It Really IS Possible to Pay for College
by Cindi McMenamin
I remember shuddering at the thought of having to one day send our child to college.
My husband and I were sitting at our dining room table as a financial adviser was instructing us to begin putting aside $200 monthly into a college savings account if we wanted to pay for our then 5-year-old child’s college education.
Two hundred dollars a month? The suggestion was so impossible it was almost laughable! We were living on a pastor’s meager salary, and I was a stay-at-home mom making no extra income at the time. How could we EVER afford to send our daughter to college, let alone save for our own retirement?
And yet, we started taking a few small steps and making a few small sacrifices. Those small steps and sacrifices eventually added up to bigger ones, and I can now tell you that our daughter recently graduated debt free from a private Christian university.
It is possible to pay for college. If you’re willing to do your homework—and the hard work.
Here are 10 things I learned about how to face that financial giant:
- Better late than never. Once I started making money to contribute to the family income—about six years before my daughter would enter college—we set up a Scholar’s Choice account and started putting $25 into it monthly. It was all we could spare at the time, but whenever my husband or I received extra money (from a bonus check, the sale of an item, or a cash rebate) we put it into the college savings account, causing the balance to grow quicker.
- Double-up on savings. Once we tied our daughter’s Scholar’s Choice account to a Scripps account, we began to earn money for her college expenses on nearly everything we purchased—gas, groceries, gift cards at Christmastime. We also started putting the cash we saved from points and frequent buyer reward cards into her college savings fund. For example, whenever I earned a free meal, coffee, or anything else, I put the money I would’ve spent on the free item into the college savings account.
- Don’t get intimidated. I was very intimidated by the $35-$50,000 yearly tuition costs at the schools my daughter was interested in. But a guidance counselor told me early on that no one pays the entire sticker price for college. There’s money available from a myriad of sources to help with college expenses. Most students either don’t know about it or don’t take the time to apply for it.
- Do your research. Many organizations offer scholarships that are rarely applied for or awarded. Have your child start researching scholarships and grants and then applying for them. Get to know your child’s high school guidance counselor. They are often aware of scholarship opportunities and student grants that your child may be eligible for. Get all the information you can by attending financial aid seminars offered by high schools and colleges.
- Set goals and encourage your child to meet them. Challenge your child to research available scholarships and apply for a certain amount per month (or total) during his or her senior year of high school and throughout college. Determine a certain amount your child must contribute yearly for college through an on- or off-campus job. Help them take ownership of the process so they appreciate their education more.
- Get to know the college entrance counselors and financial advisers. It is their job to work with you to get your child into their school. So ask questions. Have your child finish the Federal Application for Financial Student Aid (FAFSA) early and talk with them about meeting the gap between your EFC (estimated financial contribution) and the school’s tuition cost.
- Make the sacrifice. Be willing to adjust to a lower standard of living to make room for the expenses that college will require. It may mean driving an older car until it drops (which saves you on insurance, as well as car payments), foregoing a vacation or two, and scaling back expenses in several areas.
- Explore all the options. Have you considered community college for the first two years? Commuting instead of living on campus? Online courses? Petitioning out of classes? Our daughter managed to graduate a semester early. That saved us several thousand dollars in tuition. In addition, she commuted an hour and a half each direction the last semester, saving us housing costs, and she petitioned to take her “chapel” requirement online, cutting her commute down to only two days a week.
- Be creative. Instruct your child to purchase books online and sell them back through textbook buy back sites. Get a good, low-interest cash rewards credit card so you can earn points on textbook purchases and possibly even tuition payments and housing deposits, then apply that cash back to your account.
- Exercise faith. Being able to send your child through college is a huge step of faith. But remember that anything is possible when we work hard, pray diligently, keep to a budget and trust God. We saw, first hand, that what goes around comes around. For years, we didn’t have much money because we had chosen ministry over money-making careers. It meant we had to scrimp and save, and we didn’t have what a lot of people around us had. But in the long run, it meant we income-qualified for a large yearly state grant to help our daughter attend college. We saw that God’s blessing and provision after years of serving Him and trusting Him came through for us when we really needed it.
Go boldly into this adventure of faith. And heed Jesus’ advice: “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33, NKJV, emphasis added). I like to think a paraphrase of that verse is: “Keep your eyes on God, who owns the cattle on a thousand hills, and He may end up selling a few to get your child through college!”
Cindi McMenamin is a national speaker and author of several books, including When Women Walk Alone, (more than 125,000 copies sold), When Couples Walk Together, and her most recent, 10 Secrets to Becoming a Worry-Free Mom. For more on her ministry, books and resources to strengthen your walk with God and your relationships, see her website: www.StrengthForTheSoul.com.
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