This post was inspired by Michelle at Scribbit, who wrote about her decision not to pay for her kids’ college education and other alternatives to help prepare children for college financially. One of her suggestions is to teach children to “think cheap,” since public universities are a fraction of the cost of expensive private colleges.
Her post got me thinking about my dentist, whose oldest will be entering college in the fall. His daughter’s first choice is Tufts. My dentist’s first choice for her is UC Davis. The difference in annual expenses? Approximately $25,000.
My dentist doesn’t want to say no to Tufts just because of money. And his daughter simply isn’t used to her dad refusing her something, particularly when it comes to something as important as education and certainly not just because of money.
My conversation with my dentist reminded me of my own decision on where to go to college. Foolishly, I picked the most expensive private school that I had gotten into – one that hadn’t offered me a scholarship. Even more foolishly, my parents didn’t say no. (If you’re reading this, Mom and Dad, sorry.) Or maybe it wasn’t that foolish, at least from a non-financial perspective.
Here’s the thing: If my parents had said no, there’s no way I would have understood. I probably would have resented them for it – particularly my dad, since he was the family’s financial manager. The problem is, I wasn’t used to being told I couldn’t have something simply because of money.
I grew up very privileged, particularly when it came to experiences and education. My parents spent a lot of money over the years to provide me with enriching experiences and a top-notch education. So by the time it was time for me to go to college, I fully expected that they would prioritize those two things more than, say, managing the expense. And they did.
In retrospect, I wish I’d been mature enough to understand the sacrifice they were making and that they had refused to make it. I’m sure the money could have been put to a much better use, which isn’t to say that I didn’t have a great experience and that part of who I am is surely due in part to that time in my life. And I’m certainly grateful for the sacrifices that my parents made. But 15 years after graduating, nothing about where I went to college matters. I realize now that all that really mattered after graduation was my GPA, my major, and how hard I worked.
So what I have learned to pass on to my kids?
I’ve learned to say no.
Not to everything, of course. But I do already explain to my three-year-old that we aren’t buying a certain item that he wants because he has too many of the same type of toy at home, or it’s not on sale or a good value (even a 99-cent toy is a waste of money if it breaks immediately). As the boys get older, I’ll expand the concept to other things (e.g., why get an iPhone when there are less expensive phones that do the same thing?). I know they won’t always understand. But at least it won’t be a surprise when Mom and Dad refuse to pay $200,000 per year for college (which is probably what private universities will cost!).