Single parent scrimps for school

It's scary, says Pamela Stefani, as she thinks about the four years -make that eight years - ahead.

Her son, Bret, has just two more years of high school, while her daughter, Amber, is two years behind him.

That means in four years, Ms. Stefani, a self-employed single mother, will have college tuition, times two, to add to her mortgage, utility bills, and heath-insurance payments.

"I'm really nervous about it," she says.

Educated at Oregon State University, Stefani knows the value of college. "You know they have to go, and you want them to go," Stefani says. "But it costs so much more now."

And for many single moms, the college savings account goes straight to the bottom of the monthly stack of bills.

Stefani works out of her home. "Very seldom is it when I can't be there for the kids," she says. "I count my blessings."

There are trade-offs: No sick leave, no paid health insurance, and no retirement benefits.

Amber, a near straight-A student has her thoughts on Oregon State -as much as a high-school freshman can think about college.

Bret is more set on a career path than a certain college. He wants to be a teacher or a coach. And since he is a football player and wrestler, an athletic scholarship isn't out of the question.

Then again, "they may not get any scholarship. And then what? That's the key. I'm counting a lot on grant money," Stefani says.

But researching scholarships, grants, and other forms of financial aid takes time.

"I don't get personal time off," Stefani says. "I can't even remember the last time I had a vacation."

Nonetheless, she knows she will find a way. She recently started putting money away each month in savings accounts for Bret and Amber. Her goal is to save 10 percent of her income.

"There are tough choices. That's probably the bottom line," she says. "Are you going to go in debt forever in order to send your children to college?" she asks.

Saving a little is better than saving none at all, says Judy Heltzel, a certified financial planner in Salem, Ore.

She lauds the Stefanis' tactics at making college affordable.

"Encourage your kids to be the best students they can be so they will have a better chance of getting scholarships," she says. "Have them save from summer jobs.

"Have them take a 'What can I do for myself?' attitude," she says.

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