DALLAS - Many workers these days, especially those who have been laid off, are returning to school to better their job skills and improve their marketability.

While this investment in yourself is a wise move, keep in mind that it will affect your overall finances because you're at a different stage of life than when you were last in school.

"Going back to school is a drastic change in your financial life that calls for drastic changes in spending," said Bryan Clintsman, a certified financial planner at Clintsman Financial Planning in Southlake, Texas.

"Think about how much your spending changed when you went from college life to work life," he said. "The opposite amount of drastic change needs to happen when reversing this and going from work back to college."

The problem is that when people go from work life to college life they're sometimes unwilling or unable to let go of some monthly expenses that they've gotten used to, he said.

"So you really have to change your whole mind-set and create or remember what the lifestyle of a true college student is like," Clintsman said.

Adults have additional obligations that traditional students usually do not have, such as family and household responsibilities, said Ryan W. Huey, a certified financial planner at Perryman Financial Advisory Inc. in Dallas.

All this isn't to discourage you from returning to school, but you must adjust your finances.

Here are some ways to lessen the cost of going back to school as an adult:

There are several options available that could help you finance your education:

- Ask whether financial aid is available. For example, the Dallas County Community College District has financial aid available for continuing education; other districts may also.

- If you're employed, ask your employer whether your company has a tuition reimbursement program.

"Be sure to look into private scholarships through private organizations, state-specific scholarships, and school-specific scholarships that may be available to you as an adult student," Huey said.

- Inquire about the federal Pell Grant program, which provides need-based grants to low-income undergraduate and certain post-baccalaureate students to promote access to postsecondary education.

Pell Grants are awarded to students who haven't received their first bachelor's degree or who are enrolled in certain post-baccalaureate programs that lead to teacher certification or licensure.

- Apply for benefits available under the federal Workforce Investment Act, which provides retraining and re-employment services for workers who have lost their jobs.

It's a program designed to either train you in your current field to enable you to get a better job, or to retrain you for a different field if it's necessary to leave your current field of employment.

That's how John Sparenberg is paying for his efforts to earn his certification as a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer.

"It's paying for the books and lab fees and everything," said Sparenberg, 46, of Dallas, who was laid off from his job as a systems administrator last October.

He said unemployed workers like him, who are collecting jobless benefits while going to school, should consider whether they have the financial resources to sustain themselves if their unemployment benefits run out before they finish their education.

"Unemployment only runs for so long, and if you have two months left of unemployment and you've got five months of school left, that could end up being a problem," Sparenberg said. "I can't go to school living under a bridge."

Depending on your income, you may need to cut your spending in other areas.

"You can nickel-and-dime your way into sizable expense reductions with suggestions which are right under your nose," said Rick Salmeron, a certified financial planner at The Salmeron Financial Network Inc. in Dallas.

Sparenberg said the first thing he did was create a budget.

He started subscribing to some trade magazines instead of buying them at the newsstand, which saves him about $75 a month.

"The second thing, and by far the biggest expense for a single guy, is you can easily drop 250 extra dollars a month eating out," Sparenberg said.

e now eats out at the most twice a month instead of eight to 10 times a week.

Sparenberg also reduced his monthly bill for his AT&T U-verse television service to $20 a month from $100 a month.

"I cut out literally everything but the basic stuff," he said. "You have to start spending a lot more time watching every expense."

When in school, take full advantage of student discounts and buy used books when possible.

"You might qualify for a student rate to join a trade association," said Lynn Lawrance, a certified financial planner at Financial Network Investment Corp. in Dallas. "This could allow you to improve your industry knowledge and build valuable contacts before you're in the job search mode."

There are also tax benefits for higher education that can reduce your income taxes.

"They vary widely depending on the type of school, your income level, how many hours you are taking, and a myriad of other caveats," Huey said.

Finally, experts advise setting a deadline for how long you will give yourself to accomplish your education goals.

"What's the time cost and what's the financial cost?" said Todd Mark, vice president of education at Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Greater Dallas. "How long would it be for you to re-enter the workforce?

"Without a plan, the longer you're not working, the longer you're putting those financial goals on hold."

(c) 2009, The Dallas Morning News.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.