How to Help Your Teen Financially Prepare for College

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A recent survey found that 48% of parents expect their children to pay for some or all of their college. Many young adults are now graduating with some amount of student loan debt. It is possible to get a college degree without having to spend the next twenty years paying it off?

How to help your teen financially prepare for college so they don't graduate with staggering student loan debt.

Forecast college costs  

You can’t be prepared for the expense of college if you don’t know how much it costs. Look online for an interactive calculator that will help estimate the cost of tuition and room and board. Don’t forget to factor in books and living expenses (aka four years of pizza).

Compare several schools to help figure out what works best with your budget.

Dual enroll or take AP classes in high school

I know many teens who graduate high school with a year or two of college credits under their belt. This can be a great way to get a head start in college and save money.

Commute to a local college or university 

Not only will you save with lower in-state tuition, your teen can save money by living at home.   I did this and was able to save thousands of dollars in room and board.

If your child has their heart set on going away to college, consider having them go to a local school the first year or two and then transferring to their dream school.

Apply for grants, scholarships and work study programs

This is something your teenager should do while they are still in high school. Every school offers grants, aid and scholarships for students. Start researching early what your school of choice has available because the sooner you apply the better.

When I was in college I was paid to take notes in class. These notes where used for students who had disabilities and were unable to take notes in class.  I was paid by the hour and this helped cover the cost of my tuition for several semesters. 

Save on textbooks 

Years ago you had to buy all your textbooks at the school bookstore and if you were lucky there was a used copy available. Not anymore. Today you can rent textbooks, buy them online, or even share with another student.

With the price of textbooks rivaling tuition for some courses, shopping around and finding the best deal is a simple way to cut college costs.

Shop for a student loan

Not all student loans are created equal. For many families, the cost of college is not something they can afford to pay for upfront. If your teen does need to take out a loan, do some research to make sure you are getting the best option that fits their needs.

Discover Student Loans offers helpful advice for students and parents, including student loan and tips on paying for school.

Take advantage of student discounts

If your child lives in a college town many restaurants and stores offer discounts for students.

Don’t just take advantage of local discounts, many online retailers offer great student discounts as well, including Apple and Adobe. All your teen needs for the discount is their student ID or college email address.

Delay college for a year

One of the most cost effective ways to get a degree is to finish it in four years. A student who switches majors multiple times or changes schools halfway through a degree program will end up paying more for their education.

Allowing your teen to wait a year and work (also saving up more money) while they figure out exactly what they want to do is a viable option for many families. Not every 18 year-old knows exactly what they want to be “when they grow up.”

Waiting a year can be a great way for your teen to earn extra money, get some real life experience, and help them decide on their educational goals before they start spending money.

This post may contain a link to an affiliate. See my disclosure policy for more information.

Why I Spend $9 a Month on Amazon Prime

July 12th is Amazon Prime Day. It’s Amazon’s Black Friday in the summer sale. There will be great deals in every department and it all ships free with Amazon Prime. If you haven’t signed up for your free 30 day trial membership, now is a great time to do it so you can snag some great deals on Tuesday! 

I’m a pretty frugal person. I like to save money and it rubs me the wrong way to spend money on things we don’t really need.

When Amazon Prime was first introduced I was skeptical.

I’m going to pay how much per year for what? 

My brother, who is always first to find out about these kinds of things signed up right away. After a year of watching him order off Amazon and never pay for shipping, while I waited for free shipping deals, tried to get my order value up to get free shipping, or missed out on great deals (for things I needed) while he was able to order them and have it delivered to his house in two days I decided to try it.

I decided to sign up for a Amazon Prime free trial and I was hooked. After I starting thinking about the math I realized the $99 fee was really $9 a month. Could I justify the $9 a month? Did the savings add up?

It did, and here’s how.

I absolutely love Amazon Prime. Not only do I receive free shipping on almost every item I purchase at Amazon, I also have free music, movies, and Kindle books! It's totally worth the membership price.

Amazon Prime is FREE for 30 days.

Yes, this is a marketing tactic from Amazon, however you can use Amazon Prime for 30 days then cancel and be charged nothing at all, ever. So for the next 30 days you can enjoy all the Amazon Prime Day deals, free shipping, holiday playlists, free books on Kindle and movies for free.

You must cancel your membership at the 30 day mark if you try it and decide it isn’t for you.

This is how I started my membership and realized about 15 days in that I loved Prime and would be keeping my $99 yearly membership.

You can sign up for your trial membership here

Amazon Prime gives you Free Shipping on thousands of items every day.

I have six kids at home. It isn’t easy to load them up and take them on errands with me. Many of the items I purchase are available on Amazon for a competitive price.

If I can shop on Amazon instead of loading up the kids and taking two hours out of our day to shop it is worth it just for that.

Also, if something is only available online, I usually purchase it from Amazon because I know I get free shipping and the price is better (which it usually is).

I do most my Christmas shopping on Amazon.

For most of the last fifteen years we’ve lived away from our family and have not spent Christmas with them. This means mailing gifts every single year. With Amazon Prime I ALWAYS have free shipping, never have to wait in line at the post office (seriously that’s a nightmare at Christmas) and the gifts always arrived in two days!

Amazon carries so many products it is almost impossible not to find a gift for a loved one on the site.

Amazon Prime gives you FREE Kindle books through the lending library.

I love to read, and we love to go to the library. Sometimes the books I want to read are not available at my library and I’ve waited, weeks and months for books to come in. When you have Amazon Prime you are able to “borrow” books for 30 days to read on your Kindle.

This is an awesome way to read without spending money, worrying about library fines, or lost library books. They have over 500,000 titles available in the lending library so there’s probably a few books available you have on your list.

Amazon Prime gives you unlimited photo storage.

This is a new feature for Amazon Prime and probably the one I’m most excited about after free shipping. Since I pay $30 a year to a photo storage company and another $10 a month to Dropbox to store photos this feature pays for itself every year.

Cloud Drive offers secure online storage, automatic photo backup, and lets you access your photos anywhere: on your phone, computer, tablet, or any Fire device.

After losing 40,000 and three years with of photos this summer when my son dropped my computer (some where backed up, some weren’t). I’ve been uploading photos to the cloud. I don’t want to lose any more photos and when you take as many as I do you need unlimited photo storage!

Amazon Prime gives you thousands of free videos and television shows.

I don’t use this one often because I’m not much of a tv/ movie watcher, but it’s definitely a great savings.

You can instantly stream Prime Instant Video titles from your computer’s web browser, Fire phone, Fire TV, Fire Tablets, iOS devices, and hundreds of other Internet-connected TVs, Blu-ray players, set-top-boxes, and gaming consoles.

They have lots of kid’s shows available for free including Thomas, Veggie Tales, Angelina Ballerina, as well as lots of holiday movies.

Amazon Prime gives you free streaming music.

We’ve been paying $9 a month for Spotify for the past year. Now Amazon Prime gives you free streaming music. They have over a million titles including holiday music and playlists (yay! Love me some Christmas music!)

This is a new benefit for Prime members that I’m excited to try out. I’d love to cancel my Spotify account and save!

Amazon Prime gives you early access to Lightening Deals.

I love Lightning Deals around Christmas time because the prices are really amazing. A Prime membership gives you access to these deals 30 minutes early, so if it is something you really want to buy it will be available early and you’ll be able to get it before it sells out.

Six Month Free Trial for Students!

If you have a child with a .edu email address they are eligible for a free six month Amazon Prime Student membership. The benefits are the same for a student membership but if you decide to continue with the program it is only $50 for the year instead of $99.

Sign up for the student membership here

For my family Amazon Prime adds up!

Amazon Prime yearly membership $99.

Things I don’t need because I have an Amazon Prime membership:

  • Dropbox $10 a month
  • Spotify $10 a month
  • Netflix $8 a month
  • Photo hosting $30 a year

Total savings each year: $366 

If you don’t have an Amazon Prime membership this is the BEST time of year to start your free trial! If you don’t love it, cancel before your 30 days are up and you pay nothing.

I think it is worth the $9 a month that a membership costs because I use Prime almost weekly. I’ve purchased fixtures, fans, lightbulb, paint, even wallpaper scrapers from Amazon in the past year and I’ve never had to worry about waiting for an item to arrive or paying for shipping!

Do you have Amazon Prime? Do you think it is worth $99 a year? 

This post may contain a link to an affiliate. See my disclosure policy for more information.

How to Improve Your Credit Score

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If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know I like to pay cash for most of my purchases (even big ones like cars). However, two years ago when we moved to Florida I had to qualify for a mortgage, on my own.

(Long story – but we were buying a house before we sold our current house and my husband was between jobs, so I was on my own to qualify for our new home).

I’ve always paid our bills on time (thank-you automatic bill pay) but never paid much attention to my credit score because we always paid cash for everything. Then, all of a sudden I was consumed with credit scores, reports, bank statements, and every other piece of financial paperwork from the last three years of my life.

I didn’t realize that there were things you could do to raise (or hurt your credit score) until I needed the best score possible to get a great mortgage rate for our home loan.

How to monitor your credit report for free.

Pay your bills on time

As long as you are living within your means, this should be very simple since every bank offers automatic bill pay. All of my bills are paid automatically each month so I don’t even think about making payments and am never late even if I’m sick, on vacation or super busy.

Keep your balances low  

Ideally, you should pay your bills in full every month, but if you can’t, make sure your balances remain low. If it looks like you have maxed out your credit cards, your credit score may decrease. 

Use credit cards responsibly

While you don’t need to have a credit card to improve your credit score, having a credit card history that includes timely payments is a great way to work to increase your credit score. Don’t open multiple new accounts in a short period of time (that can decrease your score) but rather keep a few accounts in good standing and your score will improve.

Monitor your credit score

I truly believe that knowledge is power and knowing your credit score will allow you to make the best decisions regarding your credit and purchases.

Discover recently launched a new site, Credit Scorecard, where you can check your credit score for free.

Available to all consumers (not just Discover cardmembers), you can check your FICO® Credit Score which is the score used by 90% of the top lenders.

creditscorecard

In a recent survey, Discover found that 61% of people who checked their credit score improved their credit behavior. You can’t fix something if you don’t know it’s broken, right?

Over the years, I’ve met many people who stick their head in the sand when it comes to their finances. Educating yourself to become a smart consumer is the best way to improve your financial future.

This post may contain a link to an affiliate. See my disclosure policy for more information.

Five Smart Ways to Use Your Tax Refund

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By now most people have filed and received their tax refund. In fact, I can remember trying to file as early as possible when we knew we were getting a refund.

While it can be tempting to blow your tax refund on fun and entertainment here are five smarter ways to spend your money.

By now most people have filed and received their tax refund. In fact, I can remember trying to file as early as possible when we knew we were getting a refund. While it can be tempting to blow your tax refund on fun and entertainment here are five smarter ways to spend your money.

Pay off lingering bills

If you are still paying for that furniture set or washer and dryer from nine months ago, put your tax refund to work for you. Paying off your revolving debt will free up extra money every month for you to save towards other expenses, investments, or family fun.

Invest in your home

Do you have an old, rotting tree that needs to be cut down? Is your refrigerator on the fritz? Has your carpet seen better days? Repairing or replacing items in your home before they completely stop working can actually save you money in the long run.

Home improvement projects such as getting an air conditioner tune up, replacing light bulbs with LED’s, or installing ceiling fans are great ways to invest in cost saving, environmentally friendly improvements to your home.

If you own your home, certain repairs and upgrades can actually be a tax deduction if you ever sell your home.

Build your credit

For my children, tax refunds can be a great way to build credit. My son doesn’t have any credit cards, because he’s not the best budgeter. However, he can use his tax refund to apply for a Discover it® Secured Credit Card.

The credit limit on a secured card is equal to the deposit on the card, so it helps him learn good spending habits because he can’t spend more money than he has.

The Discover it Secured Card offers 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants and 1% on other purchases. There is no annual fee, a fraud liability guarantee, and the same awesome Freeze ItSM feature, which can help prevent new purchases if your card is lost or stolen.

Invest it

It’s never too early or too late to start investing your extra money. We have several Roth IRA’s as well as a traditional IRA. It’s nice to build up your retirement accounts (or emergency fund) with a big deposit once a year.

Start a business

Last year I started a business with a $1,500 investment (which is about ½ the amount of the average American tax refund). With a lot of hard work, I was about to turn that $1,500 into a $100,000 business by the end of the year.

If there is a business that you have been thinking about starting, using the extra money from your tax refund can be a great way to get started.

Remember, while it might be fun to brainstorm ways you can blow your tax refund, making smart decisions with your money will improve your financial future.

This post may contain a link to an affiliate. See my disclosure policy for more information.