Advice for Unemployed College Grads

briefcaase with textDuring the academic year, I work in the career center at a local college. Especially for seniors, this time of year can be very stressful. People are constantly asking them what they’re doing after graduation, and sometimes they don’t have an answer. Every year there are some students who graduate without having secured a job. Some years, like during the recent recession, a large number of students find themselves in this position. Thankfully, hiring of recent college graduates has improved since then, but there are still plenty of students around the country graduating from college without having secured a job, yet. Here’s my advice for them:

  1. Maintain a positive attitude. I know this can be very challenging during a job search that has dragged on longer than anticipated, but it’s also critically important. Not only will negative thinking impact the way you approach your search, it will also come across during interviews and networking meetings. Meet regularly with others who are looking for jobs, volunteer, meditate, exercise; find what helps you stay positive, and do it.
  2. Keep a regular, “adult” schedule. Even if you don’t have anything you have to get up for every day, try to maintain a regular routine. There’s no need to get up at 5am, but do get up at a reasonable hour – say, before 8am – and start your day. Sleeping until noon and lounging in your pajamas all day will make it more difficult to maintain a positive attitude and to see yourself as a professional. Also, you don’t want to have morning voice at 10am when you answer a phone call from an employer seeking to schedule an interview with you.
  3. Stay active in your field. Read the newspaper and professional journals or articles to keep up on current events, especially those impacting your field. If possible, do volunteer work in the field, which will not only keep you active and making connections, but is also experience you can include on your resume. Join a relevant professional organization or two, and attend local meetings and read the newsletters. Many of these organizations offer discounted memberships for recent grads, and sometimes they publish member directories for networking purposes, and/or job postings.
  4. Network like crazy. Networking is a critical part of anyone’s job search. Talking with people who work in your field can give you inside knowledge on potential job openings, trends in the field, and ideas for how to make yourself more marketable. Use resources such as LinkedIn, alumni lists from your college, personal contacts, and former professors. Ask each person with whom you speak or meet, to refer you to other contacts who might be helpful. Set a weekly goal for the number of new contacts you’ll reach out to and networking meetings you’ll have, and follow-through on it.
  5. Use your college career center. Most college career centers provide assistance to alumni/ae, as well as current students. Take advantage of this excellent, free resource. They can help with resume and cover letter reviews, job search strategy, networking advice, interview preparation, and more. Some, like the college where I work, publish lists of job openings for alumni. No longer live near your college? It’s generally possible to “meet” over the phone or Skype, and to have your documents reviewed via email.
  6. Make the most of your time. Once you’ve secured a job and started working, your schedule is likely to become a lot less flexible. Use the time you have off to read, enjoy time with friends and family, indulge in a hobby, and anything else that you won’t be able to do as easily, once your time is more constrained.

Believe it or not, this period of unemployment will end, and what you do during this time can have a direct impact how long your search drags on. Be smart about how you use this time.

What advice do you have for recent college graduates who are still searching for a job?


Debt Discipline Interview

Hi friends! Today you can find me answering some questions about myself and my personal finance journey at Debt Discipline. Click here for the full scoop!

Frugal Real Food Meal Plans


2015 Meal Plan #20

Happy Monday! It was a gorgeous weekend here, and my husband and I got some good yard work time in. I also took my daughter to a classmate’s birthday party and to a playground playdate. Oh, and I may or may not have dozed off on the deck, while “reading” my book… Have I mentioned how happy I am that winter is over??

Meal Plan 20001

(Like my meal planner/grocery list sheet? It’s from the List Plan It Meals ePlanner.)

I felt a little more inspired than I usually do, when I put together this week’s meal plan. I’m planning to try two recipes that I tore out of recent magazine issues. The grilled chicken and avocado wraps – romaine lettuce leaves are the actual “wraps” – comes from Better Homes and Gardens, and the citrus-marinated fish tacos comes from O Magazine. (I get all of my magazine subscriptions for free, using points from sites like Recyclebank and eRewards.) The ravioli are still in my freezer from last week, because, as usual, I overestimated how much we would eat for dinners. Since we still had leftovers when I planned to make the ravioli, we ate the leftovers, instead.

My Italian grandmother was a fantastic cook, and her baked ziti was one of my favorite things that she made. Perhaps because I loved hers so much, I’ve never actually attempted to make baked ziti myself. However, I decided to give it a try this week, and I’m going to use this recipe. Grandma always made hers meatless, but I have a little Italian sausage meat in the freezer, so I’ll probably add it to the sauce, as the recipe says. If this recipe turns out well, I’ll make an extra tray for the freezer, since I’ve been slacking on my goal of making and freezing two meals each month.

We’re having friends visit us for the day on Sunday, and I haven’t figured out what we’ll be eating with them. Lunch will probably be a pasta salad, veggies with hummus, cheese, and fruit. To make the most of our time together, we may end up ordering pizza for dinner. I planning to get ice cream sandwiches for the kids, and to make a simple freezer pie for the adults. I’ll make a chocolate graham cracker crust, and fill it with coffee ice cream – yum! Delicious and make-ahead, the perfect combination in my book!

What’s for dinner at your house this week?

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How to Make Money at Children’s Consignment Sales

I just received a check for $112.75, my earnings from participating as a seller in a children’s consignment sale in my area. Not bad, for a couple of hours of work! I’ve been participating in twice-a-year children’s consignment sales for about four years, and I’ve learned a lot in that time. Below are some of the things I’ve learned that help me maximize my earnings.

Why Consign?

First,why participate in consignment sales in the first place? For me, it comes down to making money. I work very part-time, and my husband and I are trying to pay off a substantial amount of debt. Selling our daughter’s outgrown clothing and unused toys is an easy way for me to make a little extra money and declutter our home.

Should You Participate in a Consignment Sale?

There are a few factors to consider when determining whether or not to participate in a consignment sale:

  1. How many items do you have to sell? If you only have a couple of items to sell, it may not be worth your time to sell them at a consignment sale. Most sales require putting items on hangers, writing or printing out price tags, and pinning them to the items. If you only have five items to sell, the time you have to put into preparing and dropping off your items may not be worth the small amount of income you’ll receive. Personally, I wouldn’t participate in a consignment sale if I had fewer than 20 items to sell.
  2. What’s the payment structure of the particular sale? Different sales charge and pay sellers differently. For example, there are two sales that I participate in in my area. One charges sellers a $15 fee at registration, then pays out 70% of all sales. The other charges nothing at registration, but deducts an $8 fee from sellers’ payments. They also pay 70% of sales to sellers. If these sales are on the same weekend, I always opt for the latter.
  3. Do you want to commit the preparation time? Now that I’ve been doing this for several years, my consignment sale preparation is pretty streamlined. But it still takes a couple of hours to hang, tag, and deliver my items to the sale. If you don’t have the time to commit to this, a garage sale or a consignment store may be a better option for you. They generally entail much less prep work, but the payment amounts will likely be lower.
Consignment Receipt001

My payment slip

Maximizing Earnings

Once you’ve decided to participate in a particular consignment sale, here are some tips for maximizing your earnings:

  1. Follow the rules. All consignment sales provide pretty detailed sellers’ guidelines. Read them and follow them. They can cover a broad range of things including the brands and items accepted, minimum prices, and hanger and price tag requirements. For example, the most recent sale I participated in required that items be on white or clear plastic hangers, price tags be on cardstock and pinned in the upper right of the item, and everything priced at a minimum of $2. Sales generally reserve the right to pull from the sales floor any items not in compliance, so if you don’t follow the rules, you could be wasting your time.
  2. Price reasonably. One of the most important factors in making money at consignment sales is pricing your items correctly. People – myself included – shop consignment sales to get a deal. If your items are over-priced, they probably won’t sell. At the same time, remember that you’ll only keep a certain percentage of each item’s sale price, so make sure you understand what you’ll make from each item sold. Some sales offer half-price hours at the end of the sale, and you can decide if you want your items to be available at the discounted price. Again, do the math before determining the price of the item. For example, I may be willing to sell a particular item for $2, but not for $1. In that case, I’ll price it at $3, so it’ll sell for at least $1.50, if it’s discounted at the end of the sale.
  3. Bundles sell. I love bundling smaller items like books, socks, tights, and hair accessories. It’s unlikely that someone will buy one pair of socks, but they’re much more likely to purchase a pack of four pairs of socks for $2. It’s also a great way to sell those items that would be too cheap to sell individually. For example, I once sold five board books for $3. At such a price point, I couldn’t have sold just one and met the minimum price requirement of $2. The buyer got a great deal, and I made a sale.
  4. Tidy up. Spend a little time tidying up your items for sale to make them more appealing to buyers. I’m not talking about using a magnifying glass and tweezers to extract every sign of lint, but make sure your items are clean and fresh-smelling, don’t have loose threads, and have been wiped down, if needed. This small investment of time can make a huge difference in whether or not your items sell.

Selling items at children’s consignment sales entails some upfront time and effort, but it can be a great way to earn a little extra income.

Do you participate in children’s (or any other kid) consignment sales? What have you learned about consignment sales?



100 Days of Summertime Review & Giveaway


Here in the Northeast, school is still in session for over a month, but we all definitely have summer on the brain. And since Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of the summer season, it’s just around the corner now!

Every year I have lots of big plans for summer fun in my head, but rarely do all of them come to fruition. This year, I’m determined to get organized early, and make the most of this special time of year. How? I’m using the recently-released 100 Days of Summertime, from Jennifer Tankersley at List Plan It. I’m a huge fan of List Plan It products, including the Meals and Homemaking ePlanners, which I use for my weekly meals and my monthly chore schedules.

100 Days of Summertime is chock-full of daily “summertime strategies”, fantastic worksheets, and links to helpful resources. Here are the “summertime strategies” that caught my eye as must-do’s:

  • Responsibilities for Everyone. Assigning chores to my daughter and getting her to do them has been a challenge for me. This strategy is about setting summertime goals for children, identifying life skills you want to teach them over the summer, and creating a list of regular, summertime chores.
  • Stocking up for summer camp. My daughter will be attending five weeks of half-day summer camp this summer. Each day, she needs to bring her own sun block, insect repellent, water bottle, and snacks with her. This strategy is a reminder to confirm what she needs, check what we already have, and purchase anything additional that she needs.
  • Tweak summer vacation itinerary. My husband is generally the vacation-planner in our family. He researched the part of Maine we’ll be going to this summer, and found a good deal on accommodations. But the details of what we’ll be doing and visiting while we’re there, still need to be filled in. This strategy will get me researching rainy-day options, kid-friendly restaurants, and non-beach activities.
  • Summertime safety.  I wish I could say that every year I take stock of our first aid supplies and replenish them when they’re on sale, but it’s not the case. Instead, I tend to realize that we’re out of something when I go looking for it. Not this year! As encouraged by this strategy, I’ll check our inventory, and make sure we have ample supplies of bandages, anti-bacterial ointment, and other summertime first aid supplies.
  • Prepare Now for Summer Emergencies. We don’t typically experience tornadoes, droughts, or other forms of extreme summer weather here, but thunderstorms are a regular occurrence, and are sometimes accompanied by power outages with loss of water and septic. As with first aid supplies, I typically realize that we’re out of batteries when I’m fumbling with a flashlight in the dark. This year, I’ll inventory our emergency supplies, including batteries, candles, flashlights, and bottled water.

There are many other “summertime strategies” in the 100 Days of Summertime – 100 in total – as well as 37 pages of worksheets, including monthly calendars, chore lists, a camp packing planner, a travel budget worksheet, and a school supply shopping list, all for only $8.

Jennifer has generously offered a free copy of 100 Days of Summertime for one lucky reader! Simply enter below between now and 11:59 Eastern on Sunday.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Primates of Park Avenue: A Memoir
Wednesday Martin Ph.D. Release Date: June 2, 2015 Buy new: $26.00 $15.74

The $1,000,000 Challenge

It’s no secret that I like to track progress. My debt repayment progress was, after all, a large part of the original inspiration behind this blog. But my progress has been somewhat incremental, especially after my husband and I took out a home equity loan last winter, to consolidate our substantial credit card debt, and then established new financial priorities for ourselves. Paying off a few hundred dollars worth of debt each month doesn’t seem very exciting, but the end-game of saving more for emergencies, retirement, and – if possible – our daughter’s college education, sure is. I still plan to provide debt repayment figures on a monthly basis, but there’s a larger context to them now.

While mulling whether or not I wanted to continue with my monthly debt totals posts, I came across the $1,000,000 Challenge from Nichole at Budget Loving Military Wife. What is the challenge? As a group, challengers will “save, invest, and pay off a total of $1,000,000″. Now that’s exciting stuff! Not only do my husband and I continue working on our own debt repayment and savings goals, but now I’m participating in a community of people who are working toward similar goals, at their own paces. And the best part? We get to track our collective progress! Each month, participants report their achievements, and Nichole puts them all together and publishes a monthly update. You can read the latest one here. One of the things I like most about it is that the monthly updates aren’t only about pure numbers. Sure, our debt repayment, savings, and investment totals are reported numerically on a monthly basis, but other qualitative achievements are also included. This suits me particularly well, since our numerical progress is of the slow-and-steady variety, but I’ve learned and grown so much, and continue to do so. The $1,000,000 Challenge allows me to record all of these achievements.

Interested in being part of the Challenge? Sign up here.


2015 Meal Plan #19

Happy Monday! I hope you had a wonderful weekend, and all the moms had a lovely Mother’s Day. We spent Saturday morning checking out the local farmer’s market, window-shopping, and stocking up on workbooks for my daughter over the summer. Last year I didn’t do anything “academic” with her until August, and it was obvious that she’d gotten pretty rusty on some of the skills she’d learned during the previous school year. She still loves doing worksheets, mazes, and word searches, so I plan to make them a part of our summer routine this year. Our local independent bookstore had a 20%-off-everything sale for loyalty club members this weekend, making it a good time to stock up. Saturday afternoon we did yardwork, and Saturday night I did a lot of laundry because my daughter threw up all over her bed and stuffed animals, a couple of hours after going to bed. Thankfully, she was fine yesterday morning, but man, was it gross picking vomit off her favorite stuffed animal at 11:00 at night!

Yesterday, my daughter and I went for a walk together, and I sincerely hope it will be the first of many. She’s not yet capable of taking the long, faster-paced walks I enjoy, but she hung in there a lot longer than I thought she would. I think it’ll be a great way to get outside and have some quiet, catching-up time together. I also got a little yardwork and reading done yesterday, and enjoyed a nice lunch out. (Bonus: I had enough leftovers from lunch to have them for dinner!)


(Translation: I love you because you give me hugs.)

Speaking of dinner… I’m not going to lie: this week’s meal plan was a real struggle for me to put together. In addition to my usual lack of enthusiasm for cooking, this week is a hectic one. We have something going on pretty much every evening, which complicates cooking and meal preparation a good bit. Today, my daughter has a dentist appointment after school, Tuesday is the kindergarten concert at school, Wednesday is our usual ballet night, Thursday I’m going out to dinner with friends, and Friday is gymnastics. After significant foot-dragging and hemming-and-hawing, here’s what I came up with:

2015 Meal Plan 19001

(Like my meal planner/grocery list sheet? It’s from the List Plan It Meals ePlanner.)

I just came across the Sundried Tomato and Brie Pasta recipe, and since it specifically says that it’s quick and easy, I decided it was worth a try. The ravioli are a yummy convenience, the chicken is a freezer meal, and the turkey meatloaf is an Ina Garten recipe I’ve been making for years. (To speed the cooking time, I make several, smaller loaves.) I have several chicken breasts in the freezer for grilled chicken, and have wanted to try making fish and veggies in packets on the grill for a while. Whew! Despite the difficulty I had getting it all down on paper, I’m actually pretty happy with this week’s meal plan.

What’s for dinner at your house this week?

**This post contains affiliate links. These affiliate links help support this site, and cost you nothing. Thank you for supporting my blog!**

Why a Daughter Needs a Dad: 100 Reasons
Gregory Lang , Janet Lankford-Moran Why a Daughter Needs a Dad: 100 Reasons(82) Buy new: $14.99 $10.82 69 used & new from $4.23
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change
by Stephen R. Covey (Author, Narrator) The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change(2879) Buy new: $28.30 $26.95 10 used & new from $26.95

The True Meaning of “Rich”

(I interrupt this debt repayment/frugal living/meal-planning/gardening blog to bring you this post, which comes directly from my heart. I’ll return to my regular blog programming shortly. Thanks for bearing with me.)

I’m writing this post immediately after speaking with my parents on the phone. I called because my father texted my sister and me earlier this evening, letting us know that he’ll be starting chemotherapy in just under a week. While this sounds potentially awful, it’s really not that terrible. My father is experiencing a recurrence of hairy cell leukemia, a very rare and highly treatable blood cancer. He was first treated for it 15 years ago, and has been in remission since then. Treatment entailed – and still entails – just five days of outpatient chemotherapy. He did not get sick, he did not lose his hair. If you have to have a form of cancer, this is the one to wish for.

While on the phone with my parents, they told me that they had just seen their dentist, and he looked terrible. Come to find out, he has metastatic colon cancer. Also, the prosthodontist who made a bridge for my mother has pancreatic cancer. And my father’s former partner who’s in his mid-fifties and has two teenage children? He’s being treated for metastatic appendix cancer. (How cruel is that? We don’t even need the organ, yet it can develop cancer.)

That conversation really shook me. So much serious, life-limiting illness, so many sad and frightened family members, so much pain. Nobody deserves something like this; it just happens, seemingly randomly. It could happen to you, it could happen to me.

As I was talking to my parents, I kept wanting to hug my daughter, who had already gone to bed. These stories reminded me of how fleeting life is, even under the best of circumstances. They reminded me of what really matters. Not stuff, not jobs, not money, but the relationships we have with those closest to us. Enjoy them and make the most out of those relationships. They will bring you true riches.


2015 Goals Check-In #4

Red clipboard with blank checklist.  With clipping path.

I’m so excited that it’s May!! April was “meh” for my goals, but I’m starting my summer break from work, which means more time to work on goals this month. Here’s how April worked out:

  1. Try 40 recipes from Martha Stewart’s Cookies. ZERO. Again.
  2. Decrease debt total by $5,000. Our home equity loan balance decreased by $223.72 in April. As I mentioned when I described our new financial priorities, paying off this loan balance quickly is no longer priority number one. As a result, this goal will be revised this month, and the new goal will be discussed in a subsequent post.
  3. Read 15 books. In April, I read How to Blog for Profit Without Selling Your Soul, and several of the other awesome resources in the Ultimate Homemaking Bundle. I also started reading, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, but I had a hard time getting into it. I don’t usually do this, but I think I’m going to move on to something else. Life it too short. (You can follow my progress toward this goal here.)
  4. Create a weekly meal plan every week. Eighteen meal plans completed!
  5. Visit Aldi to develop an informed opinion, and, if appropriate, make it part of my shopping routine. Technically, this was completed in May (on 5/1), but I like to check things off of lists. :) I bought a few Aldi-brand things to experiment with. Prices of a lot of items were cheaper, but I found the selection to be somewhat limited, especially in the produce section. I see Aldi as being a place I go periodically, but will not go out of my way to go there. (The nearest Aldi is about 25 minutes from my house.)
  6. Develop and stick with a monthly cleaning plan. Finally done! I’m embarking on a new and organized month!
  7. Put together a chore list for my daughter, and make it a part of her routine. I love lists, and checking things off them makes me nearly giddy. Apparently, the same is not true for my daughter. While I like the concept of a chore list for her, what I really want is for her to get better at helping out around the house, ideally without being reminded. In April, she improved on remembering to bring her dishes into the kitchen after a snack or meal, as well as turning the lights off when she leaves rooms. Earth-shattering? No, but it has decreased my stress considerably. I may revisit the list at some point, but for now I want to keep the momentum moving in a positive direction.
  8. Grow 200 pounds of food in my garden. I planted cool-weather crops in my raised beds, started lots of tomato seeds, and plants mesclun, arugula, and buttercrunch lettuce seeds in containers on my deck.
  9. Have monthly financial check-in meetings with my husband. Success! In April, we talked about changes we may want to make to our retirement investments.
  10. Make-ahead and freeze two meals each month. Not this month. :(
  11. Sell all remaining small business inventory. My plan for completing this goal is here. Effective April 1, all of my remaining inventory is discounted by 30%. I had a few sales in April, and the retail value of my remaining inventory is $10,289. Obviously, I still have a lot of inventory, but I anticipate most of my sales to take place closer to the holiday season. (Shameless plug: The discount code is CLOSING30, if you know anyone who’s looking for high-quality children’s books, toys, and more.)
  12. Redesign blog. I don’t anticipate making much progress on this until the summer.

How are you doing with your goals for 2015?

**This post contains affiliate links. These affiliate links help support this site, and cost you nothing. Thank you for supporting my blog!**

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change
by Stephen R. Covey (Author, Narrator) The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change(2879) Buy new: $28.30 $26.95 10 used & new from $26.95

May Anticipated Expenses, Plus Meal Plan #18

April was not a great month for out-of-the-ordinary expenses. In fact, we spent more than $1,100 more than I anticipated – ugh. I’m hoping to do a better job of predicting this month, especially since I already know there will be at least one very hefty expense. Here’s what I know we have to look forward to this month:

  1. Car care: $900. Unfortunately, my car is going to need a good amount of work in May. First, it’s up for inspection, which is usually around $30, I believe. How did I get from there to an estimate of $900? On my way home from an out-of-town trip last weekend, I heard a strange, squeaking noise for a while, then right as I drove through a toll booth, I heard the unmistakable sound of metal being dragged by my car. I pulled over, and about 15 feet behind me on the pavement was a heat shield. Because I had no idea how important/dangerous this was, I took the car to the dealership last week, where I learned that it’s pretty important, but can wait a couple of weeks and be replaced at the same time as the inspection. That’ll be about $140. Then, the guy who checked out the heat shield for me told me that the treads on the tires are extremely low, and my car will probably fail inspection as a result. New tires and mounting? Approximately $640. And if we’re going to take it in for all that, I’d like to combine an oil change with it, which will be another $60, or so. I could be a little off with my estimate of $900, but that’s my educated guess. Ouch.
  2. HVAC club: $199. The company that maintains our heating and air conditioning system offers a “Comfort Club” membership, which cost $199, when I renewed it at this time last year. The membership means our semi-annual system inspections are free ($123 each for non-members), plus we get up to 50% off any services and/or parts needed throughout the year.
  3. Veterinary care: $200. I have no idea if we’ll actually need this, but it wouldn’t surprise me, if we do. Poor Tony has recovered from his $550 enema, but has been having good days and less-good days. Because he’s been through so many ups-and-downs already, I try to manage all but the most major ones using the array of medications I have on-hand for him, and getting the vet’s advice via phone or email. But whenever he seems really uncomfortable, or his eating slows dramatically, I take him in to be seen.

Yep, May looks like another expensive month! Fortunately, my husband received a raise about a week ago, and was told that it’ll be retroactive to April 1, and reflected in this coming Friday’s check. He also will receive a $1,200 expense check for April, this week. This covers parking, tolls, and mileage for work trips he takes. His employer reimburses him at the maximum per-mile rate, and he usually makes some money on this, since his car, (an Accord), is pretty fuel-efficient. Also, he should be receiving a bonus this month, but I have no idea what the amount will be. And on a much smaller scale, I participated in a children’s consignment sale yesterday, and will receive my earnings in about a week. My hope is that this extra money coming in this month will cover all of these expenses, plus a small contribution to my Roth IRA. Cross your fingers for me, please!

Finally, here’s this week’s meal plan:

2015 Meal Plan 18001

(Like my meal planner/grocery list sheet? It’s from the List Plan It Meals ePlanner.)

My husband requested peanut noodles, and I came across this chicken picatta recipe, that I’m excited to try. I also decided to make turkey enchiladas in honor of Cinco de Mayo.

What’s for dinner at your house this week?


**This post contains affiliate links. These affiliate links help support this site, and cost you nothing. Thank you for supporting my blog!**