To the Parent Who Has Nothing Saved for College
To the Parent Who Has Nothing Saved for College…
Hey Mom and Dad. Do you have a son or daughter that’s practically knocking on college’s door? Are you elated to reach this significant milestone except for one minor detail — you have nothing saved for college?
If that’s you, you’re not alone. According to Sallie Mae, only 39% of families have a plan for funding college. And I can relate. After years of making poor financial choices, followed by cleaning up my mess, I had very little saved when my oldest son started school a few years ago.
So, from one parent (who’s been there and still is) to another, let’s talk…
First off, like many parents in your situation, you may be down on yourself for not having college funding wrapped up. I hear you. And to that I say…
Drop the Guilt
Unless you’ve mastered time travel, there’s no use in pining over the past — except to reflect on it and learn from it. But again, you are in good company. In a survey conducted by Student Loan Hero, 44% of the parents surveyed said they feel guilty about not saving more for college.
Whether or not you believe you “owe” your kid a college education (and there are many differing opinions on that one), wallowing in your regret isn’t productive. In fact, your feelings of guilt can cause you to make poor financial choices that may hurt you and your child down the road.
I know it’s easier said than done, but instead of letting your regret consume you, accept where you are and commit to moving forward.
Related: 15 Things I Wish I Knew About Money
Assess Your Situation
Also easier said than done, take an honest and objective look at your financial situation to determine what you can do (if anything) about paying for college. Ask yourself:
- Do I have room in my budget to help out?
- If yes, how much and how long can I help?
- Will contributing affect my ability to save for retirement or reach other goals?
Should the answers to these questions reveal that you are not in a position to help, again, resist going into guilt mode. You are not a bad parent for not being able to or even choosing not to pay for college.
But it is crucial that you’re upfront with your child about what you’re able to do and that you let them know the situation as early as possible. Waiting until acceptance letters are opened and your kid starts sporting a sweatshirt from their school of choice is too late.
Consider All Your Options
Many parents who have reached the point of sending their kids off to school but have nothing saved for college tend to go in one of two directions. They either pull out all the stops to finance the whole thing, or they throw their hands up in the air and declare college just isn’t in the picture.
Well, you have other options besides those two extremes.
Here are some additional paths to explore:
- Delay school a year or two while you and your child save up
- Start off at a community college for the first two-years
- Choose an in-state school
- Live at home instead of the dorms
- Live off-campus with roommates
- Do four years of school in three years
- Take classes online or at a community college during vacations to reduce cost and time
- Work while in school
- Alternate paying semesters with your child. (This gives you each one year to save up for the cost of one semester.)
- Pursue local scholarships
- Become an RA to save on room and board
As you weigh your options, be sure to consider what impact your choices will have long-term — as in looonnnng term — as in when your kids are adults and raising children of their own.
I know it may seem strange to contemplate how your decisions now will affect your hypothetical grandchildren, but as someone who borrowed to go to college and was still paying off student loans well into raising a family, I assure you that line of thinking is not as far-fetched as you think.
In fact, according to LendEDU, many borrowers are delaying major life decisions like marrying, having children, or buying a home so they can pay off their student loan debt.
If you’ve been unable to save up for your kid’s college because of poor financial choices, beware of setting them up to repeat that pattern. According to the Center for Financial Services Innovation, 57% of Americans struggle with financial health. And similar to physical health, poor financial health can be passed down to future generations.
If your kids are saddled with paying off their education well into their 30’s, that will undoubtedly affect their financial situation and their ability to pay for their own kids’ college education. There is potential for a never-ending cycle — unless you choose to stop it.
Related: 5 Money Books Every Teen Should Read
Find Your Own Path
Like eating well, healthy financial choices aren’t always popular, and they aren’t always the choices you want to make. Most people much rather have a side of fries than a side of steamed vegetables (well, at least I would). But the healthy choice will be better for you long-term.
So, Mom and Dad, determine what the best path for you and your child is. Try to block out how your neighbor/co-worker/friend/brother is putting their kid through school. If it makes sense for your kid to delay school, start off at a community college, or work while in school, then confidently make that decision knowing it’s the healthy one for your family.
At the end of the day, it’s you and your child (and their children) who will have to live with the results of your choices.
My family chose to navigate college without any loans at all — either on our part or our son’s. With that as a parameter, my son chose to start off at a community college followed by going to a state school. Our decision to forgo borrowing was a personal one and healthy for us.
You may have a different course. But make sure the path you choose is good for all involved and is one that will allow you to sleep at night.
Are you a parent who has nothing saved for college? How are you choosing to navigate your situation?