By Jacob Newman, Outreach Officer and Financial Aid Expert – April 6, 2017

The weather is warming up, the snow is melting, and the sun is shining more. Huzzah! It must be April in Utah! One of my new favorite things about living in Utah in the spring is planting and growing a garden. Before last year, I didn’t have much experience with gardening. I hadn’t read much about it and hadn’t taken care of any plants aside from occasionally picking tomatoes in my parents’ yard, but I was determined to try it. I planted tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and watermelon. While I had a lot of fun and learned a lot from the experience, I didn’t have enough experience or knowledge yet to take care of my garden as well as I should have. I’m doing more research and reading up this year so I can balance my practical experience from last year with more actual knowledge.

Financial literacy” is a fancy way of saying, “how money works.” Obviously, you need to understand how something works in order to correctly use it. Learning about how money works is a lot like learning about gardening. You might have some knowledge and some experience now (like I did with gardening), but there is so much to know and experience that it can be overwhelming. Not only that, but you’re likely to make some mistakes along the way as you develop your knowledge and skill. We all have some experience with money in one way or another, but when it comes to a big life expense like college, it’s hard to know what you need to know without help. That’s where we come in. I’ll show you three ways to plant the seeds of college money (“financial literacy”) so that you can pay for college and harvest the many fruits of your dream education!

Have a plan and fill that piggy bank (budget and save money)

Everyone knows that in order to pay for college, you need money. No matter how old you are, it’s never too early to start thinking about saving money and budgeting. Talk with your parents or guardians about how you will pay for college and how to budget. Here are some questions to ask and research together to become more financially literate.

  1. Do I have a 529 plan or a college savings account?
  2. How much can we budget to save for my education?
  3. How much will my college education cost?
  4. How do you budget your money?
  5. What makes budgeting hard for you?
  6. What do you wish you had known about money when you were my age?
  7. Can you help me make a budget for myself?

Finance in the Classroom has great tools and information that will help you practice budgeting and saving for college. Level up those money skills!

Figure out what you’re going to need (calculate your costs)

You can start thinking about college costs by making a list of schools you’re considering. Most schools will have a net price calculator on their website that will help you figure out how much that particular school will cost. The net price calculator will calculate some estimated costs (tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, and other expenses), some estimated financial aid (like grants, work-study, and student loans) and an estimated “net price” (net price is the price of attendance minus financial aid). When you calculate these numbers, you can use them to start a budget and begin saving .

As an example, let’s look at Utah State University’s Net Price Calculator. It will ask you some simple questions, like your age, where you plan to live (at home or not), your marital status, how many people live with you and your parents, how many of those people will be in college next year, and your parents’ annual income. The calculator will give you an idea of tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, and other expenses. It will also estimate how much grant aid (free money!) you might be eligible for. After calculating both of these, it will give you an estimated net price after grants and scholarships. For this calculator, it bases the information off of 2015-2016 attendance costs, but it is a good place to start. You can start thinking about how much time you have left before you start college and how you can start filling your piggy bank regularly to get closer to the amount you need.

Remember when your senior year comes, you need to fill out your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to know if you’re eligible for grants, work-study, and other financial aid to help cut college costs.

Read, read, read! (research ways to cut college costs) has many resources about cutting costs (researching and analyzing college costs, slashing college costs, saving money on books, and save money on college tuition) and other activities that can help you to cut costs while you’re in high school (concurrent enrollment and community service that can lead to scholarships).

You can also start looking for scholarships. Be sure that you read the requirements carefully. There are many scholarships for you to earn no matter what grade you are in! You can also find scholarships on the financial aid website of the college that you’re interested in attending. When you apply, be sure to use StepUp Utah’s Scholarship Toolkit to help you be a competitive candidate. If you have questions about other ways to read up on paying for college, reach out to us!

Planting your college money (“financial literacy”) seeds now will lead to the future sweet fruits of your higher education and your dream. Now get planning (and planting)!

Jacob Newman is a Community Outreach Officer with Utah Higher Education Assistance Authority (UHEAA) and financial aid expert. Before working with UHEAA, he worked as a the Job Readiness Program Coordinator at the English Skills Learning Center. Jacob graduated with an MA in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages from Brigham Young University in August 2016. He speaks Thai, Spanish, and American Sign Language. Follow Jacob on TwitterInstagram, and Snapchat @stepupjacob.