Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Why don't poor people just skill-up?

Let's start by getting this out there: I'm the good sort of poor. I'm white, for starters, and I do have something of a financial safety net in that my parents were pretty comfortable growing up. I'm not at risk of living on the streets. If I had absolutely no income, presumably they'd still feed me and all. But they don't have massive amounts of spare money to be throwing at us, especially considering I'm the fourth of five children - even birthday and Christmas presents maxed out at about $50. I have a full high school education and no children, particularly no children born in my teens, nor do I have any substance abuse problems. OTOH I'm (nominally) female and mentally ill, but on the whole, as poor people go, I'm on the more socially acceptable end. I'm not really poor. I'm just experiencing cash flow difficulties.

Here's the heart of the matter: I want to go back to tertiary education next year. Part time. The part time part is a problem, because it means I don't qualify for a student allowance, and the education part is a problem, because it means I don't qualify for the sickness benefit anymore whether I'm working or not. (I hope to be working - part time - but I don't know when my current job will end and how easy it will be to find another.)

After investigations into my chosen field of study (Maori Studies, minoring in Social Policy) and best university for it (Massey's extramural school) I identified the papers I want to take in my first year and went to find out how much it would cost me. A full time student would take four papers a semester. I'll be taking two. The full year will be approximately $2,546.50, as well as textbooks and assorted materials and the cost of traveling up to Palmerston North for a week each semester for contact days. Luckily, I have an uncle there so accommodation is easy enough, but the flights are still an issue.

Ideally, I would also have a reliable computer - this one is about four years old, and it's a laptop, and it's a Mac (sorry, I'm just a Mac person, though I don't see the point in trying to convince everyone else to be one too), so you know just from that that the power supply is dodgy. I've never had a new computer - this one was the closest as an ex-lease - but if I get a new one I expect I would want either a new or a near-new Mac Mini, and the thing about near-new Macs is that they cost almost the same as new Macs. The cheapest new Mac Minis are $949 - I have a monitor, keyboard and mouse, so I'd only need the actual computer. So let's say a reliable computer plus my study costs would top out at about $4,000.

I earn $240 a week, plus my reduced sickness benefit of $80. I pay rent and my travel costs (my work is on the other side of town and I take the bus) and some food, though my rent covers the staples of my diet and the utilities. I currently, as in right now, have $980 owing on my credit card. I also already have a student loan from previous failed attempts at tertiary education, which I think is about $7000 - I have deductions taken off my pay to pay that back, but very small deductions because I don't earn much, and I'm unwilling to haphazardly add to it if I don't have to. Looking at Massey's hardship scholarships, I don't qualify for any of them, and I'm still looking over the other scholarships, most of which apply to particular professional fields and some to ethnic minorities. [Note that I believe this is entirely fair.] At any rate, I'm not banking on getting any.

So, that's pretty much my situation. First, working to get the credit card debt down as low as possible, because the interest on that is ridiculous. Secondly, a good start at the fee money. Thirdly, a reliable computer. Fourth, travel costs. I completely welcome any creative (but realistic!) suggestions - this is going to be my major ongoing project for obvious reasons.

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