Thursday, August 18, 2011

Back to College -- Debt Free (Part 1)

When 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 away her tears, she sniffed, “Good! Can I go back to Julie’s house and play again?”
I figured out later that all the drama was because Julie’s older brother was leaving for college and her friend’s family was sad to say goodbye. She thought she was going to have to leave us and it made her sad.
Fast forward the better part of two decades and she’s now a rising senior at Moody in Chicago, majoring in media communications. She’s not crying when she goes back to school, although we miss her. The good news is that she, along with all our other kids, are graduating debt-free! We don’t have any student loans and we didn’t have to refinance our house. Here are a few quick tips to pay for college. For more info, email and ask for the “College Crunch File.”

1. Make the Right Choice – Choose a school not because it’s the best, but because it’s the best value. Change the conversation from “I’ll go to the best college that I can get into” to “I will go to the school where I can get the best education possible for the least amount of student loan debt.” Our son, Daniel, chose the University of Texas (Arlington) over the scholarship he got to Syracuse and TCU because he would still have 60K in student loan debt after the scholarships ran out. He graduated with honors and a degree in journalism. He’s a working writer in Texas and doesn’t regret his college choice.

2. Save Big on Books by Renting – The average student pays more than $600 for course materials – the largest expense after tuition and room and board. I’ve recently partnered with Follett and found that by renting textbooks through their Rent-A-Text program, students can cut costs by 50 percent or more. CafeScribe’s digital textbooks are another great way to save, and both options are available to purchase at more than 800 Follett bookstore locations and online through Students at non-Follett schools can also purchase their digital textbooks on I ordered Joshua’s textbooks this week and saved 52%!!

3. Make Scholarships a Part-Time Job – 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 or to find scholarships that might be a fit for you.

4. Create a Budget, and Stick to It – As a parent of a college student, your love for your student is unconditional, but your money is conditional. That’s what we’ve always told our kids. To ensure students are making the most of their money, set a budget for spending and manage it by loading funds on a campus card to help track spending. And determine which on-campus retailers accept financial aid to be certain you’re making the most of your college dollars.

Ellie Kay
America's Family Financial Expert (R)

Friday, August 5, 2011

Kiss Off those Group Buying Deals!

We recently had the kids back in town and one of the pix included this group shot with my four sons. They love their mama! They also love some of the good deals I buy them from sites like Seize the Deal, Local Living, Living Social,the ever popular Groupon and new group buying deals from OTA (Online travel agents) such as travelzoo. There's paintball for $35 a person, Broadway shows for $20 each, a four course meal & Flamenco show at El Cid for $22/person, and even a massage therapy session for $22/hour. Ok, that was last item was for me (and so was the Flamenco deal, if we're being really honest--OLE!).

But what is the use of spending money to save money if you do not or cannot redeem those coupons? Maybe the boys didn't come home for college break, you chickened out of the skydiving gig, or you had a really busy schedule and couldn't fit in a trip to the Beverly Hilton for that four course meal including champagne? In some ways you may be taking a leap of faith when you purchase some of these group buying deals.

The latest research shows that 20% of these daily deal vouchers go unused. But your loss may be another person's gain. Especially when there are companies set up where you can unload unused vouchers. Consumers can now sell their unwanted deals at sites such a CoupRecoup, Yuupon or Lifesta. Whether you want to unload a vacation you cannot take or a helicopter tour your wife won't let you go on, you can do it at these sites. There's even one place, DealChicken, that will give you a full refund up until the deal's expiration date.

For every deal you buy, there's a guy out there who wish he would have bought it, but passed. Lifesta will charge you 99 cents plus 8% on deals they sell and they provide refunds for phony deals. DealsGoRound has been in business the longest and is suppose to be the only deal reselling site you can use on your smartphone. Plus, they help you track the deals to remind you if it's going to run out.

So if you want to kiss off on one of your group deals, you can. But remember that you can never kiss off the fact that you love your mama!

Ellie Kay
America's Family Financial Expert (R)