Latest Posts

Talking to Kids About Who Pays for College and Weddings

Last year, I wrote a post about how I don’t dream about my daughter’s wedding day. I’m not in Dreamland these days. But assuming my daughter gets married, I’m curious about what kind of bride she will be. Will she be low-key or a high-drama mama? Will she go for something traditional or break the mold?

Wait for a second, does my daughter expect me to pay for her wedding? And while we’re on the topic of mom and dad’s pocketbook, do the kids expect us to foot the bill for college, too?

When you don’t talk to kids about paying for college

When you don’t talk to your kids about who will pay for college, weird things happen. They might get this idea that you’re going to pay for the whole thing. Meanwhile you only planned to pay for a third of tuition or nothing at all.

Your child may even have it in their head that your family cant afford college. This notion can show up in lackluster grades, a little effort on standardized tests, and no interest in the activities that make students attractive to colleges and scholarship committees.

If you dont have the college money talk, you also rob your family of the chance to devise a plan. Thats right. Were talking about an all-hands-on-deck family plan to conquer college costs. Depending on the age of your child, your family might:

  • Estimate your Estimated Family Contribution (EFC) with a free EFC Calculator
  • Research Scholarships for Kids Under the Age of 13
  • Team up to pay down debt and improve cashflow
  • Figure out which schools will give your student the most free college money
  • Talk about the importance of college choice, early and often

If your kids dont know where you stand on paying for college, its time to have the talk. Your three-year-old might not understand, but your 13-year-old has probably heard about this thing called college. And I promise the college finance talk wont be the most awkard conversation youll have with your kids.

Are the bride’s folks still on the hook?

Again, I’m not picking out color palettes for my daughters wedding. But the personal finance side of me wondered if the brides parents were still supposed to pay for the wedding. I had to do a little digging.

With the traditional approach, the brides parents pay for the ceremony, reception, transportation and photography. The grooms family biggest costs are the honeymoon and wedding rings.

With couples getting married later in life, there seems to be a shift from parent-financed weddings to couples taking on much of the costs. Music to my ears.

Did you know that banks will finance your child’s wedding? Let’s keep that our little secret.

Will you be giving up your dough?

College, much like weddings, comes down to choice. You can pay for your child’s entire college education, pay nothing at all, or somewhere in between. You can pitch in on weddings or keep your cheddar in the bank. But you have to make a choice.

Once you know your philosophy on who pays for college (and weddings), don’t keep it a secret. Talk about it with the kids, and all will be better off.

Readers: So who is paying for what at your place? What do you think is a good age to talk to kids about college costs? Leave a comment below.

The Bigs by Ben Carpenter Reviewed

I wish I’d had a copy of Ben Carpenters The Bigs when I was a young pup. Not only does Carpenter tackle strategies for landing and keeping a great job, the author also shares smaller lessons like how to avoid being the employee who never admits their mistakes. If you can’t own up, expect your co-workers to throw a parade when you leave the job.

In baseball, “the bigs” means the big leagues. The book began as a list of instructions for the authors’ daughter as she entered the big leagues—her first job after college. Carpenter weaves in his personal journey from a mixed up kid to a naive college student, and his ascent to CEO of an international investment company.

My two cents on The Bigs by Ben Carpenter

The book has three major sections:

  • Introduction: Before the Bigs
  • How to Survive, Thrive and Have Fun in the Big Leagues
  • How to Choose, Get and Do a Great Job

The Bigs was a great read. The author gave tons of examples of people doing great and not so great things on the job. With such detailed descriptions of Carpenter’s colleagues, it was as satisfying as people watching at the mall on Saturday morning. Oh come on, I can’t be the only Saturday morning people watcher at the mall. Back to the book.

The advice in “The Bigs” is practical and actionable. Without giving away too much, here are a few of takeaways from the book:

  • In the workplace, most of the time you have to earn respect, but sometimes you have to demand it
  • Starting out, focus on what you do well over your passion
  • Use the power of informational interviews to prime the pump for future job interviews

Would you recommend The Bigs to a friend?

I would recommend the book to any college student or young adult who wants to know how to find a meaningful career, how to excel at work, and how to manage those early paychecks. I think the book is also ideal for seasoned professionals planning a career change.

My recommendation comes with one caveat. Understand that “The Bigs” is not a typical how-to book. It is part memoir and part instructional. Knowing this ahead of time makes for a more enjoyable read.

5 Things You Need to Know About My College-Bound Baby

Rebranding a blog hurts. I’ve been fighting it for months. Not because I would have to change all of my social media accounts, risk losing followers, or struggle to build another website. Although all those things gave me some aches and pains.

The real reason I was hesitant to rebrand is that I didn’t want to be misunderstood.

I’m Nicole Robinson. You may know me as The BookWormMama. If you don’t know me, that’s cool. I’m certainly not a celebrity. Im just a mom with a vision: I want to help other parents tackle their fears about planning for college.

I hope this post gives you an idea of what we will (and won’t) be doing on this little piece of the blogosphere. If it resonates with you, you’ll want to keep in touch.

Here are five things you need to know about My College-Bound Baby:

No. 1 I’m not going to push you

If you’re looking for someone to crack the whip and get in your face about college planning, look elsewhere. I will bring you practical advice from college planning professionals. I’ll tell you things I learn along the way as I raise two college-ready kids. Ill even share my college planning failures (oh Lord, let them be few).

But I am not going to push you. I wouldn’t even suggest that you obsess about planning for college. I just hope that you’ll pick up ideas that you can use in your everyday life.

No. 2 It doesn’t matter if you have money for college

Somewhere along the way parents got this idea that college planning and college funding were the same things. They figure that if they can’t save for college, there is little else they can do to impact their child’s college future. Lies, all lies!

If you stumbled onto this blog by accident, you may be thinking, I can’t afford college, get me out of here. I hope you’ll rethink it. There is more to college planning than money.

You are your child’s secret weapon when it comes to college. And it doesn’t matter how fat your wallet is. 

No. 3 – Well be friends, even if you don’t pay for college

Last I checked, hard work never hurt anyone. If your child pays for college with scholarships and jobs, good on them, and good on you. To be transparent, I don’t plan to foot the entire bill for my kid’s college educations. I think they’ll appreciate college more if they have to work for it.

If you’re not paying for college by choice, or for lack of funds, we can still be friends. Even without the money piece, you and I still have a lot to discuss. College is no longer one of those things that kids just figure out on their own.

No. 4 I am not a college planner

I am not a college planner, but I think that’s a good thing. I’m a parent with the same questions as you: How will I put my kids through college? How do I keep my kids safe in a scary world? Will I ever find all of their missing socks?

Clearly, college isn’t the only thing on my mind. Watch this space for posts about parenting, blogging, and other hot topics.

If you are a college planner, I want to talk with you.

No. 5 This is what we’re really talking about here

I cringed when a well-known mom blogger slammed another mom for hoping that her young son would someday earn an athletic scholarship. Most commenters on the post thought it was absurd for a parent to look so far into the future. Well, color me absurd.

Aren’t we parents? We look deep into the future when our children only see the next moment. We take a wide view of the big picture when our kids can only see what’s directly ahead of them.

It’s perfectly okay to have aspirations for your children. You can support their scholarship and college future, without being an overbearing parent.

What were really talking about here is being an intentional parent. My College-Bound Baby is for parents who want to help their kids become their personal best. And we won’t be creepy about it.

Ultimate Blog Party 2014: Win Prizes, Make Blog Pals

This is my first year participating in the Ultimate Blog Party hosted by 5 Minutes for Mom. For eight years now hundreds of bloggers have gotten together for this week-long blog hop, commenting and tweeting blitz. You can jump in on the Twitter action using hashtag #UBP14.

Did I mention there were prizes? If there is a Big Green Egg Grill up for grabs, pick me, pick me! More than anything, I hope to discover lots of cool blogs and bloggers. Speaking of cool bloggers

I’m Nicole Robinson, freelance writer, mom of two little ones, and wife to one. I started this blog because thinking about how to put my kids through college gave me hives. I don’t think I’m alone here.

I decided I didn’t want to be afraid of college anymore.

I’m on a mission to improve my kid’s college future, whether or not I can cover tuition. I’m no college planner. But I’m great at talking to college pros to dig up the information that college-bound families need.

Whether your child is 5, 10 or 15 years old, I hope you’ll join with me in conquering the college sneak up. Go ahead, sign up. I dare you.

College Sneak Up [col·lege \ˈsnēk\ \ˈəp\] (verb) college admissions and college tuition advances stealthily and unnoticed upon families who think they have all the time in the world.

That’s enough about me. I want to know about you. Are you partying with #UBP14? There is still time to sign up at 5 Minutes for Mom. Remember to follow along on Twitter using hashtag #UBP14. And of course, show lots of love to Ultimate Blog Party hosts Susan and Janice @5minutesformom.

How to Talk to Your Spouse About College Planning

So you’ve decided that you’re not going to pay for college for the kids. They can take a part-time job and earn college scholarships, just like you did. That’s cool.

Or maybe you’d like to open a 529 Plan and squirrel away a few dollars for college. That’s fine by me, too.

Clearly, it doesn’t matter what I think about your college plan. But if you’re married there is at least one person you need to talk to before you put your college plan into action.

The funny thing about spouses is that we think we know them so well. Of course, he thinks the kids should go to college. She’ll be so happy when she finds out that I’m routing our retirement money into the college fund after all, the kids come first.

Youll have to dig deep if you really want to get on the same page with your partner. Heres how to talk to your spouse about college:

Set a date night to talk to your spouse about college

Who says you have to be chained to the kitchen table in order to talk college with your sweetie? Go out to dinner. Visit the park together.

Just make sure that everyone understands that this date night has a purpose. Never take an unsuspecting spouse to a great steak restaurant and pelt them with how are we going to put the kids through school? There isn’t enough sauce in the world to make that steak taste good.

Everyone knows what is on the agenda. You’ve picked a relaxing, perhaps even romantic environment. How do you get the conversation going? You might start with:

  • I’m wondering if the kids need a college education
  • What do you think [your child’s name here] would major in?
  • Can you believe my co-worker’s daughter pays $1000 a month in student loans?
  • I hear they give college scholarships for ham radio enthusiasts

The point is to start the conversation with harmless questions and statements that cant be answered with a yes or no.

Approach the conversation with an ear towards learning how your partner feels. Try not to hog the college conversation, even if you’ve examined every angle, done the research, and have real-life examples to support your views.

You should walk away from date night knowing three things: stuff we agree on, stuff we disagree on, and stuff that requires more research.

Attend a free college planning seminar together

State school or private college? Are 529 plans the best way to save for college? Are athletic scholarships worth the trouble? A qualified college planner can be a lifesaver. Fortunately, many college planners offer free seminars for students and their parents.

The beauty of attending a college planning seminar as a couple is that it keeps the conversation going. Youll be able to meet other families who are in the same boat. If you and your spouse cant agree on something, the college planner may cover it in the presentation or you can get in a quick question at the end.

To find a seminar, do an online search of your city plus the phrase college planning seminar. Once you have a few names you should do additional online searches to see what people are saying. Thanks to social media you can probably figure out if the seminar is helpful or a waste of time.

Don’t think that you have to wait until your child is in high school to attend a college planning seminar. If you find an event that you like, call the host. Ask if you can attend even if your kids are on the younger side.

If you cant find a local college planning seminar, look for a podcast. The College Success for Less Podcast by Andy Lockwood is a good one. Jose “JR” Vazquez of the College Money Man Podcast recently posted his Top 8 Podcasts For Parents of College-Bound Teens.

You may also want to check out my post, 15 No-Cost, Low-Cost College Planning Resources.

Put your college plan in writing

Life is busy. Life is loud. Its easy for day-to-day life to get in the way of planning for your childs college education. Dont waste the effort you put into getting on the same page with your spouse.

Sit down together and put your college philosophy in writing. Think of it as your familys collegiate mission statement. It doesnt have to be elaborate. Just open up a Word file and sketch out your thoughts. It might go something like this:

If [your child’s name here] decides to go to college, I will encourage [him/her] to avoid student loan debt. Ill commit to saving $50 per month for college. I will support [his/her] scholarship efforts by researching scholarships, helping [him/her] participate in extracurricular activities, studying for the PSAT, and attending family volunteer activities.

Print the mission statement and put it in a highly visible spot (i.e., refrigerator, desk top, dashboard). Now you and your spouse will be ready when your student wants to study underwater basket weaving at $50,000 a year.

Youth Sports: Still a good idea?

Growing up I was more of a mathlete than an athlete. An awkward relationship with sports equipment killed my sports dreams before they started. How many times can a girl get bopped on the head with a volleyball before she gives up?

Hopefully, my kids don’t inherit my allergic reaction to sports. I like the idea of them getting exercise and working with a team towards a common goal.

Organized sports would also add another layer to their college applications. But I wonder if the cost to play is worth the price of admission.

Exposure to Adults Behaving Badly

I thought it was a fluke the first time I heard of a parent and coach coming to blows at a youth sporting event. Color me naive. Just put bad sports parent into a YouTube search. Better yet, don’t look it up. It’ll just give you a head cramp.

Esquire Networks docuseries, Friday Night Tykes doesn’t paint a very pretty picture of youth sports. The show, which follows several San Antonio youth football teams, made recent news for the suspension of two coaches. According to CNN reports, one coach was suspended for encouraging profanity, while the other was suspended for instructing players to hit their opponents in the head.

As of this writing, The Esquire Network has the entire first episode of Friday Night Tykes posted on its website. Forgive me, but I won’t be linking to said the first episode.

I can’t imagine the thought process of adults who go crazy over youth sports. Is it because of other life stressors outside the game itself that push them over the edge?

Are they really so wrapped up in an 8-year-olds football game that they lose control?

I suspect it could be something far more disturbing.

The only thing worse than an adult who berates, abuses, and misdirects a child, is an adult who thinks that they are helping the child with such behavior.

I’m not a member of the every-kid-gets-a-trophy club.

Life is competitive. Kids have to learn how to thrive in a competitive world. That being said, some coaches and parents aren’t teaching kids how to compete. They are teaching them to win at all cost.

I thought sports were supposed to be fun

Youth participation is down in basketball, soccer, baseball and football, according to a recent report in the Wall Street Journal. Experts cite various reasons for the decline including cuts in physical education courses, increased pressure on child athletes, and the popularity of social media and video games.

To summarize one expert in the Wall Street report: The search for elite athletes, overworking kids, and making student athletes specialize in a single sport have made sports less fun.

So, will my kids play sports?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not down on youth sports. Even when you consider concussions and other sports injuries, I believe that inactivity poses a greater health risk for many kids.

Will my kids play organized sports? Well, I was hoping you’d give me your two cents. Hop to it.

Dear Susan: Heres why my daughter wont be hunting a husband in college

Do you know Susan Patton? No? Well, she’s the Princeton Mom who set the blogosphere (and possibly the earth) on fire with her thoughts on marriage, education, and sexual assault, among other things.

It’s Patton’s advice about how young women should spend their college years that pinned my ears back. In her new book, Marry Smart: Advice for Finding the One, Patton writes, When your daughter enters college, she will never again be as young, as beautiful, as attractive to men, or as fertile. Encourage her to make the best use of this time.

I will certainly encourage my daughter to make the best of her college years. I even agree with Patton that women who want to have biological children are on an unforgiving timeline.

But I can’t subscribe to Patton’s 75-25 method to life: Until you find a spouse, spend 75% of your energy on finding a partner, and 25% on professional development. Keep in mind that this advice is only for college-aged women since the fellow’s aren’t under the tick of a biological clock.

Ivy League or Not, College Men Arent All Fully Cooked

Patton, a Princeton alum, has two sons who also attended Princeton once her nickname. Ivy League or not, I don’t buy that college is teeming with desirable, marriage-worthy men.

First of all, some colleges are nearly impossible to get into while others seem to accept anyone with an application, transcript, and a pulse. Just because that classmate made it through the admissions process and onto campus doesn’t mean we should break out the bubbly.

The transition from high school to college does not turn a boy into a man.

They may be single, they may be age appropriate, but a good chunk of the men on campus still have baby formula on their breath.  In fact, continuing research on brain development indicates that people are not fully mature until 25. We’re also better equipped to make major life decisions in our late 20s.

I’m not saying that all college guys are bad news. I’m not even saying that you have to wait until your late 20s to find a spouse. But why would I train my daughter to set her sights on her classmates like she’s some beast in heat?

Baby Girl, do you know what you’re looking for?

Conventional wisdom says that girls mature faster than boys. Even with science to back up this theory, I won’t assume that my daughter will be able to spot a keeper the moment she steps on a college campus. Suppose her classmate has all of Forbes 10 Traits Women Want in a Husband:

  • Financial Potential
  • Good Health
  • Ambition
  • Pleasing Disposition
  • Sociability
  • Intelligence
  • Family Oriented
  • Maturity
  • Dependability

None of these qualities matter if my daughter doesn’t know what she wants in a mate. If, as Patton suggests, she looks for a husband her freshman year of college, when would she have had time to thoughtfully consider what she wants in a spouse? In high school?

Just another message that a girl’s appearance is what counts

Im reminded of a novelist who considered herself dreadfully unphotogenic. Even as a young girl she ran at the sight of a camera. One day the 50-year-old novelist saw a picture of herself taken in her 20s and remarked, Wow, I was one hot dish.

There is no denying it. A woman in her 20s is something to behold. But this notion that young women have to wield their youthful beauty at potential mates like a mallet is suspect.

Patton tells parents to encourage their daughters to make the best use of their time in college since they will never again be as young, as beautiful, as attractive to men, or as fertile.

As if women and girls are not already earlobes deep in messages that tell them that appearance is what matters most. Now parents are being called upon to instruct their daughters to use most of their energy angling for a spouse before all that pretty dries up.

Patton and I agree except for when we don’t

As outlandish as some of Patton’s ideas sound, the premise of her book seems to be that women should use their college years to work on both personal happiness and professional goals. I’m on board with that. Young women who desire marriage and children, and a career, are perfectly capable of simultaneously working towards those goals.

But I can’t subscribe to Patton’s lopsided ratio or the fact that personal happiness seems to be a euphemism for snag a husband, have some babies.

15 No-Cost, Low-Cost College Planning Resources A College Planners Picks

I did the unthinkable. I actually asked a professional college planner how I could get around hiring a college planner. To be more precise, I asked Jona Jacobson with JJ College Admission Advising for advice for families who can’t afford to hire an independent college admissions consultant. Hey, we all come at this college thing from different walks and different pocketbooks.

As Jacobson points out, there are many great books and websites available to college-bound students, and their families. Check out Jacobson’s favorite low-cost, no-cost college planning resources.

This is not a sponsored post, though it does contain affiliate links to books that will hopefully help on your family’s college journey.

Jona Jacobsons top picks for college planning books

1. The College Solution by Lynn O’Shaughnessy is particularly good at focusing in on the financial issues of paying for college.

2. Admission Matters by Sally P. Springer has all-around great information on how the college application process works these days and how to prepare and get through it.

3. College Match by Steven Antonoff. When it comes to the college search process, helping students with self-reflection and figuring out how they can find colleges that are a good-fit for them is an important part of the process. College Match has a lot of wisdom intermingled with some very helpful questionnaires—all of which give students insight into their own needs and preferences. The book then leads students to take those preferences and use them to figure out what they want in a college.

4. Fiske Guide to Colleges is a good basic book with nuts and bolts information about a variety of colleges. The Best 378 Collegesby Princeton Review is also a good resource, however, students need to know what they want in a college in order to use  these books effectively.

5. Cool Colleges by Donald Asher is a resource that shines light on a number of colleges that are distinctive in a variety of ways. Many of the schools are not on as many student’s radars as they probably should be.  It is a very worthwhile read, especially if a student is trying to find good-fit colleges that are not the ones all their peers are applying to.

6. Colleges that Change Lives Loren Pope focuses on a number of small liberal arts colleges that the author believes to be distinctive for the way they really make a difference for students.

7. America’s Best Colleges for B Students by Tamra B. Orr is on the list because many students are, in fact, B students and may want to look for colleges or universities where they are likely to thrive.  That is something that is difficult to glean simply from the GPA and standardized test averages available through a number of resources.

8. Meeting College Costs is a good and very short book published by the College Board. It helps families figure out how financial aid works and how to complete the financial aid applications.

Jona Jacobson favorite college planning websites

The Internet offers an overwhelming amount of college planning resources. Below are a few helpful websites to get you started.

1. Fastweb is a great place to search for colleges and scholarships, and to understand college costs in general.

2. There are tons of search engines for researching colleges. I recommend CampusExplorer, CollegeView and College Confidential.

3. Another aspect of choosing colleges is the college visit.  If students cannot get to a college for an actual visit, or in order to narrow down the options to make a list of where students would like to go in person, here are a few websites that offer online virtual tours and video tours: YoUniversitytv, CampusTours and eCampus Tours.

4. College Week Live offers online college fairs—which is a great way to get to speak to admissions officers from colleges and to hear information about the colleges without having to get to the college at a time when they offer an info session.

Finally, there are a number of good resources on Twitter that can help students and parents keep up with news and updates in the world of college admissions.  Following the admissions offices of colleges, the student is interested in would be one place to start.

College Degree without Drowning in Debt Reviewed

When I think about how much it will cost to send my kids to college, three words pop into my brain. Scholarships. Scholarships. Scholarships! Were you thinking the same thing? The Internet makes it easier for students to find scholarships. Unfortunately, the web also makes it easier for scammers to cheat students out of their time and money. That’s no fun.

I was excited to get a copy of Getting a College Degree without Drowning in Debt: How to Find Scholarships Online by Gyan Devi and Myrriah Lavin.

Keep reading to find out how you can get your free copy.

My two cents on College Degree without Drowning in Debt

The book has four major sections:

  • An overview that explains why scholarships are worth the trouble
  • A breakdown of what students need to jumpstart their scholarship hunt
  • An analysis of some of the best and worst scholarship websites and mobile apps
  • A primer on how to avoid scholarship scams

College Degree without Drowning in Debt was a quick, easy read. The information was practical and actionable. I liked how the authors challenge students to think of their scholarship search like their own home business. As scholarship entrepreneurs, students create a workspace, set a schedule, and enlist a team of people to help.

You may know first-generation college students are those students whose parents don’t have a college degree. But if you’re like me, you may not have realized that if one parent has a college degree and the other doesn’t, the student is still considered a first-generation college student. They can go after those first generation scholarships, too!

That’s just a small taste of the tips and tricks that I learned from reading this book.

Would you recommend to a friend?

I would recommend the book to any student who is serious about finding scholarships online. My recommendation comes with one caveat.

A good portion of the book is dedicated to the author’s analysis of scholarship websites and mobile apps. While its a great guide for avoiding scholarship scams, the detail of this section might slow down the scholarship hunter who needs to take quick action. Fortunately, the authors include a rating system to pinpoint the best websites. And which websites to avoid like an angry jellyfish.

Dont just take my word for it. Thanks to the authors, you can get a courtesy copy of Getting a College Degree without Drowning in Debt: How to Find Scholarships Online. Head over to Smashwords and use coupon code GU43W. The offer ends May 31st. After that, you can pick up a copy on Amazon.