If there’s one thing I know for certain about planning for a child’s education, it’s this: there’s no right answer. By default, I think that also means that there’s no wrong answer. (Thank goodness!) The fact is, there is only one answer that matters: yours.
I’ve been talking to clients about planning for college for their children for a decade. I’ve heard every opinion there is about whether or not parents should pay for some, none, or all of the costs of educating their children. I’ve analyzed and strategized backwards and forwards. I’ve evaluated every tool and every tax break in the books. After all of it, I’ve come to a few conclusions that I think can help parents frame a conversation about what planning for college means to them.
Dealing with the unknown
Saving for college means that you’re planning around a lot of unknown factors. To name a few: will your child go to college? Will they choose public or private college? Will they stay in-state or head to the other side of the country? What kind of increases in the cost of college should you expect if there are many years between now and enrollment? Can you count on getting scholarships? Is financial aid going to be available? The only way forward is to make the best decisions you can with the information you have on hand, and then be flexible to the changes and adjustments that will invariably be needed.
Finding the right answer for your family
There is no one-size-fits-all answer. I can say with complete confidence that college planning is one of the areas about which I hear the most divergent opinions and viewpoints. And, frankly, I almost never meet with a set of parents who agree completely about their education goals for their own family. For every client who believes they should pay for all education expenses, there is one who believes that their obligation to pay for education expenses ends with high school. Remember, the only opinion that matters is yours. Anyone who tells you differently isn’t operating on the premise that it’s your family, your kids, and your money. The good news is that there are planning tools to go along with every opinion. I’ve found that planning for college can be one of the most flexible areas of financial planning. Thank goodness for that!
Know that it can be emotional
College planning is emotional. In my experience, it’s more emotional than almost any other financial decision. When discussing college, we touch on such a wide range of values and beliefs. We’re talking about guilt (“we won’t be able to pay for college”), resentment (“my parents didn’t help me with college”), love and sacrifice (“I want to do better for my kids than my parents were able to do for me”), and pride (“I made it on my own and my kids can, too”). It’s healthy and helpful to let emotion shine through in the planning process. When it gets emotional, you know you’re making progress toward understanding how you really feel about paying for a child’s education.
I love having these conversations. They’re authentic and honest. They hit on something that is so raw and powerful: a parent’s desire to provide the very best life for their children, no matter where they land on the question of paying for education costs. What could be more beautiful?
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Andrea L. Blackwelder, CFP®, ChFC and Joseph D. Clemens, CFP®, EA are the founders and partners of Wisdom Wealth Strategies. Their shared passion is simple: to bring financial empowerment, understanding, and peace-of mind to people who wish to improve their financial future, build wealth for their families, and achieve financial independence. Click here to find out more about how you can work with Wisdom Wealth Strategies.