I know what it is like. A course or training program has caught your eye, but your bank balance is convinced it is not an option. You might be tempted to reach for your credit card, but what if I told you that you didn't have to rack up credit card debt in order to fund your study goals? Committing to your own professional development is a positive move, but as a woman in her early thirties who is still paying off debt from mistakes in my twenties, I am no advocate for the quick fix. Put your credit card back in your wallet and check out these ideas.
1. Ask your employer to pitch in
Is the course or training program you are interested in, related to your current job? Is there any possibility that this study could improve your knowledge, ability or a skill that could benefit your employer? If there is, then I would strongly encourage you to talk to your boss about the possibility of study assistance! Your employer might not be willing to pay for your whole course, depending on how expensive it is, but you never know if you don't ask. I would suggest putting together a written proposal that explains how and why the study will help you do your current job better.
If your employer seems keen to support your further education but can't pony up the full amount, consider asking for partial payment, funding for textbooks or equipment or even study leave so that you don't have to use your holiday pay to attend classes or exams. You might even be able to convince your employer to loan you some or all of the money or you could set up an agreement where they will pay for your course on the proviso that you commit to staying with the organisation for 12 months - if you leave within that period you are obligated to reimburse them. A lot of companies will like this idea as a type of retention bonus, but unlike a cash bonus, they will also receive the benefit of your ongoing learning!
2. Explore the option of cashing in your annual leave
This is not something that all employers offer, but it is definitely worth looking into. Whether your employer has a readily available policy on cashing in leave or not, it is a good idea to ask the question. Especially if you have been with the company for a while and you have a lot of holiday leave saved up. Employers sometimes welcome the possibility of paying out annual leave in cash as it reduces their leave liability and it can be a great option for employees looking to increase their cash flow.
In Australia, the Fair Work Ombudsman indicates that you can cash out your annual leave if your award allows it AND you will still have four weeks of annual leave leftover. For more information and to find out whether you might be eligible, you can visit the Fair Work Ombudsman website.
3. Look for specials - sign up to email newsletter
This to me is a must-do. I am a member of a few newsletters for training organisations and they regularly send out special deals, discounts or bonuses. Personally, I think that you should take this step whether you can afford to fund your training or not - perhaps you could fund some further self-development with the cash you save! I have seen huge savings being offered by training companies, especially at end of financial year and over holiday periods where their commencement numbers might decrease. I am talking hundreds of dollars off, so don't discount this advice!
It is also worthwhile to consider following relevant training organisations on social media. I have seen RTO's (Registered Training Organisations) running competitions on their Facebook pages, where course fees are being heavily discounted and even waived for the winners. If you see one of these competitions, thrown your hat in the ring - even if it means you have to get creative and write a 25 words or less response! The money you save could be worth well and truly more than a couple of minutes writing your contest entry.
4. Start a specific savings fund
You are probably no stranger to saving. Perhaps you have learned to put money away for Christmas, you might have saved up to buy a house or a car or maybe you started a savings plan to take your family on a holiday. If this sounds like you, then great! You already have some good savings habits and know how to maximise your budget. Have you ever thought about putting a little extra away so that you can save up for a course or career development opportunity?
If you aren't an avid saver, its okay... now is the perfect time to start! The first step to setting up a savings plan is to understand your money situation. You can then think about cutting back some of those non-essential expenses so that you can increase your savings. Even if you are only putting away a few dollars a week, you are moving in the right direction to be able to make your study goals a reality. You can find loads of tips for reaching your savings goals at the Money Smart website.
Put your credit card away - it is possible to fund your study goals without going into debt!
5. Get a side hustle or second job
Starting a traditional side hustle usually takes time, but it is worth considering if you are looking for ways to fund your study goals. Do you work in an industry where you could do some freelance work on the side of your day job? Do you have any creative skills, like hand lettering, graphic design, jewellery making, drawing or something else that you could use to create and sell products online at a shopfront like Etsy? These can be great ways to get started with your own business and earn money reasonably quickly.
Another option is getting a second job - this could be within your industry or somewhere completely different. Stacking boxes at your local grocery store might not be your ideal idea of fun, especially on your weekend or after a long day in the office. Nobody said this was going to be easy though and if you continue reminding yourself that it is a means to an end, it will be a much more positive experience!
6. Put it on your Christmas (or birthday) List!
Okay, so I recognise that not everybody is like me, but I start thinking about Christmas early. Like months early. I usually have sent out my Christmas wishlist by about September. It might sound incredibly greedy, but I love giving and receiving gifts and Christmas as my house is such a happy time. Whether you are as bold as I am about your present requests or you are a little more subtle, perhaps you could let your loved ones know about your study goals and see if they want to contribute to your future!
Don't be afraid to let people know what you are aiming towards and how they can help if they want to. It may be in the way of gift cards or cash if your chosen course is expensive - or you could speak to the course provider and find out if payments towards your course can be made by multiple people.
Yes - this does mean that you might have to forfeit that new piece of jewelry, set of GHD hair straighteners, Playstation game or kitchen appliance, but a learning opportunity is really the gift that keeps on giving!
7. Ask your employer for some overtime
Now, I know that this isn't possible in all jobs but overtime might be available and once again you won't know if you don't ask the question. Speak to your supervisor and let them know your plan. If you are upfront about the fact that you are looking to earn some extra money to fund your own self development, you might get brownie points for being mature and proactive.
Whether it means working additional hours at your current role, helping out in another team or taking on a side project, working overtime is a great way to bring in extra cash, but make sure you are putting it somewhere safe. Transfer your overtime earnings into a separate account or better yet, ask your employer to deposit it into your savings account directly. This will limit temptation and ensure that your hard work pays off.
8. Ask for a payment plan
Depending on the course or training program that you have in mind, you might be eligible for a payment plan where you split the fees over a few weeks or months OR you might even be eligible for a government study loan program like FEE-HELP.
It is definitely worth exploring the options that are available to you, though I would advise you to speak with an accountant or financial planner before signing up for a deferred payment initiative. As your course fees are usually required to be paid once you earn a certain level of income, this can mean that you need to arrange for your employer to deduct additional tax contributions. This will affect your regular take-home pay amount, which means that you will need to ensure you have budgeted correctly and that you will still have the capacity to meet your other financial obligations.
9. Keep your eye out for scholarships
Scholarships are rare, but they do happen, especially if there is a certain reason you require additional support. Get in contact with your training provider to find out whether they offer scholarships and also look into government-run programs that provide scholarship support.
If you have the opportunity to apply for a scholarship, you will usually be required to submit an essay or application explaining why you are eligible and a good choice for funding. If writing is not your strong suit, consider enlisting the help of a friend, family member or professional, to ensure that you have sold yourself effectively, explained yourself professionally and without spelling and grammatical mistakes and that you have been convincing in your response. If you are indeed eligible for a scholarship, you will likely be competing against a large number of other applicants, so you want to make sure that your response is the best that it can be. If you are also required to undergo an interview for your scholarship, you might want to consider working with a Career Coach and running some mock interviews to ensure that you are well practiced and sufficiently prepared for this potentially life-changing opportunity.
Don't give up!
If you have considered all of these options and you just aren't in a position to pay for a course or training program right now, don't give up. Learning doesn't always come in the form of formal study and you can still commit to self-development without signing up for a course or program. Reading books, joining relevant groups and using the internet can all be great ways to increase your knowledge and ability. Granted, it might take a little longer as you have to locate the information yourself, but if you are truly committed to improving yourself you will knuckle down and get started today. No matter what happens, don't give up! Best of luck!