This is a continuation of a series of posts.
Paying Their Way
We made the very difficult decision that our children would have to pay their own way through college. This is something we’ve been telling them since they entered high school. We’ve had many, many, many conversations/lectures with them about how grades really do matter if you want to get some help with your college tuition. All those lectures didn’t seem to become real for Ellen until the summer before her senior year and then we saw her start to realize that she was going to have to work really hard to come up with the cash. Ellen is a good student, but didn’t get on the honor roll until her sophomore year in high school. I know when kids are young that four years seems like a life-time, but if they screw up one semester it’s pretty hard to recover. We’re having the same conversations with Seth now, and again, it just hasn’t sunk in, but watching his sister is helping drive home the point of doing well in school and working hard for what you want.
Many years ago we fully intended to pay for all their expenses, but as we got closer to the deadline and after we took Damn Ramsey’s courses , we came to the realization that paying for their education past high school was not something we could do. Gulp. Talk about feeling guilty. My parents paid for the bulk of my education and bought me a beautiful new car before I went to college. When I ran out of the money they had put in my savings account I had to start working three part-time jobs to cover all my expenses and eventually drop out of school to work. I am very grateful for the financial help my parents gave me, but I was missing a lot of tools that could have helped me make better decisions about jobs, money and living expenses. Clay also had help from his dad, but it was all borrowed money. We spent ten years paying off his school loans and mine from when I had gone back to school after we were married. It sucked.
I am very thankful that our daughter is not the type of child who feels she is entitled to anything. Therefore, she knew if she couldn’t get scholarships she would need to get a job. And that’s what she did. She started working the summer before her senior year and continued through the school year. She played sports and was involved in a lot of senior class fund-raising and church activities, she was a very busy girl with little free time. By the time basketball season rolled around she had saved enough money to buy an old car which was another expense and responsibility that we had to pass along to our children. We helped her find the car and talk the seller down on the price, but she is the sole owner and caretaker of the vehicle. We give her a little gas money every month by either transferring the money to her account or giving her a gift card to the gas station. We have also committed to pay for the car insurance until she it out of school. So, driving her own car still costs us some money and those expenses had to be added into our budget. Since she’s had her car she has had to put two new tires on it and pay for some minor repairs. Hopefully, this car will make it through most of her college career.
She managed to save enough money to pay for all her college expenses by working full-time this summer. She chose to attend a junior college which is 1/3 the cost of the university. She wanted to live at home which was fine with us, but I still want her to go do her laundry elsewhere. That is the one thing that she is NOT very happy about, but if we are going to live happily ever after….she’s got to go. I told her the stockpile is open to her and she can use coins from the coin jar. I think she’s hoping I’ll forget about it.
I’m really over the top proud of Ellen and the way she is figuring out her expenses and her ability to live frugally. She is buying some of her own clothes at re-sale shops or Goodwill. She knows how to use coupons and is a great bargain shopper and she’s really good at living contentedly without a lot of stuff.
Clay sat down with Ellen and helped her plan a budget. They worked out a couple of scenarios about how much she will have to make in order to pay for college for the next four years. When we took her to pay for her books and tuition I was very relieved to hear her say how painful it was to let go of that much money and then the parenting cherry-on-top was when she said, “When it’s my money I want to do even better otherwise I have just thrown away all that hard work.” She is determined to do it. I’m excited to see how this year goes for her.
Oh, and just to brag a bit more, she did well enough in high jumping this year that the college invited her to walk on the track team. If she does well she could get a scholarship as soon as next semester. The level of determination in that girl increased 10 fold when she heard that. I really hope she gets some level of scholarship, but mostly I hope she enjoys it. What I know for certain is that she will not be in debt while she pursues her education.
My Personal Advice for College Students and Parents
1. As soon as they are able, help your kid get a job. Ellen’s first job was at a fast food restaurant. She hated it, but loved the pay check. That job was a stepping stone to a better job. Seth is working at a horse ranch this summer. It has required us to drive him to and from the ranch, but it’s worth it for the pay check and the responsibility he has learned. It’s hard in this town for a young teenager to find a job, so I had to drive them around to fill out applications and suggest different businesses. If you just tell your kid to go get a job, they might not know where to look, so give them a hand.
2. Talk budget with your kids and have them make a plan for saving and spending. We have our kids save the bulk of their paycheck for a car and school. They keep a little bit for fun money because we don’t give them an allowance, so if they want to go out with their friends, they spend their money to do so and if they want a trinket or something then they buy it. This has caused both of them to invite friends over for movie night more than go to the movies and to pass on a lot of “things”.
3. Don’t set your kids up to fail with a need for high-priced designer clothing or they will find themselves discontent and paying for things they can’t afford. We have NEVER been name brand shoppers. Ellen still doesn’t know many designer labels. Seth is pretty big on wearing a certain type of shoes. The last time we went shopping for shoes he insisted on having a certain brand and style. I told him I would pay the amount I had in the budget and he would have to cover the rest. It was worth it to him. Ellen would rather wear her shoes until they are falling off her feet than use her own money to pay for a name brand. Both of them are okay shopping at consignment stores. Ellen thinks paying $5 for a shirt is terrible where as Seth thinks a $12 shirt is a good deal. As you can see, we have some work to do on the boy.
4. Help your kids be a part of the financial responsibility of their education. If you have saved up enough to cover their tuition then have them pay for their books or their housing. When it’s their money that education means so much more to them.
5. When picking a college be realistic. Can you and your kid afford the big university? If not, then look for a junior college in your area or find a community college to enroll in online courses. Chances are the classroom size will be much smaller, the teachers will be professional, and the tuition will be significantly less. And the best part? All those credits should transfer to the university.
6. If the only way your kid is going to get to college is with loans then they shouldn’t go until they have the money saved. I know that sounds hard, but what you are doing is putting your kid and yourself in financial distress. It’s not worth it. Do you want your kid to be saddled with $50,000 of debt before they ever have a career? NO!!! Should be your answer. Do you want to carry that debt or would you like to retire and enjoy your grandchildren? GRANDCHILDREN! Should be your answer. Don’t train your kid that if they want to do something that it’s okay to go into debt doing it. That’s NOT OKAY.
Okay, I’m sure I’m forgetting something. Feel free to chime in or ask questions. I know this one is tough as some of you may already be carrying educational debt. I heard this story on NPR the other day, it made me sad to think that this mother is so deeply intrenched in college debt all because she said to her kid, “Dream Big! We’ll find a way to pay for it.” How about we start saying, “Dream Big! Work hard to save for it.”