Law school and the single mom
How I did it: All it took to earn a law degree was four years of doing more with less.
By Patricia Higuera, as told to David Hochman, MONEY Magazine

NEW YORK (MONEY Magazine) - "When I was accepted into Southwestern Law School's night program in Los Angeles, I asked to change my hours at the marketing company where I worked. I wanted to get in earlier to be out at five.

"They weren't amenable, so I quit my $60,000-a-year job and found a part-time job at a behavioral health company. I had to calm down suicidal patients sometimes. Tough work for $14,000, but on my breaks and at lunch I'd study, and then study a couple more hours before school.

Patricia Higuera, 31, Los Angeles. Single mom, two kids -- and law school.
Patricia Higuera, 31, Los Angeles. Single mom, two kids -- and law school.

"The law school gave me $70,000, which covered tuition but not living expenses. My parents watched my kids [Andrew, 13, and Christian, 8] when I was at school.

"I moved into a house my dad owns, so my rent was only $800, when he could have rented it out for twice that. For daily expenses I have a debit card so I can keep track. The one credit card I do have I monitor closely. I transferred the balance, which was over $10,000, to a new card every time the rate went above 3 percent.

"I got rid of my cell phone. Had no cable TV. I stopped seeing movies, cut groceries to around $300 a month -- shopping at Costco helps -- and my kids were understanding.

"By my third year, I got into one of the better law firms as a case assistant. Mostly photocopying, but my income more than doubled, to the mid-$30s. I mentioned to everyone that I wanted to be an attorney, and the secretaries started a whisper campaign.

"When I graduated last May, after four years, the firm offered to give me a position in the real estate division as soon as I pass the bar. I'll double my income again.

"Now my kids keep telling their friends, 'My mom's a lawyer!'" Top of page