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Married with Homework: Dealing with Education & Adult Life

Married with Homework: Dealing with Education & Adult Life

Susan Aaron, The Learning Coach

June 04, 2008

Traditionally, marriage comes after education. But today, there is no normal timeline, and the two often overlap. Every married couple who has one spouse in school has a story as unique as their situation. Still, there are predictable benefits and pitfalls most couples should consider before combining matrimony and matriculation. Here’s advice from three couples who have been through it.

  • Cory and Hank: Cory is starting a home-based business and takes primary care of the house and kids. Hank works full-time and is completing an MBA at night.
  • Ben and Kara: Kara started a full-time, three-year master’s degree in social work within weeks of their wedding. Four years later, Ben is pursuing a master’s degree in social work at night while working full-time.
  • Gretchen and Paul: Gretchen works full-time as an art educator. Paul has recently completed his doctorate in art history.

With This Ring, We Save Some Cash

While education costs can cause a huge strain on a couple’s budget, it’s still better than the colossal impact the same education can have on an individual. The fewer loans you have to take out, the better. Here are some examples of how these couples got creative with money.

  • Hank’s company will pay for the MBA portion of his education as long as he earns high enough grades in his classes. The educational benefits were a big draw for Hank when joining his company.
  • Ben and Kara cut back on living expenses by becoming housekeepers for a professional couple in exchange for rent-free living in a small apartment in the couple’s house.
  • Gretchen and Paul have maximized Gretchen’s income by having her job dictate where the couple lives, moving twice since Paul started his dissertation.

Lifestyle Strains

The student often has far less time to spend with the nonstudent, and unless both members of the marriage are in school, the spouses’ daily rhythms are very different. Each of the three couples has a philosophy for dealing with this stress.

  • Cory and Hank, who had additional concerns caused by two children, each noted the need to help one another achieve personal goals and to enjoy the fruits of each other’s achievements as a family. Hank explains that when you’re in school, “you really need to block out time and separate yourself from everything. That cuts into your family time. Often I think, ‘What the hell am I doing?’ But, it’s not just for me. It’s for the benefit of my whole family — financially as well as emotionally. We’ll be leading a more rewarding lifestyle, and [I’ll be in] a career I can feel good about.”
  • When Ben and Kara first married, Kara was in school and Ben was working varied shifts in a residential counseling home. “We’d just gotten married and didn’t see each other,” Ben says. To overcome the lack of contact and communication, the two began a journal to write notes to each other. Ben recalls, “It started as, ’Who’s going to buy the milk?’ It wasn’t long gushing entries.” But making an effort to stay connected was important.
  • Gretchen and Paul faced unusual time pressures. Paul spent several multimonth periods in Germany. These stints depended on grant funding, and the couple was unable to plan ahead for them. They dealt with this uncertainty by what Paul terms “moving in segments.” Gretchen concurs. “We always looked at it as one decision at a time and what made sense at the time. It’s important to strike a balance.” She notes that she might have felt resentful had the focus of their relationship shifted exclusively to Paul’s needs.

When one member of a couple goes to school, the pressure financially and emotionally can be tough. Think of it as a team goal, and remember the relative financial rewards and payoff in increased well-being after the education is complete.

Married, Filing Jointly

There are a number of tax breaks available to students. But there’s a catch: If you’re going to school and not working, you have no income to tax.

Married people, especially when filing jointly, can profit from these tax provisions. By utilizing Hope Learning Credits, Lifetime Learning Credits and other tax deductions available to students a married couple can reduce their taxable income.

Visit the IRS web site for more information on these programs.


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