My husband and I have been at this school thing a long time. Or at least it feels that way. As we’ve gone on with our education, our world and lives have changed. But there are some staples in our budget that have stayed pretty stable. These line items are things that you don’t typically see in a traditional college-student’s budget. These are the things that make it hard to get everything balanced between books and tuition. This is our non-traditional student budget.
We live in an apartment that’s really too small for the size of our family. But upgrading isn’t an option right now. I think back to my initial foray with traditional college. I think about living in the dorms. I think about the options that were available to me as a young, single adult, like renting out a room in someone’s house for a pittance or sharing a huge expensive place with 10 other roommates and dividing our bill.
For the non-traditional student, these things are sometimes not options.
The Meal Plan
My meal plan combined with my dorm room in college cost less than what we pay for rent right now. Now we have to add food onto that. For us and the little ones. And as much as I may wish someone would cook it for me included in the cost, that definitely does not happen.
I know, I know. People don’t need cars. Except that we do if we want to have our jobs. We both have to be very mobile and very quickly if we want to make money. Public transport doesn’t cut it, and often doesn’t go to the places we need to go.
So there is one car payment in our two car home. Plus gas. Plus maintenance. We actually keep all of these costs pretty low considering. We are way lucky to have a mechanic in the family. We use rewards on gas, but we still have to use so much it makes me sick. The car payment I’m willing to deal with. It keeps a rotating line of credit open, we can afford the monthly payment, and the cars we are able to afford with that payment have very low maintenance all things considered. I used to drive beaters, and they cost me far more money each month in repairs. Not to mention the headaches.
I can’t wait until everyone in our house is potty-trained. But I’m not holding my breath. Until that day, we have to buy diapers, which are not a cheap line item. We also have to buy things like sippy cups, shoes (right now we’re in a stage where we’re buying new ones once a quarter for each kid as they grow so quickly,) wipes, and other miscellaneous items that get destroyed yet are necessary for keeping your kid healthy and clean.
This isn’t the greatest example, as we’ve oscillated with our coverage as opportunities have come and gone for insurance over the years. (Our kids have always been insured, though.) When you’re a non-traditional student, you’re not covered by mom and dad’s plan. Unless you’re under 26. So get ready to negotiate with doctors’ offices, wave your cash in front of their faces to convince them that just because you’re self-pay doesn’t mean you’re going to flake out on the bill, and pray that nothing horrific happens until the next time you can find affordable coverage. Or fork over ~$200/month. That’s what we were looking at for one of us in our area for a next-to-bear-bones policy the last time I had to check.
It would be ideal to just go in and get everything cleaned up so you never got cavities. We’ve actually done that over certain courses of our non-traditional college days. But sometimes you still get them. Dentist appointments/cleanings for self-pay in my area are around $100, and then getting those dang cavities filled are around $120/pop. X-rays are around $70 for four of those bite things. I’ve also looked into purchasing dental insurance independently. There’s no way we can afford it at this point. We have used student clinics at certain points, but the only advantage we’ve found with these is that they are more flexible in when you pay them. How much you pay them is pretty much the same.
Yeah, we’re real grown-ups and still have to pay coin-op to wash our clothes. It adds up quickly, especially when you’ve got
messy creative kids like mine.
So we have a lot more bills to pay. We have much bigger needs to work jobs. But that doesn’t mean we can’t do this. We are doing this. We’ve been doing this. At times it’s sucked. But at others it’s been incredibly rewarding. I walked. I finally walked. He’s almost halfway done with his degree. Our earning potential just keeps inching higher. This is worth it. This is possible.
And it’s not just possible for us. It’s possible for anyone. And it’s possible without incurring debt. Many traditional college students go into tens of thousands of debt. As a non-traditional student, you have the option of doing the same thing. But there are so many other options for you, and so many financial doors that are open to you because of your unique situation.
First of all, if you’re in enough of a financial state to consider returning to school, odds are you’re going to qualify for all the money you can possibly get through the FAFSA. If you’re 24+ (or meet any of these other contingencies) they don’t count your parent’s income anymore. Which is a major win for you when being awarded grants.
You also have many other life experiences and motivators for completing your schooling. This is great fodder for scholarship essays. You’ve lived more life, and therefore had a greater opportunity to meet and overcome many challenges. Find out what the scholarship board is looking for, and then sell it.
You can get grants and scholarships to cover your tuition. And sometimes you can get enough that they can help meet those day-to-day expenses. Like housing. Like daily meals. Like diapers and sippy cups and car maintenance and cavities. It’s not easy, but you can do this.
I know you can, because we are.