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This Holiday Season, Plan Beyond the Shopping and Festivities – Plan for the Future


collegesavingsThe holiday season is filled with joy, celebration and lots of planning—planning the perfect gifts, planning where to get the best shopping deals, or planning a delicious holiday menu.

Yet there is one plan that isn’t always top of mind come December: planning for college. With the cost of college doubling every nine years[i] and parents only on track to cover 28 percent of their college savings goals[ii], there is no better time to make saving a priority.

Giving: A Family Affair

Parents don’t want their children living with debt, as eight out of 10 are concerned that it will hinder their child’s ability to be financially independent post-graduation[iii]. Despite that fact, and that many parents are failing to meet their college savings goals, many are not asking for help from loved ones. Only 21 percent of parents report asking family and friends to consider gifting to a college fund in lieu of traditional presents for special occasions[iv].

The good news is that friends and family—particularly grandparents—want to help and are already having college savings conversations. Fidelity’s recent Grandparents and College Savings Study found that 69 percent of grandparents acknowledge talking to their children about college issues, including topics like the total cost of college and how the family will pay for it. But grandparents aren’t just stopping with conversations; they’re contributing too. According to the study, 90 percent of grandparents reported that they would be likely, if asked, to make a contribution to their grandchild’s college savings fund for special occasions in place of other gifts[v].

What’s driving grandparents’ willingness to help save? Fidelity’s newest eBook, “Gifting Grandparents: A Holiday Tale,” explores these motivations and many grandparents cite the importance of an education, skyrocketing tuitions and fees, and wanting their grandchild to be debt-free post graduation as reasons behind their generosity, among many more[vi].

Saving Made Easy

One way that grandparents are helping their grandkids plan for the future is by contributing to 529 plans. According to the same study, 52 percent of grandparents report already being familiar with 529 college savings plans, which are dedicated solely to college savings and allow savings to be used federal income tax-free for qualified higher education expenses such as tuition, books and other education-related supplies and fees.  In fact, there was a 12 percent increase in the number of new Fidelity retail 529 accounts opened by grandparents during the first four months of 2014 alone (January through April), compared to the same time period in 2013[vii].

Adding the gift of education to your holiday plans has never been easier. In fact, grandparents and other loved ones can gift from the comfort of their own home. Using Fidelity’s free 529 Online Gifting Service, owners of Fidelity’s retail 529 college savings accounts can use social media to encourage friends and family to help them save for college online. Giftors, like grandparents, can send their contributions electronically directly to the 529 college savings account – so no need to mail a check.

By: Keith Bernhardt, vice president of college planning at Fidelity Investments

The UNIQUE College Investing Plan, U.Fund College Investing Plan, Delaware College Investment Plan, and Fidelity Arizona College Savings Plan, are offered by the State of New Hampshire, MEFA, the State of Delaware, and the Arizona Commission for Postsecondary Education, respectively, and managed by Fidelity Investments. If you or the designated beneficiary is not a New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Delaware, or Arizona resident, you may want to consider, before investing, whether your state or the designated beneficiary’s home state offers its residents a plan with alternate state tax advantages or other benefits.
Units of the Portfolios are municipal securities and may be subject to market volatility and fluctuation.
Please carefully consider the Plan’s investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses before investing. For this and other information on any 529 College Savings Plan managed by Fidelity, contact Fidelity for a free Fact Kit, or view online. Read it carefully before you invest or send money.
Keep in mind that investing involves risk. The value of your investment will fluctuate over time and you may gain or lose money.
Fidelity Brokerage Services LLC, Member NYSE, SIPC
900 Salem Street, Smithfield, RI 02917
709605.1.0
©2014 FMR LLC. All rights reserved.

 


[ii] Fidelity Investments, “8th Annual College Savings Indicator Study,” August 2014

[iii] Fidelity Investments, “8th Annual College Savings Indicator Study,” August 2014

[iv] Fidelity Investments, “2014 Grandparents and College Savings Study,” June 2014

[v] Fidelity Investments, “2014 Grandparents and College Savings Study,” June 2014

[vi] Fidelity Investments, “Gifting Grandparents: A Holiday Tale,” December 2014

[vii] Fidelity Investments business data through April 30, 2014

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Technology Money-Saving Tips for Students


dollar-cuttingYou’re in college and it’s a great position to be in – the world respects you as an adult, but cuts you some slack when it comes to things adults are responsible for, because hey, you’re still learning right? One of the biggest changes you’re probably experiencing in your young, wild and free years is having to manage the money you spend on technology necessities in your home away from home such as cable, wireless, electricity bills, etc. Here are some technology money-saving tips for students new to the game we call life.

Get a Roku

Since you can basically almost watch anything using the almighty internet, forego the cable and invest in a Roku player. A Roku is capable of housing all your guilty-pleasure viewing platforms like Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon and HBO without having to connect to a computer. You end up saving money watching shows you actually choose to subscribe to as opposed to paying for expensive cable that you may only use five channels of.

Save Electricity

When you live with roommates, it can be hard to adjust to their living habits. Some may not turn off the lights to save energy, and it’s tough to tell someone you barely know how to live. Purchasing something like a Belkin Energy Saving Power Strip could do the trick without the imposition. With all the accessories that accompany a college student’s entertainment center – X-box, DVD, TV, Sound System, that’s a lot of energy-sucking devices plugged in. The strip automatically shuts off power for accompanying electronics once you switch off the TV, thus energy is conserved, lowering your electricity bill.

Socialize for Less  

College is a time dedicated to exploration, therefore making commitments are extra challenging – the same goes for contracts through wireless service providers. T-Mobile is defying the more pricey norm of restrictive data plans, becoming known as an “uncarrier” by offering the best monthly rates compared to other large wireless providers, no-contract phone plans, and free 4G LTE data so you can use as much Instagram and Spotify you want, wherever and whenever. Additionally, if you fly home from school for breaks, take note that T-Mobile is the only wireless company whose customers can text and send pictures, during flight. This is economically the best choice of wireless network (un)carrier financially and socially, both uber important for a student’s well-being.

Refurbished is the New “New”

Technological devices like laptops, tablets and phones are advancing at such a rapid pace these days, it’s almost impossible to consistently have the latest and greatest at an affordable price. And when you’re on a Ramen noodle diet, strapped for cash, it’s especially difficult to even afford “new” anything. Buying refurbished electronics is a smart alternative that helps you save money while still getting a quality product. As long as you do your research (reading reviews on sellers and such), purchase a refurbished device from a reliable retailer and it’ll feel like brand new. You probably won’t even have it for long before the next hot thing comes out making it really the best way to ball on a budget. Your peers won’t even know the difference – they’ll just think you have the newest generation iPhone out there.

You may have taken for granted having easy access to endless “free” web surfing that the ‘rents took care of, but now, you get it. By implementing a few of these tech money-saving methods, you’ll be one step ahead of the game in this exciting new chapter of the real world.

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September is College Savings Month – Let’s Talk College!


collegesavingsWhile most people connect September with “back to school” season, not everyone may know that it’s also College Savings Month, a good reminder to parents to sit down as a family to evaluate and update their progress saving toward college goals. For some, it will be a simple check in and formal acknowledgment that everything’s on track. For others, it may be the first time that they’ve ever sat down and truly mapped out a plan. Regardless, families that prioritize and set goals together are accomplishing the most important part of the college savings process: communication.

In a time of rising college costs, one would hope that families are over-communicating to ensure that they’re able to cover all of the expenses at hand. But some high school students that we recently caught up with said otherwise, saying things like they “haven’t really talked about” saving for college with their parents. What’s more, Fidelity’s 8th annual College Savings Indicator Study[i] found that parents expect their children to pay an average of 35 percent of total college costs. With parents on track to save just 28 percent of their college savings goals, it’s no surprise that they’re turning to their children for help.

Having the college savings ‘talk’ is important.  Among parents with children 15 years or older, when having good conversations about school selection, choice of major, job prospects, earning potential and the meaning of student loans, more than two-thirds (69 percent) stated that they made adjustments to their plans.

So how can families get on the same page? The good news is that 64 percent of families have already started saving, but there’s always room to focus savings efforts and improve readiness. Here are five best practices that can take saving for college to the next level

(1) Make an actionable plan that can be followed

Fifty-nine percent of parents have a plan in place to help them reach their college goals. While they still have work to do, those with a plan are more likely to feel on track to reach their goal (52 percent) than those without (16 percent).

(2) Use a dedicated college savings account

Ninety-three percent of parents saving in a dedicated college account—like a 529 plan—say it helps them save and stay on track, while also separating college savings from other short-term goals. Families using 529 accounts feel more confident about how best to save, save more each month and are more likely to have talked to their children, creating a family plan to pay for college.  Making savings automatic can also help.  Setting up options such as direct deposit or automatic transfers from a checking account can make it easy.  Early and regular contributions are critical factors in building your savings.

(3) Identify new ways to save

You may recognize the need to save, but with so many other savings priorities, like day-to-day expenses, emergency funds and saving for retirement, don’t know how to find that extra dollar to save for college as well. Instead of thinking of ways to cut saving elsewhere, think of ways to take advantage of current spending. One option is a rewards credit card that can help earn money toward college savings. Another solution is asking friends and family. Many would likely welcome the opportunity to support college savings as a gift, especially grandparents. Fidelity’s Grandparents and College Savings Study found that 90 percent of grandparents said if asked, they would be likely to make a gift to college savings in lieu of traditional gifts for birthdays, holidays or other special occasions.

(4) Do the due diligence

The college saving process is often confusing, so study up on the essentials. Approximately half of parents reported they need additional education when it comes to how best to save for college, saying they either don’t know, or need more information about: what accounts are best to save (49 percent), how to invest savings (50 percent) or where to go for advice about college savings (48 percent).

(5) Look to the experts

You shouldn’t feel the need to go the college saving process alone. Six out of 10 parents report feeling overwhelmed by saving for college, but financial professionals, school counselors and college planning pros are available to help. Seven out of 10 families working with a professional feel confident that they have a good understanding of how best to save for college.

It’s never too early to get started on a college savings plan. In fact, those families who have discussions when their children are young are in a much better position to reach their savings goals. The earlier you broach the subject, the more time you have to learn about the college savings process, save, and adjust your plan accordingly.

Do you have a college savings plan in place?  Take advantage of College Savings Month to get your families college savings on the right track.

About the Author

Today’s guest article comes from Keith Bernhardt. He is vice president of college planning at Fidelity Investments.

The UNIQUE College Investing Plan, U.Fund College Investing Plan, Delaware College Investment Plan, and Fidelity Arizona College Savings Plan, are offered by the State of New Hampshire, MEFA, the State of Delaware, and the Arizona Commission for Postsecondary Education, respectively, and managed by Fidelity Investments.  If you or the designated beneficiary is not a New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Delaware, or Arizona resident, you may want to consider, before investing, whether your state or the designated beneficiary’s home state offers its residents a plan with alternate state tax advantages or other benefits. Units of the Portfolios are municipal securities and may be subject to market volatility and fluctuation.  Please carefully consider the Plan’s investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses before investing.  For this and other information on any 529 College Savings Plan managed by Fidelity, contact Fidelity for a free Fact Kit, or view online.  Read it carefully before you invest or send money. Keep in mind that investing involves risk. The value of your investment will fluctuate over time and you may gain or lose money. Fidelity Brokerage Services LLC, Member NYSE, SIPC, 900 Salem Street, Smithfield, RI 02917 699317.1.0 ©2014 FMR LLC.  All rights reserved.

[i] Fidelity Investments, 2014 College Savings Indicator Study, August 2014

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5 Ways Smart College Students Can Keep Their Food Bills Low


Food setWant to make an extra $50-$70 a month? Then stop with the morning coffee. Medical science still can’t seem to decide whether a daily cup of joe is good or bad for your health, but it is certainly awful for your budget. Scholarships.com estimates that if you cut out your daily dose of fancy coffee and your gooey breakfast pastries, you’ll easily save $50-$70 each month. This is just one easy tip that college students should keep in mind when trying to balance a limited budget with a big appetite.

Your school likely has a meal plan, but many students will tell you these options can get pricey real fast. For example, the University of Houston charges $1,350-$1,800 per semester for food plans, depending on your dining interests and options. You can get creative and likely save money if you have your own kitchen. UH students can check out Houston apartments for choices near campus that are excellent for trying your hand at independence, money management and food preparation.

This is only one option—frugal students can find plenty of other ways to save on food bills:

Look for Student Discounts

Many merchants welcome student dollars. You can start by asking a merchant if he or she has any deals available for students, since some national restaurant chains may offer them but individual restaurants may not. Or visit StudentRate.com, which features special dining offers for students in communities all around the country.

Buy Cheap

Every town has some kind of discount grocer where dented cans are the rule, not the exception. The inventory is always changing and the prices are always affordable. You might find flavors and varieties that didn’t catch on in other parts of the country, food in dented packages that’s still consumable, brands you’ve never heard of or even stuff not from this country.

Buy in Bulk

Giant warehouse stores are definitely economical, but on a huge scale. The biggies in the U.S. are Costco and Sam’s Club, but B.J.s Wholesale Club is also gaining some traction on the East Coast. Membership at either store starts around $40-$50, and there may even be a student deal. Or if you don’t want to join, find a classmate with a membership who can bring you along.

Go With the ‘Manager’s Special’ Meat

When meat gets close to its recommended “sell by” date, stores often discount it and move it to the “Manager’s Special” section rather than tossing it. There are some great deals to be found here, but the types of cuts or meat choices are random. If you’re comfortable cooking everything from ground beef to chicken, you’ll be in cheap carnivore heaven. Ask the meat manager if there is a certain day or time that items are moved, so you can have a better selection. Make sure you either cook it or freeze it right away.

Educate Yourself

Colleges or county extension programs often teach inexpensive classes about food and nutrition, including cooking, vitamins, dietary health, protein and more. They rarely take more than a few hours, so are great for students who want the info but don’t want to enroll in a semester-long course.

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Easy Money Saving Tips For First Year Students


emptywalletThe first year in college is the most challenging for a variety of reasons. For many it’s the first time living away from home and with independence comes adult responsibilities. One of the biggest lessons learnt by all first year students is how to manage money and live within their means.  To help you through the first year here are some simple money saving tips for freshman:

Take advantage of the library

Most campuses have extensive libraries that offer access to thousands of books and the internet. Rather than buying text books, see if the library has a copy or if they can source one for you. If an eBook alternative is available this is also a great way to cut back on costs and you can save plenty of cash by taking advantage of the facilities on offer.

Share resources with other students

Finding a roommate, joining a supper club or carpooling are all excellent ways of reducing costs and saving money. You can also club together with other students and buy in bulk to reduce food and other essential items’ prices. There are many ways you can save money if you use your imagination and team up with other students to cut back on costs.

Be creative with free time

A night out can easily cost you $50 but if you are creative there are many other fun activities at a fraction of the price. Check out which music venues, coffee shops and bars offer student discounts or invite friends round for a dinner where everyone brings an item to share. Instead of going to the cinema or buying expensive console games try out online and mobile iPad Casinos as possible lucrative entertainment options.

Alternative transport options

You may be one of the lucky students who have a car, but gas can be expensive. Wherever possible walk or cycle to classes and save your car for long distance journey’s.  Walking and cycling are also great ways to stay fit and can save you money on a gym membership! If you have to drive try and share with someone who will split gas costs or will lift you in return at a later stage.

These are just a few ways to save money in your first year of college and there are of course many more. Good luck!

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3 Affordable Ways for the College Student to Make Memories


Group of friends at college campusForbes announced that the average U.S. student loan debt in 2012 climbed to more than $25,000. Can you afford to graduate with that level of debt? Try to minimize your debts by saving in small ways while on campus. Stick to a budget without sacrificing fun in the following three ways.

Geocaching

The National Institutes of Health reports that exercise improves your mental capacity and ability to succeed in school. Get out of the dorms and geocache with your friends using your cellphone GPS. While exploring your campus and nature, you’ll stay physically active, mentally alert and entertained without emptying your checking account.

Search geocaching.com for local geocache locations. Locate the coordinates on your phone, and head to the location. Search for the hidden items and replace it with a homemade beaded bracelet, colorful stone or dollar store toy. Document your adventure by signing the online logbook and add clues about the location for other geocache enthusiasts.

Concerts & Performances

Free concerts and music performances are culturally entertaining and a cheap date. Whether you’re into film or live performances, you don’t have to miss out on new shows just because you’re living on a college student’s budget. Visit your school’s website or Facebook page to stay updated on cultural events and activities, such as concerts, movie showings or plays. Gather a group of friends, a blanket, sodas, and a few snacks — you’re ready to enjoy the show!

Also, check out matinee performances at local theaters or look for discounted Telecharge tickets in your city. Tickets are more affordable than paying full price, and for a special occasion, you can check out traveling Broadway shows, concerts and dance performances.

Scavenger Hunt

The average gallon of gas costs around $3.50, according to AAA, so the college student will definitely save by walking instead of driving. Why not walk and have a good time? A scavenger hunt is a fun activity you can easily do right on campus or around town. Gather your dorm mates, sorority sisters or friends, and create a bizarre list of items to find or actions to perform. Have a blast by doing, finding and documenting the following:

  • Take a dip in a lake or river
  • Get the football coach’s autograph
  • Instagram a picture of the college’s president
  • Eat a chocolate chip cookie with a fraternity brother
  • Wear a swimsuit and goggles
  • Find a travel brochure to an international city
  • Gather 10 different cans of beer
  • Take a picture with 10 people in the library

Use your creativity to make this list. The more bizarre it is, the better. Give each team a list, make sure one person on each team can take a picture using their smartphone and set a time limit for when you’ll meet at the starting point. The first team to find all the items or document all the actions wins bragging rights as you stay entertained without spending a dime.

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Freeloading Your Way to Success In College


moneytreeEveryone loves getting things for free, and there are more freebies available to you than you know. Whether you want to fly for free, enjoy samples of your favorite products, or earn cash back when you spend money, you can soon start freeloading with the best of them. It may take a little research and some time spent signing up, but the efforts are worth the freebies.

Sign Up for Freebies

There are tens of thousands of freebie sites on the Internet. From Mom Blogs to company websites, you can find opportunities to get free products, free points redeemable for prizes, and many other fun freebies. What can you look forward to receiving? From most of these freebie sites, signing up will get you:

  • Coupons, discount codes, or gift cards for different items
  • Sample size products at no cost
  • Free samples of foods, drinks, and other products
  • And full-sized samples of medications, beauty products, and health items

In most cases it doesn’t cost anything to sign up with these sites. If you simply include your name, phone number, email address, and mailing address, you’ll receive your freebies in just a few weeks. In other cases, you may have to share a tweet or a Facebook comment.

Discover Some Free Reward Points

If you’re really interested in freeloading your way to success, then try Internet banking opportunities. Doing this can actually lead to you receiving money for free, and cash is the best freebie of all. If you sign up to receive Discover Bank’s reward points, for instance, you can get beneficial features attached to your banking account in addition to receiving cash back on the purchases you make with your debit or credit cards. You’re essentially getting paid for buying things, which is a win/win situation.

Look into Reward Cards

Many of your favorite stores also offer reward programs. You know all those little cards attached to your key chain? They lead to tons of great freebies. If you have a reward card for your favorite drugstore or retailer, you can acquire points with each purchase; get enough points, and you can buy something for free. You might have to buy ten packs of diapers to get one free, for instance, or you may get to choose your own reward. Other programs take discounts off your purchases, so with the right coupons, you end up getting items for nothing.

Take Advantage of Frequent Flyer Programs

Flying is expensive, so of course you’ll want to fly for free. Once more, look to Internet banking if you’re freeloading your way to success. Several credit card companies and banks offer frequent flyer programs that work like cash back reward programs. If you make purchases with the card tied to the frequent flyer program, you’ll start saving up your miles. If you buy enough items over a long enough period of time, you can theoretically fly all the way to Australia or China without paying for your airfare.

As you can see, getting freebies is pretty easy as long as you figure out where to look. What’s the most amazing thing you’ve ever gotten for free?

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An Emergency Fund Could Save You Upon Graduation


With the costs of college these days, and the student loans that can come along with a college education, building and maintaining an emergency fund might seem laughable.  However, having such a fund could prove valuable upon graduation.  While it might not be the eight months of living expenses Suze Orman advocates, at least having a multi-month reserve fund could end up saving your tail upon graduation or at least opening up a few more options that wouldn’t be there otherwise.

Avoiding the Parent Trap

If you’re like many college students out there, moving back in with your parents isn’t likely a goal upon graduating college.  You priority list probably doesn’t read:

  • Graduate school
  • Look for a job
  • Move back in with mommy and daddy

However, without an emergency fund, this might be exactly where you end up should you not find that job you desire right away.  And being stuck living with mom and dad, while a money saver and possibly even making for some great home-cooked meals, could lead toward complacency issues when it comes to finding a job and even hurt your self-confidence in the process.  With an emergency fund, you may avoid being forced back in with mom and dad even if money is tight.

The Job Search

You may not find your perfect job while still in school, and jumping on the first thing that comes along could have you on the wrong career path.  And taking a job just to have a job could leave you unhappy and stagnating in a role that you know isn’t right just for the paychecks it provides.  Having an emergency fund at your disposal could provide you with the time necessary to complete your job search and find the job that fits you best, or at least help you avoid taking any old job just to pay the bills.

Found a Job but Hate it?

But lets say even that job that you thought was right turns out not to be so perfect.  Without an emergency fund, you might be stuck between a rock and a hard place.  You’d like to leave, but you need the money.  However, with a strong emergency fund in place, you could have the power to walk away from a job that isn’t right and search for one that you’d like to stay and maybe even advance with.

Avoiding Debt

While you might be graduating with student loans, you may be free from other obligations such as credit card debt, car loans, or a mortgage.  However, you might find that while school was costly, the real world can be equally, if not more expensive.  With housing costs, transportation to and from a job, clothing costs, food, and all the rest, it might be more than your initial starting salary can handle, forcing you to take on additional debt to cover those regular costs.  However, with an emergency fund, should an unexpected car repair or medical cost pop up, you might be able to cover it outright rather than having to put it on your credit card.  Avoiding the process of taking on debt early on can set you on a path to financial responsibility for the rest of your life.

Author Bio

Today’s guest article comes from Todd Garner. He is a freelance writer based in the San Francisco bay area. His writing focuses on business, health, education and career related issues. He is currently writing for Online Schools Network, a site that helps prospective students find the right online college.

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