Homemade “Meat”, “Cheese”, and Bread and how much do they cost

Artwork by The Child

I just finished eating a delicious “meat” and “cheese” sandwich on homemade bread and I thought I should share some amazingly easy recipes together with a comparison of the cost to make them at home verses buying equivalent products. Although the savings are significant, I mostly cook because I enjoy the magic of creating food (who knew you can make “meat” in your kitchen with just a few minutes of labor), and I like having control over the ingredients I use. Buying in bulk and cooking from scratch also reduces waste from packaging.

We are mostly vegan, hence the quotes above, but I am still pretty traditional and like a good “meat” and “cheese” sandwich once in a while. Bread is one of the easiest things to make and it is well worth making it at home to avoid all the preservatives added to store-bought breads. Plus it makes your house smell great.

I don’t remember where I got my bread recipe so I can’t give proper credit, sorry.

Bread

(This recipe is very forgiving. Even though I give exact measurements, I only measure the flour and the water and I am not very careful with those.)

Dry Ingredients
4 cups white flour
(can replace 1 cup with whole
wheat)
2.5 teaspoons yeast
1.5 teaspoons salt
Wet Ingredients
2 Tablespoons oil
1 3/4 cup warm water

In a big bowl mix together the dry ingredients. Then add the wet ingredients. Mix and knead for a couple of minutes. Add more flour if needed. Let the dough sit in the bowl covered with a damp towel for about 2 hours. It will double in size. I make two loaves out of it. After forming the loaves, give them another hour to raise and bake at 350 F until golden brown. Let cool before cutting.

Cost for two loaves using mostly organic ingredients with links to Amazon:

4 cups organic white flour = 18 oz =$1.62
2.5 teaspoons yeast = 0.25 oz = $0.20
2 Tablespoons oil = 1 fl oz = $0.05
Salt, water, and electricity for baking = a few cents
TOTAL: Less than $1.00 per loaf

Comparable bread at the store is about $3.00-$4.00 per loaf. You can have added fun by putting rosemary, oregano, or suflower seeds in the dough. Unfortunately the child does not like anything added to her bread so we make it plain.

Cheese

This recipe is a mild modification of Lessarella cheez by GoDairyFree. The original recipe is probably better but it requires lemons and I often don’t have those around. Prices quoted for mostly organic ingredients with links to Amazon.

2 cups water (free)
2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar (1 fl oz, $0.18)
1/2 cup nutritional yeast (8 Tbsp or $1.50)
1/3 cup quick oats ground to a powder ($0.20)
1/4 cup cornstarch (optional, makes cheese extra solid) ($0.35)
1 Tbsp onion powder ($0.25)
1/4 cup tahini ($0.86)
1 1/2 teaspoon salt

TOTAL cost: $3.34

Put all ingredients in a food processor (or use a submersible blender), blend until smooth (less than a minute) and then cook until thick (about 10 min). While cooking you really must stir THE WHOLE TIME. Freezes well. Great on sandwiches, pizza, quesadillas, and as dipping sauce for vegetables.

This “cheese” doesn’t really have a store bought equivalent but it fulfills all of our family’s cheese-needs for the week which used to take 3-4 packages of Dayia at $4.50 a bag and it is much less processed.

“Meat”

I don’t know why but it took me years to discover how easy it is to make seitan at home. This recipe is a modification of Seitan with Chickpea Flour from One Green Planet. Again, the original recipe is probably better but this has fewer ingredients so it is faster and cheaper.

Dry Ingredients
2 cups vital wheat gluten
1/2 cup chickpea flour
1/2 cup nutritional yeast
1 tablespoon dried basil
1 teaspoon cumin
1 tablespoon onion powder
Wet Ingredients
1 tablespoon ketchup
1/3 cup soy sauce
1 1/2 cups hot water

Mix all dry ingredients in a bowl. Separately, mix all the wet ingredients. Add the wet to the dry, mix, and kneed for 3-4 min. Add extra wheat gluten if needed. Let rest for 15 min covered with a towel. I usually form two “loaves” and I like to make them kind of long and thin (helps with cutting later). Put in a pot mostly covered with water with some soy sauce and boil for 1.5 hours. They will at least double in size so make sure they have enough space to do that. You may have to top off the water occasionally and you might want to flip the loaves half way through but they will be fine if you forget. You can also boil them in vegetable broth but I never do.

Cost for two loaves of seitan using mostly organic ingredients with links to Amazon:

2 cups vital wheat gluten ($1.95)
1/2 cup chickpea flour ($0.72)
1/2 cup nutritional yeast ($1.50)
1 Tbsp dried basil ($0.25)
1 teaspoon cumin ($0.25)
1 Tbsp onion powder ($0.25)
1 Tbsp ketchup ($0.25)
1/3 cup soy sauce ($0.60)

TOTAL: $5.77

You can add seitan slices to any meal or salad. We also eat it just as a snack thinly sliced. Store-bought seitan in about $4.00 for an 8 oz package in my area. I don’t have a scale but I think the recipe above makes at least 2 lb so that is about $16 if you bought it pre-made. Plus, it is really fun to make!

October Spending

It is the middle of November, and I am just now posting our October spending. The election occupied all my discretionary time-to-think, and I just didn’t have the bandwidth to compute our numbers for October. But I am quite happy with the final results, and now I can get back to managing the household budget:0)

October was another month with pretty low spending – $2327. Interesting fact: this corresponds to about $28,000 per year. As we don’t include our property taxes in the monthly summary, adding them back in gives us $34,000 per year, which is really low -156% of the federal poverty line.


There is nothing particularly interesting in our October spending. It turns out that when nothing special comes up during the month, we can pretty easily keep our spending at about that level. However, November and December will be expensive months. We have several things coming up, including some large pet expenses, some fairly large car expenses, and some large donations.
Our food expenses have settled to between $700 and $800 a month for the last few months and, given that almost everything we eat is organic, I think this is pretty good. We are continuing not to buy processed food, so I am doing quite a lot of cooking.

A popular “rule” for proper budgeting is the 50/30/20 rule. According to this rule, you should spend 50% of your income on essential like rent and food, 30% on discretionary spending, and 20% should go to savings. We don’t follow this rule, and I don’t like it. Let’s start with essentials – by the definition of “essential,” there actually shouldn’t be much flexibility here. You need a place to live, but if you choose for your family of three to live in a five bedroom house (we do this, it is just how it worked out, it is not smart), some of that expense is discretionary. You also need food, but if you choose to pay for all organic, that is also discretionary. Thinking of your rent and food expenses as essential prevents you from seeing your actual choices.


Once you figure out your actual “essential” expenses, the rest of your money is all discretionary. You have two choices for the money. You can spend it on stuff, or you can save it and essentially buy time. If you save about 65% of your take-home pay, you can retire in about 10 years starting from zero. So once the essentials are covered, you get to decide how you want to prioritize spending vs. savings to optimize your happiness. I think if we moved to a smaller house, stopped buying organic, went to one car, and didn’t spend money on child activities, we can probably get to under $2000 a month. But that would be a lot of work and a lot of sacrifice. I think we have our discretionary spending vs. savings optimized to just about the right level at the moment, although moving to a smaller house is still on my to-do list for sometime after the pandemic.

No Netflix November

No Snacks September was a fun challenge which led our family to adopt new eating habits. I thought November offered an interesting opportunity to explore life without Netflix. Maybe this will be another change we will decide to permanently embrace…

Netlfix for me is a lot like junk food. I spend a lot of time on Netflix to relax – it is essentially junk screen time. Given that my job requires me to be on the screen for probably 10 hours per day, I really don’t need any additional screen time. There are also many other screen activities that are more productive and more fun like writing this blog.

The average Netflix subscriber spends 1hr and 11 min per day on Netflix but only 35 min bonding with their family. I am afraid my stats are even worse than the average. Maybe No Netflix November will help me be a better wife and mother…

The Child does not approve of No Netflix November. For this reason, she has declined my invitation to provide art for this post. I am glad she has clear opinions and refuses to participate in activities that go against her believes:0)

A new gadget in the funky kitchen that is totally worth it

Artwork by The Child

I like my kitchen pretty empty. A few years ago, we donated most of our kitchen appliances and any extra pots and pans. We haven’t owned a mixer, a blender, or a food processor in awhile. These things occupied too much storage space, and they were too hard to clean, so we didn’t use them much. We also never got an instapot or an air fryer. We have a pot, several pans, a rice maker (when it breaks, I probably won’t replace it), and a toaster oven, and that seems to be all I need to make food. The toaster oven was a gift from my in-laws and is possibly the most used appliance in the house. I do most of my baking in it, and there are sweet potatoes roasting in it as I type. If you don’t have one of those, you probably need it!

The other appliance that I use a lot is a submersible blender. This was also a gift from my in-laws. It does most things a blender can do, but it is much smaller and doesn’t need counter space. I use it to cream soups, make vegan cheese, and even to make pancakes. About 6 months ago, it broke, and for a few months, I refused to replace it. I stopped making some things that required it, and I made my pancakes by hand (a little lumpy, but after baking, they tasted just fine). Finally, last month I decided that it is time to replace it and I found this wonderful gadget to replace it with

KOIOS 800W 4-in-1 Multifunctional Hand Immersion Blender

It turns out this is my dream gadget. The immersion blender works great. You can also use the motor to power a very basic food processor—just one blade, super easy to clean and store. I already made hummus and a salad dressing with it, and I love it. I am not so sure about the egg beater. I probably don’t really need that, but it might work as a mixer in a pinch.


If you already have a high-quality bender and a multifunctional food processor that shreds and grates and has a gazillion attachments, and you already have a mixer, then this gadget will be an inferior duplicate of what you already have. But if you don’t like cluttering your kitchen and you want one thing that will do most of the things you need relatively well, this is a gadget for you! $39.99 and no counter space needed.

Our September spending and No Snacks September report

September spending: Let’s start with the total: $3060. That is about $600 more than last month but we spent $600 on the Child’s Spanish lessons which is a biannual expense. If we ignore that big purchase, we kept our spending the same as August.

The Child is taking Spanish classes with Homeschool Spanish Academy and we love them. All classes are on Zoom and she gets to talk to native Spanish speakers. For $10 per hour, we consider it a great deal. The lessons come in prepaid packages and this package of 60 lessons should last for about 7 months at our current rate of two lessons per week.

Our other significant discretionary expenses were a modem that allows us to control what websites the Child has access to and a chair for Funky Wife who now works from home. These are some expenses related to Covid but they are actually less than our usual expenses for gas and parking that we have during non-Covid times.

I am also happy to report that our grocery store bill is down to $771 which I believe is about the average for a family of three. We are continuing to buy a mixture of organic and non organic produce but we have cut out most pre-prepared food. Cooking from scratch is definitely cheaper although it is more time consuming.

No Snacks September was a huge success! In terms of money, there probably weren’t much savings. Our snack spending went from an average of $183/month to $32 for September but instead of grabbing sleeves of crackers and bags of popcorn, we are now eating more apples and bananas which it actually more expensive but way healthier. Most importantly, the Child is eating more healthy food (and she wants you to know she hates it). I have even lost a couple of pounds. So with a 2 to 1 vote, we are keeping the No Snacks challenge for the month of October!

How did your September go? Link your spending below.

Teaching money skills to tweens and young teens

As the Child is approaching the ripe old age of 12, it is time to teach her to the skills she will need to be able to manage her money as an adult. As every teacher will tell you, to design a good lesson, you need to start with learning objectives. So what should a tween or a young teen know? Most tweens are ready to be introduced to all the complexities of money that they will need as adults. The amount of money they will earn, manage, and spend is, of course, smaller than those an adult would manage. You will also need to “speed things up” so they can see their money grow in a time frame they can follow. Earning 10% interest per year might be a reasonable return on investment for an adult, but a 12-year-old would have difficulty noticing such growth. Here are some basic money management skills you might want to teach and ideas on how to do it.

To make money, you have to do something. Set up a list of “jobs” that your child can do to earn money. We are allowing the Child to make money for doing each of her school subjects as well as doing chores and getting physical activity. She can earn about $1.50 a day for her “work” (we are probably breaking some minimum wage laws here). Each task she has to do is worth 25 cents. She gets a completion bonus of 50 cents if she finishes all her tasks for the day.

Consider overtime pay to give your tween or teen a chance to earn extra money. We pay double rate for additional chores. Also, consider performance bonuses for jobs well done. We pay significant bonuses for exceptional school performance. The Child made $10 this morning by getting an A on her Spanish test.

Some parenting books will tell you that kids should not earn money for chores but should have a set allowance because they should learn to aim for internal motivation. The child shouldn’t strive to get an A on the test to earn a performance bonus but to get the satisfaction of a job well done. While I understand this argument, I don’t think I can expect more from my child than I expect from grown-ups, and we all appreciate getting paid for our work, so I am OK with the Child being motivated by a performance bonus.

Once you have some money, you can get your money to work for you. There are two ways to think about discretionary income: extra money to spend or a tool to help you on your financial independence journey. Here is an example from the adult world. Two families get a $5,000 end-of-year bonus. Family A decides to upgrade their TV and their cell phones. A year later, they are craving an even bigger TV and even newer cell phones. Family B puts their $5,000 in investments. A year later, they have $6,000. We all know how this goes after 20 years. The family with the new TV will have no financial cushion and will fear retirement. The family who invested every year will be sitting on a couple of million dollars and will be in a position to choose if they want to work or take a trip around the world.

Consider paying interest to your child on the money they haven’t yet spent. For a tween, you might consider paying interest every day. As your tween grows up, you can move to weekly or monthly payments. Our 11-year-old will earn 5% each evening on any money she has left at the end of the day. If your child is a natural saver, use lower interest or longer intervals. The power of compound interest is amazing, so be careful not to overcommit.

You can’t buy everything. An essential adult money skill is the ability to prioritize and save for bigger purchases. To give your tween or teen practice, you need to stop buying everything for them. Of course, you shouldn’t stop buying anything they need, but you should cut back on funding their wants. We have stopped buying snacks and online subscriptions. The Child is generating a very long list of things she wants, and I am sure the list will keep growing as she discovers the power of money. Her many wants create the need for her to prioritize. She will also learn (we hope) that if she wants a $10 membership, she can’t spend all of her daily earnings on candy.

Debt is bad. I know some people will disagree, but in my opinion, all debt is bad. Really, really bad. And consumer debt to buy optional items is truly evil. Unfortunately, for most kids, the only way to teach this lesson is to let them get into debt and experience the pain for themselves. And for the pain to be real, you need to charge interest and have consequences if the debt is not paid on time.

One option is to secure the debt. The kid needs to give you something of value, which becomes yours if they don’t pay you back. I know I am not strong enough to stick to this rule, though, so instead, we are doing unsecured debt like on a credit card. The Child is allowed to borrow money at 10% interest per day. Her credit limit is $10. If she exceeds the limit, she will not be able to use screens or spend anything until her balance is under $5. An older child should have the ability to get into more significant debt which will take longer to get out of.

Those are the four main lessons about money that I think every adult should have mastered. What are you teaching your kids about money? How are you teaching it?

Our August Spending

Well, it is possible that writing this blog is good for our budget. I have been keeping track of how much we spend for several years now and this is our lowest spending month in recorded history! Which shows that way too much of our spending is really discretionary. Our average monthly spending for 2019 was almost $5000 a month excluding property taxes and donations which we tend to do on an annual basis.

Shopping this month included printer supplies (about $150 worth) due to the fact that we are both working from home and homeschooling, some clothes for me ($110, I did really need the clothes) and homeschooling workbooks for the Child. Kid expenses included the Child’s violin lessons (which she takes over Zoom) and school fees (public school). We made a small amount of donations as our area was hit by a major storm so we donated to some local charities.

One significant reason our spending is down is COVID and the fact that both of us are working from home. That decreases our transportation expenses (normally I pay $6-$7 per day for parking and we both drive to work) but it also decreases my random and totally optional daily purchases. When I am at work, I often end up buying lunch or buying coffee and these things add up!

During the first weeks of COVID, our spending didn’t go down, it shifted. I tried to buy things that I hoped would protect my family from the dangers. I stocked up on food, toilet paper, soap, and Clorox wipes. I also bought various masks that I hoped would be good enough to keep us healthy. I have reached the point where I have bought everything that can possibly be useful. All of these things are sitting in our basement as at the moment we simply don’t leave the house but I feel slightly better knowing they are there.

Our low spending (for us) is of course largely due to luck – nothing went wrong this month. The pets didn’t get sick, no appliances failed, no storms damaged our roof or flooded our basement. It is easier not to spend money when there are no emergencies. Still, I do think that writing about money helps me be more thoughtful about how I spend it. It’s a win!

Can we bring our spending lower and is it worth it? Probably we can and probably it is worth it.

Our main financial goal is to be financially independent. That means to be able to live entirely on the passive income generated by investments. The common rule is that to be financially independent, you need to have investments equal to 25 times your annual income. Making some reasonable (everyone hopes) assumptions about the return on stocks, this should allow you to live on passive income forever. I tend to be more conservative, so I am taking 30 times our annual spending to be our financial independence number. Small changes in your annual spending, can have a big effect on this number. For example, if we can live on $40K per year (an average of $3,300 a month) then we need $1.2 million in investments (this doesn’t count money that is not invested such as the value of your home, cars, or money you like to keep in cash). If we need $73K per year (the amount we spent last year), then we need $2.2 million. That is a big difference! In general, cutting your spending by $1000 a month, translates into a decrease of $360,000 in your financial independence number. And of course if you are spending less, you are saving more to reach that smaller number even faster.

FIRE

For the novice, FIRE stands for Financial Independence Retire Early. Followers of this movement often save 50%-80% of their income to accumulate enough invested capital to be able to retire early (sometimes as early as in their 30s) and live entirely on passive income. If you hang out in the FIRE circles, you will hear about the 4% rule, which says that you can safely withdraw 4% per year of your investments and, assuming the market doesn’t do anything crazy, your money should last forever. If you don’t like percentages, this means that you need to have 25 times your annual spending in investment accounts to be able to quit your job and never need to earn money again.


There are, of course, variations on this theme. Some people go to great lengths to cut their budget to be able to retire as early as possible (lean Fire), some work longer in exchange for higher spending ability (fat FIRE), and some retire from stressful jobs but still work at some low-stress job they enjoy to supplement their investment income (barista FIRE).
I am totally not interested in the RE (retire early) part of FIRE. I love my job and expect to continue working for many years, regardless of our net worth. I am, however, very interested in the FI (financial independence) part of FIRE.


Sometimes I wonder why to me, FI is such an important goal. My wife thinks FI is a good idea, but she certainly doesn’t obsess about our FI number and how close we are to it. And people around me seem perfectly happy buying stuff they don’t need, so I am pretty sure they don’t even know there is such a thing as an FI number.


I am an immigrant from a relatively poor country. I came to the US for College with $500 and my tuition for the first semester covered. From there, I needed to figure it out on my own. Without even the ability to borrow money (foreigners can’t take out student loans), I was in a pretty tight spot.


At some point in College, maybe in my sophomore year, I got a terrible toothache. I didn’t have dental insurance, so I did the only thing I could – I took lots and lots of painkillers. It lasted for weeks. Much of the time, I was so drowsy from the pills I could barely function. I got a permanent case of an upset stomach. Eventually, I saved about $100 and went to the dentist. For me, at that time, $100 was a huge amount of money. The dentist looked at my tooth, took a couple of X-rays, gave me a proposed plan for how he can fix it, and charged me $100 for the consult and the X-rays. I still had a terrible toothache and no money.

Eventually, I learned about a free dental clinic. I found someone with a car who drove me there. They fixed that tooth and all the other teeth that were rotting in my mouth (I used to have a lot of tooth problems, probably due to very poor dental care in my home country), and I could get off the pain pills.


This is the sort of experience I never want to have again. And so when I have a choice between getting the newest iPhone or increasing our money stash, I opt to add to the stash. The stash is what keeps my family and me safe from at least some of the bad things that can happen in life. The iPhone can’t do that.


Take a minute and figure out your FI number. Imagine having that amount of money and the freedom that would give you. Now, look at the latest gadget you bought. What optimizes your happiness profits?

No-Snacks September

As we noticed in our annual budget analysis, our family spends way more money on food than most households. That got me thinking if we are optimizing our happiness profits within this part of our budget which lead to me going over all of our food receipts from the past two months. We have been quarantining so all of our shopping since March has been through deliveries and therefore all of our itemized receipts are online. In fact, for July and August we have only shopped at two stores and I know for sure we didn’t do a quick trip for milk I have forgotten about so the data is very accurate. In total, for the two months, we spent $1,793 at the grocery store of which $128 was non-food items (mostly detergents and toilet paper) so we spent $1,664 on actual food. This is $832 a month, way lower than our average for 2019 ($1,231 per month) which is great. What is not so great is that 22% of the money we spent on groceries was spent on snacks! And that is the part of our food budget that is bringing our happiness profits down.

I put everything that is prepackaged processed carbs in this category. For our family, that is mostly cookies, chips, popcorn, and ice-cream. There were some frozen pre-prepared foods (pizza and fries) but the bulk of it was stuff that doesn’t even resemble actual food. So, what is the problem with snacks?

I like snacks too much. It takes too much willpower for me not to eat them when they are lying around. I know processed food is bad for me in all kinds of ways but grabbing a handful of chips is so much easier than figuring out something better to eat. And a bag of kettle corn is an easy replacement for an actual dinner and I can eat it while working.  

Snacks are bad for our family happiness as well. As I am writing this post, the child is apparently raiding the goldfish crackers stash and my wife is having her umpteenth discussion about what “foods” can and can’t be eaten before supper. If the child over-indulges in goldfish, later she’ll say she’s not hungry for supper and I will feel guilty that my child has had nothing but processed carbs all day.

So, it is clear that the $370 wasn’t money well spent. And I don’t do moderation well so my family is going on a no-snack challenge for the month of September. I am sure the child will be excited to hear this plan :0)

To make sure nobody actually starves, we will have to pair this challenge with some sort of plan for what we are going to eat once all the goldfish are gone. My wife is just starting work again after having most of the summer off and the child will be going to online school which means we’ll all be busy and the child will need a lot of attention from us throughout the day. So, our time to cook will be severely limited. I have read many blogs about the value of meal planning and meal prepping. This is supposed to be the ultimate answer to lowering your grocery bill and decreasing your time in the kitchen. And as we would like to achieve both, I will attempt to follow the wise advice of others this month and meal plan and maybe even meal prep. Reports of this adventure to appear in future posts! Stay tuned.

Optimizing the ROI on a big state school education

So, you (or your child) are ready to go to college. Now the question is, where to go and how to go there for the least amount of money. Large public research universities (think UC system, University of Minnesota, University of Iowa, University of Illinois, etc.) are an excellent option for many students. Some benefits of a large research state university are:

  • A lot of options for choosing a major
  • A wide variety of courses
  • Access to top research faculty
  • Variety of student activities such as clubs, Greek life, etc.
  • Generally, easy to transfer in credit if you took classes somewhere else

There are also some negatives to be aware of. Most of these negatives can be largely avoided if you do some planning:

  • Large classes: Many of your classes, especially general education classes, will be large, often hundreds of students. You can mostly avoid this issue (and save money!) by taking many of your general education classes at a community college. Do make sure you understand the rules your university has about transferring credits, but most state schools have very generous policies.
  • TAs instead of professors: Graduate students will teach many of your discussion sections (small sections that go along with your large lecture classes). This is not necessarily a bad thing because, while inexperienced, graduate students usually put a lot of thought and effort into making their classes a good experience for the students.
  • Adjuncts: Some of your classes will be taught by adjuncts who teach at the university part-time and are often hard to reach if you need a recommendation a few years later. You can select your classes carefully to mostly avoid this issue.
  • Easy to get lost: Being self-motivated is very important when going to a large public university. Help is available, but you have to seek it. It is easy to fall behind, miss assignments, etc., and it is unlikely than anyone will notice. If you see you are falling behind, seek help right away!

State schools often give you the best ROI because they combine relatively cheap tuition with well-established credibility of your degree. Even with their lower tuition, though, an average public university will run about $80K with in-state tuition for four years. According to Zillow, that is 1/3 of the average price of a home in the US, so it is worth doing some planning to reduce your cost. Here are some ideas:

Start taking classes at a local community college while in high school. Make sure you take courses that will transfer. If you take one class per semester each of your junior and senior year and two classes each summer, you will be able to transfer eight classes–cutting your time in college by a whole year! That means not only saving $20K but also entering the job market a year early. If your starting salary is $60K, your hard work in high school will translate into $80K! That’s way better ROI than any high school job that you can get.

If you already missed your chance to take classes while in high school or if you want to super-charge your college experience, take summer classes while in college. You do not have to take summer classes at your university; you can still take courses at a community college, just make sure they transfer. Taking two classes every summer starting with the summer before your freshman year can also give you eight extra classes–cutting your time in college by a year. Some institutions also offer winter term classes for extra fun!

Take a minimum of 15 credits each semester and consider taking 18 credits. Even though 12 credits is deemed to be full-time, taking 12 credits per semester is not enough to graduate in four years. In fact, at most universities you will have to take five full years to graduate if you take 12 credits per semester and that is assuming that you don’t need to retake any classes, you don’t decide to change your major, you never have to drop a class, etc. An extra year in college will cost you not just $20K in tuition and living expenses but also a whole year in lost wages as you will enter the job market a year late.

On the other hand, taking 18 credits each semester will shorten your time in College by nearly a year. Keep in mind that 18 credits is a large workload. Be sure you can handle it before committing to such a plan. Taking summer classes may be an easier route to take to shorten your time in school.

Consider alternative living arrangements. Room and board run around $12K per year, but you do have options. If living at home is a possibility, seriously consider it. Maybe you feel ready to be out of the house, but if you stick it out for four years, you will start your post-college life $50K richer! And your chances of being academically successful are probably better if you are away from the college party scene.

If living at home is not an option, consider getting a job as a live-in nanny. It is usually easy to build your schedule around the hours the family will need you, and you can get all the benefits of living at home without actually living at home.

College is expensive, but that doesn’t mean that you should approach it with the mentality that you will “spend whatever it takes.” Making smart decisions about this huge investment will have a significant effect on your financial health for many years after you get your degree.