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The following is a staff writer post from MikeS.  He is a married father of 2.  So, with the cat, he ranks number 5 in the house.  He loves numbers and helping people. Please leave any questions or comments below for either Mike or Crystal.

I don’t know how exactly the conversation came up, but my wife, her mother and I were talking about college expenses.  My mother-in-law remarked how she had heard someone talking about how they were not going to be paying for college for their kids.  During the conversation, we talked about a few things.  One discussion point was whether a parent should pay for college.  The other was the plans that, my wife and I, have for our children.  The last was on how having limited student loans have benefited my wife and I financially.

To Pay or Not to Pay

There is not a right or wrong answer to this question in my opinion.  I do not believe that parents are obligated to pay for higher education for their children.  I believe that once a child reaches the age of 18, that anything a parent does after that is extra.

Now, that doesn’t mean that I will be kicking my kids out of the house once they are 18 years old.  Quite the contrary, I want to help them get the best start in life that I can.  However, I will not fault any parent who either financially cannot or chooses not to, pay for higher education.  What parents should give their children is a solid foundation in personal finance, so that they can make their own choices.  Sadly, I believe that this is generally lacking in today’s society.

Our Plan

Our goal is to have enough money to pay for four years of our state university.  Being a numbers guy, I tried to estimate what that cost would be for when my daughter and son would be attending.  I then estimated a savings amount based upon my wife starting work in a couple of years.  If my assumptions about how much we can save, college inflation and investment returns are prescient, our savings will be sufficient.

Should my kids decide that they want to go to a more expensive school or need graduate school, I’d have to evaluate whether I could help.  I will help them if I can, but I won’t jeopardize my financial goals to do so.

Student Loans

My wife and I were fortunate to have limited student loans upon graduation.  I completed my 4-year degree with zero student loan debt.  I was lucky at the time that both of my parent’s employers offered scholarship programs.  Between the two scholarships, all of my tuition was covered.  What also helped was that I went to a state school and commuted back and forth since the school was only twenty minutes from home.

My wife went to a private school that was further away.  She also took one semester of graduate school before deciding that was not the path she wanted to take.  With help from her parents, she only had in the low $20,000 dollar range in total student loan debt.  I can’t tell you the exact number as I wasn’t very on top of my finances back then.

Having such a low debt amount has certainly made our life easier.  However I don’t think it would have altered our lifestyle dramatically.  We could have made other sacrifices if we needed to pay off additional loans.

My wife made the comment that she wonders if that is why there are so many families where both parents work.  I am sure that has something to do with it, but it is also the choices that people make.  Instead of buying a new car, maybe we would have bought used cars to keep any car payments as low as possible.  The trips that we have taken over the last few years may have been a luxury that we couldn’t afford.  There are always choices to be made; you just have to decide what’s important.

A Simple Conversation

It is funny how a simple conversation can touch on all of these things.  My wife and I are fortunate to have had so little student loan debt, but we have also become diligent about our finances. Now we're trying to figure out how to pay off credit card debt.  This dedication allows us to be in a position to help our children in the future.  It affords us options that maybe other families might not have available to them.  At the end of the day, money is all about choices since you generally have a finite amount.