination, like raspberry and white chocolate, cherry and dark chocolate, apple and milk chocolate. The possibilities are endless.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Student's Guide to Finding Accommodation

Given that most of the offers for prospective university students came out this week, and by now you've probably decided whether or not to accept that offer, it's time to start thinking about accommodation for the academic year. You might be lucky, and have received a place in your home town, and therefore can continue on with your current lifestyle. However, if you're like the majority of people I know, and you have to move to attend university, what options are there available to you?

On Campus Residences – In my opinion, this is the best way to spend your first year, or even your whole degree! Most unis have halls or residences, and they are a great way to meet new people, make friends, and have a great time. There are usually good support systems in place for both academic and social stuff, events organised by your college committee or unit supervisor which are always a blast, and chances are, it'll be relatively close to the uni (Unless you're a Deakin Waterfront student, in which case Geelong residences are a good 7 km from campus). You don't have to worry about utility bills suddenly cropping up, and it usually works out being the same, if not slightly cheaper than renting a place. Food packages are available on some residences, but be warned that the food can be terrible, so be prepared for 'resi spread', and feeling sick from fat loading, and make sure you have a few packets of noodles for nights where you just can't bring yourself to eat it! If you miss the application date for on campus residences, it can pay to put in an application or expression of interest anyway. While you might miss out for the start of semester, sometimes people will start uni, and decide residences, or even university in general, is not for them, and rooms can become available a month or two down the track. A lot of people also move off res mid-year, so if you're interested, try applying mid-year too.

Rental – If you have the dough, or are moving to a new town with a few friends, you may like to consider renting. Start looking in the next week or so, because by the time you find a place, get the lease signed, and get moved in, it's going to be getting toward Orientation Week. Prices of properties can vary hugely depending on size, age, location, and how well maintained it has been, so know your limit and stick to it. If you know people in the area, you can get them to attend inspections for you, otherwise be prepared to travel a lot to find a place. Check out my five tips for house-hunting students for some advice on looking for a rental, and stay tuned for a post or two in the next few weeks on the same subject.

Share Houses & Boarding – If you can't afford to rent on your own, and don't know anyone in the town, there is also the option of share houses or boarding. Some of these are administered privately by the owner, others by real estate agents. Usually, you will have a furnished bedroom to yourself, including a bed, desk, and cupboard, and then shared kitchens, living areas, bathrooms, etc. You probably won't know other people in the house, unless you apply with a bunch of friends, and unlike residences there won't be organised functions, but you can end up making some good friends. The normal price in Geelong seems to be no more than $150 per week, and includes utilities. Another option is boarding. Some families open their houses to students, and will have a furnished room available in a family environment, often including meals, for varying amounts. Some of these are offered for students only needing 2 or 3 nights a week, others can be full time. You will usually be expected to contribute to household chores, but if you don't mind being in a family situation, this might be the way to go. Check with your student union or student services division, as they usually have contacts for families interested in billeting students.

Assistance – If you're having problems finding a place to stay, there are always people that can help. First port of call when you're facing the prospect of sleeping in your car is your uni's equivalent of the Division of Student Life, Student Services, or your Student Union. These places often have contacts for share accommodation, boarding houses, private rentals, or even emergency housing. Talk to estate agents to find out if there is anywhere appropriate coming up. Scour the classifieds section of the local papers. Consider commuting until you find a place. Something will come up, so don't stress too much if something doesn't present itself immediately.

My main piece of advice, no matter which route you take, is to shop around. Figure out what is best for you, your personality, your wallet, your academic goals, and your sanity.

What of you, mon petit chou? Have you any accommodation tips to share?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Happy Monday - 18/01/10

After a few weeks without it, Happy Monday is back! Why?

I got a house! – Yes, after 16 inspections, over 100 emails to agents, 8 applications and 7 rejections, I finally got offered a rental! It's a gorgeous little place in South Geelong, a federation house split into two units. Two bedrooms, beautiful leadlight windows, good natural light, a kitchen! Don't laugh, I've been living without a kitchen since November, I want to be able to cook again! It's just incredibly me. I sign the lease and pay the bond today, and get the keys on the third. Since this is the first place that I've had that will be 'mine' as opposed to sharing with other people, I'm pretty darned excited! Ok, so I'll be sharing with my mum a bit, but it's still my space, and going to be filled with my gear, and it's something I'm really looking forward to. I've already started rearranging the furniture in my head, and have a heap of ideas that I'd love to try out, including this cute butterfly project from LollyChops, and perhaps trying to make my own canopy for my bed. Only 16 days to go!!! I promise more photos when I get the keys!

New Years Celebrations – Yes, it's taken me 3 weeks, but it was the best New Years Eve I've ever had! The Muso took me to the New Years on the Waterfront party in Geelong, and even with the rain, it was amazing. Watched Sound Relief with a few beverages before we went, bussed it to town, got caught in the rain as soon as we got there, found some mates to hang out will, danced the night away, got an airbrush tattoo of Maidre, rang in the new year watching Eskimo Joe and firework lit kisses, some more Eskimo Joe, and then hit up Lamby's where we caught up with some more friends. The rain only made things that much better, not only the cool change, but the entertainment provided by girls who hadn't thought ahead complaining about ruined hair, running makeup, and muddy shoes. As for myself, it had been far too hot when we were getting ready to put on make up, it would have just melted, and as my hair was refusing to cooperate due to humidity, I had just pinned it up and not gone overboard. Add to that the fact it looked like rain so I wore my new Ipanema Gisele Bundchen sandals, and I was dancing in the rain, not running from it! Of course, I forgot to take photos!The night finished up with a record breaking 40 min wait for a taxi (we've waited longer on a uni night), an interesting cab ride home, me not doing a backflip in the front yard, freaking out about leaving my handbag in the taxi only to discover I'd put it around the Muso's neck while not doing backflips, and watching the end of Sound Relief whilst plotting a trip to Brazil (!!!). Best. New. Years. Ever.

Butterfly heels – I saw these beautiful shoes just before Christmas, but didn't buy them, because I couldn't afford both them and my brother's Christmas present. Went back on New Year's Eve, and there they were, on sale, half price. Meant to be. I had to take a pair back, because I actually initially bought the wrong size (despite trying them on first, who knows what happened there?), but these ones fit perfectly, and I've been wearing them all over the place. To be honest, I never want to take them off, but thanks to some nasty weather, and their satin finish, they've not been going outside, for their own good. This purchase has also reawaken my desire to wear heels all the time, so some more pairs are finding their way out of storage today!

Taken @ Jan Juc

Honourable mentions – Jupiter hits Pisces today, let the good times roll! Avatar in 3D, Sherrie @ Maxwell Collins (Poor woman showed me through so many houses she must have thought I was stalking her!), getting awesome ideas from Apartment Therapy, The 'purple-headed yoghurt slasher' cocktail by Tony @ work, sticking to new years resolutions, having high heels out of storage, rediscovering why I love, House & SYTYCD Australia are coming back!

So my readers, what is making you smile this week?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Foodie Friday – Simple Asian Chicken with Rice

This week, I thought I'd put up my favourite quick and cheap meal, which my Uncle taught me to make years ago. It literally takes 15 minutes to make, which includes the preparation time, and not only is it good for you, it's delicious! I use chicken thighs rather than breast in most of my cooking because I find it doesn't dry out as much, but use whatever cut you prefer. This goes really well on its own or with a few steamed snow peas and some broccolini on the side. Great for the poor uni student, or anyone in a hurry!

Simple Asian Chicken with Rice

Serves 2
  • 5 chicken thigh fillets, cut into 2cm pieces
  • 2 eschallots, finely sliced
  • Sesame oil
  • Olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped (or 1 teaspoon from a jar)
  • 1.5cm piece ginger, peeled & finely chopped (or 1 teaspoon from a jar)
  • 2 red, medium heat chillies, seeded & finely chopped (or 1 teaspoon from a jar)
  • 1 cup long grain rice

Half-fill a saucepan with water, and heat over medium to high heat until boiling, and put in your rice. Cook for 10-12 minutes or until cooked through, stirring only very occasionally to make sure it isn't sticking, then drain and rinse with hot water.

While rice is cooking, in a frying pan, heat some olive oil and a few drops of sesame oil over medium heat, then add the eschallots, garlic, ginger and chilli and sauté for 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add the chicken, and stir to coat, then cook until chicken is cooked and starting to brown slightly. If you're adding vegetables, throw them in now, so they're tender but not soggy by the time its done. It should start to form its own sauce, but if there is not enough moisture in the pan, you can add a few tablespoons of water or soy sauce to help it along.

Place the rice into a bowl, top with the chicken and a few spoonfuls of the sauce/juices, and dig in!

For something a bit different, try replacing half the rice water with coconut milk or diluted coconut cream. Makes delicious coconut rice!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Student Guide – An Introduction

So you got a university place.

First of all, congratulations! If it's anything like offer time at my house, you're probably opened the envelope (or checked the newspaper, or looked it up on the net), done a bit of yelling and jumping around, handed the letter to your mum, who has also screamed and jumped around and hugged you hard enough to break ribs, and then rung everyone you know to compare offers. Ok, so I'm a little more excitable than some people, but it was an important moment in life.

Then, you actually sit down and start to think about it. If you haven't been lucky enough to have siblings go through uni before you, chances are you have no idea what you are getting into. I can't count the number of times during my degree my friends and I used the words "I wish someone had told me XYZ". So, with 4 years and counting of university experience of my own, and the additional experience of my friends and family, I bring you The Student Guide!

Now, given that I live in Geelong, and go to Deakin University, the timing will largely be set around their academic year, and social posts will no doubt be littered with references to local venues. However, I will strive to keep the majority of the content helpful to uni students no matter where you are, or what you're studying! For those of you who don't know me personally, a little bit of background on my academic background, so you have an idea where future posts are coming from. I attended high school in Alice Springs in the Northern Territory, took a gap year working as a bookkeeper, and then moved to Geelong to study a B. Forensic Science at Deakin University. After my first year, I decided that I didn't actually like my chemistry-heavy degree, and transferred into B. Science instead, completed in 2008. I graduated with a major in Forensic Biology, and minors in Physiology and Criminology. I completed my honours with the School of Medicine at Deakin University in 2009, and received Class 1 honours for my project looking at Cancer Cachexia. In 2010, I'm commencing my PhD with the same lab, on the same project, studying part-time while working to support myself. I lived in on-campus residences for 3.5 years, I've done the all-nighters, argued with the faculty, begged for extensions, had two computers die mid-semester, forgotten many a good night on the town, lived off less than $20 a week, and edited more essays (mine and others) than I care to remember. I'm hoping that during that time, I learnt something I can impart on others starting their journey into the halls of academia. Starting now…

I got an offer. What now?

Well, hopefully your offer from the university came with instructions on how to accept, defer or decline it. This is something to consider very carefully. If you got more than one offer, forget the degree itself for a moment, and think practically. Where are your offers from? Are you comfortable moving to a new area if you have to? If you have to move a long way, are you comfortable with not seeing your family for extended periods of time? Are you looking for somewhere totally new? When I moved to Geelong, I often didn't see my family for 5 months or more at a time, which was often difficult, especially as I had never even been to Geelong before, and knew no one. That said, it was also great to be able to start from scratch, make new friends, discover new places, and I had a great time. Once you've had a good think, consider the degrees themselves. What units do you have to do? Does it fit with where you envisage your career at the end of it? What electives can you choose from, and can you do electives from other schools or faculties within the university? Are there any conditions attached to enrolment? Is it a new degree, or has it been changed recently? This last night sound trivial, but newly introduced degrees will change a lot in the first few years while the faculty figures out what works best, and students tend to be used as guinea pigs to iron out the problems, which can be very disadvantageous to you.

Hopefully, you've decided which offer you're going to take up, so then there is the question of whether or not to defer your offer for 12 months. Can you afford to go to uni straight away, or do you really need to work to earn enough to meet that ever-changing Youth Allowance requirement through Centrelink? Unless you have parents that can support you, an amazing scholarship that will sustain you, or are planning to work nights and sleep through lectures, university can be hellish without Centrelink's support. I know, I did it for the first two years, so consider it very carefully. Speaking of Centrelink, put in your intention to claim Youth Allowance NOW if you haven't already, and start getting the paperwork together. The sooner the better, so you can figure out the best way to get around conform to their independence conditions.

Another consideration when deciding whether or not to defer is academic burn out. You've just finished at least 12 years of schooling, including 12 months of hard core VCE/NTCE/HSC study. Chances are, you want to have a bit of a break from the books and squinting at an essay in Word. For some, the summer is long enough, and they're ready to hit the ground running. However, taking 12 months also has its advantages. You can travel, or get into the work force for a bit, and make some serious money (some of which could end up in your savings account), decide if university is right for you, and grow up a bit. One thing you notice a lot is that many of the students who took a gap year approach uni with a different attitude to those straight from high school. Maybe it's just the extra year to get away from petty high school politics, or maybe it's a different approach to study, sometimes it's hard to put a finger on.

So, you've made a decision, now for the paperwork! Make sure you know what the deadline to accept or defer your offer is, as often late fees do apply, or you may even lose your place. This goes for any associated scholarship or accommodation offers too! Make sure you have all the things you need, and put them in the post as soon as humanly possible. Since I started my undergraduate degree, some admissions centres have started doing online acceptances, which makes things easier, but don't leave it to the last minute, as you may have to content with heavy web traffic, thunderstorms, black outs, or computers dying. If you're like my brother, he had to attend an interview with the university before he even received an offer, which had a whole bunch of other wonderful problems attached to it, but he couldn't submit any paperwork until after the interview had taken place. Some of the paperwork can be submitted at enrolment day, such as HECS-HELP forms and the like, so make sure you don't lose them before then!

That's all for now, but keep an eye out for new guides on Wednesdays, and feel free to submit questions or ideas for posts! I promise they will get better as we go!

Light, Love & Laughter,
Neysa <3

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Student Guide - Six Steps to Start Saving

Happy Monday has been put on indefinite hold (mostly because other than an amazing NYE, I've done very little other than work, or bus between Geelong & Lorne looking at houses), but after a week of relative mental downtime, I'm back on track, with a new segment – Tight-Ass Tuesday.

As a uni student, or anyone in the low income bracket, you quickly learn how to do things on a shoestring budget. Unfortunately, this can make saving for things you actually want incredibly difficult. A trip overseas, a new car, the bond for your dream apartment, or even a wardrobe makeover, you find yourself trying to put money away, but never getting any closer. Today, I'm going to try to help you get a head-start on your savings, and hopefully help you help them grow! Bit of a disclaimer – Please don't take this advice in lieu of that of a financial advisor. This is just common sense stuff, from my own experience. It may not work for all of my readers, nor do I recommend following this advice if it will place you in a difficult financial position. Use the brain the goddess gave you!

Find a good savings account – A bad savings account can kill your hopes before you've even made it out the door. What you are looking for is an account with no minimum balance, no minimum monthly deposits, low fees, no penalties for withdrawals, and that pays interest. Things happen, and sometimes you have to withdraw your savins, or move them around, and sometimes you need to use ALL of it. If this happens, you really don't want to get penalised for it. If you can prove you're a student, a lot of banks and credit unions will charge you lower fees on your accounts, or sometimes remove them altogether. Be careful when you are looking at different accounts, and make sure there are no hidden fees.

I have an ANZ Online Saver account in addition to my every day account. You can only access your funds online, which means you can't accidentally withdraw the lot from an ATM on a drunken bender, but it only takes 30 seconds online to make them accessible. There is no minimum balance, unlimited transactions, and you don't have to put in a minimum amount per month in order to earn interest. Even better? No fees, ever. At the moment it's earning 4% interest p.a., which is actually more than some of their savings accounts with strings attached. Commonwealth Netbank Saver, NAB iSaver and Westpac eSaver are all very similar to the ANZ account, though with lower interest rates of around 3.5% p.a. Some of the banks also have introductory offers of higher rates attached, but be careful to read the fine print, sometimes they only last a month or two, and suddenly you find yourself lumped with a bunch of fees, or a lower interest rate. Talk to your financial institution (or others if you're not satisfied), and figure out which account suits you best!

Regular additions – Once you've set up an account, and filled out all that paperwork, it's time to start saving! If you can, set up a regular transfer from your every day account into your savings account, be it $10 or $100 a fortnight. You can usually set this up to be an automatic transfer, so you don't even have to think about doing it. If you're like me, and aren't always sure what financial hurdle the fortnight between pays will bring, try transferring the majority of what is left in your every day account into your savings account the day before your next pay is due. Some weeks it might not be a lot, some weeks it might be heaps, but either way, it's money going towards your savings! Also think of it this way – the money sitting in your every day account might be easily accessible, but it's probably not earning any interest! Make that money work for you, even if a few days later you have to transfer it back into your every day account!

One off bonuses – Do you get a scholarship that comes in a lump sum every semester? Did your giddy Aunt Lola give you an awesome birthday gift of pretty plastic notes? Tax return burning a hole in your pocket? Deposit the lot into your savings account! You probably have a couple of things that were urgently awaiting that windfall, and if so, sort them out, but anything left over, try to put away. It's ok to have a bit of a splurge when a large amount of money lands in your account, but try not to go overboard. If you're tempted, try to think of all the things you have to pay for in the next three months, and if your usual income will cover it if you spend your current bonus. The majority of the time, my scholarships had to go toward rent, food and textbooks, but if I could get away with it, the majority always got dumped into the savings account for at least two weeks, because other than the warm fuzzy feeling you get from having a healthy looking bank account, it was money working for me for a change!

Watch your spending – Keep an eye on what you're transferring money out of your account to pay for. Is it an everyday expense, a big night out, or because you're not going to have net for a while, and want to make sure you have the money available if you need it? Spend as you normally would, but try to notice patterns in your spending. Is there something that is cropping up a lot that is taking a big chunk out of your savings? If so, is it something you can curb? When I first started trying to save, I noticed that I would take $20 out of my account, and spend it on random stuff. Stopped carrying around cash, miraculously the random buys occurred less frequently. I also stopped eating so much crap food, but that's a subject for another post!

Small rewards – Just because you're trying to save doesn't mean you can't occasionally reward yourself for your efforts. Set yourself a milestone, say $500. If you reach that amount, do something special that isn't going to erase all that hard work – have your nails done, go out to dinner, or to a movie, something that you would normally refrain from because of the cost. It might seem counter intuitive, spending your hard-saved dollars, but it is a positive reinforcement – you did the right thing, you saved the money, and you've acknowledging it through a positive action. Don't forget to set your next goal though, or you might be tempted to spend the lot!

Setbacks – It doesn't matter how hard you save, setbacks can and will happen. Medical emergencies, car problems, unexpected travel, Christmas, there will always be times where you have to spend money in a way you had not originally planned, and it can cause a massive upset to your savings account. Don't stress, it's only money, and if you've gotten there once, you can do it again. Just take a breath, look at what steps you took worked, what didn't, and start again.

With these sensible tips in hand, hopefully your savings shall grow! It takes time, and willpower, but if you want it, you can get there!

How about you folks? Any good experiences with a particular type of savings account? What are your top tips for squirreling money away?

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Student Guide - 5 Tips for Househunters

Whoops, it's the first week of 2010, and I'm already behind in my New Years resolutions! Unfortunately, between work and travelling to house hunt everyday, I have largely neglected the Diatribe this week. Yes, still that famed hunt for the new digs. Things are, thankfully, looking up in that area. Not only are there some really great properties popping up in my price range, my mum has come to the party and is signing onto the lease with me, which will hopefully make things a lot smoother going in terms of getting applications approved. At present, the tally now stands at:

  • 12 inspections
  • 6 application submitted & 4 rejected
  • I've lost count of how many email enquiries (it was 15 today alone!)

Now, as soon as you say the word 'student', a lot of landlord's go running. Add to that the words 'casual work', and no matter what you make a week (or if you have a parent willing to pay a large chunk of the rent), there is probably not a chance in hell that you're going to be given a place over that middle-aged suit with a stable, full-time job. This has been my problem so far, it's not that I'm a bad applicant, it's just that there are BETTER applicants. It's not because agents are nasty, it's because they're being practical. Of course, students have a reputation, albeit somewhat undeserved, of being bad tenants, of trashing houses, being late with rent, throwing loud parties that annoy the neighbours, you name the trait, chances are it's attributable to the student stereotype (In all honesty, I have yet to meet a student who is like this, or that can afford to lose the bond!)

So, how do you increase your chances of making a good impression on the agent and landlord, and of getting the lease for your dream house?

  1. Know your limits – It's no good finding the house of your dreams, and then discovering that it is out of your price range. Really, it's just not worth the heartache. Do some budget calculations, figure out what your absolute upper limit is, and then stick to your guns. Don't be tempted to go for that property that is just $20 a week more, because you will quickly find yourself in dire straits. If you want something outside your price range, consider the idea of sharing with friends or other students, as this can halve your rent and your bills, and gives you scope for a bigger property. Know how many bedrooms you need, what features you want in the living areas and the kitchen, and figure out is having a yard is a priority. Also know what areas you are interested in and how far you are willing to travel to get to work, uni, the supermarket, buses or the pub. To start off with, you might think that hour commute from your new place is well worth it, but that fuel bill is going to add up quickly, and consider how much earlier you have to get up to get organised and to classes, work or appointments compared to living a suburb or two away.

  2. Presentation – How many people do you see rocking up to an inspection looking like they're just thrown on whatever was in the laundry hamper? Unless it's for a swank, inner city property, I'd bet there'd be quite a few. Ditch the old t-shirt, baggy jeans and sneakers. At the very least, dress neat casual. If it's for somewhere where you know there will be a lot of applicants, dress up a bit, try to stand out! Think of this like a job interview, and dress accordingly. After all, that's exactly what it is, it is the first chance for the agent to suss you out! Having a pen and notebook in hand will also help, not only giving you somewhere to take notes like rent, bond, and existing contents, but it looks like you mean business. I always take my laptop/briefcase, looks a lot more professional than my bright purple handbag, or my much-loved rucksack.
  3. Show up on time – If you're going to a house inspection, make sure you're there bang-smack on time, if not a few minutes before. If you're late, what's to stop the agent thinking that you're unreliable or unorganised, even that you're not going to pay your rent on time? It also means that you have the maximum amount of time to look through the property, poke around in cupboards, make note of any issues, and find out if your bed is going to fit in that tiny bedroom. Unfortunately, many agents fail to ascribe to this, and are often late for these appointments, leaving applicants standing around in the sun for 10 minutes or more. I've had this happen quite a few times, and it's infuriating, but try not to lose your cool about it. Remember, this is an interview. Just let them know that you've been inconvenienced, then move on. It may also pay off to ring up the agent the day of the inspection to ask that the inspection is still on. Many a prospective tenant has turned up to an inspection, only to discover that it is no longer available. I learnt the hard way, after standing around on a sunny, 30oC day waiting for an agent for 30 mins, who had already leased the property, had decided not to turn up for the inspection time, and hadn't bothered to tell any of the 12 other prospective tenants that the property was no longer available. It pays to double check!
  4. Ask questions – Engage the agent, get them to answer some questions about the property. Not only does this help you, it gives the definite impression that you're interested in the lease. Ideas include rent and bond amounts, when it's available, if pets are allowed, what the utilities costs are like, if the neighbours are noisy, if the landlord has plans to fix the leaky taps, where the fuse box is, if there's been much interest in the property, when the application should be in by, etc. Make sure you write everything down for later reference, don't expect to be able to remember every detail 3 days and several properties later.

  5. Be prepared – Be ready to get an application in early! Many properties are practically leased before the inspection even takes place, in many instances making it merely a formality for the right applicant. If you can, download the forms and submit them to the agent prior to the inspection with a note saying subject to inspection, or if that's not possible, hand them to the agent at the inspection if you decide you like the property. If you can't get the forms beforehand, take copies of your supporting documentation to the inspection with you, and fill out the application on the spot (that pen you bought along comes in handy). You'll usually need 100pts of ID (Drivers Licence, Passport, Medicare or healthcare cards, bills, etc), payslips or bank statements as proof of income, and the contact details of 3 people to act as referees. If you can't fill it out on the spot, try to have it in within 24 hours! A lot of the time, it's first in, first reference checked, so getting your forms in ASAP can put you near the top of the pile, and hopefully approved before the others even get theirs in!

Now I'm turning it over to you guys! What are your tips for having the best shot at getting that awesome house? Have you had any shocking run-ins with estate agents?

Image Credit -  Tina Kugler @ The Tina Show: Post-it Note Theatre. I love her drawings!

Foodie Friday – Albondigas (Spanish Meatballs) with Olives

It is no secret that I love Spanish food, and in particular tapas. Pretty much my favourite type of food, tapas dishes can be as simple or complex as you like, can take a few seconds or forever to make, and are designed to be shared! Going to a tapas bar or restaurant with a few friends is a great way to try lots of different flavours, textures, and discover something you absolutely love, all while having a great chat over a jug of sangria. I recently discovered Black Bull in Moorabool St, Geelong, and it quickly became one of my favourite restaurants in town, due to its great atmosphere and fantastic menu. Whilst this recipe is not from them, it is great for making tapas at home, going incredibly well with some crusty sour dough drizzled with olive oil, and some soft goats cheese.

Albondigas (Spanish Meatballs) with Olives
Serves 6 (As part of a larger Tapas meal)

  • 55g day old bread, crusts removed
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 250g lean lamb mince
  • 250g lean pork mince
  • 2 small onions, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • Salt
  • Plain flour, for dusting
  • 3 tablespoon Olive Oil
  • 400g canned tomatoes
  • 5 tablespoons dry sherry or red wine
  • Pinch of paprika
  • Pinch of sugar
  • 175g green Spanish olives in olive oil (mixed olives work too!)
  • Crusty bread to serve

Put the bread in a bowl, add water and leave to soak for 5 minutes. Using your hands, squeeze out as much of the water as possible from the bread, and place bread in a clean bowl.

Add the mince, 1 onion, 2 garlic cloves, the cumin, coriander and egg to the bread. Season to taste and using your hands, mix together well. Dust a plate or baking sheet with four. Using floured hands, roll the mixture into 30 equal balls, put onto the plate or baking sheet and roll lightly in flour.

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large frying pan, add the meatballs in batches to avoid overcrowding, and cook over a medium head, turning frequently for 8-10 minutes until golden brown on all sides and firm. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Heat the remaining oil in the frying pan, add the remaining onion and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes, or until softened but not browned. Add the remaining garlic and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes, sherry, paprika and sugar, season to taste. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Using a hand held blender, blend the tomato mixture until smooth. Carefully return the meatballs to the frying pan and add the olives. Simmer gently for 20 minutes, or until the meatballs are tender. Serve with hot crusty bread to mop up the sauce.

Image Credits - Projectnada