Chances are high that you or someone you know is in a similar situation as I am in: a college student who is earning degrees later in life with a family in tow.
As non-traditional students we’re out there seeking educational advancement: degrees, certificates, training, courses, professional development and the like. In the U.S.A, a place where education is viewed as the great equalizer, we’re hungry for bettering ourselves, our families, our vocations, our incomes. Our group of education-seekers differ from traditional variety in that we started a family prior to finishing our journey for more education.
We are the non-traditional students.
We are the old guys attending your classes, we are the pregnant moms walking around campus, we’re that person you recognize from class at the grocery store with four kids in tow.
There are many challenging aspects of being a student, but being a non-traditional student turns these challenges up to an eleven.
You think it’s hard making it to 8am classes because you partied last night in your dorm?
The non-traditional students in your 8am classes studied for class, fed their families, went to work, dealt with midnight feedings and diaper changes, the commute to campus (because they don’t live on campus) and managed to make it on time for classes, prepared.
It takes a special drive and dedication to be a non-traditional student, to balance home life, work life, church life, and school life in an effective manner. Non-traditional student are individuals who wear their status as a badge of honor.
One of the special challenges that comes along with being a non-traditional student however is budgeting and living within our often limited means.
For many students who either are heading back to school after starting a family and/or their careers, or who are still pursuing advanced degrees despite being in their mid-30’s with four kids and a wife, the ability to have a full time income is often not a reality with full-time student status.
Certainly there are loans, grants, and scholarship programs available to help pay for tuition (but they are not always qualified for), but there are other out-of-pocket school expenses like books, laptops, pens and pencils, backpacks, notebooks and other incidental school supplies that somehow need to fit into the already tight budget that non-traditional students have.
As a non-traditional student for four years straight (and at least two left tor go!), I’ve learned some very smart ways to save money during college.
5 Ways to Offset the Costs of Going Back to School the Non-Traditional College Student Way
#1. Use Amazon Prime Student
One of the best ways to find and make college (and life) essentials affordable is by using Amazon Prime Student.
Amazon has become, for me, the “shopping cart of necessity” where I shop for all my student needs.
I cannot tell you the amount of times where professors have not made book lists available until the very first day of class. This means my choices are to go to the campus bookstore and pay out the nose for the convenience of a stocked brick and mortar store, or to scour the internet for the best priced version of the book, which is likely a European paperback edition shipping from Estonia that will take a week plus to just ship, let alone arrive, which leaves me hoping I don’t have an assigned reading until it does.
Amazon Prime Student makes this problem go away. Not only are their prices very competitive and their existing stock extensive, but Amazon has affiliated stores that keep those used “good condition” foreign editions in stock as well, which can save you hundreds of dollars over your time in school. Oh, and the books will arrive promptly at your doorstep in two days. For free.
That’s the power of the Amazon Prime Student membership. No more campus bookstore! No more over-priced new and used books!
Or, if are you one of those tech savvy guys or gals who likes melting their eyes in front of a screen, Amazon Prime Student makes that easy too. Amazon offers book rentals on a lot of major textbooks, as well as similar deals on Kindle ebooks.
To buy, or to rent-that is the question.
Besides major savings on college textbooks, Amazon has low prices on all sorts of incidental college essential items and pretty much anything you need as their selection of goods is seemingly limitless. By being an Amazon Prime Student member you get free two-day shipping on almost everything online.
Free helps the budget, two days helps the stress.
What’s even better though, is if you don’t need two-day shipping, you can get free credits for selecting the no-rush shipping options! These credits can be used for all types of things including items from Prime Pantry, Kindle ebooks, Amazon Instant Videos, Digital Music, Amazon Appstore apps, Digital Video Games, Digital Software titles and more.
An Amazon Prime Student membership is FREE for the first six months, courtesy of Sprint, and after that comes at a 50% reduction in annual fees, at only $49 a year! This makes it a premium value for any college student. Plus there are Refer a Friend credits too – $5 for you and $5 for them!
Other built-in perks of an Amazon Prime Student membership are:
- Unlimited streaming of tens of thousands of movies and TV shows with Prime Video
- Free unlimited photo storage with Prime Photos
- One free pre-released book a month with Kindle First
- Exclusive deals and promotions for students like sweepstakes, giveaways, and contests.
- Listen to over a million songs, hundred of playlists, and ad-free stations for free with Prime Music
Once again, the extra free offerings make Amazon Prime Student even more of a value for the non-traditional student who is likely doing much more than just going to school.
Sign up for a stress-free back to school experience with your FREE 6 Month Trial!
#2. Use a Budget for Grocery Shopping and Eating Out
When it comes to making ends meet during college, it’s all about knowing how to create a successful monthly budget (that actually works). You can check out the Free Excel Spreadsheet template we have used to help us budget our expenses each month. A large portion of the old budget and expenses, that’s still somewhat in our control (as opposed to rent) is the food bill.
As a family we’ve sworn off restaurants and fast food places and all eating out for two whole months in order to save money and be healthier. Or we’ve learned a few tricks for saving money on food when dining out as a family of six, because we really do love eating out!
When it comes to grocery shopping, meal planning has proven THE best way to save money, followed by using coupons and grocery saving and cash back apps on top of the grocery store’s current sales. But, there are other ways to save on groceries without coupons. One of those ways are by using things like online grocery stores.
#3. Figure out a Side Hustle (or a Few)
Let’s be honest. Financially speaking, it’s not easy to go back to school as a non-traditional student. Forgoing other work or opportunities to return to school as a full-time student is hard, especially when you’ve been the primary breadwinner. Sometimes it’s worth while to look into some side hustles. Even a few extra dollars coming back to you can make a difference.
My wife has signed up with various survey sites that pay cash before and she is all about the cash back websites when making purchases online. But even using Bing Rewards or participating in Twitter Parties in the hopes of winning free stuff and/or gift cards can be worth while. She’s even found 7 legit ways to score free samples in the mail.
My wife became an Usborne Books & More Sales Consultant to help earn a little extra money this year.
However, the biggest side hustle we’ve undertaken, or rather my wife, again (isn’t she awesome at supporting me? Going back to school as a non-traditional student is definitely an entire family ordeal!) is to start a blog, and a blog that actually makes money, and quite a bit of it, three years in.
If your wife doesn’t work, or make enough to cover the family and the tuition, as you go back to school as a 30-something year old with a few kids, you’ll have to rely a lot on student loans, financial aid, scholarships, and grants, if available to you, and perhaps some government assistance programs as well.
#4. Raise Kids the Frugal Way
Since we had little money to spoil our children with, we’ve figured out some of the best money saving tips for moms who are having a baby on a budget, like how to save on baby clothes from Carter’s, and where to have free family fun in the summer. Our kids don’t have a lot of toys and frequently wear used clothes too. But, they are very happy, awesome kids, so it’s all good to raise kids frugally while you head back to school later in life.
#5 Find a Good Apartment and Cut Down on Moving Costs
We’ve done a few cross-country and cross-state and cross-town moves in our marriage and know of at least five ways to save on moving costs. We’ve also come up with a checklist to find the perfect new apartment and exploited several of these awesome moving tips and tricks.
We’ve found that staying in a smaller apartment, even as your family grows, is worth the savings. We forgo renting a house in order to save that additional money in rent every month, even though we’re a family of six in a three-bedroom apartment that often times feels cramped, especially as my wife works from home and her “office” is in our living room.
And if you don’t have to move, don’t. Stay where you are. It’s always cheaper to not have to move. But, if you are in a place that is too big, think about downsizing to a smaller home or smaller apartment in order to save thousands of dollars every year in rent or a mortgage.
I’d love to know what you’ve done as a non-traditional student going back to school at 30 or 40 with a family in order to make ends meet and afford grad school.
I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.