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You know that old saying “The days are long, but the years are short”?
I am starting to feel that to be true more and more as my boys have left behind the early years. I have no more diapers to change, no middle of the night feedings where you can snuggle your baby, and often will have my youngest tell me “I’ve got this, Mom” when I ask if he needs help. My four boys are growing up into young men before my eyes. Even though my youngest is just starting kindergarten this fall, I know it won’t be long before he joins his older siblings and leaves the nest.
My eldest son is the one who is truly helping me feel like the years flew by as he is entering college this fall. The past 4 years had me so focused on my job as a homeschool parent making sure that he had all of the necessary coursework for graduation and college admissions. I was in “long days mode” and now realize the years really did fly by me. And, sadly, we don’t have it all together for how his college tuition bill will be paid. I dropped the ball of the guidance counselor role and didn’t spend much time having him research all the scholarship options that might be available to him.
So here I sit with just weeks before he is set to begin classes having to find ways to pay the bill. The lack of a college fund which we set up came about for a variety of reasons.
Paying for College ~ Why People Like Us Forget to Save
First off, it is hard to justify saving for something that may or may not happen when there are bills to pay and mouths to feed. While it is important to constantly save, there really are those months when it can’t happen or something BIG does happen which eats up your savings.
Secondly, I had drilled into me from an earlier age that college was not a right and something that my parents should be expected to finance. If I wanted it, I needed to work for it. In my case, working for it meant being a dedicated student who was able to get scholarships to cover all of my tuition. I did this for both my undergraduate and first graduate degree so I was able to avoid having student loans to pay off.
Paying for College ~ Ways to Find Money NOW
Save Monetary Gifts from Relatives:
Going back to my personal belief that you should work for the ability to earn a college degree and not consider is a right, I believe that a child can be an active contributor to saving for their college. A relatively easy source of cash to save is from family members who want to send gifts for their birthday or special holidays like Christmas.
Once the boys entered the tween years they began asking for gift cards or cash. Spending the saved money on something like an iPod can seem like a great idea when you are 14. However, once they start seeing how much attending college costs the thought of stashing money for the future becomes more appealing.
Consider a community college or state university in your home community:
This is something my son IS doing. He’d originally planned to flee the nest and attend the University of Alaska Fairbanks. What he had not investigated until receiving the acceptance letter is how much it would cost to live on campus. Living off campus would be a little bit less expensive, but involve the need for a reliable car to get you to class on those –40 degree winter days. Either way, the cost for him to live away from home is far greater than the added expense in utilities and food for having him continue to live at home.
He soon realized that taking on debt just to pay living expenses made no sense. We have family members who are still paying off college loans and he hears them grumble about how much of an impact it makes on their finances. So, he is now set to attend the University of Alaska Anchorage which has some freshman classes offered in satellite locations near our home.
Some states have phenomenal community college options where the cost of tuition for a resident could be significantly less than going to a state college or university. We do not have that option here in Alaska, but took a peek at our old stomping grounds in Maryland. If we still lived there, he could receive an associate degree from the community college for the same cost as one year at the university here.
Apply for Scholarships:
While my personal experience involved receiving a 4 year scholarship which automatically renewed each year so long as I met the requirements, some schools have annual applications for scholarships. Applying for one does not guarantee that you’ll receive it. However, spending up to an hour completing an application can really pay off if you receive one. Even if it is just $100, that’s a pretty good return on your investment of time.
Where I ‘failed’ this past year was reminding him to look at HOW to finance college when he was applying for schools. Many have a page that lists scholarship opportunities for incoming students with some of them available only as an entering freshman. Some states, like Alaska, offer scholarships to all students graduating from high school and attending school at an approved state school. P does qualify for this which will cover about half of his annual tuition at UAA.
Get a job:
This could be a parent finding something part time to help cover expenses or the college aged child doing the same. My mom returned to the workforce when I was entering my junior year in high school expressly for the ability to start saving money towards college expenses. Money I earn here on the blog or through other part time work can help to fund part of the college expense as well.
Our eldest son did this during his senior year to pay for his high adventure trip to Philmont with contingents from the Great Alaska Council of the Boy Scouts. He had a blast there this June as the trip through the backcountry of New Mexico can really test your limits.
Going to work at a local grocery store didn’t seem so terrible when he kept the goal in mind. Once classes begin and he knows what his work load will be, he can consider applying for a job to help him save money to pay for things like textbooks or even a little ‘pin’ money to have fun with friends on the weekend. I spent time working during my last 2 years of college with the money helping to cover those types of things along with sorority dues.
Remember that New is not all it is cracked up to be:
Whether it is clothing to wear or textbooks needed for a class, there is nothing wrong with going the used route. Alaska is a little unique in that our resale shops sometimes charge close to a super sale price for items at the store. So, I do a mixture of shopping the resale venues and grabbing items we need at those super sale prices. Right now is a great time for school supplies and basic clothing for the kids.
Another option in this tech savvy age is to rent textbooks for a year. This can be a great cost saver for those classes that are required but are not something you need to have as a reference for future classes or your job.
Now that I realize how quickly those years fly by, I am looking at ways our family can be more proactive towards saving for the boys’ education. I found a few articles on the topic including starting a college fund and 4 Tax-Beneficial Ways Grandparents Can Gift Money for College from Protective Life. Better late than never as we all know those long days will turn into years that flew by.
Have you started saving for your kids to attend college yet?
Do you find it challenging to set aside savings for college (or anything) while meeting your family’s basic needs?