Scholarship Finalist: Serenity McKenzie


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: Serenity McKenzie, Wright State University

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

I am a photography buff, and the Five Rivers Metroparks in my area provides a wealth of flora, fauna, and natural structures that can be photographed. I also enjoy the museums, particularly the National Museum of the United States Air Force, which is free to the public and open every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas. I am also an avid hockey fan and greatly enjoy attending lower level minor league games, as you get to know the players better.

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

My savings efforts right now are geared towards two goals – saving enough money to participate in a Semester at Sea program and to save for more reliable transportation. Semester at Sea will enable me to expand my language skills as I work towards a Teaching English as a Foreign Language certification. In regards to more reliable transportation, I have a small pickup with over 100,000 miles on it, and maintenance costs can often build up. The hardest part about trying to save money is twofold. One I have to work hard to not spend money on items that might provide instant gratification but in the long run serve no purpose. The second part revolves stashing away money for a rainy day fund and how a single emergency can wipe out any funds saved.

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

I have worked in a position where I was able to use the photography and videography skills I developed in my film classes. The position also allowed me to experiment and further hone skills for use in future film and communications classes. As far as saving money, I commute to school and bring snacks to munch on throughout the day, reducing the desire to pay the high cost of meals at my school’s dining facilities. I save on food shopping by watching out for specials and how to further cut costs through the use of coupons.

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

One tip that’s helped me save money is to put aside a certain amount each week. For example, putting away money once a week, increasing the amount by a dollar each week over 52 weeks, enables me to save at least $1,000 each year. My Personal Finance class also taught me the value of investing, even at a young age rather than waiting until I have been out of college for a number of years. There are a number of free tools that can be used. Additionally, as a student, I have access to academic and business resources from which I can develop strategies for saving money.

How do you cope with unexpected expenses?

I cope with unexpected expenses by reallocating funds to cover the unexpected expenses. I look at the must pay items – rent, utilities, car insurance, and like items – to ensure I have the funds to cover those and then look at the nice to have items to see if there is any where I can cut, at least temporarily, to ensure I am adequately able to deal with the unexpected expenses.

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

On an everyday basis, I try to meal plan for at least a week at a time so that I can see what ingredients I already have and shape my meals around using what’s available in combination with new items as needed. I also check local and online ads to see store might have the best deals for the week. I will also look at using generic or store brand items unless I have a coupon that brings the cost of a brand name item below that of the store brand.

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

The piece of advice I think students need to hear is to start saving early. I hear many students saying that they will wait until later to start saving, but by then, they might find themselves in a bind that prevents them from doing so. Getting in the habit of saving early in life yields greater fruit later in life and allows one to set aside a rainy day fund for emergencies. I would also advise each student to take a personal financial management class during their first year of college as a way of develop the tools needed to succeed financially in the future.

I also am a big fan of coupons! You can find so many great coupons online which will help you save on virtually everything – clothes, hair and beauty products, snacks, etc.

What is your favorite “splurge” purchase?

My favorite “splurge” purchase would be movie or show tickets. With part of my double major being Film Theory, I find my professional skills can be enhanced by examining the work of others with a critical eye as a way of discerning the positives and negatives of each movie or show that I see. I look for film festivals as well, since the multitude of events ensures more return on investment of each dollar spent.

What has been the biggest surprise expense in college?

My biggest surprise expense in college revolves around costs outside of tuition and fees associated with my classes. For my film classes, I found that it was beneficial to have my own camera equipment rather than borrow equipment from the school, as signing school equipment limits the time on which I could use the equipment. Using my own equipment allows me to go on a moment’s notice if the need arises. Additionally, a number of my classes have required attendance at events outside of normally scheduled class time, such as film festivals, exhibits, service learning trips, and more. The cost of attending these events were either not covered or only partly covered, which increases the cost of my college education significantly.

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