Monday’s need-to-know money news

common-retirement-mistakesToday’s top story: Why Halloween is the number 1 day for free candy and property damage. Also in the news: Retirement planning, reverse mortgages, and jobs to consider if you’re looking for a pay increase.

Halloween Is No. 1 Day for Free Candy — and Property Crime
Protecting yourself while still having fun.

Your retirement won’t be a dream if you don’t get real
Time to quit dreaming and start working.

How to tell if a reverse mortgage is right for you
What works best with your existing financnes.

Want a big pay raise? Consider these 13 jobs
Time for a career change?

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

money-down-the-drainToday’s top story: Home improvements that don’t pay off in the long run. Also in the news: How to build a budget, easy ways to vet financial aid offers, and how to lay the financial groundwork for a career change.

4 Home Improvements That Don’t Pay (and 4 Better Options)
How to avoid turning your home into a money pit.

How to Build a Budget
Step by step.

Three Easy Ways to Vet Financial Aid Offers
What to ask when deciding on offers.

How to Survive a Career Change
Laying the financial groundwork in advance.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

budgetToday’s top story: How customizing your budget could be the key to success. Also in the news: Preparing yourself financially for a career change, products to make your teenagers money-savvy, and Home Depot confirms a months-long credit data breach.

How to Do a Budget: Customization Is Key
Tailoring your budget could be the key to its success.

5 Ways to Financially Prepare to Go After Your Dream Job
Getting ready to take the big leap.

4 Bank Products to Make Teens Money-Savvy
Prepare your teen to make wise financial choices.

Home Depot Confirms Computer Data System Breach
Retailer offers one year of free credit monitoring to customers.

6 Smart Ways to Use a Credit Card
Keeping yourself out of trouble.

Q&A: Financing a career change

Dear Liz: I am 48 and planning on a career change. I was looking at a culinary school website and it looks pretty exciting. It is a two-year, full-time program and the cost is about $65,000, which doesn’t cover the dorm or apartment expenses for living nearby. Of course, the institute’s counselor told me they have financial aid and asked, “How can you put a price on your future?” Right.

What would be the payback on something like that compared with an average salary of a chef? I will be 50 or so when I complete the program, and I’m not sure I want the big payment plan on my back. Can you help?

Answer: The counselor’s question is ridiculous. How can you not put a price on your future, particularly when it involves such a huge expense? Smart students consider the price not only of their educations but the incomes that education will bring them.

Many students sign up for these for-profit schools with visions of being the next Gordon Ramsay dancing in their heads. A little research would show them that this field is not exactly lucrative or booming.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for a chef or head cook was $42,480 in 2012. Employment is expected to grow 5% in the next decade, which is “slower than average for all occupations.”

So the payback isn’t great, especially if you have to borrow money to foot the bill — and most of the financial aid you get at these schools is loans rather than grants or scholarships. Even for someone with a 40-year working career ahead, taking on that level of debt isn’t smart.

You would have much less time to make an investment in a second career pay off — 15 years or so, and that’s if you can tough it out in a hot, hectic environment into your 60s.

If you really want to take this chance, at least minimize your investment by getting trained at a community college. Even better, get a part-time job in a restaurant and see how you like the work first before you commit to the field.

A more thoughtful approach to a career change would involve meeting with a career counselor to consider your strengths and experience, then looking into jobs in which those are an asset. Any training you would need should be reasonably priced and preferably something you could do while hanging on to your day job. Just think about that culinary expression “Out of the frying pan and into the fire,” and try to avoid getting burned.

Career change in midlife requires caution

Dear Liz: I went through divorce three years ago (after 20 years being together). I’m now 41 and broken financially and emotionally. I’m wondering if I should sell my small place and move in with my mother or stay broke and tough it out so I can keep my own place. I work part time, which was fine when I was married. Should I return to college and start a new “second half of life career”? I love my job and I’m torn.

What do you recommend? I can’t survive on my income alone and pay my bills. It’s never ending and I’m stressed beyond measure!

Answer: Recovering from a big setback such as a divorce is tough. But continuing to struggle in a situation that doesn’t work makes little sense. You need enough income to cover your bills and save for the future.

If you sell your place and move in with your mother temporarily, you could continue working part time in the job you love while getting a degree that would qualify you for a better, full-time job. You’ll need to make this investment carefully, since you’ll have only a couple of decades for the money you spend (or borrow) to pay off. A two-year degree might make more sense than a four-year course of study, for example.

You’ll want to pick a well-paying job in an industry that’s growing, and you should limit the amount of student loan you take on to no more than you expect to make your first year out of school. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has a list of the fastest-growing jobs, and their median salaries, at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/fastest-growing.htm. Your local community college probably also has a career services center where you could talk to counselors about your options.