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Surviving & Managing Finances During AmeriCorps

managing finances americorpsAs an AmeriCorps alum, I had an amazing experience serving. However, it was a difficult financial experience. At this point, you may know it’s tough to survive on the living stipend. It’s important to use every resource available to stay on top of your finances during this time period so you don’t accumulate any consumer debt when you complete your service term. Here is a look at some of the ways you can manage your finances while serving in an AmeriCorps program.

How to Manage Your Finances During AmeriCorps

You’ve made the decision to serve- congratulations! This is a great way to give back and help those around you. It also is extremely rewarding- building experience, learning new skills and may give you friends for life. Many alum find a new professional calling after completing their programs. So there is a lot of goodness that comes from a tough year or more of service.

One of the challenges in this program is to live on a very low income. This is a purposeful move to help corps members relate to the communities they are serving. While this is an important part of the experience, it can be tough both during and after the term. Here are some essential money management tools to use while serving.

Use a Budget

Have you ever used a budget before? If you are one of the younger members serving, your answer is probably no. Even if you have done a budget, it’s critical to use one on such a tight income. To get started, use one of these budgeting worksheets.

A budget simply tracks and directs the money coming in and out of your bank account. It can share a lot of insight as well. Spending habits are often revealed after comparing monthly budgets. You may realize you’re spending way too much on dining out, groceries, housing or car payments. As a general guide, compare your spending against this Financial Community Guidelines worksheet.

Here is a snapshot of the spending guidelines:

  • Housing: 35% to rent, insurance and utilities
  • Transportation: 20% to gas, loan payments, parking, public transportation
  • Debt: 5% to credit cards, personal loans, student loans
  • All Other Expenses: 20% to food, healthcare, clothing
  • Investments & Savings: 20% to savings accounts, retirement funds, stocks

Once you start to balance your spending and allocations, you may need to trim down your expenses. This isn’t really the time to make extra income to help out the budget, so cutting costs and sticking to the budget are priority number one.

Apply for Benefits & Discounts Everywhere!

The living stipend is small. Take any discount or help you can find. You should be eligible to receive SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits aka food stamps. Food stamps were amazing. Don’t hesitate to use this resource. I was also able to get a discount at the gym I joined while I was serving in AmeriCorps. Don’t be afraid to ask your team lead or program manager for help finding these discounts. They have probably been in your shoes and have some insight. For several AmeriCorps programs, a uniform is required which saves money. However, if you do need clothing, check out consignment and thrift stores before shopping retail. Keeping these things in mind before shopping will be very helpful.

Spread Out Your Educational Award

If you decided to accept the educational award over the cash, try to spread out the disbursements over time. That money is taxable. If you aren’t careful, you could really rock your finances come tax season. Plus, if you run into trouble finding full-time employment or getting into grad school, that money will be extremely helpful.

You may also be able to defer loan payments while serving. Check with your AmeriCorps program and your loan service provider to confirm.

Serving in AmeriCorps can be a fantastic time. Keeping your finances on track will help ease additional stress from your time in the community. Remember to enjoy the place you are living; explore all the fun and free events!

ABOUT AUTHOR / Michelle

Michelle is a regular contributor to Talking Cents. She has taken several financial courses on debt management and is ready to circulate what she has learned from them as well as lessons from her own life- family to DIY projects to student loan debt.

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