Mature students should do their homework before they make the decision to return to school, especially if it involves quitting or reducing outside work, and especially if they have a family.
If you have already taken the plunge (perhaps you are heading back to school in September) it's still not too late to take steps to ease the financial burden of lost income, new expenses, and so on.
But let's examine the key question: does it make sense to go back to school? Be sure to look at both your personal and financial reasons for considering this move. Personally, you might feel you will be more fulfilled, or perhaps be able to move into a job you will enjoy more.
Just make sure you can answer these key questions: Even if you expect to increase your future income this way, how much of an effect will going back to school have on you (and your family) financially while you are studying? How long will it take for the benefits to outweigh the costs? And can you count on those benefits?
People often rely on their previous education experiences, but typically this was during their late teens or possibly early 20s. They probably had parental support, and few if any financial obligations. Little if any of that applies to adults, especially if they have a family. So you need to look carefully at your present situation and also project future figures.
How will your returning to school affect your (family) income and outgo, and for how long? Consider extra expenses like childcare, tuition, and books, possibly even tutoring if you struggle getting back into the study mode. If you will have to stop work or reduce your working hours, how will you manage on the lower income? Of course, you can make adjustments, even major ones like selling a second car and using a bike to get around. The key is to anticipate these changes, and make sure you (and your family) can cope.
Ideally, if you are planning a return to school in the future, take a dry run of your new life. Before my late wife Mandy went back to university to complete an advanced nursing degree, we started living on just my income a whole year before her UBC courses started. This approach paid off in two ways:
1. We learned what expenses we had to eliminate or at least reduce to match our lower income.
2. We saved most of Mandy's income during that year to make the transition easier, to supplement what I earned.
The key is to be proactive, and not let circumstances control and perhaps engulf you. Be prepared to make drastic changes to minimize any financial stress, but also allow yourself (and your family) a break now and again. You (and they) need rewards, even small ones, along the way. And realize this whole life experience is for only a limited period.
Mike Grenby has been giving North Shore News readers financial advice since 1973. (His regular column appears in the paper's Work section). He is also a travel writer, and during northern hemisphere winters teaches journalism at Bond University on Australia's Gold Coast. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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