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October 29, 2003


You have to take care of yourself before you can take care of anyone else. How long has it been, if ever, that you really, no kidding, guilt free, took care of you? Ask yourself how long it's been since you could say, "I am doing what I'm doing today because it's what I want to do today, instead of doing what I'm doing today simply because it's what I was doing yesterday."

You will quickly discover that when you are on the right track with yourself, there is an enormous energy that uplifts you.
      − Phillip C. McGraw,   Self Matters

Read enough self-help books, and eventually they will really mess up your head.

In my case, those "You can be better!" gurus have been scurrying around in my brain, wreaking havoc for the better part of ten months now. No matter what I'm doing, it seems, they always have me looking the other way. And because of them (at least in part), I am now back to committing a substantial portion of time, money, and energy to the task of furthering my education.

In other words, as of August 2003, I've officially gone back to school. Yours truly is a student again. When you're 32 years old, I guess it's natural to be a little hesitant about the whole process.

A bit of background:   In 1996, I was attempting to finish up my degree in journalism at the University of Oklahoma. I was tired of relying on student loans, but still needed additional money, so I took a full-time job at a local car dealership service department. The service manager and I got along fabulously — we really clicked on lots of different levels — and apparently I was pretty good at doing whatever was needed. Next thing I know, the manager assured me (and anyone else who'd listen) that he would personally see to it that I would get pay raise upon pay raise until it made no financial sense for me to continue with college. Darned if he didn't do just that. Later that year I was on my way, making decent money, with prospects for more. As you might imagine, my college career faded into the horizon. I was approximately 14 hours short of a bachelor's degree in professional writing.

Fast forward to the early spring of 2003. I've got a house, three paid-for cars, two cats, one stay-at-home mom / wife, one baby daughter, plus what is now a stable and well-paying job at same service department. The problem? Somehow I've developed a giddy love for matters of personal finance — so much so that it inhabits my mind in practically every free moment.

About this time, it seems as though every single book I pick up (and I mean every book — the recurrences here were simply uncanny) talks about the importance of finding something you love to do. Something that even though it is work, it doesn't feel like work. That, the books say, is what you turn into your life's work. You owe this to yourself, they point out, mostly because you only get one shot at life, and it's not worth looking back on your time here with tons of regret for things you never attempted. And, when everything has been said, done, and packed away, that is what far too many people are left with:   distant memories. Sighs of regret.

After careful consideration (and much consternation) regarding all of this, in July of 2003, I enrolled again at the University of Oklahoma. I'm now a student in their 100% online program, forking over time and money toward a degree in the College of Liberal Studies. (Yeah, I know, it's a wishy-washy major. But there's some social-science coursework in there, which I find pretty darn interesting, especially the few classes focusing on consumer issues and such. I'm all about that stuff.)

As of yesterday, October 27, my first online class at OU ("Interdisciplinary Inquiry") is done and in the books. I won't say it was the greatest learning experience I've ever had, but it's done. More importantly, it's a result. It's a start, and it's for real. So now the guy whose college transcript shows 146 hours earned in realms as diverse as Computer Science, Advertising, and Professional Writing, but who also has no sheepskin to show for it, has only 27 more hours to go for a BA in Liberal Studies.

That program at OU, however, is not what's been keeping me up nights, so anxious I can barely clear my mind.

No, the mental gymnastics I'm really looking forward to are actually at Florida State University. In order to make sure that I was in some way incorporating my love of financial matters into my furthered education, I also enrolled in FSU's online program for a Certificate in Financial Planning. It's a six-course program; my first class, "Intro to Financial Planning," starts in early November. And I am absolutely juiced.

    But There's This Thing Called "Tuition" ...

Newsflash for those just tuning into the world:   College tuition, books, and fees ain't cheap.

At the University of Oklahoma, where I can garner in-state resident tuition rates, my first upper-division, three-credit-hour class set me back about $330 in tuition and fees, plus another $25 for the single class text. (One week's paycheck says I'll never get off that cheaply again for required textbooks.) In my universe, three hundred sixty bucks isn't mere pocket change. With some saving and planning, though, it was manageable.

The price tag for FSU is significantly higher. Each course in the six-course program carries a tuition charge of $450, for a total of $2,700 for tuition alone. (Thankfully, you can enroll and pay for each course one at a time, as you go. Most other financial-planning programs require you to pony up for the full package deal right out of the gate.) Outside of the tuition, for this first "Intro to Financial Planning" course, the two textbooks cost me a total of $158. Throw in a $25 financial calculator (required), and you have a swift-kick-in-the-wallet of $633. That's for one two-and-a-half month course.

Yes, kids, that's most certainly an OUCH.

The good news here, I tell myself, is that I already have a good income — which means I can take my time on this education-thing, and with a bit of luck, I can plan and pay for it as I go. One or two courses per semester, whether at OU or FSU, I think I can handle money-wise. In my written Action Plan, I promised myself and my wife that I will not incur any new debt with this further education. Rather, I will budget and save the necessary monies into my Freedom Account each month, and pay for it from there.

Anyway, that's where things stand. I've just made what is, for me, a pretty big beginning. What I'm doing today, I'm doing because I want to. I was most certainly not doing it yesterday.

Will I want to work in the financial-planning field later on? Will I want to earn CFP certification somewhere down the road? Heck, right now, I don't know. The way I see it, I have plenty of time to mull over those things.

What I do know is that, for the first time, I'm getting an education that points me toward a field that I am absolutely, positively sure that I love — and one that offers tangible, real-world financial opportunities. In a few ways, it's a lot like when I'm writing for, and otherwise working on, this web site:

Like Dr. Phil says, when you're on the right track with yourself, doing what you know you should be doing, there is a feeling of enormous energy. This is where work doesn't feel at all like work. This is where work has a keen, attractive glimmer.

This is where work feels really, really good.

Michael | October 29, 2003

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