PGH LifeHackers

Hi, Pittsburgh LifeHackers! Had such a great time meeting in August–thanks for following up!

Before we get into all those nitty gritty details I promised you, I want to take a second to reintroduce myself again. I’m Brynne Conroy, owner of Femme Frugality. This blog has been nominated as Best Women’s Finance Blog for two years running, and has been around for seven.  You can subscribe to the newsletter (which I send out on occasional Mondays) here. On top of writing here, I write for numerous financial and parenting organizations both in print and online.

I also recently wrote a book–The Feminist Financial Handbook. It focuses on women’s issues, but looks at money management for those facing all types of oppression, whether that be racism, homophobia, cisnormativity, disablism or ethnocentrism. Pick up a copy today!

Preorder the feminist financial handbook mango barnes and noble amazon indiepress

All right. Now let’s get into some more of the details we discussed the other night.


I told you that you can go to college for free, and it’s so true. First, you’re going to want to apply for the FAFSA. After you do so, you’ll find out which grants you qualify for. Here’s the complete list:

Pell Grants

Grants are money that you don’t have to pay back. You’d only have to pay this money back if you don’t keep your grades up.

The government issues grants based on your income. You may be surprised to learn that you can get Pell Grant funding even if you don’t consider yourself “low-income”. This is especially true if you have kids or other dependents.

We could get into the income formula here, but it’s complex and not something you need to be familiar with. What you do need to know is that almost every single year, the government has Pell Grant money left over. There is funding available; you just have to apply for it!

For the 2018-19 school year, a full Pell Grant is $5,920. Half will be paid during the first semester, while the other half will be disbursed at the beginning of the Spring semester. Keep in mind that you can get a partial Pell Grant, too, depending on your financial standing and household size.

Here’s where things get interesting: The cost of tuition this year at CCAC is $2,097. That means you could pocket $1,911.50 from their Pell Grants each semester for books, housing, transportation and food.

Yes, you can get paid to go to school. This is an especially viable route if you are lower-income.

If you decide community college isn’t the right path for you, let’s look at state schools. At Cal U, tuition and fees for the same school year are $10,902.80. That means a full Pell Grant recipient would only need to drum up an additional $2,491.40 each semester to cover the cost of attendance. And that’s totally possible without digging into your own wallet.

FSEOG Grants

FSEOG grants are issued only to those in dire financial straits. However, if you do qualify, you can currently get anywhere between $100 and $4,000 depending on your financial need. These grants do routinely run out of funding, which is a major reason it’s so important to file your FAFSA as close to October 1st as possible.

TEACH Grants

If you are planning on majoring in K-12 education, you may be eligible for a TEACH grant. TEACH grants are unique in that they come with a service obligation. In order to qualify, your college and your specific program must be associated with the TEACH program. You’ll also have to keep your grades up.

When you accept this grant, you’re agreeing that for at least four of your first eight years out of college, you’ll teach a subject in a high-need field at a low-income school or educational service agency. You can learn more about current high-need fields at

If you fail to meet this service requirement, you’ll have to repay the money plus interest.

If you meet all of these requirements, though, you can receive up to $4,000 in grant money every year.

Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant

If your parent or guardian died post-9/11 as the result of military service in Iraq or Afghanistan, you’re eligible for this grant. The max award is the same as the Pell Grant. But this one isn’t refundable. That means if you have financial aid in excess of your tuition, the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant will be reduced, and you won’t be able to pocket any of the money for those other expenses like food and shelter.

PHEAA Grants

After you complete your FAFSA application, you will likely be prompted to complete a financial aid application with the state of Pennsylvania. In Pennsylvania, our higher ed department is called PHEAA, and they issue income-based grants which can be in excess of $3,000. That’s another three grand you don’t have to pay back for school. Or, depending on your situation, another three grand you can pocket for your living expenses.

This brings the amount you need to complete a year at Cal U down to $991.40/semester. But don’t reach for those loans yet. There’s more free money out there for you.


Scholarships are more free money for college that you’ll never have to pay back. Apply to as many of them as you can, and you’ll easily have that $991.40 covered. First, learn how to write a scholarship resume so you can find the most appropriate scholarships for you. Then, learn how to write a scholarship essay with higher odds of winning that award money.

Other Resources in Allegheny County

We also talked about other resources in Allegheny County that can help you get your financial bearings. Here’s where you can learn more about each:


Please do stay in touch! If you have any questions, you can email me at femmefrugality {at} gmail {dot} com. You can also catch me on social media using the buttons in the top right hand corner.