Financial Wellness in the Holiday Season

adobe-spark-5

Regardless of what holidays we choose to celebrate, December can be rough on budgets, especially for college students. Between travel expenses, winter break plans, going out with friends to celebrate the end of the semester, and buying gifts, we often quickly spend much more money than we may have planned. Americans spend more during winter holidays than any other time of the year. Back-to-school shopping and sales during winter holidays make up about 20% of all retail throughout the year!

It’s especially important during this time of the year to prioritize financial wellness, which involves setting and achieving both long and short-term personal financial goals. Everyone’s financial status and goals are different, depending on income, wealth, spending, debt, values, etc., and are situated within our society’s financial and economic context.

Take some time to think about your finances.

How much do you have to spend?

How much do you need to save?

What are the most important things for you to spend money on or save money for?

Here are some ideas to keep your budget happy this season!

  1. Practice mindfulness. Being mindful means paying attention to what you are doing, noticing your thoughts, sensations, and the world around you without judgment. Research shows that mindfulness can actually help you make better decisions.
  2. Set a budget. What’s important to you? What are you going to need/want money for? Decide what you are able to afford based on your priorities and values, and then stick to it. Check out this list of apps for budgeting tools.
  3. Make a list and check it twice. This will help you stay focused on what you need and avoid purchasing on impulse. Check out these strategies to avoid impulse purchases!
  4. Try DIY gifts! Homemade gifts are wonderful both for your budget and for adding that personal touch to let your family and friends know how much you care. Need some inspiration? Here are 50 of the best DIY gift ideas.
  5. Give of your time. Some of the best gifts are things you can do for or with another person. For those of us that are craft-challenged, here are some great alternatives.
  6. Host a potluck. If you want to get together with friends, consider having a potluck instead of going out for an expensive meal. This way, you don’t have to get everyone to agree on a restaurant, and you’ll spend a lot less. Maybe try out a pizza potluck – everyone brings their favorite ingredient to share (just make sure someone brings the crust!). Instead of spending $20+ on a meal at a restaurant, you’ll spend less than $5 on your topping—plus, it’s a lot more fun!
  7. Be careful with credit card purchases.Having a credit card can be great for building credit, but it’s especially important during this time of the year to make sure we’re able to pay off the card on time at the end of the month. It’s also a time of year when our schedules are different than normal, so be sure to set a reminder for when you need to pay your bills. If you struggle with spending too much when you use a credit card, try only taking cash when you go shopping.

The end of the semester can be stressful with exams and final papers, and worrying about money can just make everything more complicated. Do yourself a favor and lessen some of the stress by prioritizing your financial wellness!

This blog was updated from November 2015 and written by Kaitlyn Brodar. Kaitlyn was the Program Assistant for Resiliency Initiatives at UNC Student Wellness and a Master of Public Health graduate student with a focus in Health Behavior at UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. She previously worked in cognitive psychology research on post-traumatic stress disorder after earning her bachelor’s in Psychology at Duke University.

So HOW does student health insurance actually work?!

Healthcare and health insurance can be complicated. For many students, college can be the first time they are confronted with how insurance actually works. In this post, we’ll set up the basics around health insurance and review some key terms.

Affordable Ohio Health Insurance
Photo: “Ohio Health Insurance” by Affordable Ohio Health Insurance, Flickr Creative Commons.

How health insurance works

Simply put, health insurance companies pay for some or all of the cost of medical expenses. Exactly how much health insurance pays towards healthcare costs depends on:

  • the insurance plan;
  • the type of visit or procedure; and
  • the provider (e.g., whether or not the provider is in the health insurances’ “network”).

You can get health insurance in a variety of ways:

  • individual health insurance (example: enrolling through a state’s Exchange or Affordable Care Act program)
  • employer insurance (example: entity you work for providers insurance), or
  • student insurance (example: UNC provides an option for students to enroll in a student health care plan).

Breaking down health insurance terms

  • Premium: In essence, this is the price of admission, or what you regularly pay to have your insurance plan (for example: X dollars a month).
  • Co-payment (“co-pay”): An amount of the visit/procedure you pay up-front (for example: paying $20 for a doctor’s visit).
  • Co-insurance: A percentage of a bill the patient is required to pay, after accounting for co-payments, deductibles, and any other discounts.
  • Coverage: The amount the health insurance company pays for each procedure, service or visit. This depends on the health plan, and might be a percentage (for example: 60% of the cost), or may be a fixed amount for certain procedures (for example: will cover 100% of preventative care services). Usually, you can find some basic information on coverage on your insurance card.
  • In-network/ Out-of-network: Insurance companies will have lists of providers that accept their specific insurance brand (“in-network”). This is akin to businesses accepting certain kinds of payment methods: one might take Visa, Mastercard and American Express; while another might only Visa (“out of network” for American Express and Mastercard). How do you find out which providers are in vs. out of network? Health insurance companies usually provide a directory/listing of in-network providers (see below for tips on finding out more about your plan). Or, if you have a specific provider in mind, you can contact them to ask what types of health insurance they accept. Learn whether your insurance is in-network at Campus Health Services here.
  • Explanation of benefits: This is a break-down of the total costs
  • Deductibles: This is a set amount you have to pay each year in medical bills before the health insurance company starts paying. So, for example, if your plan’s deductible is $300, then you have to spend $300 before your health insurance kicks in and starts paying for medical costs. Note that as a general rule, the higher your premium (the cost to have insurance), the lower your deductible.
maze
Photo: “Maze” by Jay, Flickr Creative Commons.

Maximizing your insurance

 

Insurance plans vary considerably in what they cover, and can be worthwhile to what extent insurance plans cover various visits and procedures. If you are concerned about coverage, cost or confidentiality (if you’re on a shared plan with others), you can contact insurance companies before you visit a provider. To do this:

  • First, check your insurance card, which will usually have information on co-insurance, deductibles, prescription drug coverage, and emergency coverage.
  • For more detailed information, you can often look online to see what your specific plan covers. Many insurance plans have an option to create online accounts, where you can access information on specific plan benefits, and look for “in-network” providers.
  • You can also call the insurance company to inquire about coverage for a specific procedure, visit or prescription drug coverage. The contact information is usually on the card.

Additionally, for UNC Students: more information on UNC’s student health insurance policy, and in-network insurance providers at UNC Campus Health Services can be found on the UNC Campus Health Services website.

FLASHBACK FRIDAY: Baby Steps to Finding a JOB!

This post was originally published on April 24, 2014 and was written by Natalie Rich.

The semester is winding down, and suddenly you are faced with the prospect of finding the perfect resume-boosting summer job or internship….or perhaps you are graduating–GASP!–and you are looking for your first post-college full time position to launch your super-duper-fabulous career.

No matter what type of job you are looking for, here are some quick tips to get you started:

1. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. 354_1all_the_eggs_in_one_basket

There is no such thing as the PERFECT job, and wedding yourself to one job as the be-all-and-end-all of jobs or /internships can set you up for disappointment, not to mention the fact that focusing on just one opportunity may mean missing out on other cool opportunities. Remember that this next job, whether a summer internship or post-college position, is just a stepping stone; it does not have to be the job you work for the rest of your life or even the career you end up with.

2. Know what you want.

Ok, so you don’t want to focus on just one opportunity, but you do want to have SOME focus in your search. When someone asks “what kind of job are you looking for?”, have an answer ready (hint: “a job that pays” is NOT enough!). Are you looking for a social media internship with a tech company? Trying to land a research assistant position to help prepare you to apply for a grad program in chemistry? Have clear idea of what field you want to work in and how this fits into your overall career goals. This not only helps narrow your search, it also makes you look more appealing to recruiters or potential employers, who want candidates that demonstrate passion and drive.

3. Have an elevator pitch.

Once you know generally what kind of job or internship you want, find a way to articulate along with your skills in an “elevator pitch.” This is a short speech that you can tailor for networking events or job interviews that summarizes what you are looking for and/or what you have to offer. Different situations and different jobs will require a different pitch, but there is a common thread: keep it short. Check out resources for creating your own elevator pitch here and here.

Also, consider writing a quick pitch at the beginning of your resume too. This is slightly different from an objective, which some experts now discourage in favor of the elevator pitch or list of keys skills.

elevator

4. Work your connections.

Notice how I didn’t say “network” because this word tends to drum up visions of awkward meet-and-greets full of scary people in suits. Networking goes way beyond this. It means talking with professors, TAs, friends, mentors, family, and UNC alums. Put the word out that you are looking for a job and the kind of job you want (cue: elevator pitch!). Other ways to network include arranging informational interviews with companies or organizations you are interested in to get an idea of what jobs they are offering and what they look for, and reaching out to supervisors from previous internships or volunteer positions.

5. Check out Career Services!

I could have included tips on drafting the ideal resume or cover letter, prepping for an interview, or conducting an efficient job search, but UNC Career Services has all the resources to help you with those things. They can give you individualized feedback on your resume, cover letter, and interviewing skills as well as a wealth of resources to help guide you through the process of searching, applying, and securing an ideal job for you.

Finding a job can be overwhelming, especially when you have end-of-semester papers and exams to worry about. Keep in mind that this next job will not make or break your career. So, give yourself a break and be flexible. This next job is just a step, and it may be one of many steps you take in your career. Maybe it’s a side step or a baby step…maybe it’s a leap. You’ve made it to Carolina, which already proves you have what it takes to succeed, so let your talents shine and you may be surprised at the opportunities that await you.