Get Your Dorm Room Ready For Freshman Year at College

The following is a post by MPFJ staff writer, Kevin Mercadante, who is a professional personal finance blogger, and the owner of his own personal finance blog, He has backgrounds in both accounting and the mortgage industry.

College is just a few weeks away, but you still have some time to get what you need to set your dorm room up with all the comforts of home, and to do so for not a lot of money.

Here is a list of 10 must-have items for the upcoming college school year. Have them in your dorm room, and the whole year will go better for you.


1. Earplugs – Or a Good Set of Headphones

“Ear protection” is at the top of the list, since silence is often at a premium in college dorm rooms – not to mention college dorms in general. This is especially true if one or more of your roommates is a party animal, or likes to listen to loud music. Earplugs will be the budget ear protection, and you can get these for just a few dollars at any pharmacy chain.

But a good set of headphones will be the better route, since it sometimes takes preferred noise to drown out the annoying variety. Shop for the best headphones you can find at Best Buy, then order the same set on for a lot less.


2. Mini-Fridge

Burning the midnight oil is hardly an uncommon occurrence in the college universe, especially during exams. But it’s unlikely that the cafeteria will be open that late at night. And sometimes even during the day, you will want a cold drink, or have the need to preserve food for daytime snacks and meals when you just don’t feel like leaving your room.

Target and Walmart are generally where you’ll find the best prices on a decent mini fridge. But if you want to save even more money, check out a local thrift store, or even a garage sale. Since the fridge will be in a room with multiple occupants, you want to spend as little for this as possible, against the chance that it might be damaged.


3. A Supply of Common Over-the-Counter Medications

Headaches, upset stomachs and chest colds don’t disappear when you leave home. In fact, they may be even more common in a college dorm. For that you will need to lay in a supply of common over-the-counter medications. This can include Tylenol (or some other preferred pain reliever), nasal decongestant, cough syrup, antacids, vitamins, and even Band-Aids and disinfectants.

It’s best to buy the smallest packages of each, and to buy storebrand varieties that are available at local grocery stores. There are two reasons for doing this:

  1. You want your medicine supply to be as inconspicuous as possible, so that you can avoid becoming your dorm floor’s medicine man/woman, and
  2. In case one of your roommates hits you up for some of your medications, you’ll be providing them with the least expensive brand available.


4. A Clothes Hamper

This is especially important if your practice at home is to simply allow your laundry to accumulate in a corner of your bedroom. Not only will a clothes hamper help to organize your laundry routine (a full hamper will be the signal that it’s time to do your wash), but it will also help you to avoid commingling your clothing with your roommates dirty laundry.

Once again, Target and Walmart are likely to be the least expensive sources for this item. And while you’re at it, stock up on some inexpensive store brand laundry detergent.


5. A Desk Lamp and a Reading Light

Your dorm room will almost certainly come equipped with a desk, but you shouldn’t assume that that will include a desk lamp. Since it’s entirely possible that you will spend at least as much time at your desk as you do in your bed, you need proper lighting. You can find a good quality desk lamp for not a lot of money at Staples, during their back to school sales, typically held in August and early September.

Also look into a reading lamp so that you can read and study in bed after the lights are out.


6. A Coffee Maker and Related Items

Naturally this applies only if you are a coffee drinker, but it can also serve as a hot water source for tea, if that is your preference. There are usually entire shelves filled with coffee makers in thrift stores, typically selling for no more than $3 to $5.

While you’re at it, don’t skimp on coffee filters and a decent quantity of your favorite coffee or tea brands. You can save a bit more by buying these at a dollar store, particularly if you are not hung up on the brand.


7. A Comfy Mattress Pad

College dorm room beds are not known for being the most comfortable sleeping accommodations. But you can change that situation by adding a mattress pad on top of the bed, right underneath the fitted sheet. A couple of extra inches of foam could guarantee a better night’s sleep throughout the school year.

You can try Bed, Bath & Beyond, but you’ll almost certainly find a less expensive version at Walmart.


8. Microwave Oven

It’s almost a certainty that you will want something quick and hot, and on more occasions than you might anticipate. Simply having a microwave oven to heat up soup or a packaged hot meal, could save you a trip to the cafeteria, and give you more time for studying, relaxing, or sleeping.

Thrift stores or garage sales will be your best sources, since they usually have plenty of them. And since the oven will likely be used by your roommate(s) (and their guests), it’s better that it’s not brand-new.


9. Bed Linens

These will be especially important if the dorm room bed is a non-standard size. A bed that is just a few inches longer than a standard twin size bed will not fit the sheets that you probably have.

Cost can be a factor here. Bed linens are not cheap to begin with, but non-standard sizes are even more expensive. WalMart and Target will likely be your best sources on the price side, but keep your eyes peeled for sales. Especially since you’ll probably need two sets of bed linens, that way you can have one on the bed while the other one is in a hamper waiting to be washed.


10. A Fan (or Space Heater)

Room temperature can be an issue when you are sharing a room with a stranger for the first time. If your roommate likes to keep the room on the warm side, a fan will be a welcome tool. At the opposite end of the spectrum, if your roommate likes it cool, even in the dead of winter, you may need a space heater kept close to your bed in order to keep peace in the room.

Fans are inexpensive in late summer, since they are close to being mothballed for the winter. But space heaters may be at a premium, since it isn’t quite cold enough for them yet, and there probably aren’t many available. Search the web to see where you can get the best deals, and don’t rule out a visit to a thrift store or two to see what you can find.

Anticipate your needs for your dorm room, and give yourself time to find the best deals that way you won’t spend more money than you need to.

How about you all? What are some dorm-room essentials you can think of?

Share your experiences by commenting below! 

***Photo courtesy of

The Benefits of Tracking and Maintaining a High Credit Score

Having a good credit score is critical for so many things in life: from applying for a loan for a new car or house, to applying for a new credit card, how much interest you’ll have to pay on a loan or on insurance, or applying for a student loan to help get you through college.

According to a study from the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED), 56% of Americans have a subprime (a.k.a. bad!) credit score, making understanding how credit scores work and how to maintain a healthier, high credit score is critical for economic development not only for the individual, but for the health of this country’s economy as a whole.

Also, utilizing a program like the Discover’s new FICO® Credit Score Tracking tool is a great way to help you keep your credit score on target and help keep you in good financial standing with creditors.


What Is A Credit Score?

Your credit score is basically a mathematical calculation of the predictability of risk.  In other words, when you have a credit card or have any kind of bill that requires payment, you’re making a promise that you will pay it back by a specific date.  If you don’t pay, then you are penalized.  To the creditors, you are now at a higher risk of non-payment again in the future. There is no room for a one-time error in these mathematical equations: you mess up and don’t pay your bills one month and your credit score suffers.

Credit scores range anywhere between 300 and 850, with 850 being the highest score one could have, also making that person at the lowest risk for defaulting on their loans or other bill payments.  Having a significantly lower score sends a red flag to potential creditors that you may not be trusted to actually pay back the money you promised, giving those creditors doubts on whether or not to even approve your loan to begin with.  Or, perhaps they’ll approve it, but at a significantly higher interest rate.


How the Discover’s FICO® Credit Score Tracking Tool Can Help You

Discover has created a new program for it’s cardmembers that can help you track and maintain a good credit score.  Normally, if you want to get your FICO® Credit Score you need to pay a fee.  However, for Discover cardmembers, this FICO® Credit Score Tracking Tool allows you to track your credit score for up to a year for free.  By allowing you to track your score for free, and by providing you with detailed monthly credit score statements, Discover is the first major credit card company to proactively help individual consumers monitor their credit and help guide them to better credit scores.

Maintaining a good credit score is critical for so many things in life, and with Discover’s FICO® Credit Score Tracking Tool, you’ll be well on your way to achieving that goal and gaining overall financial independence.

Disclosure: I am a paid brand Blogger for Discover Financial Services My views are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Discover Financial Services and its affiliates.

Five Stay at Home Jobs For Moms to Earn Money

etsy-crafts-my-personal-finance-journeyThe following is a post by MPFJ staff writer, Derek Sall. Derek is the owner of the blog,, where he teaches people how to get out of debt, save money, and become wealthy.

Women are becoming more educated, are getting paid more, and are rising stars in the workforce. While it is nice to see that workplace equality is finally catching on, working mothers are still having difficulty juggling both motherhood and their career. While some are enjoying their work in Corporate America, others are almost forced to work so their family can survive.

Many women, if asked, would rather stay home to take care of their young children than become a powerhouse at work. So what’s holding them back from ditching their job? What else? Money. But what if these women could find a source of income while staying at home? Would this be possible? Would the earnings be enough to cover the family expenses (with the help of the husband’s income of course)? After much research, I have discovered five jobs that women can do that will allow them to both mother and provide an income for their family.

1. Gardening/Farming

If you have just a little bit of property to work with, gardening is a wonderful tool to save money as well as earn some! By gardening and using rain water to nourish the plants, it can be a very cost effective way to produce groceries in your very own back yard. One simple garden can produce hundreds of dollars’ worth of groceries with only $20 worth of seeds.

If you wish to earn a little money, start looking into what plants are in high demand in your area. As a general rule of thumb, tomatoes are always a quality vegetable to plant and sell (perhaps at the local farmers’ market or to friends). House shrubs and trees also yield a hefty profit if you have the space. Best of all, the growing is mostly done by itself, so you can continue to parent like a pro even while you earn the money.

2. Craft and Sell on Etsy

My wife and I recently got married and decided to save money by making the table decorations ourselves. We saved our tin cans, spray painted them white, drilled designs in them, and made some pretty awesome candle holders. In addition to this, her mom figured out how to make some pretty realistic looking flowers out of fabric that matched our wedding colors perfectly. The entire display probably cost us $100 and looked phenomenal. And, in the end we sold the entire set-up for $600. Not only did we save money by doing the decorations ourselves, we made $500 in the process!

If you like to craft, check out Etsy and test a few products of yours. If they sell, you might just have a little business on your hands.

3. Babysit

If you’re a mom and have children that you’d like to stay at home with, why not offer to watch your friends’ children for them instead of having them sent to daycare? They know they can trust you and would likely end up paying you slightly less than the daycare for better, more personal care. This way, you can earn some cash, see your child all day, and provide them with the social interaction that they need as well!

4. Network Marketing Consultant

Network marketing often gets a bad rap. We’ve all had the friend that calls us over for a business opportunity and it’s what we refer to as a ‘pyramid scheme’, where people try to get their friends into business so they can make money on their product sales and become a millionaire. Most of the time the presentations are pretty cheesy and people are left eyeballing the door all night.

I’ve been involved in network marketing businesses. Some were bad, but some were not. For stay at home moms, network marketing can be a great way to earn the extra money that’s needed for their family. Avon, Tupperware, and Mary Kay are great examples of businesses that could earn you money without scaring your friends away. If you get involved in a business like this, you must first love the product, and secondly you must go in with the mindset of supplementing your income and not becoming a millionaire.

By selling product that you love, you can earn some extra dollars from the distributor. If some friends happen to love the product and want to sell it too, then sign them up. If not, then you don’t need to shun each other for life.

5. Photography

I have seen quite a few moms take to photography, and for good reason. By working a handful of hours on a couple of Saturdays and then editing photos on random days in between, a stay at home mom can earn over a thousand bucks a month and watch her kids for much of the time as well! If you have a talent for shooting photos, then consider photographing a couple of weddings, family portraits, or senior pictures. The money is good and for the most part you can make your own hours.

How about you all?  Are you ready to ditch your job to become a stay at home mom? What jobs have you (or someone you know) have done to make a little money on the side while taking care of your/their children?

Share your experiences by commenting below!

***Photo courtesy

How Much Money Are You Wasting on Insurance?

health-insurance-my-personal-finance-journeyThe following is a post by MPFJ staff writer, Derek Sall. Derek is the owner of the blog,, where he teaches people how to get out of debt, save money, and become wealthy.

In my opinion, insurance is a necessary evil. Many of us shell out thousands of dollars a year for that ‘just in case’ disastrous moment, and it might never come. All those payments seem like a waste, but we all know that without it, we could be devastated in a moment. For this reason many of us have a wide variety of insurance policies, and it makes us feel responsible and secure in our everyday lives. However, so many of us are overpaying these insurance companies that it’s flat out ridiculous. Just last year I discovered I was overpaying, and I bet you might be too.

How I Made My Discovery

A wise man once said that ‘you can’t get to where you’re going if you don’t first know where you are.’ I mean think about that. If you wanted to drive to Chattanooga, Tennessee, but you didn’t know if you were currently in Cleveland, Ohio or St. Louis, Missouri, you’d have a pretty tough time finding your way wouldn’t you?

The same is true with your insurance. If you don’t know how much you’re paying in each month or what your coverage details are, then how on earth can you expect to save money on your insurance? I never thought about this until I actually started budgeting last year. By budgeting, I was forcing myself to look at all the dollar figures and gain an understanding of why each expense was the amount it was. To say the least, this was an eye-opening experience.


When I first dug into the numbers, I discovered that a portion of my house payment was going toward an escrow account that was set up by my bank. This is simply an account where the bank stock-piles your money for your property tax payments, which means that you don’t get hit with a hefty bill once a year. And, it gives the bank the assurance that you’ll have the funds to pay the tax and continue to make your mortgage payment rather than defaulting on your loan.

The whole set up sounds well and good, but many of these banks take a small cut to manage this escrow account for you. Plus, this means that a portion of your money (often to the tune of thousands of dollars) is inaccessible by you for an entire year. Finally, to cover their butts, the banks often overcharge you each month to make sure that the account has enough money when tax time rolls around. It’s something that no one really thinks about, but it’s quite the raw deal for you, the customer.

To get out of your escrow (which means you’ll have to budget and save for your taxes on your own), many banks require you to own at least 20% of your home. When you get to this point, you can simply make a phone call to the bank, have them close the account, and then mail you a check for the account balance. In my experience, this small move saved me about a hundred bucks a year.

Private Mortgage Insurance

Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) is another way that the banks cover their butts. They’ll allow you to take out a loan by paying only 10% down (or less) on your house, but by paying less than 20% of your home’s value, you’re allowing the bank to charge you extra as an insurance policy to your default. In other words, they’re trying to get as much money out of you now because they’re not so sure that you’re going to pay them all that you promised. If you end up defaulting on your loan, then they hope that your PMI will cover the expenses of them repossessing the house and reselling it to the public.

Want to stop paying PMI? It’s simple. Just pay off enough so that the bank owns less than 80% of your home’s value. Then, let them know it and by law they need to stop charging you for private mortgage insurance.

Auto Insurance

Everyone has auto insurance, but very few of us shop around regularly. I even admit that I went a couple of years before considering another insurance company to cover me and my Honda Civic. When I looked at my monthly bill and realized that in one year, I was paying nearly half of my car’s value just for insurance, I quickly searched around for something else. Sure enough, I was getting screwed. By getting just two quotes, I was able to reduce my payment of $85 a month down to $55 a month. That was an easy annual savings of more than $300, just with a few minutes of my time.

Home Owners Insurance

Home owners insurance is pretty standard and is typically paid once a year. Asking around for quotes is simple, but if you still have an escrow account, switching insurance providers can be a pain in the butt (which is another great reason to just pay your tax bills yourself) since you have to coordinate the switch with more than one entity. First ditch your escrow, then see what kind of deal you can find out there.

Life Insurance

If you don’t have a spouse or kids or anyone that depends on you or your income, then you don’t need life insurance. If you are married with no kids and both you and your spouse work, then you probably still don’t need much life insurance. So when do you need it? The answer to that is simple. If someone would be financially impacted upon your death and would have a difficult time surviving if you were gone, then you likely need life insurance.

The next question is typically, “What type of life insurance should I get?” Almost always, the answer is, “Term Insurance.” At this point in my life, I’m 30 years old and have a spouse. We both earn enough to take care of the bills on either one of our incomes and therefore wouldn’t be financially strapped if one of us tragically passed away. Therefore, there’s no need for us to have insurance.

If however, we had two kids, then the answer changes. If I passed away, my wife would still have to work, but she would also need to put them in daycare while she was away during the day. Due to this expense, I might take out a 20 year, $300,000 term insurance policy to take care of those many years’ worth of expenses.

To reduce your insurance costs severely, do your best to put yourself in a position where you don’t need it – either by living cheaply or by having a large net worth.

Medical Insurance

Everyone should have medical insurance, but how much should one be paying for it? Just like in the auto insurance example, you should choose the type of coverage that works best for you. If you have a bunch of money stashed away for a rainy day and you are never sick, then get the high-deductible insurance. You’ll almost certainly save yourself money in the long run and you might even get the benefit of some HSA funds from your company.

If you’re constantly sick or have a history of medical problems, then you might want to get some better coverage and pay a little extra per month. It can sometimes be tough to save money on your medical insurance, especially if you only have the option of one company through your workplace, but you can still alter the deductible to attempt to save some money here and there.

The Extras

Having a lot of stuff can be expensive. Not only does it cost more in maintenance, payments, and storage, but it can also cost you in insurance! That boat, snowmobile, and sports car are adding to the amount of money that you’re throwing away in insurance. The more stuff you own, the more expensive and stressful life can get. Sometimes it’s best to wait on all the toys until you’re actually wealthy and can afford it. That’s what we’re doing, and let me tell you, it’s allowing us to get wealthy quite quickly.

How about you all? Have you saved money on your insurance costs lately? What did you do?

Share your experiences by commenting below!

***Photo courtesy

Exotic Investments: The Best Soccer Trades In History

The following is a guest post. Enjoy! 

My grandpa always told me that it takes just two opinions to make a market. The simplicity of his words made what would become a life long challenge seem very simple at the time. All I had to do was form smart opinions. Simple, right?

Of course, at the time I could not know the psychological challenges that lied ahead. Nor could I account for the role played by discipline or luck, or indeed the costs of expressing my opinions at a frequency that would filter out the latter (or lack of), and scale the former.

Such ignorance could not be more prevalent in the world of soccer, where the financials involved are only outdone by the emotional tidal wave that follows them. Wenger, Ferguson, Levy… These are the traders on the touchline, where liquidity comes only a twice a year, and where the assets themselves depreciate by the day.
So with a tip of the hat, I give you the top 5 trades in soccer:

1. Gareth Bale (Tottenham Hotspur to Real Madrid): Estimated £80m return.

Originally bought for £7 million as a left back from Southampton, Bales game transformed into a more attacking style while at Spurs. He caught the eye of European soccer during the UEFA Championships and was eventually transferred for an undisclosed fee (rumours: £77m – £85m).

2. Christiano Ronaldo (Manchester United to Real Madrid): Estimated £70m return.

Sir Alex signed Cristiano from Sporting CP for £12m, his impact on United was almost immediate. Together with Bale, Ronaldo has helped give the Premier League the largest war chest in Europe.

3. Kaka (AC Milan to Real Madrid): Estimated £51m return.

Kaka joined Milan for an £8.5m fee later to join Real Madrid for €65 Million! The attacking midfielder spends the twilight of his career as an attacking midfielder for Orlando City.

4. Zinedine Zidane (Juventus to Real Madrid): Estimated £43m return.

Zidane’s transfer from Juventus was a world record setting fee €75 millions. Stomach churning to think Marseille let him leave for Turn for just £3 million.

5. Edison Cavani (Napoli to PSG): Estimated £40m return.

PSG’s new spending power puts Cavani fifth on the list, joining the Parisians from Napoli for £54 million.

A final note: Yield.

Of course, it wouldn’t be fair on Real Madrid, the buying party in 80% of these top trades, if we didn’t at least acknowledge the earnings yield of these assets. That couldn’t be more true for Christiano Ronaldo, but with number one the list, that remains to be seen :)