I started the online library science program in July, 2009. At the time I had visions of being able to finish it in a one-year time span. Program limitations made that plan impossible. So, I adjusted my plan to finishing in two-years. In hindsight, that really was the better way to go, at least financially.
Like I mentioned in my title, I managed to graduate with my Master’s debt free. How did I do this? Well, there were many factors involved, including: previous savings, downsizing living standards, generous family and friends, scholarships, and tutoring.
Before beginning graduate school (and being laid off from my oil and gas company job) I had a fully funded 6+ month emergency fund, a sizable car replacement fund, and the beginnings of a house down payment fund and dream fund. I also was living in an 8oo sq foot one-bedroom apartment with a fairly reasonable rent (at least it was reasonable when I was working full time …)
Cutting Back and Downsizing
As soon as I was laid off I started cutting out as many of the extra expenses that I could. I’d previously cut cable due to watching very little television, but there were a few other expenses I could reduce. After making the decision to go back to school, I realized that staying in my apartment just would not work. So I began to look for a more inexpensive place to live after my lease ran out. I found such a place via Craigslist – renting a room in a home with two teenagers and two dogs. The room was quite small (about the size of a large bathroom), but I did have some storage space in the garage, as well as the use of the extra living room. In order for this to work, I sold and/or donated roughly 60% of my furniture and other belongings. I moved in at the end of September with the understanding (at least I thought so) that I would be there through June of 2011. By January, 2010, it was clear that my landlady and I had not clearly communicated our time range expectations. So, I started looking for another place that I could afford.
Generous Family and Tutoring
At this point my mom and step dad offered to let me rent an extra room in their home. Since I would have to put most of my things in a storage unit, they agreed to a slightly lower rent than I had been paying. From the time I was laid off until I moved in January, I had worked 25 – 35 hours a week at a gym. When the commute was 20 – 25 minutes, working there still made financial sense. However, with the new move, the commute would be a minimum of 90 minutes if I left at 6 a.m.
My mom runs an in-home tutoring business (she goes to the client). About this same time she had a client referred to her which she thought I might be better suited to meet the client’s needs. This particular client needed someone 6 hours a week, plus another client at three hours a week, and I was able to quit the job at the gym. After the semester was over, I received many new tutoring students throughout the new school year due to the success of my first few clients.
Besides the generosity of my mom and step dad renting a room to me, I also had other family members who helped me out along the way quite generously. My dad’s side of the family paid for me to come to CA at Christmastime, as well as my dad and grandma helping me with some dental expenses and other monetary gifts.
Before beginning graduate school, I researched for any available scholarships. There were not many available for someone just beginning. I did apply for one, which was rewarded during my second semester. During the summer between my first and second year, I became eligible to apply for numerous scholarships. I applied to everything that I came even somewhat close to qualifying for. At first, I was only awarded two scholarships. One was a repeat of the one from the second semester, and the other was a new one. Then near the end of the first semester of my second year I was awarded a third scholarship. This third scholarship was nearly 3x the amount of the previous two, and was for the full year. In all, I had one scholarship which repeated 3 times, a second scholarship which repeated twice, and a third one which was only offered once. Combined, these scholarships covered nearly 14 credits worth of tuition and fees (out of the required 36 credit hours.)
This past winter my mom and step dad divorced. My ex-step dad decided that he was going to sell the house, but that he’d wait till May to put it on the market. Since May of 2010 I have helped the assistant treasurer at my church with counting the tithes and offerings. When I mentioned to her that I was going to need to find a new affordable place to live until I found a job other than tutoring, she generously offered to let me rent a room from her and her daughter. I moved in with them on May 1, 2011, and graduated on May 13, 2011.
Currently, I am still tutoring, as well as doing whatever other employment opportunities that I can find. My goal is to find a school librarian job because that is my field and my passion. However, I am open to wherever God may lead me. Thanks to generous friends, family, my downsizing, and God sending scholarships my way, I managed to not only graduate debt free, but with a small bit of savings left!