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Real World 101: Blog

 
Explore our many posts about how to easily navigate through the troubled waters of the "Real World". Our blog gives you tips, "how-to"s, insights, guides, and secrets on life in the "Real World".


Wednesday
Nov092011

Furnishing Your Apartment on a Budget: The Bedroom

As they say on MTV “Cribs”, this is where all of the “magic” happens. But, if you have a sleeping bag and a pillow as your bedroom set, you’re certainly going to have to be a magician to make anything happen. So here are a few ways to make your bedroom magical on a budget:

Essential
- Mattress - Set of sheets - Blankets
- Pillow - Curtains or blinds - Pillow cases
Extra    
- Box Springs - Bed Frame - Bed Pillows
- Mattress Cover - Chest of Drawers - Hanging Closet Organizer
- Lamp - Sofa or Futon  

 

Bed
Futons can give greater versatility, but if you go the bed route, avoid waterbeds; some places don't allow them. Go with something basic and easy to move. You may want to consider an inflatable bed as a good low cost temporary solution.

Bedding
Discount department stores may be your best bet. Splurging on a higher thread-count may be worth it, but definitely avoid the designer labels. Martha Stewart's Everyday line at K-Mart can provide you with a set for well under $100. You can also find great bedding bargains on the internet from sites such as the Company Store or Overstock.com. Keep in mind that good sources for linens are also convenient places to get towels, shower curtains, and other bathroom items.

TIP: When you buy bedding make sure that the fitted sheet is deep enough for your mattress — otherwise it'll look like your bed is wearing a shower cap.

Tool: Complete Apartment Furnishing Checklist

Up Next: Furnishing on a Budget: The Bathroom

 

This is an excerpt from Deciding Where to Live After College Guide which is included in our Real World 101 Care Packages. Visit our Care Package page to find out how to get one for yourself or for a lucky college grad!

Tuesday
Nov082011

Accepting a Job Offer

If you're somewhat content with the distribution of funds and are ready to merge forces, make sure you have the offer in writing. If you haven't discussed health insurance and other benefits, like a  401(k) plan and vacation time, do so immediately. Then request that everything be outlined in your offer letter or contract. If something looks amiss, then it's time to get back to the bargaining table.  If any of the conditions are unclear, clear them up before you sign.

Once you accept an offer (even verbally), it is unethical to consider other opportunities. To accept a position, and renege on it, may result in legal action against you or in your being “black-balled” if decision makers learn that you are interviewing after an offer has been made. You should inform other prospective employers and withdraw from remaining interviews. 

Wrapping Up

There are three important steps in the wrap-up after you accept a job offer.

First, upon accepting an offer, inform all organizations to whom you have submitted a résumé to or met with, in writing, that you are withdrawing your candidacy for their opportunity and that you have accepted another offer, and thank them for their interest.

Tool: Sample Letters Declining an Offer

Knowing how to properly decline a job offer is just as important as accepting an offer. Use our samples to guide your writing.

Secondly, inform and write thank you notes to everyone who took the time to talk to you (at the employer's office) and help you get the interview (at school, members of your network).

Thirdly, make a summary of all of the people you contacted and include their current contact information. This is the foundation of the network for your next job search. Store this information in a safe place. Getting a job isn’t the end of your networking; it’s only the beginning.

 

This is an excerpt from Finding Your First Job After College Guide which is included in our Real World 101 Care Packages. Visit our Care Package page to find out how to get one for yourself or for a lucky college grad!

Wednesday
Nov022011

Furnishing Your Apartment on a Budget: The Living Room

Your living room will probably become a multi-purpose room as place to be social, bring home work, and relax after long day. In order to make the most of your living room, here are some tips:

Essential
- Lamp - Table and or desk - Chairs / Sofa  
Extra    
- Bookshelf - Vacuum - Clock  

Sofa
Go for easily cleaned materials. Synthetics are usually much easier to clean that natural fibers like cotton. Futons are a cheap option. These combine flexibility (to bed and a couch) with portability. They're also easy to clean, because the cushion and frame separate. If it's new or expensive, go for the can of Scotchguard. It is well worth the extra expense to prolong your couch's life.

Chairs
Essential for handling Thursday night sitcom viewing overflows, chairs can usually be picked up cheap. Choose such space savers as folding chairs if they're rarely used.

Lamps
People always seem to have plenty of lamps they want to get rid of. Yes, lots of them are ugly and tucked deep in the corner of the family rec room. But you can take some pretty scary lamps and add unique lampshades and/or decorate the base to give it a fresh new look.

Tool: Complete Apartment Furnishing Checklist

Up Next: Furnishing on a Budget: The Bedroom

 

This is an excerpt from Deciding Where to Live After College Guide which is included in our Real World 101 Care Packages. Visit our Care Package page to find out how to get one for yourself or for a lucky college grad!

Tuesday
Nov012011

Evaluating a Job Offer

Congratulations! You have an offer! Whether you accept the position, being selected is an achievement. After taking a moment to feel pride in your accomplishment, it’s time to evaluate your options.

When you receive a job offer, it's important to evaluate it carefully so you are making an educated decision to acceptor reject it. The last thing you want to do is to make a hasty decision that you will regret later on.  Whether you want more time (the norm is one to two weeks) or are ready to respond right away, make sure to communicate.

Show your professionalism. Promptly respond to the employer. Be enthusiastic and professional. For example—when leaving a message: 

“Hello, this is _________. I can be reached at: _________. I was excited this evening to receive your offer and I am interested in discussing the details of the position. I will contact you tomorrow, between 1-3PM. If this time isn’t possible, please call with an alternate suggestion. Thank you again.” 

Determining Your Bottom Line

Evaluating job offers can be unsettling, especially if you have only a vague idea of what you want from employers. Your bottom line is based on the things without which you cannot even contemplate accepting an offer of employment. For instance, determine the minimum level of compensation you'll need to meet your financial obligations. Then add your essential benefits, like health and dental insurance. What about the commute? Flextime? Just make sure your list contains the bare minimum you can and will accept.

Evaluate the Options

Theoretically, if a job offer meets your predetermined bottom line, you could accept it. But meeting the bottom line is really a prerequisite that allows you to progress to the third step: Evaluating options to make sure the total package is the best for you. Here is a basic checklist of options you can use as a guideline for evaluating a job offer and negotiating the best deal:

Money Matters  

Money isn't the only consideration, but it is an important one. Is the offer what you expected? It’s important to keep in mind that the average starting salary you think you “deserve” is going to get from an employer will be much less than what you will be offered. You must research the realistic starting salary before making any hasty decisions or impractical demands to your future employer.

If it’s not a salary you can accept without feeling insulted? Or you will not be able to pay your bills. Then don't accept the offer, at least right away. Make sure that you are getting paid what you're worth and you are happy with the compensation. Nobody wants to be in a position where they realize that the salary isn't enough after they have accepted the job offer. If the compensation package isn't what you expected, consider negotiating salary with your future employer.

Learn how to negotiate your salary like a pro, read RealWorld101.org/Salary-Negotiation

General Benefits 

Beyond the salary, review the benefits and perks offered. The benefit package can be as important as what you get in your paycheck.  Find out details on health and life insurance coverage, vacation, sick time, disability, and other benefits. Inquire about how much of the benefits costs are provided by the company, and how much you are expected to contribute. If there are a variety of options available, request copies of the plan descriptions so you can compare benefit packages.

For a list of questions to ask about your benefits package, visit RealWorld101.org/General-Benefits

Other Things to Consider 

While salary is an important consideration, it should not be the only one. There are other factors to keep in mind when selecting a job, should you have multiple options. Besides evaluating the responsibilities of the job itself, consider the strength and values of the company, the training offered, and the advancement opportunities.

Tool: Job Offer Evaluation Checklist

While salary is an important consideration, it should not be the only one. There are other factors to keep in mind when selecting a job, should you have multiple options.

Weighing Your Priorities 

To decide what's most valuable to you in a job offer, it can be helpful to rank your priorities. Use the Job Priorities Worksheet to list what is important to you.

Tool: Job Priorities Worksheet

To decide what's most valuable to you in a job offer, it can be helpful to rank your priorities. Use the Job Priorities Worksheet to list what is important to you.

Comparing multiple job offers

If you are offered more than one job, use the Job Comparison Priorities Worksheet to rank your values. Review each job with your priorities in mind. Which job fits best with your values? To make your final decision, create a list of pros and cons for each job.

Tool: Job Comparison Worksheet

When assessing job offers, it is often helpful to list the pros and cons of each job.

Most importantly, keep it all in perspective. Remember: You don't have to live forever with any career decision you make now. Most people change careers several times during their lives, so the first job you choose right after college probably won't be your career 40 or 50 years from now, unless you want it to be. So don't put too much pressure on yourself to make the perfect decision, and always keep your eyes open.

 

This is an excerpt from Finding Your First Job After College Guide which is included in our Real World 101 Care Packages. Visit our Care Package page to find out how to get one for yourself or for a lucky college grad!

Monday
Oct312011

How to Manage Your Finances Once You're on Your Own 

Guest Post Author:
Sarah Fudin currently works in community relations for the University of Southern California's 
online Masters in Education program, which provides aspiring teachers the opportunity to earn a 
Master’s degree and teacher certification online. Outside of work Sarah enjoys running, reading 
and Pinkberry frozen yogurt.
Being on your own after college can be an exhilarating experience. For possibly the first time in 
your life, you're supporting yourself and making your own decisions about financial issues. But 
with freedom comes responsibility. In order to avoid unwise spending and debt, it's important to 
start out on the right track by learning how to manage your finances early on. This article 
provides tips on four important "real life" financial tasks that recent college graduates should 
address.
1. Organizing Student Loans
Once you've graduated, it's important that you know the repayment schedule for each of your 
student loans since you're responsible for making payments on time. Learn how to use the 
National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS) to retrieve and track your loan information. 
Whenever you move, provide your lenders with change of address information and remember 
that you are required to make payments whether or not you actually receive a bill. In case you 
undergo financial difficulties that will cause you to miss one or more payments, gain an 
understanding of how you can reschedule your loan or request deferment to delay payment. 
Also, if you have multiple student loans, you may want to consider consolidating them to reduce 
the number of monthly payments you have to make and maybe even lower your interest rates. 
2. Acquiring Renter's Insurance
Most recent graduates begin their independent journey as renters. It's important to understand 
that your landlord is not responsible for insuring any of your personal property. In case of fire, 
flood or theft, you losses will not automatically be covered. Renter's insurance is an affordable 
option for protecting yourself from the misfortunes that you may incur as a renter. This 
insurance covers furniture, clothing, jewelry, electronic equipment and other items that may be 
damaged, stolen or destroyed. You can obtain renter's insurance from any insurance agent that 
sells homeowner's insurance. Some of the factors to consider when purchasing a renter's 
insurance policy are the amount of coverage provided, the deductible amount and whether you 
will be reimbursed for the actual cash value of lost property or the replacement cost. 
3. Filing Taxes
Everyone who earns an income above a certain level must file federal and state income tax 
returns. Filing a tax return means providing information that will determine if all of your required 
taxes have been correctly withheld from your salary and whether you are eligible for a refund or 
owe more taxes. Most recent college graduates will have simple enough finances that they can 
file their own tax return and avoid the expense of professional tax preparation. The best way to 
determine if you need to file a tax return is to visit the IRS website well before the April 15th 
filing deadline and follow the instructions regarding filing. The IRS provides tools like e-file that 
allow you to submit your tax return electronically. There are also commercial software packages 
and websites that will help you e-file both your federal and state tax returns.
4. Locking in Heating Oil Prices
In areas where heating bills are a major expense in winter months, energy companies frequently 
offer plans that allow you to lock in a rate for home heating oil during spring or summer, which will then be in effect throughout the winter. This will often result in savings since the price of oil 
typically climbs during winter months. However, there have been recent years when the price of 
oil has dropped, causing people who signed price-lock contracts to pay more than people who 
didn't. Despite the risk involved with locking in heating oil prices, it's still a good option for 
people who would rather not attempt to budget for fluctuating oil prices during the winter.
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