Should you save for your kids’ college?

Should you save for your kids' college?
My husband and I both graduated from our undergraduate degrees debt-free thanks to scholarships, grants and financial aid. Yet even with having graduated with no debt and without having to rely on our parents, we continue to contribute to our son’s college savings.

Our reasons are of course personal, and are in no way a call-to-action for everyone to do the same. For one thing, we have wiggle room in our budget; if we were heavily mired in credit card debt or have other, more pressing needs, college savings wouldn’t be anywhere near our priorities.

Secondly, we already save for retirement. A common piece of advice is to ensure your own retirement before your children’s college fund because, while our kids can take out a student loan, parents can’t exactly apply for a “retirement loan.” So I contribute to my 401(k) and IRA before putting any savings into his college fund.

We also loved our college years and, just as vegetarian parents pass on their lifestyle to their kids, so do we with ours. I truly believe that for most people, education provides opportunities, from measurable benefits like income and careers to the more subtle ones like building character, forming relationships and opening our eyes to a wider world (I can definitely attest to that last one).

And finally, those same scholarships and financial aid my husband and I received aren’t guaranteed come the time my toddler enters his college years. A big reason we received grants and aid was due to our parents’ financial constraints—my mom was a single mom with two children in college, and my husband’s parents weren’t rolling in the dough either. My husband and I, on the other hand, are probably right in that middle class trap where we’re not poor enough to qualify for aid but not rich enough to comfortably pay for everything.

And so while our parents weren’t able to contribute much to my husband’s and my college years, we’re taking it upon ourselves to save a bit here and there for our toddler’s. We don’t make it a point to save the entire amount, but do try to contribute whenever we can.

Some argue that paying for kids’ college years breeds ingratitude and encourages laziness when students themselves don’t have to work to pay for college, aka the spoiled brat syndrome. I can’t agree with this, since I didn’t pay for college but worked hard nonetheless, all the while appreciating  every experience and opportunity. If students disregards their parents’ money and efforts at sending to them college, their ingratitude might stem from a deeper reason and one that didn’t just pop up because they got a free ride.

I inserted a poll on the right sidebar of the blog asking whether you’re contributing to your children’s college funds. Below are the results:

  • 71% are trying to pay for some of it
  • 21% are trying to pay for all of it
  • 7% are not saving for it

I was surprised to see that trying paying for all of it (21%) was higher than not saving for college (7%). Perhaps the economy has led me to think that college savings aren’t as high on people’s priority lists, but I thought more folks would be opting out of college savings. Then again, maybe it’s because of the economy—particularly the difficult job market and higher competition for recent grads—that have led more of you to contribute to college savings.

Tell me which option you chose, and why:

Are you saving for your children’s college? Do you plan to pay for all of it, some of it, or none of it? Why or why not?

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20 thoughts on “Should you save for your kids’ college?

  1. Thanks for the link! We aren’t currently saving for our daughter’s college as we have other financial priorities we must tend to. However, we would like to help her pay for some of it. Dan and I paid/worked/scholarshipped/borrowed our way through undergrad and his grad school and while it’s doable we’d like to give our daughter a leg up if possible.

    • Hi Steph, I imagine for a lot of people, college savings is a “nice to have” but not necessarily as financially important as other more pressing needs. Considering how much college costs have changed just since the time I went there, I feel like every little bit can help. I almost feel bad for college students who have to pay double what I paid!

  2. My daughter with 3 young boys told me that they can pay for their first two years. If they tough those out, she’ll help with the rest.

    • Teresa that’s a cool concept I hadn’t heard of. We’ll probably end up doing something similar because I doubt we’ll be able to pay for everything but a little bit helps too.

  3. We are saving for college. I don’t know that we will be able to pay for all of it, but will pay for what we can! DH and I both took out a lot of loans and worked part time to help fund our college educations!

  4. When I was young, I saved almost all I made for college. My parents had us pay tuition costs, while they paid our room and board. (Though I suspect that they also beefed up our savings over the early years so we were better able to afford the tuition.) I do wonder, though, if our kids will be able to get jobs in high school, since competition is fierce.

    My husband and I aren’t currently able to sock away money for our kids’ college savings, but my parents were kind enough to set up an account for each grandchild at birth. We hope to be able to contribute to this college savings plan in the future, once some of our other financial goals are met. We don’t plan to pay the whole bill for the kids, but we would like to help them, since we think higher education is important.

    • Thanks for bringing up grandparents’ contributions. I believe my mom does the same for her grandkids, and that early start totally helps in the long run.

    • Totally agree with this sentiment. We sock away for retirement and wouldn’t sacrifice that in lieu of a lot of things, including college savings. But yes our goal is to minimize my kiddo’s debt after college. My husband has massive student loans for his post-grad degree and it is no fun!

  5. We are trying to start saving and looking at our options. Both of us were SO lucky to have had our college paid for. My husband, by his parents, and I, by another family member. That never stopped us from earning our own scholarships, so with that being said, we never slacked off in school because it was paid for! The nice thing about college is I got to take classes in what I loved as opposed to high school, where I was stuck taking specific classes to graduate.
    It is more difficult being a stay at home mom, to be able to save a lot, and since we want more children, we are just going to have to settle for the best that we can do. I eventually will go back to work and that will be helpful. BUT we will try as best as we can to support our children through college.
    It has also saved some stress on our marriage and has allowed us to financially afford a house sooner, which living in calif is stressful enough as it is. We are both so grateful to be debt free in that regards, so we hope we can pass that onto our kids!

    • Hi Erika, so good to hear from you again!

      It seems like a common thing for stay-at-home families to not save aggressively for college savings due to the loss of an income. Everything has a trade-off :/ And yes, graduating debt-free is a huge plus! We still have my husband’s post-grad degree so we are not out of the hole just yet, which may also color my reasons for wanting to save for my kiddo’s college degrees. I don’t want him to have what we have to deal with right now.

      I agree that if we were to have another kid, the savings won’t be as aggressive due to more costs (plus saving for two kids instead of one now). I think we’ll still keep trying to sock away a bit here and there. Thanks to compounding interest, an early start is good even if it isn’t all that much, vs. starting when they’re in high school for instance.

      • Agreed! I’ll be interested to see how much MORE college will cost for our children. To think of how costly it could possibly get is overwhelming! And yes, good to be back…took some needed time away.

  6. MAN! I love your discussions!!
    We are saving money for *some* of it. My parents left me high and dry without warning (they implied it was paid for) and it was a huge discouragement and hurdle. I want my kids to try at school, and to be grateful so we’re talking about paying for years based on the previous year’s grades, or matching money that they make towards it, etc. Only time will tell, but there are definitely funds that get paid into.

    • Aw, thanks, and big thanks to you guys for *creating* awesome discussions!

      Sorry to hear about your college funding experience. I can imagine being so excited for college only to realize that none of it is paid for as was previously assumed.

      It’s interesting to see the different methods readers have for paying for college, like in your case, paying for years based on grades and matching their contributions. I also plan to match whatever they contribute to as well.

      • I know a couple of kids that I went to highschool with whose parents paid for *everything* even though they continued to fail classes and even entire years. I can’t imagine just throwing money away like that, which is why we’d want them to either contribute half of the money, or earn it based on their achievements from the prior year.

        • Oh man that sucks. I hope my kid will work hard regardless of whether he has to pay for it or not. I want to instill a good work ethic in him where he keeps trying and busts his butt in everything he does.

  7. Great post! This is a touchy topic for a lot of parents. Being a high school teacher, you can imagine all of the responses I hear from students about “being able” to go to college. Really? Please stop expecting your parents to pay for everything! There are so many options…like you stated, grants, scholarships, financial aid.

    My response might be because I also had to pay for my own college (BA, Teaching Certificate in another program, and MA). I am the first person in my family (both mom and dad’s side) to receive a bachelors. So, I literally didn’t have any type of advice or financial help from anyone. I pushed going to college because I knew how important it was. My father believed that women should stay home and going to college would be a waste of money (ironically, when I told him I was pregnant and was going to stay home with my son for awhile, his immediate reaction was “What are you going to do with all of your education?”)

    My husband was also in the same boat, paying his own way through college. What we’ve agreed upon is to put money away for Oster’s education. Working in the education field (I also taught college level before high school) I have so much experience and knowledge about the entry and application process for college. I know I can get the most out of his financial aid and then we were hoping we could pay the rest (HOPE is the key word here).

    • We have the opposite families; in mine, you’re sort of expected to go to college. But I know others like you where they were the first to go to college. I’m guessing you don’t regret it one bit, either, considering that you continued to pursue post-grad degrees.

      • I don’t regret any moment. I am so happy and fortunate to have experienced all that I have (professionally). I would have never made it to where I am if I didn’t have the education that I kept going back for.

        In a dreamer’s world, I would be a full-time student forever! My mom always jokes about when I’m going back for my doctorate. Maybe when Oster is done with his four years…maybe…

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