How We Are Surviving Two Kids In College
Having two kids in college is stressful enough on parents, especially when we didn’t plan ahead to fully fund their 529 accounts. A 529 plan in Indiana allows you a $1000 tax credit for $5000 invested, and we started way too late! Any extra family income went to fantastic family vacations, paying for travel sports, buying kid’s cars, and saving for our own retirement that college seemed to sneak up on us. We also knew we wanted the boys to have skin in the game and develop great work ethics, learn balance, and time management, so we weren’t covering all of their tuition and room & board.
For our family, we agreed to pay about half of a state tuition per semester, and our boys had to figure out the rest, whether it’s via scholarships, living at home, community college, or savings account. Here are a few tips that have helped us manage so far. Keep in mind, our oldest has 3 semesters left of undergrad, and our youngest has 6, so we’re not quite finished.
Start planning while in high school
We encouraged our boys to take as many Advanced Placement (AP) and dual credit (ACP) classes as they could handle. The AP classes require a test at the end of the semester in which they had to achieve a certain score for it to count towards college credit. The dual credit (ACP) classes are actual college courses the high school offers at a discounted rate that allow them to end high school ahead of the game. My oldest son had 21 credits going into his freshman year, and my youngest son had 12.
Our boys also began working as soon as they turned 16. Jobs were required in our home if you weren’t involved in some sort of extra-curricular activity. Obviously, grades came first, activity was next, then a job. We didn’t want our kids just sitting around the house playing video games; trust me, they did enough of that! We wanted our boys to be productive and develop social skills. My oldest son wasn’t interested in activities, so he got a job as soon as he turned 16. This was on school nights as well as weekends, as long as his grades stayed acceptable. This developed time management and balance. Our youngest son, who turned 16 just a year and a half after his brother, played lacrosse so his job was based around his season before he started driving. Because we provided both boys with a car and insurance, they covered gas. My youngest, who caught the work bug, became a pizzeria manager by the age of 17 and was able to save $20,000 by the time he graduated high school. Trust me, we had to keep close tabs on the hours he worked in order to keep his grades up. He knew that if the grades suffered, the job went away. Our oldest son was very involved with his youth group and volunteering at a community center, so he made up his college savings through scholarships and delivering pizza. Yes, his younger brother was his boss!
Look at college like a business decision
My husband is a businessman and analyzes many decisions based on that. How do we maximize our return on investment? Choosing the right college and type of college can help keep costs down. Living arrangements, new ~vs~ used books, on campus jobs all can have a large impact on the bursar bill. Is it worth the personal growth and “experience” of living on a college campus? For our oldest, after living on campus one semester, he decided the trade-off wasn’t worth it. He much preferred moving home, commuting to school, and saving room and board costs over living the dorm life with terrible food. It seems that living with Mom that cooks, cleans, and does laundry is more valuable than the party life of the dorm.
Our youngest son chose to attend a local community college to get his associate’s degree. The tuition of a community college is about 60% less than that of a state school. He will then transfer to a state school and live in a campus apartment to finish out his bachelor’s degree. Because he has planned well, he has more than enough to cover his expenses.
The downside of these options is the lack of a social life. Our boys have a difficult time finding friends that aren’t away at college. We push them to stay connected by meeting friends at work, church, or by joining a gym. It seems the crazy kids these days also stay connected through many forms of technology. It’s a small sacrifice for a few years, but it has created opportunities to develop communication skills with adults and people already in the workforce.
Start with the end in mind
Because our boys knew the end goal was to get their degree debt free, they planned all 8 semesters of classes up front. They didn’t fill their schedules with fluff electives. For example, my oldest changed his major after his freshman year, but because he came into college with 21 credit hours, he had flexibility in moving classes to his new major. In his schedule, instead of taking electives that didn’t add up to anything, he loaded it with classes of another major. He is able to graduate in 7 semesters, with 2 majors; which will save us in the long run. However, his current plan is to attend law school after graduation, so there’s that. Update: he is entering his senior year with one major, Economics. He has decided to not attend law school, but get married after graduation instead. We are so happy for his future.
My youngest is planning on finishing his bachelor’s in 4 years as well, all while working part-time during the school year, working full time in the summers, and taking advantage of online classes to make his schedule available for work hours. He’s already invested in a Roth IRA, and will be financially sound when he does move away to finish up his last two years of college. Update: after completing his Associates Degree, he is now transferring to a state school as a Junior to finish his Bachelor’s Degree in Finance.
We are taking this time of our life one semester at a time. Sure, my kids aren’t getting the full college “experience”. For our family, learning to live debt free is a much more rewarding lesson. The planning, perseverance, and sacrifice both of my boys are making will be a weight off their shoulders when they graduate already being set up for success.