Since the investment in college is so large today, you can help yourselves and your children by allowing them to participate in the decision and the economic cost. Talk to them about the issue when they are in sixth grade, in junior high, and in high school. Allow them to take more responsibility for their lives for the long term. Work with them to discover what they really want to do. Help them understand what it will cost to attend a college in-state versus out of-state, or the cost of learning a vocational skill, or studying overseas. How much will they have to earn or borrow beyond what you are willing to contribute? If they decide to take out a loan, then they need to understand what it will take to pay it off. Perhaps this will allow them to gain some life experience that will be as valuable a part of their education as the degree they earn.
Dick is a thirty-four-year-old attorney who works for one of the most prestigious law firms in Portland, Oregon. He had to put himself through college, and he graduated with about $50,000 in student loans to pay off.
He told me, “When I was attending school, I took care of business. Because I was paying for it, getting good grades was a very high priority for me. Plus I had to use my time wisely to fit in enough time for studying around my work schedule. While I was working, my buddies—whose parents were footing their college bills—were hanging out at the local tavern in the afternoon or watching TV. Most of them didn’t study much and weren’t at all clear about why they were in college in the first place.”
Dick told me that his student loan is down to $7,500 and should be paid off before the end of the year. “It’s been a long journey,” he said, “but it’s almost done. And I’ll tell you—when I get it paid off, you won’t find anyone prouder.”
When kids participate in paying for their college expenses, they receive a valuable life lesson about what it takes to accomplish a financial goal. It allows them to be more responsible and share in the reward of fulfilling a financial obligation. And it might motivate them to find out more about what they want to do in life.
We are petrified by the thought of denying our children anything. We believe that giving them everything is the way to be good parents. It doesn’t work. They don’t learn responsibility, and this accommodating environment doesn’t always support them in discovering their own abiding passions. We must accept the fact that it’s okay to let them work at it a bit.
When confronting the cost of fully funding a college education for their kids today, a lot of people are coming to the conclusion that they just don’t have enough to do it. Perhaps that’s okay. And even if you do have enough money, it’s still okay to question the whole idea.
Now, let me be clear. It’s still fine to pay for your kids’ college if you choose to. But you can reflect on it first instead of automatically thinking that you have to pay for it.
When it comes to one of the biggest financial obligations of your life—your kids’ college costs—there are alternatives. Explore them.