Category Archives: Money Management

Living on a College Budget

Before your first day of college, it’s important to consider creating a budget for the upcoming school year. If you know how much financial aid you’ll receive, evaluate your other monthly expenses that are a priority. You may have responsibilities such as car payments and maintenance, cellphone service and miscellaneous items. Remember that financial aid can only be used for educational, and some living expenses, so a budget can help with planning for other important purchases. Here are a few tips to assist with developing a budget while in college.

Talk it out. Talk to those who are helping you pay for college. Whether it’s a parent or guardian, conversing with those who are supporting your educational pursuits allows expectations to be set for everyone involved. Even if you’ll be supporting yourself financially in college, inform others that you’ll need to be wise with managing your resources and may not be able splurge on certain items or activities. Talking it out allows everyone to be on the same page.

Essentials first, fun second. When developing a budget, account for necessities first, – housing, transportation, utilities etc. – then designate money for entertainment. Using this order can ensure your living needs are taken care of while still giving you room to enjoy leisure activities. Some college campuses host many fun, free events that could make the most of a small entertainment budget.  

Discounts and sales help. Check to see if your favorite stores offer a college student discount, as many companies do. While this tip may not directly relate to developing a budget, it can help you stick to the one you create. Clipping coupons along with shopping on sale can also assist with managing your finances. Browse retailers’ websites or apps for coupons and sales that may help with purchasing items on your shopping list.

Avoid budget busters. Daily coffee runs or trips to the vending machine can eat away at your budget. You don’t have to stop these altogether, but limit yourself to one or two splurges a week. Buying a coffeemaker and snacks from the grocery store can minimize the impact of these habits on your budget. Additionally, instead of eating out often, utilize your college meal plan or pack a lunch. You can see what habits are busting your budget by using a budget tracking app. Trackers can show your spending behavior and give you insight to routines that may need to change.

To learn more about tips for budgeting while in college, visit OklahomaMoneyMatters.org.

Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan

While you’re exploring the many options available to help you pay for college, keep this in mind: It’s much less expensive to save for college than it is to repay student loans–with interest. One savings option you’ll want to check out is the Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan (OCSP). Here are a few benefits of the OCSP:

  • It’s a tax-deferred account
  • Multiple family members and friends can contribute to the account on your behalf
  • It can pay for more than just tuition (covers fees, some room and board costs, etc.)
  • It can be used at any accredited college in the U.S., and even certain colleges abroad
  • Up to $10,000 can be used annually toward K-12 tuition
  • There are several contribution options available that make adding to your OCSP easy and convenient
  • An OSCP can be opened with as little as $25, and subsequent deposits can be as little as $25
  • Contributors can deposit a maximum total of $300,000 to your account.

To see the huge difference between saving and borrowing to help you pay for college, read Saving vs. Borrowing at OK4Saving.org.

Visit OK4Saving.org to learn more about the 529 plan or to open an account.

How does the CARES Act affect the grace period on federal student loans?

One of the advantages of a federal student loan is the six-month grace period. Borrowers usually aren’t required to make a payment on their loans until six months after they graduate, withdraw or drop their number of classroom hours to below half-time status. The grace period gives borrowers time to find employment and adjust their budgets for loan repayment.

Currently, the federal student loan program is operating under the provisions of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. On March 20, 2020, federal student loan payments were suspended, interest rates were reduced to 0% and collections on defaulted loans were stopped. These provisions have applied to federally owned* student loans since that date, and will be in effect through at least September 30, 2021. On March 30, 2021, these emergency relief measures were also applied to defaulted loans originated through the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) program.

How does all of this affect the grace period on a student loan? According to the U.S. Department of Education, “Grace periods still apply as they normally would. However, if a loan is scheduled to enter repayment before the COVID-19 emergency relief period ends, borrowers will instead automatically enter payment suspension and receive the temporary 0% interest rate.” This means a borrower whose grace period ends before September 30, 2021 will not be required to make payments on their federally owned student loan(s) until the emergency measures have been lifted. The September end date is subject to change, but if it does, it will be extended to a later date.

Here’s something else you need to know: A borrower may have more than one grace period to monitor after they’ve gone below half-time status at their institution for any reason. This happens when borrowers have loans from multiple institutions, or if at any time they previously dropped to below half-time status at any college they attended. It’s important that borrowers talk to the campus financial aid office to ask about the repayment start dates on each of their loans.

More information about successful loan repayment can be found at ReadySetRepay.org.

*See the FAQ section of the coronavirus announcement at StudentAid.gov (Which loans does the 0% rate apply to?) for guidance on how borrowers can determine whether their loans are federally or privately owned.

Summer Prep for Incoming College Freshmen

Congratulations high school graduates! After this exciting accomplishment it’s easy to go into vacation mode. With your first semester of college approaching, it’s important to keep your head in the game. We have some items to keep in mind over the summer so you’ll be prepared for your next academic adventure!

Gather supplies. Get an early start on back-to-school shopping. Already have your college schedule? Great! Use it as a guide to purchase supplies. Compare prices when buying course textbooks and technology. If you don’t have your schedule yet, consider purchasing the common necessities – notebooks, writing instruments, folders, backpacks, planners, etc.

Develop a routine. It’ll take discipline to balance coursework, other responsibilities and time with friends when you begin college. Therefore, develop a summer routine to practice designating specific times for certain activities. While your schedule will probably change when classes start, you’ll gain great time-management skills that’ll assist with meeting new academic expectations.

Connect with others. Use social media to connect with future roommates or other students who will also be attending your campus in the fall. Converse with those who have similar interests. Not only could those connections create lasting friendships, but connecting with others before school starts could make the first few weeks on campus more enjoyable.

Apply for scholarships. You may have already received your financial aid award letter. If so, you know how much money you and your family might have to pay out of pocket for college. Keep looking for free money and apply for scholarships through the summer and even during your freshman year of college! Check out our publication, Are You Looking for Money?, to get tips on submitting successful scholarship applications. Find current scholarship opportunities at UCanGo2.org!

Explore careers. Summer is a good time to explore career interests. If you’ve already decided on your college major, research popular jobs in that field of study. Even if you’re undecided, take time to discover which industries pique your curiosity. Researching different professions allows you to see which career field could be a great fit for you. To learn about various occupations and to view over 400 videos detailing possible careers, visit OKcollegestart.org.

Keep up the momentum. Did exploring careers give you some inspiration? Seek out current summer opportunities in your field to boost your resume. Sometimes these can be paid or un-paid internships or even volunteer opportunities. No experience is too small!

Need more college prep tips? Be sure to check out our publication Your Transition to College to understand the differences between high school and college. You’ll find tips for success as well as a summer of “to-do” items you can complete during the summer!

Room and Board – How Can I Cut the Cost?

If you’ve taken a look at the financial aid offer from your college of choice, you may have been surprised by the cost of room and board for one year of school. Your ‘room and board’ estimate includes the cost of living in your choice of housing and the cost of food during that year.

Check out these tips to cutting costs on room and board.

Housing

  • Consider how much money you could save by living at home for another year or two. Nearby community colleges usually charge lower tuition, and they offer the same general education courses required at four-year universities. Add in your savings on room and board, and you’ve got a total cost of attendance that looks a lot more manageable.
  • Living on campus? Living with a roommate can reduce the cost of room and board significantly. Pay close attention to deadlines for submitting your housing application each year, and then turn it in ASAP—before the deadline. It’s not unusual for lower-priced housing to get snatched up more quickly.
  • Living off campus? As a general rule, apartments and houses located close to the campus will charge higher rent than those located farther away. Consider having two or three roommates if you have the space.

Where to eat

  • Colleges and universities offer various types of meal plans to their students and are often required for those who live on campus. Consider trying one of the less expensive plans (fewer meals every week) and try to prepare more meals in your dorm room, apartment, or off-campus rental. Maybe your roommate would agree to split the cost of non-perishable bulk foods that you both use frequently. Clip coupons for even more savings.
  • Limit eating out. Consider inviting friends over for a potluck or ask them to bring sharable snacks.

Other ways to manage college expenses

  • Submit a FAFSA each year to see how much financial aid you may receive.
  • Don’t miss out on free money. There are scholarships available every semester, so don’t forget to search for them in the fall and in the spring. UCanGo2.org and OKcollegestart.org are two great places to start your scholarship search.
  • Consider riding your bike and using public transportation. Larger schools often have their own low-cost transit systems. Many college students leave their cars at home.
  • Graduate on time to reduce the total cost of completing your program.
  • Earn some money. Check on work-study jobs or find a part-time job in town.
  • Stay away from credit cards. The interest is high, and they make it much too easy to overspend.

For more ideas on reducing college costs, be sure to read the Getting Through College on Less section on OklahomaMoneyMatters.org.

¿Habla usted español?

In our continuing efforts to ensure that all Oklahoma students and their families have access to valuable college planning information, the Oklahoma College Assistance Program is offering helpful publications and tools in Spanish. We’ve also included information about Oklahoma’s Promise, an amazing scholarship opportunity that covers college tuition or students who qualify.

College Planning
¿Estás planeando ir a la Universidad?
(Are You Planning to Go to College? – flyer)

FSA ID
Instrucciones para sacar una FSA ID
(FSA ID worksheet – flyer)

  • Guides students and parents through the process of creating the FSA ID, a username and password used to sign, submit and edit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Space is provided to write down the answers given in each field.
  • FSA ID worksheet, Spanish

FAFSA Video
La FAFSA en 5
(The FAFSA in 5 – video)

Oklahoma’s Promise Resources
La Promesa de Oklahoma

Did you know that the FAFSA is also available in Spanish? Simply click Español in the top right corner of the home page at fafsa.gov to begin your application.

Spring Scholarships

Congratulations! You’ve finished your college applications and submitted your FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid.) Now it’s time to find scholarships! There are thousands of scholarship opportunities available based on a variety of criteria. So where do you find these scholarships?

  • UCanGo2.org: Here you can find scholarships organized by category and deadline. There are scholarships year-round, so be sure to explore the opportunities listed on this site.
  • OKcollegestart.org: Create a Scholarship Profile! You’ll answer questions about your education, goals and more. The profile will narrow down current opportunities that you qualify for!
  • Unigo.com: There are over 3 million scholarships on this website. Opportunities are available every month and the more scholarships you apply for, the better your chances of receiving free money.
  • Your college’s website: Institutional scholarships are often available at various times throughout the year. It’s a good idea to check the scholarship listings on your college website every week.
  • Your financial aid office: Check with your financial aid office to see if there are any new opportunities available at your college. They can also help you find more scholarship resources.

Some scholarships require essays while others only require transcripts and references. Be sure to double check requirements for each scholarship before submission. For a list of additional scholarship websites, see UCanGo2’s publication  Are You Looking for Money?

New Year, New Goals

Welcome, 2021!

Optimism is in the air! You’re ready for new beginnings and opportunities to change some habits in order to achieve your goals. In addition to health and financial goals, there are some helpful academic goals that will give you a jump start in the new year.

Federal Financial Aid: By completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), you’re investigating your eligibility for different types of federal and state financial aid to help you pay for college. The FAFSA for the 2021-22 college year is now available, so be sure to submit it ASAP at FAFSA.gov. We encourage you to “start with FAFSA,” and then continue seeking scholarship opportunities throughout the year.

Scholarships: Not sure how to start your scholarship search? Here are some ideas:

  • Check out UCanGo2.org for new scholarships by category and by deadline.
  • While you’re there, take a look at the Scholarship Success Guide to review tips for applying for scholarships and find a list of additional scholarship search websites.
  • Create a profile on OKcollegestart.org to view scholarship applications that are the perfect fit for you. It’s important to apply for as many scholarships as possible year-round, so make a habit of applying for 2-3 scholarships a week.  

Study Habits: While the FAFSA doesn’t take your grade point average (GPA) and class rigor into consideration, schools will look at them when considering your eligibility for academic scholarships as well as acceptance to their school. Your grades in college will also determine if you can maintain certain scholarship offers from year to year. To start or improve good study habits, check out the tips listed in The Perfect 10 Study Habits Guide.

Extracurricular Involvement: Many colleges will also ask if you’ve participated in any school or community programs outside the classroom. Join a club or volunteer in your community after school hours. Not only will your involvement look impressive on a college application or a resume, it will also give you opportunities to serve others and make a difference in your community. Are you already in college? Join a club or find opportunities in your community to share the skills and knowledge that you’re developing. Whether you’re still in high school or you’re headed into the career field, extracurricular involvement is an important commitment to make in the new year.

Happy New Year! Be sure to share your optimism with everyone around you!

Make the Most of Your Holiday Season!

This time of year brings merriment and joy to those as they celebrate the holiday festivities. And while you’re enjoying a few weeks off from school, why not spend a little time preparing for college? If you’re currently a high school senior you should complete and submit your FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) to apply for federal and state aid.

You should also do a little scholarship searching. Scholarships provide FREE money to help you pay your college expenses. Whether you’re in high school or college, scholarships are available to you. There are even awards for students in middle school and younger. You just need to do some research.

Below you’ll find links to some great festive scholarships to get you started.

Holiday Celebration Scholarship
Amount:  $1,000
Deadline:  December 31, 2020

Timber Works Tree Care Scholarship
Amount:  $1,000
Deadline:  January 18, 2021

Scholars Helping Collars Scholarship 
Amounts:  $1,500, $300, $200
Deadline:  February 28, 2021

Sweet and Simple Scholarship
Amount:  $1,500
Deadline:  February 28, 2021

Angel Scholarship
Amount:  Varies
Deadline:  March 1, 2021 (New posting in January)

Create-A-Greeting-Card Scholarship
Amount:  $10,000
Deadline:  March 9, 2021

National Candy Technologists Scholarship
Amount:  $5,000
Deadline:  April 3, 2021

Flavor of the Month Scholarship
Amount:  $1,500
Deadline:  July 31, 2021  

Ornament Scholarship
Amount:  $1,000
Deadline:  Watch for new 2021 scholarship posting

Sugar Spun Run Scholarship
Amount:  $500
Deadline:  Check for new scholarship posting on Jan. 1

Make a Plan for Your Holiday Break

What do you have planned for your holiday break? Family time? Catching up on homework? Taking a part-time job? Whatever your plans may be, focus a little on your future plans…college.

If you’re a senior this year, make sure you’ve completed the FAFSA. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid serves as your application for federal and state financial aid for college. It becomes available every Oct. 1 so always complete and submit this form as soon after that date as possible. If you haven’t submitted your FAFSA, do it now! 

Scholarships should also be on your mind. Use your holiday break to apply for as many as possible. There are numerous scholarships available and you can apply all year for funding that can be used throughout your college career. Take advantage of this free money!

And if you choose to work on your break, stash a portion of your earnings in your savings account for college. Choose to save 20, 30 or 40% of your take-home pay. Any monetary gifts you receive for the holidays can also be added to your savings. Remember, every dollar you save is one less dollar you’ll have to borrow.

Enjoy your holiday and take some time to plan ahead!