Piggy bank

Paying for college: August 2015 update

It’s been a few months since I updated this blog. Partly this was because of my end-of-semester crunch after Spring 2015 midterms. I had a lot of work to complete fast. Something had to give. And then came summer classes and, you know, VACATION.

With Semester 2 about to start Monday, however, it’s time for me to get back in the regular writing habit — and also, take stock of how well my plans for paying for college as an adult returning student have played out in real life.

How am I doing money-wise so far this year? Looking at my Quicken stats this week gave me pause.

My after-tax income has decreased by 68 percent compared with the same period last year. This was expected. I had prepared for a few years to take a salary hit when I quit my job for full-time studies.

However, my spending has actually increased, by a few thousand dollars. What?!

My three greatest expenses, after housing (my condo) and related costs, are a) Education (duh), b) Medical and c) Insurance, which is partly also Medical.

My 2015 spending to date.
My 2015 spending to date. I left off the dollar amounts, but the key shows how big a share of the pie everything got.

These outlays, though quite a bite, are simply not optional. Medical is mostly my extensive and badly needed dental catch-up — cleanings, fillings and a crown for a cracked tooth — and I’m spending this year what I should have been paying all along. Insurance is more than I budgeted for because Healthcare.gov is still not convinced I qualify for the subsidy. Education costs are higher than budgeted, also. IUPUI tuition and fees did increase, but mostly this is because I bought a new MacBook Pro once it became obvious how ill-suited my 2009 machine was to 2015 everyday use and software requirements.

Another reason to be OK with the cash outlay for a) through c) is that some — particularly Medical, given that it’s more than 10 percent of my adjusted gross income — will contribute to a large 2015 tax refund. This offsets my spending on d) Tax, too. Speaking of, let me pause to brag about how my big 2014 tax refund contributed to my bottom line:

My 2015 income to date.
My 2015 income to date. Thank you, everyone who kicked freelance projects my way!

Going back to 2015 spending, there’s e) Travel. Yes, I DID roam a lot this summer — the most costly trip by far being to Greece. Granted, that was for an academic conference, and my university is reimbursing me for part. I’m not sorry I went, because it was the chance of a lifetime. But I need to make up that money elsewhere.

Where to cut then — Utilities, Household, Groceries? I think I’ve already reduced those to a minimum. Dining, my chief social activity that’s not free, is down dramatically from last year. Business is this website and domain registration. Given my field is digital publishing and social media, I feel it’s necessary to keep.

But Auto … hmm. I’m walking and biking a lot more, yet it’s still clearly not saving enough money. With the Blue Indy electric car-sharing service coming to my neighborhood this fall, this might be a good alternative to owning my own car. I love my Prius, but it may be too expensive to keep up with maintenance, taxes and insurance.

Another option is to make more income to close the spending gap. However, I’m wary of taking on so much freelance work that my studies suffer. After all, being able to focus is why I quit my full-time job in the first place.

For those expenses that my freelance income and my salary as a research assistant doesn’t cover, I’m utilizing every other one of my 10 tips for paying for college as an adult returning student. That includes scholarships, a small IRA withdrawal, and — yes — student loans for the rest.

While it smarts to go into debt, I believe my Informatics master’s degree will lead to a job that enables me to pay it back. And given that I’m also thinking of selling my condo next year, my profits may put me back in the black again.

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Cori

Cori Faklaris (aka "HeyCori") is now a doctoral student researcher at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but still a bicyclist, cat mom, Internet addict and news junkie. She's an expert at creating engaging content and curating a personal brand on social media. A longtime journalist in Indianapolis, Ind. and elsewhere, she left to earn a master's of science degree in human-computer interaction from the Indiana University School of Informatics and Computing.

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