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    Worth the Investment

    With a little creativity, hard work and sacrifice, these families are making Christian education affordable.

    Amy Adair

    If you don't have a substantial college fund, you may wonder how you'll be able to foot the bill for a college without drowning in debt. We talked to four families who currently have children enrolled at a Christian college. They all have one thing in common: They didn't have savings to cover college bills. But read on to see how they're doing it—and how you can, too.

    Practicing Common Sense Savings

    Being practical has really paid off for Greg and Robynne Mirau. They've been able to put three kids through Crossroads College in Rochester, Minnesota. Their oldest children, Luke and Amanda, both graduated in 2007. Their youngest daughter, Abby, is currently a sophomore majoring in general ministries.

    They admit it wasn't easy when they were all enrolled at once. "But we didn't panic," Greg says. "Our philosophy was that God would provide somehow."

    The Mirau's qualified for a multiple student discount, and they also all received grants and scholarships that covered most of the tuition. Luke graduated debt-free, Amanda had a small loan to pay off, and the Mirau's are hoping Abby will graduate with little to no loan debt.

    Even with the great financial aid packages there are still costs that can add up quickly, like books, food and day-to-day living expenses. That's why every penny counts in the Mirau household. Greg, who is a teacher, paints during the summer and school breaks. Robynne, who was a stay-at-home mom, started babysitting to earn some extra money. She also turned her hobby of gardening into a money-making venture by starting her own gardening business.

    "The whole picture is that the Lord has provided," Greg says. "When we've needed it, he's said, 'Here.' Many times it was from an extra job that we weren't expecting."

    Greg and Robynne have found that small steps can add up to big savings. They don't go grocery shopping without clipping coupons first. They claim they can save roughly 15 percent each visit. They are also very conscious of gas prices. They don't run to the store to pick up just one item—they make do with what's already in the pantry until the next scheduled grocery trip.

    "We try to live simply," Robynne says. "We just try to help the kids get their bills paid so they can focus on their studies."

    Communicating Financial Changes

    Paul and MaryAnn Jacob worked hard all their lives. Paul is a social worker and MaryAnn owns her own housecleaning business. But with five kids, it was impossible to save money for college. So when their oldest daughter, Emily, told them she wanted to go to Greenville College in Greenville, Illinois, they knew they couldn't afford the tuition.

    "We never told Emily she couldn't apply to Greenville," Paul says. "But we did make it clear that we weren't going to bankrupt the family. However, we were willing to make sacrifices to do what we could."

    Emily, who was an outstanding student, earned scholarships and received grants that covered most of her tuition. She also took out a small loan that Paul and MaryAnn worked hard to help pay off.

    The other Jacob kids were told if they planned on attending a school like Greenville they would have to work to earn scholarships and contribute financially to their education.

    Emily's experience at Greenville was so positive that two other Jacob children, Abby, now a senior biology major, and Rachel, a sophomore psychology major, both decided to enroll. They both received grants and scholarships, but still had to come up with about $5,000 annually. Rachel and Abby took out federally subsidized loans to cover the remaining balance, which Paul and MaryAnn are working to pay off. They predict Rachel and Abby will each graduate with $20,000 in debt.

    With the debt constantly on their minds, the Jacobs are conscious of every dollar they spend and every dollar they make. When Rachel was a sophomore, she lost a $1,500 grant from her church. According to the Jacobs, the church just stopped participating in the grant program.

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