Folks wonder sometimes how it is possible to fund college AND retirement when you’re paying the bills for a houseful of kids on a modest income. I’m not going to claim we have it all figured out, but I thought I’d share some of the decisions we’ve made and how we are handling things at this point. Guaranteed, there’ll be folks who disagree with some of our choices. And who knows, we may modify our approach as we get more kids headed out into the world, and retirement gets closer. But for now, here’s what we’ve got in place.
We have a retirement fund through my husband’s work that we pay into every paycheck. We are on track to have our house paid off in 7 years. We built it ourselves, so we began with some instant equity. Thanks to sweat equity in our first fixer-upper home, we also had a good down payment on this house, which served to make our housing more affordable, and put us in a position to pay it off sooner.
We drive old, paid-for cars. Our newest car is a 1998, and we haven’t had car payments in over a decade. Yes, we have repairs at times, but they don’t equal what most people pay in payments each and every month. You already know how careful I am with our grocery money. And we routinely buy clothes from thrift stores and yard sales. All of these choice make the most of our income.
I also strongly believe that God has had His hand in our finances over the years. He multiplies our income. He has kept my husband steadily employed at the same place since 1991. He keeps our cars running. He leads us towards affordable solutions to problems. One tiny example: of our 5 current teenagers, only ONE needs braces. God led us to parent these kids: He also supplies our needs in caring for them.
Here’s where I expect some people are going to disagree with us. We have chosen to invest in our kids’ college education by educating them to the best of our ability, teaching them to spend money carefully, and working to teach them a strong work ethic. But we are NOT paying for their school. We would like all of our kids to gain some marketable skills, but we do not see college as the be-all/ end-all way to do that.
Our 3 oldest kids do have several years of college each, with our second daughter on track to graduate in May, with zero college debt among them. (A plus of being a college student in a large, moderate-income family– you tend to qualify for the maximum in grants.) Thanks mostly to scholarships and grants, they’ve been able to go to Boise State University –go Broncos! 🙂 — with very little money coming out of their pockets and none coming out of ours.
Well, that’s not 100% true: They are all allowed to live at home for free during college if they wish–and free room and board is a good amount of assistance. We also pay for half of their car insurance while they are in college. But we do not have the money to do more than that. Our stance is that if they want to go to college, they should work hard to do well on the SAT, choose an affordable school and work to pay for it themselves. And that is exactly what they have done.
One daughter became a lifeguard by doing a 6-week class, which gave her an instant summer job that paid in the $10-$12/hour range. Not riches, but decent for a new high school graduate. Our oldest son has computer skills he learned on his own, and has made some money related to that. Our 17 year old son is planning to do lifeguard training soon. Our 16 year old daughter is considering getting her CNA in a few years. One of our 13 year old sons is thinking he’d like paramedic training eventually. We also have some kids who have no idea what they want to do 🙂 but we are hoping to gradually help kids headed toward marketable skills that will assist in getting themselves through school if that is what they desire.
John and I got through college on our own, with just a few thousand dollars each in loans, and we feel like it was a valuable experience. I know that some folks feel it is impossible to get through school these days without massive debt or help from parents. Maybe it is harder than it used to be, and it may be that at some point we will be in a position to assist younger children more than we have the older ones. But we believe strongly that people value things more when they work for them on their own, and that belief is part of what informs our choice. We don’t think it is wrong for folks to help their kids if they are able, but we don’t think we are ruining our kids’ lives by not paying for their school.
We also believe that training in wise living will greatly diminish our kids’ need for college debt. Work hard to get good grades and keep scholarships. Give your best to your part-time jobs so that your boss will want to keep you around. Save up and drive an older paid-for car. Wear thrift store clothes. (Guess what? They can even still be stylish.) Buy used schoolbooks. Don’t buy every new gadget in town. Eat potatoes and peanut butter and oatmeal more often than you eat Pizza Hut and Subway.
We hope that living this way ourselves will encourage our kids to make wise choices on their own. Sure, there will be mistakes and bumps and challenges along the way. That’s called learning. And there will be times when the money is tight, even if they make mostly good choices. But in the long run, learning to live within your means is just as important a lesson as any you’ll learn in college. And we are trusting that this same God who takes care of our needs will also supply all our childrens’ needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:19)