Paying for college for our kids is a stress, burden, joy, gift, obligation, promise... fill in the blanks. It all starts when they are in diapers: we want the best of the best for our kids, and at the time of their infancy, don't realize the time and energy it will take to accomplish all that we want to give them. One of the biggest controversies I see regularly is the dichotomy between a parent feeling guilty to pay for college, and the problems that it takes to fulfill that promise. Let's face it- we're not getting any younger, and the view of retirement or saving for retirement becomes a crossover with saving and providing for college. What's right and what's wrong? Neither (either?) depending on your outlook and what you feel is necessary and right in your situation. The one thing I find though, is that unquestionably, paying for college is a burden on most parents.
Since the economy in recent years has been less than helpful and parents are still sending kids to college (imagine that!), it seems that I have been seeing more parents than usual calling and coming in to see me with regard to figuring out how to pay for their children's college experience. It is daunting, to say the least, and as a parent who went through it I can admit firsthand that it is nothing less than stressful and challenging. The four years seems like an eternity when you are writing out the checks, and it seems that there is one expense after another in addition to tuition and board. If we had no expenses up to their 18th year it would have been easy, but unfortunately, statistics show it takes approximately $250,000 to raise a child up to their 18th birthday. So much for cheap thrills!
We raise our children to be the best human beings they can be. We teach them, mentor them, and give it our all to create our model citizens. We encourage them to say please and thank you, and to open doors for those around us. Taxi driver, PTA mother or father, class parent, afterschool activities... you know the drill. Sometimes we are out of the house after dark, helping them to be all that they can be. Then comes time to start picking colleges, and most of our darlings have an idea what school they would like to go to. With community schools, state schools, out of state schools, Ivy League schools not to mention occupational and vocational schools, the choice is huge. What I have come to find is that those little darlings usually think big, and want to go to the big name schools. Mind you this is just a general statement, not about your beloveds, so don't call me up and holler at me!
In an ideal world, you would have started saving from the day they were born, and you would have had more than enough to send them to school. Unfortunately, the world is less than perfect, and life gets in the way of saving on a regular basis. When it comes time to apply for the loans, are they in your name, or your child's? Who is taking the responsibility for the repayment? Most importantly, does your child recognize the ramifications of being on the hook for tens or hundreds of thousand of dollars, and that it may take 10-20 years to pay off the loans? While that "cool school" sounds great, do they understand it will take them many more years to pay for the experience than the experience itself? Most importantly, is the child going to college for his or her education, or for the experience? If it's the latter, send them on a fun vacation and save yourselves a lot of money. They need to know it is their obligation to take on this loan- if you co-sign, you're on the hook whether they work or not, or pay or not. This alone can postpone your retirement years- far longer than you expected or are able to work.
I am not against education: by now you know I am all for it. But, just going to college does not guarantee financial success later in life. Many folks I know are very financially secure with a limited formal education. All that I suggest is that you talk with your child and find out why they want to further their education, and to what end. You both may find a local or vocational school, or an early job may be the best education of all-and you won't have to pay for it for 20 years or so... remember, it's called college planning. Don't forget to plan who's going to pay for their experience.