When Catherine Alford had twins, she understood she’d need to start saving for their college expenses now. Here’s how her family is planning for this major education investment.
When I found out I was pregnant with twins, I was worried about so many things—their health, how many diapers to buy, and whether I needed two of everything (or if they could just share some of their baby gear).
What didn’t immediately jump to my mind, however, was the cost to send both of them to college at the exact same time. (That realization would sink in later.)
Like many Millennial parents who suffer the burden of student loan debt, my husband and I want our children to go to college debt-free. We don’t want them to spend their 20s and 30s paying back student loans like we’re currently doing. However, with rising college costs, sometimes the thought of saving for college for them seems completely futile.
Saving for College is a Generational Problem
We’re not alone. Debt is a persistent problem for Millennials, and it’s not just student loan debt. The Wall Street Journal reported that 81 percent of college-educated Millennials “have at least one source of long-term debt,” whether it’s a car, student loan, or some other form of debt. This ability of debt to permeate the very fibers of our generation has allowed it to seem completely normal. Many Millennials feel as though student loan debt is just a part of being educated. Most of our friends have debt, and unfortunately, if all of us don’t pay back our student loan debts quickly, our children will be forced to repeat the cycle.
Prepping for Rising College Costs
To further complicate the problem, the cost of college is rising at staggering rates. So, if Millennials have trouble paying back their debt and the cost of college is rising, what can we expect the college tuition landscape to look like 20+ years from now, when my twins are in the middle of their college educations?
A study entitled Millennials and Student Debt found that “from 2002 to 2012, prices for undergraduate tuition, room, and board at public institutions rose 40 percent.” This is a frightening prospect for someone who wants to send two children to college in the year 2032. Will their education cost me $1 million each? How are we supposed to even remotely prepare for that, even with two successful careers?
Understanding Cultural Norms: College is a Necessity
In addition to having debt, the act of going to college is also a cultural norm, so it’s hard to ignore the prospect. I hope that, as a generation, Millennials take a stand against these rising tuition costs and the universities who seem to have no regulation on how much they increase tuition each year.
The problem is that Millennials as a whole believe college is a necessity, both in order to feel successful and in order to secure higher paying work. After all, that’s why we went to college, to improve our careers and earn more. So, naturally, most of us expect our children to also go to college.
The numbers support this. A Pew Research Center study showed that Millennial college graduates earn $17,500 more per year than Millennials with only a high school diploma.
And then the trap continues: Many Millennials then feel the need to go to graduate school to earn even more, leaving many Millennials (myself included) to take out more student loans to get more education that they might not really need.
Creating a College Plan for My Children
Although this post showcases a dismal setting for the future of affording college tuition, I do actually have a plan for my twins. Since they are still young, I invest all the money they receive for Christmas and their birthdays into mutual funds in a custodial account. I actually don’t have their money invested in education-specific accounts because I want them to choose what they want to do with it. If they decide to start a business, for example, I want them to be able to use the funds to start their business. If they want to buy a rental property, I want them to be able to do that. If they want to travel the world and find themselves, well, that’s their prerogative.
I’m pretty sure my kids are going to go to college since that’s the example they will have, but I’m also going to be extremely open with them about their prospects. I want them to know how debt affected their parents and how much wealthier we could have been if we’d opted for less-expensive schools or gone another route. I’ll be sure to tell them about transferring community college credits, the benefits of working throughout school, attending a technical school, and of course, letting them know that they can create their own luck and that they don’t need a name-brand university to do that.
Ultimately, in 16 years, if they decide to go to college, my husband and I will have the ability to cash flow their education so long as they choose a college that is reasonable. Although it’s not a perfect or an exact plan, it’s what we have for now and that, at least, is better than ignoring the problem altogether.
Catherine Alford is the go-to personal finance blogger for educated, aspirational moms who want to recapture their life passions and take on a more active financial role in their families. Named the Best Contributor/Freelancer for Personal Finance in 2014, she is also the founder of BudgetBlonde.com, an award-winning personal finance blog.
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