Wednesday’s Parent: 6 Circus lessons for balancing the budget

6 Circus lessons for balancing the budget. Photo by WendyDavid-Gaines

6 Circus lessons for balancing the budget. Photo by Wendy David-Gaines

Wednesday’s child may be full of woe but Wednesday’s Parent can substitute action for anxiety. Each Wednesday Suzanne Shaffer and I will provide parent tips to get and keep your student on the college track. It’s never too late or too early to start!

Wednesday’s Parent will give twice the info and double the blog posts on critical parenting issues by clicking on the link at the end of the article from to and vice versa.


 Wednesday’s Parent: 6 Circus lessons for balancing the budget

Many kids and parents are fans of the circus. They marvel at the skills of the aerialists, acrobats and animal tamers. They laugh at the antics of the clowns, consume tasty treats and watch the sideshows. There are also powerful financial lessons that may be learned from these performers to help teens learn about managing money.

Many of the college-bound and their parents are about to take on huge college expenses while trying to maintain a certain life-style and prepare for a future one. There will be a host of new purchase opportunities for an already lean wallet. If a house is on the future acquisition list, student debt may prevent the plan. Read Naughty and nice solutions to cut college costs and increase home ownership for more details.

Use these six questions packed into vivid images to start a serious discussion to teach your teen about money management:

  1. When it comes to balancing your budget, are you a juggler or a tight rope walker? Show your child how to create and use a budget by listing expenses and income.
  2. When it comes to spending money, are you the Master of Ceremonies or a clown? Explain the realities of living within one’s means based on their budget compared to a foolish fantasy without a safety net.
  3. When it comes to making decisions, will you choose cotton candy or unbuttered popcorn? Life is about choices including what to spend money on. Parents may help their kids understand how to include occasional splurges into normal routines and still be nutritionally and financially healthy.
  4. When it comes to preparing for your future, are you the lion or the lion tamer? Most teens live in the present but focusing on the future is a great way to prepare the college-bound for what’s to come. Teach your child the benefits of controlling their own finances rather than having debt decide for them.
  5. When it comes to saving for something special, are you the sideshow’s Strong man or the whole three-ring circus? Teach your child how to prioritize financial goals to achieve them one at a time or they may spread themselves too thin and not focus on any well.
  6. When it comes to financial security, are you an acrobat or an aerialist? Both are strong, have great timing and get the job done. The message parents may teach is these are the skills needed to achieve a student’s financial dreams.

For more budgeting tips for teens before college check out Suzanne’s blog:  Wednesday’s Parent: A Crash Course in Money Management 

7 Tips to Help Your Child Decrease Their Loan Debt BEFORE Graduation Day

Barrister on a Budget by Jenny L. Maxey

Barrister on a Budget by Jenny L. Maxey

Jenny L. Maxey, author of Barrister on a Budget, and I have teamed up to provide some fresh financial suggestions for parents, the college-bound and students continuing with post-graduate studies. Jenny will focus on tips to help your child decrease student loans BEFORE graduation and I will zoom in on fresh ideas for families to do now, plan for the future, and ask others to step it up.

Enjoy Jenny’s guest post:


7 Tips to Help Your Child Decrease Their Loan Debt BEFORE Graduation Day

Student debt is becoming a heavy burden, and not just for students.  Parents often co-sign for loans to help their child receive funds or even just to help them get a better interest rate.  The scary thing is that in the current economy, many students are unable to find a job that will allow for cost-of-living in addition to the hefty repayments.  And what happens if the student can’t make the payments?  Well, it can be two-fold.  If you co-sign, you are the one responsible to make the payments.  Plus, your child might move home (if you’re feeling the effects of the empty nest, that’s maybe not a bad thing), which can cause your bills to increase.  You’re likely going to be dipping into your retirement funds (or not saving for retirement at all), and then what happens when you retire?  You and your child are going to be stuck paying that student loan bill.  Even declaring bankruptcy, does not get rid of student loan debt.  So before you or your child sign for another loan, take these steps to better not only your child’s future, but yours as well.

  1. Avoid borrowing loans altogether.  Okay, this might sound obvious, but have you and your child looked for opportunities?  I mean really looked?  Scour the internet, local and state organizations, your employers, and corporations, anything you can do to find scholarships.  Then, apply for all of the ones your child qualifies for.  Yes, this can be time consuming, but you could avoid thousands in debt for not much work.  Joining the military is also an option that many don’t consider.  The military can offer partial and sometimes full tuition assistance among other benefits.  And, as some employers give preference to the military, can be the difference in acquiring a job or not in this market.
  2. Graduate early.  If your child is still in high school, take Advanced Placement (AP) courses.  While the exam to receive the college credit can cost $80 – $120 (plus any fees added by the high school), it can be cheaper than the same course in college.  Be sure to inquire about any financial assistance the high school may provide for these courses.  If your child is currently in college, take the full credit load every semester if the tuition is a flat rate (every school is different, so check the policies).  Also, they should use their summers wisely and do an internship that will give them course credit (and maybe some spending money) as well as experience and references!
  3. Pay attention to loan agreements.  Apply for subsidized loans and other need-based loans that will usually cover part or all of the interest payments while your child is in school.  Shop around for the lowest interest rates. Keep documents organized and be aware of your repayment schedule to avoid late fees.  Know the options to make repayment manageable to avoid fees and default.
  4. Negotiate tuition fees.  Schools have some fees that are negotiable.  Fees that are automatically put into your tuition bill, such as gym membership and athletic tickets, can sometimes be opted out of and removed from the bill.  Check with the financial aid office and discuss these options.
  5. Get a job.  If your child can handle working while in school (make sure they are able to maintain a high GPA to open up employment options upon graduation), then get a job…maybe two.  Colleges offer Resident Advisors (RA) and work study programs that are flexible with school hours and offer benefits – reduced housing expenses and free meals for RAs – or payment to pay for educational expenses.  If they get a job off of campus, they can also use the income to pay for educational expenses, decreasing the amount they may be inclined to borrow.
  6. PAY INTEREST!  This one is a biggie! Most student loans have compound interest, which means, if you don’t pay your interest, it adds on to the total amount owed and the next time you are charged interest, the payment is based on the new total.  This can quickly add up!  The original balance owed will be maintained and your child will pay less over the life of the loan if you or they make the interest payments during school.
  7. Teach them how to budget.  Keep track of spending for a month or a semester and create a budget.  Review the spending and determine what areas can be cut back.  Do they really need the $7 Starbucks coffee or the newest iPhone?  Can they buy used books or eBooks for lower prices?  Have they been flashing their student ID as much as possible to get all the discounts on food, entertainment, and transportation possible?  There are free apps available that can easily keep track of budgeting for you, making it readily accessible at each purchase and keeps you in check or there is always Excel Spreadsheet.


Jenny L. Maxey is the author of Barrister on a Budget:  Investing in Law School…without Breaking the Bank.  Jenny earned a Master’s degree in Public Administration and a J.D., and is licensed to practice law in Ohio.  Although her book is geared toward pre-law and law students, most of the information can be easily applied to any level of higher education.  Barrister on a Budget is available on and Barnes & Noble Nook.  You can find more information and follow her blog on

Now hop over to read my 10 $$$ ideas for POCS (Parents of College/college-bound Students)

10 $$$ ideas for POCS (Parents of College/college-bound Students)

Bright ideas, photo by Wendy David-Gaines

Bright ideas, photo by Wendy David-Gaines

If finding money to pay for college seems like a scavenger hunt then it’s time for some serious new $$$ ideas. Traditionally, there are two methods to decrease expenses. One is to lower the costs and the other is assistance to pay the bill. Jenny L. Maxey, author of Barrister on a Budget, and I have teamed up to provide some fresh financial suggestions for parents, the college-bound and students continuing with post-graduate studies. Jenny will focus on tips to help your child decrease student loans BEFORE graduation and I will zoom in on fresh ideas for families to do now, plan for the future, and ask others to step it up.

Enjoy my post.


 10 $$$ ideas for POCS (Parents of College/college-bound Students)

Status quo ideas

Both colleges and the government have sought to lower college costs for families by treating higher education as big business selling an expensive product which becomes a large consumer purchase. Colleges offer varying discounts to tuition in the form of institutional aid that reduce the cost of attendance (COA) or sticker price on a case-by-case basis. Federal and state governments developed financial aid programs to help eligible students pay their college bills.

Neither of these ways have been successful in making college more affordable. Costs continue to rise or have already surpassed a financial safety zone for students at all income levels. A tuition discount of $10,000 may seem generous but does not go far if faced with a $50,000 annual bill. Student and parent loans are considered part of financial aid. They help the bill get paid today but can add thousands of dollars in interest and fees to the principal that will have to be paid back in the future.

Think tank ideas

A think tank recently addressed the problem of PLUS loans for parents of undergraduate students. Parent PLUS loan seen as parent trap describes the key recommendations for Parent PLUS loans reforms.

Higher education should enhance futures, not endanger them financially. Students need access to college but their college dreams shouldn’t put parents at financial risk.

The combined think tank report The Parent Trap and event discussing college affordability, inspired me to add my ten college affordability options for students.

Developing problems

Interest rates for federal student and parent loans are now tied to the market place so rates will rise as the economy improves, whether or not borrowers’ financial situation improves. Education debt follows students throughout their lives. For example, the government can seek repayment with social security benefits.

The federal government is developing a new college rating system with the hope of tying the rating to distribution of financial aid. This may hurt public colleges with lower graduation rates and higher loan default rates.

Fresh ideas

Families paying high college costs and loading on debt should not be the only answer to achieve necessary higher education and attain a financially secure future. Some new thinking for parents, students and public policy is a must to solve the college cost problem.

Here are my ten fresh ideas for families to do now, plan for the future, and ask others to step it up.

  1. Go sideways Many colleges collaborate with other schools to form a consortium. This allows students extra perks like taking courses at a more expensive college while paying the lower tuition at the school they attend. The practice of cross-college collaboration is growing, Inside Higher ED recently reported colleges with tight budgets seek to share resources without merging. Parents may be familiar with the practice when multiple local schools do something similar with academic and extracurricular programs or bus service contracts.
  2. Be savvy If colleges and governments treat higher eduction as a business purchase, so should students and their parents. Take a cue from savvy house and car (both of these costs also have hugely escalated) shoppers and turn down offers of admission from schools that don’t make it affordable to attend. All institutions need to fill their classrooms and consumers can and do influence product sales. Appeal too low financial aid awards: demonstrate desire to attend but make it clear attendance is impossible without affordability.
  3. Go where you are wanted Best college/student fit means the place where students will thrive and receive best chance to achieve success. The most overlooked criteria is the degree in which the college wants the student. Schools show their appreciation with large institutional financial aid awards, honors programs, class choice priority, and special academic, cultural, research, internship, and employment opportunities. The Hechinger Report blog mentions a great program example to help students graduate.
  4. Relocate States often substantially reduce public college tuition costs for residents. The catch is state requirements for residency must be met and student residence usually depends on parent state of residence. Parents wanting to provide their child a choice to attend a great public college in another state should begin researching a move to meet state residency requirements that could save thousands of college dollars.
  5. Start early Parents can’t expect their child to do their best if he is not invested in the college process. Students should know college costs and their expected part in paying for their higher education. They need a strong work ethic for studies and a job. A recent article shows two middle-school students began a business with the goal of paying for college. They are staying motivated, making some extra spending money, gaining valuable skills, and adding to their college application activities resume.
  6. Make it free Public education is not a new concept; it just ends at the12th grade. Yet a college degree is now valued the way a high school diploma used to be. President Obama has said it, economists have predicted it and the marketplace is demonstrating it. So urge your representatives to redirect a large portion of current financial aid to cover the cost of public community college tuition for two years. All students who seek an Associates Degree would get one free and the price could be easily covered according to an article in The AtlanticThe figures from the think tank and Department of Education data proves the math works.
  7. Support new tax deductions There are some limited education tax deductions including provisions for interest on loans. What about a deduction for loan principal paid for college degrees? Many states allow a tax deduction for contributions to state-sponsored 529 college savings plans. In Nebraska, a bill was recently introduced to deduct principal paid on loans used to obtain a graduate degree for the first 10 years after a resident had earned the degree, according to a article from
  8. Create new civilian service option The government picks up the higher education tab in exchange for military service, trades community service for payment of student loans under programs like AmeriCorps, and forgives student loans for working in certain professions like nursing, teaching, public service under specific conditions. Urge the government to develop a new but similar program with a broader civilian service commitment that would build back a strong and eager work force.
  9. Ask others Encourage your child to find businesses, organizations and groups that want to invest in her. Take a lesson from new fund-raising sites and offer projects in exchange for donations to help pay for college. This also will build her college application resume.
  10. Refuse loans Send a strong message to representatives that your family is not interested in financial aid that offers loans with high interest rates and fees. These things are not true aid but methods of paying. Interest and fees can add thousands to the cost of borrowing during repayment. Soon Congress will be reviewing the higher education law so let your voice be heard now.

Before the perfect storm of increasing college costs destroys your family’s finances, consider my $$$ ideas for POCS (Parents of College/college-bound Students) and head over for Jenny’s guest post super tips on my POCSmom Blog and her Barrister Blog to save you more!!!

Cooper Union says no more but others still offer free tuition

Fewer colleges offer free tuition

Few colleges offer free tuition.
Photo by kenteegardin,

Cooper Union announced it will end its tuition–free policy and start charging tuition to those who can afford it. This leaves a handful of tuition-free colleges including three in the New York area. Only one of these is a private institution and the two federal service academies come with strings attached.

Read on for the list:


7 cool ways Twitter helps parents of college-bound

twitter influence: Photo by mil8 Marc Levin

twitter influence: Photo by mil8 Marc Levin

Social media can help parents of the college-bound. Twitter, for instance, provides a wide selection of valuable resources. While students are often warned about how misuse of social media can harm their college and job prospects, savvy parents can explore and benefit from this new virtual frontier.

With short and snappy posts, Twitter users get their point across in 140 characters or less. It’s a great tool for uber-busy parents with little spare time. Tweets can be read on smart phones while standing in line at the market, in a waiting room or during T.V. commercials. Since Twitter is socially interactive, parents can follow a favorite Tweeter, comment and ask a question.

Here are 7 cool ways Twitter helps parents of the college-bound:

Read more

College Goal Sunday

Cliché: Help is on the way.    
POCS Reality: College Goal Sunday helps the college-bound file FAFSA for financial aid.    

Attention college-bound: If you need help to fill out your FAFSA for financial aid to help pay for college, College Goal Sunday is coming to your area. The national event is staffed with financial aid volunteers ready to answer your questions and help you complete and submit your 2012-13 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Under FAFSA, colleges award eligible students federal grants, student loans and a job through the Federal Work-Study program. States may require FAFSA before students can submit an application for their state financial aid program. Colleges can use other forms or just use FAFSA to determine awards from their own institutional funds. Check with your state and college for FAFSA filing deadlines.

College Goal Sunday is held in 40 states and the District of Columbia. It started in Indiana to help students and families complete financial aid forms, focusing on low-income, first-generation families.

Applicants will need to bring some important information to complete their FAFSA:

  • Social Security Number for yourself, and parents if providing parent info
  • Driver’s license, if any
  • Alien Registration Number if you are not a U.S. citizen
  • W-2 forms
  • 2011 federal tax returns for yourself (and spouse if married), and parents if providing parent info
  • Records of 2011 untaxed income including Social Security benefits, welfare benefits, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), veteran benefits for yourself, and parents if providing parent info
  • Bank statements
  • Current business and investment mortgage info, business and farm records, stock and bond investment records, for yourself, and parents if providing parent info
  • FAFSA PIN to use as an electronic signature for yourself, and parents if providing parent info. Apply for one in advance at the U.S. Department of Education PIN Web site.

You can estimate how much financial aid you may receive and your expected family contribution (EFC) to college costs at FAFSA4caster.

To preview the types of questions you will be asked, go to the FAFSA on the WebWorksheet or look at the paper FAFSA

Gather your documents necessary to complete the FAFSA and mark your calendar to attend College Goal Sunday.

POCSmom’s College Prep DIY Insight: If you need money to pay for college, file your FAFSA yourself or with help.

FAFSA help on Twitter

Cliché: Inside information.
POCS Reality: FAFSA help was available on a Department of Education twitter chat.

Financial aid met social media yesterday as applicants entered their tweet questions in 140 characters or less using #AskFAFSA.

Martha Kanter, the Under Secretary of Education, hosted an hour-long twitter chat about the FAFSA (the Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and tweeted the answers.

Here are some of her tweet highlights:

  • There’s NO income cut-off for federal student aid. Everyone should fill out the FAFSA.
  • You can submit a FAFSA before you file your taxes. Select “will file” then use income estimates & correct your FAFSA later.
  • To access your SAR (Student Aid Report) after submitting your FAFSA, login, click View Processed Information & enter your PIN. More details.
  • For information about your state’s financial aid program, check your state’s website
  • In order to receive federal student aid you must be a US citizen or eligible noncitizen. But you should check with your school’s #financialaid office. They can help you explore your options. But you should check with your school’s #financialaid office. They can help you explore your options.
  • If the student answers no to all questions here she’s a dependent student & must provide parent info.
  • Students should file FAFSA every year they want aid because you never know how your circumstances might change or what new financial aid might become available.
  • Federal Pell Grant eligibility is based on many things: income, cost of attendance @ your school & more.
  • The FAFSA is available in Spanish.
  • Grandparents are not considered parents on the FAFSA unless they have legally adopted you.
  • The IRS data retrieval will be available Feb. 1. Change “will file” to “already completed” in your FAFSA.
  • Your answer to the marital status question should reflect your marital status at the time you sign the FAFSA.
  • Federal student aid can be used to cover summer tuition if you have remaining eligibility for the academic year.
  • If you have questions along the way, the FAFSA’s Help section has a lot of great info.

The twitter chat also gave Under Sec. of Ed. Kanter ideas for future consideration such as creating a FAFSA video tutorial in Spanish and adding a FAQ section for the IRS Data Retireval tool.

It also provided an opportunity to give info about the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.

Read more:

When should students file FAFSA? File FAFSA ASAP

Why students should file FAFSA? 15 FAFSA FACTS

POCSmom’s College Prep DIY Insight: Who said social media is impersonal? What a wonderful opportunity to get info directly from Under Sec. of Ed. Kanter. Too bad not all questions were answered but  lucky tweeps got their FAFSA help on Twitter.

Outside scholarship search: 4 unexpected rewards

Cliché: It’s a win-win situation.     
POCS Reality: Students can gain more than $$$ when they apply for college scholarships.


To pay the skyrocketing college bill, students can apply for financial aid. However, the exercise of applying for outside scholarships can bring unexpected rewards besides the chance to win money.

Private outside scholarships are sponsored by businesses, fraternal organizations, employers, high schools, groups and individuals.

Here are 4 ways, besides winning the $$$, applying for scholarships can help students:

  1. Vested interest When students win a scholarship, their work contributes to paying for college. Students who are committed to their education are motivated to achieve-especially if they have a financial stake in the process.
  2. Hone skills Research, following directions, time management and writing are valuable skills college students need to succeed. To be eligible to win scholarships, students have to find them, fill out applications correctly, fulfill scholarship requirements and meet deadlines.
  3. Competitive spirit Scholarships are usually contests. Students have an opportunity to showcase their accomplishments and sportsmanship.
  4. Network Contacts are important. Keeping a list of connections can come in handy.

Read more: Scholarships and Grants, POCSmom’s College Prep Insights Newsletter

Read for inspiration: Homeless LI Intel semifinalist wins another scholarship

POCSmom’s College Prep DIY Insight: Students should explore all avenues to help pay for college and include applying for financial aid and searching for outside scholarships. Parents can help students organize and track their applications. There are scholarships for prospective and current college students. Parents and schools can plant the seed of college attainment from an early age so students can nurture the dream and be ready to apply for scholarships.

EFC- What is it, why it’s important, and the catch

Cliché: As I expected.   
POCS Reality: The federal government calculates the student’s expected  family contribution to college costs.


Do you know what your EFC is? Without it, colleges can’t determine eligibility for many financial aid programs.

What is EFC

EFC stands for Expected Family Contribution. That’s the number the federal government calculates by applying a formula to the data submitted by a student on his FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).

A student’s EFC is a measure of his family’s financial strength. The higher the number, the more the family can afford to contribute to college costs.

Why EFC is important

Colleges use the EFC to determine financial aid awards based on financial need. EFC is subtracted from the college’s cost of attendance (COA). The resulting number is the student’s financial need. As college costs rise, COA and EFC concern families at all income levels.

The catch

Many colleges do not meet 100% of student need. Colleges may include all forms of financial aid as meeting need. That means student loans that must be paid back or a job from the Federal Work-Study program may be awarded along with free money grants that do not have to be paid back. Out-of-pocket costs are increased when 100% of need is not met or is met by aid that must be paid back or earned. The more free money students receive, the better the financial aid award.

Beyond EFC

Some colleges use other formulas based on other financial aid forms to determine eligibility for institutional aid. States also have different formulas for their state financial aid programs. To maximize eligibility, file all forms the college requires and answer any requests for additional info, as early as possible and before deadlines.

Read more: File FAFSA ASAPWhat you need to file a FAFSAMaximizing Financial aid Awards Parts I and II 

POCSmom’s College Prep DIY Insight: Find out your college’s financial aid polices for meeting student need. When admitted, compare financial aid awards carefully to calculate your out-of-pocket costs. Use POCSmom’s charts that also include costs of borrowing. Students can appeal financial aid awards and demonstrate why they are inadequate, given their special financial circumstances that may not be reflected by their EFC.

What you need to file a FAFSA

Cliché: Pave the way.    
POCS Reality: The college-bound can prepare for financial success.


If you are college-bound, you are going to want to file a FAFSA. After you get your financial aid award, you may even do a happy dance. That’s because filing a FAFSA provides eligible students with grants, loans and a job from the Federal Work-Study program. FAFSA is a pre-requisite for state financial aid programs, many colleges require it for institutional awards and some private outside scholarships want it to verify need.

There are 3 major reasons why families dread filing FAFSA:

  1. It’s complicated Recent changes make filling the FAFSA much easier. If you file online like most do, there are helpful tips and pop-up explanations. There’s a plethora of free info in libraries and online but consider the source before relying on any advice.
  2. It’s time consuming Many of the questions are biographical and should be a snap to answer. For the financial questions, having your documents at your finger tips can provide quick access to answers.
  3. Doubt eligibility Skyrocketing college costs concern families at all income levels and even the affluent can receive financial aid. Some financial aid is based on financial need and some is based on merit (student’s talent- academic, artistic, musical, athletic, leadership abilities). Colleges can give institutional awards to discount their tuition and encourage students they want to attend. However, they may want to see the FAFSA, first.

Now, don’t you want to file your 2012-13 FAFSA? Before you put on your dancing shoes, here’s what you need to get started:


  • Social Security number
  • driver’s license number (if any)
  • 2011 W-2 forms and other records of money earned
  • 2011 federal income tax returns (or estimates based on last year’s)
  • 2011 untaxed income records
  • Business and investment records except for small businesses 
  • Current bank statements and investment records
  • alien registration number (if you are not a U.S.citizen)
  • For online filers (see below filing help) a Federal Student Aid PIN
  • Dependent students need their parents’ info, too

Filing help

  • Call the Federal Student Aid Information Center 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243 hearing-impaired TTY line at 1-800-730-8913.
  • Email the Federal Student Aid Information Center
  • Online filers can get a PIN before or during FAFSA filing to sign and make corrections electronically.
  • Use the FAFSA4caster to estimate your eligibility for federal student aid.
  • For online filers, there’s a FAFSA on the Web Worksheet to preview questions.
  • The IRS Data Retrieval Tool is available beginning February 1, 2012 to online filers who have completed their 2011 IRS tax return. They will be able to use FAFSA on the Web to electronically view their tax information and transfer it into the FAFSA.

Read more: File FAFSA ASAP, 10 Reasons not to file a FAFSA, 15 FAFSA FACTS

Get more: Sign up for POCSmom’s free, new for 2012, monthly College Prep Insights newsletter. January issue is all about getting $$$ for college.

POCSmom’s College Prep DIY Insight: The best FAFSA prep is previewing the questions before filing your FAFSA.