I'm a long-time vocal proponent of higher education. For me, it's personal. I was raised in a poor family with parents who had briefly attended college, but never with any real gusto. (I'm not sure my father had a plan. My mother studied home economics. Not kidding.)
My uncle got a math degree from a now-defunct community college, and his son (my cousin Duane) went to school back East. I'm not sure if he got a degree, though. (I'll ask him tomorrow when we get together to bake Christmas cookies!)
But from a young age, I knew that I wanted to go to college. I knew I was a smart kid, and I viewed college as a Way Out. It was an escape from the trailer house I grew up in, an escape from menial labor.
Some parents “go to the store and grab a list like they did when their kids were in elementary and high school and just go straight down the list,” says Lisa Heffernan, mother of three sons and a college-shopping veteran. Or they buy things they only wish their students will use (looking at you, cleaning products).
You can safely skip about 70% of things on those lists, estimates Asha Dornfest, the author of Parent Hacks and mother of a rising college sophomore who’s home for the summer.
How much can hard work in school and when applying for scholarships reduce the overall costs of getting a college degree? Well, in our family's experience, it's amounted to nearly $150,000 so far. (I say that because we have two more children to put through college.)
Hard Work Over the Years Brought Choices
Our oldest, Aziza, is a high-achieving, ambitious student. She plans to graduate in four years with a triple major: Business Honors, Marketing and English. Needless to say, I'm a proud mother who is thrilled at all that Aziza has accomplished -- and what lies ahead for her.
When she began getting college acceptance letters, it kind of felt like we were winning the jackpot again and again. But really it was because of the years of planning and hard work. We were excited not only because Aziza was accepted to seven great schools located all across the country, but five of them offered her terrific scholarships as well.
As you gaze at your newborn or newly adopted son or daughter, one of these thoughts may run through your head:
- "Will I be able to afford to put you through school?"
- "Am I required to put you through school?"
- "Right now it's all I can do to pay for Pampers and child care. I'll worry about college later."
Time has a way of sneaking up on us. Seemingly overnight, that gurgling infant morphs into a 12th-grader looking at college or vocational education.
According to The College Board, tuition and fees (but not housing) at U.S. colleges in academic year 2014-15 ranged from $9,139 (state residents at public college) to $22,958 (out-of-state residents at public universities) to $31,231 (private colleges).
When I wrote about the pros and cons of homeschooling recently, I left one major piece of the puzzle untouched: How does a family handle the loss of income if a stay-at-home parent is required?
It's not just the loss of monthly income. The parent who stays at home doing the bulk of the educating is also missing out on some other benefits of employment (employer contributions to a 401(k), social security benefits, avoiding a resume gap, etc.). These aren't necessarily easy to quantify.
So let's take a look at the financial piece of the puzzle to the extent we can; but first, is it possible to homeschool without losing income?
What if the average cost to educate a child was over $5,000 but you could drop it to just over $500 per child? According to a really old (1997) report on homeschooling, you could do just that by taking your child out of public school and schooling them at home.
Last winter, after several days off school with bitter-cold temperatures, coupled with a few serious cases of cabin fever, I posted on Facebook that I was "feeling overwhelmed" (appropriate emoticon included) about trying to keep my cooped-up kids from fighting with each other for hours, and I wondered aloud (or at least on Facebook) how homeschooling parents handled being with their kids all day -- every day.
Well, let me tell you, I innocently fanned some flames. Anecdotal evidence and opinions were fired back and forth including topics such as socially awkward homeschooled kids, the terrible public schools that we have to send our kids to now, parents using school as a babysitting service, and people who shelter their kids too much.
I just sat down to write this post a moment ago and literally stared at the screen for twenty minutes. I'm still ready to bolt out the door at a second's notice, if needed, and the tears won't stop rolling down my face.
But thankfully, these are good tears.
My mother told me I might feel this way on my daughter's first day of kindergarten. Like it or not, the little person I gave birth to five years ago is no longer a baby, but a little girl.
(This is Part I in a series about challenging traditional measures of financial success. Part II is Challenging traditional measures of financial success: Homeownership. Part III is The 9-to-5 job: Challenging how we earn a living.)
Not going to college was never really an option for me. "Don't even joke about that," my mom once said when I brought up the idea as a teenager.
My parents never went to college and believed they suffered financially because of it. Statistically, they may be right. According to the data, a bachelor's degree can help you earn significantly more than a high school diploma.
While researching a magazine article on “raising money-smart kids,” I felt sorry for parents and terribly worried about their children. (Also greatly relieved that I am not raising kids today.)
The article, for Consumers Digest, ran to a few thousand words. Short form: Our children face serious money temptations and pressures, and generally receive very little useful info either from parents or schools.
They also face consequences more serious than their parents ever did. We're not talking about a few bounced checks or some other financial oopsie that you remember from your own early adulthood. An 18-year-old without sufficient financial savvy could within five years find himself:
For a few years, I got to skip Dave Ramsey's Baby Step 5. Save for our children's college education? That was an easy one…since we didn't have children, that answer was NO!
But now we have two kids (soon to be three), which means our days of delaying that decision are over. And since our oldest child is ten, we've already missed out on a decade of compounding.
Most personal finance experts, including Dave Ramsey and Suze Orman, recommend saving for your children's college education only when your own financial house is in order. If you still have student loans, credit card debt, or anemic retirement savings, it's much better to get yourself out of that hole. Continue reading...