College Majors You May Not Want to Consider

I graduated from college in December of 2007; almost 5 years ago now. I had a lot of ups and downs throughout my college career that made figuring out what I wanted to do with my life difficult. In the end, I settled on a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology, which, without a Master’s Degree, got me a job at a pizza place. This was definitely not the shining moment in my life.

After 6 months of unsuccessful job hunting, I went in to my university and decided to apply to earn a Master’s Degree, this time in Communication Studies. This was a good move on my part, as I am now a personal contractor/freelancer and am getting by much better than I did when I was trying to flop around with my B.A. in sociology.

This morning, I was reading an article on Yahoo! Finance, where Kiplinger shared the worst college majors for a bad economy. I was really intrigued by the article. Here are some of my thoughts:

I’m not surprised by the art stuff. A dear friend of mine just finished high school and is going to college. This week she’s looking at art schools. Now, she was going to go into nursing, but realized that she wanted to follow her passion instead. Not a horrible idea, but she’s realistic and knows that jobs in the art field are limited and hard to come by. You aren’t going to be the next Picasso, and low-wage jobs may be your life for awhile, but if it’s what you want to pursue, go for it.

Sociology and anthropology are degrees that you need a Master’s degree to get a job in. I was told this going into my sociology program a year before I was going to graduate. Our sociology and anthropology department made that a clear indicator, and our senior seminar class involved more “let’s get you to graduate school” instead of “let’s get you out in the field.” From what I understand, the research for this article was done for Bachelor’s degrees; if you want to do sociology and/or anthropology, know that you will have to get a Master’s to be able to land a good research job.

Graphic Design surprised me quite a bit. This shocked me. Now, granted, it is technically an “art” major, but I thought, with the rise of the internet, that graphic designers would be necessary. Apparently, the biggest issue is that there isn’t a lot of growth in the graphic design field, which I can understand. Unemployment’s quite high as well; it seems that any company that has the need for a graphic designer likely already has that graphic designer in their ranks.

What do you think about this list? Are you a successful worker that has one of these Bachelor’s degrees? Or do you have one of these degrees and think that you wasted your money to be stuck in a retail job? Share some thoughts in the comments, have a great day, and we’ll see you back here next week!

Why Aren’t Wages Increasing?

Some of my readers are probably sick of me saying that our economy is bad. I’m very good at stating the obvious, apparently. Unemployment is high, gas costs are high (like I talked about last week), and the cost of living is becoming harder and harder to meet. Sometimes we get some little bits of relief, but we haven’t seen a lot of economic recovery in quite a long while.

Economists put a lot of focus on the unemployed when talking about the economy, and with good reason. People being unemployed negatively affects the economy because they are not getting money and, because they aren’t getting money, they’re not putting more money into the economy to fix it.

What if you’re working? Sure, the high costs of things definitely affect your wallet; I talked to a friend the other day who is picking up a third job because she just can’t make ends meet with all of her bills and such. But, the biggest strain comes when those prices increase, but your income doesn’t.

Many people in the United States are getting the same wages that they were earning a short while ago. Statistics say that the private sector wage average has gone from $23.12 an hour to $23.52 an hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s a mere 40 cents, which really isn’t much of a difference at all when other years have seen an increase of a dollar or so. It’s barely moving at the same rate as inflation, which is risky; if wages don’t increase with inflation, then the number of people struggling for cash continues to rise, even among the employed.

The biggest reason for this? Surprise! Unemployment. The unemployment rate is high because there are jobs out there, but those jobs are only in certain fields that many people don’t have training in. Have you ever realized how many nursing jobs there are? Exactly my point. But, how does unemployment affect people who are working?

If there aren’t jobs out there for people to potentially get, an employer doesn’t have to do things like adjust benefits or wages in order to keep you as an employee. It seems kind of cruddy, but it’s true. Employers are depending more on the fact that the job market is poor instead of giving you incentive to stay. They don’t need to do anything to keep you in order to keep you when there’s very little in your field out there.

Also, another factor is that most job growth is in low wage jobs, fast food and retail in particular. They don’t give much in terms of raises anyway; I worked at McDonald’s in high school for 3 years and got an extra 21 cents in the three years I was there. That’s pretty standard from what I’ve heard.

What do you think about all of this? Do you think that employers should still be giving raises even though you don’t have a lot of job options? Do you think unemployment really has that much of an impact on the wages of the currently employed? Share some thoughts in the comments, have a great week, and we’ll see you back here next week!

Crazy, Crazy Gas Prices

Gas prices. I don’t drive a lot, because I live in a small town where everything I need is within about a 10 mile radius. It’s nice, because I really only have to get gas when I go to class (about an hour and a half or so from where I live, every  other month or so) or when I’ve driven a lot for one reason or another. This lack of distance driving has caused my car insurance to go down, which is nice.

But even the way gas prices are hurts quite a bit for someone like me. This past week, gas prices rose to basically $4 a gallon, a price that I really never, ever wanted to see. I remember it happening when I was in college, but somehow I dodged that bullet, because it topped out at about $4.30 a gallon, and then dropped, quite rapidly, to around $2.75. Now, I haven’t seen gas that low in a really, really long time, and, as you can see… it’s back up to $4 again, and I don’t think it’s going to plummet like it did back in… I think it was 2006? I can’t remember.

Political unrest, a bad economy, and a variety of other things can cause the gas prices to go up and down. This current increase in gas prices is likely due to inflation and the world economy being at an all-time low. Thankfully, I live in one of the states where there aren’t a whole ton of taxes on it (PA) but when I lived in the northern part of the state, I would drive through New York from time to time. And the gas prices? 30 or 40 cents higher. Yeah, you always got your gas in PA if you were expecting to go up to New York for anything.

One of the other things that I’ve done is invest my money in a motorized scooter (not a mo-ped… it doesn’t have pedals). I spent about $450 on it (including the title over to me; I bought it from a friend so it was really cheap), and since I bought it last summer, it totally paid for itself. I have filled my gas tank once since June; I’ve driven the moped more than the car this summer, and to not be filling my tank up? Best thing ever.

Also, I try not to drive when I can walk or carpool. Walking’s just plain good for you, and taking turns with people allows for all of us to save money on gas in the long run. It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved in a carpool. Less money on gas? Best scenario.

What do you think about the sudden increase in gas costs? What are you doing in order to have it make less of an impact on your wallet? Or do you just kind of deal with the whole thing and go on with your life as you always have? Share some of your thoughts in the comments, have a great week, and we’ll see you back here next week!

Prioritizing Bills

I don’t check my mail every day anymore. I know that sounds silly, but there’s really no need to. I get magazines every once in a while, correspondence from my church, cards around my birthday and Christmas, and a whole lot of junk mail. I don’t really even get my bills in the mail anymore, since I switched most of them to e-bills. So, it’s not necessarily a bill in the mail that drives me crazy anymore, it’s those bills in my email inbox.

There have definitely been some times in my life where it’s been hard to get by, where the bills haunted me instead of merely annoying me. In those times, I’ve had to sit down and figure out exactly what bills to pay first, and deal with the other ones as I was able. But, how do you do that? What bills do you pay and what ones do you hold off on.

Anything regarding shelter comes first. Rent payments, mortgage payments, property taxes, whatever it takes for you to keep your home, just do it. You may have to forgo other things in order to make ends meet, just make sure that you have a roof over your head. You can worry about the rest as you get to that point.

- Should keep your mode of transportation too. This is especially important if you have a job where you have to drive. So, if it involves car insurance, car payments, and even the money you put aside for gas, make sure that this stuff is taken care of right after the roof over your head. I know it seems a bit odd, but make sure that you’ve got a way to get places when you need to.

- Lastly, anything that can murder your credit report.  Car payments and mortgages obviously fall into this category, but there are a few other things that you should worry about when it comes to bill priority. All bills have the potential to hurt your credit score, but credit cards, student loans, and private loans have the most potential for murdering your credit score after one missed payment. So, watch out for those, and try to get them paid. Then worry about the other ones as you can.

If you are struggling with making monthly bills, call the companies that you pay. Many companies are flexible with changing due dates, and certain companies (the electric company, especially) offer programs where you can pay the same amount year round. I’m planning on doing that with my electric company here soon, because my high summer bills are almost silly compared to the rest of the year. Air conditioners kill your electric bill, let me tell you.

Have you ever been in a spot where you had to make a decision about which bills to pay and which to hold off on? Where did your priorities lie? What did you do to make ends meet? Share some thoughts in the comments, have a great week, and we’ll see you back here next Tuesday.

Considering Cell Phone Plans

According to today’s standards, I was a little slow on getting a cell phone. I’m in my late twenties, so when I was a teenager, cell phones were just coming into play. My first cell phone looked very similar to the phone in this picture; it was boxy, clunky, and it didn’t fit in my pocket very well. I actually kept the thing in my car, because its only purpose was for emergencies. I had a prepaid plan that you refilled every 30 days with a refill card. I didn’t get my first real cell phone plan until the summer before my sophomore year of college, and that was only because I was moving to the town I went to college in, and I was going to be moving and changing numbers a lot if I didn’t.

Now, I’ve had that same cell phone number and provider for the past 8 years. I’ve gotten new phones, but haven’t changed the provider I started with back in 2004. And I’m fairly happy with them, too. Little to no coverage issues. Good reason to stick with them right?

I didn’t have a lot of choice in my phone plan. But, if you do, here are a few things that you need to think about when choosing a cell phone plan.

Prepaid or Monthly plan? Prepaid plans don’t get you caught in a contract that you can’t get out of for 2 years without paying hefty fees, but monthly plans sometimes give incentives you may not get any other way. Check and see what your phone company offers,

Am I keeping my house phone too? I have a house phone for work purposes, and it’s actually cheaper, through my phone company, to have phone + internet than just internet. So, I ended up doing a low-cost prepaid plan plus my house phone instead of having a high-cost phone and high-cost internet.

How much do I really use a month? Prepaid plans allow you to have lower-cost plans with fewer minutes. Mine even gave me unlimited texts alongside the minutes I get per month. I’m more of a texter than I am a person to make phone calls, so it works out really well for me. If you’re a big talker, you may want to consider a real plan. Also, think about data plans as well.

What kind of phone am I getting? Some smart phones are not conducive to prepaid plans. If you want an everyday, ordinary phone, then a prepaid may be okay for you, but smartphones are better.

Asking these questions will prevent you from getting a cell phone bill that is a ridiculous amount of money that you weren’t expecting. Because, let me tell you, I didn’t ask these questions, and I ended up paying $50 more than I expected to pay; I switched things around and it ended up being much, much cheaper.

Do you have any other advice for choosing a cell phone plan? Have you ever ended up paying an absurd amount of money for your cell phone bill? Share your thoughts in the comments, have a great week, and we’ll see you back here next week!

Getting Lots of Things for Free!

Have you ever won anything? I’m not someone who has a lot of luck… I remember the first time I won something. I was… 16, I think? I went with my grandma and mom to play Bingo. And guess what? I won! I ended up winning like $62 or something like that, cause I shared the pot with a couple other people. It was kind of like getting free money, especially cause my mom had paid for me to play. She let me keep the money too! Pretty sweet deal for a 16 year old that just wanted to go and hang out with her grandma and her mom, huh?

 

I like free. Chances are, you probably like free too. Now, the sad thing about “free” is that there are often stipulations that come alongside of them.

If I’m on the go, I’m a fan of free Wi-Fi. There are a lot of ways to get this. The first is local public libraries; some 82% of them have Wi-Fi. Also, look to hit popular hot-spots at places you’ll likely be going anyway: hotels, fast food places, and other businesses that would like you to come and hang out for awhile. Just make sure they’re free; they’ll usually be pretty clear about that in their ads.

What if you want some free books? There are a variety of places where you can get free e-books for your reader, including Amazon and iTunes. This is due to the myriad of books in the public domain. Ever wanted to catch up on reading your classic novels? Look them up and you may be able to snag them for free.

In the same vein as ebooks, you’ve got music. I’m not someone who likes to spend a lot of money on music, so I scour the web in search of free music. Bands that have new music coming out will often offer a track for free on their website. Some music companies will offer sampler sets for free on occasion; if you’re a fan of harder music like me, check out Tooth&Nail Records free Summer Sampler that I just got yesterday. Amazon also offers some free MP3′s as well.

There are lots of websites that legitimately offer free Amazon gift cards. The first of these is Swagbucks, where you can do a variety of tasks in order to earn points. I’ve made a couple hundred dollars in Amazon gift cards to date, and I’ve been a member for a couple of years. Their best deal is the $5 gift card; its more economical to get those instead of saving for the big ones. They offer other cards too, but I’m an Amazon.com fiend, so I use it to save up for Christmas. The other is a survey website called Harris Poll Online. Their lowest Amazon denomination is $20, but I get that about once every 3 months. You get survey invites in your email on occasion; if you qualify, you get to take the whole thing and get points that you can eventually turn in for gift cards.

What kind of free stuff have you snatched up? Do you have any (legit, of course!) websites that you use to get free stuff every once in awhile? Share some of your tips for snatching up free stuff, have a great week, and we’ll see you back here next Tuesday!

Groupon Company Woes

I love coupons. I love discounts, I love all of those different things. Don’t you? We all like ways to save money. There are tons of ways to save money in the midst of this rough economy, and people have been getting really creative. One way that a lot of people have been saving big money is via group coupon websites, like Groupon.

This past March was my 27th birthday. My best friend and her husband wanted to take me to something fun for my birthday. They live near DC, so her husband, the forever frugal one (not like I can talk), started to look for good deals on museums and stuff. Finally, they dragged me all over DC via the metro until we got to the International Spy Museum. It is possibly the coolest thing that I have ever seen, and my best friend’s husband got us in for a third of the price because of Groupon.

If you don’t know about companies like Groupon, they basically offer a myriad of discounts from a huge pool of merchants. You sign up for the site and subscribe according to your geographic region. Then, your deals are tailored especially for your region, emailed to you every single day. There are only a limited number of each offer available daily. One time, I spent $5 on a $20 gift card. It can be really awesome when you snatch the good deals!

On the outside, stuff looks to be going pretty well for Groupon. The website is popular, people are snatching up some pretty sweet deals, and they’re making a good amount of money,  The group coupon company reported a $46.5 million dollar profit in the second quarter of 2012, amid a lack of investment in infrastructure and technology.

But, behind the scenes, there’s a bit of a mess. There are about 12,000 employees that work for the company; 45% of those employees are salespeople, and a lot of those sales people are disgruntled. They are making anonymous claims on other websites about “outrageous sales goals” and “over-crowded territories.” These complaints are getting more and more frequent, and morale is also down because shares aren’t trading as high as expected. Groupon’s stock during the first quarter was trading at 63% less than the expected $20 a share. Ouch.

Hopefully, this all straightens out. A lot of people swear by Groupon’s deals and watch the website religiously to snatch up whatever deals that they can. Groupon has also added a “like” option in order to personalize your deals even further. There should be sunny days ahead, but with employee morale down, it could spell tragedy for the popular company.

What do you think of Groupon and other group coupon pages? Do you see why their sales people are frustrated, or do you think they’ll bounce back? Leave some thoughts in the comments, have a great week, and we’ll see you back here next week!

Struggling World Economies

You see it everywhere. Unemployment is up, more and more people are applying for different forms of assistance (health care, food stamps). We see more homeless people in our cities and more jobless people on the lists at temp agencies. The United States is in a rut that we can’t see the other side of quite yet. Someday, hopefully, but we aren’t exactly there.

The US isn’t the only economy that’s struggling though. There are countries around the world that are struggling, just like we are, and possibly worse. Let’s look at a few of them today.

Greece, Spain, and the European Union. There have been several countries within the EU that have been on their last legs. The Euro continues to tank a bit, and several countries within the EU have considering bailing out. Greece is the big news maker in the midst of it all; its economy all but collapsed earlier this year. Spain is in an economic state of emergency; the Euro continues to spiral down, down, down and the Spanish economy looks to be falling into a depression. Check out this article on The Telegraph to see what’s been happening today.

Congo. Obviously, many African countries are considered “third world” or, the more politically correct term, developing countries. Congo is one of two countries that I’ll discuss today. The Congo has dealt with a myriad of internal struggle, which has far outweighed any of the rich resources the country exports. The per capita GDP here is $231.51, which is far behind any other country in the world.

Sudan. On the flip side of things, Sudan is also greatly suffering. They’ve dealt with civil war for generations upon generations. They have the worst overall economic growth, with a decline of over 7% in 2012 thus far. The biggest reason? South Sudan breaking off from the Northern part, and South Sudan has most of the natural resources.

Japan. This one shocked me, to be honest. I assumed, like a goof, that because Japan is at the top of education and they’re all about electronics. Then, I discovered how much debt the country is in. We think the United States’ national debt is bad? I have no idea who “owns” Japan, but their debt is through the roof. It’s almost 2 and a half times greater than their GDP. I can’t even fathom having that much national debt. Anyhow, add in the fact that marriage is down and the older adult population is up? And you’ve got the recipe for some rough riding in Japan.

What other global economies have you heard about? Of course, the economy as a whole is struggling, but have you heard anything about the economies of other countries? What is it going to take in order to get the world back on track? Share some thoughts in the comments, have a great week, and we’ll see you back here next week.

You Really Can Be Too Frugal

I pride myself in how frugal I am. Seriously; my frugality and ability to live on a minimum budget is something I’ve learned to excel at. Part of it comes from the fact that I’m the eternal college student; I am currently working on my second Master’s degree and, hopefully, well on my way to what will be my ultimate career. But part of it was just watching the financial disaster that my mom lived in; she was over $30,000 in debt when she passed away just over 2 years ago. I didn’t want to be in that situation myself (even though, with college loans, I am), so I’ve become obsessed with living simply. Thankfully, I’m happy this way, and it’s not a huge burden to be the penny pincher that I am.

But, sometimes living simply can backfire on us. Being “too frugal” can result in some unhealthy patterns and practices, and we’re going to look at a few questions we should ask ourselves in order to see whether or not we’re trying to be “too frugal.”

Are you really saving by spending more? Think about this friends. Are we really saving when we “have” to spend $25 on Amazon in order to get free shipping? Are you really saving when you’re buying 2 items in order to get one free? Now, if you were planning to spend that much anyway, then sure, it’s savings. If you’ve got a huge family and it’s stuff that you need, awesome. But if you are starting to stockpile everything under the sun because of sales, that may not end up as well as you want it to. Which leads us to the second question…

Are you running out of space in your house? This is where horror stories like the ones on Hoarders come from. If you’ve got a lot of space or an extra freezer in your home, it’s not a horrible thing. But if you are starting to struggle with space in your pantry or you’re having to jump over stuff in order to get between your kitchen and your living room, you may have a bit of an issue. Don’t overstock yourself because of “good sales.” Shop responsibly and stock up, but within reason, my friend.

Are you breaking things that you’re trying to fix? The Do-it-yourself trend is huge. I do all of my own electronics repair, but only because I know what in the world I’m doing. I would never try to fix my own plumbing or repair the lawn mower. But, people are doing their own home repairs more and more; the issue is, some of those people are making the issue worse. If you have absolutely no idea what you’re doing, it may just be cheaper to hire someone or call a buddy that does know.

Has trying to be frugal ever affected you negatively? Has it become an obsession that may be backfiring on those of us trying to be frugal? Or are the “horror stories” just a fad? I’m really curious to see what you’re thinking! Share some thoughts in the comments, have a great week, and we’ll see you back here next Tuesday.

Most Expensive States

I’ve shared on here before that I live in Pennsylvania. PA has a high population of older adults (as proven by the fact that I have 2 retirement communities within a 2 mile radius of my house). Last I knew, the only state with more is, obviously, Florida. I could be wrong, like I said, it was the last I knew. I’ve always found this absolutely fascinating, by the way, especially because Pennsylvania gets really cold in the winter. Maybe it’s because the PA lottery helps older Pennsylvanians? I have no idea.

Because of the high number of retirees and the number of people who live in large cities (Philly and Pittsburgh), the cost of living in Pennsylvania isn’t that high. I’m usually fairly comfortable with my low income, and rental prices are pretty decent around here.

The other day, CNBC put out one of their slideshows talking about the most expensive states that you could live in in 2012. Honestly, I wasn’t surprised about many of them. I have friends who live in most of those states,

Most of these states are in the northeast. Look at them. Multiple states in New England and the Mid-Atlantic. Pennsylvania isn’t on this list, but almost every state that touches PA is. I’ve always known New England and New York to be expensive, and New Jersey makes sense because of the large number of commuters to NYC. And the fact that you can’t pump your own gas. Well, maybe that doesn’t have anything to do with it, cause Jersey gas is cheaper. I don’t know.

Alaska and Hawaii are pricey. Part of the reason for this has to be because of the fact that its expensive to get stuff out there. I talked on another blog I write for about a PR campaign that Taco Bell did by bringing 10,000 Doritos Locos tacos to Alaska after a big scam had gone on telling residents of a small Alaskan town that they were getting a Taco Bell. It’s just too expensive to try and get cheap food and such to these crazy remote places.

- My only surprise: Connecticut is the most expensive behind Hawaii and Alaska. I really, really thought that it would be New York City. But, Connecticut is a popular state to live in; I’m not surprised, it’s beautiful and the job market is halfway decent compared to other states. Sounds like it may be worth the higher cost of living to those who live there.

Do you live in any of these states? Have you seen some of the pains of living in these high-cost states? Do you live in a state that you think should have been on CNBC’s list? Why? Share some thoughts in the comments, have a great week, and we’ll see you back here next week!