Warning: College can ruin your child’s future
I see it happening daily. You hear it on the news. Student loans are crippling
bright, shiny futures. If you want college to have a positive effect on your child’s life, you have to factor in the price of the school into the decision. I’m going to share my college funding experience. What I hope to gain by sharing is to show you that, with a little flexibility, your child can have both: the school of their dreams without the mountain of debt.
Price matters. Be flexible.
My parents raised us on a shoestring, but how they helped us with college is an art form. I have a brother and a sister. We are all two years apart. This can be fun growing up but, for a parent, it can feel like you are getting bitch-slapped by the impossible trying to help three children through college eight years in a row. However, education was very important to them, and they found a way to make that happen.
When I graduated from high school I wasn’t sure what I wanted to study. My mom suggested that I go to the local college and take courses that interested me. This cost was about $4K for the year. I admit it wasn’t glamorous staying at home when everyone else was embarking on an exciting new adventure, but I had to agree. Since I had no idea what I wanted to do, I realized I should figure that out first. So, I took her advice.
One of the classes I took was fashion design. I fell in love. I researched art schools and called three. I settled on Savannah College of Art and Design. Mom and Dad said they would help with the tuition, but the rest was on me. My year of credits from Montana State University transferred, and I got a job as a waitress. With the money I earned I was able to pay my rent, utilities, food, fun, everything! (Ha. I was just thinking, that was back before everyone had a cell phone. I can’t even imagine trying to factor that extra payment in now.) I only worked about 15 hours a week.
I do not remember this as being “hard.” In reality it was most likely a good thing, as responsibility forces one to not party too hard. I was the only person I knew with a job. Were all my friends from rich families? No. Lots were just like me. Work your ass off middle class. SCAD was about $20K when I went. When I graduated I had $14K of student debt, a very manageable number on any salary. (They give you 10 years to pay it off if need be! ) Of course, the heroes of this story are my parents. They ended paying about $50K for my college experience. That is an incredible advantage for me, but it was “how” they did that produced maximum freedom.
Give freedom. Not things.
My parents weren’t willing to jeopardize their retirement, home, or go into a black hole of debt even though their children graduating from college was very important to them. They had a budget, and not even an offer from the best school on earth would have made them budge. It wasn’t just college. They were like this with everything from prom dresses to cars. If they didn’t have the money, they weren’t going to go into debt to get it. Instead, they encouraged you to “go get it” or “forget it.” This habit was so ingrained in me that I begged for a paper route at age 12 and started working at McDonald’s the day I turned 16. (The best business school on earth!) I believe it’s because of they how they were with money that it never occurred to me to take all the money I could get in student loans. It seemed “natural” to only take what I really needed. This turned out to be a $50,000 advantage.
When I graduated I had $14,000 in student loans. (Doable.) My friends had $50,000-60,000. (Debilitating.) Their parents helped them out, as my parents did. The only difference was they took loans for everything! In the end, all of us were mirroring our parents’ financial habits. The moral of the story is that, if you want to set your kids up for success, you have to be strong. Saying “no.” is hard, especially to a top-notch college.
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