Every penny definitely counts, especially when it comes to college expenses (our own or our children’s!). You’ve heard from me before about the government’s three month delay in opening the 2024 FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). The form is finally live, but on Jan. 30th the U.S. Department of Education announced another delay; this time in sending the needed data from the form to colleges.* This means that students won’t receive financial aid offers until at least April, maybe later. Students trying to decide on a college won’t know their actual cost of attendance until very late in the admissions season.

While this entire process can be very stressful, it reminds me to not get caught up in the hope of  aid and loans offered through this process. These “pennies” so to speak, should not distract us from the real “dollars” or expense, which is school choice! Choosing an affordable school has a huge impact on a student’s financial future. If a large 529 Plan isn’t in your reality now, minimizing student loan debt should be a top priority. Avoiding those student loans altogether IS possible!

My daughter’s dream school was out of our budget. She was accepted into that school’s honors program and we negotiated with the admissions office on her financial aid package (yes, some schools will negotiate this!). At the end of the day, the difference was too much for her to make up with part time jobs (we did not want her to take out any loans). Instead, she chose to go to an in-state university with our state scholarship program covering tuition. Her room and board was relatively inexpensive due to the small town the school was in and she took extra classes to graduate in three and a half years, saving even more money. Was it her dream school? No! But her first paycheck as a young professional was all hers (except for taxes, of course!). By all means, do everything you can to save pennies, but don’t lose sight of where the real dollars are as well!       


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