Scholarship Finalist: Nicole Richards


We’re very excited to announce the first round of finalists and the winner of the scholarship. We know how hard students work, and managing their finances is a big part of that. We asked students to share some of their best pieces of advice for saving money, shopping smartly, and being savvy about where their money goes.

With more than 15,000 entries for the first round of the scholarship, we couldn’t narrow it down to just one winner. In addition to a $5,000 scholarship for the winner, we have partnered with Barnes & Noble to provide a $500 gift card for the finalists to use for their upcoming textbook expenses.

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Read on for more great money savings advice from students. Scholarship Finalist: Nicole Richards, Arizona State University

What are some of your favorite low cost/free/local things to do?

My town provides a low cost recreation/fitness center for its citizens. The location is within walking distance and they provide additional discounts for students. One of my favorite activities at the recreation center is indoor rock climbing. I have engaged in this for many years, as it is physically and mentally challenging. I have also participated in free climbing clinics to improve my skills. Climbing has increased my ability to strategize and look for alternative routes, both literally on the wall as well as metaphorically in my life. I also enjoy using the indoor track and other equipment so that I can work out no matter what the weather is outside. Another activity that I enjoy is utilizing the services of the local library, where I can take advantage of digital copies of books, online learning foreign language tools, and attending lecture series. Next to the library is a riparian preserve with walking trails to observe and learn about nature. I love spending time outdoors.

What are you currently saving for? What’s the hardest part about trying to save?

I am saving for my future goal of attending medical or graduate school. My goal is to become a physician and this will mean incurring at least $300,000 in education costs by the time I finish school. I am already reducing my undergraduate costs by living at home and saving in commuting costs. In my undergraduate years, I hope to also study abroad for a semester or summer in my field of study: biology. Learning about other cultures will certainly benefit me as a physician and in life. Unless I receive a scholarship, I will have to cover these costs. One of the most difficult parts about trying to save is the temptation of wanting to spend some money on short term wants, but knowing that the money is already allocated to long term goals.  Sometimes it is tough to remain focused on long term goals and not get distracted along the way. However, I have faith that my perseverance and dedication to saving will pay off when I have less debt after graduation to worry about.

What is a clever way you make money or save money while in school?

One of the most significant ways I save money is by commuting from home to school rather than living on campus and purchasing the required expensive meal plan. Along with commuting, I also drive only as far as the closest light rail station and then take the train the rest of the way to school. With a student discount, an annual unlimited light rail pass is a fraction of the cost to park on campus and parking at the light rail station is free. By sacrificing a little time, I am able to save tons of money on parking and gas. Another way I save money is by bringing my lunch from home, as opposed to buying expensive food at the student union. This allows me to not only save money, but also saves time by bypassing long lines and encourages me to eat healthier. At the beginning of the year I took advantage of a promotion that gave me some additional meal credits when I purchased a tax free meal card. I do not eat on campus often, but when I do, I eat tax free.

What’s one tip that’s helped you save money?

The most important tip I have ever been given from my parents is ‘Pay yourself first.’ To me, this advice means that I should remember to invest first in my own future, such as in a retirement fund or savings, before buying other things. If I prepare early for retirement by saving a little each month starting now, I will not only have saved a significant amount of money by the time I retire but I will also grow accustomed to automatically saving a certain percentage of my income. This idea also applies to general savings, as putting away money now instead of buying unnecessary material objects will not be beneficial years from now. However, savings gives me other options such as, preparation for an unexpected emergency or future education costs. By paying myself first, I have learned to allocate a specific portion of money to be saved each month. I believe this is a piece of advice that everyone should follow to be prepared for the future and it has certainly helped me save money.

How do you cope with unexpected expenses?

When at all possible, I try to overestimate expenses and save any money left over so it is less difficult to come up with the money for unexpected expenses. However, when I am surprised with a large expense or need to make up more than I have estimated, my first step is to adjust my budgets for other things. I reduce the amount of money I have reserved for food, travel, or social events. Additionally, I look for extra opportunities to make more money such as participating in paid consumer research studies and school sponsored surveys. After coping with one unexpected expense, planning for the next semester/year is even more critical. I make it a goal to apply for as many scholarships as possible. I try to keep the experience in mind and save even more money for the next expense, unexpected or not.

What do you do on an every day basis to help save money or stay on budget?

To save money on a daily basis, I look for coupons and promotions both online and in advertisements. If I already need to buy an item and then find a coupon, it is a much more satisfying experience. For stores that I frequent, I sign up for loyalty clubs that offer other promotions or savings throughout the year, including birthday freebies. Something that I have definitely utilized in the past year has been student discounts, which are offered at many places, such as gyms, car repair shops, and even from some computer and cell phone companies.

What piece of advice would you give a student who is trying to start saving money or start following a budget?

To a student beginning to save money on a budget, I would say that research and advanced planning are the most important parts of being fiscally accountable. As a student, there are certain items that are necessities, whether they be for basic survival or school supplies. However, buying items at lower prices and planning ahead can mitigate some budget problems. Do your research to shop competitively for items you need by finding the place with the best deal or finding stores that will price match. Plan ahead by putting excess budgeted money aside and by not leaving all purchases until the day before classes start. For existing monthly expenses, get used to paying the bill ahead of time rather than waiting until the due date or set up auto pay with the company so you are never late. When in doubt, overestimate what things will cost and save any extra for later, potential unexpected expenses.

What is your favorite “splurge” purchase?

In my spare time, I enjoy rock climbing at my local recreation center which is inexpensive and within a mile of my house, so I save on transportation and the actual cost of admission. However, a few times a year, I splurge and go to a more professional gym that is exclusively for rock climbing. This gym has a much more expensive admission and requires additional equipment that must either be rented or purchased. It is also much farther from my house, so I incur the cost of transportation as well. Going to this gym more frequently would be too expensive for my budget, so I save up to go in celebration of my birthday or after completing a semester of school. By climbing at this gym only a few times a year, the experience is more special when I am able to go and I save money while still being able to have fun.

What has been the biggest surprise expense in college?

In my first year of college, the biggest expenses that took me by surprise were the many “surprise” fees. When you hear about expenses for college, you usually think about tuition, books, and room and board; there may be a few fees, but I truly thought that there had to be billing errors when I saw my first charge statement. There were fees for being in the honors college, being in the college of my declared major, laboratory, technology fees, recreation, and additional fees for online or partially online classes. This meant sometimes making a choice between taking online classes with a fee while saving on commuting or paying for gas and parking and having a class with a smaller fee. Either way it seemed like my bank account was the biggest loser. This experience has taught me to be aware of possible “fine print” expenses and to factor about $1500 a semester into my budget.

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