Budget

College Planning 101: the ‘B’ word(Budget)

     

“Cost-Saving Strategies For College

That You Can Begin To Implement NOW

We do not rest, however, and if you have followed our blogs in the past for even just a short time, you probably are aware that we believe there is no wrong time for us to introduce and discuss some of the most important cost-saving elements for tomorrow’s college students.

Some of these things involve proper financial planning and a good understanding of the college funding process – but others are skills that can – and should – be mastered by parents and students as early as possible, to make the costs of college more manageable no matter where a child ends up going to school.

Getting through the undergraduate degree is a big undertaking, there is no question about it, and it is also a significant financial challenge with the current cost of higher education.  However, we have become experts in recognizing ways that these costs can be best managed and even minimized in many cases, and we are eager to share these tips with families of future college students.

Strategy 1: Tallying Pooled Resources

If your child will be receiving funds from grandparents, aunts and uncles, employment, or other sources while in college, it is important to create a budget including all of these amounts.  When this is done then everyone is made aware and everyone is on the same page. Include all sources of income from grandma’s birthday money to income from a summer job. These sources should all be included in the budget to get a clearer picture of what there is to work with. Here’s a comprehensive to further assist with what should be included as part of the budget:

  • All income received: This income should include the money that your child will have once at school, any relief given from the financial aid package and any money that comes in regularly to your child.
  • Monthly income: If there are funds that are coming in from a part-time job or other sources on a monthly basis, include these funds.

Strategy 2: Creating a Budget

Yes, we are not afraid to mention the dreaded “B-word” in our newsletters.  Managing college finances can ONLY be effectively done when a budget is created and followed – trust us, we have seen this simple fact played out both ways (for better and for worse) many, many times.  When creating the budget, it’s important to include the following items:

  • Overall Income: All income listed above which includes all income received and any monthly or income that comes in on a regular basis.
  • Discretionary Income: This is ‘fun’ money. It’s important to have fun while in college. The point is often that too many college students have TOO much fun and blow the money they receive while in college, and end up in bad financial circumstances. Students should learn to set some aside just for having fun, manage it well, and be sure to not go beyond it.
  • Necessities: Items that are absolutes while in college. These include books, computer, etc.
  • Wants: There are always nice things that can make college life a bit easier. These items can go in the ‘wants’ category.
  • Fixed Expenses: Include all expenses that occur on a monthly basis.
  • Variable Expenses: Include all expenses that occur but vary from month to month.
  • Savings: Even in college, there should be money set aside that is an emergency fund or simply savings for a rainy day. Include this amount that is done in the beginning or on a regular basis.
 

Strategy 3: Saving Money in Unexpected Ways

There are numerous ways to cut costs while in college. Here are some ways to painlessly cut costs without sacrificing fun or depriving oneself.

  • Purchase used textbooks or, better yet, rent them if possible. This option is available at many universities and can save considerably on costs. College textbook prices have simply gone through the roof in most cases!
  • Set a designated amount aside for fast food or restaurant meals per week, if needed, and cook the rest at home. Alternatively, utilize a dining plan which can also save time and money.
  • Set money aside for needed purchases and/or fun purchases.
  • Avoid late fees on credit cards or other bills by always paying on time.
  • Don’t purchase cable television. Instead watch shows on a computer.
  • Use eBay, craigslist, or other online resources to sell unwanted or unused items.
  • Look for campus activities to socialize, etc. There are often movie nights, campus museums, etc. that can be utilized instead of spending a lot of money going out.
  • Skip Starbucks and make coffee/tea/hot chocolate at home. There will be significant savings!
  • If a loan is necessary, make sure that it’s only related to college expenses.
  • Bike around campus! At most colleges and universities, there is really no need for a car.

 

Strategy 4: Re-think The “Four Year Experience”

I hope there’s no misunderstanding from this heading. This is not to mean AT ALL that one should miss out on college, or not complete a bachelor’s degree. Quite the opposite, in fact. We fully support and base our efforts around students completing a four-year degree in the most successful and expedited manner possible.

 

While the average time spent in college is creeping ever higher (to our chagrin), there are still some motivated and organized students who complete a 4-year degree in as little as three years – and looking at the annual costs of college, that saves families and students a significant amount of money!  It also allows graduates to enter into the workforce earlier, or move on to graduate or professional training earlier, which means that the overall financial benefit from early graduation is magnified even further.

If cutting costs are a priority for your college student then one very effective way to do this is to complete advanced placement credit in high school, complete junior college credits during high school (if that option is offered where you live), take summer classes between academic years, or in some cases even head first to another less expensive institution, and then apply to transfer to the desired four-year university afterwards.

There will always be general classes that are a requirement for most universities. These classes can be taken at a community or junior college for significantly less money, as long as the acceptability of the credits is cleared in advance, of course! It can sometimes be a wise choice, financially, to use community college – or even an associate’s degree, in some cases – as part of the foundation for undergraduate education.  After all, the bachelor’s degree only has the name of one school on it!

Paying for college starts by understanding your budget and planning for the future.  

Financial Skills to Develop Now

“Financial Skills That Your Future College Student (&parent) Should Be Developing Now”

Dear Parent,

As college funding professionals it is absolutely imperative that we understand the college preparation experience from two specific perspectives.  The first is the academic admissions process itself, so that we can help students optimize their experience in higher education for the brightest future possible.  The second is the financial side of the process – without which the higher education experience is impossible to begin with!

However, we have seen time and time again that, in order for things to work optimally during the college years, the financial side of things CANNOT be left only to the parents.  It is absolutely crucial that young people gain a respect for and understanding of money, of the costs inherent to college, and of the importance of their personal role in keeping the financial ship afloat during their college years.

It is no secret that college or university in America is an expensive proposition, and it does not appear to be getting cheaper any time soon.  For this reason, the most successful students at the next level are going to be those who are able to excel academically, yes, but also those who are develop and implement good financial skills and decision-making throughout their college experiences.

We are aware that there are adults who have not learned some of these skills for themselves, or some who learned them later than others.  This reality does not change the importance of young people learning these skills and responsibilities as early as possible, so that there are not additional financial hurdles that could cause a student to be unable to finish his or her college degree due to poor money choices.  (Yes, sadly enough this does happen, and in most cases it can be avoided with some preventive work!)

Our main focus is on helping families and student to achieve their goals – this process becomes infinitely easier when the following skill set is understood and implemented early in a young person’s life.  Should there be any additional questions about the points listed in this month’s newsletter, please feel free to contact us directly.  We have many years of experience in helping families to make these processes work for themselves both in the home environment and away at school, and it is our pleasure to assist in making them work for you and for your college bound student!

1) Plan a Monthly Budget

Caring for one’s resources is an extremely vital skill. This skill can actually be learned from an early age and carried on throughout life, but it can also be learned later on if needed.  Regardless, understanding and managing one’s finances is something that will become vitally necessary while in college. The immediate level of management will depend, at least somewhat, on where your child will be living. If your child is on campus and will be participating in a meal plan at the cafeteria then budgeting for food will be less complicated, for example. However, if your child plans to live (or eventually move) off-campus then budgeting will become even more important.

No matter where s/he lives, you and your child can decide together which things s/he will be responsible for purchasing. For example, your child may want to have money set aside for entertainment or travel while you, as the parent, may want to cover all books completely. Communication and planning are the key, here.  Once you’ve decided who is responsible for what then you can move forward.

There are three things that should be considered when setting up a budget:

  1. Big Picture: What are your goals? What do you plan to do with the money you have each term or semester?
  2. The How: What will you use to manage your money? What tools or strategies work for you?
  3. The Gory Details: What are your spending habits? Do you need to adjust some habits to align with personal financial goals?

Answering these questions first will help while setting up a monthly budget.

2) Start A (GOOD!) Credit History

Getting started on a credit card for a newly minted college student can be a precarious venture for many young people.  The fact of the matter is, that a college student WILL be beginning his or her credit history with the first year of higher education… for better or for worse.  However, if the college freshman is responsible it can be an ideal time to start his or her positive credit history.

If your child is ready for a credit card then this might be just the time to get his or her credit history started. Getting this history started now will help your child down the road. When they are ready to rent an apartment or buy a car, a credit history will be generated and the longer it is with a clean record will make it easier for them to negotiate and find the best possible deals. There are many cards that have a very low credit limit, say $500, or so. This way your child can begin to work with the responsibility of paying a bill or two with the credit card and then pay it off each month to build positive credit history.

Guiding them to understand that the card is really a tool and not free money, this is the key! If they understand that it is to be used in a responsible way then this will help them stay on the right path. You can also assist by helping them set up online reminders to pay their bills so they are never late on a payment.

3) Learn to Cook at Home

If your child plans on living off campus then this will give them a taste of ‘real life’ right away. One of the great things about living on your own is the chance to cook for yourself. If your child learned cooking skills at home already then living on his or her own should be a snap. Cooking from home has so many benefits. It is healthier and saves a lot of money. There are many online tools that can help with meal prep, shopping guides, etc. There are also many videos that can give cooking basics if s/he is unsure how to get started.

Meal planning (and sharing with like-minded roommates, if possible) can also make a hectic schedule go a lot more smoothly. Between classes and studying, it can be difficult to set aside a lot of time to cook a fresh meal. If meal plans are done in advance then your child can meal prep and in just a few hours can have meals planned and ready in the fridge for a whole week. A little bit of planning goes a long way!

4) Track Expenses

Tracking expenses can be really tedious, but it’s also important. It gives your child a bird’s eye view of exactly what his or her spending habits are. There are several ways that you can track expenses. The good old-fashioned way is holding onto receipts and sorting through them at the end of the month. This is time consuming but helpful. There are also numerous apps that can link to your checking account that will file the purchases according to the names you’ve given them such as: rent, entertainment, car payment, etc.

Tracking expenses is a great way to see exactly where your child is spending his or her  money. It is difficult to make adjustments and changes if s/he is unsure of where the money is going every month. This way, s/he has a clear idea of which areas are working really well and which areas could use some improvement.

5) “Do I Really Need This?”

This can be difficult for young adults and regular adults alike. Being on your own requires a lot of discipline and that is not always the easiest thing when someone is out of the house for the first time and are no longer under the direct guidance of a parent or guardian. It is important, however, to begin to develop the habits of self-discipline and self control.

There are many things in life that may look like a need (especially if we are to listen to marketers and advertisers!) but in reality they are actually a want. Delaying gratification and living without for a while can develop character in a young person. One question your child can ask whenever s/he is about to make a purchase is, “Is this a need or a want?” If it’s a want then it is important to have the maturity to be able to re-think the purchase again.

6) Keep the Future in View

There are so many changes happening when your child begins college. S/he is likely away from home for the first time. S/he is in a new place. S/he will have to make decisions about her life on her own. These are huge things! That is why it is so important to begin early, ideally before college, to encourage your child to begin with the end in mind.

Encourage them to have their own financial goals. It could be to save for a game or event or something smaller than that, but give them the incentive to see beyond the current moment. If they understand that their choices today impact their tomorrow then they may be more thoughtful and mindful in the decisions that they make.

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            Some of these tasks might seem more challenging than others for some people, but we have seen the efficacy of them in making the college experience work financially for young people and their families year after year.  There is no question that they are an important part of the process of becoming an independent young person and setting the foundation for a bright future after the college years have ended.

We publish these monthly newsletters as part of our commitment to assist the parents of college-bound high school students with an understanding of the money side of college readiness.  Among our most effective tools – not to mention one that is frequently utilized – is our offering of live College Funding Workshops.  Our College Funding Workshops feature the best college funding professionals available and provide insights into the most important information regarding the financial details of preparation for the costs inherent to higher education today.

We plan and present our workshops without charging an admission fee to those who attend, but please bear in mind that reservations are required in order for us to maintain an optimal workshop environment for all attendees.  If you would like more details about upcoming College Funding Workshops in this area, please give a call to our workshop team at 614-934-1515.  This toll-free number will provide you with the necessary information regarding times, dates, locations, and any other workshop questions you might have.

Aside from the workshops, you may also be intrigued with our college funding report.  The report is called “Nine New Ways To Beat The High Cost of College.” We are pleased to send out a copy to parents who request it, and just like the workshops there is no cost or obligation.  To receive “Nine New Ways To Beat The High Cost of College,” give us a ring at 614-934-1515 and we will send a copy out to you right away.

Until next month,

Financial Realities of College-how much do you share?

April 2017      

 “The Financial Realities Of College:

How Much Should YOUR Child Know Before Starting?

Dear Parent,
As Spring rolls around it can become more and more challenging for many young people to focus on school, for a variety of reasons.  Of course, this is right about the time when the dreaded diagnosis of “senioritis” tends to set in for those students who are about to graduate from high school – but let’s be honest, almost no student is immune to feeling a little bit distracted as the school year wears onward without any indication of ending, and the weather outside looks better and better!
Well, there are a ton of distractions that can affect students and their families when it comes to preparing for college, as well… and the simple fact is that there are certain details about college preparation that are vital for a successful transition to the next level of education.  Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, these details are often ignored… and both parents and students can be guilty in this regard.  This can definitely have a deleterious effect on their levels of financial, academic, and personal stress during the college experience.
We understand fully that preparing for college or university studies can be stressful, in many ways.  Perhaps because of this reality, there can be a tendency for people to want to ignore some of the more challenging topics related to the transition to the next level of education.  However, ignoring these topics does not make them disappear.  By the same token, if only the parents (or, more rarely, only the students) are involved in these preparations, then it is not a team effort and there can be miscommunications and problems further down the road.  Our experience has been that it is absolutely vital for parents and students to have a mutual understanding of how things are proceeding for college preparation.
At the college level this becomes even more important, because the students are becoming young adults with a significant amount of autonomy, so a knowledge of how things are functioning is going to make a world of difference in keeping things on an even keel academically, financially, and in all other important elements of college life.
For this month’s newsletter, then, we want to explain a few of the most important elements that new college students should understand when it comes to starting their experience in higher education.  Yes, there will be a lot of students in their peer group – far too many, in our experience – who have no idea about these things.  However, rest assured that this lack of knowledge will more than likely become something that will come back to haunt them in the end.  As college funding professionals – and people who deal with these things on a daily basis – we want to help you and your family to experience a smooth transition into and through college or university studies.  We have a special skill set and will be happy to assist in any way possible with your family’s plans in this regard.

 Be Clear From the Beginning
Culturally, we tend to have many “taboo” subjects in the US. Depending on the individual, they may range from religion to sex to money. The subject of money, in particular when it comes to higher education, can get families into deep water if not dealt with from the very beginning with honesty and clarity.
How to pay for college should be a family discussion. This is a subject that should take center stage when getting ready to choose a school. It will have a lot to do with the choices your child will be able to make about where to go. It can also have a big impact on the family for the future.
If your child has his or her heart set on a ‘dream’ school then it is important to have the discussion and have the plans in place to cover the costs of such a school. This can all be done strategically and carefully, as well, with a thorough college funding expert. No parent wants to be saddled with massive amounts of debt when looking to cover costs at a prestigious school, nor do children want to feel that they have become a burden that the family has to bear in order for them to attend school.
Communication and (early!) preparation are really the keys, here. Will the parents be covering the entire costs of college? Will it be a combination of loans for the child plus what the family is able to contribute, or can this be avoided with proper planning?  (Note: it often can.) Having clear goals from the beginning and discussing those goals openly as a family will only bode well for the future college student. Tackling those goals with an expert will make it possible to move forward with those plans smoothly and successfully.
Focusing on the “Why” of College
Unfortunately, we see that not all kids and future college students have a clear vision of why they want to go to college and exactly what they want to get out of it. In fact, many visit colleges and make decisions on whether to attend or not based on a ‘vibe’ they get at the school, or where all of their friends are planning to go. That’s not very thorough, to put it mildly. It is important to make the most informed decision possible when going to college. This starts with the ‘why’ of going to college and then extends all the way through to the ‘where’ of going to college!
Some of the things that should be discussed and explored before beginning a college search include finding out what your child’s academic motivations are. Once these are laid out, it can be easier to look at options at that point. Clarifying interests and academic goals and motivations will make choosing the right college easier and it will mostly likely be a much better return on the investment. Students who enter college without a clear vision or purpose often tend to stay in college longer which, of course, costs a lot more money.
Say your child wants to go into investment banking. This is a field that is dependent on keeping close networks with specific training. A prestigious school – or one with industry connections – might well be necessary for these types of jobs. If this is known from the onset then plans can be made accordingly to identify the correct institutions, get into one of these schools, and also how to pay for it.
Not every child is so clear on his or her ambitions in the teen years, however. This does not mean that all is lost. If they are not sure exactly where their academic focus is you are still able to make informed decisions. If they are able to narrow their interests down to a few different areas then you can search for colleges that have strong programs in the areas where their interests lie.  All of these discussions, when completed early on, can go a long way toward making the transition to college more manageable.
How (Or How Much) To Contribute
Many parents feel guilty if they determine that their ability to completely pay for their child’s education is not possible. It is easy to find parents who have gone into massive debt in order to make their child’s dreams of a college education possible even when it puts their own financial stability in jeopardy. This is one instance where having a solid college planning expert will help to ensure that these types of dire situations can be avoided.
Parents taking stock of what is realistic and what their child’s goals are will be very important in the part of the planning process. Do the parents want their child to attend a specific school?  Even more importantly, is that school a good fit for the student?  If so, is it currently possible to send them there, considering academic and financial realities?  What other options are available?  Once these questions are asked then the parents can move forward and see what will be required in terms of their contribution.
It is also important for parents to understand that where their child goes to college is not a reflection of their parenting skills or who they are as people. Keeping their child financially secure is a major requirement for parents and placing them in a school that they cannot afford and/or will place an undue burden on their child by way of student loans is not a great way for a child to be starting out in life. Planning ahead and making prudent choices based upon real financial circumstances and careful planning with an advisor will ensure the best choice possible is made that will benefit all parties over the long run.
Managing Parental Contribution/Retirement
There is no question that paying for a child’s college education can be a big sacrifice for parents. Parents who have an average annual income of $100,000, for example, can find that college expenses for just one child run $100,000 (and that is being moderate)… which can mean that they should expect to work an extra 10+ years in order to recoup those costs. That could mean delaying retirement in most cases – or, as mentioned above, saddling kids with significant student debt.
Because of these realities, this is another area where careful and early planning can make all the difference. The right adjustments and placing money in the proper strategic places may help to prevent some of the drastic measures to which many people succumb. These are definitely things that can and should be discussed with the college planning advisor – and the earlier that happens, the better! 
Probably the most important element of this part of college preparation can be boiled down to “communication!”  When people do not know exactly what is expected of them (financially, or in any other facet of life) then they are much more likely to make significant mistakes.  This is even more apparent when it comes to young people who are just starting out on their own – at college, or anywhere else… the more things can be clarified and communicated, the more likely they are to be able to manage these expectations successfully.  As college funding advisors, we are focused on helping families make proper communication and excellent planning a part of their college preparation experience.We directly assist parents of college-bound students in understanding more about the financial preparations for college education via our live College Funding Workshops, presented with some of the best college funding professionals around.  These special workshops offer a valuable service to parents who have a desire to optimize the financial aspects of their student’s coming years studying at their college or university of choice.There is no admission fee for these presentations, but due to limitations on space and our desire to create an ideal learning environment, we do insist on an advance reservation for those who wish to attend.  To receive more details about College Funding Workshops planned for your area, place a call to our workshop team members at 614-934-1515.  They will be happy to answer questions about locations, times, dates, and other workshop-related information.  Of course, they will be more than pleased to assist you with a reservation, too, if you would like to be in attendance.We also publish a special report for parents who seek additional information about the management of future college expenses.  We have published this report specifically with the families of college-bound students as an audience, and it is titled “Nine New Ways To Beat The High Cost of College.” Like our workshop presentations, the report is available without cost or obligation.  To receive your own copy of “Nine New Ways To Beat The High Cost of College,” just call our team at 614.934-1515 and the staff will send it via email.

Until next month,