Going back to school? Here’s how to manage a budget and stay afloat before trading your working hours for study time.

When we think of the back-to-school season, we usually picture little kids running off to class with their backpacks and lunch boxes in tow, but nowadays adults are going back to school too!

Whether you’re looking for a career change, need a higher-level degree to boost your salary or qualify for a promotion, or simply want to take some college classes for knowledge’s sake, going back to school can be a wonderful experience. But  you’ll still need to lay some groundwork in order to financially prepare to go back to school.

Build Up a Rainy Day Fund

College students in their late teens and early twenties think they have it rough, but things only get more daunting when you’re an older adult without parental support and more financial responsibilities like rent (or even a mortgage). The cure to financial worries is building up a rainy day fund to help tide you over in case college ends up being more expensive than anticipated or if an emergency arises. Many personal finance experts recommend having at least three months’ worth of expenses tucked away into a savings account to ensure that your rent, utilities, phone bill and groceries will be covered in case something happens.

Reduce Your Expenses

Want to expedite your progress on building a rainy day fund while creating new, frugal habits that will keep your financial situation stable in college? Reducing your monthly expenses is an excellent way to do this! Some simple cutbacks include:

  • Get rid of cable. Switch from your $100+ plan to Netflix for less than $10 per month (who needs TV when you’ll be busy studying, anyway?)
  • Eat out less and consider getting a meal plan through your school. You don’t always have to be a student living in a dorm to qualify for a meal plan! Check the food services section of your school’s website to find pricing information.
  • Bring a bagged lunch. If you currently work from home or in an office, then it might be slightly inconvenient to bring a bagged lunch to school when you don’t have access to a refrigerator, but you can solve this problem by keeping a small cooler in your car and using the microwaves in the school’s food courts.
  • Switch to cheaper coffee. Caffeine is a staple item in most college students’ diets, but it doesn’t have to be a $5 Starbucks latte every day. Either invest in a coffee maker  for your home or buy it someplace cheaper, such as McDonald’s or the gas station on your way to school each morning.
  • Take advantage of your student ID card. Student discounts abound these days, so whether you want to travel, eat out one day, or get a new laptop for school, you’ll be able to save a bundle when you use your student ID card.
  • Sign up for Amazon Student. If you’re not already a Prime member, then why not get six months of free access to Amazon Prime benefits such as free two-day shipping and free access to books on the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library? All you need is your valid, school-issued email (.edu).

Ask Your Employer About Tuition Assistance

Many people choose to return to school in order to learn more skills that will improve their workplace success and potentially score a promotion as a result. If you plan on staying with your employer while going back to school, then ask if your company offers some kind of tuition assistance program. There are dozens of companies that offer tuition assistance for their employees, and you may not realize it until you ask! Companies want to invest in their employees, and helping you pay for more schooling is a win-win! Although most companies don’t offer full tuition assistance, every dollar you don’t have to pay out of pocket helps!

Take Classes Part Time

If you’re planning on working while going back to school, then consider taking classes on a part-time basis or going to night school in order to save money. That way, you’ll be able to maintain your usual income and pay for classes on a per-unit basis, rather than a full tuition figure. It may take you longer to earn your new certificate or degree, but at least you won’t have to quit your job or live on student loans!

Apply for Financial Aid and Scholarships

Financial aid isn’t just for students straight out of high school or community college. If you need financial assistance for tuition and other college-related costs, then be sure to apply for financial aid via FAFSA. There’s also millions in scholarships floating around each year, and a sizable chunk of this money is never given out simply because people didn’t apply. If you’re returning to school, there are several scholarships available for students just like you! You can also apply for the usual essay or contest scholarships, so check out Scholarships.com and FastWeb to see what you might qualify for.

Apply for Student Jobs

If you’re opting out of working while going to school at the same time, then you can look into various work-study options or student jobs to help supplement your income while you’re out of the professional workforce completing your studies. Some of these student job openings might include:

  • Food Service: you can prepare food, wait on tables, work at the cashier, or wash dishes in the campus food court or a dorm cafeteria.
  • University Tours: perfect for social butterflies, a campus tour guide means you will lead prospective students and their families around the campus and answer questions about the university. This is usually a seasonal job, taking place in spring (when students decide where they want to go).
  • Peer Advising: you can help students figure out their class schedules and encourage them to get involved on campus.
  • Note-Taker: many universities hire students to take lecture notes for disabled students. Perfect for anyone who’s attentive, has good handwriting (or types fast), and wants to help others succeed in college.
  • Tutoring: since you probably have more life and professional experience than students who are just starting out in college, tutoring might be the perfect job for you! Not only does it offer flexible hours and scheduling, but you can help others learn about your favorite subjects and watch them progress in their classes.
  • Research Guinea Pig: colleges always have some kind of experimental studies going on for their students’ and faculty research projects. This might include psychological studies, sociological surveys, brain studies, and many more! Check bulletin boards around campus for potential opportunities.

As you can see, financially preparing to go back to school can be a breeze with enough planning and budgeting beforehand. Even if you don’t have lots of savings to support you during your studies, there are many alternatives available to help you pay for tuition, books and fees, as well as your usual living expenses. Money should never be a barrier to getting an education, so start planning as early as possible to combine financial stability with academic success!

Participation Pays Off: What financial challenges are you encountering while going back to school?

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