For one productive year, would you rather move closer towards your career goals living on a fixed income or just work for a better pay check? Which choice would intentionally produce a greater fulfillment in your life? Which would also undoubtedly encourage you to achieve your personal, financial, and career goals in the long-run?
Why are these questions relevant? Simply because becoming an AmeriCorps VISTA, you'll receive several benefits that are sometimes over shadowed by the unfavorable bi-weekly fixed stipend. Instead, let’s focus on the benefits of the real-world experience, continuous networking, fighting poverty for a community bigger than yourself, exposure to different career fields, and even the education award to help with student loans. As a second year AmeriCorps member, I have experience in living on a modest stipend with valuable advice on how to “live lavishly” off your fixed income. Here are my top five budgeting tips and how to embrace the VISTA benefits while living on a bi-weekly stipend.
With these five tips you will learn how to stretch the dollars you do have, while widening your career opportunities
5. Carefully evaluate your financial status before committing to a year of service. Take the time to look over all your finances so that you can plan accordingly. In other words, uncover your eyes and take a look at any debit you may have. Take a look at your credit score or credit report to obtain a general view of where you are financially. Write out all your bills and expenses to track down how much your money you will have to maintain throughout this program. This is so that you know where you are starting from financially in order to create a successful budgeting plan. Also, ask yourself important questions that may pertain to your finances. For instances, if you have additional income, are you able to maintain it during your year of service? Can you afford to continue to pay all your bills on time? Knowing where you are financially helps prepare you for a brighter future in as an AmeriCorps VISTA member.
4. Try to start a daily, weekly, and monthly budget plan. Many of us are very familiar with monthly budgets and may use them very often. However, I’ve learned that when working with such a small income, it’s best to see where your money is being used daily, weekly, as well as monthly. The monthly budget plan is a normal finance plan that allocates future personal income towards expenses, savings and debt repayment.
Weekly budget plans are for the items you buy on a weekly basis, this also includes the weekends. You are able to see how much money you will be spending or have spent during one week at a time. For an example, items for the weekly budgets include transportation, money needed for social or professional events scheduled, and any pampering that you like to do. Track where your money is going throughout the week.
My daily budget plan was the greatest eye opener for me. It helped me figure out where all my money was going every single day and where I needed to cut back from spending. Daily budget plans are the small items you tend to buy every day. That could be coffee, snacks, or even lunch. Let’s admit it, most of us spend money daily. All three budgets can overlap, but the more specific the budget gets, the less room there are for unplanned spending. Which in return helps saves money.
3. Go grocery shopping with a purpose and not on an empty stomach. If you have not learned the importance of a grocery shopping list, now will be the perfect time. A few things I would advise is to first check supermarket specials and coupons. Get excited about finding deals and saving money. Next, you’ll make a shopping list and stick to it! Be sure to look and see what items you already have to avoid buying doublets. When buying your groceries, try to stick to the right portion of food to stay away from groceries going bad.
2. Get a second Income and give yourself an allowance. As a VISTA member you are allowed to work a second job for additional income. This job just cannot interfere with your work and duties as a VISTA member. If you walk dogs, babysit, tutor, are a cashier at your local food grocery store, continue to do it if it does not interfere with you VISTA duties. Allow yourself to make additional money and keep busy during your year of service. My advice would be to not get a job that burns you out. You’ll want your main focus to be your VISTA position and to make a difference in others’ lives.
1.Take advantage of the resources and benefits AmeriCorps VISTA has to offer. AmeriCorps stipends are set at the local poverty level for the city members are serving in. The mission is to get AmeriCorps members to live at the same level as people who they are serving. This makes AmeriCorps member eligible for some government assistance programs such as SNAP. SNAP is also known as Food Stamp Program and it provides food-purchasing assistance for low and no-income people. Other resources include medical, finding affordable housing, and other additional income assistance you may be qualified for.
Destiny Gadson is the Business Coach VISTA for the Philadelphia Department of Commerce.
Are you interested in being a part of next year's SERVE Philadelphia VISTA Corps? Apply now!