By J. Sparks – Redefining Traditional Project Team Member
As the start of another academic year approaches, tuition, books and material fees begin to mount and money management becomes top of mind for many postsecondary students, especially for those with family responsibilities. When I enrolled in graduate school as parent, not only did becoming a student effect our household schedule and routines, it also impacted our family budget. If you are presently facing the task of doing it all and paying for it all too, below are a few financial tricks and tips that I have found helpful during my postsecondary journey with kids.
1. Keep a Calendar of Financial Opportunities and Deadlines for Students with Family Responsibilities
As a postsecondary student parent, I realized that financial deadlines were something I really needed to stay on top of. So, I started a financial calendar and began researching and reviewing financial opportunities throughout the school year. Now, I continually review my school’s awards websites and financial resources. When financial notices are circulated, I always read them to see if I am eligible and keep a rolling list of opportunities that I may be eligible for/interested in the future. So that I don’t miss anything, I also include postsecondary related payment deadlines and student/family health insurance benefit opt-in and out dates in my financial calendar. Keeping a financial calendar and constantly applying for financial awards can be tedious. However, nothing ventured, nothing gained! While not all of my applications have been successful, I have been fortunate to have received a few scholarships, financial awards, and grants while attending university. These additional funds have helped to offset the costs of my education and add some flexibility in terms of our family budget.
2. Take Advantage of Free Stuff for Students and Families On-campus
I realize that the ‘free’ stuff on-campus is not really free – it often comes out of student fees – nevertheless, when I became a student parent, I was pleased to find so many free things for parents and families on-campus. For example, my school’s library had a great collection of children’s books that I could borrow and read to my kids at home. So we saved money by just borrowing the books that we knew the kids would outgrow fast. When looking for a cheap and fun night out, there were a lot of free options for families on-campus. From movie nights, concert series, cooking classes to science demonstrations – when we all needed a little edutainment there were numerous things to do around campus for all ages. As a postsecondary student parent, I also found the on-campus financial advising services very helpful. My school’s advisors shared great financial advice on parental leave, childcare, housing and government subsidies for student parents.
3. Brown Bag It: Pack a Lunch and Bring Your own Coffee to School
I love the on-campus Tim’s and Starbucks as much as the next person. But brown bagging it really saved me and my family a lot of money. This did require some pre-planning. But it wasn’t so hard and after a while it became a part of our family routine. I mean I was packing meals and snacks for my kids anyways and so it became lunch bags for them and one for me. A few bucks on coffee or lunch out may seem trivial, but I have found that saving here and there has really helped my family to budget wisely while I’m in school.
4. Pay Yourself First: Make Your Long-term Investments and Savings a Priority
As a student parent, I realize this is easier said than done, especially on a tight student-family budget. But, if we waited until I finished school to put aside a little extra for retirement and for the kids’ postsecondary education, it probably wouldn’t happen. Realizing this early on, we setup auto deposits into our savings accounts and long-term registered education and retirement investments to coincide with payday. Paying yourself first by saving off the top, even just a little bit every month, can really help to contribute to your family’s long-term financial plans, even while managing postsecondary and household expenses. It can also allow your family to take advantage of government tax perks and other benefits associated with registered long-term savings plans. When a parent and a postsecondary, it can seem counter intuitive to pay yourself first by saving. But just setting aside a little bit each month can set you and your family up for a stronger financial future beyond postsecondary education.
In closing, I hope my thrifty advice as a postsecondary student parent can help you and your family stress less and save more during your studies. Graduate school and parenthood have taught me so many things, including the importance of family financial planning, saving for a rainy day and sticking to a budget.