In 2000, I graduated from my first round of post-secondary education and landed a job. My first annual salary was about 13 times more than my entire education had cost me. It wasn't that my job paid so well, but that my education had been so inexpensive.
Now that my husband and I are parents, we have some decisions to make regarding our children's education. We, of course, want to find the best value possible…you know, an inexpensive but good education. With the average student holding over $26,000 in student loans, though, do "inexpensive" and "education" even belong in the same sentence?
I keep hearing that it's a different environment now than it was when I got my first job (and it is). But is it so different that an expensive education at a four-year institution is the only option? Continue reading...
What's the best way to teach kids about money?
That question has haunted folks for decades — maybe centuries. There are dozens of financial literacy programs in the United States right now, but none of them seems to be effective. Why is that?
I've written before about why I think financial literacy education fails. Here's the short version: Most financial literacy fails because it focuses too much on mechanics — how bonds work, the magic of compound interest — and not enough on behavior. While mechanics are key (they're the foundation, after all), they're not the most important aspect of financial success.<
By the time you read this, my husband and I should be in the middle of hanging out on a different continent for eight weeks -- with our kids. Allow me to digress for a few sentences before I get to the point of this article.
We started the adoption process two years ago. In October, 2012, we were matched with our children, and the weeks and months since then have been filled with waiting, paperwork updates, and more waiting. Finally, in mid-April (I am writing this 11 days before we're scheduled to leave), we will meet our kids for the first time. I don't know how other new parents feel, but it's surreal to me. We're so excited (and scared)! Okay, back to the article…
What we want for our kidsContinue reading...
According to the Federal Reserve, the average amount of student loan debt carried by a student graduating in 2012 reached a staggering $24,301. And that isn't the only scary student loan statistic. Overall, student loan debt in the U.S. has reached a cumulative $902 billion dollars, and loan delinquencies are at an all-time high. This is depressing news for everyone, including those of us who want our children to be able to go to college.
Saving for an unpredictable future
Since my kids are so young, I shudder at the thought of what a college education could cost when they graduate from high school. College tuition has outpaced inflation at an astronomical rate. And worse yet, the job outlook for college graduates isn't all that great. In addition to all of that uncertainty, I've found it difficult to do much planning since there are a gazillion possible outcomes. Will my kids go to community college? An in-state university? Will they pursue an advanced degree? At this point, I cannot possibly answer these questions. Still, I haven't lost hope that I can help them avoid taking on a soul-crushing amount of student loan debt. I certainly can't predict the future, but I can at least try to prepare for it. And while I don't necessarily plan on paying for all of the costs of my kids' college education, I do want to help them as much as I can.
It's a common refrain that today's college graduates are entering into the worst job market and economy since Hoover was around. We're told that an undergraduate degree means less than what a high school diploma once was, yet we're investing more in school than ever before. Post college debt is a major emotional weight on the backs of this newest generation, and colleges encourage debt with ease — don't worry about it; you don't have to pay it off until after you've graduated and have a well-paying job.
We're sold on it and it's a hard sell, not only by schools, but by the banks' ad dollars, as well. Previous generations didn't start life with so much debt, and in the middle of a job-killing recession no less. You probably aren't going to pay off that kind of debt waiting tables. Realize that college debt most likely means postponing life goals such as mortgage, car, marriage, and maybe even children.
Good-to-know facts about college debt
How big of a problem is the cost of college? Consider the following:
I've recently hired my second employee, a newly-graduated technical writer who aspires to one day run his own business. He's proactive, punctual, hardworking and very capable. The mentor in me wants to make sure he has a great career ahead of him. So imagine my alarm when I heard him say, “Yeah, I'm thinking about going for an MBA in a few years.” As the holder of not one but two MBAs (it's a long story), I have a somewhat negative view of the degree. An MBA often costs a lot of money and provides very little return. However, as I began to consider how to tell my new employee that his plan was flawed, I also began to reevaluate my view of the MBA.
So, if I'm going to be honest with my employee, I first need to be honest with myself. Was the MBA worth it? Or was it a big waste of money? Was there a flaw to the program itself? Or was I to blame for not taking advantage of what was offered me?
I first tried to do this calculation in purely financial terms. Take the cost of an MBA and the average return per year and see if the return on investment (or ROI) makes sense. Unfortunately, both costs and returns vary widely. For example:
A few weeks ago, the proprietor of this establishment (J.D. “The letters in ‘Get Rich Slowly' can be rearranged to spell ‘The Sly Cowgirl'” Roth) asked me to address a reader's question — specifically, how should a parent save for college (perhaps because I once wrote a book on the topic, though it's now outdated). But first, let me say this:
College costs too much, it saddles young people with too much debt, and it forces students to “learn” things they'll soon forget — and it won't matter because it wouldn't help them further their careers anyhow.
Lately, I've been more vocal about the importance of looking for ways to boost your income. Cutting costs is awesome — don't stop — but if you really want to supercharge your debt reduction or your saving, you have to look for ways to earn more money.
"That's great," some commenters have said, "but how do we earn more money." That's a fair question, though it's much tougher to answer than, "How do I spend less?" For the most part, we all spend money on the same things. But we all earn money in different ways. We each have different work ethics, abilities, and styles. It's much more difficult to generalize about ways to earn more money.
All the same, it's a topic we've explored many times in the past here at Get Rich Slowly, in articles like:
Got kids? If so, you're probably hoping to send them to college. And you know it won't be cheap. College costs are rising faster than inflation, and have been for decades.
But that doesn't mean you can't afford a good education for your kids, even if you have a modest salary or other substantial expenses. I'm not going to pretend college isn't expensive: Full scholarships are less common in real life than they are in the movies. You'll probably have to spend a pretty penny for the privilege of attending your son or daughter's college graduation.
The value of a college education
Even with the skyrocketing costs, a college education is still a good deal. Post-college educations tend to garner graduates salaries that are 60 percent higher than those of high school graduates. Over a lifetime, college graduates typically earn $1 million more than those without college educations.
On Tuesday evening I gave my first-ever presentation about personal finance. I spoke to a group of about 70 graduating seniors from Western Oregon University. My talk went okay. It wasn't terrible, but it certainly wasn't good. It's a start. I learned a lot, and I'll do better next time.
I was the fourth and final speaker of the evening, though. Before I talked about personal finance, three WOU alums spoke about life after college. While my talk might have been mediocre, theirs were outstanding.
The first speaker was Brian Reick, who described his experience moving from job-to-job. He began knocking on doors right out of school and eventually found work. But the job wasn't perfect, and neither was he. He was fired after only two years. This experience taught him a couple things: