A Father’s Dilemma: Saving for His Kids’ College Educations

In the Washington Post, Joe Heim, a father of a six-year-old son and a four-year-old daughter discusses a thing a lot of parents go through: Wanting to save for his kids’ college educations, but not actually saving for his kids’ college educations. When Heim talks to Mark Kantrowitz, a parent who publishes websites about planning and paying for college, and explains to Kantrowitz that he and his wife have been prioritizing saving for retirement over, say, putting money into a 529 college savings plan, Kantrowitz writes that off as an excuse and says that there are always ways to cut expenses to have money leftover to prioritize savings:

I start off by telling him that my wife and I have socked away money in our 401(k) plans on the theory that we think it will be easier to borrow for our kids’ college than to borrow for our retirement.

“That’s a typical argument, but it’s basically an appeal to selfishness,” says Kantrowitz. “Saving first for retirement is assuming that someone else is going to be paying for your college costs.”

Ouch. Easy, Kantrowitz.

Of course, the counterargument to this would be that not prioritizing saving for retirement is assuming that someone else will be paying for your golden years when you are physically or mentally unable to work anymore, and that children will figure out how to pay their own way through college if they have to. Suze Orman is one of the proponents of this argument: prioritize paying off your debt, putting together an emergency fund, and funding your retirement before saving for college, she says. “You have to ask yourself, What can I do to enhance my life and teach my children that they have what it takes to do it on their own?” she told the New York Times in 2009. If you’ve taken care of yourself, you’re in a much better position to take care of others. And I agree with her!

Also, more than socking money away for your kids, talking to your kids about the costs of college, what it means to carry student debt, the options between private and public colleges, scholarship options, the differences between federal and private loans, going through financial aid packages with them, and discussing what kind of careers they are interested in and what their earning potential might look like will help them significantly more in the long run.

Photo: Mark Hillary


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