Save Money on Your Textbooks

If you don’t have your textbooks for this upcoming semester, you still have time to get them and save money too. Here is the short version of how to do just that:

First, get the ISBNs of the books you need. How do you do that? You should have that information from registration, but if you don’t, call the student bookstore at your school and ask them what the books are for your classes, ask the ISBNs and how much the bookstore charges. (The author and title are not always enough information to be sure you get the correct editions.)

Second, go to Amazon Textbooks and then and search by ISBN. [ can also be a good resource.]

If you want to use Amazon, sign up for Amazon Student using your college email and you can get free two-day shipping for six months. You won’t believe how convenient that will be, not just for these books but for any of the items Amazon sells.

Third, with the pricing information, decide whether you want to

1. Buy new from the bookstore (bad idea)

2. Buy new or used from Amazon (much better) and then trade them in at the end of the semester (fantastic idea)

 3. Rent from Chegg (compare their price to Amazon’s used purchase and then trade-in price)

Fourth, order them and have them shipped to your home now so you get to school and get too busy to be buying books.

Fifth, tell your parents how much money you saved. They’ll appreciate your can do attitude.

Congratulations! If you would like a free worksheet we’ve put together to organize this for you, drop us a note.



HS Graduates-Tips for Summer

Graduating seniors: Last October when you were mired in essays and applications, you probably thought graduation would never get here. Well it’s here! Congratulations and well done – you deserve a pat on the back for both your perseverance and your accomplishment.

This summer is a great time to get a few things straight before heading off to college. The biggest one that many students neglect until the last minute is figuring out your spending money in college. If you have your money lined up for the year already or are counting on a job this summer for it, you’re all set. But if you think you’ll need some from your parents, you’ll want to address this now. Don’t wait for when you are packing up the car!

Start by dividing your expected expenses into one-time expenses and monthly recurring ones. For example, things for your dorm room, a few new clothes, your textbooks – these are one-time expenses. Keep these separate from the recurring ones, things like money for going out, concerts, movies, and having fun. Colleges are great sources of free activities but many things cost money. If you’ll have a car, add in gas and parking costs. If you plan on joining a fraternity or sorority, add in any costs for that.  Greek life can be a surprising expense.

Once you have your estimate, ask your parents to sit down and go over it with you. If you’ve done a good job, they will be more likely to listen to what you have to say. They might not hand you cash, but it will start the conversation going, and you’ll be beginning your journey toward financial independence!

You also want to spend some time on the mechanics – what bank will you use? Will you have access to that bank’s ATM at college? How will your parents get you money if they need to? What if there is an emergency need for money? Spending some time on these questions now will save you lots of headaches in September.

For more on the ins and outs of your spending money, drop us an email and we’ll send you more tips.

Two more summertime ideas:

  • If you have a student loan in your financial aid package, you must do online “entrance counseling” before you can get the money. Do that this week. It will only take 20 or so minutes and it’s required. Your school’s financial aid office will give you the details of how to do the counseling.
  • When you register for classes (most likely at orientation), write down the ISBN of the textbooks your classes will be using. You can then use it to find cheap alternatives to paying retail price at the student bookstore for introductory level books you’ll only use once. This can save you hundreds of dollars and there’s really no excuse not to do it. Let your parents know you want to do it too, they will appreciate it.

Your newfound freedom brings with it newfound responsibilities, especially financial ones. Use the time you have this summer to make a plan and you won’t be living like Sugarland sings:

“Dear Mom and Dad,

Please send money, I’m so broke that it ain’t funny.

I don’t need much, just enough to get me through.”



Summer Jobs and Taxes

If you are lucky enough to have a part-time job this summer, you’ll most likely be asked to complete a W-4 form so your employer can determine how much income tax to withhold from your paycheck.  The form is easy, it’s the worksheets that go with it that are complicated.

Here’s a tip: for 2018, the standard deduction has increased to $12,000. If you do not expect to make that much income in 2018, go to Line 7 on the W-4 and write the word EXEMPT.  Your employer will not withhold any income taxes which is appropriate because you will not owe any income taxes.  Your share of payroll taxes will still be withheld, and those are not refundable.

If you do expect you will have more than $12,000 in income from all sources in 2018, you will want to complete the worksheets on the W-4 to determine the correct amount of withholding.

Please do not consider this to be tax advice, it is for informational purposes only. For tax advice, consult a professional tax advisor.

One final tip:  if you can manage it, you can open a Roth IRA to deposit some of your tax-free earnings.  The benefit is that those contributions will grow without being taxed if you wait until age 59 1/2 to make withdrawals.  It’s the best deal going!

That covers income taxes, but what about the FAFSA? Students are allowed to earn a certain amount without any impact to the family’s EFC. The amount for 2018 income is $6,750. Student income above that amount is assessed at 50% in the EFC formula. (However, remember that your 2018 income will not be used until the 2019 version of the FAFSA, which determines aid for the 2020-21 school year.)



HRA Student Budget Worksheet

HRA Students, find the link to the budget worksheet to use with your parents here.



SAT Scores – What difference can 10 points make?

Quite a bit apparently.

The New York Times reports that a senior official at Claremont McKenna in California has been submitting false SAT scores to publications like the U.S. News & World Report for six years.  The falsified scores were inflated by an average of 10 to 20 points for each reading and math.  The administrator in question has resigned.  Apparently the motive was to improve the college’s ranking in guides that count SAT scores as one of the ranking criteria.  What a sad example to set for students.


Getting through the essay

Students, if you are having a tough time with your college application essays, here are some suggestions on what you can do.

First, acknowledge where you are in the timeline.  You’ve put off the essay and now you are swamped with important schoolwork, extracurricular demands, and your social life.  It’s hard to find time to sit down and write an essay and the applications aren’t due today so what’s the big deal?  Your parents are frustrated and you want them to get off your back.  You’ll get it done.

But inside, you aren’t quite so sure.  What will you write about?  Where will you find the time?  Will it be any good?  Let’s take those one at a time.  First, on the subject, get out your list of colleges that you might apply to.  Make a list of the essay prompts, or questions, for each college.  The ones that use the Common App will have the same prompts, plus they may have a supplemental question or two.  If you are technologically inclined, there is an iPhone app that has every essay question from every school.  This list will help you organize your thoughts and keep you from writing more essays than necessary.

When you have your list, read it over to see what topics grab you.  Go with your first, immediate impressions.  Don’t over think this.  Highlight those and discard the rest.  Your essay will be one of the highlighted topics.  You don’t have to decide which topic it will be right now, so put that list aside.

When will you write it?  If that means when will you have a few uninterrupted hours of peace and quiet and no distractions, you won’t find the time.  Ever.  But you don’t really need that, that concept is just another crutch you are using to keep from getting it done.  Dive in tonight with 15 minutes of writing.  Not one hour, just 15 minutes.  No distractions, no food, no computer, no smartphone.  What you write tonight will not be your essay, it will simply be a way of getting your creative juices flowing.  Pick a topic you like:  what’s a favorite Halloween story of yours?; what was your favorite vacation?; who is your favorite relative and why?.  The topic does not matter, just grab one and write non-stop for 15 minutes.

You’ve made great progress just getting to this point, so now we’ll tackle the final question:  will your essay be any good?  The one secret to getting the most out of your writing is you need a good editor.  Every book you’ve ever read has been edited, and edited, and edited .  Your essay should be too.  This means if you want your best effort, you will not write your essay in one sitting.  Think in terms of drafts – get your first draft out in one sitting, and then turn it over to your trusted editor.  For most students, that can be a parent (one parent, don’t complicate it with two).  If that doesn’t work for you then ask a teacher or mentor at school.  Ask them now if they will accept that role, don’t wait until you have the draft written.

 So, three jobs:

 1.  List the potential essay prompts from your schools; read them over; highlight the ones that grab you.

2.  Write 15 nonstop minutes tonight on a topic of your choice.  Show yourself you can do it.

3.  Ask a parent or teacher if they will be your essay editor.  Commit a date by which you will give them your first draft.

If you start by realizing where you are, you can follow this clear plan on how to get to where you want to be.



Common App on a Mac – Problem?

There have been some early reports of problems for Common Application users with copy/paste on a Mac running Lion.  Suggestion:  try to copy and paste some sample text into the Common App before you get too deep into the application.  You don’t want to find that you cannot paste your essay one hour before the deadline.

We’ll keep you updated on this, but right now, PCs seem to work fine.


How many colleges should I apply to?


Does that surprise you?  It’s tongue in cheek.  There is no correct numerical answer to this question, but there is a correct way to figure out the answer that works for you.

Two caveats up front:  First, do not apply to any schools that you absolutely will not go to;  even if they were they only school that admitted you, you would still not go.  Don’t waste their time or yours just because someone else wants you to include that college.  If that’s one of your parents, this is a great chance to have a level-headed discussion with your mom and dad.

Second, do not apply to any school that you cannot pay for.  If you don’t know what you can pay for, this is time to talk to your parents about that.  If you or your parents get stuck here, we can help, drop us an email

So how many schools should you apply to?  Start with at least two or three schools that will likely admit you.  You can determine this by looking at the 75th percentile of the SATs and GPA for last year’s freshman class which you can find on or College Navigator.  Be realistic about where you stand and if you need to set your sights lower, do it.

Next, include at least one or two schools that you would like to go to, but you don’t think you are a shoo-in for.  These are your reach schools.  If you have a low probability but really like the school, go ahead and apply, but (1) please don’t get your heart set on attending and (2) don’t expect much in the way of financial aid.

Finally, round out your group with two or three ‘other’ schools, ones that you like, ones that you are more in than out admissions-wise.  If most of your other college choices are public schools, add one or two private schools here.  You might be surprised by the aid you receive, and unless you are certain about the type of college you want to attend, it can be nice to have a choice of types when you have to make the final decision.

The old advice about dividing schools into groups for applications makes sense.  But make those groups thoughtfully, and you’ll be happier with the results.

Seniors often wonder if Early Action is a good way to apply?  Look at your transcript and current test scores.  If those put your best foot forward, by all means use Early Action.  You’ll get a notification from the college early on, and your spring semester will be less stressful.  You’ll have more time for follow-up visits.  But you won’t get financial aid awards any earlier;  those will still come in the spring.


Longwood University has an interesting twist on Early Action called Immediate Decision.  Students who qualify can attend a weekday information session and tour through December 2 and Longwood will let you know your status when you finish your tour.  That’s immediate!


Live like a broke college student

Teenagers say in survey after survey that they want to contribute to the cost of their college education.  The majority seem to feel a sense of responsibility, but they also don’t have a lot of money to chip in.  So what can you do to help out?

Reorient your spending!

Make it your primary goal to live like a broke college student.  You don’t need to wait until you go to college to do this, you can start right now.  Think of all the discretionary expenses you have, the things you’ve gotten into a habit of spending (most likely your parents) money on.  Your clothes, your hair, your unlimited data plan, your entertainment…how would you spend less if you had to?  “But I like Polo shirts,” is not an answer. 

Tell your parents what you are doing and make yourself accountable.  You’ll have to make some hard choices and not keep doing the same things you have been, but it’s worth it for the lessons you will learn and the money you will save.

If you don’t know where to start, being by tracking your spending and the spending your parents do on your behalf.  What’s your financial footprint?  Once you have a couple months of data, you can start identifying where you can cut.

Sooner or later, your standard of living is going to decline sharply.  College can be a great, safe time for that.  Most things you need (food, activities, shelter) are provided for you and you can really focus on keeping the discretionary expenses down.  Find new ways to save money…share, be cheap, get by. 

When you get out of college, hopefully you’ll have an income, but your newfound savings habits will still be with you.  You’ll have extra money to save, and if you can do that, it will be worth more than much of what you learned in class.


Moodys Downgrades College Students

With all the talk about debt downgrades and ratings agencies, we thought it would be timely to consider what one of them has to say about student loans.  From Moody’s recent report, Student Lending’s Failing Grade:

“Unless students limit their debt burdens, choose fields of study that are in demand, and successfully complete their degrees on time, they will find themselves in worse financial positions and unable to earn the projected income that justified taking out their loans in the first place.”

Borrow less and study smarter or you’ll risk default.  Remember, you can’t walk-away from student debt.  Take it seriously.

So what do you do if you have to borrow?

If you are a high school student, take a realistic, cost-based approach to your college selection.  The conventional notion of reach and safety schools is not your current reality.  What will college cost you?

If you are a college student, pursue courses and activities that will lead to productive careers that are in-demand.  Learn what majors matter.   How can you stand out from the crowd?