4 Essential Steps to Decide if College is Worth it for You

Is college worth it? That’s a tricky question. College isn’t cheap, but many believe it’s the way to obtain a “good” job. You have to spend money to make money, right? But does that make it worth it?

It depends. The cost of college has created a situation in which 44 millionpeople have had to use student loans to get their degree. And 53 percent of those with student loans would change their past borrowing decisions if they could, according to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s 2016 National Financial Capability Study.

While that doesn’t necessarily indicate regret over going to college, it does suggest regret in how they handled the cost of college. So one of the questions shouldn’t just be “Is college worth it?” but also “Are student loans worth it?” Here’s how to make sure you can turn the answer into a “yes” for you.

Making your college education worth the cost

The best way to see if college is worth it is to understand that everyone’s situation is different. Then consider the four questions below to come up with an answer that’s right for you.

1. Do you have a clear plan for success as a college student?

College should be fun, but it shouldn’t turn into a life experiment costing you tens of thousands of dollars. To make sure college is worth the debt, you need to have a clear plan of how you’ll be successful.

Even if you don’t particularly like school, you can optimize your course load to get good grades. Strategically schedule your classes for times you’re most alert. Make sure you don’t overload yourself with too many challenging courses at once.

One of the most financially crippling events is taking out student loans and then not finishing a degree. A 2016 College Board report cited data showing that 24 percent of students who dropped out defaulted on their student loans within two years. Only 9 percent of those who did get degrees defaulted.

Leaving school without a degree or certificate puts you in a position of taking on debt without the benefits a degree can offer. This includes more employment opportunities and higher pay potential. Finishing your degree is crucial.

Get to know yourself and what you need to do to succeed. Talk to people about the study habits that work best for them. Take a look at the resources your school might have to offer. The better you do in college from the start, the more worthwhile your investment can be.

2. Can you find an affordable way to go to college?

The next step is to take on as little debt as possible. Here are a few things you can do.

  • Take core classes at a community college. Then, transfer to a four-year school so you can spend far less on your first two years.
  • Take summer and winter break classes to finish your degree more quickly. (Just make sure you do the math, as sometimes these particular classes cost more per credit.)
  • Go to a local school so you can live at home — avoid room and board costs.
  • If you receive offers for school-specific scholarships, consider choosing the school that gives you the most money. (The tuition remaining should still be less expensive than your other options.)
  • As you evaluate schools, give extra consideration to those offering work-study programs. Those can enable you to earn money towards your degree.

Once you’ve figured out how to shave as much off your college costs as possible, think about how to pay for the rest.

  • Use websites such as FastWeb to look for scholarships you qualify for. Apply for as many as possible before you resort to loans.
  • Fill out your FAFSA to see what kind of federal financial aid you can get. This can help you avoid private student loans.
  • If you need help paying for your education, opt for the cheapest financial aid first.

3. Can you calculate how you’ll handle student loans after college?

If you have to take out loans to pay for college, figure out how much they’ll cost. Then use this student loan payment calculator to see what your payments will look like when you graduate. That way, you’ll know if you can actually afford the school that’s on the top of your list.

Keep in mind that your calculations might change over time due to unforeseen circumstances. This includes a hike in tuition costs or a changed major that leads to longer schooling. While there is some unpredictability in this, that doesn’t mean you can’t make sure you’re as prepared as possible.

Once you know what you’ll be dealing with, start crafting a plan now for how you’ll handle the loans. Will you start saving for an emergency fund while you’re in school so that you’ll have a cushion ready when you graduate? Do you know how to change student loan repayment plans if needed? Start figuring out what you’ll want your finances to look like now so you can set the plan — and the habits — early.

4. Do you know what kind of work can get with your degree?

If you’re lucky enough to know what you want to study early on, you can choose a school based on the quality of that program, their job placement record, and the cost of the program compared to other schools.

But even if you’re not yet sure what you’ll major in, you can start your research on what to expect after graduation with the help of your school’s career center and sites like TheMuse. Knowing how much you can expect to earn in different fields will help you evaluate them from a financial perspective.

Take a look at potential pay and how competitive the job market is in your field with the help of Glassdoor and Payscale. After you’ve found some salary ranges, use sites such as Paycheck City to understand what the take-home pay will be. Then go back to your student loan calculations to see how much of that salary would be taken up by your student loan debt.

So, is college worth it? The stats say yes

In December 2016, the College Board released a report called Education Pays 2016: The Benefits of Higher Education for Individuals and Society. Updated every three years, this report analyzes various life outcomes for those who do and don’t have a college degree.

Here are just a few key findings from the report:

  • Those with a degree earn more on average. In 2015, full-time employed bachelor’s degree holders earned 67 percent more than high school graduates without a degree.
  • Degree holders fare better in the job market. The 2015 unemployment rate for 25- to 34-year olds was just above 2 percent for bachelor’s degree holders, compared to more than 8 percent for those who only had a high school diploma.
  • Employees with a degree are more likely to receive retirement benefits. In 2015, 52 percent of private sector, full-time workers with a degree were offered retirement benefits, compared to only 43 percent of the same without a degree.
  • More degree holders have employer-provided health insurance.In 2015, 38 percent of bachelor’s degree holders had employer-provided health insurance, while only 26 percent of those with just a high school education did.
  • Poverty is more common among non-degree holders. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 2015 saw more than 12 percent of those 25 and older without a degree in poverty, compared to just above 4 percent of bachelor’s degree holders.

All that said, is college worth it? Apparently so — even with the debt involved. The report goes on to say the average person who graduates in four years will earn enough to compensate for the cost of college by the time they turn 34. And even those who went to college but didn’t get a degree will still, on average, exceed the earnings of a high school graduate by the time they’re 35.

According to the report, “the longer college graduates remain in the workforce, the greater the payoff to their investment in higher education.” In other words, if the thought of college and debt are completely overwhelming to you now, you can still look forward to a more positive future because of these things — if you handle them thoughtfully.

The article 4 Essential Steps to Decide if College is Worth it for You originally appeared on studentloanhero.com.

Stop Counting Other People’s Money

Your neighbor pulls up in a sweet new ride. Your co-worker announces she’s taking yet another trip abroad. Your best friend upgrades to a bigger house in a better area of town.

You’re pretty sure these people don’t make a lot more than you do.

So how are they able to spend that kind of money?

Maybe they’re up to their ears in debt, or they’re trust fund babies, or they’ll never be able to retire. Or maybe they’ve figured out the secret to money, which is: You can have anything you want. You just can’t have everything.

The new car, that house and that exotic trip are the shiny end results of a series of decisions hidden below the surface. What we don’t see, typically, are the trade-offs – or their consequences.

You see what others want you to see

That’s important to remember when we’re stewing about someone else’s spending. Economists and psychologists say we care about our status, especially relative to our peers, and what we consume can be a way of keeping track. We may lose self-esteem if we fear our consumption is below the average of our group and gain self-esteem if we think our spending is above average.

That dynamic helps lead to the phenomenon of “conspicuous consumption,” first identified by economist Thorstein Veblen in his 1899 book “The Theory of the Leisure Class.” Veblen coined the term to describe how newly wealthy people bought luxury goods to display their economic power and boost their social status.

Economists have since confirmed that conspicuous consumption, peer pressure about spending and concerns about “keeping up with the Joneses” aren’t limited to the wealthy. Some believe that reading and sending signals about financial status permeates our lives — take a quick glance at your Facebook feed.

“A lot of our decisions are based primarily on this comparison effect,” says behavioral economist Fernando Zapatero of the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business in Los Angeles.

Measuring ourselves against others can spur some people to economic success, Zapatero believes. That competitive “how can I do better?” impulse drives them to work harder, invest more and persevere through difficulties.

It also can lead people to waste money on things that aren’t really important and miss out on the things that are, financial planners say.

You can’t see what others give up

Certified financial planner Lisa Kirchenbauer of Omega Wealth Management in Arlington, Virginia, says “mindless spending” is a problem for some of her new clients. Many have little idea where their money is going and a nagging anxiety that they’re squandering it on the wrong things.

“Sometimes we will have clients ask us, ‘Is this what everybody else is spending on housing? Does this seem reasonable?’” Kirchenbauer says. “We’re trying to help them make intentional choices about what’s important to them, versus their neighbor or their family members.”

Kirchenbauer, who also is a registered life planner, first asks her clients to track their spending. She recommends budgeting tools such as Mint, Quicken or YNAB. (If you don’t want to sign up for one of those, a good way to start is the 50/30/20 budget.)

Then she asks about their values and helps them set goals based on those values. A free online tool that can assist do-it-yourselfers is Life Planning for You, created by George Kinder, a pioneer in holistic financial planning who also wrote a book with the same title.

Defining financial goals can help people change their behavior, Kirchenbauer says. If they want early retirement, for example, they may discover their high spending and low savings make that impossible. If they want their goal badly enough, they’re more willing to cut spending on stuff they care less about, she says.

Ultimately, people need to decide for themselves what’s essential and what’s not, says Marguerita Cheng, a CFP at Blue Ocean Global Wealth in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Cheng finds some of her fellow advisers to be judgmental about people’s spending. Hiring a house cleaner could be a discretionary expense for some, for example. For a working mother with three kids, a housekeeper “could be essential for her sanity,” Cheng says.

Being more mindful about spending returns our focus to where it should be: our own decisions and our own lives, rather than others’. But if the envy bug bites again, Kirchenbauer recommends realizing that other people’s lavish lifestyles may not be all they seem.

“They may have a lot of debt. … Maybe they’re going to work to 75,” Kirchenbauer says. “Just because they have these things, you don’t know what’s behind it.”

Liz Weston is a certified financial planner and columnist at NerdWallet, a personal finance website, and author of “Your Credit Score.”. Email: lweston@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @lizweston.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press.

The article Stop Counting Other People’s Money originally appeared on NerdWallet.

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Need-Based vs. Non-Need-Based Financial Aid: Here’s the Difference

In the spring of 2017, George Washington University President Steven Knapp visited high schools across Washington, D.C. He had amazing news for 10 talented students: They had earned full-ride scholarships to the university.

The university selected these students based on their achievements, but merit-based scholarships aren’t the only kind of aid that go into financial aid packages. Colleges also provide need-based financial aid to students who need help paying for college.

Read on to learn about both types of financial aid, and how you can get the most aid possible.

What is need-based financial aid?

Need-based financial aid is exactly what it sounds like — it’s doled out based on your financial need. Some colleges promise to cover your full financial need, while others only provide aid for part of it.

Each college’s financial aid office puts together your financial aid package. It could include a mix of federal, state, institutional, and private aid.

Need-based financial aid could include any of the following:

  • Federal Pell Grant: Pell Grants tend to go to students with major financial need. The maximum award for the 2017-2018 school year is $5,920.
  • Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG):You can receive between $100 and $4,000 per year through the FSEOG program. However, only some colleges participate.
  • Direct Subsidized Loan: Interest will not start accruing on these federal loans until you’re out of school and the six-month grace period has ended.
  • Federal Perkins Loan: These loans also don’t accrue interest during your grace period. After that, they have a fixed interest rate of 5.00%. Perkins Loans go to students with “exceptional financial need.”
  • Federal Work-StudyThis program provides you with a part-time, on-campus or off-campus job, so you can earn money to put toward school or living costs.

A college might offer need-based financial aid in the form of low-interest loans. Plus, the state or a private organization might give loans or grants to low-income students.

Massachusetts’ MASSGrant, for instance, gives grants to qualifying state residents with a family contribution equal to or lower than $5,328. And the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation provides up to $40,000 per year to high-achieving students with significant financial need.

Whether it’s federal, state, or private, need-based aid is largely based on your financial situation. Except in the case of private scholarships, your grades or extracurricular achievements don’t factor in.

How is need-based financial aid determined?

To figure out your financial need, most schools look at your FAFSA (a few also require the CSS Profile). After filling out the FAFSA, you’ll get an Estimated Family Contribution, or EFC.

As the name suggests, your EFC is how much your family is expected to pay toward college. The difference between the cost of tuition and your EFC is your financial need.

Let’s say a school costs $50,000 per year, and your EFC is $25,000. In this case, your financial need would be $25,000.

Most colleges will cover at least part of that $25,000 with need-based financial aid. Plus, they might provide additional non-need-based financial aid.

If not, you’d need to make up for the difference another way — such as by taking out private student loans or choosing a less expensive college.

What is non-need-based financial aid?

Non-need-based financial aid, like its need-based counterpart, is offered on both the federal and institutional level. The Office of Federal Student Aid provides the following types of non-need-based aid:

A financial aid office might include these loans in your financial aid package after it has exhausted need-based funding. Plus, it might award merit-based grants or scholarships based on your high school performance.

If you have excellent grades or a strong record of community service, for instance, you could get college scholarships, like the 10 students in Washington, D.C. Or, you could win scholarship money from an external organization.

Some organizations even give scholarships for unusual reasons. For instance, you could win scholarship money for being left-handed, having red hair, or winning a duck-calling contest.

Whether it’s an unsubsidized loan you have to repay or a scholarship you don’t, none of the aid on this list is based on financial need.

How do colleges give out non-need-based aid?

Unlike need-based aid, non-need-based aid doesn’t look at your EFC. Instead, your eligibility is based on the difference between the school’s cost of attendance and the amount of financial aid you’ve received so far, whether it’s from the college itself or an outside organization.

For example, let’s say your school’s cost of attendance is $20,000 per year, and you’ve received $15,000 in need-based financial aid.

In this scenario, you could qualify for up to $5,000 in non-need-based aid. You’re not guaranteed to get $5,000 — or even anything — but you are eligible for these additional funds.

How to get the most financial aid possible

To some extent, your financial aid package is out of your hands. Each college sets its own policies, and the financial aid offices will notify you of its decision.

But there are important steps you can take to qualify for aid, whether it’s based on financial need. Here are the top six:

  1. File the FAFSA as soon as possible. This application becomes available on Oct. 1. Submit it early, as some aid is given out on a first-come, first-served basis.
  2. Find out if your school requires the CSS Profile. Some colleges ask for the CSS Profile in addition to the FAFSA. They look at this document, along with the FAFSA, to determine financial aid.
  3. Communicate with the financial aid office. If you haven’t applied yet, speak with financial aid offices to learn about their policies. If you experience changes in your financial situation after submitting the FAFSA, let them know. They might be able to adjust your award.
  4. Use the FAFSA4Caster tool. This useful tool helps you estimate the cost of attendance at colleges around the country. You’ll get a sense of how much need-based financial aid you can get from each school. Use this info to be strategic about where you apply.
  5. Do your best in high school. You could end up getting serious merit-based aid for your achievements. Schools like Boston University and University of Texas at Austin offer full-ride scholarships to students with a record of academic and extracurricular achievement.
  6. Apply to outside scholarships. There are tons of organizations at the local and national level that award scholarships to students. Speak with your school counselor and browse scholarship search engines for opportunities.

By understanding the different types of financial aid — and being proactive when you apply to colleges — you can seriously reduce the cost of college.

Plus, you can avoid making the mistake that has burdened a generation of grads: taking on too much student debt to fund your education.

The article Need-Based vs. Non-Need-Based Financial Aid: Here’s the Difference originally appeared on studentloanhero.com.

5 Back-to-College Lessons on Building Credit

Hey, college students: Summer is almost over, and before you’re busy cramming for exams, you should spend a few minutes studying up on your credit. You might be just getting started with your first card, but review these five tips and you’ll reap the benefits well after graduation day.

1. Five major factors affect your credit scores

Several companies produce credit scores, and most consider five factors: your payment history, credit utilization, the length of your credit history, the types of credit accounts you hold and any new credit accounts you’ve opened. No matter how long you’ve had credit, you can use each factor to get yours in good shape.

Payment history: Paying all of your bills on time is the most important thing you can do for your credit, even if you’re only able to make the minimum payment. If you accidentally miss a due date, send the money as soon as you can. You might incur a late fee, but if you made the payment within 30 days, it won’t be reported to the credit bureaus.

Credit utilization: Utilization is the percentage of your available credit you’re using. Keep it low, ideally below 30%. So if you have a credit card with a $5,000 limit, try to keep your balance below $1,500. Your issuer might report your balance in the middle of the month, so aim to have less than 30% utilization at all times, not just after you make your monthly payment.

Length of credit history: The older the average age of your accounts, the better, so don’t close your first credit card account when you open a second. Instead, use the first card occasionally to keep it active.

Types of accounts: It helps to have a mix of credit accounts — credit cards, student loans, an auto loan and so on. But if you have only a credit card and don’t need another account, don’t open it. This factor is less important than the first three.

New credit: Apply for new credit cards sparingly. Each new account shortens the average age of your accounts, and each new application results in a hard inquiry on your credit report, which can ding your credit score. The shorter your credit history, the more this can hurt your credit, so it’s especially important to limit your applications when you’re just starting out.

2. Bad credit hits more than just your wallet

Having bad credit can increase the interest rates you pay and even your car insurance premiums. But that’s not its only impact.

Landlords and wireless providers commonly check applicants’ credit to find out whether they’re likely to pay on time, and having bad scores can limit your options for apartments and cell phone service. If you’re on your parents’ cellular plan and live on campus, you might think this doesn’t apply to you — but it will soon.

Employers may also run credit checks, and having bad credit could keep you from getting a job in some states.

3. Try not to carry a balance

NerdWallet survey found that 41% of Americans think carrying a small balance on a credit card from month to month will improve their credit. But you won’t get a boost from maintaining a balance, and it will definitely cost you in interest charges. Use your credit cards enough to keep the accounts active, but pay each balance in full every month to avoid interest.

4. Check your three credit reports annually

Three major credit bureaus produce credit reports: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. You’re entitled to one free copy of your report from each bureau every year via AnnualCreditReport.com. Review each for errors to keep your credit on track.

You won’t find your credit scores on any of the reports. You can find yours for free online at some websites, including NerdWallet, or perhaps through your credit card issuer. If yours doesn’t provide it, you can buy it directly from Equifax, Experian or TransUnion. Scores may vary slightly depending on the scoring model used, but they should all be in the same ballpark.

5. Build credit with a secured credit card

To get a secured card, you put down a cash deposit, usually equal to your credit limit. Banks can seize this if you don’t make your payments, so they’ll issue these cards even to people who have poor credit or lack a credit history. You’ll get the deposit back when you close your account in good standing or upgrade your account to a regular, unsecured card.

Secured cards make up less than 1% of the credit card market, but they’re great for building credit. A secured card works just like an unsecured card, with the exception of the deposit. You use it to make purchases, then pay them off, and your issuer reports your payment activity to the credit bureaus.

More credit lessons for students from NerdWallet 

The article 5 Back-to-College Lessons on Building Credit originally appeared on NerdWallet.

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The 3 Biggest Money Decisions You’ll Ever Make

Some factors that influence your financial success are beyond your control. Older people tend to be richer than younger people. White U.S. households, on average, have many times the wealth of black or Hispanic households. Those born into the top or bottom of the economic strata typically stay there.

But the decisions you make about three key areas in your life can have an outsize impact on whether you’re able to build financial stability.

How much education you get

People with more education tend to earn more money and accumulate more wealth. The gap between the most-educated Americans and everyone else has widened considerably in recent years.

Median annual incomes for families headed by people 40 and older — when most have completed their educations — generally declined from 1989 to 2013, according to a study by economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. The exception was for people with graduate or professional degrees, whose median income in that time grew 4% to $116,265. These numbers were adjusted for inflation.

Changes in wealth were even more dramatic in that 24-year period. By 2013, median net worth:

  • Soared 45% to $689,100 for those with graduate or professional degrees
  • Rose 3% to $273,488 for those with two- or four-year degrees
  • Dropped 36% to $95,072 for those with high school diplomas
  • Fell 44% to $37,766 for those who didn’t finish high school

Not every degree pays off in higher earnings, and some well-paid jobs don’t require advanced degrees. If you’re considering getting more education, the U.S. Department of Labor has helpful information, including which master’s degrees pay off best, certificate programs that lead to good jobs and data on the fastest-growing occupations.

Whether you marry (and stay married)

People who marry and don’t divorce have about double the net worth of their peers who never wed, according to Jay Zagorsky, an economist and research scientist at Ohio State University, who studied the financial patterns of thousands of adults born from 1957 to 1964. That means married couples typically have roughly four times the wealth of households headed by single people. Single people’s wealth typically rises slowly over time, while that of couples usually spikes after marriage.

Zagorsky says being married “is a wonderful way to increase your net worth,” but warns against getting hitched with the sole idea of getting rich.

“If you decide you’ve made a mistake, divorce is going to destroy your wealth,” he says.

The net worth of people who divorce starts to plunge four years before the split, Zagorsky’s research published in 2005 found. Ten years later, divorced men and women are still worse off financially than the never-marrieds. (See “How to Untangle Your Finances in a Divorce.”)

Whether you own a home

The decision that can have the biggest impact on your wealth is whether you buy a home — and hang on to it.

The wealth gap between homeowners and renters is enormous. The median net worth of the nation’s homeowners in 2013 was $195,400, compared with $5,400 for those who don’t own, according to a Federal Reserve Board survey. Rising home values can build wealth, of course, but so does the forced savings aspect of owning a home.

Accumulating down payments and paying down mortgages will increase homeowners’ equity — and thus their wealth. Renters could build similar wealth, or even more, if they invested in the stock market the equivalent of a down payment plus any savings from renting instead of owning. Few do so.

The relationship between homeownership and wealth held true even in the years surrounding the mortgage crisis, which wiped out trillions of dollars in home equity and caused over 4 million Americans to lose their homes, researchers for Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies found. Homeownership resulted in somewhat less wealth for minority and lower-income families, but the “gains are on average still positive and substantial,” they wrote.

Unlike marriage, homeownership typically doesn’t leave people worse off if it can’t be sustained, the researchers found. Those who return to renting — because, say, they lost the home to foreclosure — are generally left with about the same amount of wealth they had before buying the house.

Of course, anything that’s true on average doesn’t necessarily mean it will be true for you. Even if you’re a divorced renter without a degree, you can build wealth if you monitor spending, save regularly and invest for the future. The odds may be against you, but you can beat them.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press.


The article The 3 Biggest Money Decisions You’ll Ever Make originally appeared on NerdWallet.

Great Advice for Students and Parents

At Inceptia, the foundation of our nonprofit mission is to arm students and schools with the knowledge necessary to make informed financial choices.

As a high school junior or senior, you probably haven’t made very many financial decisions that affect your long-term financial well-being, but that’s about to change. College is likely your first big expense, so when it comes to choosing a school, you want to find one that’s a good financial fit for you. We know it would be tough to do this all on your own, so we teamed up with NerdWallet and created a guide full of advice for you and all of the people who are committed to your success as a student, including your parents, family members, teachers, and every other mentor in your life. This free eGuide provides timely advice on what to expect and how you and your family can prepare as you approach the college application process. Here’s an inside look at just some of what you’ll find.

  • Tax Breaks and Loan Options to Pay for College
  • Strategies to Maximize Your Financial Aid Eligibility
  • 6 Financial Aid Questions You’re Too Embarrassed to Ask

This free eGuide will prepare you and your family for your first big investment and help you feel confident as you begin a new financial journey.

Visit https://www.inceptia.org/PDF/GreatAdviceForParents_Fall2017.pdf to get your copy!

What to Buy (and Skip) in September

September brings many things: a new school year, a new season — and new sales. Before you embark on fall shopping, consult our guide on what you should buy (and skip) as the leaves start to turn and the days grow shorter.

Buy: Mattresses

September is a solid time to shop for a mattress. In the days leading up to Labor Day on Sept. 4, you’ll start to see significant discounts, which is ideal given that you’ll have plenty of time to test out the various models over the long weekend. Last year, Sleep Train offered up to $400 off select Beautyrest and Posturepedic mattresses and up to $300 off Tempur-Pedic mattresses.

While you’re scoping out Labor Day mattress sales, visit the rest of the home department. Furniture and appliances will also be discounted over the holiday weekend.

Skip: TVs

There are two excellent times to buy a TV. One is in late November when Black Friday deals begin to roll out (last year Best Buy had a 55-inch Sharp LED 1080p smart TV for $249.99), and the other is in late January or early February, ahead of the Super Bowl. Because of this, we suggest waiting to do your TV shopping to maximize your savings.

Buy: iPhones

Apple is expected to announce the iPhone 8 in September, which means two things. First, there will be a new phone, so if you like the latest and greatest, hold off on buying until then. Second, retailers will likely discount last year’s models. If you’re still using an older version of the phone, this might be the perfect month to upgrade to last year’s 7 or 7 Plus model.

If the savings are anything like they were last year, Apple will reduce the subsidized cost of the older phone by $100. Shortly thereafter, it’s likely that other retailers such as Best Buy and Target will offer their own deals.

Skip: Halloween costumes

It’s that time of the year when retailers pull out their most outrageous holiday displays way too early. Right now, stores are pushing Halloween costumes and fall decor. Your best bet on savings is to shop for decorations and candy after Halloween is over, so if you can wear last year’s costume again this year, go that route.

Buy: Plane tickets

Don’t limit yourself to items you can place in a shopping cart: There are plenty of other areas where you can save money, including holiday airfare. According to the Holiday Cheap Flights Report 2017 from online travel agency CheapAir.com, fares for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s flights are expected to increase the longer you wait. If you can book soon, do it.

Bonus: Coffee

Sept. 29 is National Coffee Day. Play it right and you can treat yourself to your favorite cup of joe for free in honor of the caffeine-centric day. Last year, major players in the coffee industry such as Peet’s Coffee & Tea and Krispy Kreme offered freebies.

Looking ahead: Columbus Day

If you miss out on Labor Day sales, you’ll still have a shot at discounted clothing, home decor and appliances. Oct. 9 is Columbus Day, and department stores use the holiday as yet another reason to offer sales. In 2016, some retailers took up to 30% off select appliances.

Updated Aug. 24, 2017.

The article What to Buy (and Skip) in September originally appeared on NerdWallet.

Ask Brianna: How Do I Afford College as an Older Student?

“Ask Brianna” is a column from NerdWallet for 20-somethings or anyone else starting out. I’m here to help you manage your money, find a job and pay off student loans — all the real-world stuff no one taught us how to do in college. Send your questions about postgrad life to askbrianna@nerdwallet.com.

This week’s question:

Q: I’m going to college for the first time in my late 20s after working for several years. How do I pay for it while dealing with potentially less income in the meantime?

A: Making a big change like this requires weighing the benefits against the cost. While only you can decide whether college is the right move, in most cases, a postsecondary degree is a straight path to more money and more job security. Median after-tax earnings of bachelor’s degree holders were 61% higher than high school graduates’ in 2015, according to a report by the College Board; median earnings of associate’s degree recipients were 23% higher.

But expecting that you’ll make more money someday won’t totally ameliorate the sticker shock now. Make college attainable, without amassing a mountain of debt, by maximizing financial aid and re-evaluating your budget. Here’s how.

Get help from lesser-known sources

As an older student going back to school, you have access to money for college that younger students may not. If you’re in a labor union, ask about scholarships open to members. If you plan to keep working — generally the most cost-effective option for students juggling other financial obligations — many companies offer tuition reimbursement up to a certain amount each year. Chances are you don’t even know it’s available, says Ted Beck, president and CEO of the National Endowment for Financial Education.

“I’m surprised how often as a manager I’ve had to remind people that we have it,” Beck says.

Are you eager to change careers or learn a new skill that’s in high demand in your region? Look into nearby community colleges’ workforce development programs, Beck says. Local companies in need of specially trained workers may help pay for your schooling and consider you for a job afterward.

Siemens, for example, offers subsidized apprenticeship programs that can lead to full-time jobs in fields like manufacturing technology; participants are paid while they attend classes and work for the company. Contact your nearest community college or state apprenticeship office, listed on the U.S. Department of Labor’s website, to learn about programs available near you.

Maximize grants

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known as the FAFSA, isn’t just for 18-year-olds. Everyone interested in higher education should fill it out to qualify for federal, state and school-based financial aid. On the FAFSA, students age 24 or older are considered independent students, so only your income and assets — not those of your parents — will be used to determine eligibility for aid.

One of the most valuable undergraduate financial aid options is the federal Pell Grant, which doesn’t have to be paid back. For 2017-18, the maximum award is $5,920, but the amount you’ll receive depends on financial need and your course load. Use the government’s FAFSA4Caster to determine if you qualify for a Pell Grant. They can be used for up to 12 semesters, including summers. Nearly half of Pell Grant recipients in 2014-15 were 24 or older, according to the College Board.

If a Pell Grant won’t cover your college costs, prioritize taking out federal student loans before private loans, as the federal ones come with more flexible repayment options. Keep loan payments affordable by borrowing no more than you expect to earn the year after you graduate.

Spend and save with purpose

While in school — or if you’re saving up for it — you’ll likely need to re-evaluate spending to address any lost income or to cover out-of-pocket education costs. Put money into an emergency fund, too, so unexpected expenses don’t derail your plans.

Avoid thinking of it as budgeting if that sounds restrictive; frame it as a spending plan that aligns your purchases to your values, says Megan Lathrop, lead money coach at Capital One in San Francisco. Consider cutting in half the amount you spend on eating out, she says, and scrutinize the cost of attending weddings or other pricey obligations. Remember your end goal: more earning potential and a better chance you’ll be able to ride out a tough labor market.

“When you’re doing this, you’re taking steps to improve your long-term situation,” Beck says. “Never lose sight of that.”

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press.

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The article Ask Brianna: How Do I Afford College As an Older Student? originally appeared on NerdWallet.