How to compare college finanical aid packages and pick the right school

It’s that time of year, when teens and their families agonize over which college they will pay thousands of dollars to – or borrow thousands of dollars for — over the next four years.

By now, acceptance letters and financial aid packages are in hand, so it’s just a matter of doing some side-by-side comparisons.

Having written about higher education and financial aid for the majority of my career, I’m here to tell you that the college decision should go beyond which one is “the best,” or which one will cost you the least.

Before you send in your commitment letter, here are some key things to think about as you compare your financial aid awards and choose a school.

There are worse things in life than giving up your first choice college

Had I gone to the top college that accepted me, it would have meant taking out $80,000 in student loans.
I chose door number two — the college that gave me a full ride.

If you’re facing a similar type of decision, you need to answer this question first above all others: Are you willing to give up an admissions offer from your top-choice school if it makes financial sense?

It might hurt initially, but the idea that you’ll regret turning down a more prestigious school is an outdated concept.

In my college days, there was this myth that if you attended Super Amazing U. Fortune 500 companies would automatically throw six figure offers at you.
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When you want to travel determines when you’ll find the cheapest airline tickets

If you’re shopping for a great deal on a plane ticket, the best time to book depends on when you’ll be traveling.

During off-peak season, on average, you’ll get the best prices on domestic fares 47 days before takeoff, according to a recent report from

For summer travel – June to August – 76 days out is the average target for the cheapest airline tickets.

And if you’re traveling during holiday seasons, the earlier the better. Booked 320 days in advance, air fares for peak-season travel were just $8 more than their lowest price point.

In order to get those averages, the online airfare shopping engine tracked nearly 1.5 billion trips in 15,000 markets and recorded the lowest fare for each trip every day from 320 days in advance up until one day before departure.

Of course, those averages are just a guide. For individual trips, it really depends on your destination, the time of year, and the days you’re traveling, notes CheapAir.
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The secrets to saving $1 million in your 401(k)

If you’re striving to save for retirement take some cues from the 401(k) millionaires over at Fidelity Investments.

According to recent Fidelity data, 72,379 of its 13 million 401(k) accounts now have balances of over $1 million.

That’s more than twice as many as in 2012.

And while the average annual compensation for these individuals was $359,000, between 1,000 and 1,200 of them made under $150,000.

How’d they save $1 million or more?

These individuals average 60 years old and had been with the same company for somewhere around 30 years. So stability at work is key.

But it’s not just one thing that these individuals did. It’s a lot of different things.
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 Frugal Living 

Cord-Cutter Alert: Cheap new app pushes cable TV one step closer to obsolescence

If you loathe cable TV (and who doesn’t?), there’s now another, cheaper alternative for all of you aspiring cord-cutters.

Sling TV, a subsidiary of Dish Networks, is the newest streaming TV service on the block, and it seems to be a viable replacement for cable, especially if you only watch a handful of channels.

The company’s motto: “Take Back TV.”

For $20 a month, the service allows its subscribers to watch cable on demand from their television sets, smartphones and tablets.

You’ll get 14 channels: ESPN, ESPN2, TNT, TBS, Food Network, HGTV, Travel Channel, Adult Swim, Cartoon Network, ABC Family, Disney Channel, CNN, El Rey and Galavision.

For an extra $5 a month, you can watch live NBA, NFL, college basketball, college football and some soccer games — think March Madness and the NBA All-Star Game. You can also add a kid channel package ($5) and a news package (another $5).
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iPad baby seats are dubious devices

Every mom can attest to needing 10 minutes for a shower, to prepare dinner and sometimes even just to put down a colicky baby that has been crying nonstop.

If you’ve seen the new iPad baby seats, from infant activity seats to toddler potty seats, featuring an attachment for an iPad complete with “developmentally appropriate apps,” you might wonder if they are better than a traditional baby seat.

But don’t choose it for educational advantages.

The “educational merit of media for children younger than 2 years remains unproven despite the fact that three-quarters of the top-selling infant videos make explicit or implicit educational claims,” according to the American Academy of Pediatrics updated 2011 statement, Media Use in Children Younger than 2 Years.

The academy “discourages media use by children younger than 2 years” for some very good reasons.

The medical group reviewed all of the scientific studies on media use in children under 2 (mostly television viewing) before coming to that conclusion and no research over the past four years has prompted it to revise that opinion.

Yet nine out of 10 parents say heir children younger than 2 years watch some form of electronic media. So where does that leave parents faced with the decision to buy and use one of these iPad baby seats?
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It’s getting easier to do good by linking your spending to your favorite charity

If you’re one of the 95% of Americans who donate to charity each year, your good will could stretch a little further if you spend your money wisely.

You can now support everything from education to the environment through your credit or debit card, bank account or other payment method.

Some options provide funds to particular nonprofit organizations, while others give you the flexibility to choose the charity that reaps your rewards.

I’m a huge shopper, buying everything from special food for my senior cat to cosmetics through the site.

Last year I signed up for the AmazonSmile program after friends who run a clinic that provides low-cost veterinarian care suffered a devastating loss. An arsonist torched their facility, destroying the inside of the building and killing the three clinic cats.
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Let’s save ourselves from costly ‘help’ like this

Beware of yet another start-up that’s out to take advantage of the self-employed and part-time workers trying to make a living from several jobs.

Even is a new company launching later this year that promises to help smooth out the erratic income of those of us who don’t have a single, steady employer.

They posit themselves as insurance on your checks: Give them your money, and they’ll pay you a weekly salary out of it.

If your income isn’t up to snuff that week, they say they give you an interest free loan.

If all systems are go, your extra money is saved for the next time a check is late or your shifts are cut.

The big problem: Even charges $5 per week to hold onto your money for you. That’s $20 per month and $240 per year. In exchange, they give you zero interest in your savings.

What a terrible idea.

Look, I understand the frustration when your incoming is coming from a dozen different sources. I’ve been self-employed for 10 years, and sometimes checks are late.

But there’s a very easy way to even things out yourself.
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The Ultimate Layoff Survival Plan: How smart financial decisions now and later can help you through

Most people don’t expect to be laid off, but for anyone who’s been through it (raising my hand!), it often comes when you’d least expect it.

For me, it came on a Monday morning in the form of a sticky note from my immediate supervisor that said to meet her in the hallway.

I knew right away that she was giving me a heads up about the “meeting” I would be called into later that day. These so-called meetings had been happening a lot at my company, but I just assumed after working there for 15 years that I was safe.

Take it from me – I was wrong, and your job is not safe either.

Sure, there aren’t 2009 levels of layoffs going on right now, but for industries still feeling the economic sting, you may find yourself saying, “that cubicle wasn’t empty yesterday, was it?” or “what happened to Jane from accounting?”

As much as we try to be prepared in case of a rainy day, when that day does come, it’s easy to slip into panic mode, and start making rash financial decisions like borrowing from your 401(k) or maxing out your credit cards.

Lucky for me, my layoff was the push I needed to take my side freelance business to the next level. In other words, I had a backup plan ready to go.

In order to keep your financial future secure in the event of unexpected unemployment, you need to have a game plan.

Here’s what you should do if you’re laid off -– and what you should do now, while you’re still working -to be as prepared as possible for an unexpected pink slip.
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