Nine in ten parents believe that college is a worthwhile investment. While this statistic from Sallie Mae’s How America Saves for College 2015 report shows that the value placed on higher education is nearly universal, a staggering 84% of parents are also willing to stretch themselves financially in order to make college possible for their children. “Better we have the debt than [our children] have the debt,” Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley was quoted as saying in a recent Washington Post article on student loans and parent borrowers.
The increasing costs of higher education are a part of our current reality, but breaking the bank doesn’t have to be. Making smart financial decisions from the start, and turning good savings behaviors into long-lasting habits can be the ticket to a fruitful and (hopefully) debt free future – for students and parents alike.
5 Tips for Reducing College Costs
- Start Saving as Soon as Possible – This goes for parents and prospective college kids alike. Parents can start as early as birth to save for college through popular vehicles like 529 plans and savings bonds. See how putting away small amounts of savings will build up over time and will reduce the amount of loans that have to be paid back later in this BetterMoneyHabits.com video.
- Do Your Research – If you already have your major chosen, do some digging into what credentials are required in you major’s industry down the road and consider what your options are for getting the most bang for your buck. Not sure what you want to be when you grow up? That’s okay! Check out community colleges. These low tuition schools offer a wide variety of courses to give you options and time to define the direction of your studies, while keeping costs at a minimum. Liberal arts colleges also have a reputation for giving more generous financial aid packages with similar broad spectrum course options.
- Save on Room & Board – Sometimes there really is no place like home. Take a moment to think about what living expenses really entail: a room to sleep in, furniture, electricity, internet, laundry, regular meals, and any variety of moving costs. Whether you’re trying to reduce student loan debt after college or trying to stretch those 529 savings accounts, living at home during school will save you thousands of dollars.
- Work While In School –Working one (or a few) part-time job can help pay for anything from tuition to books, transportation to school supplies. Every little bit that you can earn and save before and during college will reduce the amount of loans you need to take and save you money you would pay later.
- Know the Fine Print – When savings and free money won’t cover all the costs, student loans will inevitably step in. Whether you’re a student or parent borrower, be mindful of the debt that you take on. Scrutinizing repayment terms is critical as they can help you know how much you’ll owe after you graduate, when you’ll have to start paying on the interest and principal of your loans, and whether you’ll be eligible for any forgiveness options down the road. Get cozy with the details before you sign that promissory note.
Tammy Greynolds works for America Saves, managed by the nonprofit Consumer Federation of America (CFA), which seeks to motivate, encourage, and support low- to moderate-income households to save money, reduce debt, and build wealth. Learn more at AmericaSaves.org.