I can’t think of a greater gift from a parent to a child than the gift of an education. By gift what I mean is helping to matriculate a child through college; coming out the other end debt free.
According to the American Center for Progress, in 2012, two-thirds of college graduates left school with more than $25 thousand in student debt; ten percent with greater than $54 thousand. This increasing level of debt encumbers the earnings potential of recent graduates and increases the span of time required to be financially independent of their parents. Carrying this debt results in fewer starter home and new vehicle sales, and in general is a drag on our economy.
For most families paying out-of-pocket and through savings to cover the college costs not covered by scholarships and grants is a financial burden. Many middleclass families are struggling in the current economy. Some want to help but cannot. Of those that can help, there are nearly always tradeoffs in doing so.
In the case of our family, we saved diligently starting around the birth of our first daughter. She graduated in 2012 and is now a Kindergarten teacher which had always been her dream. And she has no student debt. Her sister is currently enrolled in college and we will give her four years debt free as well.
This comes at a cost. The vehicle I drive was purchased by us new fifteen years ago and has over 160,000 miles on it. Our second vehicle, which serves as our primary family vehicle, is nearly eight years old with over 130,000 miles. We would like to replace our vehicles but have not because of our commitment to have our girls graduate college debt free.
Our housing situation is not unlike our vehicle dilemma. Moving to northern Idaho in our mid-fifties we had hoped to buy our dream home. We settled for much less, so that we might continue to support our kids until they are safely out of the nest and prospering on their own.
Every family is different in terms of how they value items. What I hope you learn from my experience, particularly if you are parents of young children, is that providing a college education for your children or at least helping them in a substantial way is possible if you value doing so. The key is to start saving in dedicated accounts while they are young. With the benefit of compounding returns small amounts today will grow to surprisingly large amounts in fifteen or twenty years. This is particularly true for tax advantaged college savings accounts such as 529 plans. Do your research though and pick one that is in line with your needs and provides a variety of investment opportunities.
Yes, the financial responsibility to achieve your family’s dreams comes at a cost.