My daughter is going to college: what are my options to help her?
Written by Matt Wegner
Founder and Lead Counselor, Matt Wegner Financial Coaching, www.financialexcellence.net
Dear Matt, My daughter is going to college this fall. We did not prepare for this financially. She will have some loans but we want to try and help her out if possible. I feel that we should stick with our plan of eliminating debt and when we are done with that step go right on to building our emergency fund. Possibly in 2010 then we might be in a better position to help her out. Any thoughts? Thanks, Terry B.
Hi Terry,First, congratulations on working your plan to eliminate debt. You’re on the right track! I agree, I would wait until you’re farther along in your debt reduction process before I help her out with her school costs. Many parents feel guilty about not being able to help their children go to college. Unfortunately many of them let that guilt drive them deeper in debt in the form of cosigning student loans or giving their kids a credit card, etc. Don’t fall in to this trap! You have an obligation as parents to take care of your immediate household and provide for your future (retirement) before you help the kids with college or other school costs. Part of providing for your household is eliminating debt so your income can actually work for you in the form of retirement savings (and college savings if there’s time). That doesn’t mean there aren’t options for you to help your daughter. The first option I typically recommend is Jill Howell of N2 College Consulting. Jill’s a scholarship coach who can help your daughter find more scholarships than you probably knew were out there. Last year her average high school senior was awarded $63,500. Not bad in my book. I am currently working with her on scholarship options for my 8 year old daughter to help us plan for her future. Aside from scholarships, there are a few other options out there. She may not qualify for grants but it’s worth applying. There are work-study programs where she can work for the college while she goes to school. She could always get a part time job (or full time and take fewer credits). Working while going to school almost seems taboo these days but it actually teaches time management and builds character, and when I went to college it kept me out of trouble by keeping me busy. There are also military options (some people cringe at this option but it worked well for me in addition to the part time jobs). The military will pay for a complete college education in exchange for serving our country. It’s a great option for many people who don’t have other options. Some companies will pay for an education too. Depending on her major, she can go to an inexpensive local college for the first few years while working and saving money for her last few years. Also, some career paths offer programs that will pay for your education if you agree to spend the first few years after graduation working in certain areas of the country. For example, there is the Teach for America program that pays your student loans if you work in an under-resourced school system for a specified period of time. There are tons of opportunities out there to graduate from college debt-free. It’s not easy, but the trade off is huge. While most of college students will graduate with an anchor chained to their feet, the few that are able to graduate debt-free are able to hit the world running free. What a great opportunity that is. If you haven’t prepared your kids for the moment, don’t give up at the first roadblock. Look for innovative ways around the roadblock. The road less traveled has more rewards hidden along the way.
– Matt Wegner