Living on the AmeriCorps Stipend

A year of service with AmeriCorps gives members the chance to gain valuable experience while giving back to the communities in which they serve. There are many aspects of AmeriCorps when considering a year of service. Each potential applicant must decide if they are ready for the time commitment, and possibly relocating to a different city for their service year. Inevitably, they must decide if they are ready financially to take on this year of service living on the AmeriCorps stipend.

A stipend is a fixed regular sum paid as a living allowance to each member.Each AmeriCorps member makes $12,100 before taxes. Depending on how they fill out their w-4 at the beginning of the service year, they will each make an average of $860 a month.

There is nothing glamorous about this lifestyle, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t have fun! There are ways to budget your money as an AmeriCorps member to ensure that you take care of the necessities and have fun too.

Read below to find out how some of our Community HealthCorps members live on their AmeriCorps stipend.

~Liz Reed, Marysville Medical Patient Navigator

Surviving on the AmeriBudget… Is difficult but definitely doable! The keys to success I have found this year have been:

  • Shopping at Goodwill (for pretty much everything, can’t tell you how many Goodwill outfits I have)
  • Living at home with my parents saves food AND rent
  • Going to the movies only when I have a movie coupon
  • Asking for gift cards at every gift giving occasion
  • Paying back in installments every chance I can
  • Bring lunch every day to work! Every once in a while I will go out but only when it’s dollar tacos
  • I make my own cup of coffee every day!
  • The Bank of America app is my best friend; I check it on the reg!

~Melissa Merrigan, Tacoma Medical Patient Navigator

This topic reminds me of a well known Donna Summer song, She Works Hard For The Money

 “She (YOU) works (work) hard for the money
So hard for it, honey
She (YOU) works (work) hard for the money
So you better treat her (IT) right”

Perhaps this connection is a bit of a stretch, but with a few minor edits and grammatical changes, those lyrics can be a true testament to your Americorps stipend.  Americorps is by no means a get rich quick sort of situation, but if you play your cards right, the stipend is enough to get by. Here are the top ten ways I have managed to treat that money right:

  1. EBT

Food stamps are crucial to your survival. The amount allotted to Americorps members is basically enough to use for food for the entire month! Thanks to this extra benefit, you can have enough money to pay for rent and even double ply toilet paper. Note that your EBT benefits can apply to Trader Joe’s, Winco, Grocery Outlet, and even your local Farmer’s Market (where each EBT dollar goes twice as far with their special program that awards $20 to every $10 of EBT).

  1. Become a good cook

Your kitchen at home must become the top restaurant in town, and you the #1 chef. Your days of eating out all the time are over. Take up this new favorite hobby that ends up saving you lots and lots of money in the long run. There are excellent recipes available online or at your local Trader Joe’s.

  1. Meal planning

Now that you are the #1 chef in town, put those new skills to use by planning out your meals for the week. Save money and time by spending Sunday afternoon planning what you want to eat for lunches and dinners the rest of the week. If you have food prepared and waiting for you at home, you will be less tempted to eat out.

  1. Budgeting (MINT!)

Mint will become your new best friend. Connect it to your bank accounts and set monthly budgets for everything from rent and going out to your utilities and that online shopping habit you are trying to quit. Mint will warn you when you are approaching your budget max and hold you accountable. If you don’t have a smart phone, you can access Mint online.

  1. Carry cash money

Swiping a card is so easy that it doesn’t even feel like you are spending money at all. By carrying cash, you can see your money go and feel your soul dying as your stipend dies with it.

  1. Can we go thrift shopping?

Want to shop? Don’t got a lot of do-re-mi? Put what cash you are willing to spend in your pocket and go see what’s happening at the local Value Village. Treasure is out there!

  1. Library card

What is more fun than a library card? NOTHING. Library cards are completely free and any book you could ever want to read is available to you. Go check out your local library and learn something.

  1. Craft yo gifts

Christmas has come and gone, but birthdays happen year round. Save that $20 you would spend on a gift that your friend may never use by making something from the heart that they will treasure forever.

  1. Go visit a relative

Your relatives love you and are sure to make a trip to their house worth your while (so long as they live within 30 miles…50 max). You are guaranteed a free delicious meal and perhaps even some yummy homemade treats to bring back with you.

  1. Live in Tacoma – rent is cheap

This has been key for me. It may be difficult to apply to everyone, but it has been vital in my survival with the stipend.

There you have it folks, ten ways to survive the AmeriCorps stipend. In the immortal words of Donna Summers (and myself), “you work hard for that money, so your better treat it right.”

~Irina Ivannicova, Sea Mar Volunteer Coordinator

My AmeriCorps budget experience has been a positive one. The living stipend that I get each month is about $100 more than what I got working part time at my last job (including tips), so I have been able to put that extra income into a savings account that I have designated specifically for graduate school expenses.

For fun, I like to go to the park or the beach, as there is plenty to do outdoors without it costing money. During the winter months, I enjoy watching shows on Netflix and getting big stacks of books from the library to read after work. Another fun idea is playing multi-player video games with friends like “Just Dance” or Wii Sports.

Another money saving tip is to eat out only twice per week and bring your lunch to work the rest of the days. The expenses for eating out can add up very quickly!

~Delaney Lackey, Vancouver Medical Patient Navigator

During my college years, I never felt the need to distribute and manage a budget for myself. I made money and I spent money, but there was no guideline that I was following to make sure my earnings and spending were always in check. This all changed when I became an AmeriCorps member and started living on the AmeriBudget. I realized that budgeting was going to be a crucial aspect of my life and that if I was going to support myself living across the country from my family, I was going to have to put a plan in action.

  • Have a set amount of money be automatically transferred from your checking account to your savings account on payday. DO NOT TOUCH the money that is transferred to your savings. This should be used for a trip your planning or in case of an emergency. This way, you’ll always have a little cushion to fall back on.
  • Learn to cook! Living in college dormitories for the past 4 years of my life didn’t warrant me developing many cooking skills past pasta and popcorn. Cooking saves you so much money! It can be time consuming, but it can also be creative and fun and the money that you save definitely makes developing cooking skills worth your while. Also, if you cook for a couple hours on the weekend, you can make food for the entire week ahead of you. This will save you the hassle of cooking after a long work day.
  • Pack your lunches and plan your meals.
  • If you want to go out with your friends or coworkers, try to center it around a restaurant that has good happy hour specials. This will allow you to be social, but also money conscious. And who doesn’t love a good happy hour special?!
  • Shop at Winco. Prior to moving from Maryland to Washington, I had never even heard of Winco. But now, there is no other place where I would rather shop for groceries. With unit pricing, fresh produce, and bulk bins, Winco is a pretty great bang for your buck.
  • Live at home if this is an option for you. If living at home is not an option for you, try to find a living arrangement where the monthly rent is equal to or less than your bi-weekly pay. Also, finding a place that has rent and utilities included in one payment will save you from allocating for “hidden” costs.
  • Come into AmeriCorps with a little savings. This will give you a little cushion to get adjusted to living on the AmeriBudget.
  • If you are making a big move to your placement site, allocate for the cost of the trip. For example- Baltimore, Maryland to Vancouver, Washington: 2,700 miles, 4 nights, $1,000 saved specifically for this.
  • Make room in your budget for things you really want to do. Whether it’s going to a Seahawks game, attending March Madness, or road tripping to Canada to watch the 2015 Women’s World Cup, don’t restrict yourself from doing things that you really love. If you plan ahead, the path will be much easier.

~Alison White, Childhood Wellness Coordinator

I am not a Seattle native and moved here right before my AmeriCorps position began. If you’re like me, moving to a new city is ridiculously exciting. New people to meet! New things to see! But living on $504.17 every two weeks before tax with expenses like expensive Seattle rent is not easy. Here are some ways to get your fix of city living without destroying your bank account.

Girls Movie Night Out at Sundance Cinema

Yes ladies. This is real! The Sundance Cinemas has a ladies night every Tuesday and movie tickets are on $5.00. Yes, you heard me! So grab all your gal friends for a night at the theater. Sorry, no boys allowed.

Museum Passes from the Library

During your AmeriCorps year, the library is your best friend. It has wonderful free resources including Museum Passes. I know you want to go to the EMP Museum, SAM, or Seattle Aquarium but the ticket prices are $20 +. These passes make them completely free. Thank you, Library. We love you.

Rush Tickets at the Seattle Repertory Theatre

Let’s dream big. You want a night on the town. You want to be stunned by the bright lights of the stage! But the price tag can be close to $60. Not anymore! The Seattle Repertory Theatre offers rush tickets for half-price 1 hour before each performance. I have paid as little as $15 to sit front row center at their shows. It’s worth it. You’ll be bragging to your friends for weeks.

Watch the sunset at the Olympic Sculpture Park

On those days in Seattle when the sky is clear (not as rare as you would think!) there is a lovely and 100% free way to spend your evening. Grab a pal or a good book and head to the Olympic Sculpture Park to watch the sunset. It’s a totally romantic scene: Olympic Mountains, sailboats, ferries, and an amazing Alexander Calder sculpture.

First Thursday Art Walk

Last, but definitely not least, Downtown and Pioneer Square galleries offer a once a month citywide open house. It’s a fun way to feel super sophisticated and mingle with the Andy Warhols of our generation, but not spend a dime.

~Mike Tobias, Tacoma Vista

Living off of the AmeriCorps stipend may not be the most glamorous life, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Whether you live at home or with roommates, here are a few tips that can help you make that money stretch:

  • Libraries are your friend! As others have said, libraries have a wealth of resources for you to access. Not only do you have all kinds of books, but you have CD’s, movies, and TV shows readily available for free. Plus, some libraries offer special items like museum passes for cardholders.
  • Make your own coffee. For all of its popularity, ordinary drip coffee is not all that expensive. A home brewed cup of coffee probably costs you the equivalent of a few cents to make (depending on your brand, of course). Get a good thermos and fill it up at home before you leave in the morning. If you like designer drinks, check out Pinterest for ways to make everything from mochas to frappuccinos at home.
  • Go meatless! I admittedly am a little biased on this one, but meat is expensive and quickly adds to the price of any meal. Plus, meat takes longer to prepare and can go bad if you’re not careful. It doesn’t mean you have to go totally vegetarian, but if you can pick at least one or two days a week that you don’t eat meat, you’ll find the savings in both your money and in your health. Let’s see if we can’t make “Meatless Mondays” a thing!
  • Turn on your thermostat for about an hour before bed, then turn the heat off. You’ll go to bed warm, but won’t rack up your heating bill in your sleep.
  • Going out to the movies has become a pretty expensive date, that’s for sure. If you can be patient, see if there are any discount theaters in your area (The $2 Federal Way theater comes to my mind). Art house theaters tend to be independently owned and be significantly less expensive. They may not have the summer blockbusters, but you’d be surprised at just how much variety they can have. Plus, in the summertime, a lot of parks do outdoor movies on large projectors, completely for free!

Avoid drinking. I know this one probably won’t be too popular, but alcohol is quite expensive. This is especially true in Washington, where we have high “sin taxes” on liquor. Stocking your own home bar or a nice wine collection could easily run you over a hundred dollars. And going out to drink? Forget it! For the price of a few shots, you could go out for a nice meal. If you really must drink, limit it to the weekends  or special occasions.

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More Tips From Community HealthCorps! 

The following tips and tricks were taken from a ©National Association of Community Health Centers, Inc., and Community HealthCorps® training on www.communityhealthcorps.org

DINING & GROCERIES

  • Look for rebates and refund offers, and use them!
  • Buy in bulk whenever possible. Everyday household and food items can become expensive if bought individually. Try to buy toilet paper, paper towels, canned foods, cereals, etc. in bulk in off-brand names.
  • Always look for the generic version of an item!
  • Check out the frozen food section. Vegetables can be bought in bulk at a cheaper rate. It may not taste as good as fresh organic veggies, but this can be a good way to save money and still be able to eat reasonably healthy.
  • Local farmers markets can also be an inexpensive way to get fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Double your recipe when cooking so you can get 2 meals out of the price of one.
  • Try to make one meatless meal a week. Eggs, cheese and soy are all good sources of protein.
  • Give up a vice or cut it in half. (like smoking, drinking, soda or junk food)
  • CUT COUPONS and check out local grocery store advertisements. You can also print off coupons at http://www.coolsavings.com, or http://www.coupons.com
  • Water is cheaper than sodas, coffee, etc. Try switching to tea for your caffeine fix.
  • Have a pot luck dinner once a month with friends. This way you get an entire meal (with leftovers) for the price of one dish.
  • For those of us who are big tea drinkers, bring your own tea and a reusable mug—you will have enough afternoon tea for a month for about $5.
  • If you do go out for dinner/drinks, get the smaller size. Buy a small latte instead of a large…you’ll save $ and calories. Also the portion sizes at most restaurants are out of control—you can get the appetizer size and still be very full.
  • Check out restaurants with happy hour specials. You may be able to get a full meal for half of the regular price. Check out local restaurants for other great deals.
  • Make your lunch every day. If you usually buy lunch at $5/day, you could spend over $1,000 in a year!
  • Stop buying sodas at work. That $.90 a day adds up to $216/year. Buy off brand sodas and stock up. Better yet, start drinking water!
  • Stop buying expensive coffee! Make it at home and take to work or ask your office to chip in on a coffee maker. You could save over $700 a year.
  • Make weekly menus before you go to the grocery store and stick to them! • Eat BEFORE you go grocery shopping. If you are hungry, you may overspend.

TRANSPORTATION & VEHICLE MAINTENANCE 

  • If you have to fly, fly cheap! Check out websites for lower fares at http://www.kayak.com, http://www.priceline.com, http://www.orbitz.com, http://www.travelocity.com, or try Jet Blue & Southwest!
  • Compare auto insurance companies. You may be able to get a lower rate.
  • Bike or walk as often as possible.
  • Carpool or use public transportation
  • Group your errands. You will save gas money!
  • Gas prices go up 5-8 cents on Monday’s so fill up before hand.
  • Research where the cheapest gas station is in town and fill up! You can do this by going to http://www.gasbuddy.com
  • If you want to get better gas mileage, make sure your tires are properly inflated, install clean air filters and change your oil regularly.
  • Think you are saving gas by opening your windows instead of using the air conditioner? Think again. It is true that using the air conditioner uses more energy which equals more gas used.
  • However, if you are driving on the highway, opened windows create more of a drag on your vehicle which uses even more energy!
  • Remember: The faster you drive the more gas you use. As a rule of thumb, you can assume that each 5 mph you drive over 60 mph is like paying an additional $0.21 per gallon for gas.
  • Avoid keeping unnecessary items in your vehicle, especially heavy ones. An extra 100 pounds in your vehicle could reduce your MPG by up to 2%. The reduction is based on the percentage of extra weight relative to the vehicle’s weight and affects smaller vehicles more than larger ones.
  • Car maintenance can keep your vehicle in good shape and can help you avoid unexpected car costs! (Check your manual for specifics)
  • Your tires should last 50,000-60,000 miles. Rotating them every 7,500 miles can increase their life.
  • Transmission fluid should be changed 30-50,000 miles.
  • Oil should be changed every 3-5,000 miles (change oil filter too) while your air filter should be changed every 12-15,000 miles.
  • Your car battery should last up to 5 years. A new one will cost $50-100.
  • Your brake pads should last 50,000 miles.

HOUSING & UTILITIES

(Some of these are not only good for your wallet, but good for the environment too!)

  • Research BEFORE you buy and COMPARE prices. It is tempting to buy a new shower curtain just because you want it, but could you get it at a cheaper price? You should compare prices at A MINIMUM of two stores before making any purchase, unless you are making a major purchase. If this is the case, then you may want to compare prices at numerous places
  • Furniture usually goes on sale in September.
  • Get rid of cable or premium TV channels.
  • Reduce your phone bill to the bare essentials or use a pre-paid cell phone.
  • Buy calling cards or email friends/family that live far away. You can also go to your local library and use their computers for free!
  • Check out books, music and movies at your local library instead of renting and/or buying new items.
  • If you need a phone and cable, check out bundle packages through various companies.
  • Ask your family to call YOU. This will save on your long distance.
  • Weather strips your doors and windows.
  • If you have multiple rooms in your house or apartment, close the vents in the rooms not being used.
  • Turn your thermostat down 1-3 degrees when you are at work or at night to save money. For every degree you turn down you thermostat, you could save up to 5% on heating costs!
  • Clean your air conditioner and heating filters once a month. This too will save up to 5% in heating costs.
  • Compact Fluorescent light bulbs last 10 times longer and use 75% less energy!
  • If you can, set your water heater to the normal setting. This could save you 7-11% in heating costs.
  • Open drapes and blinds for some natural heating!
  • Move your furniture so you are not sitting next to exterior walls. They can be colder in the winter.
  • Shorten your showers!
  • Turn off your computer when not in use or ‘put it to sleep’. This can be done for MAC users as well.
  • Install low flow shower heads.
  • Put a 16 oz bottle in your toilet tank to reduce the amount of water used with each flush
  • Clean your washing and drying machines filters regularly
  • Don’t leave tap water on while brushing your teeth or washing your face.
  • Avoid flushing the toilet unnecessarily. Put trash and bugs in the trash can.
  • Wash only full loads of laundry in cold water. There are new detergents that reportedly work well in cold water. By doing this, you can save 75% of your washers energy.
  • Use a clothes line to dry clothing.
  • Wear a sweater in the winter and shorts in the summer and adjust your thermostat.
  • Don’t leave lights on or electronics plugged in when not in use.

Clothing

  • Go to Marshalls, Ross, TJ Maxx, Lowman’s, Rugged Warehouse and other discount stores for clothing and other items
  • Go to Consignment stores where you can swap out clothes
  • Buy high quality clothing off-season. They will be more likely to last longer than cheaper brands. In fact, try to buy everything off-season! You don’t have to pay full price for anything! Remember that Spring and Summer items go on sale in June and July, while Fall and Winter items go on sale in January.
  • Check out thrift stores. You never know what you’ll find!
  • Avoid dry-cleaning only clothes
  • Make hair appointments, nail appointments at beauty schools instead of pricey salons.
  • Hold a clothing swap with friends.
  • Check out online bargains at http://www.overstock.com or smartbargians.com

ENTERTAINMENT

  • Check out http://livingsocial.com, http://www.goldstar.com, http://www.groupon.com for great deals on discounted entertainment
  • Drop the gym membership and go biking, jogging/ walking outside.
  • Instead of going to a pricy restaurant / night out for a weekend outing arrange a potluck get together with your friends or Community HealthCorps team
  • Instead of going on a pricy date to dinner/lunch and a movie, pack a picnic and go to the park
  • Try Netflix or other online video rental places, instead of getting movie channels/ cable
  • Try RedBox for movies, you can watch new releases for less than 2 dollars
  • If you love going to the movies, go to matinees and don’t forget your student id if you have one.
  • Hold a magazine and book swap with friends before recycling them!
  • STOP SMOKING. This is not only a health benefit but a cost saver. If you smoke 5 packs a week at $3.00/pack that totals $780 a year! A pack a day smoker spends $1,092/year!
  • Most museums offer one day a week/month with free admission—go on those days only. (the majority of DC museums are FREE)
  • Use Froogle—the low-rate finder on Google. It will tell you the best price of anything you can possibly want on the internet. Also, if you’re planning on buying something on the internet, do a Google search for coupons first…there are a ton of them floating around.
  • Check out independent newspapers for free or discounted concerts, plays, and festivals.
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