Monthly Archives: August 2011

I dropped 8 Million Spots in Alexa Ranking in 7 Days

August 23, 2011 – Alexa Ranking: 10,514,143

August 30, 2011 – Alexa Ranking: 2,133,041

How did I accomplish this in only seven days?

Answer: The Yakezie Challenge, and consistent posting.

I joined Yakezie, a personal finance blogger community, one week ago. Their goal is to help personal finance bloggers make their sites more impactful,. and help grow their readership.

In order to become a full fledged Yakezie member you must get your Alexa ranking below 200K in the first six months doing your challenge.

I made a post here on MfCP about my joining the Yakezie Challenge, and I also posted on the Yakezie forums. Within no time, I was getting comments and feedback on my site from fellow Yakezie members.

The key to getting your Alexa traffic ranking down, is to install an Alexa toolbar on your browser. This is a very handy tool because it allows you to see the Alexa ranking for any website you visit with a simple click or a hover.

The Alexa ranking system tracks how many people with their toolbar installed visit your site, and your ranking drops as your traffic increases.

My goal of reaching 200k seemed unattainable only one week ago. However, with that kind of gigantic drop in only seven days, I am very encouraged that this challenge will end in success.

So thank you to all the fellow Yakezie members out there, and I encourage anyone not already joined in the challenge to check out the amazing benefits that await you!


College Football Players Receive Millions Each Year in Federal Grants

If you follow college football, you are likely well aware of the NCAA’s recent campaign to root out all forms of corruption and wrong doing within it’s member schools. This action has caused power house schools such as The Ohio State University, to lose their coach, some star athletes, scholarship positions, and money. The pending investigation with the University of Miami is rumored to contain “the death penalty” which would force the football program to actually miss an entire year of football, thus erasing their ability to perform and recruit for the future.

One of the main sources of wrong doing in all of these cases, is the rule that NCAA athletes cannot receive compensation of any kind from outside sources. Simply put, NCAA athletes cannot get paid to do athletes. This debate has raged back and forth for years, but it has recently come to a head when it became known that NCAA football players receive millions each year from federal grants.

A recent article from the USA TODAY Sports sheds light on the fact that many NCAA football players on full scholarships which include tuition, room and board, and books, also collect thousands of dollars each semester in federal grants. The article referred to a study done through the Des Moines Register:

“Data from 23 responding schools in the Big Ten, Big 12 and Southeastern conferences….revealed that 1,064 football players at the 23 responding schools last year received a combined $4.7 million through Pell Grants, a federally funded program “that provides need-based grants to low-income students,” according to the U.S. Department of Education.””

College financial aid offices are allowed to do this because Pell Grant eligibility is based solely on a student’s “financial need” as determined through their FAFSA application. Financial aid is also awarded based on a “Cost of Attendance”. For example: a college athletes tuition, room and board, and book costs might total up to $31,500 for the current academic year. That amount would be covered by their athletic scholarship. However, their “Cost of Attendance” also included personal expenses, transportation, and supplies allowance, for a total of up to $36,000. The difference of $4,500 can be received in federal grants, such as the Pell Grant.

One proposal being floated around college campuses is to require that all NCAA athletic scholarships be awarded for the full cost of attendance, thus eliminating college athletes from receiving money from federal grants.

What do you think?

It seems to me that this would be an admirable solution. The increase in athletic scholarships would mean less money to go around for additional athletes, but it might also preserve an already taxed federal grant system. After all, these college athletes on full athletic scholarships already have their essentials covered. The Pell Grant is designed for “needy, low-income students”. If an athlete does not have to pay for tuition or books, and he or she has a place to stay and unlimited access to a dining hall for food, why are we giving them Pell Grants???

Do you feel the same way?

Do you think we should continue to give Pell Grants to NCAA athletes on full scholarships?

10 Books That Will Pay You to Read Them

As a college student or a recent grad, one of the best ways to earn some extra money, and possibly embark on a very profitable career, is by freelance writing.

Here is a recent post from Live the Write Life with 10 books that will get you on the road to becoming a literary money making machine.


Have you ever read a book that inspired you?

Have you ever read a book that gave you such a great idea that you had to immediately put the book down to go scribble notes?

What if I told you that this happens to me all the time. I’m a sucker for a good book, but with an excellent reason.

As a freelance writer, most of the knowledge and skills that I profess to have have come from the masters. When I say “masters” I’m not talking about Jack Nicholaus, I mean groundbreaking writers who have come before us. Writers who have paved the way so you and I can have a wealthy legacy to build upon.

I have also learned many of my skills from the “masters” who are still with us. People who have perfected their craft and now gladly share it with the world.

As a freelancer, we need to have many skills. These skills need to range from having control of grammar, to marketing, and even social media and accounting.

As a freelance writer, we are pursuing our passion of writing within the context of a self-employed business. This means that we need the skills, outside of writing, to be able to manage our business and remain profitable.

You will never become a better writer if you do not strive to perfect your craft!

So with that said, here are: The 10 books that will literally rock your writing world to the core.

No. 1 – The Renegade Writer: A Totally Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing Success – Linda Formichelli

In this book, Linda Formichelli, whom I highly respect as a writer and a blogger, lays out in plain english how to start a freelance writing business. Gone are the days of sending self-addressed envelopes with a resume and credentials. Formichelli walks you through everything we need to know to get your 21st century freelance writing business off the ground.


No. 2 – I Will Teach you To Be Rich – Ramit Sethi

Ramit has a no-nonsense approach to personal finance. He aims his message at a very specific target audience, and he will be the first to tell you if you do not match up. However, there are gems to be found within his book. Mainly, to cut your expenses savagely on the things that are not important and spend money on the things that you truly enjoy, and will make your life better. Practice conscious spending in your personal life and in your business.


No. 3 – Essays in the Art of Writing – Robert Louis Stevenson

In this newly published book book, we are brought back to the masters I referenced above. With a brilliant compilation of classical writing, it weaves together a wonderful anthology that gives you everything from Pilgrim’s Progress to Othello. Even as a freelance writer, it helps to understand the master’s of our craft, and emulate their skills if we ever hope to attain writing greatness ourselves.


No 4. – Lord of the Rings – J.R.R. Tolkien

This might surprise some of you, but I am truly convinced that this book can make you a better freelance writer. There is much more here than dragons, goblins, and hairy footed hobbits. If you don’t believe me, please read myentire defense of this book as a complete guide to freelance writing.


No 5. – Escape From Cubicle Nation – Pamela Slim

Pamela Slim is a life coach, specializing in helping people make the transition from employee to entrepreneur. As a freelance writer that is our goal right? To “escape cubicle nation” and work as a writer on our own terms! Slim shows us how, with practical advice and step by step instructions on how to fire your boss and live life on your own terms.


No. 6 – Four Hour Work Week – Tim Ferris

Like Ramit Sethi’s book, FHWW is another book that has generated a cult following. In the book, Ferris lays out how to fire your boss and create a “muse” that allows you enjoy the lifestyle that you dream of. As freelancer writers, writing of course, is our muse. Ferris will show you how to employ the 80/20 rule to your business and separate yourself from the clients who cause you the most heartache. This is a must read if you struggle with being over-worked (which I suspect most of us do!).


No. 7 – Tribes: We Need you to Lead Us – Seth Godin

I had to include Seth Godin in this list because his advice on marketing is incredible. He is rightly considered the genius behind modern marketing theory and he is in touch with the modern world of web 2.0, and Internet savvy entrepreneurs such as yourselves. In this book, he details how to create a “tribe” following, and how to leverage that following into success. As a freelance writer, we all know that the most important business task is finding new clients. Godin shows us how to do this with no money spent, and no extra effort.


No 8. – How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months – John Locke

If you have not explored writing eBooks, you should. Print media is rapidly dwindling and eBooks and digital media mediums are quickly rising to prominence. In his new book, John Locke, a New York Times Best Selling authorand the first Kindle publisher to sell 1 million eBooks, shows you how he did it. He opens up his closet and let’s all of his secrets out. The book is dripping with glorious details about how to sell the mess out of a eBook.


No 9. – The Grammar Devotional: Daily Tips for Successful Writing From Grammar Girl – Mignon Fogarty

Let’s be honest, nobody likes grammar. Garmmar Girl explains grammar in a way that we as writers can easily implement into our daily activities. She makes it painless, and she makes it relevant. This might very well be the only book on grammar that you willl ever need to buy as a freelance writer.


No. 10 – Crush It! Why NOW is the Time to Cash in on Your Passion – Gary Vaynerchuck

Pursue your passions! Vaynerchuck writes a moving book on how important it is, and profitable, to pursue the things that stir up passion within you. Doing what you love will drag you out of bed at an earlier hour and keep you up later. You will be driven, focused, and determined to pursue your goals. Vaynerchuck’s books is the seminal work on how to leverage that passion into a profitable business, and how to be transparent and loyal to your readers. If you are teetering on the edge of quitting your day job to pursue your passion of writing, then you need to read this book. But be prepared to be pushed over the edge!


Disclaimer: This post does include Amazon Affiliate links, and I will make a small profit if you decide to purchase any of these books. But I highly recommend all of them, and I stand by that recommendation!

How to Avoid Financial Stress on Move-In Weekend

Over the weekend, I volunteered to help work our move-in weekend at the college I work at. Roughly 6,000 freshman and their entourage (parents, girlfriends/boyfriends, and stuff) assaulted our campus in a barrage of U-haul trucks, lime green dorm furniture, and emotions.

Our office was open to speak with parents and students about their financial aid and paying their student bill. It always amazes me how many people simply have no clue what their tuition bill is, or whether or not they received financial aid at move-in weekend.

Parents are essentially saying to their kids that “it’s ok to come to school without having your bill paid. We’ll just assume that the college can float you a loan and give you a break until we can find a means to pay.” We certainly do have a heart, and we absolutely love our students, but we also have to keep the lights on and pay your professors!

So how can you avoid being one of those parents or students who shows up on move-in weekend with a wide eyed look of terror as you walk into the student billing and financial aid office?

Start the Process Early

If you are a parent who just had a newborn then it is not too early to start the process. I know, scary right! However, just like time is on your side as you invest for your retirement, you can harness the power of compound interest and tax advantages by investing in a 529 College Savings Plan for your child as soon as they are born.

As your child grows, you will continue to make contributions to this 529 plan, and you will have a considerable sum of money by the time they are ready to pack up and head off to college.

You should also begin the process of financial aid in your junior year of high school. This will give you ample opportunity to plan, schedule, and complete scholarship applications. You will also need to get together your list of references, work experience, and extracurricular activities.

You will need to submit your FAFSA as soon after January 1st of your senior year of high school as possible. You will need your previous year tax documents to complete the FAFSA, but you can actually submit your FAFSA using estimated information, then go back in and correct later. This ensures that your FAFSA arrives at your school as early as possible.

Know the Rules

Understanding how your college’s billing system works will save you considerable hassle in the long run. Many college’s have online bill payment options, while some unfortunately do not. Others may give you credit for your financial aid before it is finalized, others may not. Many college’s have strict payment deadlines, while others are more relaxed.

All of these points are key pieces of information that you will need to verify s you can avoid stress on move-in weekend.

Many parents also do not realize that there is a general disconnect between the billing office and the financial aid office. This might surprise you, but these offices perform distinctly different functions. it is best to know which office to contact when you have a question.

Finally, you will need to understand FERPA. FERPA is the education version of HIPPA. The law states that a school cannot give out personal information on a student (yes that includes information about their bill, even though you as a parent are likely the one paying it!) without their express consent.

Please do not get upset when you call your school to ask about their bill and are told that they cannot give you any information without your student signing a release form. It is a federal law, and it cannot be violated.


So you have saved for this day for the past 18 years. You have filled out paperwork until your eyes are crossed, and now you finally move your child in.

Take a deep breath. Inhale. Exhale. Relax.

You have done it. You have enrolled your child in their first day of college. the past 18 years of parenting are over, and your child has made it into college.

You should be proud of yourself!

Now, it is time to cut the strings and let them find themselves. Your child is now an adult, their college will consider them so, and they are expected to make difficult decisions on their own.

You have done your part, now you get to sit back and coach from the sidelines.

Photo Credit: Photo 1 , Photo 2

New Pell Grant Award Chart

Here is the new 2011 – 2012 award year Pell Grant chart.

The three criteria used in determining the amount of Pell Grant that you receive are your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), your Cost of Attendance, and your enrollment status (full-time, half-time…). Based on these three criteria, you will be able to find the exact amount of Pell that you will be eligible to receive this academic year.

The annual maximum is $5550.

Here is a quick example that might un-muddy the water a little bit.

Let’s say that you are a 20 year old college student. You submit the FAFSA, using your parent’s tax information, and you get your results back to see that your EFC (which is generated as a result of your FAFSA information) is 900. You also plan to enroll full-time at the college you are attending. Finally, you view on your college’s financial aid website that your colleges annual cost of attendance is $26,200.

Based on the chart provided in the link above, you will receive $4700 in Pell for the year, or $2350 per semester, as long as you remain enrolled full-time.

Hopefully this will give you a better idea of what you can expect to receive in the Pell Grant.

I would be happy to help you with your specific situation if you would like to leave your questions in the comments below!




Joining the Yakezie Challenge!

For a long time I have seen these Yakezie badges on personal finance sites that I visit. I always thought it was some form of advertising and never gave it a second thought. I honestly don’t remember which site I was on when my curiosity got the best of me, but I clicked through to see what it was all about.

What I found blew me away.

The concept behind Yakezie, is that personal finance bloggers can actually work together towards the common goal of spreading the positive message of good personal finance skills, and also to get our website Alexa rating below 200K.

Your website Alexa ranking is a measure of the traffic that visits your site. The lower your ranking, the more traffic your site receives (Google and Facebook are at the front, and we all fall in somewhere after them).

Yakezie is primarily a community. Personal finance bloggers from around the world can compete in a 6 month challenge to get our Alexa ranking below the 200K mark.

So today, I am officially joining this challenge!

Over the next 6 months, I plan to work as hard as I possibly can to get my blog below the 200k alexa ranking. I know that I have some great information to share on this blog, and I hope that you will join with me in supporting this site, and spreading the word to your friends, if you found some helpful information here.

As always, if you have any questions or suggestions please feel free to contact me, through our contact page!




Parents Lose a Job? Appeal Your Financial Aid!

It is now August, and many of your filled out the current year FAFSA way back at the beginning of the year. A lot can happen in 8 months!

Colleges often require a FAFSA to be submitted by an early deadline to give them the most time to have it processed, and to ensure that you are eligible for the maximum financial aid available.

The FAFSA is also based solely on the financial information from the previous tax year. For example, the Fall 2011 semester will use the 2011-2012 FAFSA, but it will use you and your parent’s 2010 tax information.

With the volatile economy we all live in, it should come as no surprise that many families financial situation has changed, some drastically (loss of job, other reduction in income), since the 2010 taxes were filed and the 2011-2012 FAFSA was submitted.

If you find yourself in this situation, please know that you have the right to appeal your financial aid directly to your college financial aid office.

Professional Judgements

All college financial aid offices are free, by federal law, to develop their own procedure for their appeal processes. Many colleges will call them a “professional judgement” while others might call them an appeal, or a review. The basic concept, is that your financial aid will be re-evaluated to better reflect your current financial situation.

Since there is not one name to request, please explain to your financial aid advisor that your financial situation has changed drastically since you filed your taxes and FAFSA, and that you would like your financial aid to be re-evaluated.

Please be aware that this process can often times be lengthy, and is not guaranteed. The financial aid advisor who manages these “professional judgements” will have the power to approve or deny your request.

That is why it is very important to plead your case, and to come prepared when you meet with them.

What to Bring

The documents that you will need to bring can vary widely depending on your situation, but I will give you a quick list of the items that you absolutely must bring with you when you visit your financial aid office:

  • 2010 Federal tax returns for parents and students if they filed
  • All 2010 W-2 forms
  • All appropriate tax schedules (C, D, E, K-1)
  • Proof of reduction in income (ie. letter verifying loss of job)
  • Documentation of excessive medical bills (Typically over $10,000)
  • Documentation of a one-time lump sum disbursement that was included on the tax return (IRA disbursement, 401K withdrawal, Life Insurance benefit)

The Process

Once you have met with your college financial aid counselor and submitted all of your paperwork, you will now, unfortunately, have to wait. Depending on the time of year that you submit your appeal, it might take up to 4 – 6 weeks to process your request.

However, the end result is that your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) could lower. Your EFC is the calculation that is used to determine how much money for college you qualify for. This means, that you might qualify for more need-based grants such as the Pell Grant, Federal Work-Study, or FSEOG.

You also may qualify for a Subsidized Stafford loan as opposed to an Unsubsidized Stafford loan, if your EFC is lowered.

Once again, this process is not guaranteed, but I highly recommend it if you are struggling to figure out how you will pay for college as your family’s finances have taken a turn for the worse!

Have you ever gone through this process in the past?

What advice would you have for someone going through this?

Photo used under Flickr Creative Commons: John – Morgan

Stock Market Crashes 634 Points – How to Remain Calm

By now, most of you know or have heard that yesterday was a horrific day on Wall Street.

The first day of trading after Standard and Poor’s downgraded the United States credit rating to a Aa+ from a AAA sent shockwaves through the international community as well as Wall Street. The 634 point drop yesterday, might just be the tip of the ice berg. Analysts are convinced that the debt deal did nothing to convince investors that the United States is committed to getting out of debt, and therefore the massive sell fest began.

What does this all mean for you as a student, or as a parent planning for your child’s future?

Maximize the investments you can control!

Nobody can control or predict the stock market accurately 100% of the time. People claim they can, and they are all proven liars. In fact, when you invest in a security you will always see the disclaimer that “funds invested in the stock market are guaranteed and the investing company is not liable”.

So if the stock market cannot be trusted to secure our future, what can we put our trust in? You can invest in your education!

Studies have shown that students with higher degrees of education make more than those without, with an overwhelming majority.  Your college degree is the gateway to a world of opportunities that simply do not exist without a college degree.

I know you might be thinking about the rare exceptions in our world such as Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. I cannot deny that they did not graduate from college and they are two of the most influential and wealthy people in the world. But once again, they are a RARE exception.

The best way to secure wealth in the future is to arm yourself with the credentials and experience that will help you earn more money over the course of your lifetime. Having a college degree is an excellent start.

I also encourage you to become an entrepreneur, or at least have an entrepreneur mindset. The greatest source of wealth in our economy is small businesses. As a college graduate, you will have the chops to create the business of your choosing. Even if you decide not to start your own business, thinking like a business owner will get you far within any job that you have.

So, even though you cannot control the stock market, you can control your most important asset class: YOURSELF!

Time is on your side!

It is also very important to remember that time is on your side. Hopefully, you are not a Wall Street trader (if you are, please put down the coffee and breathe…), and since you do not trade stock minute by minute, you have time on your side.

The stock market has fallen more than 634 points before, and it has rebounded.

The stock market crashed in 2008, then it rose back to glorious heights in 2010. Now it is falling again.

If you look at a historical summary of the stock market you will quickly see that this is simply how life goes on Wall Street. A series of gains and losses, ups and down. However, the historical average return is hovering around 10%.

This means that if you invest your money for the long-term, and leave it untouched, it should eventually reach that 10% annual return mark. (Once again, historical prices do not indicate future results with the stock market).

We can get into much more detail later about how to re-balance your portfolio to ensure maximum safety, but for now please know that I highly recommend index funds that mirror the market.

They are cheap, and easily understood.

Take a Deep Breath.

So the stock market took a nose dive yesterday. It will probably fall again today. It might even continue to fall for the week. If you focus on the long-term investing time frame that you have, and continue to maximize your personal education and career, then you can switch off the news and stop worrying about Wall Street.

Princeton Review Annual Best College List

A few days ago the Princeton Review unveiled it’s annual review of the best colleges in America.

They found 376 colleges that made up their lists, and they ranked everything from happiest students, to most stone-cold sober schools.

They also had a list for the school’s with the best financial aid policies.

You can learn a lot from this list, and it could come in handy if you are a parent or a student trying to determine which college you want to attend next year. It is just as useful of a tool as

You can read more here from the Princeton Review Best College List

Debt Deal Leaves Students With Higher Loan Costs

We all know by now that Congress passed the debt deal yesterday, and it was signed into law by President Obama.

That sounds great, as our nation avoided default and a potential market crash, but what does that mean for you as a student?

There were three main categories of student financial aid that were affected by the debt deal. Here is the recap from

  • Pell Grants: While many programs faced cuts in this bill, the Pell Grant program was provided with additional mandatory funding for both FY 2012 and 2013.  Specifically, the package provides an additional $10 billion in mandatory funds for Pell in FY 2012 and $7 billion for FY 2013, amounts that should come close to preserving a $5,550 maximum award.  When the President released his budget in February, Pell faced a projected $20 billion shortfall for FY 2012.  The elimination of the Year-Round Pell Grant in the final FY 2011 budget bill reduced this shortfall to $11 billion.  Even with the additional mandatory funding provided in the debt reduction package, Pell will still face a $1.3 billion dollar shortfall for FY 2012.

  • Interest Subsidy for Graduate Students: The Budget Control Act also eliminates the in-school interest subsidy for graduate and professional students beginning July 1, 2012, a provision that would save $18.1 billion from FY 2012-21, $8.2 billion of which is from FY 2012-16, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).  The legislative language clarifies that the subsidy elimination does not apply to students taking preparatory coursework and those in programs leading to teacher certification where the credential is awarded by the state instead of the institution.

  • Direct Loan Repayment Incentives: Repayment incentives were also eliminated in the final package.  The incentive for using automatic debit repayment provided borrowers with a 0.25 interest rate reduction and the up-front interest rebate incentive was equal to 0.5 percent of the loan amount and applied toward the 1 percent loan origination fee.  For PLUS loans, the up-front interest rebate was 1.5 percent applied toward the 4 percent origination fee. Borrowers were able to keep the rebate if they made their first 12 payments on time.  The language prohibits the Department of Education from authorizing or providing repayment incentives on new loans disbursed on or after July 1, 2012, except that an interest rate reduction may be provided to a borrower who agrees to automatically debited electronic payments.  The CBO projects the elimination of the origination fee rebates would yield $3.6 billion from FY 2012-21.

So what this means for you as a student is that your Pell Grant is safe.

If you are a graduate student, you will be stuck with paying the interest on your loans while in school, which will drive up the cost of your students loans.

When you go to repay your student loans (all federal Stafford, Grad, and PLUS loans) you will not have access to repayment incentives that will lower the cost on your loan.

Bottom line, you will end up paying much more for your loans!

Also, please stay tuned as another provision of the debt deal is to continue looking for ways to further reduce costs. This means that all federal student aid programs might not be out of the water yet!

Once again, it is important to contact your congressman to let them know how you feel about your federal student aid.

Your voice is important!