Painful as it can be to hustle the little ones off to college, it might be worse. You could have to pay the whole thing in pennies and have to haul them to the car. Which, now that you mention it, might not be as bad as having to come up with all those pennies in the first place.

There's a saying going around that nobody pays full price for college anymore, and it's not that far from true. We live in a financial aid world where it pays to learn how to play the game. Fortunately for us, Robert Brokamp has the skinny in Get the Most Out of Financial Aid. Consider it a prerequisite.

In today's Motley Fool Take:

Want a Piece of Google?

Everybody knows that Google has hired investment bankers and will likely be trading by April. The question now is: Will you get pre-IPO shares?

It's a question we're asked a lot. First, know that Google is not necessarily a slam-dunk. Yahoo!(Nasdaq: YHOO) is a formidable foe, as TheWall Street Journal highlighted yesterday in breaking down that company's "three prong" attack on Google. And Google faces other mega competitors, including Microsoft's(Nasdaq: MSFT) MSN, and even AMZN).

But, let's say that you still want to roll the dice on some pre-IPO shares. Initial offerings typically go down one of two ways. There's the traditional method where an investment bank sets the price of the offering and gives a big chunk to wealthy clients and institutions. Then there's the online auction, where any investor can make a bid. If you win the bid, you get shares.

Interestingly, Google may be eyeballing a combination of the two approaches (call it an "auction combo"). Reportedly, the company has hired traditional investment banks, such as Morgan Stanley(NYSE: MWD) and Goldman Sachs(NYSE: GS), as well as the pioneer of IPO auctions, WR Hambrecht & Co.

There is some precedent. Back in May 2001, when Instinet came public, CS First Boston managed the traditional part of the offering. In that particular deal, WR Hambrecht got a 17.5% allocation of the 32 million shares offered which it auctioned through its OpenIPO system.

As it turns out, WR Hambrecht & Co. elicited significant demand for the offering, with bids for over 74 million shares. In fact, while CS First Boston's initial price range was $11.50 to $13.50, the IPO was priced at $14.50, suggesting that WR Hambrecht & Co.'s Open IPO system was a critical factor in the price discovery.

Assuming that Google does allocate, say, 15% to 20% to an online auction, there is a decent chance you will get pre-IPO shares. After all, assuming the company raises $4 billion at $25 per share, and there is an auction for 20% of the amount, this would leave 32 million shares up for bid.

Stocks 2004: Defensive Posture

We've just started 2004, and it's by no means too late to pick up a copy of The Motley Fool's Investor's Guide to the year, Stocks 2004. In Stocks 2004, we've identified some companies that we think offer fairly juicy prospects for investors. As of today, the selections from last year's version, Stocks 2003, have returned 50%, up strongly from our December calculations of 39%, largely on sudden leaps in price of Activision(Nasdaq: (ATVI) and Noven(Nasdaq: NOVN). (Activision was also one of David Gardner's selections in Motley Fool Stock Advisor). Yet another reason why we tend to pooh-pooh the overall importance of the one-year look back. Your thesis you can control. Timing, not so much. There again, 13 months don't mean much more than 12, but we're gratified that in both instances the business cases our analysts described are coming to pass.

One of the Stocks 2004 selections is defensive. Not defensive in the sense of buying gold and burying it in the backyard, or putting your money in good old treasuries. It's a defense stock, in the mould of General Dynamics(NYSE: GD), Lockheed Martin(NYSE: LMT) or United Defense Industries(NYSE: UDI). It's in the mould, but it's much smaller. In fact, this company has two main lines of business, the second being sport and health products, which may seem like a fairly bizarre combination, until you consider this -- it's business is body armor, and its main competition may very well be the folks at DuPont(NYSE: DD).

Tom Gardner, Fool co-founder and author of our Hidden Gems newsletter, unearthed this company, and I was pretty skeptical. Didn't we just go through a war, Tom? Why would you want to buy a defense company after the fact? Tom's response was interesting. On a macro level, it's often following conflicts that new products and releases from defense contractors come into demand. Until a military outfit goes through combat, it doesn't really know what has changed in the field. In the time after battles there is a tremendous amount of information on what worked and what did not, and military demands for the years following are shaped on these findings.

This particular company's body armor won high praise from the U.S. military during the Iraq war for its lightness, its durability, and its sophistication. What does that mean? Well, Tom seems to think that when the military finds something that enhances its ability to protect its men and fulfill its missions that it will naturally be attracted to this product. That means rising sales, which, if a company is worth its salt, should convert to rising earnings and cash flows.

That's the thesis, but we're still early in the game. Stocks 2004 is still available for anyone who's interested in learning more. -- Bill Mann

Bill Mann owns shares of General Dynamics.


of Note

"I like buying companies that can be run by monkeys -- because one day they will be." -- Peter Lynch

JetBlue Goes Pay-Per-View

Discount carrier JetBlue(Nasdaq: JBLU) is carrying on its innovative ways. Beginning later this year, the airline will offer each flyer a choice of movies from News Corp.'s(NYSE: NWS) 20th Century Fox studios on a pay-per-view basis.

The "nominal fee," which will be about $3 per movie, will be collected via an in-seat credit card payment system. Besides feature films, customers can also purchase episodes from the TV series "The Simpsons," as well as various sports and news programming.

But wait, there's more. An agreement with XM Satellite Radio(Nasdaq: XMSR) will bring digital radio to the skies for the first time, giving travelers free access to 100 different channels, with artist and song information displayed on the seatback TV sets.

These are far from the first entertainment options JetBlue has offered its customers. Since 2000, live DirecTV programming has been available free at every seat. These unique movie and radio offerings allow the airline to differentiate itself from other low-cost carriers, such as rival Southwest Airlines(NYSE: LUV). And give management extra points for implementing the pay-per-view system: CEO David Neeleman told the Associated Press the $3 fee will be enough for his company to break even on the service.

As Rick Munarriz pointed out last month, JetBlue's successful model is attracting competition like flies. With the likes of Delta(NYSE: DAL) and AirTran(NYSE: AAI) now offering bargain fares to thrifty travelers, it needs all the help it can get in maintaining margins while keeping fares low.

Shoppers' Pocket Pick Coach

Were you watching your wallet over the holidays? Or perhaps, buying a nice new one for yourself or a loved one instead? Or a handbag... or luggage... In another prime example of the consumer's renewed appetite for luxury, today upscale leather goods provider Coach(NYSE: COH) raised guidance for its second quarter, citing the holidays' positive impact on sales.

Take that, Wal-Mart(NYSE: WMT), Target(NYSE: TGT), and Sears(NYSE: S). Forget the faux leather or no-name mittens. The holidays left discounters out in the cold while shoppers picked out pricier products from big names like Saks(NYSE: SKS) and Nordstrom(NYSE: JWN).

Coach said it now expects to report second-quarter earnings of at least $0.48 per share, as compared to its previous guidance of $0.44 per share. Sales rose 33% on a year-over-year basis. Direct sales, from Coach stores and outlets, improved by 24%, while indirect sales, like those from department stores, grew by 49%.

In addition to a successful holiday season, the company waxed enthusiastic about early consumer response to its spring line and its popularity in the Japanese market, where American luxury goods are considered pretty hip and Coach continues to be a hit.

Fool LouAnn Lofton commented on Coach back in June, lamenting the high share price when so many other aspects of the company looked so attractive. The stock is currently trading near its 52-week high, even though it followed most stocks lower in trading today. Shoppers obviously think Coach looks pretty good, but investors might still find it a bit too pricey.

More Fool News

And for a list of all our stories from today, see our Today's Headlines page.

And Finally...

Get money for nothing: Everything you need to know about 401(k)s in 77 words.... Bill Mann comments on a famed supply-sider's take that the stock market hasn't been this cheap in 34 years.... And it's still not too late to contribute to Foolanthropy 2003.

Bob Bobala, Robert Brokamp, Sam Edwards, Paul Elliott, Mathew Emmert, Jeff Fischer, Jeff Hwang, LouAnn Lofton, Alyce Lomax, Bill Mann, Selena Maranjian, Dave Marino-Nachison, Rex Moore, Rick Munarriz, Reggie Santiago, Dayana Yochim