Slideshow Image 1

College Funding Worksheet

When it comes down to it, we are asking 17-year-olds who have hardly held a job, never paid taxes, or had any exposure to personal finance to make one of the biggest financial decisions of their lives.

Today we want to share a framework your family can use to make reasonable and equitable decisions around your son or daughter’s higher education.


Before targeting specific schools, it may be helpful to get a handle on how much money we can bring to the table. Savings can come from 529 College Savings Plans, grandparents, and personal savings. But remember, goals often compete for the same dollar. Retirement and other goals should be considered.

Next, look at cash flow. Are there any monthly savings or surplus to redirect? With one less person in the house, could monthly spending reduce a few hundred dollars? If $400 per month could free up, that’s $19,200 over four years, that’s real money, write that down.

Finally, review the American Opportunity Tax Credit. If a married family earns under $180,000 per year they are eligible for up to a $2,500 per year credit. Over four years, that’s $10,000 in credit, write that down too.

Click here to set up a time with one of Acorn's CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERS™

Step Two: LOANS

Part two of the exercise looks at loans. Just like a mortgage, it is helpful to find out how much we can afford, or, how much we can qualify for. The US Department of Education does not really have a qualification process like mortgage bankers, it is on ourselves to exercise self-care and prudence.

In some cases, parents are willing to come to the table and take out a loan. The loan can be private, federal, home equity, you name it. Question to ask is, how much can I bend on other goals to assist my son or daughter as they become independent?

One idea for the prospective student is to select a field of study and understand what that major typically pays after graduation. Next is to evaluate what the payment will be on a standard ten-year repayment schedule. Having a monthly student loan payment after graduation of about 10% of gross income is manageable, 30% is often unbearable and warrants costly repayment programs.

Step Three: SHOP IT OUT

Remember, college is a business, in fact, they are kind of like car dealerships. The sticker price could be $50,000, but the price is laden with grants, needs-based scholarships, etc. It is okay to look at the Aston Martin if it is 50% off, but it might not be okay if the discount is 10%.

To learn more, create a profile on They have a “Net Price Calculator” where you can learn more about each school’s approach to financial aid. Many schools that have the fancy sticker price here in New England have some pretty good deals depending on the parent’s current financial situation.


Higher education does not have to be ivory columns, lush quads, and football. Traditional institutions are being challenged by smaller, job focused options. Trade schools, coding schools, and the like are becoming viable options where students can learn, work, and receive respectable jobs after completion.

Like our own goals, our children need to start building a life they can love. They will not get it right at first but walking some degree of north is important. Where they go to school is a major life decision and they should be able to articulate why that school is important to them.

Regardless of direction, the above framework will help contextualize this major decision by considering a variety of variables. Acorn is in the business of helping people live lives they can truly love. Sending our children to school to then see them be independently successful is massive.

I am interested in the strategy and want to meet with Acorn Financial

Acorn Financial is in Nashua, NH. We are a fee-only financial planning and investment management firm. We work with successful families and businesses in the region who are committed to financial independence. Our first meeting is always free and we welcome your interest.

Here is our contact information:

Acorn Financial
Drew Hefflefinger, CFP®
400 Amherst Street, Suite 303
Nashua, NH 03063
(603) 816-3404

Advisory services offered through Commonwealth Financial Network, a Registered Investment Adviser.

You may also be interested in these articles:

 The Acorn Blog
  • Acorn EDU - College

    When it comes down to it, we are asking 17-year-olds who have hardly held a job, never...

    Read more
  • Acorn EDU - Insurance

    We can provide lovely homes, reputable educations, never miss a game or recital, but if we are...

    Read more
  • Acorn EDU - BAE Hierarchy of Retirement Savings

    “I’m retired” sounds great – “I retired early” sounds even better. Saving more, saving faster, and investing...

    Read more
  • Acorn EDU - Target Date Funds

    Target Date Funds offer cheap, easy, and professionally managed solutions, but are they a best fit for...

    Read more
  • BAE Systems Inc. - Non-Roth, After Tax

    High-earners at BAE Systems have an opportunity to save an additional $20,000 or more into tax-advantaged retirement...

    Read more
  • Inside the Oak Tree

    Walking on a regular basis also promotes new connections between brain cells, staves off the usual withering...

    Read more
  • Inside the Oak Tree

    While he is well known for dramatically improving his athletes’ speed, more and more athletes (and coaches)...

    Read more
  • Inside the Oak Tree

    it was only two years ago that Whole Foods founder and CEO John Mackey predicted that groceries...

    Read more
  • Inside the Oak Tree

    Suzy Welch, spouse of former GE Chairman and CEO Jack Welch, interviews a candid, open, and thought...

    Read more
  • Inside the Oak Tree

    Our world is more mobile than ever, but what is going to fuel it?...

    Read more
  • Inside the Oak Tree

    How Google used artificial intelligence to transform Google Translate......

    Read more
  • Inside the Oak Tree

    This story about the workings of the human mind is explored through the personalities of two fascinating...

    Read more
  • Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

    ... Gawande offers examples of freer, more socially fulfilling models for assisting the infirm and dependent elderly,...

    Read more
  • TITAN: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr.

    By: Ron Chernow
    John D. Rockefeller, Sr.--history's first billionaire and the patriarch of America's most famous dynasty--is...

    Read more
  • Stocks for The Long Run

    By: Jeremy J. Siegel
    The stock-investing classic--UPDATED TO HELP YOU WIN IN TODAY'S CHAOTIC GLOBAL ECONOMY Much...

    Read more
  • The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable

    By: Nassim Nicholas Taleb
    A black swan is an event, positive or negative, that is deemed improbable...

    Read more
  • Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

    By: Robert B. Cialdini
    Influence, the classic book on persuasion, explains the psychology of why people...

    Read more
  • Seeking Wisdom: From Darwin to Munger

    By: Peter Bevelin
    Peter Bevelin begins his fascinating book with Confucius' great wisdom: "A man who...

    Read more
  • The Outsiders: Eight Unconventional CEOs and Their Radically Rational Blueprint for Success

    By: William N. Thorndike
    What makes a successful CEO? Most people call to mind a familiar...

    Read more
  • Buffett: The Making of an American Capitalist

    By: Roger Lowenstein
    Since its hardcover publication in August of 1995, Buffett has appeared on the Wall...

    Read more
  • Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...And Others Don't

    By: Jim Collins
    The Challenge:
    Built to Last, the defining management study of the nineties, showed how...

    Read more
  • Outliers: The Story of Success

    By: Malcom Gladwell
    In this stunning new book, Malcolm Gladwell takes us on an intellectual journey through...

    Read more
  • The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power

    By: Daniel Yergin
    "The Prize" recounts the panoramic history of oil -- and the struggle for wealth...

    Read more
  • The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves

    By: Matt Ridley
    In a bold and provocative interpretation of economic history, Matt Ridley, the New York...

    Read more
  • Steve Jobs

    By: Walter Isaacson
    Based on more than forty interviews with Jobs conducted over two years—as well as...

    Read more
  • Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln

    By: Doris Kearns Goodwin
    The life and times of Abraham Lincoln have been analyzed and dissected in...

    Read more
  • Thinking, Fast and Slow

    By: Daniel Kahneman
    In the highly anticipated Thinking, Fast and Slow, Kahneman takes us on a groundbreaking...

    Read more
  • When Genius Failed: The Rise and Fall of Long-Term Capital Management

    By: Roger Lowenstein
    In this business classic—now with a new Afterword in which the author draws parallels...

    Read more