Friday, February 15, 2013

The value of higher education

One thing I am very grateful to have in our current family/financial situation is my college degree. Without it we'd be living on a lot less per year, that's for sure.

It was not easy getting this Bachelor's Degree in Business and Accounting. No, I had to take the long route to get it, but thank God I did.  I threw myself a couple of road blocks early on, along the way, but getting my degree was one goal I never backed away from.  I started out at a community college after high school. I thought I wanted to be an interior decorator, so I took the first year of classes in the 2 year program. Getting a 4 year degree in this field (at the time) meant in order to get a 4-year degree I'd have to go to a university on the other side of the state and finish it up there. After the first year of classes I decided interior design wasn't really for me. It was too "subjective" and my brain works better working with things that are black and white - like accounting. I had really enjoyed the accounting class I took in highschool, so I decided to focus on a business degree.  I pretty much had to start over, as most of my classes from the first year weren't relevant.

Then during this first year I met my DH. Don't know why I thought we needed to get married before I finished school, but we were married 6 months before I finished my AA degree at the community college. I applied for the business school at a state college (about a 40 mile drive from our home) and got in and transferred there. I worked in the city at a part time job, so after school was done at noon or so, I  drove to my afternoon job as an office/file clerk type position. Then every evening make the long trek through traffic, back home. Even though I was married now we both knew that getting my degree was a priority.

I hated the big university! It was so big and the classes were much more difficult. It was a long day for me every day to drive the hour or more each way, work and study. During my second quarter I had a pretty major health scare - my lung collapsed. DH was between jobs and we didn't have any health insurance (I'm not sure why we didn't have any, guess we thought we were young and healthy and didn't need it. And I'm not sure why either of our parents didn't advise us more, I sure would emphasise this to my kids). I had to stay in the hospital overnight and then home on bed rest for 2 weeks. I don't remember how much the hospital and doctor bills were back then, several thousand dollars, but to us it seemed like a huge amount and we had no money. Since I missed so much of my classes I had to drop that quarter anyway and since I really didn't like going there I decided to find a full time job, so we could pay my medical bills and I'd take a bit of time off school.

I quickly found a full time job - where I worked at for almost 10 years. A large corporation, with the branch I worked at having 600 employees. This company would pay for tuition and books towards a degree! As I was making plans to start back up with school, my lung collapsed again. Thankfully this time I had full insurance, so no worries there. So, after a year of just working, I found a program at a different college where I could work full time and go to school at night. This started my next 4 year journey of finishing up my last 2 years of college. I could only take 2 classes per quarter, working full time and also having the commute of almost an hour each way. I had to have some time to study. So, this was our life for the next 4 years.I'd even take one class during summer. We deliberately waited to have kids until this dang degree was completed.

During this time, since I was showing initiative and getting my accounting degree I was promoted to a newly added position of staff accountant. When I was getting close to my last 2 quarters of college we decided to start trying to get pregnant. We figured after 7 years of not trying, our luck it would take me a while to get pregnant. No, I got pregnant right away, so my last quarter of school was mixed with morning sickness. I graduated 4 months pregnant.

I stayed on with this company for 4 more years, getting a couple of promotions and making ok money. Then I took off 5 years when DD was born and was a SAHM. Looking back that was probably a mistake (financially) in some ways, but since DH spent whatever he/we had, it probably wouldn't have made much difference in the end result we are at now, anyway. I really enjoyed being a stay at home mom, but his health problems started and we needed more income so I went back to work. With his health condition such an unknown and scary at the time, and the fact that I had 2 grade school aged kids at home, I wanted a job very close to home. There aren't really many high paying accounting jobs in my town. So, I took a job as a bookkeeper at a doctors office. I was only making $35k a year, but I really liked the job and the short 6 mile commute. I also learned medical billing while there. After 15 months the doctor decided to outsource his billing and I could either stay their part time (just doing payables and payroll) or find a new job. A few weeks later I found a similar job at a larger doctors office just down the street and worked there for 3 years. But, I still wasn't making the money I could potentially make utilizing my accounting degree. At this time I was making $39,000 a year, but DH was still able to work some so we were getting by.The kids were getting older and more self sufficient and DH's medical condition wasn't getting any worse, so we had kind of learned to live with it, for the most part.

All this time I had kept in email contact with an old boss/friend/colleague, who by this time was part owner of the company I work for now. He had tried to get me to come work there a few times but there was no way I was spending over 2 hours per day commuting to and from the big city. Then he made me an offer of work at the office part time 3 days a week (come in after rush hour and leave before rush hour started) and work from home 2 days and the rest of the 40 hour work week - at $50k a year to start. It didn't take me long thinking on that and I took him up on his offer. I have been there 7 years now and my salary has increased a total of 32% since I started. I also had 2 years where we had nice bonus's of an extra 20% of our salary.  I know if I had stayed at the doctors office I would probably not be making any more than $45k by this time - probably less with their pitiful raises.

Sure, I could seek even higher paying - management type positions, but I tried being a manager/supervisor some years ago and it just wasn't for me. I valued my family time too much to spend 60 hours a week at a job. I could probably do a decent job at what my boss does, but she is there 10-11 hours a day and I just don't want the time and stress involved. If I was single (and with grown kids, like my boss) I might consider those kinds of hours.

We strongly encourage our kids to get degrees. DS has completed his 2 years computer network engineering degree and at this point hasn't shown a desire to get is 4 year degree. I am hoping he will change his mind and finish that up down the road. Most likely he will at some point.  DD is definitely going to get her 4 year degree and wouldn't surprise me if she goes past that, for a Master's. I am so glad they both realize the value of getting some education or training in a specialty beyond high school.


  1. That is a very inspiring story. It is always nice to look back and see how things turned out, especially when there's a positive ending. I do think that higher education is what's best for a lot of people, and definitely gives you a louder voice when applying for jobs vs some that may not have the same amount of ed.

  2. Good for you! I started college, but ended up hating the college I went to, & instead of looking to transfer I quit & got a job instead. I tried going back years later to at least get my 2 yr degree, but got pregnant after having taken just 2 classes. I was working FT & was soooo tired, that I put it off yet again. After DS was born I decided to stay home & just never finished my degree. My older son already (at age 14) has his path planned - 4 year college, accounting/ business degree -- which coincidentally is what I *was* going to school for. I now live vicariously through him LOL.

  3. Funny I just did a blog post on this tonight. I have 1.5 years til I am done nursing school and will finish at the age of 45. But I will finsih

  4. Michelle - I knew that if we had kids before I got my degree I'd most likely never get it. We got married young, but were married 7 years before we had our first child. It wasn't until I stayed home with my second child that I even found time to finish taking (and finally passing) the CPA exam.

    J udy - good for you! My aunt got her nursing degree about that age too, She just finally retired about a year ago