How I Saved Money in Grad School {brought to you by CampusBookRentals}

This is a sponsored post written on behalf of CampusBookRentals. The content is my own. I only work with companies that I use, and love. Please see my Disclosures page if you have any questions!

My brother in law is weighing his options about if and where to attend grad school. He's rightfully being mindful of the money involved. We were lucky enough that a large portion of my husband's master's degree was paid for by the organization he did his thesis research with {which was only possible by my amazing husband working full time while taking classes}.

Right after Brad finished up his MS in Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering, I started my MSW program. I was not so lucky to find anyone willing to pay for me to get a degree in social work. It led me to think long and hard about if grad school was the right investment for me. It also led me to find ways to live more frugally to help pay for the huge investment. My brother in law's contemplation about how to make grad school a financially realistic proposition got me thinking about how my husband and I saved money while I was in school.

1. I made sure grad school was the right investment. I thought long and hard about the investment. Would I get a good return? Could I do what I wanted to without my MSW? Talking to people in the field, I quickly realized I wasn't going to be able to do the work I wanted without my MSW. I needed the masters and the accompanying licensure to be able to practice in California. Now that I'm living in Texas, the MSW isn't required in the same way. However, I will make a great deal more a year having my MSW rather than having a bachelor's in a related field. The grad school investment will defiantly still pay off. 

2. I made careful decisions about where and when to go to grad school. After undergrad, I found myself working as an ABA behavioral therapist for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. It was love at first sight. Working with those families gave me a clear path of what I should be doing with my life. It also led me to pursue my MSW. This job also paid very little. Like not much above the minimum wage little. I wasn't going to make a huge impact on reducing costs by working a couple of years to save. So, we decided getting started was the best plan. Now, if you're making a larger salary that might not be the case for you. You also might be able to get your company to help with tuition if you're pursuing a degree in a related field. But for me, it made more sense to get started rather than to try to save up for a year or two. 

Where to go was a whole other issue. We knew that my husband was always going to be the real money maker in the family {engineer vs. social worker}. We also knew that my husband would need to seek employment outside of our area to do the kind of work he wanted to. So, I explored online options for completing my graduate degree. This allowed me to get started regardless of a looming move at an unknown time {five months pregnant} to an unknown location {Texas of all places!}. I made sure that the program I applied to was certified by the folks to oversee social work education. I also throughly researched reputations of various programs. I wanted my degree to mean something. Getting my degree online saved me significantly as far as not having to pay university facility fees, parking, commuting, etc. I went to a reputable university with a great program. It also allowed me to get started much sooner than if I had waited to settle into a new community first.

3. I worked part time up until I had my daughter. This allowed me to contribute a small amount to my education, therefore reducing what I had to take in loans. It also let me feel like I was putting into practice what I was learning. This really helped keep my motivation high. I also think this gave me a competitive edge when it came to seeking out field placements. Good field placements allowed me to make excellent connections in the local social work community. These connections are going to make all the difference when I start looking for employment. 

4. I sought to finish in the most efficient way possible. I paid by the semester rather than by the credit hour. This meant that it made more sense for me to take extra classes so I could to finish more quickly. But, this option is really only a smart one if you know you can take on the extra load. You don't want your grades or sanity to suffer in order to take an extra class. Keeping an excellent GPA will help you get your first job more quickly and likely increase your pay.

5. I never bought new books. I hardly bought books at all for that matter. I mostly rented, saving me big bucks. And CampusBookRentals was my go to site for renting. I found their prices were consistently better than competition. Also, the books shipped free {and quickly} both ways. Not having to pay to send several large textbooks back every 8 weeks ended up being a big savings! I also had a really bad experience with another site's customer service. CampusBookRentals quickly answered questions and were very pleasant to work with. Shower me with good customer service and I'm a customer for life {hence my love for Amazon and Nordstrom!}.

I also employed general saving money tricks to keep our household costs down. I got super serious about meal planning. We drastically reduced how often we ate out. I bought nearly all of my daughter's clothes {and most her bigger ticket "stuff"} second hand. Most importantly, we made a budget and stuck to it. This helped reduce the overall portion of my husband's salary we needed to use each month, freeing more money to pay for school.

Anyone have any great tips for reducing costs during grad school? I'd love to pass them along to my brother in law!


Tiered Skirt with a Surprise Tutorial

This post was originally shared at The Ribbon Retreat. I was provided with materials in exchange for a tutorial. 

This skirt is a little something I made last spring. I'm still working on catching up on old projects. But, the skirt still fits so I'm not that far behind...right!?

This fun tiered skirt has a tulle layer built in for interest. All this skirt requires is being able to sew a straight line. But, the addition of the tulle layer gives this skirt a je ne sais quoi to it! 

As I go through this tutorial, the measurements will be for a fairly skinny 3T wearing toddler. I’ll show you how I measured so you can make it in any size.

For a 3T skirt, you’ll need:
1/4 yard cuts of four different fabrics
1/2 yard of the fabric you want to use for the waist band and the bottom tier 
6 inch wide tulle closely matching one of your tier fabrics
Approx. 19 inches of 1 inch elastic
Sewing machine, rotary cutter/mat, etc.  

First, let’s measure our kiddo. Measure the waist. With a toddler, you’ll want to do this below the wonderfully chubby toddler tummy. For my kiddo, that was 19 inches.

Measure from the waist to where you want the skirt to fall. I got 13 inches a little below her knees {I’m hoping to get two years out of this baby}.

So, addition and subtraction time.You have your length, 13. Subtract 1 inch for the waist band to get 12. Now, divide that number by 5 {the number of tiers}. Round that number to something easy to cut. So I got 2.4. I rounded it to 2.5 inches. Round very closely or you’ll add a lot of extra length to your skirt without realizing it.

Start by pre-wash and iron the fabric. This really matters, I promise!

For all these strips of fabric, you’ll be cutting selvedge to selvedge {along the width of the fabric}. I’m guessing you could get away with using the width of the fabric for up to a size 8. The skirt just won’t be as full. After that, you’ll want to cut strips that are however tall you need by double the girl’s waist measurement for the width.

Ok, so for the 4 middle tiers, You’ll cut 3.5 inch strips. This is the 2.5 you got plus 1 inch for seam allowances.

For the bottom tier, you’ll cut a 4 inch strip, that’s 2.5 plus 1.5 inches for seam allowances and the hem.

For the waistband, you’ll cut another 4 inch {3 inches for the waist band that will be folded and 1 inch for seam allowances}.Your final cut is the tulle. You’ll want to cut a 176 inch length of tulle {that’s your width of fabric quadrupled} off your 6 inch wide roll.

Sick of cutting yet? It’s ok, we’re finally on to sewing.

Start with your bottom tier fabric. Press the bottom edge up 1/2 inch towards the wrong side of the fabric.Then press 1/2 inch again and pin.

Sew, making sure to back stitch. I sewed two lines of stitches for a fun look. Grab your next tier. Pin, right sides together, along the top of the bottom tier. Sew with a 1/2 inch seam allowance. Finish your seams as you like.

If you don’t have a favorite way, here’s mine:

Trim your seam allowance down to 1/4 inch using your pinking blade on your rotary cutter {or regular old pinking sheers, even plain scissors if that’s what you have}.

Zig-zag stitch over the edge of the fabric. This greatly reduces fraying. Press the seam up. Now, add you next tier. Keep going until you get to the final tier. Make sure you finish the seams and press up as you go along. This is where you’re adding the tulle.

Fold that massive strip of tulle in half, leaving you with 88 inches. Run a gathering stitch along the top and bottom of the tulle.

Adjust the gathers so that your tulle is the same length, if not a little bit longer, than the width of your tiers.

Lay down your already sewn together tiers, right side up. Place the ruffled tulle piece on top of your top tier. Use your ruffle stitch as what you line up along the raw edges of the fabric. This will make sure the stitch doesn’t end up showing. Place your final tier, right side down, on top and line up raw edges of the two fabrics.Sew, using a 1/2 inch seam allowance {make sure the raw edges of the fabric are what you’re judging the 1/2 inch from}.

Finish the seam just as you have with all the rest of the tiers. This will encase the tulle so there’s no itchiness for your kiddo.Your final seam of the tiers will be the waistband. First, fold the waistband in half, hot dog style. Press, with wrong sides together.

Line up the raw edges of the waistband with the raw edge of the final tier and the tulle. You’ll have tulle sticking out quite a ways. That’s ok.

Sew, finish, and press the same as all the other seams.

Now, square up the ends of the skirt.

Thread the elastic through the waistband using a safety pin.Tack down the elastic on each side using a zig-zag stitch. Go over it multiple times.

Pin your skirt ends together, right sides together. Make sure you take care to line up the tiers. You want the seams to match up or things will look wonky.

Using that good old 1/2 inch seam allowance, sew the final seam. Finish just as before.Turn right side out, add a cute kid, and you’re all set!