According to the College Board, the average cost of tuition and fees for a full-time student at an in-state, public, four-year college or university is $10,440 for the 2019-20 school season. That marks a 2.3% increase over the previous year alone.
Are you a high-School student in Duval County or one of the surrounding counties in Northeast Florida hoping to go to college once you graduate but unsure how you can afford it? Take heart!
Why, you may wonder, should you start saving for college now before you’ve even started sending out college applications?
The tips below are divided into three sections:
- How to Save Money for College
- Ways to Lower College Costs
- Ways to Plan, Budget and Manage That Savings
How to Save Money for College
Unlike spending money (or even earning it, in many cases,) saving money requires conscious effort. It requires forethought and planning, care and conscientiousness, discipline and persistence.
Get a Job
The College Savings Foundation reports, over 53% of students in high school have taken on jobs in order to save for college.
Take on a part-time job or "side hustle" as they call it nowadays (aka legit gig work) after school and on the weekends to help build up your college fund. During the summers and school vacations you can even work extra hours to build it up faster.
In addition to standard jobs listed in the "Help Wanted" ads, you can always offer your services to friends, family and neighbors in need.
- Walking dogs
- Mow lawns
- Run errands
And keep in mind, incidentally, that a satisfied employer makes an excellent reference on a college application. In fact, you can combine your education and savings goals even more by getting a paid summer internship instead.
Pay Yourself First
If you're like most people, if you don't set aside a portion of your income for savings right away, before making any other expenditures with those funds, you'll generally spend all that money before setting any portion aside thereafter.
This can be just 5 or 10%, though the more you make it, the faster you can build that college savings.
Otherwise, if you choose not to pay yourself first assuming you'll get around to it later after taking care of other, more pressing, needs, you may find you don't have any left to save when that time finally arrives. This also serves to help you get into the mental habit of saving before you spend.
Automate Your Savings
Along with the advice to pay yourself first goes this companion suggestion to automate those savings. The only way to be sure you actually pay yourself first is to automate it.
If you get a regular paycheck, arrange with your employer to have a portion sent by direct deposit to a different, savings account. Or you can set up regular, automatic withdrawals from your checking account into your savings account with your bank. (You'll read more about setting up a bank account later in this article.)
Pay Your Bills On Time
Here's one way that spending money can help you save money, namely by avoiding late fees and extra interest charges. Paying your bills on time is one way to keep your bills as low as possible and avoid paying unnecessary penalties or fees.
Another important result of paying your bills on time is that you keep your credit score high. By having a high credit score, you make yourself eligible for a wider array of loans with more advantageous rates and terms that can further help you pay for your higher education.
Cancel Your Subscriptions
How many subscription services are you signed up for? That includes streaming services and other entertainment services, shopping and delivery services and more.
Okay, that may be a bit excessive, but then again, it may not. If you're like so many people, credit cards provide a slippery slope into high-interest debt. Avoid falling into that trap by only spending money you actually already have in your possession.
Avoid buying on credit (or financing) unless it's an absolute emergency.
One way to use credit without getting sucked into large debt and high interest charges is to get a secured credit card to use instead of a regular one. Most credit cards are unsecured, which means your credit limit is determined based on your income and assessed ability to pay, not any financial savings backing those expenditures.
Have Fun for Free
Rather than spending your so-called "free" time spending money at the local mall, going to the movies or drinking at the bars (Are you even old enough for that yet?) enjoy all the free ways to recreate.
- Take walks in local parks
- Attend free events at local museums
- Play sports with friends
- Volunteer for a local charity organization
- Bake cookies
Keep in mind as you explore all the ways to have fun for free in your area that, when you start your college career, those opportunities will be in even greater abundance.
Stay On Your Parents' Health Insurance
In most cases, you can stay on your parents' health insurance until you reach 26 years of age. Avoiding having to pay for your own health insurance, or having that money deducted from your paycheck (which amounts to the same thing,) can save you a great deal of money you can, then, apply to your college fund.
Sell Your Junk
How much of all that stuff you've accumulated over the years are you really going to need when you head off to college and out on your own? Remember, your junk is somebody else's treasure.
Prepare for a Frugal College Lifestyle Now
Use your high school years as an opportunity to practice developing the frugal habits you'll need to help you maximize your savings once you're in college.
There are many steps you can take in college to help stretch out your savings as far as you can, and there's absolutely no reason you can't start practicing those steps right now, while you're still in high school.
Here are some examples:
- Monitor your cell phone usage - Avoid going over your minutes or your data limit or paying roaming charges or extra for texts. See how much you really need to use your phone and lower your plan to a cheaper one that still meets your needs. Avoid downloading paid apps and paying for in-app purchases. Read your cell phone bill closely each month to make sure you're not paying extra for services you don't use, need or want.
- Trade in your car for a bike or a bus pass - A car doesn't just cost you once, it costs you every time you ride it and the entire time it sits parked in your driveway. Between insurance, registration, tolls, parking fees, repairs and, heaven forbid, traffic tickets, simply owning a car can rapidly eat up a savings. A bus pass, by contrast, you pay for once and can use as many times to get as many places as you want. A bicycle, meanwhile, costs more in physical power than it does in the power of the purse. Depending on where you live and how far you need to travel, either one of these options could serve you just fine. And if you must keep your car, then at least consider carpooling with other students to allow you all to share a bit of savings.
- Cook - Every meal you cook for yourself is another meal you're not eating out (or ordering in.) Meals you cook cost you the price of ingredients plus the time and energy (gas or electric) it takes to prepare the meal. Meals you eat out or order in add into the equation the costs for other people to cook and serve or deliver the food, and at a nice premium to make sure the restaurant stays afloat.
- Buy used - Anything you can buy used instead of new, from textbooks to electronics to clothes, you should, unless there's a good reason not to. Previously-owned textbooks, refurbished electronics and irregular or overstocked clothes can save you a fortune that you can turn around and pour straight into your college savings.
Contests and Coupons
Finally, you're not likely to cover all your college costs this way, but clipping coupons for your purchases, whenever possible, and entering contests with no entry fee can help fill in some of the gaps in your college fund.
Get in the habit of always looking for a coupon or discount code for any purchase you want to make before you make it. You can also use one of those apps like Rakuten or Honey that offer cash back rebates for purchasing from certain participating vendors.
As for contests, remember that cash isn't the only prize worth winning. You can often find contests awarding items as prizes that you might have needed to purchase anyway, such as clothing or a gift certificate to a book store.
What's more, in many contests, there's no rule against selling your prize to another person, so even if you win something you don't need for yourself or your college education, you can sell it for money to add to your college fund.
Don't forget skill-based contests either, like essay contests, which can be especially promising for impending high school graduates soon to enter college.
Ways to Lower College Costs
Another big way to save money for college is to save on the cost of college, so you don't need as much money to pay for it.
Earn Community College Credits
You can take classes at community college before you start college and earn some of the credits you'll need to earn your diploma. The benefit of this is that community college credits and other college credits are equal, yet community college credits generally come at a much cheaper cost.
Many college programs have certain liberal arts and other prerequisite course requirements that you can just as easily fulfill in a community college program for a fraction of the cost as you can in your more expensive college program.
Just be sure the college you attend will accept community college transfer credits for those subjects.
Take Advanced Placement Courses
If you excel enough in certain subjects in high school, you can often take Advanced Placement (AP) versions of those courses instead of the regular versions your peers must take.
The benefit of taking an Advanced Placement course in high school is that you can earn college credits for taking it and, thereby, avoid needing to fulfill that course requirement or otherwise earn those additional credits in college at a much higher cost.
In other words, you'll have to earn fewer credits in college to graduate. Around 90% of colleges and universities in the United States provide college credit for passing some AP classes in high school. In this way, rather than spending (and paying for) four years in college, students have graduated after just 3 or 3 1/2 years, or even sooner.
To find out which AP courses your high school offers, speak with your student advisor.
Apply for a Scholarship
Scholarships can help significantly to cut down on the overall costs of college, and you're not limited to only one. You can get and use as many scholarships as you can apply for and win, and there are practically as many types of scholarships out there as there are types of students.
What's more, you don't have to wait until you're a college student, or even until you've been accepted to college, before you can start applying for them. Many scholarships, in fact, are specifically targeted toward high school students.
Best of all, you don't even have to be an academic genius to win a scholarship. (Though if you are one, what are you waiting for?)
Organizations of all types, big and small, award scholarships to all sorts of students, for all sorts of reasons, including (but not limited to):
- Academic performance (overall or in a particular subject or on a particular test)
- Other talent, skills or demonstration of excellence (such as winning a contest)
- Cultural, ethnic or religious background
- Residence or place of origin
- Membership, affiliation or association
- Military service or veteran status
- Parentage, ancestry or bloodline
- Financial status (such as low-income)
- Athleticism or other special talent or ability
- Extra-curricular interests or accomplishments
One way you can help even earlier in your high school career to make yourself eligible for the maximum scholarships available is to improve your grades as much as you can. Getting higher grades in your courses and on your standardized exams can help improve your eligibility for scholarships.
Likewise, participate in some extracurricular activities, particularly ones that align with your interests or goals. This can open you up to a whole other range of potential scholarships based on more than academic criteria and can make your applications for even those scholarships more impressive.
Consider possibilities like these:
- Student council or student government
- School newspaper or yearbook
- Sports or theater
Ways to Plan, Budget and Manage That Savings
Your college savings is only as secure as your control over your spending habits. Properly managing and tracking your money is key to protecting and growing it so you have the maximum amount available when you need it for college.
With that in mind, once you've started accumulating a college savings, the following tips will help you manage and grow it.
Commit to yourself right now to cease all spontaneous spending. That means no more impulse buying. Instead commit to purchasing only items you plan to purchase.
When you go out shopping, make your intentions clear to yourself before you enter the store, and stick to it. You'd be amazed how much more you can save simply by planning all your purchases and avoiding buying anything you didn't go out (or online) intending to buy.
Make a Budget...And Stick to It
One of the most effective ways to plan your purchases and avoid impulse buys is to create a budget and, then, adhere to it. A budget is nothing fancy or complicated and not something to be intimidated by. It's simply a list of your income from all sources and another list of all your expenses.
Be completely honest when devising your budget, even if it hurts. Note down every single expense, including the ones you may be a little embarrassed about. You're not trying to impress anyone with this exercise.
You're trying to gain clarity on where all your money is coming from, where it's going, and how to keep more of it in your pocket. By noting down every single expense, you can more easily identify areas where you can trim some of the fat, so to speak, and spend less in certain areas.
Do you have a subscription to a magazine you never read?
Do you really need a blow-out every week? How often do really use that gym membership?
How many cable programs do you actually watch?
How much would you save if you made coffee at home and brought it with you in a to-go mug rather than buying that morning latte'?
Only by mapping out all your income and expenses, bar none, can you answer these sorts of questions.
At the end of the day, your income should outweigh your expenses. If it doesn't, you may need to do some adjusting, and your budget is the perfect tool to help you find the most appropriate adjustments to make.
And when you make your budget, don't forget to include a line item under expenses for "College Savings." Going by the previous tip, if you don't plan for it, it may not happen.
Take Out Student Loans
In addition to government student loans, you can also take out student loans from private lenders, banks, and credit unions.
121 Financial Credit Union, for example, offers some of the best student loan options. Many student loans, especially from credit unions, offer attractive interest rates and repayment terms, often with grace periods after graduation while you seek employment.
Open a Student Bank Account
Stowing your money under the mattress is the surest way to spend it when your resolve is weakest. By the same token, however, many bank accounts charge fees, like check-writing fees, and have minimum balance requirements that can eat away at your savings while it sits there, ostensibly "protected."
The question, then, is how to get the benefits of financial security and, perhaps, even, the opportunity to grow your savings, without that protection costing you the very savings it's meant to protect? The answer is student savings and checking accounts.
Some banks and credit unions offer special student accounts that have no fees or lower fees and no minimum balances required. This allows you to protect your college savings from its biggest threat: your own spending. You may even find a student money-market account that pays you a small interest rate for your savings.
If you've never had a bank account before, setting up a student account offers additional benefits in teaching you how to better track your money. The more you can keep track of your money coming in and going out, the more of it you can hold onto for future needs.
Learning to keep a check register and reading through your statements every month can help you to take better charge of your relationship with money now and forever after.
Consider saving for college not a burden that calls you to scrimp and sacrifice but a golden opportunity to attain freedom, first, to receive the best education you can get unencumbered by financial fears or insurmountable debt and, second, to succeed in life with newfound tools that can bring you greater financial freedom throughout your life.
Most of all, remember that preparing for how to save money for college doesn't stop once you enter college. At that point, the impetus to save is even greater and can often require even greater diligence and creativity on your part.
With the right financial experts at your side, you can save more, reduce college costs further and manage, protect and grow your savings as effectively as possible. To discuss setting up a student savings account now and the other options available to help you figure out how to save money for college now, while you're still in high school, contact our friendly experts here at 121 Financial Credit Union.