I took the liberty of taking the summer off from blogging, but now that fall is just around the corner I felt compelled to fire up the Pay for College Blog again. Our family is beginning to implement our own college funding strategies for the fall semester so I thought I’d share some of the items on our list. If you have a student heading off to college this month or next you will want to make sure you have also set yourself up to minimize your college costs.
My son just left last week to head back to Pittsburgh to complete his senior year at Carnegie Mellon University. He couldn’t wait to get back because he is so looking forward to both his classes and extracurricular activities this year. He called me this evening in a very perky mood anticipating his first day of classes tomorrow. (Hint: This is one of the signs you should get from your child if he or she has picked a great fit college!)
Checklist to Minimize Costs for the Coming Year:
• Make sure any scholarship money awarded by the college has been credited to your student’s account.
• Make sure any private scholarships your child has won for this year has been credited to your student’s account.
• Have your student check with the Financial Aid Office for any school-specific or local area private scholarships that might be available for your student to apply to this year. (My son won a $5,000 school-specific private scholarship last year and he found out he can re-apply this year.)
• Don’t purchase textbooks at the retail price from the campus bookstore. Instead, buy used or rent which should save you 50% - 80%. During this past year a number of campus bookstores, by the way, have started renting books. Here are some places to save on books: www.half.com, www.amazon.com, www.chegg.com or www.efollett.com.
• Don’t choose the most expensive meal plan offered by the college. Most students will never eat that many meals per week in the campus eateries.
• Work out a realistic monthly budget for your student’s personal expenses. To monitor his progress, have your student set up an account on www.mint.com so he can set up an itemized monthly spending plan to help stay within budget. (Have your student be responsible for earning his yearly personal expenses through part-time work so he learns how to ration income over the year.)
• Purchase an Entertainment Book (www.entertainmentbook.com) for your child for the city or town in which she is attending college for lots of 2-for-1 deals and other discounts on everyday items and dining.
• Shop the back-to-school sales online to get free shipping and save sales tax to buy the clothes, toiletries, supplies and dorm room items your child will need this year.
• Opt out of campus-provided health insurance if keeping your child on your family’s policy will save you money. (This saved our family over $1,000 per year.)
• If your student won’t be driving at college, cancel his car insurance. Some auto policies, by the way, will allow you to lower coverage – and therefore your premiums - to only cover your child while he is home on breaks. (Boy can that save a bundle for a teenager!)
• If your child will be a plane flight away, plan ahead when your child will be coming home or when you will go visit her. You can sign up for airline alerts and monitor when fares go on sale. (Tip: Fares often go on sale Wednesday and Sunday nights. I just bought a ticket to the east coast for $100 less on Sunday than it was the few days before.)
Bottom line, your college bills will add up to a lot less if you work on reducing your expenses in multiple areas. The items on the checklist above could easily save you at least $5,000 this year alone!
Deborah Fox is the founder of Fox College Funding®, a nationwide company that helps families find creative ways to reduce their college costs.