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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Why do you work or stay-at-home?

Why do you work or stay-at-home?
I have a strange work schedule:
I work full-time, but work from home for the equivalent of two days. For the first year post-maternity leave, I worked part-time. For both situations, I realize I’m extremely fortunate to have arranged this schedule with my boss and company, as it allows me the opportunity to work with others in the office but also be home with my two-year-old.

I’m also one of those moms who work for financial reasons. We technically could live off of one of our salaries, but we like to save aggressively for our short- and long-term goals, and relying on only one of our salaries at this point—however frugally we already live—wouldn’t afford us that ability. That’s why I actually much preferred my part-time schedule because the income I made was enough for our goals yet still allowed me that extra day to hang out with my kid.

That said, I actually don’t mind working. My boss and coworkers are pretty cool, my commute is a measly eight minutes, the actual work is challenging yet doable, and… I even got promoted! Considering that I’m not in the office for two days of the week simply because I want to be with my son, I have to give a ton of props to my company for promoting someone like me. They recognize that a flexible schedule—and being a parent—doesn’t prevent employees from doing a stellar job.

If money wasn’t an issue though, I would like to be a stay-at-home mom, with a caveat. While I would spend most of my time with my toddler, I’d still like to work on projects that are solely mine, whether that’s volunteering my current work skills, pursuing interests and side businesses, or working on this blog. Then again, I may just have a case of greener grass on the other side; I’ve never been a stay-at-home mom so for all I know, I might just prefer working instead.

How about you? For instance, I know The High Needs Baby Blog is a stay-at-home mom to her daughter after reading her post on why she decided to become one (and whose post was the inspiration for this discussion). And a few months ago, I featured a poll asking you what your current employment status is, and the results were pretty much even:

  • 35% work full-time
  • 35% are stay-at-home parents
  • 30% work part-time

Tell me, why do you work or stay-at-home?

Do you work outside the home or are you a stay-at-home mom (or dad)? Why did you decide on either working or staying at home? What is your ideal situation? What are the pros and cons to your current situation?

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Get out of the house on time even with young children

How to get out of the house on time even with small children
I’m not a morning person.
Before kids, I would wake up at the earliest 8am in order to get to work by 9. Now that I have a kid, waking up at 6:30am every day hasn’t exactly been one of the perks of motherhood, and this is only worsened when we have to leave the house by a certain time.

These past few months, our toddler hasn’t been too difficult about leaving the house, give or take a few trying episodes. Whether we drop him off before work or attend an event or play date, he has been obliging when it comes to leaving the house. We’ve relied on several tricks to ease the morning madness and actually get out on time in the morning:

  • Get enough sleep in the evenings. Funny how morning madness can easily be avoided by simply getting enough sleep the previous night. I notice that I’m crankier in the mornings when I stayed up a bit later than usual. I find it difficult to wake up on time and therefore feel rushed the rest of the morning. To avoid all that, I make sure to sleep by 10:30 at the latest so that I won’t hate my alarm clock at 6:30 the next morning.
  • Similarly, allow plenty of time for everyone to wake up and play or get ready. Even though we don’t have to leave the house until 8:20, we wake our toddler at 7am so that he feels he has enough play time in the morning before having to leave. He’s a bit of a homebody and could easily stay home all day if he had a choice, so there’s nothing worse than prying him away from a brief play time to leave.
  • If possible, pick a good time to leave, such as after a snack. On days when we don’t have to drop him off at my aunt’s, I tend to go with the flow and run our errands when I find a good opportunity to do so. This is usually after he’s had plenty of play time, a ton to eat and a clean diaper. He’s more willing to leave when the environment and situation are conducive for him.
  • Eat breakfast, preferably together. I can’t imagine rushing out of the house on an empty stomach, so every day we all have something to eat. We also eat together as often as we can so that the day starts off positively.
  • Wake up earlier than the kids. Like I said, I’m not a morning person, but even I can’t help but heed this advice. Sure, we’ve gotten away with waking up when we hear our little guy babbling (or crying) in his room, but to avoid feeling rushed, we wake up 30 minutes before we plan to rouse our two-year-old.
  • Allow your kids a special toy or item to take with them out of the house. For my toddler, this is often any toy he’s currently into: Legos, crayons, even acorns and nuts. He’ll then have something from home to take while he’s away.
  • Give enough of a head’s up. We let our toddler know when we’re about to leave and say, “In twenty minutes, we’re going to…” and continue doing this at certain intervals, “In ten minutes, we’re going to…”
  • Keep optional outings to a minimum. To keep him from feeling overwhelmed, we usually keep our outings to two per day.
  • Break it down step-by-step. I notice that my toddler has an easier time transitioning when I give the exact next step instead of simply saying where we’re going. For instance, I’ll say, “Let’s put on your shoes,” instead of “Let’s go to the park.” After putting on his shoes, I’ll say, “Now let’s go to the elevator,” and so forth.

What are the worst days and times for you and your kids to leave the house? What factors make leaving the house more difficult? Easier?

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Teach your child to be assertive

Teach your child to be assertive
At the library, my toddler was playing with a block when a younger child walked over and happily took it away from LO’s hand. The boy didn’t do so menacingly; in fact, like most kids his age, he probably just assumed that the toy was his for the taking, and take he did.

Meanwhile, my toddler didn’t attempt to get the block back. When kids take toys from him, he typically assumes a carefree attitude of, “Sure, go ahead,” or “Let me find another block.” (Where is this carefree attitude when he’s making demands at home? Hmm…) Other times he’s confused as to what just transpired. Whichever the case, I try to let him know that it’s perfectly fine for him to get the item back if he truly wants it.

In other words, I want him to be assertive and stand up for what’s important to him.

There have been times when he did just that. For instance, we were at the playground when he retrieved a pine cone that another little boy had grabbed from him. But for the most part, he tends to simply move on and find something else to play with.

I’m grateful that he doesn’t immediately react aggressively when his playthings are taken from him. I’d like him to handle social conflicts in a calm way without resorting to whining, hitting or crying. But at the same time, I find it important to let him know that we don’t always have to share our things, and that if we’re not done with something just yet, it’s fine to hold on to an item a bit longer until we’re ready to part with it.

So when another child takes a toy, I follow these steps to teach him to be more assertive:

  1. I ask him if he wanted to keep playing with the toy.
  2. I let him know that he can tell other kids, “I’m not done yet” when he doesn’t want to part with the toy.
  3. I point out that if he really wants something, he can hold on to it and not have to give it away.
  4. If he could care less about the toy, I mention that too and say, “Looks like you’d rather play with another toy.”

At home and among adults, my toddler has zero problem with letting us know of his demands. And even then, we don’t downplay or dismiss his desires or emotions, and instead acknowledge them first. We want  him to voice what he wants and acknowledge and respect that he has wants, even if they’re not always met. We don’t encourage him to use force or aggression when expressing himself, but we do want him to know that he can stand up for what he wants.

This may be the reason why I’m hardly a fan of stepping in and solving social conflicts among kids. While adults are more likely to oblige kids in what they want (“Oh, you want this ball? Sure, go ahead.”), other kids prove to be tougher play mates. Rather than simply forcing him to relinquish his beloved item, removing him even if he wanted to stay, or taking the item away, I much prefer to act like a moderator between the kids. Only in doing this can he identify his emotions, understand the proper ways to act and yes, perhaps learn to assert himself should he decide it appropriate.

In the end, I want him to grow up into an adult that won’t easily back down from something he loves and instead persevere and keep trying.

Do you teach your kids to be more assertive? Have you experienced a situation where your child could have been more assertive? Less aggressive?

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What’s your favorite age for kids?

What is your favorite age for kids?
This morning, I asked my toddler, “Do you want to eat blueberries and yogurt breakfast?” to which he promptly responded with a bellowing cry about wanting to sit at his little table instead. Yet despite this unexpected outburst so typical of a two-year-old, I have to admit that I’m loving the toddler age.

His growing independence could be part of the reason. When he can play independently by himself, climb into his own chair and now, even help with dishes, taking care of him has gotten so much easier. He also sleeps much better, and considering that me and sleep-deprivation don’t go well together, I’m able to function with longer hours that he now lets me have. And more importantly, my own growth as a mother has helped me appreciate and enjoy this time so much more than the newborn and infant years.

Other moms may feel differently. I remember talking to one mother who much preferred the newborn and infant days of her now-toddler aged son. Sleep deprivation and baby worries were much preferred to the tantrums and defiance that her son was now exhibiting. Still, other parents could easily prefer even the older ages such as the school years.

I can’t say that toddlerhood is without its struggles though, however small or grand they may be. There’s the typical tantrum frustration of course, but even the little defiance here and there drives me nuts. He’s so much more opinionated (like when he can only take a bath with his blue Lego), and all the more stubborn (it’s so much easier to go home from the park when your child is just five months old).

Every age has its own struggles, and just as you think the ones you currently have are done, new ones emerge as they grow older. We were at the park the other week when I overheard a girl about seven years old scolding her friend for crying: “I’m not going to be your friend if you keep crying,” she threatened the other girl. I immediately thought, “Kids are so mean!” I can’t even imagine the social struggles that older kids and their parents go through, with stories of former friends no longer their BFFs or kids feeling left out of a group.

That said, I try to look at the positive side and imagine the fun things we can do once he’s older: we’ll be able to attend grander events like musicals and baseball games without lugging a huge diaper bag or worrying about cutting into nap times. We’ll probably do a ton more crafts and school-type of activities. And who knows, maybe we’ll even squeeze in a swim or two.

Do you have a favorite age for your kids? What has been the easiest stage? The most difficult?

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