How to save money when paying for college

HOUSTON – Many parents are stuck in a vicious cycle of paying for their child's college education well into their own retirement.

James Martin is a loving dad and a husband, and like many others, he works hard for a living. And like many other parents, he's helping pay for his son's education after high school.

"It's frustrating. I don't mind paying my debts at all, but this is just a crazy trap," Martin said. "I’m 55 years old, been working since I was 13 years old."

In 2006 Martin took a loan out for his son for $23,500.

Because of interest, he's already paid $32,000 toward that loan.

Thirteen years later, what's his balance? $24,269.

"Angry, very angry. It's like I've made no headway in all these years of paying down this loan," Martin said.

That means Martin will still be paying off this loan well into his retirement.

Unfortunately for many parents, this is not a unique situation.

We went looking for help.

Jacquina Sowell is the manager of Cafe College in north Houston.

"All of our services are free, free, free, free services and resources,"  Sowell said.

Cafe College can help you decide on a career, apply to college or a trade school and find the financial aid you need.

Here are five ways to save:

1. Fill out the FAFSA

It's need-based federal aid in the form of grants, work-study and loans.

"Grant money is free money that you don't have to pay back," Sowell said.

But if the parents make too much money, they won't qualify.

That's why you should do No. 2.

2. Apply for scholarships

There are scholarships for everything.

Sure, for straight-A students and jocks.

But Taco Bell is also offering $4 million based on your passion and dreams.

Bridgestone offers $25,000 and a set of tires for safe driving.

Goya offers $5,000 if you plan to study food.

The National Honor Society has a free online database of thousands of scholarships.

3. If you take out a loan, understand what you are signing

"They have several different types of loans, they have subsidized, they have unsubsidized," Powell said.

Subsidized loan: Interest doesn't start until you finish your education.

And unsubsidized: The interest starts to build as soon as you accept the loan.

Also, know your interest rate.

"Speak with them, put in place a payment plan. What can I pay? How much can I pay, and also determine how long the loan will drawn out to be," Powell said. "If you're only paying $50 here each month, that's going to extend your time to paying it back and that could be 50 years."

4. Negotiate

It's OK to negotiate your financial aid package. After you get your financial aid package from your school, appeal the decision and ask for more funds.

Send a detailed letter with evidence indicating why you have a need for more money.

For example, supply a medical bill or list expenses after Hurricane Harvey.

If your child gets accepted into two similar schools, you can leverage them.

In the appeal, ask the school if they can match the other's offer.

5. Discounts on the "extras"

How can you get things like free food, free clothes or discounts on transportation?

Books: Click here for information on how to save on books.

Food: Food pantries and food scholarships


"The Career Closet at Lone Star was established to provide support for students who have a scheduled job interview, but have nothing appropriate to wear and are unable to purchase the needed items. The closet is set up to feel like a boutique, with men's and women's clothing in all sizes, shoes, ties, jewelry and other accessories.

"Our purpose is to make you feel more confident and comfortable by dressing to impress, as if you already have the job! You are allowed to keep the outfit following your interview.

"The Career Closet also accepts donations of clean, stylish, interview-appropriate clothing from students, staff, faculty and the community."

Transportation: Subsidized METRO cards

"The average American spends nearly $10k per year on their daily commute. Houston commute costs rank among the highest in the nation so depending on where you live and the length of your commute, the costs can soar to even higher amounts. To help students offset the cost of transportation in our region, METRO offers discounted fare, which is 50 percent off the regular rate. Click here for additional details about the program.

In addition, schools such as the University of Houston and UH Downtown offer subsidized transit cards that encourage students to take advantage of convenient public transportation options located near campus.

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