Wednesday, August 17, 2011

‘Cyber Patrols’ are the new Neighborhood Watch for ID Theft

Being social just isn’t what it once was. And neither is helping keep your neighbors safe from crime. And as crime begins to blossom, one of the first things that may spring up is a case we know and fear all too well: Identity theft. While identity theft is often represented under the umbrella of internet crimes, this is not always the case. Mail fraud has been, and most likely will continue to be, a major cause of identity theft.  In essence, it is important to protect both your computer and your front door.

There is token good news, though. Identity theft is currently on the decline — down 28%, according to a report by Javelin Strategy & Research. But that still represents a whopping 8.1 million cases. That’s 8.1 million people who at one point or another had someone else pretend to be them. By getting a hold of your personal information, these thieves open credit cards, purchase cell phones and commit a plethora of other crimes that tie back directly to your good name.

Is there any hope? Small town residents are nodding their heads. Remember those Neighborhood Watch programs? Once a trend in big cities like New York and Chicago, particularly in higher crime areas, these self-appointed keepers of the law saw their numbers dwindle as better security systems became available and increased funding for police departments took hold in the 1980s. And now, with identity theft representing such a huge slice of the crime pie in this last decade, neighbors are back to helping neighbors.

This time, though, they’re bigger and better and more technologically savvy than ever. With a little high-tech addition called “Cyber Patrolling,” some neighborhoods are beginning to employ both crime watchers outside and those who report hacking online. Now, besides keeping a watchful eye out for anyone caught snooping around your home, mailbox, or garbage; neighbors are alerting neighbors to threats emanating from their phones and computers, too.

Take Andy Wang. He’s the block captain in southern Los Altos, Calif. And, according to an article in the Los Altos Town Crier, he reports that his Neighborhood Watch Program proved most beneficial when an allegedly fraudulent telemarketer tried to retrieve personal information from his wife.

“He claimed to be tech support trying to get my wife to go to a website and give her identity away,” Wong told the Crier, noting that he immediately forwarded an email to his neighborhood group alerting them to the scam. “I think ID theft is a big thing we need to be more vigilant about.”

With cyber crime all around, credit information laying in your recyclables, and telemarketers asking way too much, explains why neighborhood watch programs, popular some 20years ago, are once again gaining popularity. While the “small town” location used to act as a safeguard from fraud: the internet makes crime an equal opportunity provider. With merely a laptop computer and a few pieces of identification, thieves can steal identities from Brooklyn, N.Y. to Los Altos, CA.

In California, police are encouraging communication among neighbors through activities such as potlucks and mailing lists to help combat crime. The 30,000-resident city boasts 95 block captains. The police force is instructing residents to keep a close watch on what’s going on in their areas.

The same rules apply nationwide. If you see suspicious activity, police say good descriptions of the perpetrator helps. Paying attention to details can make all the difference between whether or not an arrest is made.

So, how do you start a Cyber Patrol?

  • Chat with your neighbors. It’s very difficult to watch and alert a neighborhood as a lone wolf.
  • Head home from work a little early one evening and introduce your idea to your neighbors. Find out who is interested by visiting them door-to-door. Bring a buddy with you, no matter how confident you may be with knocking on doors.
  • Discuss crime problems in your area, explain the value of starting a cyber watch initiative, and determine a good time and place for your first meeting. Keep a list of everyone’s preferences and write down their comments.
  • Call your local police department and let them know of your interest in starting a cyber watch program. Depending on where you live, something of the sort may already exist. If it doesn’t, it always helps to get an officer on board. That way, once the cyber-safety-hunt gets going you’ll have a direct contact in law enforcement.
  • Use the internet to your advantage. Start a private neighborhood blog and/or email notifications or texts to alert those participating any time something suspicious occurs.
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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Six Financial Tips That You Can Learn From Harry Potter

We've loved him since the day we first read about him as that brave, green-eyed wizard with the lightning bolt scar. We crossed our fingers for him as he faced the Sorting Hat and smiled proudly as he landed in Gryffindor.  We listened as he hissed in Parseltongue, and prayed for the semblance of light as he faced the kiss of the dementors.  We cringed when he battled dragons, held our breath when he swam with mermaids, and cried as he won the Triwizard Tournament and lost a good friend forever.  Our anger simmered as he wrote with the “I-must-not-tell-lies” quill, boiled as we discovered Voldemort’s soul-splitting horcruxes, and exploded as Snape (seemingly) broke our trust and Avada Kedavra’d the kindest blue-eyed wizard of all time, Dumbledore. And, last weekend, we cried, laughed, smiled, cringed, and used up an entire box of Kleenex in under 130 minutes as we watched our favorite young wizard grow up before our eyes, literally.

Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived. We’ve sat on the edge of our seats, following his adventures for more than a decade. But now that the our favorite seven Harry Potter books and anticipated eight movies are officially over, it's hard not to feel like it's the end of an era. And, in a sense, it kind of is. Where else will we find secret passageways within portraits, a room that appears only when you need it the most, and stone statues that come alive to defend the most beautiful castle in the world?  

But rather than wallowing away in the end of something wonderful, we can ask ourselves what there is to learn from Harry's timeless adventures. Believe it or not, Harry was quite the financial analyst. Sure, he trained to be an Auror (a job in which he had to protect the wizarding world from the Dark Arts) but he was also quite the savvy businessman.  Even in his youth, he dealt with investing, choosing the right bank and the responsibly of dealing with a generous inheritance.  Don’t remember J.K. Rowling using that financial terminology? You just have to read between the lines. Follow along to read six financial lessons that we learned from our very own biz wiz, Harry Potter. 

1.       Find a Safe Bank For Your Galleons

Gringott’s Wizarding Bank, where most magical folk stash their savings, is owned and operated by goblins. Its main offices are located in Diagon Alley and – according to our lovable giant friend Hagrid – Gringotts is the safest place in the Wizarding World (not counting Hogwarts of course).

What can we, mere Muggles, learn from this bank? More than a few things. For starters, it’s best to keep your money in an FDIC insured account. Make sure your cash is safely tucked away in a vault that is untouchable by anyone except you. All threats of identity theft should be closely monitored, so be sure to stick primarily to one branch. If you visit often enough, it will be easier for your personal banker or teller to spot an imposter (like when Hermione tried – somewhat successfully – to pass as Bellatrix Lestrange). Even if your local bank doesn’t have an underground rollercoaster to access vaults, a fire-breathing dragon, or a multiplying gold charm, be sure to go to a bank that keeps your finances secure. 
2.                   Don’t Give Up on Your Small Business Dream

We’ve all heard the “If you have a job you love, you’ll never work a day in your life” expression. And what better characters to exemplify this life lesson than our favorite witty redheads - Fred and George Weasley? These twins are hilarious, and went a long way to make their dreams of owning a prank store a reality. They start off small – advertising their hilarious aging spells and fireworks across Hogwarts. Then, by the sixth book, the infamous boys launch their successful dream business, “Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes.”  If your own small business would make your life bright, keep in mind that sometimes to achieve greatness, you have to start with a bang. Like, say, a free giveaway of popping fireworks! Giveaways are a great way to promote your product. When they decide to ditch Hogwarts and crazy cat-lady Headmistress’ Umbridge, they set off a rainbow of fireworks that multiply in starry sky. The twins gain a lot of recognition and cheer, and Gryffindor students react by demanding their attention-grabbing pranks. Muggle lesson learned: start small, promote wide, dream big. 
3.                      Find a Trustworthy Investor

The Weasleys got the money for their shop from loyal pal Harry Potter, who donated 1000 Galleons of his Triwizard Tournament winnings.  Because Harry gave them their start-up loan, Fred and George allowed him to help himself to as many love potions, pimple banishers, and extendable ears that he liked – free of charge. They do ask Harry, as well as Ron and Hermione, to help spread word of their shop around the castle. This form of word-of-mouth advertising, especially from your investors, is essential to operating a successful new business. This applies for us non-magical folks, as well as the witches and wizards who have an extendable ear or two. So remember, if you’re looking for someone to invest, find someone you trust – who believes in the success of your business. Whether you’re trying to sell edible dark marks or Pygmy Puffs – you won’t regret this business decision. 
4.                   Don't Steal; You'll Get Caught 
Mundungus Fletcher, one of the original members of the Order of the Phoenix, is known for having a case of the sticky fingers. He forever longs for the five-finger-discount, a discount that involves him sneaking valuable items into his cloak without shedding a single gold galleon. Fletcher is not trusted and not particularly liked. Harry even caught him red-handed once, selling items which had been stolen from his godfather, Sirius's, house. One of these items was even a locket, a locket that contained the purest of evil – a horcrux. Muggle lesson: don’t steal. Seems pretty basic, but with this economy and job market down in the gutter, people all too often stoop to these levels, not realizing how negatively it may one day affect their lives. And while American prisons don’t have chilling dementors floating around, possible jail time for theft doesn’t sound like a walk in the park. 
5.                   Monitor Your Finances, Even If You’re Wealthy 
Harry’s got several things from his parents: his mother’s almond-shaped emerald eyes; his father’s undeniable knack for getting into trouble; and a hefty inheritance check. Sure, he spent the first 11 years of his life living under the stairs in a teeny closet-sized space. But even after his first visit to Diagon Alley, when Harry was first introduced to the stacks of gold coins in his Gringott’s bank account, he chose to use his money wisely. And that’s a lesson that witches, wizards, and muggle folks can all take home with them. No matter how much you want that cherry red Ferrari or that Nimbus 2001 broom, frivolous spending won’t get you far. And besides, waiting for the broomstick-of-your-dreams from your godfather (rather than buying one yourself) means more anyway.  
6.                   Money May Make the World Go Round…But It Sure Doesn’t Buy Happiness

Most readers would agree that the happiest family in the Harry Potter series was the Weasley clan. Sure, they lived in a cramped, cluttered, and crooked burrow. And yes, they recycled their school books, used near-sighted owls, and (unfortunately for Ron) shared non-unisex dress robes. But, it seems safe to say that they were happy. The Malfoys, however, with overflowing bank accounts, their battered servants, and their cold glances are some of the unhappiest characters in all the novels. That’s not to say that we Muggle-borns shouldn’t reach for the stars in our money-making endeavors. We should. It’s just a reminder that some things (say a nurturing family, a set of professors who would quite frankly die for you, and two best friends who would stand up to the world’s greatest evil on your behalf) are worth more than all world’s gold.  

Published: Business Insider

Online Bait Luring Patrons In The Door

Scores of people out during First Thursday’s Art Walk last month wedged their way into the Thalia Surf Shop as residents and curious tourists united for an evening of photographs, surfboards, and art.

Nick Corores, who owns the shop and planned the event, didn’t send any snail mail invitations to recruit guests for the show. In fact, he resorted to a tool that may forever change the way small businesses, like the Thalia Surf Shop, communicate with clients: social media.

Cocores said that he’s been using a combination of Facebook, Twitter, and a Thalia Surf Shop blog over the past eight years to promote his business. The shop has been around since 2001. A link on the upper right hand corner of Cocores’ store website invites visitors to follow them on Facebook, where the shop currently has over 3,500 ‘likes’.

And that’s exactly what he used to draw attention to the show.

“We have events and giveaways going on all the time,” Cocores said. “Our email list and Facebook page generates the most return.”

Can social media really help small business owners in Laguna Beach? Some think it’s possible. More proprietors in Laguna and elsewhere are turning to social media as a tool to help them advertise their goods and services and broaden their customer base.

Jessica Hoffman, four-year district manager of Unique Tan, 1100 S. Coast Highway, has used Facebook, Twitter, Yelp and Groupon successfully for the past three years.

“In social media, our goal is to show prospective clients the Unique Tan experience. We use it to strengthen our communication and to answer any questions they have about our salons and the tanning process,” she said.

Small business isn’t ditching traditional marketing altogether. “We still use traditional print ads for our holiday sales. Once or twice a year we will advertise in Surfer Mag,” Cocores explained. “[But] most all of our marketing is done online through our email list and social media. In the slow months, we push really hard to bring in online sales.”

But for many local merchants, raking in steady profits in the months between September and May is not easy. With the U.S. economy still on a slow path to recovery, small businesses have had to work harder than ever to remain afloat. Even small business success rates have been in the dirt lately. Nearly 50 percent of small businesses fail within the first five years and over the lifetime of a business just 40 percent are profitable, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration and National Federation of Independent Business, respectively.

One option for small businesses experiencing hardships or with extra inventory is utilizing deal-of-the-day websites to pitch a discount. Groupon’s success has spawned a host of imitators, which locally include OC Register’s Deal of the Day, Kgbdeals and Laguna Beach-based RealDeals.

A merchant offers a deal on a site, and in Groupon’s case, at least 10 people much purchase it (it’s often limited to one purchase per person), for the deal to become valid and live on the site for others to buy in also.

The site sees more than 30 million visitors each month. Usually, the profit made from the 24-hour live period of the deal is split 50-50 between the store owner and Groupon.

Chad Nason, a spokesman, said utilizing social media is “an extremely effective marketing tool. Exposure is invaluable.”

Some managers of Laguna businesses agree.

Of 50 to 75 mostly local customers that open the doors daily at Unique Tan, about 40 percent step into the shop by way of social media, Hoffman said. “We have found this to be one of the most successful ways to run specials and advertise for events. We like to reward our Twitter followers and Facebook friends with our best specials,” she said.

In Laguna, the population can temporarily triple on weekends during summer, as day-trippers and out-of-towners swarm the beaches for sun and recreation. But vendors find social media most useful in the off-season.

Agreeing is Scott Sanchez, director of digital media for Firebrand Media’s, a coastal Orange County portal. He wants to help small businesses on a hyperlocal scale with Real Deal, a discount site that has its heart set on locality.

“We don’t want to tell someone, ‘Go drive for 10 or 20 miles for this deal’,” said Sanchez. He maintains consumers won’t bite without proximity. “We’re trying to make it so you can find a deal 500 yards away from your home,” he explained.

Are merchants jumping at the opportunity? Sanchez said that since the website launched in late May, 12 store owners have posted deals. “Our buyers are local,” Sanchez said. “After using Real Deal, they’re more inclined to come back.” Sanchez believes giving vendors a tool that cultivates customer loyalty will pay off.

Unlike Groupon, which advertises primarily online, Real Deal promotes itself in traditional print media in its sister publications. “We want our customers to know that they can just flip to page 5; that’s where Real Deal exists,” Sanchez said, referring to the Indy.

Do these sites offer advice about nurturing customer loyalty during the less sunny months of the year?

“It’s always a good idea for businesses to schedule the redemption peak during off-peak times,” argued Nason, of Groupon, especially true in resort towns. “Physically, the people aren’t there during the off season. You want to make sure you still have the opportunity for people to see you,” he said.

So, when summer trolleys quit cruising, the sand chairs are stowed away and the coastline empties out on weekdays, proprietors this season may forego end-of-summer sales and instead  try out social media.


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The 5 Best Summer Party Themes Under $100

There are so many things to love about the summer: soft serve chocolate ice cream, refreshing cerulean waves, extra-long days of birdsong and sunshine - the list goes on and on.

Still, one of the best things about the summertime is the chance to throw a super fun soiree. But, for too many of us, the cost of hosting such a party makes us jump with fear rather than excitement. To throw a summer party and be broke, or wallow away in fiesta-less season - Where’s the middle ground? 

Throwing an awesome bash needn’t break the bank! As a former party planner, I now bring you five summer party themes. Each will cost less than $100 to deck out your home in style and leave your guests bowing down to you, the Royal Party Highness.

#1 Toga Challenge
This is an excellent afternoon party option, and is well-suited for both adults and teens. Tailor your “Olympic Events” to cater to participants’ abilities. A few event suggestions: three-legged race, water balloon toss and wrap the mummy (toilet paper unrolled onto a teammate) Wrap things up with a medal ceremony while Olympic-themed music, or perhaps just “We are the Champions” plays on a boom box. Make your own togas out of various linen sheets to make these challenges even more fun. Just be sure that everyone gets gold.
Shopping List:
Flat White Sheets $14.98 at
Roman Laurel Wreath $1.45/ea at
Biodegradable Water Balloons $9.75 from
4-pack Cotonelle Double Roll $3.85 from
Plastic Super Star Gold Medals $7.95/48 at

#2 Hawaiian Luau
Google “Hawaiian Luau Music” before your guests arrive and plug in what you learn on Pandora in order to stream the perfect soundtrack. This party idea works best as an outdoor party at nighttime, although a daytime Luau would be prefect to throw poolside (should you be so lucky to have access to one) or at a local beach. Quirky decorations will turn this luau into an Aloha-evening you’ll never want to forget.
Shopping List:
Set of 8 Tiki torches with oil $33.95 from
Mega Lei Assortment $15.00/100 at
Drink umbrellas $5.00/144 at
Bright Flower Lei Garland $4.00 at
Tiki Bubble Machine for $39.95 at

#3 Red Carpet Event
Looking for a way to recycle that old prom gown or bridesmaid dress that has been hanging unloved in your closet? A Red Carpet/Hollywood party is just the ticket! If you have the technology available to you, try projecting an out black and white movie onto a sheet for your guests to gaze as they mingle.
Shopping list:
Red Carpet Runner $6.28 at
Red Rope Set $55.96 at
Movie Night Cascading Centerpiece $4.00 at
VIP Entrance Sign $.96 at
Plastic Champagne Glasses $.4.99 at

#4 Tea Party
This is a good option for a rainy day in with the gals. Entertain yourselves by decorating the cookies or cupcakes that will be served as snacks. Don’t forget the cucumber sandwiches! (Crusts off; pinkies up!) Encourage your female invitees to wear frilly hats!
Shopping list:
Whistle 3 qt Tea Kettle $39.95 at
Victoria Plastic Cup and Saucer $6.50/ea at
Celestial Seasonings Fruit Tea Sampler $1.37 at
Tea Party Beverage Napkins $1.75/16 at
Fox Run Tea Party Cookie Cutter Set $5.95 at

#5 South of the Border Fiesta
Olé! Try setting up a make-your-own-taco bar for your friends to feast on and be sure to mix up a batch of fruity virgin margaritas for the kids. This party theme also lends itself well to an assortment of dips served with chips and fresh veggies.
Shopping list:
Rainbow Donkey Piñata $13.50 at piñ
3 lbs. Piñata Candy & Toys filler $12.99 at piñ
Embroidered Sombreros $25/dozen at
Plastic Neon Margarita Glasses $10.49/dozen at
Fiesta Maracas $15/dozen at

There you have it, a whole slew of exciting summer shindig options that won’t cost an arm and a leg. Which is good, since you’ll need all your limbs intact to fun it up at your fete!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Hot Tickets for Cool Shows

The summer is filled to the brim with cool concerts. But, with that daily skinny vanilla latte, beach passes, and rising gas prices, it’s often hard find a way to finance that Britney concert that you’ve been waiting all year to attend.

Well, breathe easy. As it turns out, your best ally in helping to score awesome seats to this season’s hottest shows may be right in your wallet.

Most credit card companies have valuable rewards programs that offer cardholders incredible deals on airfare, dining out, shopping and just about everything else in between—including “event perks” that can allow you VIP access to hit summer concerts!

Three Cards That Offer Great Concert Perks

Below are three different credit cards whose reward programs have big bonuses for concertgoers:

Citi Private Pass is a free program for Citi credit and debit cards users that can provide special access and reduced prices for concerts. It offers presale tickets for Citi card members, allowing them the opportunity to purchase tickets before they go on sale to the general public. For some concerts, VIP packages are available that include extras like hotel stays, bottle service during the show and special video monitors in your section so you can peek behind the scenes and catch the action from different angles.
American Express has its very own ticket saving center directly on Ticketmaster’s website. AmEx’s Membership Rewards Program offers cardholders the opportunity to purchase tickets in advance of the general public and to select their tickets from a pool of premium seats reserved exclusively for American Express cardholders.

Chase Freedom and Sapphire cardholders are able to partake of the Chase Ultimate Rewards program, which allows members to use their points to score front-and-center seats at popular concerts, among other things. Points are earned for every dollar charged to the card and may be redeemed for special access to shows and events. Cardholders participating in the Ultimate Rewards program are given the opportunity use their reward points for special VIP tickets to select shows.

Research what your card can do by calling the issuer and asking for a list of benefits. Or visit the credit card’s website to get a list filled with easy-to-understand bullet points about the card’s perks. If you dont have a credit card yet, visit for ideas on where to start looking.

So if you’ve set your mind this summer on seeing if Willow Smith really can whip her hair back and forth, or want to see if Rihanna really does like S & M, your credit card may be just the ticket to getting you there.

Published: - Your hometown news source for in Brentwood CA

Friday, July 1, 2011

Rich Folks: The Good, The Bad, The Beautiful?

I don’t know of a single girl who saw that mountain of a rock on Kim Kardashian’s ring finger and didn’t think, “I wish I was her.”

Kim’s future beau has ruined it for men everywhere who are hoping to one day find a bride. Because let’s face it, very, very few engagement rings will ever compare to the $2 million, 20.5 carat monster sitting on Kim’s left hand.

But, jealous as we are of this lovable Kardashian and her good fortune, do we ever stop and think about what she and other celebrities really do for us? Yes, they engage us in frequent drama-filled television shows. And yes, from them we learn about fashion, fitness, star gossip, and of course, where to buy the perfect pair of Manolo Blahniks. For this we are eternally grateful.

Still, we rarely stop to think about what these celebrities do for us downtrodden consumers: They stimulate the economy. The question before us is simple: Can the wealthy spend enough to make the economy grow faster and bring down unemployment?  

Reports from the Associated Press, say that fewer people applied for unemployment benefits last week. Now don’t get too excited. This doesn’t mean that finding a decent job will be any less difficult. It also doesn’t mean that there will be any fewer résumé-holders standing in front of you during a company’s open call hiring day.   

But a front page article in the Financial Times on April 25, 2011 did speculate about the positive effects of spending in the current economic slump by the rich and the really rich.

It explained that the wealthy are extremely helpful in stimulating the economy on the short term spectrum, and that their purchasing is helping companies continue to make a profit. This, in turn, leads to more jobs. So, in a way, the affluent are the exact stimulus that we need.

I recently read an interesting report by the Harrison and American Express Publishing groups. Some of the statistics were mind-boggling. They found that top 10 percent of Americans are expecting to spend $26.6 billion more in the next year on luxury goods, excluding cars and travel.  This year alone, their spending on luxury items is expected to rise 8 percent compared with 2010.

Talk about a lot of money. But is there a way that that our wealthy counterparts can stimulate the economy while doing some good for society also?

Bill Gates seems to think so. He made a speech in 2008 at the World Economic Forum in the beautiful city of Davos, Switzerland. Gates, a computer whiz and superb speechmaker, spoke about a new approach to capitalism in the 21st century. I sincerely believe that if more wealthy people start using an idea Gates calls “creative capitalism,” our economy, little by little, can pick itself out of the dirt and finally wash up.

Gates colorfully describes a fun conversation he had with Bono. Bono couldn’t stop talking about how they could get a percentage of each purchase from civic-minded companies to help change the world. Gates said, “He kept calling people, waking them up, and handing me the phone to show me the interest.”

Several seconds later Gates continued, “He was right.”

He further said that if you give people the chance to associate themselves with a cause they care about, all while buying a great product, they’ll do it. That same night in Davos, the RED Campaign was born.

RED products are today available from companies like Gap, Motorola, and Armani. Dell and Microsoft have now joined the cause also. And, in 2008, RED generated $50 million for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, tuberculosis, and Malaria. Because of this great cause, nearly 2 million people in Africa are receiving life-saving drugs today.

How does this relate to us, and specifically to the rich? Gates thinks that there’s an understanding around the world that when change is driven by proper incentives, we have a sustainable plan for change, as profits and recognition are renewable resources.

So, if the rich continue their frivolous spending, but perhaps focus more of their energy on this creative capitalism mindset (say by purchasing a collection of RED shirts) they can do two main things: Stimulate our economy and do some good for the world.

Yes, it won’t fix everything. Credit card companies are saying that there is still $4 trillion in money market accounts. This paints the picture of a society still risk-averse and concerned about spending or losing money. But consumer spending, which accounts for 70 percent of U.S. economic activity, did rise 4% in the last quarter.

And hey, if high-end shoppers continue swiping their plastic cards across the states – just making sure to look out for companies that are socially responsible – well, it can be a beautiful thing.

Help us, Kim Kardashian, and other wealthy idols. We need you to shop.

Handling Student Debt: 5 Tips for Future Students

So you’ve graduated from high school and are on your way to college. Congratulations! You will soon be experiencing the unforgettable: road trips, toga parties, and…student debt? If you’re not careful, the woes of college may overwhelm you and crush the perks of attending a top-notch university. College should be about learning, meeting new people, and having the best four (or sometimes five or six) years of your life. So, to keep things from getting too overwhelming, here are five ways you can crush the incoming student debt before it crushes you. 

1) Become Best Buds With Your Financial Aid Department
Sure, they seem intimidating from far away but up close they’re really not so bad. Within your first few weeks at school, schedule an appointment with your financial aid department. They can make sense of confusing topics like “Stafford Loan” and “Pell Grant” that make your head spin. They can also help you find scholarships, and tell if you’re eligible for various in-school financial aid packages. Some schools will offer scholarships to students who do well academically their freshman year. But the only way to find out is if you take the first steps into that office. The financial aid office can even help you with balancing your up-and-coming loan payments, and assist you with setting up payment plans. Cindy Bailey, a senior policy analyst at College Board even said, “I always refer people back to the financial aid people at their college. They’re the most generous, well-meaning people in the world. They want to be helpful to kids and their families.” So smack on a smile and talk to them as soon as you can. 

2) Consider Consolidating Your Loans
Consoli-whating? Layman’s Terms: Essentially, consolidating your loans means you combine all of them (for example, a federal, state and a private loan) into one lower payment. When you squeeze these together, your repayment time is extended. For those of you who either have several types of loans or who are having trouble making complete monthly payments, consolidation can be the right option. But, if you’re able to pay your student loan bill pretty easily each month, though, the best advice is not to consolidate. Have a chit-chat with your family or again swing by the magical financial aid office for further help with this issue. It’s definitely something that can keep you debt-free for a long time.  

3) Don’t Give In To Peer Pressure
Just Say “No”. Parents and mentors alike have been telling us this since grade school but it will never apply stronger than in college, I guarantee it. You’ll get swamped rich new friends who want to spend Spring Break in Cancun and the winter vacation skiing in the Swiss Alps. You’ll also get bullied by credit-card companies to sign up for their “perfect, unbeatable offers.” My advice? Don’t. If you know it’s too expensive, and that it’s something you’ll develop heart palpitations over, just say that you can’t do it right now. No one will judge you, and no one will think any less of you. Think about it. “No” is a two-letter word that takes a quarter of a second to spit out. Accrued debt is something that can follow you for the rest of your life. 

4) Avoid Shiny Things
We all know and love Kanye West’s music. Minus that whole Taylor Swift debacle, he’s pretty on-point with his stage presence and lyrics. But Kanye lyrics like “She don't believe in shootin' stars / But she believe in shoes and cars” need to be wiped from your memory when you first get to college. “Why?” You may ask. Because song lyrics like this make you want to spend. And while we do need to stimulate spending for the health of the economy, you, as a college student, are already doing enough by paying thousands of dollars to your school of choice. So when it comes to being a frivolous spender…Just don’t do it. College is expensive enough. It is a financial burden on both you and your family, and you don’t need to make it worse. So before purchasing the iPad 2 and Rock Band: The Beatles Edition, think about how much you really need these things. Chances are, you don’t really need it.

5) Find an On-Campus Job
Yes, few things are better than sleeping ‘til 4 p.m., partying ‘til 5 a.m. and never having to work a day in your life. It’s also delusional. Getting a job, especially one that’s on campus, can be a great way to make some extra money while not taking too much time away from your school work. And, when it comes to buying something you really can’t breathe without, this sort of part-time employment will really help you make payments and stay debt free. So try to pick up a few hours here and there at your local campus bookstore (they usually hire at the very beginning and very end of semesters). Working between classes or on days when you have a lighter course load can help you make enough money for those few things you really can’t live without. And, if you already have a credit card with monthly payments that need to be made, this can help you keep up a high credit score. Your career center (or it’s online site) will most always offer listings. 

You are about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime. College is going to be incredible, and is going to fly past you faster than a Boeing Business Jet. But be careful, because the consequences of getting bad debt in college are mountainous. More than that, they’re scary. You can end up losing out on a job, apartment, car loan or graduate school admission, all because you have outstanding debt. So, be careful playing with credit. It isn’t a game like beer pong and flip cup, and if you’re not careful, you can really lose out on post-grad opportunities.