I am enrolled at a community college and qualified for full Pell Grant, an Opportunity Grant (from my state), and of course, loans. This summer and fall, I took the loans so I can take care of some much needed car repairs, buy my kiddo some clothes (I get no child support), and put about $1,000 in the bank for emergency. I do not plan to use loans (subsidized or not) in the future unless I am really hard up. I apply for every single scholarship I qualify for to pay tuition costs/books, even the itty bitty $100 ones, and hopefully this coming winter/spring I can start stashing the majority of my Grant money to pay for living expenses or other costs as they arise. I do not want to be saddled with insane amounts of debt. Im heading into law (though law school is just an idea, not necessarily a goal at this point), so I will have plenty of opportunity to acquire debt later down the road
DHS pays for 80% of my childcare, otherwise I would be sunk. They actually would pay the full monthly amount, but I chose childcare that was a bit more expensive, because the quality of my ds's care was paramount. He's 2. So DHS pays $425/mo, and I kick in about $80. Ds is in care 28-32 hours a week, starting Oct 1st. This will be incredibly hard for him and I, but I dont see a way around it. I need extra time to deal with schoolwork during the day, as doing it all in the wee hours when he is in bed didnt work for me this summer. I was burnt out.
I also work 2 part time cleaning jobs, amounting to 10 hrs/wk, just for some extra cash (which I do report to DHS). Its only about $90/wk. It pays for gas (I commute, so gas is expensive for me), and "fun" money: lunch out for ds & I, his $5/wk gymnastics open gym, sometimes a $4 trip to the kids museum.
I am not very good at maintaining a budget, so this has been hard for me. Its also been very difficult to finally put my ds in childcare almost full time, but he has been thriving, so I feel better about my decision. It literally took 3+ months of interviewing providers to find one I feel comfortable with, so its never too early to start searching, trust me.
Also, I rely on any state assistance I qualify for. I do not at all feel bad about his - I worked for many years before becoming a SAHM during my marriage, and I am in a position where I need all the help I can get. I receive TANF money, which is not a huge amount, because I am working, and they do consider financial aid partial income, but I dont know how they figure it. Basically, I make $90/wk working, and received $2500 a semester in loans/grants, and I still qualified for $300/mo in TANF money. The TANF money I use to buy diapers, household supplies, cat food, personal hygiene products, etc. I also use it to pay my car insurance and my credit card bill ($135/mo for those 2 bills). I dont receive a penny in c/s, so all these resources help me tremendously, yes, even food boxes.
Its workable, its hard, it is SO worth it. I cant imagine working a minimum wage job right now, putting ds in care 32 hrs/wk, and still barely scraping by after all the expenses. I take heart in knowing that my son will grow up with family who are ALL college educated. I feel that when we set higher education as a standard instead of a privilege, our children are far more likely to follow our footsteps. And when I am back in the workforce,I will be making damn good money, and doing something that I love and excel at - what could be a better example for my child than having him watch me ENJOY my work and my life?