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Gail Vaz -Oxlade personal finance guru
Gail Vaz -Oxlade personal finance guru

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Gail Vaz-Oxlade: Helen, it's great that your husband wants to go back to school to make his brain even bigger. I'm all for bigger brains! Here's my question: How much of his desire is rooted in his inability to get a job? Very often, when you've been job hunting for a while without success, you look for things that you can do that would be productive to fill in the spaces in your work-life. If this is what school is, that's NOT a good reason to do it. However, if he has a strong focus on what he wants to do next, the "amount of time you have left" - the fact that he's pushing 60 - is less relevant than how long he intends to keep working at his new passion. Investing as ton of money to retire in 5 years makes no sense. Working for another 15 years means the investment could pay off just fine.

Just as important, however, is your family's ability to stay afloat and build some assets for the future. If you still have a pretty big mortgage, and very little in the way of retirement assets, then you may not have the luxury of living a student's life, unless you're prepared to cut back significantly on your costs. That includes both the fixed costs - like housing - and your luxuries, be they large or small.

Mind you, there are lots of people who having a passion to learn and the need to work manage to bust their butts to do both. I had an uncle who got his doctorate and became a very successful professor while working (along with his wife) to raise three children.

It isn't easy to do two jobs (school and work), but life isn't easy. The pleasure must come from within, from the satisfaction derived by what you're accomplishing. And if going back to school is really what he wants to do, you will find the way to make that dream a reality. You can have anything you want, if you're prepared to work hard for it. Good luck.

Anne writes: I am a 25 year old recent university grad looking for work. What things should i start doing/planning to get myself on a good financial footing and/or to establish good behavioral patterns? A little bit about me: I am trained as an architect, am debt free, sometimes abuse credit cards, pay a pretty good rent in montreal ($500/mo), live with my boyfriend who has a good job as a programmer, have an RRSP and life insurance (set up by my parents), and some money saved away for the distant future to start a buisness (in 20 years). Any suggestions?

Gail Vaz-Oxlade: Anne, congrats on getting out of school with a good degree and no debt. And I want you to go home and hug your parents for helping you get such a good foundation in place. The fact that you "sometimes abuse credit cards" means you should NOT carry them with you. Put them away somewhere safe and only carry as much money as you plan to spend in a day.

The next thing you want to do is get a good handle on what your costs are to keep having a great life, so make a budget and start tracking your expenses. It'll be good practice for when you go into business for yourself, because well-run business know where every cent has gone. Speaking of which, you'll want to set a goal for that biz start-up you're planning. Dreams have a way of dissipating into the ether if there's nothing written down. So write it down. Make is specific, as in "I'll need $20,000 to start"… fill in your own number. Create the steps for getting there. If you're planning to buy a home, for example, and you want to have a $30,000 downpayment in 5 years, you'll have to set aside $500 a month ($500 x 60 months = $30K) to get you there. Doing nothing for four years and then running around wondering how to make it happen in year five is just dumb.

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