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TDot’s Tips: More $$$-saving ideas

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Jun 13, 2010 in TDot's Tips

Good evening everybody! :D

A couple weeks ago I posted a handful of tips for the pre-L’s on how to live within their means when they get to law school in a couple months.

Several of you sent positive feedback saying you thought the tips were useful, but a few folks complained they focused more on money management habits (making a budget, living like a law student instead of a lawyer, etc) instead of tangible ways to save $$$ while you’re in law school.

Luckily for y’all, I’ve got a few of those too ;)

Here are some suggestions I’ve used to live large without going broke:

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1) FIND A 2L AND PHYSICALLY ATTACH YOURSELF TO THEIR HIP
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Figuratively at least :)

2Ls can already give you great advice because they remember 1L year like it was yesterday — since it basically was yesterday for us, being only a couple months ago.

An added perk of 2Ls: they’ve got 1L books they need to sell, or know classmates who have them. Selling direct to a 1L gets them more cash than they’d get from the bookstore, and saves you a tidy sum compared to what you’d pay buying from the bookstore or Amazon.

*PLUS* you get the added perk of their text highlights. It’s like peering into the mind of someone who was in your class just before you, and can be a huge help for digesting cases.

In my own case, I bought 2 of my books from Delta the now-3L1 and a 3rd from a classmate she arranged for me to meet. The highlights in my Torts textbook were spot-on — I didn’t highlight a single thing the entire semester because I knew exactly what “take home” points to pull from the text. Same with CrimLaw.

And I saved $100+ in the process, which got used to pay my BLSA dues and buy a handful of class-related t-shirts throughout the year.

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2) CHECK STATE SURPLUS FOR OFFICE SUPPLIES
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With few exceptions, every state and local government across the country has an office or agency where they take surplus government property and sell it to the public. Many universities have them as well.

These are easily among the biggest bargains you will ever find on anything office-related ;) A few (like North Carolina’s state surplus office in Raleigh) even have surplus vehicles and fancy stuff seized from drug dealers and such.2

Things like computers and GPS units are quickly snapped up by folks who then resell them on eBay, so if you want the good stuff on those you need to be there early and on days when shipments come in. But for things like chairs, desks and filing cabinets, they’ll always have a constant supply that you just have to inspect closely.

For example, my desk chair is nicely cushioned, vertically adjustable, rocks back, has rolling wheels on it, etc. It was sent to state surplus because the left armrest was loose, which I discovered could be fixed with about 10 minutes of work adjusting the screw.3

Retail price: $110 + tax
eBay price for similar style and use: $30 + shipping
My surplus price: $5 cash
Savings: $25+ (83%)

The only catch for most of these surplus offices is that it’s a cash- or money-order business many times. Most don’t take checks, and many don’t take credit or debit cards because state laws typically ban paying the card vendor fees (and the card vendors ban merchants from directly passing the fees on to customers).

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3) CHECK CRAIGSLIST FOR EVERYTHING ELSE
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More well-known than trolling the surplus offices (but still an excellent spot to find good deals) are the CraigsList listings for your area.

I’ve used CraigsList three times since law school. The first time was finding someone who had just moved in and needed to get rid of their cardboard boxes — got a bunch of really good ones free of charge, and used them to move myself to Durham :D

雅雅 also helped me look for a bed, where we found a lady who had a full-size bed and box spring in a spare room. She was upgrading her own bed to a queen-size, her old bed was going to replace the spare room bed, and the spare room bed needed to be sold. She was incredibly nice and even agreed to hold the bed until the week before orientation so I could come up with the cash.

Retail price for same bed and box spring: $900 + tax
eBay price for similar style and use: $500 + shipping
My CraigsList price: $100 cash (plus she delivered it!)
Savings: $400+ (80%)

Great for football, Wii, and L&O:SVU marathons ;)

The last time I used it was actually a couple weeks ago, when I needed to find a TV for my living room. I had previously figured out how to jerry-rig a normal office projector to play video from the cable box, and got über-spoiled by essentially having a 110″ TV in the living room.

I found a couple who had just moved from California to Chapel Hill, and because of the configuration of their new place there wasn’t a suitable place to put their projector and still get a decent-sized picture. Their loss turned out to be my gain :D

Retail price for cheapest projector with comparable specs: $700 + tax
eBay price for similar style and use: $400 + shipping
My CraigsList price: $300 cash
Savings: $100+ (25%)

The risk with CraigsList is its popularity among scammers, and the fact you typically end up visiting the house of someone you don’t know… who could conceivably be a serial killer or stalker or something. So if you’re nervous grab a buddy and bring them with you.

And like the surplus offices, finding the really sweet deals require a certain level of diligence and luck — check the listings regularly throughout the day, and if you find something you want contact the seller ASAP.

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4) SEE IF YOUR MOBILE PHONE PLAN IS OBSOLETE
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I stumbled onto this one by accident, so you’re forgiven if you didn’t know about it already ;)

Mobile phone companies adjust their calling plans frequently, usually at least twice a year. They usually feature capacity increases for minutes (and data usage if you’ve got a smartphone), changes to other calling features, and occasionally price reductions.

If you’ve got a plan that’s been phased out, your mobile phone company will happily continue letting you keep that plan and continue taking your money without ever telling you. But they also like getting rid of obsolete plans when it makes sense for them to do so, since it cuts down on operational expenses the more people are in a “one size fits all” arrangement.

Periodically check with your mobile phone provider and see if your current plan is obsolete. If it is, see if they’ll let you change to the new plan without requiring a contract extension (or if you really like the provider, extend your contract with them).

Two years ago, back when I was both NC State‘s Student Senate President and UNCASG President at the same time, I needed to upgrade my phone plan so that I’d have more than the 900 minutes I was originally using. I found out my current plan was no longer offered and I upgraded to 1350 minutes a month for less money than I was already paying.

Now that I’ve retired from both positions, I actually need to downgrade… and lucky for me it turns out the 1350-minute plans are no longer offered, so I can downgrade back to 900 minutes, pay less $$, and don’t have to extend my contract :spin:

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5) CHECK FOR YOUR UNIVERSITY’S DISCOUNTS
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While we’re on the topic of mobile phones, this one is a potential gold mine :)

Almost every school of law in the country is affiliated with a public or private university. And almost every university in the country works out special deals with all sorts of vendors so their students and employees can get discounts on a variety of products and services — anything to help lure people to the institution.

For example, back when I was at NC State everyone affiliated with the University was eligible for a discount on their Verizon mobile phone service: 20% per month, for the life of their account. All I had to do was present my student ID and a University-affiliated email address.

My mobile phone savings: ~$300/year

NCSU had a large variety of other discounts too, I just never used them. It seems very few students actually know about the discounts, especially in the graduate/professional schools where you didn’t have the opportunity to go through the university’s orientation they give the undergrads. Check with your University’s student affairs folks or the business office to see if they have anything similar, or just ask the companies you use if they have student discounts for your university.

The worst they can do is say no ;)

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6) ALSO CHECK FOR GROUP-RATE DISCOUNTS
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Similar to the discounts that universities negotiate as perks for their students and employees, many state/national fraternities, sororities and trade organizations have similar discounts as well.

Consider car insurance.

Back when I used to work as a paralegal for a personal injury attorney, I saw entirely too many cases where accident victims were left with debilitating injuries and future medical expenses that would never be covered because the tortfeasor was uninsured or had a low policy limit while the victim had minimal underinsurance coverage (used when the tortfeasor’s policy is nonexistent or maxed out; you make a claim against your own policy).

Out of paranoia I amped up the limits on my auto policy to the max most companies offer in North Carolina “over the counter” without drafting special contracts: $100K/$300K personal injury, $100K damage, $5K medical payments, etc etc etc.

The problem is that much coverage is @#$%ing expensive, even when you have a flawless driving record :mad:

Turns out the North Carolina Farm Bureau, an advocacy group I’ve been a member of for the better part of a decade, has its own insurance company. In exchange for the mere $25 a year in dues I was paying to the organization, I was able to cut my auto insurance bill in half for the same policy limits.

Your mileage may vary (pun intended) depending on where you live and your group affiliation, but it can’t hurt to check :)

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7) ADJUST YOUR THERMOSTAT TO YOUR STUDY HABITS
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We’ve all probably seen or read at some point the various public service announcements on TV or in magazines about the money you could save by tweaking the temperature in your house up or down a couple degrees depending on the weather.

If you haven’t done that before, law school is the time to start ;)

Particularly if you’re the type of person who will spend a lot of time at school, you won’t be in your apartment all that much during the week. Set your temperature a few degrees cooler in the fall/winter months so your heat comes on less frequently when you’re not at home to enjoy it. Do the opposite in the spring/summer.

How much you save will depend on a number of variables (including living space, type of heating/cooling, the weather, etc) but using my own apartment as an example I’m running about $15/mo less than the previous tenant. It’s not much, but it adds up.

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8) WATCH YOUR EATING HABITS
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Food tends to become an afterthought when you’re trying to read through dozens of cases a night. My (admittedly unscientific) observations suggest the overwhelming majority of law students I’ve met fall into 2 groups: (1) folks who forget to eat and then grab fast food on the way home, and (2) folks who get bored out of their minds while reading and frequently snack on junk food to break up the monotony.

My stomach and I happen to span both groups :beatup:

In addition to the unpleasant health side effects — I’ve got several classmates who ballooned during the semester, dropped a ton of weight during winter break, gained it back during the spring semester, and are now starving themselves to lose it again — constantly eating fast food and junk food will eat up a lot of cash (pun intended here too :* ).

Now I’m not going to parrot other folks and tell you to eat fruits and veggies and all that jazz. It’d be great if you did, but I’m not gonna give y’all advice that I don’t follow myself ;)

You might want to learn to cook at least a little bit; see this TDot’s Tips entry for more, and also check out TDot’s Treats for some recipes. In terms of food-per-$, that’s the cheapest route to go by far.

But if you don’t have time to cook or forget, try to stick to the low-cost value menus if you go to a fast food place. Not only is the food cheaper, the portions are usually smaller but still filling (limiting the 1L weight gain).

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9) AND WATCH YOUR OTHER VICES
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All of us have our own “guilty pleasures.” Some folks like to buy shoes, others prefer video games, still others hit the bar every night of the week. In my case it’s DVDs — you could probably guess from the projector :beatup: — an unnecessary expense I justify to myself as a reward for being amazing.

No matter how well-deserved that reward may be ( ;)) the costs add up quickly.

Try to keep a close eye on how much you’re spending to indulge those habits. You might even want to put a line item in your monthly budget for the occasional splurge.

Especially in the beginning of the semester when cash is plentiful, it’s real easy to dig a financial hole without realizing it… and one you’ll have to fill in right around the time final exams get here. Not a good situation, but one you can easily avoid :)

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That concludes my list of things to help save you money!

Hopefully all of you will find at least 2-3 items on this list that might be useful — and if you’ve got tips of your own, share them in the comments! :D

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Past TDot’s Tips entries:

  1. I need to change Delta’s tag btw; I’ll knock that out some time soon. For now just remember she’s officially a 3L. []
  2. The office in Raleigh once had a diamond-encrusted pool table from a drug dealer. The diamonds alone were worth $50K+ :crack: []
  3. Work which I concede I still haven’t done because I just don’t care enough to fix it :beatup: []

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