Incoming Students Starter Pack – Deals, Life-Hacks and Tips

    Posted on Monday, Aug 05, 2019
    The previous blog post focused on learning from our failures and gearing up for the upcoming semester. This post is specifically directed towards all the incoming graduate students who are excited, nervous and eager to make College Station their new natural habitat. In the next two weeks, flocks of students will land on the shores of Aggieland and they are frantically trying to manage setting up their apartment with a mattress, perhaps a bike for an easy commute, an American bank account and credit card etc. This post is intended to act as a mere guideline for the aforementioned things and isn’t necessarily the global optima of the process. It will also point out some deals and hacks which you ought to know once you come here.
    1. Chase Bank and Discover Credit Card
    1.pngFirst let’s get the financials figured out. Generally, most of the students open a Wells Fargo account which is super convenient and doesn’t charge any service fee ($10/month) since we get Aggie Bucks Unlimited Debit Card. However, the students that will be offered a stipend or have Teaching/Research Assistantship will need to set-up a direct deposit account so that the university can deposit their salary. Chase Bank offers a really cool straight $200 bonus if you set up your bank account and direct deposit with them. Furthermore, a friend of yours or anyone can refer you to Chase Bank and both get an additional $50. Just note that one needs to meet some requirements for their service fee ($12/month) to be waived off.
    Similarly, once you get an SSN you will be eligible to apply for a credit card. Discover credit cards are the preferred choice for most of the students because of no service fee at all and reasonable cashback programs throughout the year. Referrals are going to again fetch you some extra cash. An existing discover member can refer you and both get a benefit of $50 after your first purchase. Here is a simple referral link to apply for Discover once you have your SSN.
    1. Bike insurance- Don’t be Penny wise, pound foolish.
    The A&M campus is humungous and you would be mostly staying out of campus in Northgate, East-Gate or near George Bush Drive. Thus, walking to bus-stops or commuting on foot amidst the harsh Texan heat is going to roast you figuratively and literally. Hence, a better option is to invest in a bike from Walmart or local store in the price range of $90-200. I and my friends bought mid-level bikes from Walmart and I would say it is the most sensible investment I have ever made. What nobody will tell you is to buy a $8-16-dollar insurance or protection plan by All-State/Square-Trade with it. At first, it seems so trivial that why would I need bike insurance and why to waste the extra cash. Trust me, it will be the most fetching investment. My personal anecdote will clarify things.
    Two-three weeks back my bike got punctured and my crank arm was broken as well. The bike costs around $150 and to my dismay the cost to repair everything falls around $75. And since then I have hated to walk to my workplace in the Texan heat. It feels like if you are living in an oven. With the bike gone you lose a lot of motility and going to some far places on foot consumes just too much time. I called up Square-Trade explained to them my predicament and shared photos of my broken bike. They were super helpful and they made sure I receive an appropriate refund to compensate for the mechanical damage and the repair costs. I was delighted by the smooth process and being able to again hop around College Station with my bike.
    1. Giveaways are simply the best but competitive!
    Some of the apartment complexes are unfurnished and expect you to get your own furniture. However, I understand everyone is on a budget when moving to a new place and can’t just get brand new stuff from Ikea or Amazon etc. However, we are very fortunate that we have Furniture Giveaways. ISS TAMU provides students with second-hand study tables, dining tables, sofa, chair, microwave, dressers etc. for free. Sounds too good to be true? Is there a catch? Yes, there is. Every year thousands of new students come to A&M and thus there isn’t enough furniture for everyone. Thus, there are huge queues during these giveaways and you need to make sure you go 4-5 hours before to stand in front of the queue to get what you need. I and my roommate were 456th in the queue and we got nothing. Thus, don’t expect it to be like online shopping where you can choose whatever you want. It’s more like a limited stock first come first serve competition. 
    1. Is Mattress really that expensive?
    This is one of the most basic necessities and one of the most confusing things to buy. There are so many varieties, memory foam, innerspring, fiber etc. and many sizes 6’’ – 9’’ and max up to 18’’. And they can cost from around $80 –500. How do you know which is the best one and is it really worth it? My recommendation is buying somewhere in the range of $100-150 from Amazon, Walmart or Ikea. Most of us are going to use it for two-five years and thus spending $300-500 is not entirely worth it. Regarding the delivery you can tell your friends, department seniors in A&M to order it beforehand so that you can use it the day you arrive in Texas. Another way which is very convenient is to get them for giveaways. Three of my friends did that last year and they have had no issues. Thus, if you are on a budget the giveaways will provide the mattress and also deliver it home.
    1. CVS coupons and HEB home-delivery
    4.png HEB is where generally everyone buys their groceries from. However, many of the students might stay far from HEB and won’t have a car in the first semester itself. It is not possible to get so much groceries on foot or on the bike. Thus, Desi-Aggies, one of the most helping student organization arranges HEB rides every Sunday. However, one can also use to get first 4 deliveries above $35 for free. Instacart is another app where you can get free deliveries from HEB for the first two weeks. For the past semester, I and my roommates have heavily relied on the these services.
    CVS is right in front of engineering quad and is the perfect place for quick milk, cereal, eggs, bread etc. refill. Make sure to get CVS card as shown in the picture and get access to amazing deals and discounts. The coupons are directly added on the CVS card or your phone number and thus you don’t need to carry paper coupons. They are perfect to use in CVS when you are not buying stuff in bulk and just want to get some essentials for the day.
    1. Zipcar Referral, Enterprise UTS deal and Zimride.
    I guess we have covered most of the everyday essentials above. Moving onto to rental cars and some transportation options to travel out of college station. Zipcar is an hourly car rental service which offers free membership for A&M students and is located on the campus. It is super convenient and easy to use via their android/IOS app. You can also get $25 referral for opening a new account with a referral code. For longer and multi-day trips Enterprise offers a great range of cars and options with reasonable pricing. Again, as A&M affiliated employee you can get massive discounts by using the UTS999 code. However, one has to be on the university payroll to take benefit of this. Three weeks back I and my friends saved big-time on our trip to Colorado by using this promo code. 

    5.pngZipcar and Enterprise are great options if one has a driving license. However, most of us won’t have a Texas Driving License and thus one can avail the services of Zimride, another A&M affiliated service. This is basically like a car-pool service. People travelling to nearby cities will post rides and one can book a ride with them for $15-25 one-way. Since I don’t have a car and neither a driving license this has been extremely useful for me to travel to Houston city and the airport. The rides are specific to the driver and one can message or text the driver and arrange the payment. It is a super convenient and hassle-free service.
    1. Summing up everything: Take-home notes!
    Discover credit card referral for $50 bonus
    • Check out Chase Bank direct deposit offer for $200 bonus
    • Ensure you have insured your bike. Later on, this will be super handy!
    • Attend the giveaways and make sure you are SUPER EARLY to be in front of the queue
    • Don’t spend on the mattress as if it’s your flight ticket
    • Small savings on CVS are a must
    • HEB Home-delivery is the way to survive
    • Get Zipcar referral to get $25 credit and find your way out of College Station
    • Use UTS999 for Enterprise and Zimride for a weekend getaway!
    Note: The post is a mere guide and should not be taken verbatim and I don’t have any rights to any of the above-mentioned organizations. I declare no conflict of interest. The post is motivated by my personal experience and is intend solely to help the new students.

    ---Niranjan Sitapure
    Niranjan Sitapure is a PhD student in Department of Chemical Engineering

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