Updated on 09.09.14

Trimming the Average Budget: Education

Trent Hamm

Education – $945/year

Education is another expense that varies widely from family to family. Many families have no education-related expenses at all. Other families have multiple children in college or on the way and are in a much different situation.

Obviously, education spending is an area where I think it’s a strong investment to spend if you need it. Education can have an enormous positive effect on your lifetime earnings beyond the personal growth that education can trigger.

The question here is how you can maximize your education dollars. Here are several suggestions for doing just that.

Cutting Down Your Education Spendings

College success isn’t a matter of getting into the best school

The Wall Street Journal found that, although attending college is important, what’s more important is drive and ambition: “When comparing students who graduated from elite colleges, as measured by students’ average SAT scores, with those who graduated from less-selective schools, the researchers found no significant income differences between the two sets of students. In fact, being rejected by an elite school where students had higher SAT scores was a better predictor of higher earnings than the competitiveness of the college the student actually attended. The findings suggest a student’s innate ambition, as reflected by his or her willingness to stretch in applying to exclusive schools, is a factor in career success.” In other words, if you want your child to succeed, don’t throw money at test preps or admissions for the right college or pressure to choose the right major.

Help your child find their passions

Hand in hand with the above idea is the idea that students who are driven are the ones who succeed. How can you help your student tap into some sort of internal drive? Help them figure out where their passions lie and then give them the support and room they need to chase those passions. This is a big part of parenting – in my opinion – as your child begins to grow up, through adolescence and puberty. If you can help your child find that passion, that passion can carry them to great heights – and help greatly with the value of the education they’ll get.

Stay on course

The most expensive thing you can do in college is switch majors – it almost always tacks on more semesters to your experience there, and thus a lot more expense, too. Again, this is an example of why it’s incredibly valuable to help your child figure out their passion as early as possible – not only does it fuel their drive, but it also helps them find a major they’ll stick with.

Apply for as many scholarships as you possibly can

Yes, this can be a giant time sink. However, it’s almost always a profitable one, because there are a lot of scholarships out there that don’t even receive enough applicants to pay out all of their money. Ask around your social network. Ask at your place of employment. Ask at your church and any other social organizations you belong to or your child belongs to. In particular, look for scholarships that take advantage of special traits of your child: their ethnicity, their accomplishments, their socioeconomic status, and so forth.

Focus on top public schools, particularly ones in your state

If you’re looking for a school to aim for that maximizes “bang for the buck,” the top public school in your state is almost always a great target. Many top public schools are very competitive with private institutions, but beyond that, they offer much more affordable rates than private schools, particularly if you’re a resident of that state.

Start saving as early as possible with an open-ended 529

A 529 savings account plan enables you to put cash away for your child’s (or your own) future college education. The earnings in such accounts are tax-free if the money in the account is used for educational purposes (and if it never gets used, you merely have to pay taxes on the earnings plus a 10% penalty). If you’re sure that educational spending in some form or another is coming for your child (or for you), you’re better off opening such an account now and starting an automatic investment plan.

Shop around for textbooks

Many students make the mistake of rushing headlong into book buying – and when they do that, they overspend. Find out what books you actually need for your class, then take the time to shop around for them, particularly looking for used ones. Check online book resellers and auction sites. Take a look at the bulletin boards at your school. Spending a bit of time doing this can save you 75% easily on your books over the sticker price.

Take challenging courses in high school, both for the AP credit and the experience

Many high schools offer AP courses and courses that are dual-listed with a local college. Attempt to take as many of these as your student can handle, particularly in areas where their skills are the highest. These classes not only help you earn AP credit or college credit (saving on tuition later on), but also help you gain the skills you need to succeed at the college level.

Take general education classes at a community college over the summer

Many lower-level general education classes can easily be taken at a community college and transferred. Take advantage of this – community college classes are usually incredibly inexpensive and if a few of them over a few years can shave a semester off of your college tuition, jump on it.

Take advantage of education-related tax benefits

If you’re attempting to get an education – or one of your dependents is – the IRS gives you tons of tax benefits: the Lifetime Learning Credit, student loan interest deduction, the American Opportunity Credit (?), and so on. These credits and deductions can literally save you thousands of dollars each year when you file taxes. Here’s a great overview of some of the tax advantages for education.

I want your help! In the comments, please let me know which of the tips you find most useful for trimming these costs. I’ll include the top choices in a comprehensive budget trimming guide at the conclusion of the series.

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  1. Shannon says:

    Let’s see how can we do this – how about stay close to where you go to school thereby reducing shelter costs?

  2. Vicky says:

    I would like to suggest http://www.collegebookrenter.com

    I have been using this to get my husband’s text books for class. It is MUCH cheaper than buying, and it saves more than if I bought and resold.

  3. Maureen says:

    I second Shannon’s suggestion. My daughter chose to attend the excellent university in our city rather than one 5 hours away. It cut her expenses in half. She is also taking advantage to co-op work terms to broaden her education, earn money and get valuable work experience. Many of the students at her university advertise used texts on Facebook. The bookstore also sells some used texts in addition to new ones. She expects to finish her undergraduate degree without any debt.

  4. Always be sure to find out if you actually NEED all of the texts that are listed for the classes you are taking.
    I finally wised up in my junior and senior years and wouldn’t buy the textbook unless the professor was actually teaching from it. Often if you go to class regularly and take good notes, you might not need the text – depending on the class of course.

  5. Jill says:

    If you study all night long in the library or on campus, not only will you achieve high grades to keep all your scholarships, but you will reduce your shelter costs too.

  6. Hannah says:

    These seem like great suggestions, especially considering your kids aren’t old enough for you to have to worry about AP classes and choosing a major yet.

    The one thing I might add is to make sure you/your college aged kids really understand the burden that student loans will be after graduation. Loans should be for the school tuition and housing that you can’t afford, not to finance everything in your life (including clothes, food, entertainment etc.) for 4+ years.

    I’m a college student now, and I hate listening to my friends bragging about who has the highest student loans, when they don’t even have part time jobs or make an effort to save money. When I hear college grads complaining about how ridiculously expensive college is and how their loans are so terrible, I have to wonder how hard they really tried while they were in school, before the interest started accruing.

  7. KC says:

    When I was in school I’d get my syllabus early and head to the library to see what books I could check out. I’d sometimes even check the public library for lit titles and non-fiction history and such. Then I looked for used books in the books store (my undergrad and first master’s degree were pre-internet). Then I’d check online for good used prices (my second Master’s was post-internet). I usually could find a lot of good bargains. Textbooks were harder to find good deals on, but lit and history titles I could often find in the library or could get used for cheap.

    If I was forced to buy new I’d search the internet for the best new prices and try to combine for free shipping.

    It’s even possible to share books with someone. It would need to be someone you trust and someone you see regularly enough (like every day) to swap the books out. I shared a few books with my roommate in undergrad – it wasn’t a problem at all – we’d just work out a schedule and when you had the book you had to study for the class then. It actually motivated me to be more organized.

  8. Courtney says:

    I read in USN&WR that students who begin their education at a community college were less likely to achieve a 4-year degree than students who began at a 4-year college.

  9. Kathy says:

    I would suggest that you go to a vocational or technical school or community college first to get an associates degree, get a job in your field, and then you can transfer the credits over later to a regular college to get your bachelor’s degree. Many employers offer tuition reimbursement if you are going to school for something that is related to your job. You benefit in several ways. First, tech school is much less expensive and you learn the actual skills needed to do the job. Employers, at least in my area are giving a second look to tech school graduates because they have learned the skills, while the college graduate has probably learned the principle. I know this to be true in the field I’m going into, accounting. In my neck of the woods, tech school graduates are being chosen over people with bachelor’s degrees for accounting jobs because the colleges are graduating people that lack the skills the tech school people have learned.

    Many tech schools and colleges have agreements where credits will transfer over from the tech school to the college should you go on to pursue your bachelor’s degree. Some people might argue about being a “well rounded” individual, and that’s fine, but gender studies isn’t going to help you get a job where you need skills.

  10. Steven says:

    You know, post-secondary education is not limited to college. There are tons of trade options available, and to many, a better choice than college.

    It’s unfortunate how so many see college as the only path to success, when there are other options. Which option is best depends on the persons interests and situation.

    It’s also ridiculous how many HR departments require degrees for many positions, where it doesn’t make sense.

  11. Chapeau says:

    One tip I’d suggest is to look at neighboring states for schools as well as your in-state school. The in-state tuition for my state’s school was 2-3 times what the tuition was at a neighboring state school, and the out-of-state school was physically closer to my home town.
    Further, the in-state school was huuggggeeee, and so many people applied there that very little academic scholarship money was available. (In fact, they may have said they “don’t do merit-based scholarships” only need-based).
    With good academics, I was able to get into the honors college at a pretty good (not top) state school in a neighboring state. The honors college gave me top school experiences and opportunities without the large price tag. And I got an almost full ride academic scholarship.
    The point is, look around.

  12. Trevor says:

    @Kathy: although vocational colleges are helpful in gaining the skills necessary for a specific job, these days five is average number of jobs held in a person’s life. The modern four-year “liberal arts” university prepares students to adapt to a changing workforce. For instance, Tom Friedman states in his book The World Is Flat that accountant jobs could be outsourced to Asia, forcing Americans to find new work—a search that a college education would facilitate.

  13. Karen M. says:

    Is this expense only post-high school education? What about trimming education expense prior to college? With all the extras (show choir, band instrument, sports fees) I know parents who are having trouble meeting education expenses for a family of pre-teens. I guess I expected a wider focus.

  14. Steffie says:

    Staying at home while going to school will of course reduce costs but also reduce the experiences that living on campus offers. You can learn a lot about living with different kinds of people, learn about different cultures etc. Also there is the advantage of borrowing a book from your dorm neighbor at 3am !

  15. Allison says:

    Anyone have insight regarding 529 plans and how they affect financial aid?

    I was under the impression that any money that is set aside in a child’s name (and marked for education) would be considered 100% available for paying tuition, but money that is in a parent’s account/name is considered at a lesser percentage of availability.

    We haven’t started saving for college yet for our toddler- in part because we thought that it would be better to just keep money out of our son’s name.

  16. Julie says:

    AP classes help prepare you for college because of the difficultly level and work load, but there is an easier way to get college credit: study up and then take a CLEP test! I saved so much money by taking community college classes in high school, and then taking CLEP tests once I got to college. Those CLEPs got me a lot of college credit for only $85 per test. They have the same outcome as AP, but I think they’re easier: no essays, it’s all computer-based multiple choice AND you know your results instantly. You can take them multiple times, as well.

  17. Maureen says:

    A lot of students tire of residence living after their first year and seek out off-campus housing. Sharing accommodation can reduce your shelter costs.

  18. HT says:

    Agree with #11 Karen about pre-college costs. My 10-year-old just brought home a permission slip for a field trip costing $21! And chaperones don’t get to go for free.

    Here’s some of the things I do for my elementary-age kids: buy decent backpacks and lunch boxes that will last a couple of years. (My kids get a bonus if I can reuse their stuff from last year!) Shop clearance sales for supplies, using the guide for upper grades to estimate what you’ll need when your younger child is in that grade.

    Our school has uniforms, and one accepted brand will replace any pair of pants that wears out before your child outgrows them. They cost more, but are more durable. Despite that, I have received at least 1 free replacement pair for every pair I’ve purchased!

  19. Johanna says:

    It’s interesting how “you” in this article shifts back and forth between referring to students and referring to parents of students.

    To students: If your high school doesn’t offer a lot of AP classes, there may still be classes that adequately prepare you for the AP exams, like calculus classes or second-year chemistry or physics classes. Ask your guidance counsellor if you can take the AP exam without having had an official AP class. (This is a favor they’d be doing for you – they have to find someone to sit there with you for half a day to proctor the exam – so be sure to ask nicely.)

    To parents and students: In most cases it makes more financial sense for a college student to take extra classes each semester and summer in order to graduate early than to spend that time working at a low-paying job. That’s because graduating early not only shaves a semester or two off the tuition bill but also gets the student a higher-paying job that much sooner.

    So, students, consider taking the extra classes. If you’re worried about biting off more than you can chew, check what your university’s policy is for dropping classes in the middle of the semester. At the one I attended, you could drop a class any time up through mid-term with no penalty (the dropped class wouldn’t show up on your transcript – it would be as if it had never happened) as long as the classes that remained constituted a full load.

    And parents, don’t insist that your child get a part-time job if she’d rather spend the time taking extra classes.

  20. bethany says:

    I’m a grad student and teach some basic courses at the state school I attend. Most semesters, a student asks me either privately or in class if an earlier edition of the textbook is acceptable. Depending on the book, I say if it is worth the risk when students can often get a great deal on outdated editions. Worth asking.
    I agree with those who suggested that dorm living away from your parents is worth the cost in the opportunity to be on your own and learn from non-relatives.

  21. lurker carl says:

    For the most part, passions are better left as hobbies rather than educational experiences. Aptitudes, however, are better to pursue with educational and vocational training.

  22. Nick says:

    Whoa. Shelter costs is finally changed to “these costs.” I think that will probably go down as the longest and most repeated typo in blogger history.

  23. Brittany says:

    Mostly solid advice, although I agree with KC that there’s a lot more you can do to save on textbooks than just look online (although gettextbooks.com is an amazing resource that price-compares all the major and many minor dealers). There were many semesters that I broke even or even made money on books (selling/trading the previous semester’s books).

    However, I disagree that pushing your kids into a passion early on is the best way to insure they “stay on course.” This is dumb. People change, passions change, and building this expectation that they’ll follow a passion they found as a child will most likely result in more waste as they stick to their “plan” long after they’ve outgrown it. I know very, very few people who finished college with the same interests they had their senior year of high school, and half of those hated their major but knew it was too late to change. A better plan is to not put pressure on them the first year and encourage them to explore their options while getting their GEs/requirements out of the way. Most schools and programs don’t require you to declare until late sophomore or early junior year. If they have the requirements out of the way, they can easily still graduate on time if they buckle down in a major their junior year, when their interests are more defined.

  24. A lot of people won’t like this suggestion, but I went to a top tier university and paid no tuition at all. I did this by not attending until I was old enough that my parents’ income was no longer considered in my financial aid application. My income and my grades got me excellent financial aid. I started community college in my early twenties while working, and transferred to a 4-year state university in my mid-twenties. I took out a student loan only in my final semester in order to not work at all and get my honor’s thesis done well.

    I think this scenario scares a lot of parents who buy into the idea that if kids don’t go directly from high school to college/university, they’ll never go. I don’t know why that belief is nearly universal, but I think it should be questioned.

  25. kristine says:


    That is extremely interesting. I think is has to do with the child feeling “left behind” as their friends go off to college. My kids plan to go straight to college, and would look at me like I had lobsters crawling out of my ears should I suggest this!

    Allison, That is correct. Parental assets are considered as 50% available for college costs, and 100% for the child. I believe if you have 2 kids in college, it is 25% for each from the parents. Parental debt and even parental student loans (hubby’s PHD) are considered irrelevant, your problem, and not taken into consideration.

    I am the most cheaply educated person on the block. I have a BFA from Pratt that was almost free from scholarships, and 2 Master’s degrees. The first was paid for by my employer- a publisher. The second was free as my husband is a professor. As I was going for education, I only had to spring for the student teaching. My total educational costs were 13K for all 3 degrees.

    If you can, work for a university. Many still offer reduced or free tuition to staff member’s families. But make sure, and do it fast- many are cutting this out to save money. Professors generally do not lose this option, as unions negotiate it.

    If your employer offers tuition reimbursement, then go the second you are eligible. You normally are tied to the job for 2 years after you finish, or you have to pay it back all at once. So if you get a master’s in 3 years- you are already looking at a 5-year commitment.

    If you want to get a PHD- the process is usually shorter in Europe. In the US it can take 6-10 years routinely, as the dissertation process has numerous and huge revisions. Extra years = lost money and lower pay in the interim.

    FYI on AP- Ivy league will not give you college credit, and maybe not even let it effect your placement. But you still have to have taken them to get accepted! The idea is that no course will have come close to how they will teach it to you.

  26. Johanna says:

    @kristine on AP credit: “Ivy league will not give you college credit, and maybe not even let it effect your placement.” It appears that this is incorrect. I just googled “Cornell AP credit,” and the first hit that came up was a list of how many credits Cornell (one of the 8 Ivy League universities) offers for each AP exam. They offer some credit and placement for almost all of them. Maybe other Ivies have the policy you describe. But not all of them do.

  27. Johanna says:

    @Brittany: It’s true that people and their interests change, so there’s never a guarantee that once you’ve chosen an area of study, you won’t change your mind at some later date. But I don’t see how it follows that it’s better to start college having *no idea* what you want to do. (Or is that not what you’re saying?) What if junior year rolls around and you still have no idea what you want to do? Or you declare a major at the last possible moment and then change your mind a year later?

  28. friend says:

    This is for Allison, who was wondering about 529 plans and financial aid:

    Here is an excerpt from my state’s 529 plan overview (In summary, it says that savings in the 529 are counted as parent’s money, not child’s; the parent is the “participant” and the child is the “beneficiary.”:

    Savings in a qualified tuition savings program are considered the asset of the Participant, not the Beneficiary. If the Participant is a parent applying for financial aid to assist in the college expenses of a child who is the Beneficiary of the savings Account, this is weighted as the parent’s asset. Assets saved in the parent’s name currently reduce eligibility for federal student aid by at most 5.6%, whereas, the student’s assets reduce eligibility by 35%.

  29. Brittany says:

    I’m saying that putting a lot of focus/pressure on children to find their “passion” when they’re young is NOT the best way to save money. I’m saying that almost every single person I went to college with changed their major from what they planned when they applied as high school seniors, as the studied their “passion” more intensely and found it lacking or were able to explore new areas they’d never been exposed to. I’m saying the students who felt their parents didn’t care changed their majors early and were fine, where as the students who felt that their parents expected them to follow the path they pick out at 18 waited took a year or two longer studying something they disliked before the thought of doing it the rest of their lives overcome the thought of making their parents angry–this extra time to make the change led to them not finishing on time or having to overload some semesters. One of those people didn’t work up the nerve until it was way too late; now he’s graduated with a degree he has no interest in and it planning on getting a master’s or Ph.D. just so he can study what he wants. My argument isn’t that it’s inherently better to have “no idea” what you’re planning on doing. I’m saying that it’s OKAY if you don’t know, and parents and students alike are better off if it’s considered okay for students to explore the first year or two (tackling requirements and getting broad exposure) before declaring a major. Expecting/pressuring them to make the decision from day one is likely to cost you MORE money than giving them a little exploration time.

  30. kristine says:


    You are right! AP credit/placement is inconsistently applied across the Ivies, and even other first tier universities.

  31. anna says:

    Public schools are not always the cheapest option, many private schools offer HUGE scholarships sometimes making them a cheaper option.

    I buy and resell all my textbooks online amazon or half.com, I have had several semesters where I actually sold my books at the end of the year for MORE than I paid for them the previous semester.

    Double check that your AP college credits will be accepted at your college of choice, a lot of times they will only transfer as an “elective” and it is sometimes a $300 elective of something you hated like AP Literature. I chose to not take any AP classes in HS, still graduated college in 4 years & instead of wasting my electives on AP classes in HS, I used them to get a General Business Minor.

  32. sbt says:

    One thing to consider is financial aid. Don’t look at raw tuition costs, apply to schools you are truly interested in, file the FAFSA, and see what they offer. For a good student, costs at a quality private college will usually be pretty comparable to costs at your state university. Why? Because the FAFSA looks at your family’s income, and reports to the colleges what your expected family contribution should be, based on income, number of children, children in college, savings, etc. Most private schools will find scholarship funds to bring your costs down to that family contribution level, and more for a student they really want. Raw tuition, like the sticker price on a car, is really not your big consideration. Get the school’s offer, then decide.

  33. This is an extremely complex issue. For need aid: if your family income is below a certain level (60-80,000 or so), you will get loads of need based aid, esp from the wealthier schools. My daughter’s friend with the flaky parents (they don’t work) is going to Vanderbilt ($50,000/year) for free. My family had to consider cost.

    I teach at a school with AVERAGE students. I am amazed at how well some do: they get into med school, law school, etc. So the prestige of your institution may not count as much as you think.

  34. Shevy says:

    Education includes tuition; fees; and textbooks, supplies, and equipment for public and private nursery schools, elementary and high schools, colleges and universities, and other schools. (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics)

    School supplies. When your kids are in elementary or high school do you buy the cheapest generic supplies or the stuff they want (whatever is “cool” this year)? There’s a big price difference but you may also be lining your child up to be teased endlessly about how “uncool” her things are.

  35. Jules says:

    It won’t save you any money per se, but it will make your kid be more responsible: make him get a job.

    I got summer jobs all throughout college, and TA’d a few lab courses. Was a lot of fun, kept me too busy to be bored–and even though my parents paid for me, it felt really good to have my own pocket money.

  36. Jeroen says:

    I want to repeat this: “Many employers offer tuition reimbursement if you are going to school for something that is related to your job” It’s true. I even got extra time off during the exams.

  37. All great stuff!

    I’d say finding your child’s passion is probably the biggest key.

    I switched majors three times–probably added 4 semesters to my time in school

  38. Credit says:

    Like others said, if you are of modest means and you or your child are intelligent, private schools are often less expensive than public schools when considering the total out of pocket expenses because they offer such great financial aid. Many private schools will meet 100% of financial need whereas public schools struggle to meet 50%. A top notch student should not be discouraged from applying to a great public school due to fear of cost.

  39. Leah says:

    I agree with others that you should definitely also look at private schools. Even if the cost on paper is high, that doesn’t mean it’s the actual cost for students to attend. At my private undergrad, I think I knew one or two people who paid full tuition. Almost everyone got something, and a lot of people got significant aid thanks to endowments. I personally paid less than 50% of the listed tuition, which brought my school in line with what most of my friends paid at University of Washington (the good, but way too local, state school).

    I really liked moving away from home for college. It allowed me to be independent and navigate my own way. Would living at home have saved me lots ($~24k) of money? Yes. But I learned so much from living away from home, and I’m happier for it.

  40. Amy K. says:

    My top pick: “Start saving as early as possible with an open-ended 529”.

    Adding to the discussion of pre-college education expenses:

    * Dependent care account (like an FSA) for preschool tuition. I don’t have a preschooler so I’m not certain on this one, but from what little I’ve read it seems appropriate.

    * Shop the back to school sales. Staples, CVS,and Walgreens all have free things every week from July ’til the end of August. Walmart and Target have good everyday prices as well as weekly sales on pencils, paper, crayons and backpacks in that same window. Waiting ’til the last minute will cost more in back-to-school supplies as in most everything else.

    Other pre-college expenses to consider for reduction:
    Bus fees, athletic fees, tutoring

  41. IASSOS says:

    If you major in “Trentology” all the material is available on-line.

  42. Michele says:

    Here’s another option- our oldest son went into the Navy after two years at a local community college and not really knowing what he wanted to do. He scored very high on the ASVAB (?) and decided to go into computers, which had been his hobby since he was 5 or 6 years old. 4 years later, he was out and landed a top job as a software engineer at a major company that handles military contracts. He makes over $100,00 a year doing something he loves. Now that he is more focused and knows what he loves, he is going to school to finish his degree for further advancement- for free, thanks to the generous GI Bill. He’s happy and loves what he’s doing. I know the military is not for everyone, but it should be a consideration for many, especially because of the benefits of the GI Bill regarding education.
    Our other son is currently in college and I have to agree with a previous poster- living in a dorm, or in a fraternity house (God help us all) is a good experience for a kid to figure out how to handle life. He has two part time jobs, and currently is sharing an apartment. We provide some support, but he covers most of his costs, and since he’s in an excellent state university with a great reputation for his major (Fine Arts/Graphic Design) we are able to handle the cost of college without the spectre of student loans.

  43. Ashley says:

    My family spends about $700 dollars in fees (not including church contributions which are required but we would do anyway) a year for my 7 year old to go to Catholic grade school. We also buy uniforms for clothes, many come from rummage sales and I would buy school clothes anyway. And school supplies can be costly.

    Going to Catholic school is important for our family. Having our child growing up in a Christian environment puts us at ease. And the education is better. The public schools in our town are OK at best. When you get to the upper grades they are sub-par.

    As a parent of a child in private school, I am aware that I am making a choice to pay for an education when I could be utilizing what I already pay for with taxes, but I wish there was some sort of tax deduction. In my town without the private schools, the educational system would be overwhelmed. There are about half of the children in private school and the public school system is still in need of money.

    Even public school parents have expenses however…

    This year we started fundraising to decrease the fees that we have to pay. Our family gets 40% of the total back that goes towards our fees. The school gets 10&.

    My goal is to decrease my expenses while my child is still in grade school, middle school, and high school. We have a 529 plan and a savings account for her college already and savings from school now could goes toward future expenses.

    I see tons of articles about how to decrease expenses when in college. I would be interested in tips on how to decrease spending when in elementary, middle, and high school.

  44. chacha1 says:

    This may seem a little off the wall, but my advice to parents on the best way to reduce lifetime education expenses is, start reading YOURSELVES and teach your kids about the wonders of the library.

    It’s very difficult for any child – of any income level, class, race, community, whatever – to succeed academically if there are no books in his/her home. You have to demonstrate what you want them to learn, so show that lifelong learning has value. Very few kids can self-motivate to the extent of fully overcoming a non-literate home life.

    If reading is a habit in your home, school will always come more easily to your child and that means better study habits, more likelihood of scholarships, more collegiate options, and a higher probability of lifetime success.

    Re: why HR directors look for a post-high-school degree: because it’s an indication that at least the applicant has reading, writing, and language skills, plus the discipline to complete a course of study. All employers need employees with acceptable language skills and a good work ethic, and just an interview is not enough to establish these qualities. Neither, unfortunately, is a high school diploma.

  45. AnnJo says:

    As teaching and graduation standards are dropping at most colleges and universities, the real value of a college education (as opposed to its cost) is dropping too.

    A B.A. used to prove that a job applicant would be literate, have basic mathematical skills, some reasoning ability and research ability, what used to be considered “common knowledge,” and habits like dependability, punctuality, organization and task persistence.

    It rarely means any of that anymore, and it is worth considering whether there are other ways of proving such attributes, including work history, military or National Guard service, publications, the accomplishment of major complex projects, volunteer work at responsible levels, etc.

    Granted if your goal is something that requires credentialing – you want to be a lawyer, doctor, engineer, psychologist or school teacher – the degree is necessary. But there are lots of jobs that pay well, are interesting, and offer real value to society, that do not really require a degree, so much as a means to get to the interview and proof that you can do the job.

    And as low as college standards are, many students are ill-equipped to meet even those standards, and fail to graduate or graduate in some fluff program after racking up substantial debt and wasting years of their time. That is truly tragic.

  46. HT says:

    A thought about “stay on course” – switching majors may (or may not) be the most expensive thing you can do in college, but it’s gotta be cheaper than changing careers at 40.

  47. HT says:

    A thought about “stay on course” – switching majors may (or may not) be the most expensive thing you can do in college, but it’s gotta be cheaper than changing careers at 40.

  48. SLCCOM says:

    Re: discouraging extra-cost activities in high school. I think this is a really bad idea. Many of these activities, especially music and art, lead to lifelong joy, and sometimes even a career. There is frugal and there is cheap.

  49. Anitra says:

    @SLCCOM: There’s a difference between extra-cost and high cost. A $21 field trip is not a lot of money; but band or sports costs can get out of hand.

    I would limit your kid to one major after-school activity, and if they want to do more than that, they need to come up with the money themselves. So if Junior wants to play hockey, but already is in the school band with a $200 instrument rental (or $600 purchase… etc.), he needs to come up with a way to cover the additional cost (including rides to those early-morning practices!)

    I did a lot of activities in junior high and highschool… but most of them were free or nearly-free (other than trips).

  50. Rachel says:

    I just have to disagree with the “stay on course” comment… I’ve switched my major 4 times and not only will I graduate in 8 semesters (the traditional 4 years), but one of those semesters will also be spent overseas doing a study abroad program.

    Liberal arts colleges are designed to have a very broad base of study during the first two years to allow for such changes, and as a result, all of my courses taken outside of my present major do fill in graduation requirements.

    There is nothing wrong with switching majors. What’s wrong is staying in a major that isn’t right for you simply because you think you “have to”.

  51. Amy H. says:

    Seconding Vicki’s comment (#2) about renting textbooks. I wish this had been available when I was in college and law school! I’m now getting an LLM degree and have been able to rent 2/3rds of my textbooks for much less than 1/2 the price of buying new, even though this is a specialized filed (we’re not talking Samuelson on Economics). I recommend Chegg — I have had great experiences with them, and have always gotten free shipping.

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