My husband and I started saving for our kids’ college educations within months of their births.
We researched the best ways to invest college funds, started 529 accounts for both children and we crunched numbers. We realized pretty early on that it was going to cost some serious cash for our kids to attend a state school, much less a private institution with a fancy price tag.
But, we believe in higher education and we wanted to do what we could to help our children further their education if they chose to pursue a college degree.
So, for the last 15 years, we have scrimped and saved. We have invested and tracked the market. We’ve enlisted the help of a financial planner to make sure we are on track to save enough money. We’ve budgeted our money to allow for us to put a little bit of money away every month and, even during the lean months, we’ve never missed a deposit.
And along the way, we’ve talked to our kids about our financial plans for their education. We’ve made it clear that we will help them pay their tuition and bills in college with one stipulation: they will have to have a declared major or have a firm idea of what profession they are going to pursue before I fork over a single dime of what we’ve saved.
We are not going to pay for our children to “find themselves” in college.
Our stance is an unpopular one, for sure. In fact, many of our friends have balked at us when they hear that we won’t pay for our children to attend college and just “see where it leads them.” I’ve been told that it’s unreasonable to expect a teen to know what he wants to do for the rest of his life when he’s 18.
I’ve been told that I am being selfish by expecting my children to have a firm life plan before I spend our hard-earned money on a college education.
As our son has entered high school, our financial discussions have ramped up. College is a mere three and a half years away and while we have a nice nest egg, it’s not nearly enough to cover his expenses.
I have listened to my friends with older children lament about grant applications and financial assistance applications and the reality of what we are about to pay for my son to attend college is weighing heavily on my mind these days.
And the reality is clear: we can’t afford for our son to waste his time deciding on what he may or may not to do with his life long-term.
College is expensive and, frankly, a college education isn’t something that everyone can afford these days. Rising education costs and all those dorm expenses have put a quality education out of easy reach for millions of kids in our country.
And while yes, we have been fortunate to have been able to scrimp and save over the years, the fact is, we will not let our children waste our money on indecision.
We have spent the last year discussing the reality of a college education with our son and we plan to spend a lot more time discussing his future in the coming years. And, we’ve talked in frank terms about how damned expensive tuition is and how hard his father and I have worked to put the money away for him to attend.
We support his dreams and goals 100% and we want to see our son achieve his dreams. And our daughter, too, when it’s her turn in a few years.
And that means spending time in the next few years helping our children clarify their interests, developing their educational strengths and strengthening their weaknesses so that when it does come time for us to start paying tuition, they are prepared.
Do I expect them to stay in the profession they choose when they enter college for the rest of their life?
Of course not.
In fact, I am working in a field unrelated to my college degree. And while yes, I switched careers several years ago, I still earned my undergrad in four years because my parents were in the same position my husband and I find ourselves in today: multiple children headed to college and not enough money to go around.
If my son decides to take a few years off to work and travel before he settles in for a formal college education, that’s fine, too. His college fund won’t be cut off if he doesn’t matriculate immediately after high school. If my daughter decides a vocational school is a better fit or she decides on a career in the military, we will stand behind her as she chases her dreams.
My husband and I don’t want to force a career on our children, far from it, in fact.
We simply want our children to realize that, these days, a college education is a luxury and an opportunity not to be wasted. And we want our kids to know that paying for college is a group effort: we’ve done the hard work of saving, it’s their turn to do the hard work of studying and graduating on time.
Oh, and they are on their own for a Master’s degree or any education beyond a Bachelor’s degree. This mom’s bank account will be long tapped out by then. But that’s a conversation for another day….
Photo Credit: DaytripperUniversity
Christine Burke is the Keeper of the Fruit Loops, Manager of the Fecal Roster and Driver of the People Mover. In other words, she’s a mom. An Erma Bombeck Martha Stewart with a Roseanne Barr twist, she has the mouth and organized cabinets to prove it. She resides in Pennsylvania with her ever budget conscious husband, two blog inspiring Fruit Loops and her extensive collection of thrift shop shoes. In her spare time, she runs marathons and drinks cheap wine to cope with it all. Her personal blog is Keeper of the Fruit Loops.