This 8th chapter of Smart Money Smart Kids is packed full of sane & practical advice for approaching your child’s college education, whether you’re in a position to ultimately pay for it all yourself, you plan to pay half, or you can’t foresee being able to contribute much of anything. (I’m going to guess most of us are in the latter two categories!)
I had the immense blessing of a father who saved and invested money wisely so that he could send my brothers and me to college. I graduated without owing a penny. (Well, except for that $800 on my Visa!) And that blessing has continued to the next generation. Following the birth of each of their nine grandchildren, he and my step-mom started a 529 Plan and made a lump sum deposit. Then instead of sending money or buying gifts the kids will tire of, they make deposits into that 529 on Christmas and their birthdays. Even now as I type this, my eyes are filling because I’m so very grateful they have done this for my children and their cousins.
But while a large portion (and maybe even all) of their college expenses will be covered, we still have a significant job ahead of us.
When I look back on decisions I made regarding selecting a college and a major, I clearly see some things that I would have done very differently with more guidance.
For example, I had the chance to earn a local full-ride scholarship to a particular in-state university. It’s very likely that I would have been the recipient based on the criteria, but I didn’t even apply. Why? Because I perceived that university as a party school. So instead, I crossed seven miles over the state line and attended… a bigger and more expensive party school. Not joking. I shake my head at my naïveté and ridiculous reasoning. I really needed someone to lovingly smack me upside the head when I was making that decision.
I was also a little clueless about choosing a field of study. When I was a junior in high school, I put Marketing as my intended major when filling out my ACT form, just because that’s what my friend wrote. I didn’t even know what marketing was! Then I decided I was going to be a nurse. But that felt like shaky ground when some teachers and other adults told me I was too smart (What? We don’t want smart nurses?) and that I should become a doctor. So I started college in pre-med courses, just because it seemed to make everyone else happy. I finally had the wisdom my sophomore year to realize that my deep desire to stay home with my (someday) kids did not fit with becoming a doctor, and I changed my major to education.
Since my parents hadn’t gone to college, they didn’t have the experience to guide me in some of these areas. But as I have a little “been there, done that” under my belt, I think I’ll be better equipped to talk through these decisions with whichever of my kids go on to college. Making wise decisions on what college to attend can save a whole lot of money, as can deciding on a major and being able to graduate in four years.