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?
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.
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.
Help them create a budget before they go to college.
Did you know that 84%* of college students say they need more information on financial management? I’ll be the first to admit that I did a terrible job educating my kids about money until a few years ago. We either had money or we didn’t and that dictated our lifestyle.
Helping your child create a budget BEFORE they go to college is one of the best high school graduation gifts you can give to them. If you haven’t created a budget before here are some free budgeting resources to help you get started.
Discuss smart credit card purchases before they go.
Items like gas, food, school books, and school supplies are expenses most college students incur every year. These are great items to charge and then pay off every month because they are in the budget.
Things like cosmetics, pizza delivery, video games, movies, and pay per view are probably not in the budget so remind them to leave the credit card in the dorm if they would be tempted to spend it on things they can’t afford.
Credit cards are not free money.
When my kids were little and would ask to eat out I would often respond, “We don’t have the money this week.”
Inevitably one child would shout from the back seat, “That’s okay, just use your credit card.”
Make sure your college student has the ability to pay for his or her purchases just like they would with a debit card or cash. Remind them that if they can’t pay for their purchases at the end of the month, they will end up paying significantly more for those purchases because of the interest.
Keep it simple and only have one card.
Help them understand that multiple cards means multiple bills each month and a pretty high balance at graduation. If your child does not have experience with budgeting, tracking expenses, and paying their own bills every month, multiple cards is probably not a good thing.
Discuss the different credit card options with them and help them make the best decision for their financial goals and future.
Remind them to look over their bill every month.
A few years ago I got into the habit of blindly paying my bill every month without looking over the charges. Then one month I realized we had been billed for a service we cancelled several months earlier.
While your credit card probably does a great job of catching fraud, it is easy for smaller charges to slip through the cracks, especially if there was a free trial involved.
Help your kids read through their first several bills and look for errors. Make sure they know when the bill is due and remind them to pay it on time so they aren’t paying late fees and interest.
For a young adult, good credit can help buy a car, rent an apartment, or even obtain a mortgage. But financial mistakes made in college will live with your child for years after they graduate.
It’s never too early to start discussing financial responsibility and budgeting with your children. The earlier you start, the more likely they are to take those principals with them when they go away to school.