Sounds a bit harsh, doesn’t it? It may be an unpopular choice to make, but I’ve thought about this a lot, and think it would be best for all involved. First to preface, I’m not a parent. I actually just graduated college about three years ago. Admittedly, it’s possible for this decision to slowly change when I start raising a child, but for now, I think this is best.
I grew up in the Bay Area with a loving family. I never considered us rich, but we very rarely felt stretched for cash. You could say we were a prototypical middle-class family. For me, going to college was always a given, which I realize is extremely fortunate to begin with. I started working as soon as I turned 16, and was always good about saving money for my future education. My parents taught me strong values and how to handle money in a smart-but-generous way, while still balancing fun and preparing for the future.
Even with this preparation, I was still very apprehensive about my college decision and how I was going to pay for school. I eventually decided on a four-year program at a public, in-state school. In California, this is still quite a lot of money, but it is the most affordable four-year degree option. While I am not against going to community college, the nearby community college did not have a great reputation for helping students transfer after two years (it often took students much longer). It was important to me to graduate in four years, so I stuck with my decision to go to an in-state school.
Unfortunately, to make a long story short, the savings that I had spent a few years building up (by working part-time jobs) didn’t go very far, and I felt my only option was to take out student loans in order to pay my tuition costs. I feel into this pattern when paying for school: my student loans covered my tuition and books, and then I’d come home and work an insane amount over the summer to be able to pay for the coming year’s rent, utilities, and food expenses. I didn’t work during the school year, so that I could maintain a higher GPA. Looking back, I wish I would have worked while in school, in order to be able to take out fewer student loans.
My parents could have easily bailed me out of all this. They could have fully funded my college expenses and could have allowed me to graduate debt-free. Instead, I graduated with about $25,000 worth of student loan debt that I’m still working hard to pay off.
My dad compared the whole process to a caterpillar breaking through a cocoon. It takes a lot of struggle, but that struggle is necessary in order to gain enough strength to be able to live as a butterfly. At the time, I wasn’t too keen on this lesson. But I don’t want it to seem like my parents didn’t help me out at all. They are very generous, and my dad has even helped pay off a portion of the student loan debt I still have. I’ve lived a very blessed life, and I’m thankful for it. However, a large burden of my college expenses fell upon my shoulders.
But, in all honesty, this was a good thing for many reasons. It taught me to take personal responsibility for my college experience. I missed less than ten total class periods throughout my entire four years of school. I was paying for those classes, and I didn’t want to take them for granted. I worked extremely hard to maintain my high grades. I learned to live below my means, and to manage my expenses and keep my costs as low as possible while still enjoying my time at school. I rode a bike everywhere for my first two and a half years of college, and I learned how to grocery shop on a budget. Also, while I hate the fact that I’m currently in debt, it has taught me good budgeting habits and helped fuel my passion for personal finance.
I have multiple friends whose parents paid their entire way through school. While they still received a good education and graduated debt-free, many of them took their parents help for granted and didn’t fully learn the value of a dollar and hard work. Of course, I don’t think everyone who had their college expenses paid for ends up not appreciating the importance of hard work. I know they do, but, in my experience, it makes it much easier to take your privilege for granted.
So yes, I’m not planning to fully fund my future children’s college expenses. Will I help them enough so that they don’t go hungry? Of course. Will I provide a safety net if there’s truly no other way? Absolutely. But I want them to learn all the valuable lessons that I did, and take ownership of their college experience instead of taking it for granted. I want them to really want to go to class and soak up as much knowledge as possible, and I want them to learn to live below their means, so that they can realize that a frugal lifestyle is a fulfilling and happy one.
A lifelong Bay Area native, Matt Spillar graduated in May 2013 from Fresno State with a Sports Marketing degree. He currently works on the Content Management team for DealsPlus.com and has worked three seasons with the San Jose Giants. You can read more of his writing on the DealsPlus blog, or his personal blog. He is also on Twitter.
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