FrugalDad.com is changing its focus from all areas of personal finance to the narrower subject of education financing along with all that the subject area encompasses, from college savings and student loans to unusual scholarships and more. As part of the site’s paradigm shift, a new contributor, Trent Jonas, will add his voice to the community as The Frugal Scholar. Frugal Dad had a chance to talk with Trent recently about his new role as the Frugal Scholar.
FD: Welcome aboard. We’re pretty excited about the changes at FrugalDad.com, including the addition of the Frugal Scholar content. What do you think you bring to our frugal community?
TJ: Thanks – I really appreciate the opportunity to be part of such a long-lived and well respected site. I’m a little older than your typical college student, to be sure. But I’ve got a kind of broad base of experience in attending and paying for school. I earned a B.A. from a big public university, a J.D. from a smaller private university and, after a 17-year break from academia, I have recently enrolled in a local community college in an attempt to refocus my own skill set.
Meanwhile, I have two children who will be starting college in a handful of years. I guess you could say that I’ve had a bit of experience in and have spent a lot of time thinking about how to pay for college: as an undergrad, a graduate student, a returning student and a parent.
FD: Okay. It seems, though, like you may be struggling with a lack of focus or decisiveness. Are you?
TJ: I don’t think so. It’s more like I’m retooling myself to keep up with the times and the economy. My undergraduate degree is in English writing. I’ve always wanted to write and that’s what I’ve been focusing on for the past couple years. I think the more education I have the deeper knowledge base I have for my writing.
FD: But what about all the other coursework you’ve taken?
TJ: After undergrad, I went to law school because I wasn’t sure what to do with my English major. I practiced for a little bit and then went into business for myself in the real estate industry. After that went south a few years ago, I came back to writing. What’s interesting is how many more opportunities there are for writers these days – especially those with a broad base of real-world experience – than there were when I graduated from college in 1992. The wide availability of the Internet and mobile devices has opened the doors to possibilities that were largely unimagined just 20 (Twenty? Really?!) years ago.
FD: That makes sense. So what are you working on now?
TJ: I’m taking courses in computer science and marketing, hoping to keep up with both the technology with and the sector in which I work. Ultimately, I’d like to add them to my undergrad coursework and end up with B.S. degrees in both.
FD: One thing that I am wondering about, and given our new focus is particularly relevant is how did you pay for all this school?
TJ: I come from a lower-income background, but I attended school out of state because I wanted to move to a bigger city, so (contrary to advice I would give today) I paid out of state tuition at a public university, albeit a Big 10 school. I had a couple small outside scholarships, Pell Grants, loans, a work study award and some non-work study jobs. I graduated with a relatively low amount of loan debt but managed to get awfully close to six figures in loans by the time I was done with law school. Fortunately, I enjoyed a little bit of career success and lived frugally for a few years after school; I managed to get all my loans paid off in less than 10 years.
FD: Do you care to share with us any of the tricks you used to pull that off?
TJ: Actually, as you know, that will be the gist of the Frugal Scholar content. I’ll talk about my own experiences saving for and paying for school both way back then as well as what I’m seeing today. Also, I’ve been saving in earnest for my kids’ education since the day they were born (literally) and am happy to put in my two cents worth on that topic as well. For the curious out there, the community college I’m attending is amazingly reasonable. It’s a state-run school so all the credits I’m taking are transferable to any of the larger universities in the area. I’ve taken out a small loan to cover the upfront tuition costs but anticipate paying it off while I’m in school (hopefully!).
FD: Well, once again, thanks for helping out with FrugalDad.com. I look forward to seeing what you have to say about the world of paying for college.
TJ: Me too! Thanks!