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    How to Get Creative with College Finances

    Chances are, your financial aid package won’t cover all your expenses. But don’t panic--get creative.

    Elesha Coffman

    get creative with paying for collegeShock. It’s a common reaction when you and your family see how much is left of your college bill after your aid package is subtracted out. You can’t help but wonder, Where am I going to get that kind of money?

    Well, odds are you’re not going to get it all in one place. If you start looking for $7,000 (or what ever) in one lump sum, you’ll probably get discouraged real quick. But if you can find $2,000 here, $500 there … eventually you’ll reach the amount you need. You just need some patience and some ideas of where to look. Start with these three: scholarships, "hidden" cash and homegrown jobs.


    Definitely the place to begin. Scholarships are fabulous sources of aid because they don’t have to be paid back, can often be obtained with relatively little effort, and come in so many shapes and sizes that you stand a great chance of qualifying for at least a few.

    You can find out about scholarships in all kinds of places: your high school guidance office, the local library or Chamber of Commerce, at your church and in books like The Complete Scholarship Book from Student Services, Peterson’s Scholarships, Grants and Prizes, and The Financial Aid Book (Perpetual Press). The Web is also a great source.

    When you’re searching for scholarships, don’t overlook the ones with smaller award amounts. Sure, $200 doesn’t sound like much, but if you can make that much for two hours’ worth of essay-writing and application-filling, it averages out to about the best hourly rate you could possibly get right now.

    "Hidden" cash

    No, not the pennies in your piggy bank. For the kind of cash you’re looking for, you’ll want to sit down with your parents and pore over all the family’s financial records. First, look for forgotten stashes--savings bonds, the college fund Grandma started when you were born, a savings account no one’s bothered to cash out. You might be surprised at what you find.

    Next, see if there’s any money that can be moved around to yield a higher return. The helpful people at your local bank could talk you through a number of short-term investment strategies (CDs, mutual funds, etc.) designed to fill near-future financial gaps. Larger scale money-moving options are available as well, such as refinancing the house or taking out a home equity loan. You don’t want to do anything that will cost more than it saves in the long run, but some prudent money maneuvering might be just what it takes to get you (and any subsequent siblings) through your college years.

    Another place to look for cash is your overstuffed closets. Got a collection of baseball cards or Star Wars action figures? An ugly antique vase that could fetch a nice price? Today might be the rainy day you’ve been saving for.

    Homegrown jobs

    You might already be planning to work part-time at school. The relatively big-time commitment of a steady job is often a good plan). But if it either doesn’t fit into your schedule or won’t provide all the money you need, you could always consider working for yourself.

    One student at a small midwestern college paid for much of her education by renting out her family’s barn as a summer storage place for dorm-room items. Another student raked in big bucks after he bought an espresso machine and opened his own coffee shop on campus. Some other great self-starter ideas include:

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