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We had expected that our daughter would be eligible for a lot more financial aid than she actually received (a large family and a small income do not equal plenty of financial help), and now have to come up with an extra $1668 in the next two months. Obviously, we should have seen this coming and been better prepared. We've come up with some extra resources for future semesters already. But are there any ideas for serious savings in a short amount of time? We figure that paying the tuition and all the bills will leave us with $140 per month for each of the next two months to cover food, clothing, entertainment, and Christmas for a family of six. We are willing to make serious changes on this temporary basis, but don't want anyone to go hungry.
Check With the Financial Aid Office
Have your daughter run, not walk, to the head Financial Aid Officer at the college where she attends. Our son and future daughter-in-law moved and registered for classes at Washington State University in the fall of 1994. Next thing we knew, Kelly's parents relented on their offer to sign the PLUS (parents' loan to undergraduate student) loan paperwork for her. Devastated, she resigned herself, crying all the way, that she would not be the first person in her family to graduate from a four-year university. Our son dried her tears, and told her, yes, they both were staying in school, and he promptly took her to the financial aid office. Both Kelly and our son already had Associate Degrees, and they were transfer students to WSU. The head financial aid officer immediately found grants for Kelly from alumni at the University's school of education (Kelly wanted to be a high school English teacher). Furthermore, this same financial aid officer located a 10-hour-per week job in dining services, and he offered the open position to her. Of course, she accepted his offer. In less than 20 minutes, Kelly had $2,500 in grants and a job to see her through her first year at a major four-year university. I am happy to report today that our son is a senior software engineer in Seattle, and Kelly is a 10th grade English teacher, with a minor in Psychology, at a school district 20 miles from their home.
A Few Ideas
Here are some suggestions:
- Christmas always means stores are taking on extra workers. Get a temporary second job. If you get it in the right place, they also provide discounts on their merchandise for employees, meaning you can get your Christmas gifts for less.
- Since you have one child college age, I am going to assume you may have others over 16. Get them into the act. This is a family emergency and can help out a sibling. Get them to contribute or maybe get that job at the store temporarily, and you will repay them with interest after the emergency.
- Loan from a family member - be sure to put it in writing.
- Home equity line of credit - be sure you have a plan to pay it back!
- Loan from retirement account. I do this on occasion and pay 3% interest - right now that is a better deal than most of us are getting from the stock market!
- Garage sale.
Check School Options
Talk to the Financial Aid office where your daughter will attend. It is often better to speak with an Administrator in the Financial Aid office than just the normal person that handles the financial aid data. Why might this help? The school wants your daughter to attend! If they think your daughter will not be able to attend just because of sixteen hundred dollars, they will work to help with that cost. Special Circumstances will allow them to be flexible with the Financial Aid Formula. Having a family of six could qualify you for "special circumstances" probably! They might know of a special waiver, scholarship or etc. that your daughter would be able to get. Sometimes people give up when they are told they qualify for certain amounts of Financial Aid. However, there might very well be another source that the university could find for your daughter, once they know the help is needed. Finally, at the very least, the college might work out a payment plan or parent loan for you so that you don't have to come up with the money in a short amount of time.
I hope these suggestions help for your reader who can't pay for her daughter's tuition.
- Is your daughter able to get a job to help pay for her expenses? Are there any other children who could possibly get jobs to help with expenses? Many people need babysitters heading into the holiday season if the children are in their early teens.
- Could you get a temporary second job wrapping Christmas gifts at the local mall? Could you or your husband get work as a department store Santa?
- Call your local utilities and see if you have paid them any deposits when you signed up with them. If you are a good customer, they should refund you any deposits that you gave them.
- Has your daughter exhausted all sources of financial aid? Look at the library, on the Internet and ask at the college or university she attends and see if there is anything you may have overlooked. The school may be willing to work out a payment plan if you ask. It wouldn't hurt, the worst they could do is say no.
- Do you have any life insurance policies that have a cash value that you could borrow against and pay back later when things have eased up?
- If you have ever rented an apartment, or if you currently rent, your last month's rent deposit accrues interest. Call your landlord or building manager and ask for it. If you previously rented and moved away, call them and see if they have any money owed to you sitting on their books. A friend of mine is a property accountant, and she says it is amazing how many people move away without giving a forwarding address so the building can't send them their money.
- Would your mortgage company allow you to skip a payment? Some companies offer this option.
- Go through your cupboards and freezer and see what is already there. Use that food before you go grocery shopping next time.
- Call your State Treasury department and see if you are owed money. Call any other states you have lived in. It's a long shot, but you never know. Try the IRS, insurance companies, and any banks you may have used.
- Would your employer give you your holiday (vacation) pay early?
- Some credit card companies may send you a check if you have a credit balance on the card. Call and ask.
- Find out about any food co-ops in the area. For a couple of hours a month they sometimes give the volunteers boxes of food.
- Can you call your employer and change your tax deductions to get more take home pay? Could you temporarily stop any savings for a 401k plan? (This is drastic, but you would reinstate it as soon as the crisis has passed.)
- Look on one of the many unclaimed money and property websites on the net to see if you are owed anything.
- Are there any "white elephants" around your house that you could sell on a newsgroup or on Ebay?
- Ask your mortgage company if you qualify to have the Mortgage Insurance removed from your policy. If you have sufficient equity in your home this could be a source of money.
- Call your hydro or natural gas company and see if they will lower your payments since you have implemented energy saving ideas in your home.
- Lower the temperature on your water heater and thermostat a few degrees. Wear sweaters so you can lower the temperature even more. Let the dishes in the dishwasher air dry to save power.
- Can you take some old clothes to a consignment shop and sell them?
- If you really can't find the money, perhaps a local church group could help you with Christmas gifts and Thanksgiving dinner so that is one less worry on your mind.
I found myself in a similar situation this year where I needed to raise a chunk of extra cash quickly. So one evening I brainstormed ideas with a pencil and a pad of paper, and here is some of what I came up with that might be good for you, too:
- Sell the clutter! Have a rummage sale, or better yet, first pick out things that might sell for better prices by selling a different way. For instance, used books and c.d.'s can be sold through half.com, "antique" kitchen bowls I bought at the flea market on impulse can be photographed and sold through ebay. So can some modest jewelry I inherited and don't like or I can find a pawnshop. Used clothing in fair shape that no longer fits me can be taken to a consignment shop. I can take advantage of free advertising in my community to sell the bike and flute I'm not using. And guess what? I will be so much happier without that junk!
- Trim my regular bills. The telephone is a great first place to look. Do you really need call waiting or to pay for an extra listing in the telephone book? Can you cut back on most long distance calls for a couple months? What about giving up cable TV? I know it horrifies some folks, but if you have cable, that might be something you can sacrifice for a couple months for the larger cause. What about your heating bill? Cold weather is coming. If you are not on a budget plan which balances out your heating costs throughout the year, now might be a time to look into doing that. What about getting a cheaper internet provider? There are even some free ones out there. And yes, the service is not the same, but if you need cash this may really help. A great resource for ideas to cut costs and to compare company rates in all sorts of services and utilities is at: www.lowermybills.com.
- Cut your food bill. This saved my budget more than once! Food is a very large spending area and there is the potential to save a great deal. The first time I attacked my food budget I saved about 60% on it!
- Ask for a raise. Make a list of ways you have helped your company recently that were beyond what was expected. Particularly point out any ways you saved your company money or brought in extra profits. Take pride in your work and think of things you can do now to improve your value to your employer. Go to the library and see if you can find a book about successfully asking for a raise, and then go for it!
I have found that I can't make a large chunk of money in a short space of time by using just one tactic, but by using several. If I work both at reducing expenses and increasing income, I can make some good headway. Time is part of what you are turning into cash, so go for the best return for your time first. You might want to say to yourself, "every Tuesday I will work for a couple hours on selling my junk," or, "This Saturday morning I'm going to look at lowering my bills." Get your family motivated to help, too, in particular, your student. After all, "many hands make light work." Raising $1668 in two months might be more like saving $200 in utility, food, and other bills per month, then each adult figuring out how to earn an extra $250 for each of the next two months through extra work, a raise, selling stuff or whatever, and for your student to earn $140 for each of the next two months. Broken down this way it could be much more manageable.
Financial Aid Web Sites
I used to work in the financial aid department of one of Tufts University's graduate schools. The first thing this family needs to do is contact the school's financial aid department and see if they can help in any way. Frequently, the financial aid departments know of alternative loans. Be sure to ask if there is a payment plan to spread the cost over the semester, so that it is less of a pinch in the short term. Another thing that the student and her parents ought to do is get on the web. There are thousands of scholarships offered privately to students from all walks of life. Many of them are small ($100-$1,000) and have more elastic guidelines when it comes to eligibility. I would suggest doing a Google search for scholarships and visiting this site - www.finaid.org.
When searching for scholarships, it would help to keep in mind all of the students' (and parents') talents, hobbies, affiliations (both professional and academic) and interests. Pay particular attention to the quality of the writing when making the application, as frequently a well-written application will get more attention. Keep in mind that the people handling the scholarships must read tons of applications, so presentation is important.
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