Author Topic: Can I afford to go back to school?  (Read 2510 times)

MountainTown

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Can I afford to go back to school?
« on: October 13, 2018, 02:10:02 PM »
I currently work into a field that I like enough, but don't love. I sorta fell into it, got promoted a lot, happened to have a great boss and stuck around. I currently make about $81k with a small bonus(about $1500 year). For a long time it was my dream/passion to go back to school and become a mental health counselor, either by way of an MSW program or LCPC program(Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor).

Long story short, I got a new boss about 1-2 years ago and life has been pretty miserable under that boss. My zeal for the job is definitely waning, the stress is too much, and conversations with my supervisor(on a more manageable workload) typically end up being a dead end. I don't have a lot of optimism the situation is going to get better anytime soon. That being said, things change--supervisors leave ...get promoted...anything's possible.

My wife has been encouraging my to use this an opportunity to go back to school. I have started the process of applying for next year. I figure no matter what I decide it will feel good to have options. However I am very scared about the financial situation. I definitely have fear of uncertainty and lack faith that I will ever even make this amount again. I wish we were closer to FI, but we just aren't. I think we have done pretty good but we still have a ways to go to even be at a lean FI.

I guess my question is do you think I can afford to go back to school or should I try to stick it out to get closer to FI? I will lay out my numbers and answer a few anticipated questions:

Can you work and goto school at the same time? Doubtful. Job is very stressful and demanding. Most likely they would not allow a halftime schedule. I may try but that would only be at the point that i am comfortable leaving.

Can you work at the school and goto school free? I will try but so far it hasn't looked promising in terms of the assistantships available. I think there may be just one so very competitive. Possibly I could qualify for some other position on campus.

Here are the numbers:

240,000(was $255 a week ago!) in retirement assets(combined)
60,000 in cash(we had hoped to buy a house soon but the job situation has given me pause)
FSA: $2650 each that we use up every year(I have a lot of medical expenses)
2 cars. 1 beater. 1 nicer used.
Total combined NW: About $300,000 without cars and FSA

Wife income: $42k, Age 30
My income: $81k, Age 34
Gross joint income: $123k
Expenses: We saved over $50k this year so it seems our expenses with taxes, health insurance, and all the other stuff must be around 70k


Estimated cost of tuition: Depending on credit load it will be 2 years or 2.5 years so about $11,000 a year or $22,000 to $26,000 for the whole program.

Salary upon graduating: This is a big question mark/fear for me. In my town, the people who aren't self employed MH counselors seem to make a paltry wage. Anywhere as low as $35k to $65k. I don't know this for sure but my understanding is that Full time MH private practitioners can make $80k to $100k depending on hours. This would likely take a few years to build up to and require I be pretty damn good. If there any MH counselors, I would love to hear their numbers. BLS is a pretty low range so it wasn't comforting.

Other notes....we have no kids but are trying. We do not own a house. We rent at a pretty cheap place. It's a tight/small house and we wish we could move to a more functional space. For now we are enjoying the lower rent(875 for 2 bed house).

As for paying for school, I have gone back and forth on how to do that. Likely if I were to resign today my vacation balance would pay for the first year. At this point I have built up about 1.5 months of leave. My biggest concern is how will we cut out salary down to $42k and even live, let alone keep saving or the future. I could take out student loans or just pay cash for the rest. Again I will try for scholarships, grants, teaching assistantships but no guarantees there.

I am slightly comforted that by next year, we potentially could add another $50k to the investments and be up to $300k in investments. I feel like that is kind of a breaking point in NW as the money should really start to grow more.

Any words of encouragement, advice, or reality checks appreciated. Should I stick it out a few years longer? Or is this a good time to go ahead and pursue my dream job/career?

Thanks!!


« Last Edit: October 13, 2018, 02:13:22 PM by MountainTown »

wordnerd

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Re: Can I afford to go back to school?
« Reply #1 on: October 13, 2018, 02:30:14 PM »
I think you can, but you need to track your expenses and figure out how to live on your wife's salary and perhaps some cash. Plus, you need to anticipate potential childcare costs. Will you be a SAHP while in school full-time? Your taxes will go down with your reduced income, so that will help some. Does your wife get benefits through her work to cover you and a potential child? A case study may help you figure out how to make it work once you have your expenses tracked.

Should you? I have trouble seeing the math for it. The opportunity cost of two years of earning, plus tuition, to make considerably less is obviously not the most efficient way to go about it. It will likely put the kibosh on the house for now, as.you already know.  On the other hand, if you're fulfilling your lifelong dream/purpose, then that's intangible. I would make sure you really value the career change enough to justify the cost. Bad bosses can happen in any field. Be sure you're running to something, not away from something.

MountainTown

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Re: Can I afford to go back to school?
« Reply #2 on: October 13, 2018, 02:38:14 PM »
Yea honestly it seems pretty tough to solely live on her salary. Pretty barebones at 42k. It's got my a bit depressed.
Luckily she does get some maternity leave. That could last us 1-2 months but not for a whole year. She doesn't get free childcare or anything.

I think I would enjoy being a SAHP while in school full time. I mean I'm just not sure how that would work. Obviously I can't be bringing a kid into class but I think I could cover a lot more hours than when working FT.

I hear you on the efficiency thing. Problem is we are probably 4-7 years from FI so it's long way to wait.

wordnerd

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Re: Can I afford to go back to school?
« Reply #3 on: October 13, 2018, 03:00:09 PM »
One way to think about it is: is this a job you would want to do even if you were FI? A lot of people still work in FI (MMM included). A lot of them could've started living their best life sooner by switching to lower paying work and accumulated assets more slowly. If this is what you would do with your time anyway, then go for it! The beauty of frugality is that it lets you do what you want with your life even if they don't pay well.

But if this isn't that much of a passion, I'd look for a new job that doesn't require two years of schooling.

Maybe, I'm setting the bar too high, but that's probably how I'd personally approach the decision.

Cranky

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Re: Can I afford to go back to school?
« Reply #4 on: October 13, 2018, 03:23:46 PM »
Is this a program you can do part time? Are any of the classes online?

Is there some reason you can’t start taking one class/term, and see how you like it? Plenty of people work and take *1* grad class.

MountainTown

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Re: Can I afford to go back to school?
« Reply #5 on: October 13, 2018, 03:27:58 PM »
The program I am most interested in seems to require full time students. There is a local MSW program which does classes on one day so must be long day. I don't think I could work FT and do my job. I maybe could go half time...but I don't think employer would allow. Of course there are other jobs I could work, just would be way less pay.

I am pretty passionate about the field. It's always gnawed at me to go in this direction. I went to school for Psychology with the intention of becoming a psychologist. Then I graduated, realized the mountain of debt I racked up, and decided to focus on that before going back. 10 years later, I am debt free(between wife and me we had about $70k in student debt) and have a $300k NW. L

I think that I would do it, even if FI....though maybe half time would be nicer. Of course, there is no way to know for sure. There is no volunteer experience where you do psychotherapy....I think it will be pretty much impossible to know how passionate I am until I dive in. I hate that uncertainty but I think it's just the situation.

frugaldrummer

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Re: Can I afford to go back to school?
« Reply #6 on: October 13, 2018, 04:41:15 PM »
My son is in a MSW program right now, he has a full class load plus an internship. Definitely not something you could do while working OR while being a SAHP.

I'd suggest seeing if you could change things at work so as to make it more pleasant (you mentioned promotion?) and wait a few years until FI before going back to school. First of all, because once FI you won't worry about a lower income in your dream job. Second because you can't predict what will happen with a pregnancy. Wife could be put to bed rest for the duration, she could decide after the birth that SHE wants to be SAHP and could resent you for not making enough to support that, or the baby could be born with health issues or special needs.

Along those lines - what do houses cost in your area? Is buying a property and renting out rooms to help pay the mortgage an option that would be doable?

Askel

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Re: Can I afford to go back to school?
« Reply #7 on: October 13, 2018, 04:44:41 PM »

Can you work at the school and goto school free? I will try but so far it hasn't looked promising in terms of the assistantships available. I think there may be just one so very competitive. Possibly I could qualify for some other position on campus.

This is potentially a red flag to me, but I don't know much about your field. 

In my field (computer science), you should not be there if you have to pay.  Getting somebody to fund you is the most basic hurdle to overcome. If you can't overcome that, the following hurdles will be much higher. 

That said, I took two years to work on my PhD fulltime, with financial support.  We often joke that getting an advanced degree in computer science costs you a house in terms of opportunity costs. 

While that's somewhat true, I did get a bit of financial boost as it pretty much reset my lifestyle living on a graduate stipend.  My annual cost of living went from somewhere north of $30k/year to under $20k.

So yeah, graduate school is pretty much always a horrible decision from a financial perspective.  The key is honestly assessing the costs ahead of time and not from the perspective of "well I'm going to be rich when I graduate!"

But it's still worth it. Good grad students are those who are passionate about the subject, not the paycheck at the end. It seems you are one of those, that will serve you well. 
« Last Edit: October 13, 2018, 04:48:27 PM by Askel »

JLee

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Re: Can I afford to go back to school?
« Reply #8 on: October 13, 2018, 05:27:23 PM »
What about online / self paced, like WGU?

mozar

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Re: Can I afford to go back to school?
« Reply #9 on: October 14, 2018, 10:25:34 AM »
I think you can find a volunteer gig doing something close to what you want to do. You can help through a church, or volunteer to work at a phone bank where people call when they are suicidal for example. Joining americorp might also be a good transition.
Once you start volunteering or working with the kind of population you want to work with it will be easier to see a path forward. There might be jobs you can get once you have enough experience. Then change careers, then look into schools.

shelbyautumn

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Re: Can I afford to go back to school?
« Reply #10 on: October 14, 2018, 11:32:46 AM »
My son is in a MSW program right now, he has a full class load plus an internship. Definitely not something you could do while working OR while being a SAHP.

My best friend finished her MSW from a really well respected school about a year ago. She worked 2-3 part time jobs plus her internship the entire time, because she had to. There was nobody that could support her financially. She got great grades and ended up with a job paying around $50k after. For a recent social work grad, that's not bad.

My husband is doing an accelerated nursing program (BSN in 15 months) where he was told repeatedly he shouldn't work. He's 2 weeks ahead on homework and working 24+ hours a week at a hospital nearby.  He gets bored with just school and I honestly think we'd be fine if a kid was in the mix, too.

You could keep working, just not at the job you're in now. Even making $10-15k a year would be helpful for your family. Figure out your spending habits and adjust budgets where you can. If your wife is pushing you to go back to school, she'll most likely be on board with making sacrifices to make it work.

As far as future earnings go - you might have a few tight years, but if you do open your own private practice you can make decent money. I have a friend who just bought a building and hired a few other therapists. She's making 6 figures now and now has the building as an asset.

If you don't like your job anymore, that's probably not going to change drastically anytime soon. As a wife and (maybe) future mother, I'd rather have my husband making less money but be happier when he gets home. And I wouldn't want to get towards the end of our lives and have him wondering what life would have been like if he had gone after his dreams. It's not all about money or what income you can bring in. If you only look at numbers, sure it seems silly to make a big change, but is a higher networth or savings rate worth being burnt out and unfulfilled? That's something only you can answer.

MountainTown

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Re: Can I afford to go back to school?
« Reply #11 on: October 14, 2018, 11:45:32 AM »
Thanks Shelby inspiring. Well I've already got Letters of Rec in order and A Letter of Intent to apply....At least I am moving forward in that direction.

And yes I would imagine that I can do some work in the field while going to school--like you said even $15k a year adds something to the mix. In fact I believe it may even be a requirement to do so ...and there is an added advantage of getting the clinical hours needed while in school(as opposed to paying for them after school to get clinical supervision hours).


shelbyautumn

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Re: Can I afford to go back to school?
« Reply #12 on: October 14, 2018, 11:52:04 AM »
Thanks Shelby inspiring. Well I've already got Letters of Rec in order and A Letter of Intent to apply....At least I am moving forward in that direction.

And yes I would imagine that I can do some work in the field while going to school--like you said even $15k a year adds something to the mix. In fact I believe it may even be a requirement to do so ...and there is an added advantage of getting the clinical hours needed while in school(as opposed to paying for them after school to get clinical supervision hours).

I just think life is too short to hate what you're doing for half of your awake hours! What a waste. This is one of my favorite videos about that - you might like it: https://youtu.be/lVSpWnJ42_Y

Another thing you could think about is consulting in your current field. Then you get to set your own hours and charge a high fee. Your wife could also ask for a raise. The best advice my dad ever gave me was "if you don't ask the only answer is no".

Best of luck to you!

MountainTown

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Re: Can I afford to go back to school?
« Reply #13 on: October 14, 2018, 11:57:33 AM »
Luckily my wife just did get a raise! Well she has had to fight for it...she had a shitty situation where boss promoted her before leaving....and then the HR blocked it. She is in the process of working it out but it's been trying and should result in a $5k raise. Not a big jump but it's something.

use2betrix

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Re: Can I afford to go back to school?
« Reply #14 on: October 14, 2018, 04:07:49 PM »
So the total opportunity cost of 2 years missed salary/2 years tuition is about $200k.

If you graduate and make $80k with the same excel path you could have now, you’d essentially just be $200k behind your FIRE number.

Are you going to enjoy it that much more? Is it worth it?

Personally, I do not think it would be worth it to take 2 years off and go back to school for the same amount of money.

That is just my perspective and opinion. Only you can answer that honestly. No one else here.

Gray Matter

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Re: Can I afford to go back to school?
« Reply #15 on: October 14, 2018, 04:57:41 PM »
I think it's doable, if it's the most important thing to you (outside of your wife).  If you do this, it will delay FIRE.  If you're OK with that, and willing to get creative in terms of cutting expenses, working part-time, etc., then I say go for it.

I am quite a bit older than you (47) and I left a good job in corporate America four years ago to work for a non-profit, cutting my salary in half.  It was a big step in the right direction, I enjoyed the work, and it created some space in my life for me to figure out what I really wanted to do.  Most importantly, it got me into the field of mental health, which felt like coming home.
 One year ago, I left that job to become a full-time student, taking prereqs for a doctoral program in Psychology, which I started this fall (self-pay, no funding).  It will cost me about 80K and mean I am out of work for about 5 years.

I could not be happier with my career trajectory.  I am finding the program really rigorous and don't see how I could work on top of school and clinical work/practicum, but when I was younger, I did work full time and go to graduate school and it worked fine.  My stamina is less now that I'm older. 

This will delay FIRE for us (although we do have a decent net worth and could FIRE if we were a lot more frugal than we are), but I am not even remotely interested in FIREing, because I am doing exactly what I want to be doing.  If I won the lottery and never had to work another day in my life, I'd still be doing this.  I love, love, love it, and I feel so goddamned lucky to be able to do this.

So...you have to figure out what you want most in the world and what you're willing to give up to make it happen.  If the thought of two or five more years in your current job makes you feel like dying inside, then I'd say life is too short to feel that way one day longer than you have to.  I know others would disagree, and would say that you should stay the course and FIRE and THEN you can do what you want to do.  And that is a really valid choice, too.  But I just couldn't wait any longer, and I haven't had a moment's regret about any of my decisions to walk away from the money and do more meaningful work.

Good luck with this decision!

MountainTown

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Re: Can I afford to go back to school?
« Reply #16 on: October 14, 2018, 06:13:18 PM »
Wow thanks for the insight guys....Gray Matter I might PM you as I would love to talk to someone who is interested in a similar field. I actually considered the doctoral in psychology but that just seemed even more daunting to go for five years!!

clifp

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Re: Can I afford to go back to school?
« Reply #17 on: October 14, 2018, 07:09:20 PM »
The way I see it.

Wants
1. Kids
2. Own your home,  probably even more critical if you have kids
3. A good boss
4. A career in Mental Health
5. FIRE

Your first step is to prioritize those wants.  It sounds like FIRE is near the bottom, and that's fine but in a forum where is FIRE #1 or #2 the advice you get is going to skewed to put a pretty high priority on it.

I know nothing about counseling other than it seems like a perfect post FIRE career.  I could envision a situation where you start out volunteering and then convince the non-profit to pay for your schooling on part-time basis.  If you are not concerned about the pay do you have to have a degree to do it?

One thing that you didn't talk about is fixing your boss situation. I'm sort of lucky, I only had one boss, but it is not entirely luck I avoided bad bosses like the plague, and actively worked to remedy the situation when I had one.  It is not always possible to fix, but it can often be fixed.  If you think he/she is a bad boss odds are good some of your co-workers feel similarly.  You've been promoted and make a good salary. The labor market is pretty damn tight, so employers have an incentive to keep good employees, and bosses aren't always considered better than their employees.  If you have not talked to your boss's boss and maybe even a level above him about the issues you and perhaps your co-workers have with him, you should.

The worse that can happen is you get fired, which would simplify your decision process, get you a severance package, let you collect unemployment.

I