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Interview With A Strange Bird About Managing Law School Debt

Written by Brett McKay


Strange Bird is the author of I Am Running With Scissors. While she’s not in law school yet, she’s already contemplating how to leave law school with as little debt as possible. From what I’ve read on her blog, it looks like she’s already doing a great job in mitigating her law school debt.

1. How much student debt have you racked up during undergrad? How much more do you plan on taking on during law school?

I attended a public university for undergrad, and with the help of a big scholarship and some part-time jobs I was able to get my B.A. without any debt. For law school I will again be attending a public institution on a scholarship, so I expect that my debt will be less than most law students’, but not insubstantial. The University of California law schools are almost as pricey as some of the private law schools now.

2. What actions are you taking now to mitigate your law school debt?

There are three major ways I’m working now to mitigate my law school debt. The first was negotiating with the law school on my financial aid package, which will save me at least $25,000. Another is saving what I can now, before I start, to minimize my borrowing in the first year. The third is educating myself and planning accordingly. It’s one thing to know that law school is expensive, and another to know exactly how much extra per month living alone would cost me once my loans are in repayment. I think it’s a matter of establishing priorities.

3. When would you like to pay it off your student loans? How do you plan on reaching your goal?
I hope to pay off my loans within five years of graduating law school, which I wrote about here. I would have to adjust my goals if I were to take a public interest job or work for a year or two as a judicial clerk, but assuming I were to work at a typical large law firm right away in my hometown, it wouldn’t be impossible. That is, of course, provided I am able to resist the temptation of expanding my lifestyle to match my salary and diligently pay my loans instead of splurging because “I deserve it.” I would deserve it! But that’s not a good enough reason to blow the bank when I have other goals I want to meet.

4. What other personal financial goals have you set for yourself?
Aside from paying off all student loans by 2015, I expect to also be able to buy a home within five years of graduating. My other goals are a bit softer–saving 10-15% for retirement, living below my means, and retiring early enough to enjoy the fruits of my labor!

5. What is your weakness in regards to your personal finances and how do you think you can improve it?

I think I have a few big weaknesses in regards to personal finances. I’m a bit of a hoarder. It feels really reassuring to have a lot of money sitting in the bank (in a higher-yield online savings account, but still!), but I know that’s not the best way to make it work for me, because I neither can spend it to enjoy it, nor can I invest it properly. I’m also a little bit of a control freak, which makes the idea of investing money (where I can’t control what will happen to it) seem really daunting. I think the only way to get past this is to become more informed. The more I learn about personal finance and investing, the less intimidating it seems, and hopefully at some point I’ll reach the threshold where I no longer feel like stuffing cash under my mattress (figuratively speaking, of course).

6. How do you manage your finances? Is there a particular software you use to keep track of your money?

I use Quicken for the budget and expense tracking features. When I see that I’ve spent 50% of my budget for eating out for the month and it’s only the 8th, I get back on track really quickly. It keeps me a lot more honest than just watching the balance on my account fall. I don’t necessarily recommend that everyone run out and buy Quicken, though–I could just as easily do this with Excel, but a trial version was installed on my computer when I bought it in 2002. I don’t even know what features I can’t access, but I don’t seem to miss them.

7. What do you think is the biggest money mistake or misconception a future law student make?

Since I’m still only a future law student myself, it’s hard to say–I may be making that biggest mistake!–but I’m pretty sure the most dangerous trap to fall into is not really considering the costs of attending law school and living expenses before signing the promissory notes. For example, at my law school, the Loan Repayment Assistance Program will only cover $60,000 of your loans, but the total cost of attendance is closer to $150,000. If someone plans to become a public defender after graduating from a UC law school, she will have to come up with some creative ways to finance her education in order not to be overly burdened by the debt (and live frugally, besides!). Even someone making a salary of $100,000 or more per year will have to make some sacrifices in order to pay back that kind of debt. So it makes sense to be aware, and not live like you’re earning the money instead of borrowing it, because everything you buy will cost that plus 6.8-8.5% (or more!) interest afterwards. Most things won’t be worth it, in retrospect, so forget retrospect and just don’t buy it.

8. Do you have any suggestions to other future law students regarding their personal finances?

KNOW WHAT YOU ARE GETTING YOURSELF INTO. Whatever is motivating you to go to law school, you should be aware of the financial consequences, because they are not inconsequential. People will tell you that a law degree will pay itself off, but it won’t–YOU will pay it off. Make sure that you know exactly how much it will cost, how you will pay for it, and if you are willing to make the sacrifice.

Thanks, Strange Bird, for that awesome interview! Stop by Strange Bird’s blog, I Am Running With Scissors, today to read some of her great content on saving money on law school before you start law school.

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[tags]law school, debt, saving, money[/tags]

10+1 Easy Ways to Make Yourself Look Like a Blogging Newbie

Written by Brett McKay

In the spirit of trying to stop driving traffic away from my blog, I present to you Court’s 10 Easy Ways to Make Yourself Look Like a Blogging Newbie.

I’m guilty of number four on his list:

Change your blog’s theme and layout every 13 hours, that way people will know with absolute certainty that you have no idea whatsoever what you want your blog to look like. Tweak your theme relentlessly so that your readers get a chance to see each ‘mess up’ you make in the process.

In fact, I was screwing with my theme a bunch today. To my credit, I wasn’t tweaking for the sake of tweaking. I installed the Text Link Ads plugin on my blog and all hell broke loose. Error messages were all over the place. I ended up scraping my theme and uploading it again. Thankfully, I have things back on track again.

I would add “Write posts with tons of typos” to Court’s list. As I posted earlier this weekend, I’ve had to learn the hard way that typos make you look like a complete newbie. Typos are a red flag to readers that they’re dealing with a blogger who has no idea what readers want when they read blogs. Readers not only want original and helpful content, they want their content presented to them professionally.

If you’re interested in improving your blog, stop by Courtney’s site. You’ll find plenty of great articles filled with useful tips.

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[tags]blogging, miscellaneous blogging tips, Courtney Tuttle [/tags]

“Super Suppers:” Not So Super

Written by Mrs. FLS

Well Mrs. FLS is back with a post while Brett slogs through his finals. It will unsurprisingly again be about food, as this is a huge part of our budget, and the part I am primarily responsible for.

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When Brett finally arrives home from law school at 9:00, he is naturally quite hungry and ready for some grub. As his loving and devoted wife, I try to make dinner for him every night during the week. I actually rather like cooking, although I have to admit that the process of finding new recipes, making a grocery list, shopping, chopping, sautéing, and baking is rather time consuming. Apparently many American women feel this way, and this grievance has birthed a whole new industry: “The Assemble-Your-Own Meals” store.

The concept is thus: each month the store has a menu of different meals to choose from. You show up at the store and choose which entrees you wish to assemble. The store is set up with numerous stations with the ingredients and utensils ready, you follow the instructions and throw some things together, and in a hour you have assembled a week’s worth or more of meals. The meals can then be taken home, frozen, and simply popped in the oven or saucepan on any given night. It sounds like a neat idea, but I was not that impressed when I gave it a test run.

For Christmas my parents gave my sister and I a gift certificate to “Super Suppers” for a week’s worth of meals. A cute gift idea I must say. So little sis and I went and gave it a whirl. In less than an hour we had 4 dinners to take home with us. Here is my review:

Pros:

-The biggest advantage is of course having dinner ready to go and waiting in the freezer. It is a nice feeling

-The other advantage is that there are almost no dirty dishes. Many entrees bake right in the pan they give you, so clean up is a cinch.
-The meals are no culinary delights, but they were generally pretty tasty.

Cons:

-The price. A meal designed for 2 people costs around $10. That is $5 a serving! Less than going out to a sit down restaurant I guess, but more than a frozen dinner, and way more than a homemade meal.

-Of course people are willing to pay more for something that saves them a lot of time, and that is supposedly the big draw of these places. But the thing is…you really don’t save that much time either! The meals you make are pretty simple. For example one of them was a bag of hoagie rolls, some frozen meatballs in a bag with tomato sauce, and a bag of cheese. You just assemble the sandwich and bake em. You still have to assemble them at home yourself, and with 5 extra minutes, you could have bought the same ingredients to do so at the store. Other meals, you could also easily duplicate yourself with only an additional 15-20 minutes and for a fraction of the cost.

-Cooking is fun and creative. Yes it takes work, but there is really something special about creating something with your hands, and having someone else enjoy it. Sticking something in the oven just doesn’t give you that sense of satisfaction.

The Bottom Line: Save your money, because you won’t save all that much time. If you are pressed for time, check out Rachel Ray’s 30 minute cookbooks. Lots of great recipes that won’t leave you slaving in the kitchen. Or, some people swear by the idea of “once-a month-cooking.”

[tags] Super Suppers, food, dinner[/tags]

Blog Scouts: Personal Management

Written by Brett McKay

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I thought the first merit badge we’ll work on this month should go along with the theme of this blog. The personal management badge encourages people to learn how to manage their money and time. That’s what The Frugal Law Student is all about! Here are the requirements. Remember, each requirement is a separate post.

  1. Do the following:
    1. Choose an item that your family might want to purchase that is considered a major expense.
    2. Write a plan that tells how your family would save money for the purchase identified in requirement 1a.
      1. Discuss how other family needs must be considered in this plan.
    3. Develop a written shopping strategy for the purchase identified in requirement 1a.
      1. Determine the quality of the item or service (using consumer publications or rating systems).
      2. Comparison shop for the item. Find out where you can buy the item for the best price. (Provide prices from at least two different price sources.) Call around; study ads. Look for a sale or discount coupon. Consider alternatives. Can you buy the item used? Should you wait for a sale?
  2. Do the following:
    1. Prepare a budget reflecting your expected income (allowance, gifts, wages), expenses, and savings. Track your actual income, expenses, and savings for 2 consecutive weeks. When complete, present the results in a post.
    2. Compare expected income with expected expenses.
      1. If expenses exceed income, determine steps to balance your budget.
      2. If income exceeds expenses, state how you would use the excess money (new goal, savings).
  3. Discuss in a post FIVE of the following concepts:
    1. The emotions you feel when you receive money.
    2. Your understanding of how the amount of money you have with you affects your spending habits.
    3. Your thoughts when you buy something new and your thoughts about the same item three months later. Explain the concept of buyer’s remorse.
    4. How hunger affects you when shopping for food items (snacks, groceries).
    5. Your experience of an item you have purchased after seeing or hearing advertisements for it. Did the item work as well as advertised?
    6. Your understanding of what happens when you put money into a savings account.
    7. Charitable giving. Explain its purpose and your thoughts about it.
    8. What you can do to better manage your money.
  4. Explain the following in a post:
    1. The differences between saving and investing, including reasons for using one over the other.
    2. The concepts of return on investment and risk.
    3. The concepts of simple interest and compound interest and how these affected the results of your investment exercise.
  5. Select five publicly traded stocks from the business section of the newspaper. Explain in a post the importance of the following information for each stock:
    1. Current price
    2. How much the price changed from the previous day
    3. The 52-week high and the 52-week low prices
  6. Pretend you have $1,000 to save, invest, and help prepare yourself for the future. Explain in a post the advantages or disadvantages of saving or investing in each of the following:
    1. Common stocks
    2. Mutual funds
    3. Life insurance
    4. A certificate of deposit (CD)
    5. A savings account or U.S. savings bond
  7. Explain in a post the following:
    1. What a loan is, what interest is, and how the annual percentage rate (APR) measures the true cost of a loan.
    2. The different ways to borrow money.
    3. The differences between a charge card, debit card, and credit card. What are the costs and pitfalls of using these financial tools? Explain why it is unwise to make only the minimum payment on your credit card.
    4. Credit reports and how personal responsibility can affect your credit report.
    5. Ways to eliminate debt.
  8. Demonstrate in a post your understanding of time management by doing the following:
    1. Write a “to do” list of tasks or activities, such as homework assignments, chores, and personal projects, that must be done in the coming week. Use any organizational system you want.
    2. Make a seven-day calendar or schedule. Put in your set activities, such as school classes, sports practices or games, jobs or chores, or church or club meetings, then plan when you will do all the tasks from your “to do” list between your set activities.
    3. Follow the one-week schedule you planned. Keep a daily diary or journal during each of the seven days of this week’s activities, writing down when you completed each of the tasks on your “to do” list compared to when you scheduled them.
    4. Review your “to do” list, one-week schedule, and diary/journal to understand when your schedule worked and when it did not work. IN a post, discuss and understand what you learned from this requirement and what you might do differently the next time.
  9. Prepare a written project plan demonstrating the steps below, including the desired outcome. This is a project on paper, not a real-life project. Examples could include planning a camping trip, developing a community service project or a school or religious event, or creating an annual patrol plan with additional activities not already included in the troop annual plan. Discuss your completed project plan in a post
    1. Define the project. What is your goal?
    2. Develop a timeline for your project that shows the steps you must take from beginning to completion.
    3. Describe your project.
    4. Develop a list of resources. Identify how these resources will help you achieve your goal.
    5. If necessary, develop a budget for your project.
  10. Do the following:
    1. Choose a career you might want to enter after high school or college graduation.
    2. Research the limitations of your anticipated career and discuss with your merit badge counselor what you have learned about qualifications such as education, skills, and experience.

This gives you 10 posts to write about! Plus, you’ll have the opportunity to learn more about money and time management. Also, don’t forget to send me a link whenever you write a post, so I can include it on the site. You can either email me or send it through my handy contact form. Whenever you finish all the requirements, download the cool personal finance merit badge to display on your site. Get to work blog scouts! I’m looking forward to reading your posts!

Carnival of Personal Finance #90 Hosted by Mapgirl

Written by Brett McKay

I know this is extremely late, but I wanted to thank Mapgirl for hosting this week’s Carnival of Personal Finance. She was kind enough to include my submission in this week’s write up.

Here are some posts that I enjoyed from this week’s edition.

Sorry for the absence…

Written by Brett McKay

I haven’t posted in a week. I’ve been super busy with school. I had a midterm and a brief due this week. But I’m done with those so I’ll be back to regular posting today.