Author Archives: femmefrugality

How to Qualify as Independent on the FAFSA

Great tips on how to qualify as independent on the FAFSA--and what to do when you just can't.

The first time I went to college, I received no grants.  No aid.  No nothing.  Not from the government.  Not from my parents.  Not from my school.

I was a good student, but so was every other kid I graduated with.  Inflated GPAs meant the students at the top of the class had 5.0 GPAs. (Yes, that’s out of 4.0.) The students who took all the easy, non-honors, non-AP courses had a higher GPAs than other students who actually tried to challenge themselves with a more rigorous course load.

I fell somewhere in the middle. I wasn’t at the top of my class, but I had also challenged myself. My GPA was by no means abysmal, but it also wasn’t a 5.0. I received no merit-based scholarships. Too much competition.

My parents weren’t able to help. FAFSA formulas did not work in my favor. Who cared if I was supporting myself with three jobs? Who cared that my parents were going through a divorce? Or that they each held debt which impacted where their salaries were spent?

Filling out the FAFSA with Divorced Parents

If your parents are divorced, on the FAFSA you only have to provide one income:  the income of the person who you lived with for a majority of the past 12 months.

If you lived with them both equally, you have to provide the income of the person who contributed more financial support to you.

Unfortunately for me, my parents weren’t technically divorced yet. Because there is no such thing as legal separation in the state of Pennsylvania, I had to provide both incomes.

How to Qualify as “Independent” for FAFSA Purposes

My situation isn’t unique. There are a myriad of reasons students don’t want to or feel they shouldn’t have to provide their parents’ incomes. The biggest reason is usually that they are supporting themselves.

That alone is not good enough of a reason for the FAFSA. Here are all the ways you could qualify as a dependent. Some of them you can’t help. And the ones you can, I wouldn’t recommend doing solely to get grant money.

  • Be 24-years-old+ at the time you are filing the FAFSA . You can’t help this.
  • Be in the military or a veteran. Please don’t join up just to get grant money.  Or GI money for that matter.  This is a serious commitment that could literally cost you your life. At the very least it will change your lifestyle. I am so thankful for the people that fight for us everyday so selflessly, but make sure you’re willing to do it for the right reasons–not just college money.
  • Be an orphan/ward of the court. You can’t help this.
  • Be in graduate school.
  • Be married. DO NOT GET MARRIED TO GET COLLEGE MONEY! There are so many other reasons to get married. And so many reasons not to. This is a lifelong commitment you’re talking about. A personal relationship. The decision to get married should not be based on how much money you can get from the government.
  • Have legal dependents of your own. DO NOT GET PREGNANT JUST TO GET GRANT MONEY! College is a full-time job. Being a parent is a full-time job. On top of all that you’ll probably have to get a full-time job even with all the grants in order to support yourselves. You don’t need three full-time jobs. You need to get a degree.
  • Have your school’s financial aid administrator change your status from dependent to independent due to unique circumstances. This is the best way to go.

Changing Your Status from Dependent to Independent

If you don’t naturally qualify for any of the first six reasons, I would highly recommend going to your school’s financial aid administrator. They have the power to change your status, but note that they cannot do it simply because you want them to.

Even if your parents do not claim you as a dependent on their taxes, you are still their dependent on the FAFSA. Even if you work 80 hours a week and pay all your own bills including rent at a location separate from their home, you are still their dependent on the FAFSA.

An extraordinary situation may convince your financial aid administrator that you should be considered independent. For example, if you’re 20 and haven’t talked to your parents in 3 years, you may have a case.

Go in and talk to them with confidence and assertion, but not anger or cockiness. You want something from them, and while you don’t want to get trampled, you do want to show that your case is legitimate.

Take with you any and all paperwork and/or documentation that may somehow apply to proving your point. Going in prepared not only ensures that you have the right paperwork that day, but it also shows your administrator that you’re serious, and perhaps more importantly, that you are, indeed, a responsible adult.

When You Cannot Qualify as Independent for FAFSA

Most people simply won’t qualify as independent until they’re 24. It stinks. It puts a lot of people who work hard and really want to attain their goals in a bad situation.

If you want to go to school without any debt and the government grants could help you do that, it may just be worth waiting. Work a couple years to save up money, then on your magic birthday get the most out of your age.

Only do that if it is right for you. Putting off education is never a good thing, and your salary in the early years of young adulthood may end up paling in comparison to that of your peers.

But taking on a ton of debt to finance a degree that may or may not provide you with a solid return on investment isn’t for everyone. In a world of crippling student loan debt, it’s smart to run your numbers and see which option is best for you: student loans or waiting it out until you’re twenty-four.

Whichever way you choose to go, make sure you apply for scholarships along the way, too. Like grants, they’re free college money that you will never have to pay back.


LEGO® Brick Fest Live! Promo Code

Nice! Promo code to save on LEGO Brickfest Live! tickets in Pittsburgh.

A little over a year ago, we went to LEGO® Kidsfest. It was awesome. The event was insanely fun, the venue and staff were amazing.

The only not-so-awesome thing about it was that it was in Harrisburg. Driveable, for sure. And worth the miles. But it was a trek.

This year, I’m excited to let you all know that LEGO Brick Fest Live! is coming to Pittsburgh, and we have a promo code to help you save some money on your tickets.

Promo code to save money on LEGO Brick Fest Live! Tickets

What is there to do at Brick Fest?

There will be a ton of fun things going on at Brick Fest Live! this year. When we attended the LEGO event last year, we realized it was as much fun for us as it was for the kids. Brick Fest Live! looks to be in the same vein.

The Brick Show Experience

Meet popular YouTube LEGO show hosts from The Brick Show and be featured on in an upcoming video.

Brick Fest Derby

Build and race your custom built LEGO derby car down one of our 35-foot long timed tracks!

Collaborative Building Activities

Contribute to large-scale mystery floor mosaic.

Inspiration Stations

Add to existing LEGO cities and make them your own by building custom creations.

Video Game Arena

Have a favorite LEGO video game? Come challenge your family or make new friends in the Brick Fest Gaming Arena playing your favorite LEGO title head to head.

Mini Golf

A miniature golf course built to inspire! Take your game to the next level on the Brick-Links.

Brick Fest Theater Trivia & Entertainment

Participate in LEGO trivia all while taking a break from what will be an overwhelming amount of awesome!


Using a colorful variety of LEGO bricks, build a piece of art to proudly display for other attendees.


Find new, vintage, rare, and custom LEGO sets and merchandise from one of the many merchants in attendance.

Get discounted tickets to LEGO Brick Fest Live!

LEGO Brick Fest Live! Pittsburgh: Time and Place

Luckily, yinzers don’t have to go far to enjoy the LEGO festivities this year. The event starts July 15 at 9a and ends on July 16 at 6p. It will be held at the Monroeville Convention Center.

LEGO Brick Fest Live! Promo Code

When you purchase your tickets, be sure to use the promo code USFGTHREE to save $3 off your tickets.


Oh, Snap! Frugal Last-Minute Mother’s Day Gifts

Shoot! Totally forgot Mother's Day was this weekend! These are awesome last-minute ideas--I don't even think Mom will be able to tell!

Mother’s Day isn’t like Christmas. It doesn’t come on a set day every year. I can’t mark it on my mental calendar without first consulting my actual calendar and storing the new information in my brain.

Almost every year, this unpredictability leads to an “Oh, Snap!” moment, where I realize that despite all my grand schemes and ideas, I haven’t actually taken any action to secure a gift.

Since I’m now a pro at not being prepared, I wanted to take this, the Monday before Mother’s Day, to share some of my experience-gained knowledge with you. Here are five last-minute Mother’s Day gifts that she’ll never know were last minute.

Do Something with Mom

This is a lot easier to do if you’re local—or at least within driving distance. There are tons of free and paid events on Mother’s Day. If you’re looking at the ones themed around the holiday, you’ll have sore luck thanks to your procrastination. These tend to fill up quickly.

But if you look for free events that aren’t necessarily advertised as Mother’s Day events but do take place that weekend, you’re much more likely to score a great deal and create some lasting memories with mom.

Get Her a Last-Minute Spa Day

Gift cards are always awesome, but they’re also usually hard to get “on sale” without looking at the resale market.

Right now, SpaFinder just happens to be offering their gift cards for 10% off when you purchase $100+ worth. That means if you buy mom a massage, which is usually in the $100 range after tip and without first-time customer discounts, you’ll only have to pay $90.

I Love Mom Magnets

We made these a few years ago, only we used “Grandma” instead of “Mom.” Essentially, you just buy a big sheet of magnet paper. One side is has a backing that you can peel off, revealing a sticky surface. You print your pictures from you home computer—it’s totally fine if they’re on printer paper rather than actual, glossy photos—and stick them on there. Cut around the edges and you’re done.

Sign Language Cards

This is probably only going to be satisfactory if you have kids. Trace their hand, cut it out, and fold it into the shape of the “I Love You” handshape in ASL. Slip a heart under the ring and middle fingers.

Need more detailed directions? Check it.

Help Mom Remember Her Own Family

If she’s into genealogy, you could get her an Ancestry membership. If you don’t have the cash to drop for the 6- or 12-month membership, buy a one-month membership for yourself. Do a little digging, and see if you can find any new documents she may have never seen before. Even if you’ve done genealogy before, it’s worth checking as new documents are being scanned, uploaded and indexed all the time.

Bonus points if you’re able to find anything new from her mother or grandmother. These were and are important people in her own life, and learning something new about them–even if it’s just seeing their name on a census or other record–can be a beautiful way to remember and celebrate the influence they had on her life.


Have you ever slipped and had to buy a last-minute Mother’s Day gift? Tell us about it in the comments!

How to Make Poké Ball Cupcakes

Such cute Poke Ball cupcakes! You can even bake a pokemon inside--I choose Ponyta!

This winter, we had a birthday party for one of my kiddos. It was a great time. We went to an indoor bouncy place, got a lot of energy out, played with friends and ate some amazing cupcakes.

How do I know they’re amazing? When I asked the birthday child what their favorite part of the day was, they sat and thought for a second before saying, “The cupcakes.”

Just so you don’t think I’m tooting my own horn, Grandma made these. Our oven was unfortunately broken at the time, so I bought all the materials and passed my vision along to her. But in the end, the delicious and good-looking cupcakes were 100% done by her.

I should have known she’d pull it off. I grew up with Little Mermaid and Snow White cakes that looked like they were ordered from a bakery. They weren’t. Grandma’s just got that baking magic.

Not only did they end up being the favorite part of the day, but they ended up being the most frugal, too.

How do you throw a frugal birthday party in the winter?

That’s not a rhetorical subheading. I really, truly want to hear some comments on this one, because I have no idea.

We live in a small apartment with no yard. Even though this winter was pretty warm in Pittsburgh, it’s unpredictable enough to not plan an outdoor party at a park or something like that at the beginning or end of the season.

And all the indoor places are expensive.

I knew it was going to be costly to go to the bouncy kingdom, but their package looked cheaper than other kid-friendly spaces I could find. Then I got hit with a much larger bill than I was expecting because of overpriced add-ons suggested the day of. Mental math was not my friend that day.

I digress.

We were talking about our super frugal, super awesome Poké Ball cupcakes.

How to Make Pokémon Cupcakes

Here's how to make Poke Ball cupcakes for a Pokemon birthday party.

Making Pokémon cupcakes is actually a lot simpler than you may think. You only need to buy six things–assuming you’ve got a muffin tin at home.

Poké Ball Cupcake Ingredients

The cake mix and frosting should be cheap enough–especially if you shop sales and use coupons.

The sprinkles, pearl candies and cupcake liners all feature affordable options. You may have to buy two packs of the first two items–especially if you’re making two dozen–but one order of cupcake liners is more than enough.

The icing will probably be the most expensive part, but you can cut costs by buying a tiny tube.

Poké Ball Cupcake Directions

Now that you have everything you need, it’s time to start working your own baking magic.

  1. Bake cupcakes as directed on the box, using red cupcake liners. Let them cool.
  2. Ice with white frosting.
  3. Dump your red sprinkles out into a bowl. Dip half of each frosted cupcake into the sprinkles.
  4. Use the black icing to draw a line diving the red an white halves of the cupcake.
  5. In the middle, put a relatively large dot of black icing.
  6. Gently push a pearl candy into that black dot.

Simple! And fun.

We also thought about baking a small Pokémon toy in the center like a King’s Cake, but that was going to get expensive. If money’s no object or you find a great place to buy cheap Pokémon toys, I think it could be super fun to find one inside your Poké Ball!

Free Mother’s Day Events in Pittsburgh 2017

Free Mother's Day Events in Pittsburgh! I can't decide between #1 and #4!

Mother’s Day is coming! Seriously, it’s not even two weeks away on May 14th, 2017. Are you ready?

Here are some free Mother’s Day events in Pittsburgh for all of you in the Steel City on a budget.

Free Mother’s Day Admission at the Zoo

Free admission for mom when she brings a paying child!  We did this last year for Father’s Day (same deal, only for dads,) and had a great time. Oh, and also, your child can be grown. They don’t have to be a little one to earn you free admission!
More Info

Free Art Fun at CMOA

Head to the Carnegie Museum of Art on Mother’s Day to catch a fun, hands-on, family-oriented experience in the Scaife Gallery. If you’re a member, ARTventures is 100% free. If you’re not, you only have to pay the regular price of admission. Check out ways to get admission discounts at CMOA at the bottom of this post.

More Info on ARTventures

Wings Over Pittsburgh

It’s baaaaccckk!! For the first time in six years, you can check out the mad skills of the 911th Airmen Wing as they soar over our city’s skies. It’s free, and it’s happening the 13th and 14th–which is the Sunday of Mother’s Day.
More Info

Race for the Cure on Mother’s Day

The Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure happens on Mother’s Day. While this would require the work of either fundraising or helping out the day of the race by volunteering your time, it could be a meaningful gesture to your mother, especially if breast cancer has touched your lives in any way.
More Info

Free Admission to Hartwood Acres Mansion

Moms get a free tour of the mansion when another paying adult comes along on May 14, and if you feel like splurging, you can enjoy Mother’s Day tea for $33/each on May 13.
More Info

Free Photo Exhibition and Meet & Greet with Hannah Price

If you’re down with celebrating on Saturday, check out Hannah Price’s photo exhibition opening May 13th at East Liberty Presbyterian Church. While the exhibition will be free the entire month it’s there, if you go Saturday evening between 7p and 9p, you’ll be able to meet the artist herself. Price’s work focuses on social perceptions, race politics and relationships in general.
More Info

How will you be celebrating your mother?  Or how do you hope to be celebrated yourself?

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