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Back To School: Creating a balance for adult students

Heading back to school later in life? Whether this is your first semester in a college classroom or your return from a lengthy absence, the transition could present some challenges for you. We've got tips to help you balance school, work and family life.

How did Billy Madison put it?

I got my lunch packed up, my boots tied tight, I hope I don't get in a fight.

Oh, back to school... back to school…

If you’re returning to college well into your adulthood this fall, you might feel a little out of place among your younger counterparts. At this point in your life, you have a lot more to worry about than dorm room feng shui. You probably have a full-time job, bills, a home and a family to balance.

“Time off from school means time to forget things and time for the mind to slow down,” says Mike Sullivan, director of education for Take Charge America, a national non-profit credit counseling agency. “Most students are also surprised at the increased costs. Tuition costs always increase even faster than the rate of inflation, and many older students are shocked to see textbooks that cost $200.”

Sullivan says adult students need to be creative when it comes to cutting back on spending to make sure their new education venture doesn’t begin to affect other parts of their lives. How can you do that? He offers five things to consider in order to keep you on track.

1. Childcare: Do you have young children? You'll likely need to set aside extra funds for childcare. In addition to classroom time, a babysitter may be needed during study groups or when you need to concentrate on homework. Check with your school to see if childcare is offered and consider trading childcare services with another parent in a similar situation.

2. House Maintenance: Schoolwork can take you away from household chores. Many adult students find it easier to hire a cleaning or lawn maintenance service, yet the cost could set you back significantly each month. Consider doling out more responsibilities to family members or enlisting the help of close friends.

3. Health Care: If you are leaving your job or switching to a part-time position, you may lose health care benefits. This becomes a greater issue if your spouse and/or children are attached to your health insurance. Research your company's COBRA plan to find out whether you can continue with your current benefits. If you need to enroll in an individual health plan, consider a higher deductible to keep monthly payments as low as possible. Additionally, make an effort to prevent future health problems. Exercise regularly and eat healthy.

4. Retirement: Many adults may need to reduce contributions to their retirement accounts in order to meet school expenses. How would this affect your retirement plans? Do you have other investments to pad the loss? Will your increased earnings potential make up the difference? If you must put

retirement savings on hold, ask parents and friends who regularly give you gifts on birthdays and holidays to consider cash gifts you can deposit into your retirement account. If you get a tax refund, you can allot that funding to your retirement as well. Every little bit helps.

5. Transportation: Many adults returning to school don't live near campus. Gas, parking and/or public transportation costs must be taken into account. For those who own older vehicles especially, the extended commute may increase general wear and tear, requiring increased maintenance costs.

Consider carpooling or enrolling in online courses to offset this expense.

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