Practical Advice to Keep Your College Years Affordable

By Ryan Zantinghdouble-coins

Despite a growing skepticism about the value of a college education, the evidence remains clear that those with a bachelor’s degree have nearly double the annual earning potential and half of the unemployment rate of those with only a high school diploma[i]. But investing in a college degree is expensive—there’s just no getting around that.

A solution to the high cost of college will require better teamwork between the government, colleges and universities, lenders, philanthropists, education think tanks, and other stakeholders. But until that happens, there are some very practical things that you can do to keep your college years affordable. Below are eight pieces of advice:application-1883453_640

1. Apply for Scholarships Early and Often: Most students apply for scholarships when they are entering college, but fewer continue to apply for scholarship opportunities throughout their college years. Colleges usually have some scholarships that are available only to continuing It would surprise you to learn how often colleges extend their scholarship application deadlines because no one applied.

2.Save: Outside of receiving as many scholarships and grants as possible, the best way to reduce the cost of college is to save. College savings will reduce the amount of loans that students will need to repay (with interest). There are college savings accounts that offer preferential tax treatment, like 529 plans or Coverdell Savings Accounts in the US and RESP in Canada.

3. Complete the FAFSA or Canada Student Loan Application: in the US, The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is your application for federal, state, and college need-based grants and need-based employment. It also makes students eligible to borrow Federal Direct Student Loans, which offer far superior terms than private student or parent loan options. Even students without financial need can borrow these loans. To maximize opportunities for assistance, complete the FAFSA early (it becomes available each year on October 1). When you apply for a Canada Student Loan, you are automatically assessed for eligibility for Canada Student Loans and Canada Student Grants, which are based on financial need.

4. Don’t Over-borrow: I often see students borrow more money than they need to meet their expenses, usually because they want to make sure they have enough. Careful planning and budgeting can reduce over-borrowing. If you still borrow more than you need, ask the Financial Aid Office to return what you don’t need rather than receiving a “refund.”

5. Be Frugal: Try to buy used textbooks or rent them when possible. Is a new laptop a necessity, or will your college’s computer labs suffice? If you do plan to purchase a laptop, check with your college’s IT department about free software—some schools provide their students with a license for Microsoft Office or other software at reduced or no

6. Keep Your Eye on the Target: Nothing increases the cost of college like adding another semester or year of school. In addition to the added cost, it delays your future earning potential. Don’t compromise your grades by letting too much work or play get in the way.

7. Accelerate Loan Repayment: If you can, try to start repaying your loans while you’re in school. Even small regular payments can really add up. When you graduate, try to pay more than your minimum required payment. By paying ahead of schedule, you will significantly reduce your interest payments over the life of your loan.

8. UPromise: in the US, UPromise by Sallie Mae allows you to earn cash back on shopping, dining, travel and more, which can contribute to a college savings plan or pay down eligible student loans. While you could do this with any cash-back rewards card, UPromise easily allows family or friends to earn rewards on your behalf as well.

[i] Mangukiya, Piyush. “[Infographic] Is College Worth the Cost?” The Huffington Post., n.d. Web. 06 Dec. 2016.

About the Author

Ryan Zantingh is Director of Financial Aid and Enrollment Operations at Trinity Christian College of Palos Heights, Illinois.


Image credits: Trinity Christian College,

Frugal Fall: Why be Frugal?

“Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have.” – Philippians 4:11 (NRSV)

All this month COMPASS blog post writers have shared thoughts about being frugal, but we never necessarily pondered why to be frugal. I think that’s a fair question.

community of friends

Being frugal for my wife Allison and I allows us to be able to share time and resources together with friends, in community together, like gathered here for a potluck.

On the practical side, being frugal gives you more opportunities to save and more flexibility with all your resources, which I wrote about earlier in October. That can be especially important in this holiday season time of year, when expenses can be higher. (In the coming weeks we’ll share some ideas about how to be frugal around Thanksgiving and Christmas.)

Today though, I want to think more about the biblical and faith reasons for being frugal. For me, it’s really about being content.

Sometimes being frugal is a necessity because of life circumstances: a lack of income or unexpected expenses. But being frugal can also come from a desire to be generous. My wife and I try to be frugal by living on a budget and using coupons when shopping. We do this not to be stingy, but to be able to give more to our faith community and concerns and needs in the world that we are passionate about. We do this also to have resources and income to provide gifts to family and friends, and to host and welcome people into our home for an occasional meal or experience. Granted, our current income limits these possibilities, but we still like to do this.

An example of being sports fans, gathered with our friends to root on the Seahawks in the Super Bowl (Feb. 2014) against the Broncos.

An example of being sports fans, gathered with our friends to root on the Seahawks in the Super Bowl (Feb. 2014) against the Broncos.

Allison and I are sports fans, and have found that we can create some times to gather with friends (new and old) while watching our favorite football team, the Seahawks, or even a good baseball game, as we are now in the midst of the World Series. During these sporting events, potlucks are our best friend. Instead of going out to a restaurant to watch the game, we invite people over and each shares a little for the food and beverages. The game is fun, but what really is great is that we are having a good time with community, while being frugal.

We do this because we like to be with others and because it’s something we can do within our means to be generous, to share, and be content.

With Thanksgiving and Christmas coming soon, how can you be frugal while still being generous, and living abundantly? Or, if you’re feeling called to be frugal, what’s your next step to do so? What’s a step you can take this week live more abundantly?

The answers to these questions will be unique for each individual person. For me, abundant life—a life I believe is a gift and really life (1 Timothy 6:19, NRSV)—is a life full of meaning and purpose in work and vocation, and a life in relationship with loved ones and neighbors. This is a life of community, and at least for Allison and me, by being frugal in some ways, I think we’re able to make our resources stretch a bit more to create community with others.

What does being frugal mean or look like in your life?

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Frugal Fall: Halloween decorations

During October, the COMPASS blog is sharing thoughts, tips, and reflections about having a Frugal Fall. Today, we are happy to welcome Chelsea DeBall and welcome back to the blog, her husband Matt DeBall. Together Chelsea and Matt share some about what their family does to have fun decorating for Halloween while staying frugal.

pumpkinsDecorating for the holidays can be a cumbersome task that can also be accompanied by a hefty price tag. But just because you don’t have big bucks to spend on decorations doesn’t mean your house needs to go through these festive seasons looking sparse! We’ve found a few easy & affordable decorating ideas for Halloween and would love to share them with you. But first…

Why decorate for Halloween?

If you’re a person of faith, decorating for Halloween might seem like a waste of time and money. Why would any Christ-follower want to decorate their home for what some people call “the devil’s holiday”?

In John chapter 3, we find Jesus and Nicodemus talking about how someone may receive eternal life. Though the conversation is important and we find the iconic and well-known image of God’s love in John 3:16, the circumstance in which Nicodemus approached Jesus for this conversation was “at night” (John 3:2). Whether this conversation was actually at night or if the gospel writer was explaining the spiritual condition in which Nicodemus was in as he approached Jesus, either is fitting. As Jesus revealed God’s love in word and deed to Nicodemus, he did so by being available and having a spirit of hospitality.

So why decorate for Halloween? Because it is a way to show love to our neighbors and reach out into the community. Because having carved pumpkins on our porch and passing out candy to neighbor-kids is a way to make ourselves available. And most important, because in doing so, we follow in the hospitable footsteps of Jesus.

A few frugal tricks to treat your home to a Halloween make-over:

Pumpkins at the right price – Want fun & unique pumpkins but don’t want to pay the nursery prices? Check a local farmer’s market. At least one stand should sell pumpkins, gourds, or festive mums at a reasonable cost. Plus, what better way to show love to local farmers than buying fall produce? Don’t forget to grab some apple cider donuts as you leave!

Do-it-yourself ghosts – Have some old white sheets? Make friendly ghosts for your front yard! Simply cut the sheet in half (giving you fabric for 2 ghosts), then drape the sheet over a styrofoam sphere from the floral section of a craft store. Tie the sheet to form the “head” of the ghost, and then practice your art skills by drawing a face on the new ghoul. Hang the ghosts with fishing line or twine from gutters, shutters, or trees to quickly and easily spook-ify your lawn.

skeleton flamingos-squareFestive skeleton flamingos –Remember those plastic pink flamingos you were embarrassed to have as decorations? Well it’s time to go diving through the garage because there is a fun way to decorate these for Halloween. Grab black spray paint and white acrylic paint at your local craft store. Spray paint your flamingos with the black paint and cover all remnants of its pink past. Once it has dried, use a picture from the web (search for “skeleton pink flamingo”) as a guide and begin painting your skeletal flamingos. Once the white paint has dried, it’s time for them to haunt your garden!

Low-priced Halloween decorations – Want to decorate for Halloween but time or patience to craft eludes you? Make coupons your friend or find cheap decorations at grocery stores. Many craft stores like Hobby Lobby or Michaels have great sales on seasonal decorations. Have a little money left in your budget? Consider buying discounted decorations after the season has passed as stores significantly cut prices on “last season’s” décor.

As you prepare your home with do-it-yourself decorations for Halloween and your heart to be available for neighbors, be ready to save money and see God work in mysterious ways.

What do-it-yourself decorations will you try this Halloween? Is your church doing anything special for the community to celebrate this spooky holiday?

C&MDeBall-9-15About the Authors: Chelsea and Matt DeBall live with their Welsh Corgi (Watson) in northern Illinois. Chelsea works as an assistant for a Special Recreation Association, and enjoys writing, baking, and home-decorating. Matt serves as a coordinator of Donor Communications for the Church of the Brethren, is pursuing a Master’s of Divinity from Northern Seminary, and enjoys running, reading, and napping. Together, they love the fall and spending time with family.

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Frugal Fall

The leaves are turning colors and are beginning to fall. The days are getting shorter, and the temperatures are gradually falling. School classes are all back in full swing. The baseball season will end soon, after the World Series. Of course, we’re a month into the football season already too.

Pumpkin Patch

Pumpkin Patch

As we leave the warmth of summer behind and inch toward the chill and frost of winter, the COMPASS blog is giving space this October to questions of how to enjoy this season frugally and faithfully.

What do you love most about the fall? What things do you do to have fun, on a budget particularly at this time of year?

My wife Allison and I love this time of year. It can be fun to enjoy a crisp autumn afternoon out at the pumpkin patch, looking for the perfect pumpkin for a jack-o-lantern or to make the first pumpkin pie of the season. It can also be a lot of fun to go and pick some apples out in the apple orchards. These outings have proved to be fun dates for my wife and I the past couple of years. They are very affordable, and usually the only cost is to get to the patch or orchard, and the cost of the pumpkin or apples. We have also found that they are quite popular activities among many Millennials. Why not invite some friends and make it a fun day with them enjoying the outdoors?

If you live in a house and not an apartment, turn a chore into some frugal fun. You’ll probably be spending some time in your yard anyway raking the leaves before the start of winter. In the midst of this chore, take some time and remember your youth by jumping and playing in the piles of leaves. Just be sure and take a shower afterwards so you don’t have some little creepy crawlies stow away in your hair.

Autumn leaves

Autumn leaves

You can use leaves to make fall decorations for your home or apartment. They are really useful for Thanksgiving themed scenes around cornucopias, or other fall themed décor like a wreath for your front door. This can take a little time, but it’s a fun and very affordable project for this time of year.

By being frugal in the fall, you may be able to create some extra savings for other things. For example, by cutting back spending in the fall, you might be able to save more for Christmas gifts or, put some extra money away in your savings account, or pay more on your student loan payment.

As the days do get shorter though, the fall is also a good time to give thanks as we celebrate Thanksgiving in Canada in October and in November in the United States. Give thanks for this time of year, and take a little time to see the blessings around you and share them with others. In place of perhaps a more routine meal prayer, take time before meals to share something you are thankful or grateful for each day as you pray. That sense of gratitude will make your days this time of year even richer. I for one am grateful and thankful for continued meaningful work, new opportunities, and the love and support of my wife, Allison, and God’s gift of these beautiful days of fall. What are you thankful for?

Now it’s your turn. What do you enjoy about the fall? How do you live frugally this time of year? What stories, tips, and examples can you share with others about how to live frugally and faithfully during the fall?

Image Credits: Pumpkin patch and Autumn leaves.

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Tips for Travel, Vacations, or Staycations on a Budget

During June, COMPASS is sharing ideas, experiences and stories for how to have summer fun on a budget. Today we welcome back Nicole Brennan, a marketing assistant with Barnabas Foundation who shares some budget-friendly tips for summer travel, in the first of a two part blog-post series.

School is out, long weekends abound, and the beautiful weather outside your window is beckoning… All signs point to vacation!

Everyone needs a little “TLC” or “R’n’R” (pick your acronym!) during these warm, lazy summer days, but sticking to a budget is still necessary. I enjoy being frugal and thrifty, and carry these values out to my travel plans, be it a vacation or staycation.

Enjoying a ride with my friend Catherine in a gondolla while visiting and experiencing Venice, Italy

Enjoying a ride with my friend Catherine in a gondolla while visiting and experiencing Venice, Italy.

First step’s first- Create a budget! Know who is going, where you will go, what you will do, and the approximate cost. (Of course not knowing where you go is always an exhilarating adventure!) Research and estimate the cost for transportation, meals, activities, souvenirs, and create a budget including a “miscellaneous” category. Stay within your means by finding discounts, planning free or low cost activities, and taking advantage of friends and family. (Why pay a hotel/hostel/campground when you can stay in a guest bedroom/living room/backyard for free?) I also keep my receipts and journal my expenses during the trip. This way, I know where my money is going and am more budget-conscious in the midst of the vacation.

Don’t be caught unaware… Be prepared! Preparation is crucial to budgeting. There’s an old adage in event planning that can be applied to a multitude of situations: “An event can be cheap, fast, or good, but you can only have two.” Since I want my vacation to be cheap and good, I can’t have fast, too. That’s where planning comes in. Spreadsheets are my best friend, and I highly suggest you become acquainted with them. Write out (or include hyperlinks) to various information you might need: sleeping schedules, packing lists, day plans, directions and maps, meal information, and your vacation budget. (On my recent trip to Italy, I had seven different spreadsheets and a “vacation folder” I traveled with containing printed versions.) I suggest planning to happen at least a month before the trip. A benefit to prior preparation- it builds the anticipation!

“Let’s make a deal” should be your catchphrase. If you are traveling, be sure to check airfare and transportation deal sites. Expedia, and Airfare Watchdog are great sites for airplane tickets, but Hotwire, TravelZoo, Orbitz, and Travelocity provide deals on airfare, cruises, hotels, activities, etc. Try to check them all for deals and steals. Finding a great bargain can be daunting, but I get excitement from it. If that’s not you, pick your favorite “deal” site (or two) and go with those. If you only check one site, be sure to check because it compares various websites and has a “Confidence meter” that tells you when to buy your tickets. BONUS: Purchase airfare at least a month to two weeks in advance, and on a Tuesday afternoon when flight prices are their lowest.

On the famous Rialto Bridge in Venice, Italy

On the famous Rialto Bridge in Venice, Italy

Check with the vendor. A frequent tip I share is to check Groupon for deals, and before you make the purchase, call the vendor. Most of the time, they will honor the Groupon price without you having to purchase the Groupon. (Groupon makes their profit by taking a percentage of the purchase price from the seller.) By bypassing Groupon, you are still getting a deal, but you are putting your money in the hands of the local business. The same goes for airfare and transportation. Some budget airlines (Southwest, Spirit, Frontier, etc.) don’t list their flights on other deal sites, so you’ll have to check their websites individually.

Read the policy statements and customer reviews! I get so excited when I find an amazing deal that I sometimes buy it before checking the details. (There is always a reason why that good is on sale… find it out.) Budget airlines might charge you exorbitant fees for baggage. Hotel deals may not be available for weekends. There may be too many people in your party (or not enough) to qualify for the activity deal. Know the limits of the bargain and try to work within them.

In the next blog post, I’ll share some more helpful hints and budget friendly tips!

profileAbout the Author, Nicole Brennan: Hello there! I’m passionate about living a stewardly lifestyle, while being adventurous and frugal. I currently live in community with six other 20-somethings in downtown Chicago and work as a Marketing Assistant at Barnabas Foundation, a partner of ESC and COMPASS. In my off hours, you can find me volunteering at a nearby homeless shelter, enjoy live music with friends, or watching reruns ofParks and Rec. Email me at or tweet me at @BarnabasFdn.

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.