College tuition costs are rising faster than inflation, and many parents worry that they won't have the cash to help out with the costly bills.
But some parents have another concern. Will you spoil your kids if you save for college expenses?
Before I answer this question, I offer three questions that you should ask yourself first.
Are you making the most of today?
Children are only children for a few years. As parents, Rob and I want to make the most of our time with our kids now. If we have to choose between an important experience with our children now or saving for the future, we choose now.
I'll illustrate this decision with an extreme example first.
Let's say one of our children gets diagnosed with some form of degenerative muscular disease. Perhaps they will need a wheelchair for the rest of their lives. They will also struggle need various forms of therapy (not all covered by insurance) to enhance their quality of life.
We would absolutely stop college savings (and even retirement savings if necessary) to buy a house with a wheelchair accessible floor plan, to buy a handicap accessible van/accessories, and to pay for the necessary therapies.
I think almost every parent would choose "Today" over the future in these circumstances.
I also have a less extreme example. Prior to Shirley's birth, I was working full time as a data scientist. I enjoyed my work, my colleagues, and the robust paychecks. It was an ideal working situation, but the work was full time. With two kids and Rob in school full time, I felt that our young kids weren't getting enough time from a parent.
I quit my full time job, and went to a part time freelance schedule. This meant no more college savings for the time being.
When you're considering college savings, don't think about it in a vacuum. Consider how you're investing your time and money into your kids today. Your investment into their character and development matters much more than your investment into their college funds.
How much college can you expect your kid to complete before age 18?
I think my children will want to earn college degrees. They may even want advanced degrees like their dad.
But when I think about college for my kids, I'm not thinking about age 18-22. I plan to challenge them to earn a bachelor's degree by age 19.
Most states offer dual enrollment options for juniors and seniors in high school. Most academically capable 13-15 year old students can pass a few CLEP or AP tests during their freshman and sophomore years of high school.
It is reasonable to challenge students to have 3 years of college credits under their belt before they graduate from high school. Many could even earn a Bachelor's degree if they pushed themselves.
Saving for one year of college is not nearly as daunting as saving for all 4 years.
Challenge the way you think about formal education. Challenge your kids. The world really turns upside down if you design an education program on your own terms instead of starting with the template offered by society.
Are you teaching your kids now, so they don't need your support later?
Raising kids is not easy. I can't even pretend to have it all figured out. But Rob and I are trying to raise our kids as well as we can. One of our goals is to raise our kids, so that they don't NEED our financial support as adults.
This has so many components, but I have a few financial lessons that we're working to instill.
Honestly, it would be a lot easier for me to simply save up $100K for each kid and call it quits than to try to teach these principles. But every parent knows that isn't right. Among a myriad of other parental responsibilities, we need to teach our kids to not need our money.
Financial support tells you about the giver
I've made three arguments that make it seem like I'm anti saving for your kids future. But I'm not. In fact, I hope that I can help launch my kids into independent living. I want to give them money during their young adult years. Maybe for education. Maybe for something else.
My parents and grandparents paid for my college education. Rob's parents paid for his. We started married life with no student loan debt. This was a huge blessing to us.
I don't think our parents spoiled us by paying for our education. I think they blessed us.
But we could have wasted the money by doing drugs and failing out of school. That was a risk that our parents took.
The giving told us about their character. They showed love, generosity and wisdom in their giving. It showed a willingness to be in our lives.
We know about God's character from his gifts. "He who did not spare his own son, but graciously gave him up for us all, how will he not also, along with him graciously give us all things?" God is a giver. We abuse his gifts all the time, but he continues to give.
God also continues to work in us, to change our character, so we become slightly less abusive of his grace towards us.
I don't think giving money to young adults spoils them. I think its appropriate for parents to give money to their grown children. I also think its appropriate for parents to not give money to their kids (especially if they think their kids will ruin their lives).
I think all parents should consider a financial "legacy" as a small, tiny piece of their work as parents.
I'm a wife, a mom, an employee, and a personal finance nerd who is devoted to spreadsheeting my way through life.