Monday, July 6, 2009

Education and the Economy

It's no surprise that the cost of education these days is on the rise. From paying for Junior's extracurricular activities in elementary school to footing that hefty bill for college (for you or your children). What is one to do? Throw up one's hands and declare we are all going to be uneducated hicks and that education is only for the wealthy? No, of course not. Education has definitely become an investment, though, often leaving one with a mountain of debt.

I've been giving this some though and these are some things I've come up with.

Elementary & Secondary education costs:
1. No, Junior does not need to have the latest and greatest. As a parent, learn to say "No" to that which is not essential. Your children will not be psychologically damaged if they don't "keep up with the Joneses" - no matter what they think. First graders do not need a cell phone. Does your fifth grader want a cell phone? Make her work for it - chores around the house in exchange for the cell phone. No willingness to do chores, no cell phone.
2. Use up those unused supplies from last year. Spiral notebook that is half used? Rip out the used pages and use the rest of the notebook. Junior doesn't need to have all new markers when last year's markers will do. Markers do not change from year to year.
3. Essentials like socks and underwear don't change unless they've been outgrown or worn out.
4. Take your used children's' clothing to a consignment shop, used clothing sale or have your own used clothing sale. Folks are always looking for a bargain. If you're selling your children's clothing on your own, do a 2 for 1 sale, or throw outfits together and sell them for one price. Think creatively.
5. Orville Redenbacher said, "Do one thing and do it well." Does Junior really need to be involved in 10 different after-school activities? Pick one activity and invest in that. Less time running Junior from this lesson to that lesson means more family time. Now that's a worthwhile investment.
6. I understand colleges often look at what kind of activities a student is involved with in high school when they are considering that student for acceptance into their college. Sit down with your highschooler and evaluate what activities would be most worth their while. Activities like sports and band are almost always exclusive - the student's time is invested solely in that activity. As far as clubs go, which ones will prepare your highschooler for the future? Which ones involve community service? You, or your highschooler, will be footing the bill for the extracurricular activities. Help your highschooler to choose wisely and not to choose just because "everyone else" is involved in it. More activities = more expense.
7. Insist your of-age child get a job. Fast food, retail, office assistance. Learning to work to earn a paycheck is a good thing. It teaches respect for authority other than yours (as a parent), how to work as a team with people you may not necessarily like, and how to work hard for what you want. Teenagers with a good work ethic is a rare thing in today's society.

Higher education costs:
1. Use up those half-used supplies from last semester.
2. Co-op with your textbooks. If you have a friend who is in the same class, but different section, offer to go in halves on the textbook. Plan to study together or work out a share plan for the book. You can also check the textbook out of the library if you get in a bind. eBay may have the textbook at a greatly reduced price - just make sure the edition is the latest one and not several editions old.
3. Setting up the dorm room: Goodwill, thrift stores, yard sales. Sally can outfit her dorm room for less than half the cost it would take if she got all her stuff from the department store. Just make sure to wash everything, check for shorts in electrical cords before you purchase a used electrical item, and find out what the thrift store's return policy is before you purchase something.
4. Sell your services - for example on the site Study Blue, you can sell your notes, flashcards, etc. If you take great notes, you can sell them to others who are not such good notetakers. If you are a good, organized typist, sell your paper-typing skills. You can contract through the Office of Disability Services to be a notetaker for a disabled student in your class. Find out what it takes to be a tutor in your department and sign up for that. There are plenty of opportunities to make money on campus doing a little bit of this and a little bit of that.
5. You may also want to check with your department to see if there is a need for a student assistant. This is quite different from college work-study in that the student assistant position is not necessarily tied to financial aid, but is a different position altogether. Check with your profs if there is nothing available in your department. There may be something available in other departments.
6. Start paying the interest on your student loans. The interest is often less that $100 a month. Start a "Student Loan Payback" savings account and put a little bit in it each month so you'll have something to start with once you are out of college and the loan payback won't be such a shock. You'll also develop a good habit of saving.
7. Develop a network to share and co-op with other students. What to share and co-op? Textbooks, computer time, etc. If you don't have your own laptop, your library should have a laptop loan program. Here at UT, laptops are checked out in 4-hour increments. They can be taken anywhere on campus, just as long as they are returned within the 4-hour period. Of course, your student ID is held as collateral and you need your student ID to do anything on campus, so it's pretty much guaranteed you'll return the laptop.

Think creatively. Things like riding the bus as opposed to driving in and parking everyday - saves gas and saves on the expense of a parking permit. Carpool, ride your bike or walk to school (if possible).

Granted - all these suggestions are not for everyone and may be impractical to some. That's okay. As long as I've gotten you to THINK about ways to get your education (or your children's' education) and not go totally broke in the process. What do you think? Education is doable in today's economy. Stay tuned . . .

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