i The Frugal Law Student | 2007 | October

Law School
Personal Finance

Can You Afford An Emergency?

Written by Brett McKay


Sure, you know you should have an emergency account, but are you actually doing it? I’ll admit I’ve been one of those people who has known, but hasn’t acted. My wife and I have done a great job living within our means; however, for a time, we failed to build up a cushion in case something unexpected happened.

As is always the case, something always happens when you least expect it. We’ve had several instances where an emergency has happened, but we didn’t have the money at hand to pay for it. For example, we had the windows on our car broken by burglers and had to replace three tires.

We’ve learned from our mistakes and have started an emergency account. I feel much more comfortable knowing if an emergency strikes, it won’t pinch us as much financially.

Are you ready for these common emergencies?

Emergencies come in all shapes and sizes. Some are huge (like a car accident) and others are small (like replacing your tires). But even the small ones can hurt (especially if you’re a poor student). Here’s a short list of common emergencies that can definitely hurt your pocketbook.

  • Replacing four tires on your car. Look to spend about $450 for that.
  • Trip to the emergency room. I had to go to the emergency room last spring and it cost about $300 for the visit.
  • Replacing break pads: $450
  • Filling a cavity. Without insurance- $145. With insurance- $90.

How to set up an emergency account

First, determine how much money you want in your account. Most experts agree that you should aim for three to six months of basic living expenses. Figure out how much you spend each month and multiply that by three. That should be your goal. It may look overwhelming (especially if you’re a broke student like me), but I promise you that you can reach that goal. It will just take some time.

Second, open up an account. I suggest getting an ING Electric Orange checking account for two reasons. First, it has a nice 3.5% interest rate. That’s better than a lot of banks’ savings account interest rate! Your emergency fund will be growing even when you don’t put anything in it. The second reason is that it gives you easy access to your money when you need it. An ING Electric Orange comes with a debit card, so whenever an emergency hits, just whip out the card. The last thing you’re thinking about in an emergency is transferring money from savings to checking.

Third, set up an automatic savings plan. Decide how much you can afford each month to set aside in your emergency fund. It doesn’t have to be much. Just get started! Once you decide, set up an automatic deduction plan from your checking account to your emergency fund. ING makes this super easy.

Simple ways to save for an emergency fund

If you want to reach your savings goal, you’ll have to find more ways to save money. Here’s a quick list of easy things you can do to start saving money for your emergency fund.

  • Brown bag it. Instead of buying your lunch everyday, start bringing it from home.
  • Cut the cable. By getting rid of cable you can save about $50 a month.
  • Entertainment. Instead of going out to eat and seeing a movie, stay in and cook a meal and watch a movie you checked out from the library.

Slash Your Auto Budget With These 4 Car Maintenance Habits

Written by Brett McKay

Cars can be money pits. However, you can reduce the costs you put into auto maintenance by developing a few simple habits.


1. Wash your car regularly. Set up a weekly or bi-weekly schedule for car washing. Washing your car regularly helps maintain the paint and avoids corrosion. Car washing is especially necessary if you live near the ocean where salt water can have a horrible effect on your car’s body. You don’t have to pay big bucks to have your car washed at a commercial place, you can learn how to wash your car like a pro.

2. Change your oil regularly. Changing your oil ensures good engine health. If you slack on this job, you’ll pay the price by having to replace an engine. Find out how often the car manufacturer recommends you change the oil. This can usually be found in your owner’s manual. As soon as you find out, set up a reoccurring event in your calendar so you’ll never forget when to go change your oil.

3. Rotate your tires. My wife and I have had some bad luck with tires. I’m sure we could have avoided these costs if we had kept a regular tire rotation schedule. This is a job you can easily do your self. You should rotate them 5,000 to 10,000 miles. You can probably do this every time you change your oil.

4. Keep track of your mileage when you fill up. One of the habits my parents have developed is to keep track of their mileage whenever they fill up on gas. Just keep a notebook in your glove compartment and write in the date you filled up, the mileage on your odometer, and how many gallons you filled up. You’ll then be able to compute your car’s fuel efficiency. By being aware of how many miles per gallon your car is getting, you’ll know how to budget for gas in the future. Moreover, you’ll be able to come up with ways to save money on gas.

Ask the Readers: Cheap Date Ideas

Written by Brett McKay


My wife and I always try to have a date night once a week.  It’s a good way to reconnect after a busy  week of hardly seeing each other. We usually just end up going out to eat. While it’s a nice treat, it’s not always frugal. We’d also like to mix it up some. What are your cheap date ideas? Let us know! Make your cheap date suggestion in the comments below. At the end of the week, I’ll collect all the tips together and write them in a post. If you have a blog, I’ll include a link to your site next to your tip. I’m looking forward to reading your tips!

6 Ways To Save Money On Halloween

Written by Brett McKay

Last week’s ask the reader question was “how to save money on Halloween.” With Halloween just a few weeks away, these 6 tips are timely.


1. Make your own costume. For example it seems like grapes are always a cheap option for a costume. All you need is a garbage bag and purple balloons. Also my sister was a die (as in singular for dice) one year. My parents just painted a box white with some black spots and cut out some arm holes and leg holes. It was unique, dirt cheap, and cute….although some people strangely thought she was a square cow. Brett told me he once just put a bow on himself, and told people he was “God’s Gift to Women.” Very funny. [Mrs. FLS]

2. We shop all summer at rummage sales for costumes of all kinds and since most stuff is marked between $.50 and $3.00 for little kids things we buy 4-6 outfits. Then we let the kids pick from the pile. This works well against the “but I wanna be…” something elses because they are overwhelmed with selection. Then we tell them they can keep their outfits all year for dress up, there are no complaints and lots of hugs. [Kelly]

3. I always watched for sales on the big packages of candy toward the end of October. I buy a couple of them, plus use coupons which you can find in the Sunday paper. It cost’s me maybe $10.00 for the two which sounds like a lot to pay for candy, but I have over 100 kids come to the house on Halloween night and can hand out two or three pieces. [Helen]

4. Save old clothes, buy after Halloween for wigs, hats, etc. Keep a tub filled with all your finds and keep adding to it during the year. [Helen]

5. Ninja. All you need is black clothes you already own. [Strange Bird]

6. This probably sounds grinch-ish, but I don’t do anything for Halloween, so there’s no expense whatsoever. I know that may not be practical for families with children – but if there are no children at home, I seriously suggest just turning off the front light and not giving out candy. [Marsha]

Thanks everyone for your great ideas! Tune in for the next ask the readers segment!

How to Get a Free Massage

Written by Mrs. FLS


Do you ever get knots in your back? I have perhaps one of the knottiest backs in the world. I hate them as they are rather uncomfortable and make my back feel tense. The only remedy for the knots is a good back rub. We obviously can’t afford for me to have a professional masseuse work them out (although I certainly fantasize about it and especially about having one of those hot stone massages, ahhhhhh). But that is just a knotty fantasy. And giving yourself a backrub is about as effective as tickling yourself. So my only other option was to have Brett rub them for me. But he was none too happy to remove his nose from the books to administer a backrub, and his thumbs are weaklings; they have no real rubbing stamina at all. He could never rub the knots long enough to really destroy them.

I have however discovered a solution to my knotty woes. A friend showed me how to do a truly effective and completely free self-massage. First, you take a tennis ball and stick it into a long sock. Then, swing it over your shoulder so it is hanging down your back. Next, lean into a wall so that the ball is between the wall and your back. Finally, move your back up and down and side to side so that the ball rubs your knotty places. Don’t be afraid to really dig them out, but you should only experience “good” pain (the “ooooh, ahhhh” pain) and not bad pain (the “ouch” pain). Keep rubbing until satisfied. You’ll look pretty funny (much like a bear itching himself on a tree) but it is really effective and feels fantastic. I can seriously stand there for 20 minutes doing it. After a few days of this “treatment” my knots were almost gone.

So as the semester heats up and the stress lodges in your back, take time out for a free massage!

4 Things To Do When You Don’t Want To Do Anything

Written by Brett McKay


Every now and then I’ll have a day when I’m completely apathetic about everything. The idea of being productive makes my brain hurt. These little funks can be extremely frustrating, especially when I have tons to do. For example, last Monday I was up at school trying to get stuff done, when a sudden wave of “don’t-want-to-do-anything-itis” hit hard. This state of mind came at a really inconvenient time, seeing that I had a law review article draft to finish as well as some outlining to do. Consequently, I became frustrated and even more apathetic about wanting to do anything.

Have you ever had one of these days? Here are 4 things you can do that will help get you back on track when you don’t want to do anything.

  1. Take a walk outside. By taking a walk outside, you can clear your head of all the frustration and angst you might be feeling. It gives you time to think and to work off some of that apathy that has consumed your soul. I also think being outside in the fresh air and sun resyncs’s your body and mind to a more natural state. Being cooped up in a building with florescent lighting probably isn’t conducive to apathy free living.
  2. Journal. Writing about why you’re not in the mood to do anything is a great way to work through apathy. Just bust out a notebook and start writing about how you don’t want to do anything and why you feel that way. Don’t think about it too hard. Just free write. After about 10 minutes, you’ll see the source of your “don’t-want-to-do-anything-itis” and you’ll feel much better. Maybe those teenage emo kids are on to something…
  3. Review your goals. When apathy strikes, take some time review your goals. This will help motivate you to get started again.
  4. Do less demanding tasks. Instead of trying to use brute force to get an important task done when you’re not in the mood to work, try easing yourself into work mode by doing less demanding tasks first. For example, you could organize your desk, schedule your week, or respond to emails. By doing less demanding tasks first, you benefit in two ways: 1) it will help ease you into the working state of mind and 2) you’ll at least get some stuff done.

What do you all do when apathy strikes? Drop a line in the comment box and let us know!

Image from Amel Hanan.