Affording College Life: Students with children must do some super-parenting

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By CHRISTIE ROSHAU, NEFE/SABEW Fellow

Christie Roshau

You look at the clock. Five minutes until you have to be out the door. Did you grab food? No time. You must get the rest of your things together while getting the kids ready for school. Books: check. Laptop: check. Essay printed and ready to go…shoot. You run upstairs and click, “File-Print” while looking around the room and realizing you almost left your Chemistry 204 lab book behind. Three minutes.

You run back downstairs and pack your bag. What about the kids’ lunch? Looks like they’re getting mom’s famous peanut butter and jelly sandwich again. Two minutes. Keys. Where are those keys? Ah yes, right where you left them: the place of forgetfulness. You tear the house apart. You then realize they were in your purse the whole time. Perfect.

Two minutes after. You run for the door with not a moment to lose. Shoot. That paper is still on the printer. You run upstairs, grab it, run back down, and shut the door behind you. Shoot. The kids. You forgot the kids. You yell inside, “Hurry up we’re late!” They come shuffling down. Everyone packs into the Honda and you are on the way to school; their school first. Good thing it is on the way to ASU, or you wouldn’t make it to Chemistry 204. You finally arrive. Now, did you grab everything? You go through your mental check list: check…check…check…

“Mom? I think you forgot something.” It’s your 6-year-old. Oh great.“What’s that, dear?” She comes around to your side and gives you a hug followed by, “Guess what …I love you.”You hold back a tear as you take a moment to let it sink in. You hand them their lunches, and scurry off to their class. You get back in your car and smile as you head your way to Chemistry 204.

You ask yourself: Supermom: How do you do it?

Actually, it’s not just supermom, but super-parent. If you are a parent and balancing getting your college degree, I commend you. I, for one, am the furthest person from the life of parenthood. It’s not that I don’t like children, I’m just not ready for a little ‘me’ running around. On the contrary, some of you do have a little ones running around and you wonder to yourself, “How do I do it?

Jamie G. is one such supermom. Jamie and I met in Sign Language class about two years ago while she was pregnant with her second child, Maddie. I remember as a class, we felt as if we were somewhat a part of this child’s life. When she finally had little Maddie (a month before finals), we all wanted her to bring her in for “show-and-tell.” Since then, Jamie graduated and is back at home full-time, while expecting baby number three! Jamie had to learn over time how she and her husband were going to balance school, children, and their checkbook. She found ways that helped save their wallet from dwindling down at rapid speed. She shares four major areas to cut-back in, as well as some encouraging words to parents needing a helping hand.

  • Books. Jamie says that is the first place she had to look towards cutting back. She came up with an idea to get together with others in her class to study with who had the books. It wasn’t easy to do. “I had to swallow my pride a little bit…sometimes I felt like I was mooching off of them.” She offered to pay, but as always, the students insisted she didn’t. I was one such person she did her “mooching” on, and I didn’t mind at all. I knew there were times when I needed help from friends, we both understood this importance of sharing the resources we had.
  • Clothing. “We are very blessed in regards to the dressing portion,” Jamie says. She comes from a large family of brothers, and was able to get the hand-me-downs for her firstborn son. She says if you can get your hand on them, they can save a family a lot of money. If you do not come from a family with hand-me-downs, other good places to look are second-hand stores and Craigslist. There is always a lot of children’s clothes that are in good condition hidden in the mounds of a second-hand store, as well as throughout the web pages of the online classifieds.
  • Food/Transportation. Jamie tells me a smart way to save is to make lunches at home and rarely eat on campus. “You spend five bucks here, five bucks there…it adds up.”  She also mentions to use the local bus system rather than buying an expensive parking decal as a route to saving money.
  • Defining the need vs. the want.“We as Americans are used to an extravagant lifestyle,” Jamie says. “People look at things and think of these things as necessities, when they’re not. Sometimes sacrifices have to be made.” She says such sacrifices, such as electronic toys, games, and entertainment will help save when balancing school and children expenses.

So, we revert back to the original question: Supermom, how do you do it? For Jamie, she says that the major way she was able to get through the most challenging times of balancing school and being a mother is her faith in God to provide their needs; even when they were at rock bottom, living pay check to pay check. “Having that trust that we’re going to be OK made it less stressful.”

Another important thing that kept her going was the support of her family. If it wasn’t for her family, Jamie says, she wouldn’t have been able to make it. They helped support her with some finances, as well as with watching her children. Jamie mentions there were many times she felt like giving up, but knew she could get through it and encourages all parents that they too, can.

If need be, she says, take a semester off: there’s no shame in that. She says her first priority was to be a mother, and everything fell in as second. When she made that the priority list, it all worked out for the best. It’s not easy being a parent while going to school, but it is possible.

It’s lunchtime now and the 6-year-old sits with her friends and finds a note inside her brown paper bag. She smiles. “Guess what…Mommy loves you.”

(Christie Roshau, a senior journalism major at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, writes this college student personal finance column with a grant awarded to SABEW by the National Endowment for Financial Education).

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