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I’ll be honest. When the idea for this article struck me late last night, I had a definitive idea of how I was going to address the topic of conservation mode. But the clarity of day may have changed what I think about the idea.

Throughout my life, I’ve been working with scarce resources. Now, not as scarce as most people living on this planet, but scarce in my environment. After college, time and money eluded me, as I was busy working for an organization that was unable to provide the compensation that would cover my living expenses, which were already low. Working with limited financial resources, I made some living choices out of necessity, like living in an apartment with a group of friends, crashing my newlywed friends’ guest room, and even moving in with my father in his significant others’ house. Talk about an imposition; he had only just moved in there himself.

When you have a new, full tube of toothpaste, if you’re anything like me, you’re more inclined to line the whole length of the toothbrush bristles with the paste when you brush your teeth. When you get to the end of the tube and start rolling up the end, you know a shopping excursion is on the horizon, and you know it’s almost time to spend another $4.00. The price isn’t even relevant, it’s just the fact that you’re running low of a resource. You may start lining only half the length of bristles with the toothpaste; after all, the dentist says you don’t actually need to use more than that.

The same behavior seems to be true regardless of the resource. In the bathroom alone, you use less toilet paper when your last roll is getting thin and less shampoo when the bottle is getting light. You easily adapt and made do with less — and less is all right in these cases. You’re not sacrificing quality of life by conserving toiletries.

But living in this scarcity mode does wear thin a little. You get tired of being low on resources, so you go to the store, replenish your supply, and start the cycle over again while flush and feeling rich.

I’ve found myself doing the same with the money in my checking account. I try to keep $2,000 to $3,000 in my checking account after my credit card payment is made. (I pay for almost all my daily expenses with a rewards credit card and pay off the balance each month.) Because my only consistent income is writing for this website, and because the company that owns it has been reducing the budget, my regular work income has been lower than usual. Therefore, it’s been increasingly difficult to meet my expenses while maintaining a buffer, as I’ve avoided dipping into my investments for income.

So I’ve been living life more frugally than one might expect of someone who sold a profitable business for a good amount of money. When I first started paying attention to my finances and learning about long-term investing, I figured I would need $2 million to retire comfortably and would have to work forty years or more to get there. When a financial planner asked me about my retirement goals recently, I couldn’t even come up with a good answer. On the one hand, I’m already retired — I have a higher level of assets than I ever expected and have no real pressure to work (except the pressure I put on myself) and I am free to spend my days however I want. But on the other hand, I don’t want to live off my assets just yet. I still have more to do, more to accomplish. I’m not done.

Also recently, in a different discussion, an investment manager asked me how much money I needed every month to fund my lifestyle. To be honest, I don’t know. I’ve committed myself as a volunteer to an organization, and my new responsibilities prevent me from living full-time elsewhere or even taking a good amount of time to travel. I still live in the same apartment I’ve had for the last eight years, the apartment I moved into when I finally conceded that my website was a business that was earning real money I could use for expenses. There may be a few indulgences here and there, like a regular massage and home grocery delivery (who really likes walking around a supermarket?) but this seems to be the extent of my extravagance.

So the threat of not being able to pay my monthly bills is something I put on myself. Maybe it’s because this is how I lived for so long, maybe the pressure keeps me aware of my situation. I could sell investments and keep a healthy amount of money between checking and savings, but that would mean watching my investment account decrease. And I’ve grown accustomed to it increasing for the last decade. Nevertheless, that’s likely going to be the plan this coming year.

I’ve believed that forcing myself to live more frugally than necessary is a good thing. Science may disagree with me. I’ve always understood that dealing with urgent problems prevents people from making solid decisions about the future. (See Why Some People Can’t Save: A Matter of Urgency.) However, there must be some benefits to living close to the edge. You’re on your toes, you’re not getting comfortable and lazy, and you keep your eyes open with hyperawareness.

When you have enough resources, your mind isn’t consumed with survival strategies. You are free to cogitate on a higher level.

Poor farmers in India actually perform better on cognitive tests at the end of the harvest season, when they are flush, than at the beginning, when they are running low on money. The effect? The equivalent of a 13-point drop in IQ. (Psychology Today)

We then completed a battery of studies where we saw that manipulating scarcity has an enormous impact on people’s cognitive capacity. First… we went to a mall in New Jersey where we asked people to complete tests measuring cognitive control and fluid intelligence, a component of IQ. We had them do these things while they were contemplating a financial scenario — something that’s manageable, requiring $150 to fix a car that broke down, or more demanding, requiring $1,500 in car-related expenses. We divided the participants by household income and found that the rich people in the mall did equally well on the cognitive tests, whether they were thinking of the challenging or the less challenging scenario related to the car. The poorer people in the mall were equally capable cognitively and did just as well on fluid intelligence as the rich when they were thinking about the manageable scenario. But once they contemplated the more challenging scenario, their scores went way down. Simply being preoccupied with this demanding financial challenge makes them perform worse. (American Psychological Association)

A person who manipulates his money to trick himself into a situation where resources is scarce is still someone who knows his problems aren’t serious. If resources are scarce out of necessity, decision-making skills are impaired. If resources are scarce but within control, as they would be for someone who has the resources but chooses not to deploy them, cognitive reasoning may be normal, but I would have to imagine that not using money that is available might raise a question on whether that in itself is a good decision.

What’s really bugging me, though, is the potential for a market correction. In the past, this wouldn’t have bothered me, because I was in an asset accumulation phase. I could take advantage of market lows and invest for the long-term. Now, I will be able to use a market correction as an opportunity to rebalance my portfolio, but it’s not the same as putting “new money” — income from working — into the market for the best long-term advantage.

It’s a waiting game. In a few months, I’ll have some more freedom to start new businesses, but I have to manage my expectations. I probably won’t have another business as lucrative as this website was for me. But I have ideas and I’m excited about putting them into action.

Do you force yourself into scarcity mode, or do you allow yourself more freedom? Which do you see as a better approach to long-term wealth building?

Photo: Flickr

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We expect much from people we see on television. And it’s worse when we perceive someone to be smart and talented, even if they’re speaking beyond their area of expertise.

We think someone who is a great community leader or someone who is a great business leader will make a great President of the United States. We see the similarities in roles and responsibilities and believe that intelligence and talent in one area leads to success in another. The same bias happens in ourselves. Why else would Donald Trump, a successful business person who doesn’t appear to have interpersonal communication skills based on his public statements and television appearances (I don’t know him personally) believe that he could be a successful politician?

And success that takes the form of money often empowers one’s belief that their ideas on any topic are worthy of attention. It’s easy to fall into this trap, because there are many people who idolize financial success and seek out these people for leadership. It’s a self-feeding cycle. The more we seek out “advice” from people who have lots of money, the more individuals feel they have something important to say, the more they put themselves out there, and the media are happy to oblige.

So when Mark Cuban, a billionaire who built and sold a major online property, diversified his wealth, owners a basketball team, participates in a popular prime-time television program, and can easily afford a four-year education at any of this country’s top universities, feels like speaking about a topic, the news media is right there to give him an even more prominent place from which to address the country than his own blog. One topic on which Cuban spoke recently is the practice of allowing taxpayers in the United States to subsidize the higher education of its citizens — student loans.

Student loans represent an important piece of a system that allows expanded access to education. Having a highly educated citizen base allows the United States to stay competitive. There are a number of initiatives in place to improve education in this country, and the media loves the soundbites that compare citizens of the United States with the progress of other countries in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The general impression is that the United States is failing to keep up with the progress of other countries, and that has inspired governmental action in all levels. It may not be successful, but at least it brings the issue of education to the fore, inspiring spirited discussions about how we can ensure we are providing the best education to as many of our citizens as possible.

But at the same time, an anti-education movement looks critically at the state of the university system, and identifies some problems. While access to education is a key factor in eliminating poverty and allowing breakthroughs into the middle class, those who start off in the middle class may not be getting all that they once were able to receive from a four-year college education. It certainly feels that way when so many college graduates are still out of work in this recovering economy. (Keep in mind today’s college graduates are still much better off economically than those who did not graduate college.) Another criticism points to the outliers who are able to build significant companies and effect the economy in powerful ways without completing a college education, but those are clearly not the norm.

Combine a tough job economy with growing student loans and you have a hot button issue that is perfect for attention from someone like Mark Cuban, who because of his success in business believes he might have some insight on public education and economic policy. His approach to higher education is to boil all the complicated variables into one concept: easy money.

As the government made it easier for all citizens to attend a college by backing student loans — loans that can’t be eliminated through bankruptcy like most other loans — it gave colleges guaranteed income. Because the money was coming in so freely, colleges could raise tuition without the increase affecting enrollment numbers. They could increase salaries for administrators (while adjunct faculty salaries remain an affront to education) without any damage to the budget.

Students take student loans so easily, but then have such a difficult time dealing with them once they need to start repayment. I went to school with student loans, and despite the initial orientation and exit interviews, my low salary in the nonprofit sector didn’t give me much of an opportunity to both pay off student loans and save for the future. I did neither, at least not well, for many years. And I had the benefit of at least being employed.

Cuban argues, perhaps correctly, that if students did not have such a financial burden upon graduation, they might be using their income to contribute to the economy (which probably means buying tickets to Maverick games or buying houses). If we could cap student loans to $10,000, the burden would be less, and with less free-flowing money, colleges would have to lower tuition to maintain enrollment.

None of this will work. It’s a very short-sighted approach. College graduates earn so much more than those without a degree, even in a difficult job economy. The best thing for the economy in the long term is to make sure as many people as possible, those who have the capacity to develop lucrative skills, get those college degrees. Reducing access to college will send this country’s competitive stance and overall level of production down, inside and outside of the United States.

Furthermore, in today’s economy, having students graduate with less debt is no guarantee they’ll still be generating income to spend boosting the economy. Low-income or no-income graduates can take advantage of deferment or income-based repayment plans. These program lower the immediate financial burden, so if there was to be any boost by limiting student loans to $10,000, we would already be seeing that today. The bigger problem is that graduates are still unemployed or underemployed (though less so than non-graduates).

Colleges are not going to lower tuition just because the government might not be backing as much in loans. If government loans were limited to $10,000, the most likely scenario is that private lenders take up the slack. And even if they didn’t, the best that could happen is that the rate of tuition increases slows down. That’s a good thing, but not nearly a strong enough reaction that would allow the same access to education, all other things being equal.

Germany took the opposite approach recently, announcing that all public colleges universities would eliminate tuition entirely for all domestic and international students. Almost 95 percent of colleges in Germany are public colleges and universities. In the 2000s, German states wrestled with the German federal government to win back control of education, and in doing so, the federal government needed something to do with the money it had been setting aside for education priorities while the German states began funding loans and grants to students.

Because of higher education’s positive effect on the economy, and because a higher-educated populace is culturally and socially important, universal access is a worthwhile goal, and that is why there is a tax system in the United States. There are certain things that are good for the country — and the world — as a whole. There’s no denying there needs to be improvement. Institutes of higher education are businesses, though, despite their charters. They need to operate on a budget. They need to generate profits to pay employees.

There should be institutional reform to make sure these businesses are running efficiently, and those reforms could open the opportunity for using available funds in ways that directly help students and increase the value of a college degree. Limiting government-backed student loans to $10,000 is the wrong approach.

Am I wrong? Is Mark Cuban right? Do you believe colleges (which are still businesses) will lower tuition if student loans were to be capped at $10,000?

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I’ve written extensively about taking control of one’s own finances. My life changed for me when I realized I had more control over my personal situation than I previously believed. Every human has the power to make every decision based on a future benefit.

One can choose to use a pay raise to pay off an overdue credit card or to justify the unnecessary purchase of a new car. One can choose to go to work early every day and otherwise impress the executives to earn a raise, or to do nothing beyond the scope of a job description and stagnate in one position in a career for a decade or more. One can choose to work hard in school and excel to prepare for a fruitful career, or to enroll in easy classes, not take education seriously, and not develop the critical thinking skills necessary to be successful later in life.

It sounds easy: just think about what you want for yourself in the future, and make day-to-day choices that bring you closer to that goal.

Unfortunately, it’s more complicated than that. The ability to make good decisions is itself complicated, but the entire philosophy rests on the idea that all people are starting from the same position and have the same opportunities.

Decision-making is complicated because humans are not logical. Some people may strive to make good decisions by keeping emotions as far away from the decision-making process as possible, but the truth is that’s impossible. Every decision we make, as human beings, is an emotional decision. Decisions are also not always binary options. In reality, dealing with a raise is not a choice between one very good option (paying off an overdue credit card) and one very bad option (justifying the unnecessary purchase of a new car).

Further complicating the decision-making process is that lives are full of issues with different levels of priority. When you are faced with urgent matters — everything that needs to be handled immediately — you aren’t able to focus on more important matters, or decisions whose effects may not be felt for years. You can’t save for retirement if your cash flow only covers the bare necessities of your shelter and sustenance. (And “getting a better job” or “downsizing your living space,” even if possible otherwise, still requires an upfront investment of time and money you do not have.)

But hard work is supposed to be the solution that overcomes all obstacles. Malcolm Gladwell synthesized a few research studies when he wrote about the “10,000 hour rule.” Following the 10,000 hour rule, anyone can become an expert with through deliberate practice with the intent of improving, as long as he or she puts the time in. More research disagrees with this premise.

A recent article in Slate addresses the research that disproves Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule.

Deliberate practice left more of the variation in skill unexplained than it explained. For example, deliberate practice explained 26 percent of the variation for games such as chess, 21 percent for music, and 18 percent for sports. So, deliberate practice did not explain all, nearly all, or even most of the performance variation in these fields. In concrete terms, what this evidence means is that racking up a lot of deliberate practice is no guarantee that you’ll become an expert. Other factors matter.

It turns out that genetics plays a role, too, on an individual basis. That may be true for some skills, like musical or athletic ability. It may be just an anecdote, but I can see how the genetic proclivity for musical talent has been transferred from generation to generation in my own family, going back at least four generations on my mother’s side.

While musical ability and aptitude for expertise may develop in part due to genetics, it remains to be proved whether the same factor is as strong for success in business. It’s clear that some business allow executive roles to stay within the family from one generation to the next, but that’s not genetics, just family favoritism.

Outside of genetics and deliberate practice, starting a skill early in age is another important factor in success.

In their study, Gobet and Campitelli found that chess players who started playing early reached higher levels of skill as adults than players who started later, even after taking into account the fact that the early starters had accumulated more deliberate practice than the later starters. There may be a critical window during childhood for acquiring certain complex skills, just as there seems to be for language.

Success with complex cognitive tasks like playing chess or learning may not be associated directly with success in running a business, achieving financial independence, or making the social connections necessary for becoming an executive at a corporation, but the idea that a child who focuses on skill during certain stages of development is better prepared to excel with that skill throughout life.

While some of the reasons involve chemical changes in the brain, being involved with activities during childhood could also help someone develop a passion for those activities. And that passion could keep a developing adult interested in excelling by become a desire to excel.

As the article in Slate points out, not all of us are starting from the same position. There is no “blank slate.” The idea that anyone could become Wolfgang Mozart or Pablo Picasso or Steve Jobs if she just puts in the required 10,000 hours of practice is wrong.

With this knowledge, should we change our approach to life? If you tend to listen to self-improvement gurus, the answer is probably yes. It’s too late to do anything about our genetics; we can’t choose the genes we inherit. We can’t go back in time and start developing skills as children. But we can make choices based on realities that science has proven.

1. Don’t expect to be a professional athlete, the next President of the United States, or the next generation’s Bill Gates or Warren Buffett.

If you haven’t shown an amazing aptitude in sports by age fourteen, getting to the major leagues in any sport probably isn’t going to happen. There are some exceptions. Golf comes to mind as one sport where someone can learn to excel later in life.

It’s great to encourage children by saying they can be whatever they want to be when they grow up, even parents who say this know the chances of giving birth to the next president is unlikely. But where this is much more obvious for adults is where people believe that they can overcome nature by practicing hard for many years.

2. Look for the intrinsic value in the work you do rather than validation by outward success.

I may never be a best-selling author, particularly if I never publish a book. But even if I’m not, does it mean that all the writing I’ve done over more than the past decade was a waste of time? Absolutely not. I’ve affected a lot of people’s lives for the better. And more personally, I’ve mostly enjoyed the time I’ve spent writing. That’s important as well.

It would probably be too much to say that I would have done everything the same had I not been able to turn writing into a business.

3. Use the time you have wisely.

Along those same lines, if I was in search of business success, I would want to cut losses as early as possible in order to prevent myself from going down a path that probably won’t result in that success. I wasn’t trying to form a business when I created this site, but I was working on many different projects at the time.

When it became clear that developing Consumerism Commentary would be more fruitful as a community — people were interested in what I was writing about and people were starting to follow as I progressed along my financial journey — I put other projects on hold to focus my time and energy where it was doing the most good.

If you do want to spend 10,000 hours perfecting some skill, make it something that you enjoy doing, something with which you have already proven your excellence, or something with which you may be genetically predisposed to succeed. That way, you’re at least more likely to activate all factors in success, but even if you don’t, at least you spent those 10,000 hours doing something you enjoy.

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Since 2008, Sallie Mae has been producing a report about paying for college on an annual basis. Each year, the report surveys Americans across the country to determine their attitudes and actions surrounding funding for college tuition and expenses. This year’s report is extensive. It contains everything from a categorization of personas based on attitudes towards higher education to a breakdown of expenses paid. Like other good surveys, Sallie Mae’s report identifies stark differences between consumers’ attitudes about money and behavior with money.

Buried within the 58-page PDF summary of the report is something very actionable for today’s American consumer. Researchers asked the participants of the survey what actions their families had taken to make college more affordable. Other interesting data in the report include how families assign responsibility for paying for college in theory, and how those families actually divide the payment responsibility in actuality.

Graduation

This is all very interesting, and the report is a great read for someone who has the time. But by focusing on the specific ways families have made college more affordable in the last year, I can share tips for people wrestling with the cost of college today, and these tie into the recent Naked With Cash topic of the month.

Many families adopted more than one of these strategies, so don’t limit yourself to just one. Also, not every strategy is right for every family or every student.

1. Choose an in-state school for lower tuition fees.

Percentage of Americans using this strategy for the 2013-14 school year: 69%. Colleges typically offer reduced tuition rates for in-state residents. One reason public colleges and univertsities (state schools) offer reduced tuition for in-state residents is that household property taxes already paid often go to support these institutions. Colleges with state government funding have a charter that requires the school to offer many public services in return for that taxpayer support, and reduced tuition rates for in-state residents is generally one of those benefits.

It’s a long time ago now, but I’m surprised my parents didn’t require me to find a college to attend in my home state. I suppose they didn’t want me to feel any limitations; but they and I would have saved a lot of money had I attended a public university in New Jersey.

2. Cut back on the student’s entertainment spending.

Percentage of Americans using this strategy for the 2013-14 school year: 66%, up from 60%. The classic frugal approach to saving money requires reducing expenses in one area to pay for something else, either savings or a different expense. In this case, saving money by reducing entertainment expenses can help handle the expenses of attending college. Fewer nights out at the movies, fewer bad restaurant meals, fewer rock concerts — all of these reductions can add up and help make more funds available for tuition.

Dollar for dollar, earning more money can be more effective than saving money from one expense category to better handle another. The student can get a job. But reducing expenses is still a popular strategy and can be employed to afford college.

3. Choose a school closer to home.

Percentage of Americans using this strategy for the 2013-14 school year: 61%, up from 59%. The difficulty with attending a distant school is the cost of traveling between home and college. Attending a school with significant distance from home helps a young adult handle more life responsibility without falling back on parental assistance, but that comes at a price. One benefit of attending a school close to home is the reduced cost of transportation, though that benefit could be negated by more frequent trips to and from school.

With parents close-by, they are able to assist in other life matters, with a potential result of reducing living expenses for the student while at college.

4. Live at home.

Percentage of Americans using this strategy for the 2013-14 school year: 54%, down from 57%. Perhaps as a sign of an economic recovery, fewer families reported students living at home rather than on campus. Living at home can be one of the biggest money-saving tactics for some students. While dorm living has the potential of forcing a frugal existence, it doesn’t always work out that way. Most of the time, staying at home not only reduces expenses through shared household costs, but living with parents reduces the student temptation to spend money at campus and off-campus social events.

Now, I think living on campus adds to the academic experience, and being part of a social group on campus has an importance for personal growth and, in some cases, a potential for lifelong interpersonal networking, but when the goal is to save money, sometimes it’s a smart decision to make those sacrifices.

5. Parents reduce spending.

Percentage of Americans using this strategy for the 2013-14 school year: 45%, down from 48%. It’s not just the student who can reduce spending to better pay for college. Parents can reduce spending as well.

6. Students work more.

Percentage of Americans using this strategy for the 2013-14 school year: 48%, up from 47%. As mentioned above, given the choice to earn more or spend less, earning more can be much more fruitful. You can only reduce expenses down to the basic necessities, but the potential for earning income is unlimited. I realize this is a very optimistic view, ignoring some of the realities of life. And one of those realities is that many families rightly feel that when a young adult is in college, their primary job should be their education. Work distracts from a student’s ability to gain as much as possible out of the experience of attending a university.

But again, it’s a matter of priorities. If finances are a concern, and they should be more often than they are, students taking on more work for more income can offset the cost of attending the school. The best jobs find a balance between maintaining one’s focus on education and producing income. My job at the university’s music library as an undergraduate wasn’t very lucrative, though it did help pay for tuition, but being a web consultant for professors was a little more rewarding.

7. Tax credits/deductables.

Percentage of Americans using this strategy for the 2013-14 school year: 42%, up from 41%. If you qualify for tax deductions or credits for paying college tuition (or later, student loan interest), you must take advantage of these! The American Opportunity Tax Credit was a reorganization of tax credits for education that have existed previously, like the Hope Credit. The Lifetime Learning Credit is included in the same tax form as the American Opportunity Tax Credit, and that credit assists adult scholars looking to further their education.

8. Add a roommate.

Percentage of Americans using this strategy for the 2013-14 school year: 41%, up from 35%. When living out of his family’s home, whether on campus or off campus, having a roommate greatly reduces the cost of living. In terms of rental costs, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a situation where the cost of a two-bedroom apartment was more than twice the price of the associated one-bedroom apartment. So having a roommate saves money on rent. And then you have shared utilities, shared groceries (if you get along well enough), and other shared living expenses.

9. Accelerate.

Percentage of Americans using this strategy for the 2013-14 school year: 28%, up from 27%. My girlfriend in college was proud of her ability to graduate a semester early. I know that finances were a concern for her family, and to this day I feel bad for trying hard to convince her to stay at the university rather than opting to move back home and attend college in her own home state of Pennsylvania. She also paid for a semester of tuition by selling Beanie Babies, which were in a consumer frenzy at the time. Getting through an undergraduate degree in as little time as possible, taking as few credits as possible, will always be a money saver compared to the alternative.

10. Early loan payments.

Percentage of Americans using this strategy for the 2013-14 school year: 23%, up from 22%. If you can pay off the loans before interest is capitalized, you can save lots of money. Once you are being charged interest on your interest, you start dealing with compounding interest. Thankfully, federal student loans have a grace period during which time interest is not capitalized. But you’re not required to send minimum payments to those student loans while they’re deferred. If you do anyway, you can reduce your liability later on.

Private loans are easier to understand — the faster you pay them off, the less you’ll pay, always.

11. Parents work more.

Percentage of Americans using this strategy for the 2013-14 school year: 19%, down from 20%. Often called the ultimate sacrifice, parents taking extra jobs or working overtime for the benefit of their children’s education could be considered by many as going above and beyond the call of parental duty. Maybe that’s why only 19% of American families admit to this tactic. But for some families, particularly those whose kids are in that family’s first generation of potential college students, making that sacrifice so that the students have a better chance of living of financially secure life makes a lot of sense. It requires a long-term view, focusing on survival of the family in the long-term.

12. Change majors.

Percentage of Americans using this strategy for the 2013-14 school year: 19%, steady. How does changing a major result in saving money? Some courses of study can be more expensive. If you’re studying international relations, you may be expected to travel overseas. If you are in a specialized scientific major, you may have exorbitant lab fees that someone studying another science may not need. And there is the perennial view that students should enroll in majors that provide a long-term monetary return, like engineering or finance. That may not save money in the short-term, but a higher starting salary certainly makes repaying college loans easier.

13. Attend school part time.

Percentage of Americans using this strategy for the 2013-14 school year: 17%, up from 15%. It can take longer to earn a degree, but the cost per year can be significantly reduced by taking fewer classes each semester. This opens up the student’s schedule to work a full-time job without sacrificing attention spent on education. It’s much more realistic to get through school completely debt free by taking a part-time approach, but it does come at a cost. Many students who take this approach never finish their undergraduate degree. As they continue at their job, they find themselves receiving more and more responsibility and are more likely to think that college degrees are unnecessary.

14. Transfer to a less expensive school.

Percentage of Americans using this strategy for the 2013-14 school year: 12%, up from 9%. There was a significant increase in American students opting to transfer to a less expensive school. Maybe this is due to a recognition of the importance of financial security and a stronger avoidance of unmanageable debt. It may be more reasonable to manage college expenses my starting a student’s college career in a less expensive school, as one might if they start at a community college for two years and later transfer to a four-year college to complete a degree.

15. Use the military.

Percentage of Americans using this strategy for the 2013-14 school year: 3%, down from 4%. In the early days of the GI Bill, joining the military was a good way to ensure you’d be able to afford college. The latest “Post-9/11″ GI Bill covers the full cost of in-state tuition at public colleges and up to almost $20,000 a year at private schools. The financial benefits don’t end with the tuition assistance. Since the beginning the GI Bill, this has been one of the most effective policies in the history of the United States for bridging low-income families into the middle class. And it’s still there for students willing to put their lives on the line to defend the United States and to be a part of the military establishment.

Every family has a plethora of options for saving money for college, and the best results come from taking the strategies that apply to your particular family in combination. How do you plan to save for college?

Read the full report from Sallie Mae here.

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If All Investments Are Expensive, Where Can You Invest?

by Luke Landes
Dinosaurs

Neil Irwin at the New York Times points out that all asset classes around the world are expensive compared to their historical prices. If that’s the case, is there any investment class available that has the potential to provide great returns over the long-term? Stocks and bonds; emerging markets and advanced economies; urban office towers ... Continue reading this article…

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5 Tips for Paying for Health Care During Early Retirement

by Luke Landes
Nurse and Patient via Flickr

The issue of healthcare is one that keeps people in jobs far longer than they’d like. I’ve seen up close how someone with chronic health issues must deal with these choices, and in certain situations, the choices can be difficult. Medicare coverage doesn’t begin until age 65, so where does that leave someone who stops ... Continue reading this article…

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Growing My Dough: The Latest Look at My Portfolio

by Luke Landes
Grow Your Dough May

CNN is sounding the alarm bells. The “Fear and Greed Index,” which is a strange measure of market sentiment, has passed the threshold into the “extreme greed” level.CNN is sounding the alarm bells. The “Fear and Greed Index,” which is a strange measure of market sentiment, has passed the threshold into the “extreme greed” level. ... Continue reading this article…

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Want to Fail? Ignore Survivorship Bias.

by Luke Landes
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Whether you’re making a decision that has apparent, immediate consequences that could affect the rest of your life, like deciding to quit your job and open a business, or making a purchasing decision big or small, it is worthwhile to gather information and think about the future. When you gather information, you have to be ... Continue reading this article…

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