College: No really, it’s full-time

I wish high schools and colleges would do a better job explaining to students why we call a five class schedule in college “full-time”. Many students believe that when they leave high school to transition to college that full-time education is over. I can understand why they believe this. Generally, high school is five days-a-week, while college is generally two or three days.

I have seen so many students perform poorly because they are not prepared for the transition to more independent learning. Some students see the limited class schedule and believe that they won’t have to work as hard before they are only in class a few hours a week. Others see all that free time and fill it with work or other activities. I have seen a number of students working full-time and taking a full-time course load.

When entering college, students must be realistic about their study schedules and how much time this is really going to take. For every course, professors generally plan that for every hour a student is in class, the student should spend 2 to 3 hours outside of class. This outside time is comprised of reading, homework and studying the material. We generally do not include projects or papers in this estimate. So for your average three credit course which meets two and a half hours a week, a student should expect to spend five to seven and a half hours a week outside the class.

When you include attending class, students should be spending seven to ten hours per week, per course. Taking five courses, that’s 35 to 40 hours a week. When you start adding work schedules to this, it’s easy to see why students are stressed, especially when trying to work full-time while going to school full-time.

So why am I putting this post on a blog about saving money? Every time a student takes a course and performs badly, having to take the course again, the student is wasting money. When courses cost at least $1,500 each, that’s a lot of money to lose. Also, I’ve seen a number of students taking on too much and seeing their GPA suffer. A poor GPA will make it more difficult to get a good job or even get a job at all after graduation.

I understand that most students must work while in college, some having to work full-time to make ends meet. When that is the case, consider how much time you can really devote to college and take a schedule that is realistic. While it will take longer to graduate on a part-time basis, it will take just as long to complete a degree when you have to drop courses each semester because you don’t have the time to do well.

If you have a student planning to go to college in the fall or a student who is currently in a college, talk to him or her about time constraints and expectations. We all must do what we can to help the students in our lives succeed.

Time vs. Money

Life is a balancing act, just like your budget. Most of us have to make a choice between time and money at some point in our lives. I was forced to make that choice a few years ago.

In July of 2006, my husband and I were just getting back on our feet after  he changed career paths. He was making good money again after nine months of living mostly off of my income. I was working a lot of hours plus I had just finished my master of science in accounting and taxation two months earlier. I am a whirlwind kind of person. Ask my friends; I’m always moving in 800 different directions. I was starting to contemplate what I would start next. I had been feeling kinda crappy but pushed through most of it to finish my degree. At one point, I was working full-time plus taking classes full-time. I was never home and missed my husband tremendously. We spent a lot of money on groceries and eating out because we always needed a quick dinner solution every night. I was burnt out and I was miserable.

Then I got a kick in the pants, telling me to slow down. I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I went from speed of light to complete stop in one afternoon. I started treatment immediately and stopped working. I was lucky to have a disability plan at work, even if it wasn’t much for the first 13 weeks. It was enough to pay for our health insurance with a little left over. We got into some serious debt during this whole thing. We tried to sell out house but couldn’t. I sat at home, sick and worried about money.

Then, I started to do something. I started clipping coupons again, something I hadn’t done since we bought the house.  I started planning meals. I started to enjoy cooking again. I looked for other ways to cut our budget. When my treatment was over, my husband and I sat down to discuss what was next. My doctor really did not want me going back to work as a full-time tax accountant. It was too stressful for my Type A personality. He was concerned about the risk of reoccurance. Jeff and I looked at our budget. I knew I could start up a small tax and consulting practice, but doing so would mean a serious cut in pay. We decided that we could make it. My husband works for the state now and we have great health insurance.

I work more than I planned when I first started this venture. I have my accounting practice, plus I teach a few classes a semester at a local college. I’m doing the blog. While I still whirlwind around, I now have time to get dinner on the table almost every night. I have time to do little errands during the day so that Jeff and I have more time together. I also have more time to help us save money. We still have approximately the same lifestyle while I make a lot less money and have a lot less stress. I really enjoy what I’m doing now and I think our marriage is better than it’s ever been.

In the last few years, the frugality debate has been about my time and my health. I chose time over money. Being frugal gives me more “me” time and more “us” time. It allows me to pursue things that I never thought possible, like teaching. Getting cancer really opened my eyes to what is important.

My husband worked with a man who worked so hard his entire life. He worked long hours and sacrificed his family life to make a living and build retirement savings so he and his wife could have the time of their lives. He was planning to retire when he was 55. That would give them plenty of time to make up for all those lost years. A week before he was scheduled to retire, his wife died unexpectedly. He spent all those years building a wonderful life for them and never got to enjoy it with her.

You never think it could happen to you. I hope it never does. I hope it doesn’t take an illness or some other catastrophe to get you to start thinking about the possibilities in your life. One of my favorite quotes is from a paper weight my sister gave me when I graduated from college. It states “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?” I started my own business, cut back my hours, started doing something I love, got a little more frugal and spend more time with Jeff and the cats.

What would you do? Are you balancing time and money right now? How is it going for you? Do you find yourself stressed with all the daily obligations of your life? How can you change things? Have you already made the change? Tell us about your story.

Looking at money in new ways

There are two approaches to balancing a budget: making more money or making your money do more. I reside in the second school of thought. I value my time; I don’t want to spend any more time than I have to trying to make money. In this economy, it is becoming more difficult to make that budget balance, but together, we can share tips and tricks to save money and get back more of our time.