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College Next Year? FAFSA Time!

October 19th, 2019 at 07:46 am

As of October 1, anyone who will be attending college or higher education next year (Fall 2020) can fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Schools often have deadlines for you to complete these in order to be eligible for some type of aid.

I always dread it for some reason. Up until this year we took out zero student loans. Technically, our daughter took it out. It is a bit of a mute point if you don't even intend to use them, but we did find out with our youngest daughter's college that they use the FAFSA to determine grant money the University offers. Our daughter received $1200 her first year and $1000 for this school year. It will be interesting to see if that goes away since our FAFSA info will reflect she is our only student in college next year.

We are grateful for not needing to take out very many student loans. Will you fill out the FAFSA for yourself or your children this year?

Random Money Updates

March 27th, 2019 at 08:57 am

Spring break with the girls was wonderful! We had a good balance of relaxing, which they really needed and getting out to explore some things. We did several free things and had dinner out twice, so we easily spent under $150 for those kinds of things. Our grocery bill went up slightly, but that's to be expected.

I found a quarter out back in the alley when I was talking to a neighbor. I love finding cash on the ground!

I'm working on my next $25 Amazon or Paypal redemption with Swagbucks. I really just try to complete the To Do List on the left hand side of the home page. I try the surveys, but I'm not always successful, so as to not waste any more time, I do skip that one. I think Rose asked in another post about how to do it. I would suggest following Swagbucks Swaggernauts on FB for tips and pointers. There is definitely a learning curve. I have found a free malware extension on my computer helps with the junk that can come from using the site.

We received our $10 Visa rebate card in the mail from NAPA for the battery we purchased a couple months back. I plan to use it out shopping. I will then add $10 cash to the Big Goal.

I've redeemed some credit card cash back rewards and will update with a total for March when I report how much progress we made on our Big Goal this month.

We need to already be thinking about airline tickets for May! We will likely go back to the Midwest to help move our daughter's out and help our oldest daughter buy her first car. She is likely going to be staying back there this summer to take a class and get a job or internship. Lots of activity around here and spending.

I have three items I need to sell. Two should be able to go on eBay and the other should go up on a local sales page. I rarely do eBay any more since my main motivation was usually to sell outgrown clothes and toys. I saw a YouTube video the other day though that reminded me of how it is possible to buy items at garage sales and resell them for more. Something I might try and see if it keeps me interested. Clearly more work than finding items in my house!

Please excuse my random thoughts!

Cash In, Cash Out

March 17th, 2019 at 06:36 am

The tax refund did arrive as expected. It is currently in our savings account marked as Big Goal money!! I decided to act like it didn't exist in some ways. We were never expecting a refund, so spending it didn't exactly seem right. If we need an additional $1900 we can take it from our other savings or cash flow it.

I earned enough Swagbucks to redeem for a $25 Amazon gift card. I used it to buy cabin and engine filters for our two vehicles. Those arrived yesterday.

We learned this past week that the University our older daughter goes to overestimated her VA benefits for the semester. Once they received actual payment, they notified us we owe $595 by April 12. Our plan is to use her ESA to pay this. Her benefits were lower this semester, so this was the plan all along, we just know the amount we need to take out now.

Our girls arrive here today to spend their spring break with us. My husband took the week off, so we can do some more exploring of our new town with them. This likely means some meals out and money spent on entertainment.

I learned recently that American Express waives their annual fees for active duty military. I haven't taken action on that as I think we only have one card of theirs with an annual fee. This may give us an opportunity to use some of their other cards with higher annual fees and better benefits. I have more looking to do on this. Anyone have experience with this? If so which card do you use? Yes, we use credit cards, but do not carry a balance, nor pay any interest. Credit cards a financial tool that can be beneficial if used wisely.

Tax Refund Arrives Tomorrow

March 5th, 2019 at 07:58 am

Tax refund is pending in our second checking account right now. Somewhere I saw that it would arrive March 12. It's arrival is about a week sooner than I expected.

I really, really want to add this to the Big Goal. And I probably can, but then just back it out later if needed.

Another part of me thinks I should put it towards college tuition expenses since the refund can be directly attributed to taking the American Opportunity Tax credit.

I also know that I could send it various places too.

I think I'm conflicted about where to allocate it because of some bigger outflows happening right now. Spent over $800 on plane tickets for our daughters to come home for spring break. We need to pay the VA for the overpayment they sent the University (and University sent to us). I think there is something else too.

Once I work through my emotions and review our budget in YNAB a bit more, I think I can eventually make a decision. It's been several years since we had a refund and I wasn't expecting one...so I wasn't making plans on what to do with it!

I'll be back to let you know once I decide for sure!

Tax Return Filed

February 25th, 2019 at 11:55 am

I could have filed much earlier this month, but honestly it was wearing me out each time I attempted it.

Each of the two colleges we are working with fill out their 1098-T forms slightly different. One school includes the books, the other does not. One school includes the required activity fee and the other does not. I was a bit surprised by this, but found a resource that schools should be using as guidance for filling out these forms and used that as my guideline. We also had money paid on our behalf by the VA, but have to pay back, that was not reflected, nor did H&R block have a way to ask or handle this situation. This probably makes no sense to most of you, but just know that different institutions fill out their 1098-Ts differently based on their interpretation of the law. I think some parents/students at one institution are probably losing out on some qualified expenses if they only rely on the 1098-T.

I feel 99% confident I did it correctly. We claimed the American Opportunity Credit for both girls this year. Neither one them had expenses that qualified for the full amount offered, but we ended up with a refund of $1,968.

It's been a few years since we had a refund as I've been able estimate our future tax and withholding pretty well. This year I forgot about the Dependent Tax Credit ($500) for a dependent that qualifies over 18. This was $1000 in our favor. I also decided to claim the AOTC for our younger daughter, although originally wasn't going to.

I'm pretty sure this money will go towards future college expenses rather than the Big Goal.

Have you completed your taxes?

Edited to add: We do file state income tax, but our home state does not tax active duty military wages, so no refund or payment ever required unless I start working or we earn a LOT of interest.

Tuition Paid, No Loans Again

February 9th, 2019 at 07:54 am

I've now paid both of our girls tution and housing bills for Spring 2019. We still have no loans!! Eight semesters for one done and two for the other. I will say housing and meal plans are the most expensive part of sending your children away to college. It is a choice we made, so no complaints, just observation.

I looked up the cost for graduate school yesterday. My oldest daughter is thinking about it. But that cost will be on her. For some reason, I thought graduate tuition was a flat rate, not base on in state or out of state residency. Not sure where I got that idea. I checked only a couple schools, so maybe somewhere this is true. Maybe this fact will convince her to go back to our home state. It's going to be expensive and she really needs to figure out if the ends justify the means. I'm not entirely convinced...but we will keep discussing it.

“We all have a story. The difference is: do you use the story to empower yourself? Or do you use your story to keep yourself a victim? The question itself empowers you to change your life.” ― Sunny Dawn Johnston

Some Money Stuff...

February 5th, 2019 at 04:15 pm

Here's some random money related tidbits:

I redeemed 2500 Swagbucks for $25, which has been deposited in my PayPal account. I also did a Pinecone survey, so I expect $3 will be added to PayPal tomorrow. All money will go to the Big Goal.

We have confirmed that an access code my daughter purchased and realized she didn't need will be credited to her bill by February 15. This is after the bill to the University is due, but we were told to just pay the balance minus the expected credit. The cost of that code was $174.21, so not a credit I wanted missed.

I contacted the VA representative at the University to find out why the final 15 days of Post 911 GI Bill benefits had not yet posted to our oldest daughter's account. The response was apparently some missed paperwork. They did a credit to the account with the expected amount, and will adjust when actual payments are received. For now, since the numbers are not firm, I am going to float the payment with funds in our checking account before I take money out of her Educational Savings Account. It seems we may not need to withdraw as much as expected!

I've been working on taxes. My biggest issue is the figuring the actual costs we have had out of pocket for each of our daughter's and which tax credit to take. The software (HR Block) wants me to use the American Opportunity Tax Credit for our oldest daughter, which I was hoping to skip and use next year, yet I'm not sure we'll have much out of pocket costs, so it's probably right to take it now. The software gives me an option on which tax credit to use for our youngest daughter and I was leaning toward the Lifetime Learning credit. You can only claim four years of AOTC, which has to be used before they graduate with their degree. Our oldest daughter is on the five year plan because of her double major. I'll get it all cleared up...I still have more than three months until taxes are due.

Oh, another thing with taxes. The 1098T which colleges use to report qualified expenses and scholarships and grants, is not consistent between the colleges. One daughter's college counts activity fees and the other does not. One includes books, the other does not. Just when I think I have things figured out they change!

We had a part replaced on our truck today. $174.45 after a military discount. I do have money in our car maintenance fund.

We are getting ready to travel to visit the girls in the future, so now I'm researching airline tickets, car rental, and boarding costs.

Lots of money going out, but we have the cash. I am grateful we always seem to make it all work, even when it seems overwhelming.

Medical Bills

January 12th, 2019 at 08:07 am

We are pretty healthy people, no chronic illnesses. However, both my girls have been to the doctor a couple times in 2018. They are still on our military insurance, but because they live away from home most of the year they are on Tricare Select. The deductible for each of them is $150. Very reasonable.

My oldest daughter maxed hers out in August and then had a procedure where the cost without insurance was billed at $332. She got the bill at her dorm and apparently didn't have the correct information to file a claim. I called Monday and gave them the correct information, although they seemed confused. They submitted it and was covered in full. The provider gets $83.

My youngest twisted her ankle pretty bad in October, her student health center did submit through insurance, but she nor I were ever notified by our insurance. So looking at her tuition bill I see two charges from the health center for $80.04. It took some sleuthing, basically logging into the insurance company site to see the claim. That yes, $135+ was submitted and reduced to $80.04...and we do owe that as we had not met our deductible for her.

It's harder to navigate insurance when your adult children's claims do not go to your address! Youngest said she never received anything at her dorm, which is where they sent it. At least it is all taken care of this round.

It did remind me that a sinking fund for the deductibles wouldn't be a bad idea. Although I can probably manage any charges through basic cash flow.

Sold Shares

January 8th, 2019 at 02:44 pm

It's that time of year again where college tuition and housing payments will be due soon. Our youngest daughter's school collects super early compared to our older daughter. I will pay hers by January 20, just six days after classes start. My older daughter started classes yesterday and her bill will not come due until February 12! I do appreciate the gap between the due dates.

I placed an order on Friday to sell shares in my youngest daughter's ESA. I mentioned before those shares are still invested in the stock market. I sold at $38.88/share in August and sold these last ones for $31.78. (Side note: I made the sale after the market closed Friday without realizing it. Just not thinking. So I had fingers crossed all weekend the market wouldn't tank on Monday.) We did have a few years where we made purchases of shares far under the latest sale price, so we are doing okay.

We are paying about $1,200 out of pocket for her tuition and books which I will be able to claim in 2019 under the American Opportunity Tax Credit. Total bill due for youngest daughter on January 20 is $6,207.20 after $3,600 in scholarships. Again this is for all fees, housing, and tuition and the books that have been charged so far.

This semester our oldest daughter's bill (without books) is currently at $8,831.26 for tuition, fees and housing. This after $8,000 in scholarships. We should have some small VA benefits left (15 days worth), but not sure what that will equate to. If I had to guess maybe another $1000 off?! Currently those benefits have not posted. We will use cash we have received from the VA for housing during Fall 2018 to pay for this spring. We will use most of her remaining ESA funds to pay the remainder amount of tuition.

So thankful to be able to make these payments with ease and to end another semester without student loans. To date we have covered with savings, current cash or had benefits and scholarships to cover tuition and housing for ten semesters of college.

2018 Financial Wins and Fails

December 28th, 2018 at 06:58 pm

If you didn't see my previous post, I've invited all bloggers to write a post titled 2018 Financial Wins and Fails. Join in before the end of the year.

I reread all of my 2018 posts here and I have to say while the year was a whirlwind of change, we actually had a lot of financial wins, many I forgot about!

I'm going to start with the fails.

1) Failed to shop for the best prices. We purchased some big ticket items, computer for our daughter, dorm supplies, tires and college textbooks. The reasons are multiple, but it was such a busy year, I found myself just wanting to get the purchases complete, rather than spending lots of time finding the best price. It's not to say I didn't do some price comparisons, but I didn't dig in deep to make it a priority.

2) I failed to think ahead about getting out of the stock market on my youngest daughter's Educational Savings Account. The market was doing well. We redeemed shares in August and definitely sold high. But now the market has corrected, and the share price while still high for some of the shares we bought, it is low for others. I should have moved the shares to cash in August. I haven't sold at a loss yet, so may not end up being a complete fail. Time will tell.

3) Failed to plan ahead. This is related to both of the above, but I wasn't thinking months in advance about things that would need cash, particularly all the dorm room expenses. I should have thought about that at least at the first of the year. I was able to cash flow the costs as we made purchases, but it would have been less stressful if the money was set aside for something I knew was coming.

The wins definitely outweigh the fails.

1) We ended the year once again with zero student loans! So excited we have been able to continue to cash flow, use saved investments or take advantage of my husband's Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits. Oh, and the girls both got fantastic scholarships that helped as well.

2) Despite lots of spending, we saved a lot this year. We maxed out our Roth IRA contributions, and my husband saved 11% of his basic pay for retirement. We saved $2000 in our daughter's ESA (final contribution). We saved $347/mo automatically from my husband's paycheck. We saved all credit card rewards and interest on our savings. (I'll post more specific numbers later.) We also saved the entire military move reimbursement which was nearly $7K.

3) We cash flowed a computer purchase, new tires, shocks and struts for my van, dorm needs, three trips, and several airline flights. Still completely debt free!

The fails help me see where we can improve in 2019, and the wins remind me what we are doing right and can continue with going forward. Do you review your successes and setbacks at the end of the year?