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College Is Within Reach

When our daughter, Bethany, was four-years-old, she came running in the house sobbing uncontrollably. I smoothed her blond curls and held her, “What’s wrong, Bunny?”

“I don’t want to leave you and go to college!” Her chubby arms held my neck tight.

“Um, well, Bunny, you don’t have to go to college any time soon!” I soothed, while rubbing her back.

She sat up straight, “I don’t?”

Wiping her tears, she sniffed, “Good! Can I go back to Julie’s house and play again?”

Later, I discovered that Julie’s older brother was leaving for college and her friend’s family was sad to say goodbye. Bethany thought she was going to have to leave us and it made her unhappy.

Fast forward two decades and she did go off to college. Proud parent moment: Three years ago, she graduated from Moody in Chicago, majoring in electronic media communications. She’s not crying now. Bethany graduated with no student loan debt. Graduating debt-free gave her financial flexibility — enough flexibility to work for a non-profit in Europe for a year. If Bethany was strapped to student loan debt, she may not have had this opportunity.

Bethany now lives in an affordable house with roommates, and can afford to travel for fun. In fact, she leaves Saturday to visit Fiji, New Zealand, and Australia. She can do all of this because she graduated debt-free from college, and with some preparation and planning, you or your child may also be able to graduate debt-free, too.

Here are some ways to stretch your dollars and minimize student loan debt this fall:

Make Applying for Scholarships a Part-Time Job – And get creative! In addition to the Yellow Ribbon and GI Bill money, think outside the box and look at other scholarship opportunities you or your son or daughter may qualify for. Millions of dollars of scholarship money go unclaimed every year. This is free money that parents or prospective students who are willing to do some detective work may find more quickly than they think. Go to www.collegeboard.com or www.salliemae.com to find scholarships that might be a good fit for you. And don’t stop looking just because you’re already in college; apply for scholarships each and every year. Visit MFAN’s website to learn more about the Post 9-11 GI Bill and The Yellow Ribbon Program.

Make a Budget, and Stick to It – As a parent of a college student (or someone who is considering college for yourself), your love for your student is unconditional, but your money is conditional. That’s what we’ve always told our kids. Make sure you or your student are making the most of his or her money. Set a budget for spending and manage it. Loading funds on a campus card to help track spending can do this. And determine which on-campus retailers accept financial aid to be certain you’re making the most of your college dollars.

Make a Smart Move on Textbooks – You can rent or get a digital textbook by going to Rent-A-Text  or CafeScribe’s. These are great options that have saved students more than $130 million, our family included. Students who rent books through the program still have the freedom to highlight and take notes in their textbooks (within the normal wear and tear associated with coursework) and the flexibility to pay for their materials through financial aid and campus cards. Students can also save on shipping by having their books delivered to their on-campus bookstore. The digital option allows students to work on Macs, PCs, and most web-enabled devices like tablets and smartphones when using CafeScribe.

Bonus SavingsMake Smart Use of Amazon

You may already know that Amazon is a wonderful online warehouse of everything imaginable. Here are my favorite back to school saving tips for Amazon:

  1. Consider Membership: By spending $99 a year for a membership to Amazon Prime, you may find yourself saving more than if you opt out. Student memberships are only $49. The membership comes with free two-day shipping on most items, and you also have access to freebies like the lending library for books, as well as free streaming of movies and TV shows. With shipping alone, this will pay for itself if you order multiple items in a year. The new added benefit of streaming video can also cut out the extra fees of Netflix or Hulu Plus.
  2. Share the Love: If you would rather not shell out the full $99 or $49 (student) a year for Amazon Prime, you are able to cut the cost up to 4 ways by sharing the service with others such as roommates. You can add up to four “household” members by following these instructions. Amazon doesn’t give limits as to who a household member is, so it is up to your discretion.
  3. Free Perks: Take advantage of some of your favorite titles at no cost with the section dedicated to free eBooks in the Kindle store. Also, if you are a member, you can borrow one of the 145,000 titles in Amazon’s lending library.
  4. Track the prices: If you find the item you want, but it doesn’t match your price range, use the site CamelCamelCamel to keep an eye on the price. You can set alerts that will notify you via email or Twitter when the price of the item drops.
  5. Shop the sales: There are a plethora of deals available at Amazon. Check out its Today’s Deals page to see what items are currently on sale, including the section that takes you to the best deals at Amazon. Another great place to find deals is the outlet shopping page. There are other deals such as Warehouse deals; Amazon makes sure the items are working order before putting them up for sale as Warehouse Deals.

Ellie Kay is an author of 15 published books, mom of seven and wife of a test fighter pilot. She is known as “America’s Family Financial Expert” ®, for more information, go to www.elliekay.com

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