I'm Not Saving Up For My Son's College Tuition - Here's Why
The other day I was asked if my husband and I had any money saved up for our teen’s college education.
“Nope. We haven’t,” I responded without an ounce of guilt in my voice.
“Wow. So, how is that going to work out?”
And there it is. The attempt to make me, my husband, and any other parent who hasn’t saved up for their child’s college education, feel like a failure - an irresponsible, ill-prepared parent who just wasn’t careful enough or prepared enough for the day when their child would go to college.
Now, let’s put aside the fact that I am of the mindset that college isn’t entirely the answer to my son's future and potential for success.
I went to college and grad school. My husband went to college and grad school. Together we are sitting on a nice debt pile of over $100,000 from our graduate school education alone.
Somehow, even though our parents didn’t pay for our undergraduate education, or assist us financially in any way, we owe zero money for those years. Somehow, we figured out how the system worked and what options we had available (for my husband it was grants and low interest loans he quickly paid off, for me it was working full-time with an employer who reimbursed me 100% for every class I passed – though it also meant having to go to school at night).
Both my husband and I had jobs, and lived on our own. Since I left my house at the age of 18, I have not received a dime from my father, just as he promised would be the case while I was growing up.
The New York Times recently released a study showing that kids with a full ride through college don’t always do all that well and this data reinforces some of what I witnessed during my college years - a bunch of 20-somethings completely clueless about how the real world worked for more than 47% of America.
I didn’t get to experience a lot of what college had to offer, or even choose my number one career preference because I wasn’t at school during the day, when most activities, clubs, and courses were offered. But I also grew up, fast. I learned to survive and become independent. I learned to figure out my problems and not get caught up in all the 20-something angst and drama, because doing so meant potentially not making rent on an apartment I shared with no one. I learned to work hard at my jobs and didn’t have time for entitlements and selfish demands, because I didn’t have a cushion to fall back on if I failed.
I also didn’t have emotional support or anyone to go to for guidance and advice. I didn’t have anyone’s shoulder to cry on, or an ear to listen to me. And looking back now, when I think of all the things I wish I had while in college, financial support is last on my list. Emotional support, guidance, a little hand holding as I was getting started; those are things I wish I had.
My son wants to go to college. We have been guiding him and advising him on how to prepare for years now. We have discussed the choices and commitment he needs make to in order for this happen. And he is listening, because he knows he will need to apply for that scholarship and get it, and he will need to work off his loans right away. We are giving our son the sense that he has something to gain for his hard work, and a lot to lose otherwise – what I consider the biggest motivator.
But he also knows that his mom and dad will always be there for him, to help out with the books or food he can’t afford, to provide him with the support and encouragement, the shoulder, the hugs, the kisses, the words of wisdom, the washing machine, the holiday or weekend or whenever meals, the room to sleep in.
In the meantime, we are using our money to travel with our children and expose them to the diversity of the world. Unlike a blank check, we believe our approach provides a better foundation and preparation and will result in a more grounded, and mature young adult ready to take on whatever the world throws his way. Something no amount of money can buy.