“Thanks, Mom and Dad!”

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I sat with a group of friends and asked what they covered for their children’s college expenses. Some of my friends paid all of their child’s expenses. One paid for the first year only to get them started. Another friend paid tuition only and her children paid for their housing. Others did a combo where they shared the expenses with their student.

I didn’t talk about what we do for college in my Woman’s Conference talk because I didn’t have enough time and so I thought I would cover that topic now. My husband, Craig, and his siblings, were expected to pay for their own college. I  said in an earlier post that most eventually finished including his three sisters who went back in their 40’s to receive teaching degrees.

My Dad laid hardwood floors in college to pay for his education. He wanted us to have an easier time of it and so he generously paid for all of our bachelor’s degrees, housing and tuition. He paid for one brother to get his Doctorate. It seemed that my siblings and I  didn’t always appreciate this incredible gift. I remember when I graduated my Dad said, “I am so happy you graduated but did you have to take 5 years?” Part of that was I wasn’t aware of the cost because I had no part of it. I remember taking many fun classes and I also changed my major a lot and so I had many extra credits. My degree helped me teach school and get Craig through his undergraduate degree. I will be forever grateful for that gift from my Dad.

Because Craig and I  worked to help pay for Craig’s undergraduate degree, he graduated with exactly the right amount of credits. Through all of this examining and wondering how to help our children to get educated, and not entitled, Craig and I came up with a process that combines parts of each of our family’s way for  paying for college.

The absolute best thing to do if your children are still small is to open 529 education plans for them. These are state run investment plans that are tied to the stockmarket. We started when we were halfway through raising our family and even then, the money we put it doubled by the time our children were able to use it. Here is the website if you live in Utah.


The other thing, as Dave Ramsey preaches, is to go to a state school because the tuition can be somewhat more affordable. Many of our children also go to  one of the Mormon Church Universities and Schools—BYU, BYU Hawaii, BYU Idaho, LDS Business College and the BYU Salt Lake Center–who subsidy the tuition for its church members. Two students at my son’s recent high school graduation were really on the ball and graduated from high school with an associates degree. Pretty smart. They have already knocked out two years of college. Also going to a community college  and getting your two years of general education requirements done is a more inexpensive way to get through college. Then you can transfer  to a university. There are so many ways to go to college without racking up a lot of debt!

Our formula to help our children through college was to have them feel ownership in the process. We never presented it as solely our responsibility. We told them that if we worked hard and they worked hard we would all work to launch them together. Part of getting through college was for them to have a job. Not only to have a small income but to give them experience in the working world. Getting a job after graduation wouldn’t be as hard as it would if they never had worked.  Usually their job enhanced their learning experience—like they would work as a TA  for a  professor or have a paid internship.

The first year we paid for all of tuition and housing to help the new baby seedling. The only thing our child had to pay for was books. Then they really hunted hard for used books. Even paying for that small part of their first year, made them more aware of how much things cost. The second year we paid for 75% of their tuition and housing. They covered 25% of tuition and housing  plus books. Years 3 and 4 we paid 50% of tuition and housing. They paid for the other 50% of tuition and housing plus their books. We watched as our children became creative with how to pay for their part. They were more motivated to work for scholarships and look for grants.

Essentially, we paid for 2.75 of their 4 years of college. We also talked to them that  if they went into debt or used credit cards as a way of financing their part, we would withdraw our support. We really tried to teach our children about the pitfalls of easy credit throughout their growing up years. When each one would graduate from college debt-free, we felt like we were giving them a huge step-up in life. Recently when my oldest daughter applied for a mortgage, the loan officer couldn’t believe she had no student loans. She thanked me again for helping her through school and teaching her to avoid debt. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. This same daughter  had told me when she was going to the University of Utah,  her friends would get student loans and buy a scooter or go to Europe with it, and then try to pay down the loans with minimum wage jobs. It broke my heart to hear stories like these. How have you navigated your child’s college financially? Were they grateful for your help?

Start early, create a plan, and empower your child to have a successful financial plan for college.

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