What If You DIDN'T Pay for College?
Does everyone save for college? Not necessarily.
A dear childhood friend of mine has four kids, all girls, each about two years apart. I’ve always admired her parenting style, mostly because she does it without losing her cool nearly as often as I do, and I only have three children. (I know, only. Anyway…) I love hearing all the tidbits about life with her brood (for starters, each girl is assigned one color and everything she has follows suit: Anna has a blue water bottle, a blue backpack, etc., Julia has pink and so on. The whole thing is brilliant.)
On a trip together this summer, my friend dropped a bit of a bombshell. As I was settling in to grill her for the millionth time about every little thing she does to run her home so happily, the topic veered toward paying for college and I asked if she and her husband were ever daunted by the prospect of paying tuition four times over. She simply said they weren’t going to. Cue the sound of a record scratch.
She went on to explain that she paid for college herself, at least for the most part. (I remember this because I was there. We went to college together at Western Washington University.) So did her husband. They turned out to be neat people and expect their girls to have the same experience. She’ll try to help them out with things like books, or maybe car insurance for example, but otherwise each one will make her own way.
It sounds reasonable when you think of it this way, except my brain just can’t process it. The whole concept is the polar opposite of my own experience as a parent and when she said it, it really shocked me. It could be because I’m married to a CPA whose parents were extremely prudent about saving in the early years so that they’d have enough cash to help the kids when they needed it (and even now, they’re always looking for ways to help us – and we’re 40!)
On my side, my parents weren’t planners or savers—they came from the deal-with-it-as-it-comes-up school—but to be honest, I think that’s why I feel so strongly about doing both.
It doesn’t bother me that I don’t have the latest jeans, shoes and fancy bags that I see other friends toting. (Though that might be because I’m so tired from taking care of three kids under five that I don’t even notice.) For now, I’d rather have that sense of security in place.
Between my husband and I, we’ve been saving for college from the moment our first child was born. And the second, and the third. It’s never been a topic of discussion, we’ve just automatically socked away money on a monthly basis. But at times it is an overwhelming proposition, thanks to stats like this one from US News & World Report: “By 2030, annual public tuition will be $44,047. The total cost for a four-year degree will be more than $205,000.” That’s right, more than TWO HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS. Who is saving that much? Turns out, not many people.
Instead, funding college, like paying for weddings, is more of a pooled fund these days. The same article lays it out like this:
A study from Sallie Mae shows that students currently cover about 24 percent of their college expenses. Another 31 percent is funded by scholarships and relatives. Parents foot about 45 percent of total college cost through savings and borrowing.
Keep in mind, that 45 percent is still well over 95 grand. But still, we’re socking it away. Three times over. And my point is not that we are better parents, not by a long shot. I’m just amazed again that the OPTION of doing it differently never, ever crossed my mind.
It’s not just a savings plan though; college is about our dreams for the kids—and someday their own dreams for themselves—and the whole thing is so loaded with expectations yet limited by a finite amount of time to get it done. That’s why some of us get locked in to a one-way mindset. There’s one way to do this and that’s what we’re gonna do.
But why? Many financial experts (Kiplinger’s, Forbes, Dave Ramsey, Suze Orman and more) agree if money is tight—and for whom isn’t it these days?—you are wiser to save for your own retirement than to focus on funding your children’s educations. With their whole professional lives ahead of them, the kids are in a much better position to pay off student loans than you are to scramble around trying to build a hearty enough nest egg to live off of in your golden years—the ones where you won’t have an income.
It’s just one more way I’m reminded of the simple fact that there are so many ways to do this parenting thing. Bottle or breast, natural birth versus epidural, painstakingly stash the cash for college or choose financial liberty.
Will my friend’s kids resent this “I turned out okay” attitude as they work their way through college? Maybe. But I’m pretty sure mine will find something else to be annoyed with me about too. That’s one thing we’ll definitely have in common.
YOU MIGHT BE INTERESTED IN