I recently spoke with a single mom who was planning to mortgage her paid for house in order to ease her children’s college burdens. Her logic? “I just can’t let them accumulate all of those student loans. What kind of a mother would?” I discouraged her decision, but she steadfastly believed that good parenting is sacrificial parenting, even if she endangers her own retirement.
Why did I discourage her? Because I believe parents should make their retirement a higher priority than their child’s college. Furthermore, I believe doing so makes one a good … not bad parent. Here are five reasons why:
1. You have only one chance to fund your retirement.
Once you reach retirement age, you don’t get a do-over. Whatever you have accumulated is what it is. However, children have many ways to fund their college. Here are a few:
- Attend community college for the first two years. It is almost free education!
- Attend a state (instead of private) school the last two years.
- Apply for scholarships. Lots of them!
- Look for companies which offer co-op work/tuition programs.
- Work. All summer and part time during school year.
- Consider joining a branch of the military or the National Guard. The G.I. bill is still in effect.
- Delay college. It might be the right thing, but maybe not now.
2. You will force your children to set their own priorities.
Are they going to college because it is paid for or because they truly want to? By forcing this issue, you are bringing out what is truly important to your child. That is a good thing! If she chooses college, she will clearly understand that the burden of payment is on her shoulders. Who knows, she might choose a high paying job without a degree!
3. Success is not guaranteed by a piece of paper.
Certainly, a college diploma is important, but it is too often considered as a magic route to a successful career. Yes, a diploma will open doors, but once any graduate has that first job, his work ethics, integrity and people skills will determine how far he can advance.
4. Your child might not graduate.
It happens all of the time and there is no guarantee that your child will be different. Jeopardizing your retirement on the risk that Junior might or might not graduate is a poor bet.
5. Your child may need to support you in your senior years.
If, by putting your child’s college ahead of your retirement, your sunset years turn out leaner than you ever imagined, your children may need to care for you. I realize that children SHOULD want to help their senior citizen parents, but the irony is this: your zeal to be a good parent may have created the circumstances which require your child’s help.
Please do not imply from this post that I don’t believe parents should ever help their children pay for their college. We helped our children and I am glad we did. My point is to make your retirement planning a higher priority than your children’s college. Once that retirement planning is in place, you should feel free to use any additional cash flow to help your children with their advanced education.
Someday you will look back at this time in your life and be glad that you set your priorities, made a plan, and stuck with it.
What are your convictions when it comes to paying for your child to go to college? Would you give up your retirement plan so that your child can experience college? Do you think it’s wrong to do so? Everyone sets different priorities. Meet us in the comments, we’d love to hear from you!