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Your Friend The Stipend: How Alums Can Keep Using Their Corps-Learned Money Skills

October 5, 2012

Today’s guest post comes from Amelia Granger, Personal Financial Management Analyst at NerdWallet.

AmeriCorps Alums find themselves in all kinds of different situations after service—some are headed to grad school, while others are starting their first real jobs, or diving into the job search. The rewarding experiences you gained while volunteering will stay with you whatever you do. But how can you make the most of what you learned from living on the AmeriCorps stipend? Making it work on that stipend was hard, so it’s important to make sure the lessons it taught you stick.

Living frugally and keeping a budget to track your expenses are difficult skills for anyone to master. But as everyone who has lived on the AmeriCorps stipend knows, they’re not impossible. If you served in AmeriCorps, it’s likely you’re already a disciplined budgeter and know that money doesn’t buy you happiness, which means you already have a huge advantage over much of the population. Samantha Gross-Galindo, a 23-year-old alumna of City Year who is joining AmeriCorps NCCC this fall for another term, told NerdWallet that the stipend made her change her lifestyle, but isn’t as earth shattering as it may seem.

“With the stipend, I learned how to manage money on my own and find free or cheap methods of entertainment like going to the library to get books, CDs, and DVDs, hanging out with friends and going to parks,” Gross-Galindo said.

Another great thing about the AmeriCorps experience is the teamwork and bonding members have with one another. That camaraderie makes stipend living possible too—Corps members share apartments to keep rent costs low, and find that hanging out in groups of people who are also living on the stipend helps them keep their entertainment costs affordable. But that strong network of connections you built won’t stop working for you after you leave the Corps.

Sources estimate that 94% of all jobs are found through networking. For young people without a ton of job experience, that number probably skews even higher. Always remember to leverage your network—if someone you served with has a job in an industry you’re interested in, don’t hesitate to tell them about your qualifications and ask if they can help you with introductions. Look for LinkedIn groups of alumni who served in your area, or who now work in the field you’re hoping to join. If the groups don’t exist, start them—it will give you an excuse to contact alumni you may not know personally.

You know you’ll always use the lessons that your AmeriCorps volunteering taught you—the teamwork, the cooperation and the spirit of giving back to the community. But remember that what you learned from living on a stipend can also last a lifetime!

NerdWallet, the Web’s premier financial literacy site, is proud to announce its first ever reality show — So You Think You Can Finance! Our contestants, including Tristan Nelson a current AmeriCorps VISTA member, are young people all making the leap to financial independence. No cameras are following them around, instead we’ve got them blogging their way to financial wizardry. Now they’ve completed the four challenges and judging is open so the public can decide who’s learned the most, and who deserves to win the grand prize of $1,000 and free sessions with a financial planner. 

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