Oliver’s List: A Guide for the Penniless College Student/Post-Grad

Going to college takes a lot of money. Things like tuition, housing costs, food, transportation; all of these things cost thousands per semester. What’s more, a part time job paying minimum-wage won’t cover all those costs when you need to devote most of your time and energy to classes, studying, sleep, and a social life so you don’t go crazy. Even if you aren’t a student anymore, fear not! These suggestions apply to anybody! Thankfully, there are ways to cut costs in ways you may not expect:

1.      Don’t buy textbooks.

Textbooks are specifically marked up since the publishers know that students need them. Buying them new from bookstores both wastes your money and keeps the exploitation cycle alive. Try finding them used if you must buy them or scanning the pages of someone else’s copy. Sometimes, your school library may even have what you need at no cost to you!

2.      Live with other people.

I know, people are a pain. People can do some crazy shit – especially when they live in close quarters with you. Sometimes it may feel like living with them was a horrible idea, and you may be right. Sometimes, you might make the horrible decision of living with four other guys in an old house and one of them may be your ex. Then, when everyone stops getting along after two months, you find another place to live within two weeks of the drama bomb. Then you may end up moving into a four-bedroom apartment on the other side of town with three sophomore guys you don’t know just to get away from the drama permeating your other living situation. And even though it may be hard to live with other people, at least your rent is cheap and you’ll have the stories stashed away for your memoir. And won’t it just be the best memoir.

3.      Cook for yourself.

I am surprised at how few people cook for themselves. It saves a ridiculous amount of money and the food usually tastes a million times better. Since food and rent are the top expenses I deal with every month, I have saved so much money just by cooking rather than eating out. Plus, since I only make minimum wage, eating out costs about an hour’s worth of wages per meal. This means I need to work a full hour to get that money back if I spend it eating out—or I could simply spend fifteen to thirty minutes preparing myself something to eat and saving those hard-earned dollars. Over the past two years, I have learned to make myself the weirdest dishes and have been consistently surprised at how easy it is to prepare them.

4.      Don’t buy new clothes.

Clothes can easily be made or bought at a thrift shop for much cheaper than the new selling price. Also, raiding your sibling’s closet every Christmas for the things he/she doesn’t want may be a way to restock your closet. What’s nice about the popular styles nowadays is that old, used clothes are actually cooler than new ones anyway.

5.      Research what your city or school already has to offer.

There are many free services available for those who are willing to find them. Maybe your local vegan restaurant takes an hour of volunteer work in exchange for a full course meal? And don’t forget the free food at club meetings on campus! In addition, many schools or cities will have festivals, concerts, movie screenings, or other forms of entertainment free of charge.

6.      No, you don’t need cable TV.

Use (your friend’s) Netflix or YouTube for movies and shows. There’s nothing on cable TV anyway. Seriously there’s nothing.

7.      Find other ways to entertain yourself that don’t include $300+ systems

I know that PS4 or new Xbox looks like an awfully tempting reason to empty your bank account, but there are so many other ways to spend your time. Learning a language, reading a book, spending time with friends, or exploring neighborhoods of town you haven’t been before are some things you could be doing instead and typically cost nothing. If you are really into a hobby that requires certain equipment, go for it. But make sure you will get your money’s worth out of all that money you just dropped.

8.     Use public transportation

Buses, taxis, trains, or even biking to where you need to go may take a little extra time, but you don’t need to worry about the down payment, registration, insurance, or repair costs of owning your own car. Of course, some people really need a car, but there’s no denying that owning your own car is a financial black hole.

All this cost-cutting can easily add up if you follow these tips consistently. Personally, I think living simply is a big part of being able to do what you want. Accumulating material things while you’re young ties you to one place and prevents you from being spontaneous. Having a little bundle saved up means you have the freedom for a surprise trip somewhere or can deal with unexpected setbacks easier. In the end, it is a delicate balance of judging what you need and what you want. Obviously what you need is more important than fleeting wants.

Personally, I try to follow these guidelines to save up money so I can continue traveling. I mean, if I’m not used to living with just the basics, how am I going to live out of my suitcase while running around Europe?

Here’s an equivalency list just to offer some perspective:

$1,000 = a new Mac book Air…….OR a round trip plane ticket to Prague

$400 = a brand new gaming system (ex. PS4)…..OR housing costs for two weeks in Brussels

$100 = a typical new university textbook….OR groceries for a month (depending on how much you eat)

$65 = a new video game…..OR a fun night out with friends

$25 = dinner at a restaurant/parking in a city for an hour or two…..OR spending the day at Buckingham Palace

This is a picture of some decorated cookies for sale in a market from when I was in Odessa, Ukraine



Simple ways to connect with people in our disconnected culture

In the internet age we all live in today, meeting new people can seem like a daunting task. Most people are very wary of strangers and making new friends can be really difficult. Our society is extremely preoccupied with not bothering people or sparing them the inconvenience of taking up their valuable time. Sadly, a result of this reality is a prevalent feeling of isolation. But not to worry! Here are some ways I personally have found help me make new friends and acquaintances wherever I go:

  1. Be bold.

Don’t be afraid compliment the barista’s tattoo on her elbow or ask about a book someone’s reading in a diner. Most people enjoy the attention and will gladly give you the two minutes of their time it takes to answer. Sometimes you even have a conversation that lasts more than two minutes. Even if they don’t want to talk, there are plenty of other people in the world who can spare a second of their time for a friendly chat.

  1. Smile.

Smiling is one of the best non-verbal cues that demonstrates you just want to be nice and make new friends. It makes you look approachable and non-threatening, which is key when meeting someone for the first time.

  1. Volunteer.

If the above suggestions are a bit too extroverted for you, remember that there’s a community around you and it’s full of people. Volunteering anywhere can open doors to meeting other people who you may not encounter normally. From your local library to holiday fundraisers, there are a multitude of opportunities to get to know other people with the context of helping others and donating your time.

  1. Always accept that invitation to go out.

Whenever somebody asks you to join them to a party, bar, or even a club meeting you’ve never heard of before, go! You never know, this may be the day you find your new BFF. In addition, if somebody wants to talk to you on the street, make sure you listen. Welcome the serendipity into your day!

  1. Be open.

I know it’s hard to avoid becoming callused in the cold, hard world we live in, but keeping yourself open to new experiences and new people is much better than being an emotionally closed, grouchy old shut-in. Just because some people have hurt you before doesn’t mean everyone else in the world will. Closing yourself up will only keep yourself from weeding the nice people from the mean ones.

  1. Be curious.

Ask people questions when you meet them and, in return, tell them interesting stories to keep the conversation flowing. People always love answering questions about themselves.

I took the picture of the swans made out of tires while in Kiev. It seemed to fit the theme well.


thoughts on perspective

The summer after my sophomore year in college, I went through a phase of being friends-with-benefits with a douchebag. I know, most, if not all, girls go through it and then arise from the ashes of their emotions with newfound revelations that you deserve to be treated better than how they were treating you. In any case, lets call him P for the sake of the story. P had a habit of thinking he was quite the intellectual and even recommended a philosophical sort of book for me to read.

The book was originally translated from Czech into French, then English. Oh, what a foreign and haute piece of literature for little old me. In any case, the main reason I suspect he recommended it to be was because one of the characters reminded him of me. I think he even told me outright that I reminded him of one of the characters. The specific character’s name was Tereza, a sniveling and essentially broken woman brutally scared by her mother’s abuse. Tereza would stay with her cheating husband even though he continued to sleep with multiple women and not even go through the trouble of hiding it. She was forever shaped by her suffering and, spoiler alert, ultimately killed herself. As a character, she was complex and interesting, arguably strong in some ways, but that’s not the sort of character you want to remind people of.

In any case, as I read the book further, the main chapter that really stood out at me was the one that talked about how much people didn’t understand each other. There was a professor named Franz and a free-spirited mistress named Sabina who loves to travel and run away from her problems. The best thing about this relationship was how much they completely misunderstood each other. There would be one thing, something as simple as a parade, and both would follow completely different thought processes to achieve their opposite opinions. The chapter continued to explain that the individuals which had been traveling on such different roads of life had almost no chance of ever understanding each other or moving past a sexual relationship. As expected, Sabina runs away to some other country to be on some other adventure and Franz constantly remembers her as someone who forever changed his life. The characters even remember each other as perceptions of who they thought each other was rather than who they really were as people.

In a way, I think this book is a perfect anecdote to my relationship with P. We operated on completely different levels and he never ever understood me. A lot of the time, I understood his motivations for his actions, but eventually I realized that he would never understand me at any level deeper than a sexual one. Even then, I was going through a rough emotional patch so I suspect he was just surfing the giant emotional hurricane that followed and decided to enjoy it while it lasted. Maybe I never quite understood him either.

Regardless of what P thought, I think I’m more of a Sabina.

Photo by: timeo http://www.deviantart.com/art/Love-And-Regret-42761682


thoughts on the past

Everyone’s’ life is typically seen in retrospect as a collection of phases. We live our lives with all the responsibilities, good or bad experiences, and aspirations buzzing around us, but whenever we sit down with a nice cup of tea and think about our day, we usually only focus on the highlights. These highlights eventually, over the course of maybe a few months or a year, thin out and become broad stages or chapters. We forget the details. This way of thinking, from the way I see it, is especially easy to fall into early since we all enter different grades in school for the majority of our young life. In addition, there’s always that cliché of calling whatever point young people may be in their lives simply a phase that will be outgrown in a few months to a year. We are told by people that our lives are divided; separate parts that fit in a little pie wheel from Trivial Pursuit.


These chapters seem to me like a very limited way of thinking about the past. Even I sometimes think of certain events as the main plot twist  for a chapter, or certain blocks of time as separate from other blocks of time; but if life is just a series of chapters, then where is the ridiculous adventure that doesn’t fit in with the rest of the book? Where is the freedom to not care about plot continuity and just jump into something stupid? It feels like this thought pattern forces people to think of themselves as a dissociated main character rather than themselves living life as they see fit. Of course, some people may not fall into this trap. Others, however, watch their lives go by; unaware of the amount of control they really have over their life.


From my perspective, life is in the details rather than the highlights. It’s in the snapshots of memory rather than the stogy chapter.

A friend of mine once mused about how the older you get, the faster time feels. He explained that since each day becomes a smaller fraction of your total lifespan, it follows the logic that the more you have of something, the less important or memorable it becomes. This, of course, does not mean that people’s lives are worthless, but it provides a different perspective from when you are young and have only lived a handful of years.


Whether this musing is true or not, it definitely stirs the wheels of thought. How will I look back at my life and judge what I did as a lost little twenty-one year old? Will I scoff at her inexperience and deluded dreams? Will I be proud of her energy and motivation? How many regrets will I have? Of course, I can’t say. But I really hope that I will remember all the tiny details as much as possible.


I want to remember just how hot Odessa was during the high noon hour. I want to remember how good the taste of black tea, sugar, and vanilla soy milk was on a cold October day.  I want to never forget how much my fingers hurt after making a 20-string friendship bracelet.


In any case, nobody can say what future-me will think and I probably shouldn’t even be worrying about it since I have enough to worry about over the next 24 hours.

I took this picture in Odessa. The yellow buses were the sweltering marshrutkas .


thoughts on friendship

Friendship is one of those things that’s hard to gauge or define. It comes in degrees and usually comes and goes with different people. We are all changing; the people we are today are not the people we were yesterday or whatever span of time you want to use as a reference point. No matter what, people are changing.  Since friendship is very dependent on people; it is essentially a human interaction that cannot exist without people being a key element, we can say that friendship is just as wishy-washy as these changes. People can easily be compared to hurricanes that are ever moving and doing whatever they want to do simply because they are people and that’s how people work. They’re not going to make sense and there’s no rule that they should. If anything, you can claim that this is a component of the human condition. Going further, this characteristic of people is in no way bad or good. Sometimes in friendships, people do things and you don’t understand why, but then you realize that it doesn’t really matter and that you probably do something like that too. For example, in friendship, there are many things that can go well, or not so well.

A perfect example of a friendship not going so well is the time I went travelling for a summer around Europe. I had met a friend who would go live in Poland for the summer months since he was going to my university but he was as Polish as can be. I met him through my boyfriend of the time and we hung out a little bit. He had suggested that I come visit him in Poland while I was traveling and that if I came for a few days, he would be glad to show me around and provide a place for me to stay. I worked that leg of the trip into my plan, and from what I understood everything was going to follow what he told me. When I arrived in Poland around midnight some day in June, I kept messaging him and he did not respond. Completely unprepared, I was essentially stranded in a country where I did not speak the language (I have very strong sentiments concerning going to a country and not speaking the language), did not have a planned place to stay, nor did I do any research as to how to navigate and get around independently in Warsaw. It was clear that I felt abandoned and confused – which is not a very good emotion for a supposed friend to induce.  I had an internet connection at the airport, was able to find a place to stay, had some interesting experiences, but it was pretty shitty of him to back out of his offer when he was the one who proposed it in the first place. I currently don t talk to this person anymore and have come to the conclusion that we weren’t really good friends to begin with anyway.

In contrast, some friendships can be for the better. I knew a guy in college who was a PhD student in material science engineering. We never really talked much for the first couple years of my undergrad, but around my senior year as I was shedding one friend group that I didn’t get along with very well anymore, we started talking more and even going to work out weekly to stay healthy. I realized that I got along with him as a friend much better than I did with some of the people I had spent time with during my freshmen or sophomore years of college. It turned out that we actually had a lot in common: we were both doing research to finish our academic degrees, we both had energetic personalities, shared more similar world views or thought processes; basically we got along pretty well and it was nice spending time with him. This is exactly how friendship is supposed to work. People are social creatures and they get bored with just sitting in a room by themselves.

There are more dramatic stories of horrible friendship fall-outs or finding your best friend ever on some ski trip in Colorado and being pen pals until you serendipitously end up being neighbors in the same city, but that’s not the focus of this little thought train. The point is, sometimes friendships work or just don’t because people are people. If anything, it’s interesting to watch as your friend circles morph and switch around year by year, which sometimes can reflect how you yourself have been changing and what kind of people you want around you based on those changes. You could easily write a book about all the people and interactions you have had throughout your life and how you have changed or the friendship has changed, and it would be a great analysis of human beings. Sadly for all you starving writers grappling for the perfect story for a book deal, this idea has already been done by the writers of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button aside from the aging backwards concept.

This is a picture I took while in Warsaw


Almost done being a college student

Being a college student at the moment kind of sucks. Of course, living the college life isn’t so hard, but crushing student loan debt and the ever-present uncertainty of the future makes it considerably less awesome. Combined with a shitty economy and job market makes for a wonderful cocktail of despair and depression for those on the horizon of adulthood. With graduation approaching like an oncoming truck on a fast highway, I find myself without a clue concerning what to do with my life after I finish school.

Pause for a minute and allow me to explain the start of this whole mess. I remember when I was a college freshmen; I had just been accepted as an incoming high school graduate in to my university’s chemical engineering program since my parents had always drilled into me that getting a science or engineering degree would guarantee job opportunities and security. After I completed my sophomore year though, I was very much turned off by the idea of being a chemical engineer. One of the biggest reasons I didn’t want tot be a Chem E was that I didn’t want to move to Texas, or any other extremely rural area that usually is an ideal place for chemical factories or oil refineries. There are tons of oil companies that recruit chemical engineers and they usually pay them a ton of money for their services; the tradeoff being you live in the middle of nowhere doing things that hurt the planet. I stopped being interested in that career path when I really considered the aftermath of graduating with this major. There were supposed to be potential jobs right out of school, but I was not interested in the work nor the lifestyle. I was in reality especially interested in languages and decided to trade my gpa-sinking grades for Russian and Japanese courses. The next thing I had to worry about was changing my major. I decided to just go with chemistry so all my science coursework would still count for a degree and I would be able to finish that degree program faster than if I had switched to anything else. I also didn’t know what I would have switched to at the time since a language degree seemed useless. I still feel that this major change was one of the best personal decisions I made in college since I ended up being happier and even became fluent in Russian; an accomplishment I would never have achieved had I stayed a chemical engineer. With that fluency, I decided it would be great if I could use my skills to become a technical translator.

It’s a niche, but there’s probably some company that needs a Russian speaking science major interested in translating, right?

Fast forward and out of my nostalgic musings back to the present; I am faced with the cruel fact that I need to find a job. I, like many other students I’m sure, have been applying online and emailing companies about possible employment opportunities. I started my job search a little more than a month ago with the expectation that I should apply anywhere and everywhere to find something that will pay my rent and keep me fed. I knew from the beginning that many people want employment at the moment, most won’t be able to find a job in their field, and there will be a lot of rejection through the whole process. But throughout this search, it hasn’t been rejection or anything remotely that straightforward that I have run into.

Gather round and let me explain the details of my situation. Most of the time, if I apply for a job and am rejected, I am not notified. No, the courtesy of being rejected is not something I am familiar with. Employers have an acute tendency to ignore me and my application no matter how qualified or unqualified I may be. I do, however, get almost immediate replies from places that, with a Google search, can be identified as obvious scammers. With job titles on their websites or even on my university-specific job board like “Account Executive” or “Collegiate Account Manager” and requirements as general as a bachelor’s degree and motivated work ethic, I hit the apply button to increase my chances of getting hired from anywhere. I mean, it could be a scam, but what’s so bad about applying and worrying about that later? I’m already on a streak of applying to 30 job postings today and stopping that would just make me feel depressed and unproductive. So in a short amount of time I get emails back asking if I am interested in a sales position with flexible hours and entry level pay and all that good stuff they know college students want to hear. Then, when I research the company, I find out that it’s just a door to door sales job reminiscent of a Ponzi scheme or simply a waste of time. Even on my campus there are “recruiters” who go into freshmen classes and hand out fliers about summer employment scams such as painting houses or selling merchandise. These positions usually require you to pay for start-up costs and if not, it’s a waste of time which could have been spent looking for legitimate employment. Upper classmen usually are already familiar with these scams, but underclassmen are certainly not. Even this past week, I witnessed an “interview” in a café on campus which mostly consisted of the interviewer convincing the applicant to be excited about “taking charge and running his own business”. This was for the house painting position.

A few days earlier, I had gotten a response from a posting that I had applied to only three weeks ago; it was for an unpaid part-time internship position. Be aware, unpaid internships are very much like Trojans. You are led to believe that the position will give you experience, help you make connections with people, even directly lead to a full time position! Doesn’t that sound like a bundle of good luck and bright happy sunshine? Unpaid internships are, in reality, one of the most horrible plagues of our society for entry level graduates. Unpaid internships are usually illegal ways for companies to get free labor from young people. An unpaid internship is exactly that, a young college grad does work for no monetary compensation. What do they do for rent or food? Bills? Healthcare? Doesn’t matter, they  aren’t worth giving a real paid position according to these companies. In order for an unpaid internship to be legal, the internship has to benefit the intern; it needs to be similar to educational training; it must not displace regular employees, and it must not take immediate advantage of the services the intern provides. Basically, if a young unpaid intern is doing a job that could be a normal employee or if the company is benefiting from the work of the intern, it is illegal. It is taking advantage of free labor.



Many new college graduates have only had part time, minimum wage positions or even no real work experience whatsoever. It’s actually deviously smart for employers to identify this weakness and exploit it. Having a job in itself can be considered a commodity- a very marketable and valuable commodity. So much so, that they can convince people to invest money into the promise of a job only to have no compensation and near worthless experience that leads nowhere. Investing money can include relocating and covering living expenses. Without compensation, that sort of investment is really hard to commit to when factoring in hundreds of thousands of dollars of student debt loans. If the unpaid intern is losing money to work for a company, they are basically paying for the status of being employed. I mean, what are new graduates supposed to do? They need a job and in a tough market, anything seems like an opportunity.

It becomes especially evident that jobs have become a marketable commodity when job board sites constantly send emails about offers to review your resume for a reasonable fee of a few hundred dollars or to take a training course to increase your chances of finding employment. This is just the cherry on top of the ice-cream scoop.

In short, most of the replies and emails that fill my inbox are job scams and job board website spam.

But hey, at least I haven’t actually left the university yet. When I do, I know that will be the time to start panicking.

Photo courtesy of: The Keep Calm-OImage-Matic http://www.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk/p/keep-calm-and-just-graduate-96/