We Are Not Saving For Our Kids' CollegeMar 18, 2023
Not every family has the income and cash to find college for their kids, and that's OK! It's not a high priority for us simply because we have other higher priorities right now that need our attention. We can't do them all!
When I shared some thoughts recently on why we're not saving for our kids' college, it was off the cuff in the middle of a longer video about budget priorities. But that small idea that I shared on a whim was met with a flurry of reactions and messages! Not a single one was upset or even disagreed (though I’m sure they are out there!). The flood of messages came in one of two forms:
"I completely agree. Not all kids will go to college and not all parents can afford to set money aside."
"Thank you for saying this, I feel less guilty that we can’t save for college for our children."
For context: we are college educated parents who appreciated our experience in value education. We are also debt free and focusing on our retirement. We have a five figure income and four children.
Prioritizing Our Family Means Starting with Retirement
Through my business, I have built custom budgets for families that include contributions to 529's, but they don't even make ends meet. Their credit card debt is growing or their savings is shrinking. This is backwards progress. The kids may or may not go to college. But the kids can benefit today from parents who have secure, finances, or not stress by making ends meet, and who can cover their own retirement and end of life care. We value teaching our kids these principles to be successful as adults.
While we would love to be contributing to 529's for our kids, we have other things we need to get in order first. We trust that the values we instill in them will give them the confidence, creativity, and contentment in securing their education and careers, even if we can only partially help them pay for it. This value based budgeting combined with working on probabilities.
If Kyle and I survive to retirement, it's a 100% guarantee that we will need retirement funds. It's not a 100% guarantee that our kids will go to college.
Gain Knowledge Before College
I was only 17 when I graduated high school. While everything works out eventually, I wish I could've had 2-3 years between high school and choosing a school and major. I had no business signing up to pay $25,000 a year for school when I didn't know who I was or what I wanted to be. That's a really expensive way to figure it out! We can help our kids gain knowledge about themselves and what they want to invest themselves in before committing to a decade or more of loan payments.
College as it is right now is such a mess, cost is rising even faster than inflation, and the general job landscape is beginning to change the value it places on 4-year and advanced degrees. I would rather equip my children with skills, knowledge, and funding as I’m able that would empower them to work, learn, and play successfully no matter what the higher education landscape looks like in a decade when they enter it. We hope the higher education world looks nothing like it does today by the time our kids get there - take a gap year, learn a trade, start a business, attend community college, etc.
You Still Love Your Kids Even If You Don't Pay for School
Saving for kids college is not a bad thing, but saving and paying for your kids' college is a very new expectation in the grand scheme of things. There's nothing wrong with using that as your family's approach to college. Doing it at the cost of going into other kind of debt, underfunding your retirement, or without teaching kids holistic financial principles is ultimately unwise. Even if you have the money, you can still choose that college isn't something that you pay for as a parent. Teach your children to enjoy and appreciate work from a young age, to handle their income wisely, live generously, and love life and people deeply detached from stuff and status. Then release them to live those things out when they graduate high school.
Many parents won't be able to fund college for their kids. It should not be a statement of how much or how little they care for them.
Our money is not infinite, and we have to budget realistically based on our real numbers, not on our aspirations. If I was flushed with cash month after month, would I want to put money towards college? Sure! But the reality for my family (and almost every family out there) is that there is a finite amount of extra dollars available to us each month. Prioritizing those dollars in a way that doesn’t include a future college degree that my kids may or may not want is nothing to be ashamed about. We reject the made-up external pressure to have a college fund for our kids if it would come at the detriment of our other financial priorities. Whether or not you choose to save for your kids' college, make a decision that truly prioritizes the wellbeing of your family.