Family Life


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Does going back to school make financial sense for you?

When Laura McCann decided to update her status of stay-at-home mom to student, it was a major lifestyle and financial adjustment.

Woman studying coffee - does going back to school make financial sense for you? 

Luckily, the Toronto mother of two already had a sizable nest-egg from teaching English for two years in Japan pre-parenthood. So, while she and her husband didn’t feel the pinch of adjusting to one-income or covering tuition and textbooks, there was one hefty line item to add to the family budget: $20,000 for full-time childcare. 

When it comes to mixing diapers and diplomas, finding the time to do it is one thing, but looking for ways to fund it is completely another. Here’s what to consider before you or your partner head back to school.

Is It Worth It?

Know exactly why you’re going back to school. “At this stage in your life, you need to look at it as an investment,” says Scott Plaskett, senior financial planner and chief executive officer of Toronto’s Ironshield Financial Planning. “If you have to make some sacrifices to go back, you want to make sure that you’re going to come out with the ability to earn more income, get a better job or somehow make things better.”

Also consider whether going back to school is actually the solution to changing careers or boosting your existing one. “There are options that might give you the same end result for less money and more time flexibility,” Scott notes. Look at online courses or continuous learning opportunities through professional association memberships. “These might allow you to gain extra skills for a lot less money than going back to school would cost, and that might give you the ability to make some extra money or enhance your value to the workplace and make that return on investment much higher,” he adds.

Know Your Numbers

“Often people have no idea what they spend,” says Scott. “So in transitioning into a fixed and often lower income, you need to figure out as a family if and how you can live off that.” Scott recommends studying your finances for a two-month period to see how much you’re spending and identify areas where spending can be trimmed.

“Then do some financial reshuffling. I’ve seen people consolidate all of their insurance into one plan to reduce overall premiums. Or forgoing high-speed internet if they’re just using it for surfing and email, or dropping a landline if they have a cell phone. Little things like that help,” he says.

Look for Grants

Think like a student again and explore options for grants and loans. Check out, the National Association of Career Colleges ( and Canada Revenue Agency’s Lifelong Learning Plan at Adults with dependents can be eligible for grants at both the federal and provincial levels.

Explore RRSP Options

Pulling money out of your RRSP can be another source of funding. “A life-long learning program allows you to take up to $20,000 out of your RRSP to put toward going back to school.” Keep in mind that rules and restrictions apply to taking the money out: you do have to pay it back. Otherwise it gets added to your income and becomes taxable. “And you have to start paying it back within two years of stopping school or within five years of when you started school,” he adds. “You’ve got 10 years to pay it back and in essence you pay back one tenth of what you took out per year for 10 years once you start paying it back.”

Aisle Management

If you’re changing from two incomes to one, don’t be surprised if you become a bit more budget-conscious at the grocery store. Finance expert and author Gail Vaz-Oxlade offers these tips:

  • Always shop with a list and stick with it.
  • Shop at stores that price match, and bring the flyers in with you.
  • Stock up when your favourite items are on sale.
  • Organize coupons according to expiry date. “If you don’t use them, it’s like throwing money away.”
  • Spend a bit of time meal planning for the week to avoid buying unnecessary items that end up getting wasted.
  • Freeze fruits and veggies when they’re on their last legs, or boil up celery, onions, cauliflower and broccoli to make a vegetable stock that you can freeze. “I very seldom throw out old produce anymore.”
  • Consider brand name and generic products carefully. “I’m a big Dawn fan because a small bottle lasts for months. And two sheets of Bounty paper towel goes as far as five no-name sheets.”


Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, August/September 2014.

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