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Tips for minimum wage earners

How education, mentorship and exposure can help you escape a low paying job.

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By Gerri Willis, CNN

For more information on managing your largest investment, check out Gerri Willis' "Home Rich," now in bookstores.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The Federal minimum wage is increasing to $6.55 an hour today. But for most folks facing higher prices on everything from a gallon of milk to a gallon of gas, it's still getting harder to make ends meet.

Here are top tips on how to get out of the minimum wage trap.

1. Expand your horizons

Enhancing your education may be the best way to get out of the minimum-wage rut. And you may not have to leave your living room.

More and more schools are going online so you may be able to earn a degree at home. You may be able to view classes online or talk with professors and colleagues in chatrooms or via e-mail.

Costs vary widely. To get the best bang for your buck, look for public, non-profit schools according to GetEducated.com, an online degree clearinghouse.

That site will also show you what programs are available in your area.

Make sure the school is accredited of course. To do that, go to the Council on Higher Education Accreditation at chea.org.

2. Think Local

There are a number of opportunities to enhance you education at your local community college too.

On average, tuition is about $2,300 per year nationwide, according to the American Association of Community Colleges.

If you're on a limited income, you may qualify for a Pell Grant. Otherwise there may be scholarship opportunities at the school.

Make sure you talk with someone at the student services area.

Keep in mind that most community colleges offer night and weekend classes too.

To find a community college in your area go to the Association of Community College's website at aacc.nche.edu.

3. Find a mentor

A mentor can guide you throughout your career. They can help you develop skills and make contacts within your field.

Check first to see whether you current employer, your alma mater, or other organization with which you're associated already has a formal mentoring program in place.

Generally you'll want someone who is at least five years ahead of you in the career you have - or the career you want.

There may also be education programs and networking opportunities at work so make sure you keep your eyes open for opportunities.

4. Get noticed

If you just don't see a "way out" of your present minimum wage job, you may have to seek employment elsewhere.

Make sure you're out there so potential employers can find you.

Complete your profile at Zoominfo.com, Ziggs.com or Linkedin.com.

If a recruiter is looking for a job candidate online, your name may just pop up at the top of a Web search. The best part of all? It's free. To top of page

Gerri's Mailbox: Got questions about your money? We want to hear them! Send e-mails to toptips@cnn.com or click here - each week, we'll answer questions on CNN, Headline News and CNNMoney.com.
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