Retirement? College? Money and large families

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)


  1. We’re right there with you. 10 years ago I would have said that college savings was a goal for us. Now with both of us working in ministry I don’t see that happening – even as frugally as we live. So we’ve told the kids that they’ll have to pay for school themselves. While a part of me hopes our college-bound kids will attend the Christian university my husband and I went too, I’m a firm believe in state universities. It seems rather ridiculous to spend four times as much to send your kid to college in a different state. Outside of a very few careers, no employer is going to base their hiring decision on where you went to school. Experience, work ethic and determination go a lot farther and your kids will have that in spades!

  2. I have saved this post in my “financial” folder online for future reference! I appreciate your perspective on education savings – I sometimes feel a little concerned that we are barely putting enough into retirement savings, let alone starting education funds for the kiddos. But, I also realize that I paid my way through university (with a few, reasonable, student loans, which were paid off on schedule as I chose a professional field with great employment prospects). My parents would have happily helped me out if they could, but were not in the position to do so. I lived at home until they moved away, which was a big help. I expect I might have the same philosophy – if we can help, we likely will, but if not, we will provide support in other ways.

  3. Fyi for your 16 year old: She can probably go ahead and get her CNA, if she wants to. I was a CNA, and worked with girls who got certified at 15 years old. The nursing home where I worked also reimbursed employees who were in nursing school, as do many other nursing homes and hospitals, if she’s interested in that path.

  4. You have put into words our philosophy, in better fashion than I have ever been able to express. Well done.
    My husband and I feel the same way. You definitely value something more when you’ve had to fight for it, to earn it on your own merits and efforts!

    I have always felt that ‘fair doesn’t mean equal’ within family dynamics but I would caution you against giving younger siblings more financial assistance, even when you are in a better position, financially, to do so. Having seen it done many times, in different families, (in different decades) and I honestly feel that it puts the younger siblings at a disadvantage. It robs them of the feeling that they have earned their own way into adulthood and seems to skew both their own attitude of ‘entitlement’ and the opinion of ‘indulged’ by their older sibs.

  5. I love the statement that you made about how God led you to parent those kids and HE is provide for them. College/Cars/Weddings is always something that gets us nervous when thinking about a large family but I pray we learn to trust the Lord for those things as they are not even really necessities.

  6. Christy M says:

    My husband and I are saving some for our child’s college, mostly because we met with a financial planner and he says we should have plenty for our retirement. I say some because we are still paying off OUR college loans. I came out with very little debt from undergraduate studies and he has none. His parents paid for his UG, because they knew he dreamt of law school. We still have a TON of law school that to pay off, but I would like to help my child(ren) get off to a good start in case they have the same grad school dreams.

  7. I agree with you on so much. And Greg and I agree that each family is unique and works with different parameters when deciding about how much to “help” their kids. We think that choosing a certain area of support and calling it the “right” place to limit support is peculiar to each family. I’ve seen some families get down to where they barely provide food past the age of 13, saying the kids “need to learn responsibility.” There are other ways to learn to be responsible in the family context without making kids feel they are struggling for survival.

    On another note, we are not likely to be very appreciative of people enjoying sending their kids to college on government aid and calling it frugal (I assume that is at least part of the governmental financial aide you are speaking of). We are one of those large families that do not qualify by government standards to “get” any of our tax money back to pay for our kids’ further education. I realize this could get into a whole other discussion of whether or not the government should be involved in “redistribution”, but on a personal level, I would bet that most people are not really thrilled about having their hard earned money confiscated, have some of it siphoned off for bureaucracy, than passed on to others deemed “deserving”. And, to top it all off, the more they take our money and give it away as financial aide, the more all colleges, state and otherwise, raise their fees due to the “increased” supply of money in the college system. This obviously makes it harder for our kids to pay for college.

  8. I was able to put myself through college with only a little help from my parents. I received financial aid (scholarships and grants) and worked part-time. My parents would have helped if they could, but they really couldn’t afford it. My husband’s parents (who were well-off) paid for his undergraduate degree. But he took out loans to go to law school. Our second biggest expense the first few years we were married (after rent/mortgage) was his law school loans. But we were determined to pay them off and managed to do so right before our first child was born and I quit work to stay at home. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Anybody who really wants to go to college will figure out a way to do so and college is not the right choice for everybody!

  9. I don’t have college age kids yet, but I agree with everything that you said. Thanks for the view from the trenches.

  10. I am behind y’all 100% on the college deal! I paid for my associate degree right after high school without any help from my parents. At that time, my school didn’t offer federal aid, but a few internal scholarships and the fact that I was an RA the 2nd year helped a lot. Now, more than 10 years later, I’ve started working on a bachelor’s degree. I work full-time and I’m paying out of my pocket for my (private Christian) bachelor’s degree. Money is going to be really tight for a couple years, but my parents’ stance has always been that we’ll value more what we earn ourselves. Thankfully, they’re able and willing to loan me money to get the degree done in a more timely fashion. They know how I HATE being in debt so I’ll pay them back as quickly as I can. 🙂

  11. So refreshing to see/read a bunch of people who do not think they must-have to-see it as their job to pay for their kids education.

    I think it sends a clear message to those kids that they are capable, trusted, seen as responsible for their choices.

  12. You know, 8 years ago when I was pregnant for the first time I would not have agreed with this post at all! I thought every child had a right to go to college and every parent a responsibility to help them do it. I understand a lack of ability and would have been okay with that … but I would have assumed that college was necessary for them be successful in life.

    Today I realize how silly that is. Not every skill needs a degree, nor does every calling. Now I understand that it is more important to teach my children to hear the voice of God, to do what they were created to do, and to equip them with the ability to do those things. That may or may not involve college. And it may mean I am educating them in a certain way, or it may mean I am helping them find where to go to do that. But it’s unique for each one and each goal.

    Thanks for this post!

  13. I don’t think taking grants qualifies as paying your way through college. I put myself through college via some minimal parental help, some loans, and a lot of work. No grants. I am doing my best to help my kids get through without the loans and without grants. They work and pay and I work and pay. Since I only had 2 kids they don’t qualify for grants like yours do evidently… Frankly not sure why that should matter. You chose to have these kids and/or adopt them. Relying on grants to get them college is not teaching them self sufficiency IMHO. I think the other stuff you’re teaching them is great and I’m all for that. My kids know that stuff too… But any grants other than merit-based is not teaching them what you say you are trying to teach them (that hard work pays off, as opposed to large families). I would also say that they’re missing out on a lot if they’re living at home the whole time, but that’s a lifestyle choice. I don’t expect my kids to go from living at home to being married with “several years of college” behind them. They’ve not ever been self supporting with that, even if they did pay their way thru college but not dealt with living independently. And I don’t think college is the be-all and end-all nor for everyone. But living at home with free room and board is still pretty dependent so I don’t see how you’re setting them up for independence. Or interdependence. Different strokes for different strokes but I just shudder at the idea that “grants” means you earned anything.

  14. I loved reading this post. As someone “from the other side”, i.e., a child from a big family, I can tell you that your kids will thank you. My parents did many things the same way and yes, each of us have had “bumps” along the road, but we’ve all learned how to live financially stable lives. We didn’t have the latest or fanciest gear, we all had to have summer jobs, and we learned what it meant to save money and pay for things once we’d earned them. And now, we’re passing it on our to children!

  15. Well said, Mary. My siblings and I were minimally assisted by our parents as we entered college. We all had jobs and bought our own cars from our savings (mine was a mint-condition Buick Skylark…as old as I was!). I think that our personal investment in our education made us appreciate it more. I couldn’t afford to fool around and get bad grades!

    That said, God had a unique plan for each of us:
    * My brother finished 2 years of community college and moved away to a big city. He progressed through jobs, learning all he could along the way, and now he is a department director doing exactly what he loves — no college degree required.
    * My sister did 2 years at the CC, then finished her business management degree at the local university. Ten years later, she’s a mom and works as the office manager for our church.
    * I am a college drop-out! 🙂 I took 1 year of classes at the CC and then met my husband-to-be. We were married when I was 20 and started our family right away. I have grand plans to return to college when our children are older some day, but I can say with confidence that I have never regretted choosing a family over a career.

    Success is not determined by a framed certificate. 🙂

    • Like your last comment! The kids don’t care if there is a degree hanging on the kitchen (my office?) wall!

  16. The timeliness of this is unreal!;) My daughter (14) approached me last night and asked my opinion about possibly going to the BOCES (high school ocupational studies) program in our area for nursing. She thought I would be upset that she was thinking about it. She intends to be a surgeon and has always talked about some pretty big name schools. She had the opportunity to speak to a Doctor last evening about her endeavors and she informed her that she should think about getting her nursing Cert. and work her way through college. That is what she did and has never regretted it. If anything she felt that it gave her an advantage over some. I love the idea from the perspective that if anything were to happen to her overall plan she has a Nursing Cert. to help her provide for herself. We have a relatively small family (3 kiddos) and I stress everyday about whether we have made the right decision to not pay for their schooling. We are not in a position to even think about it at the moment. I paid for mine by myself as did my husband, with the help of grants and I feel we are better off for it.

  17. LOVE THIS!!! This is exactly what we have decided also. I know in this day and age people tend to look at you like you are failing your children by not paying their way through college or encouraging them to go into a massive amount of debt. It’s great to hear of others with the same idea. I will be linking this post on my blog for sure.

  18. grangramma says:

    I love your philosophy. I am now a gramma and did things so much like you . I am now proud to say that my three kids are all doing well. Jen, the oldest decided to be a stay at home mom and is doing a wonderful job. Michele, is a CPA and put herself through school and now has a wonderful job. Joel did the apprentice thing and now works for our local electric company. They are all well balanced adults and I am proud of them.

  19. I pretty much agree–with the idea that college is not for everyone and not for everyone the year they finish high school. We do not have savings for college, we may help some but it will depend. Our oldest has graduated ( we homeschool) and went to a 6 month school and travel overseas with You With a Mission– we gave her $2500 as her graduation gift for a computer and to help with her school costs. We gave her airline miles for her ticket and she is currently living back at home rent free, looking for a job and expected to help a lot around the house.
    I agree that each child’s needs are different,and that there are many character and life lessons by them at least working to pay for a lot of it.
    The comments about taking grants from the government are interesting–not something I’ve thought about. We are adopting from foster care and decided to decline the small ongoing monthly payments we could get from the fed. government for the same kind of reason some of you decline college grants.

    Along this line– I would like to hear about what you expect from your teens / young adults— gas money? Do you pay for lessons while in school? How about WEDDINGS?

    Good topic!

    • I hadn’t thought about the ramifications of grants either. That some see it as an ethics issue is a new thought, one I am still mulling over… I have to admit, oblivious gratitude was easier than puzzling through ethics. (You’re messing with my head, folks! 🙂 )

      Other considerations and facts — we’ve paid into the public education system via property tax during *all* our homeschooling years without partaking of anything that the public schools have to offer. And since we are teaching our kids to work, in the future as they become taxpayers, our collective family contribution to the economy will be larger than a family with only a few kids. (NO, I’m not thrilled with the govt taking our money. But taxes are a fact, and I am not a person to fret over what I can’t change, especially when Christ commands us to give Caesar his due.) Anyhow– do the above facts justify accepting grants with a clear conscience and a grateful heart? Not sure.

      Regarding other expenses: the vehicle most of our teens use before graduation is ours and often they are asked to drive siblings places in it, so we usually take turns filling the tank. Most of them have taken a college class or two their senior year of high school, which they have paid for. They also usually pay for half of driver’s ed.

      For our oldest daughter’s wedding, we paid for the reception and a few other decor items– I think about $1000? Our second daughter got married in Chile, so John and I bought our own tickets to get there– not a small cost– and provided flowers and cake once there. Both girls bought their own dresses and together with their husbands (and their husband’s families) paid any other costs.

      Anyway– interesting discussion. Thanks, everyone!

      • In my understanding, grants are not just handed to certain people on a silver platter. Don’t you have to meet certain criteria (i.e. grades) & fill out a mountain of paperwork before you are considered as a recipient? I also am not fond of all the govt. “free-gifting” that is going on in today’s society at the expense of tax payers, but I agree wholeheartedly with you, Mary, that when you homeschool & don’t receive any of the benefits that your taxes have paid for in the public schools, it makes it a little easier to accept that fed. money that your child is qualified for.

        Thank you for addressing the taboo subject that not all careers require a college education & it is not the be-all, end-all in preparing for real life. I have a BS in Business-Marketing and an MS in HR — I personally feel like most of my college days were a big waste of time, aside from meeting my husband (guess I got an MRS too – ha!). Anyway, with 6 kids so far, we’ve made it clear that cars, college educations & fancy weddings are privileges to work for, not rights to be expected. Teaching our kids to work is probably the single greatest thing we can do for society. Hopefully, as my husband’s business gets off the ground, we’ll be able to “help” pay for more things, but we will continue to instill the belief that working for something gives it much more value.

        Thank you for starting such an interesting discussion. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading about other people’s perspectives. You always seem to draw such a nice, respectful crowd — even when differing opinions come into play. I haven’t made it to the bottom yet, but well done, so far!

  20. Mary, we have many of the same beliefs. My oldest is in his second year of college. He is paying his own schooling costs. He refused to do any of the paperwork that I gave him for the myriad of small <$500 scholarships for which he was qualified, and that was his choice. He's in school full time at the local CC. He works at one of the dealerships that my husband works (there are 5 stores), and he pays his portion of both his cell phone bill and the car insurance. (We carry both.)

    He was not happy when he realized that we just didn't have the funds available to pay for his college – but now, he sees the merit – he has a 3.5 GPA and his friends, many of whom have had their college paid 100% by their parents – are failing.

    No one is "owed" a college education. If you want it, and the job that you have chosen requires it, it is up to you. And not every job requires a college diploma, nor is every teenager cut out for college.

    That's probably one of the topics that I end up discussing most often, when it comes to the "Big family" topics everyone wants to talk over and over.

  21. We have only 5 kids but the same college deal! They can live at home free, but my two older daughters didn’t; they got enough scholarships and grants to go away to school. And they worked. My oldest son and younger daughter are independent and employed but not as educated at this point. Youngest son is paying his way through junior college, living at home, about to transfer to state school. It can be done! (My parents paid my way and I fooled around and barely graduated with a degree I’ve never used… and I knew I didn’t want to do that with my kids!)

    • Hi Susie, Our college kids so far have opted for dorm or apartment life too- at least for a year or two. But they know the home option is there if they need it.

  22. While I would love to help my kids pay for college at this point – with the kids 13, 11, 9, & 7 – we haven’t saved a penny for any of them. So if we help, it will likely be more of a pay as you go type of thing. They do all know not to expect help from us. It would just be nice if we could. We do completely expect them all to go to college. But as the time gets closer if they want to do something different with their life then we can re-evaluate. I don’t want them taking out loans, so college will likely start at the local community college, transferring to a bigger school if wanted/needed and working their way through.

  23. You might add to your list the fact that you live in a part of the country where $10-12/hourly is a wage that goes relatively further than it does in other parts of the country. A student who attends a public university in a small town in the West will have very different living expenses from one who attends one in a large urban area in the northeast.

    As a faculty member who’s watched various students navigate public universities and CCs for the last decade, I think it’s important to emphasize that there’s no right or wrong way to answer these questions. Each family and each student are an individual case. Some CCs offer an education that is fully commensurate with introductory courses at major universities; some offer barely a simulacrum of the same. It’s fine to say “get the basic credits out of the way at a CC and transfer to a 4-year campus for the major/degree,” but in my experience most (though certainly not all) CC transfer students struggle with the faster pace, heavier workload, and greater demands / competitiveness of the four year campus courses. Some students are perfectly capable of working many hours and still getting a great deal from their studies. Others are so distracted by their need to survive that they get very little from them because they’re not paying attention.

    College costs have been rising at multiples of the rate of inflation / cost of living for several decades now, so if you have kids spread over more than a decade you might want to keep in mind that the kind of job that kept a student above water in 2011 is probably not going to be adequate to do so in 2021 because wages for what is essentially casual labor aren’t going to rise at the same rate. You may have to help your younger children out more financially in order to keep the time burden the same. In my experience, students who are working more than 25 hours per week at jobs that require actual labor (customer service or activities, as opposed to jobs supervising computer labs or residence hall desks, where they can study during lulls) get notably less from their courses. To get the most from a college course at a solid four year college, the student typically needs to allot a minimum of two hours prep time for every classroom hour; if the student works a number of hours that prevents this, s/he must either be exceptional or sacrifice something.

    On the grants question: anyone who uses a public university is getting a grant of some kind, even if s/he pays full nominal tuition. At most notable public universities in the U.S., tuition dollars cover a minor fraction of the cost of educating a student — at the flagship campuses it’s often less than 15%. The remainder is picked up by federal and state goverments, endowments and investments, income from patents and scholarly grants of other kinds, alumni donations, and so on. IMO it’s unfortunate to cast aspersions at public grant recipients for “taking money from others,” because usually something like 3/4 of the cost of educating a student in a public setting is borne by the taxpayer in some shape or form. A Pell Grant recipient gets a slightly larger grant in that sense than someone who pays tuition, but everyone who uses a public institution gets a grant.

  24. I do NOT pay for my kids schooling after high school, that is up to them. When it comes to college what works for one may not work for another child and they may not go or may wait a while and work in a field of interest before going. Four of my children received full scholarships to college/two military and two for stupendous academics as one was salutatorian and one third in class; one child volunteers in field for two years with full college paid for by employeer; others have huge scholarships and grants making student loans minimum. This year I have eight children in college some part of their day with one daughter taking classes from Oxford.
    ONE OF THE BIGGEST INVESTMENTS IN COLLEGE IS AN INTERNSHIP EITHER BEFORE, DURING OR AFTER COLLEGE. All of my kids have volunteered for a year after high school at bible camps, manufacturing plants, dairy farms, and/or school districts being teacher’s assistants; and during college interned in the field they were studying and working part-time after classes. This has given them a huge advantage on college applications and/or job placements after college.
    Another big savings for all parents, is no drivers license until they are 18. My kids love this because they feel more mature and ready to be responsible at this age and we are discovering in our area that there are more and more kids who do not have their license until they are 18 for the same reason. Also helps save on insurance and car repairs. In a class of 75 this year only 12 have a license.

  25. I am so pleased that you included this post in your blog. I truly believe that parents do not “owe” their children an all expense paid college education (or wedding or car, either). I have seen SO many of my friends with older children pay for all of their children’s education and watch these same children spend more time and money to finish a degree than anyone would consider reasonable; sometimes without any potential job/career in sight. These adult children just don’t seem to value the gift of the education or their parents’ sacrifice.(Not to say that everyone blessed with this generous gift is the same.) Working for the education seems to affect the result.

    My husband and I both agree that a traditional college education is not necessarily the appropriate career path for everyone, either. Our oldest is 15 and just doesn’t seem to know what he wants out of life yet. His interests at present aren’t really academics and though he has many talents, we feel that his motivation, talents, and skills would be better served in a skilled labor career. (His health prevents him from pursuing his true passion of joining the military.) Many career fields do not involve a bachelor’s degree, but would make it possible for a person to support a family. Not enough people are exploring these options and there is now a greater demand for this kind of work force.

    Not to say that we are anti-college. My husband and I both have BS degrees. Our daughter has many interests and talents and is a bit more motivated with academics. At twelve, she anticipates going to college at some point. We have not discussed with her the extent that we will assist her in pursuing her dreams, but my husband and I are in agreement that she will be responsible for a good part of the costs. (As will our two younger boys, aged 3 and 5.) We are providing our children with the best and most thorough education possible; most importantly, the ability to self-teach. (We home school. No, we don’t throw the kids in a room with a book and tell them to go at it. We do actually work with them, but they are also working independently on their own interests. ) They should have a greater degree of success with their future than a child who is unable to organize their own time or expects the necessary information for the “tests” to be spoon fed to them.

    Now for grants. I received them. I worked hard to maintain good grades and obtain scholarships, but would not have been able to complete a degree without grants. My mother was making barely more than minimum wage when I went to college. My parents were separated and my dad’s sole financial contribution was to pay the rent. I qualified for grants and loans. I was able to graduate from a private liberal arts college in 1995 with only $12,000 of loans. I worked summers and one semester of college. (4 years was nearly $90,000 at that particular school.) I have paid off my loans. Considering my mother worked full time at barely more than minimum wage, she was not in a position to help with my education. But she certainly didn’t expect or receive any other financial assistance from the government, either. If I hadn’t gone to college, I could have been another person barely scraping by and not contributing to the economy with my work (as a weekend only nurse) or my taxes. (BTW, we pay and support local taxes for our school district; the only thing that we get from the local schools is our yearly letter excusing the kids from public school.) We really don’t consider grants to be a financial hand out from the government.(If it must be considered to be one, at least the intended result is another person paying into the system and not living off of the system.)

    Most importantly, isn’t the end result of child rearing to be a child who learns first to glorify god and second be one who can contribute to society in a meaningful way (as a member of the workforce or even a stay at home mom)? How we get to the end result is not necessarily as important as the end result itself.

  26. Just to clarify, I don’t have any ethical issues with applying for and accepting grants. I just wouldn’t then think of it as “paying my way.” Also, many large companies still have education assistance so if your kids can get a job there, maybe with some CC education, then take full advantage of that as a benefit of working there. Larger companies want an educated workforce.

    Also agree with the commenter who pointed out that different areas of the country will have vastly different wages/expenses. Public school here about upwards of $8k a year just for tuition (plus books, lab fees, etc). Dorms and meal plans (required for freshman) are another $10k. Hard for a high school grad to earn $18k+ a year and still have enough time to pay attention to full time school… and without full time school, no medical insurance benefits, auto insurance discounts, etc. It costs a lot to go to school and to NOT go!

  27. I really enjoyed this post. Great thoughts and things to think about. Thanks for sharing!

  28. I think it’s interesting how what your parents do for you influences beliefs on this issue. My parents paid for college for my sibling and I, and I am very grateful, especially because that means I was able to go to the most competitive college I was accepted to (that doesn’t matter for a lot of careers, but it a huge help getting into graduate programs.) It was also helpful because many grants and scholarships look at family income, and even if my parents didn’t help financially, their income would have disqualified me for most aid. I am now paying for medical school (myself) without the burden of undergrad loans, an amazing gift. I absolutely plan to pay 100% of my children’s college costs, because I know what a leg up it was for me and also feel that is my way of “paying forward” what my parents did for me to future generations of our family. They lived more modestly than necessary to save for education, and I plan to do the same. That said, my kids will have to justify why a more expensive program is better than our excellent state university for their goals, as I was expected to. In fact, I feel so strongly about paying for my kids’ education that I would not want to have more children than I could send through school. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the other views represented in these comments, and I have nothing against large families, just thought I would weigh in with the minority view here to explain why other families think differently. I never thought that my parents paying for my undergrad education meant I could value it less- I felt added responsibility to make the most of it because I knew that they had saved and planned so I could have this chance.

  29. I do agree that with Jane that what your parents did for you would influence one’s beliefs in this matter.I also think much depends on one’s geographical location. I live in another part of the world with extremely high costs of living and a city, where frankly, its hard to get a decent job without a college degree. Not that I agree that this should always be the case… but well, our families live here and its harder to uproot ourselves to move to somewhere else where life is different and there are plentiful job opportunities for those without a degree.

    so for us, really. we have to consider a college education as part of a ‘basic education’ due to where we are. it will be different for families in other parts of the world living in different circumstances from us. I am not sure I am comfortable with the notion that we “owe” the kids the expense of a college education… we see ourselves as “providing” rather “owing”, just like we provide food, shelter and love.

    due to many unexpected family medical expenses on my parents’ side. they were not able to pay for my college fees. My husband’s college fees however were paid for thankfully. Given the high costs of living here, I can tell you how grateful we were not to have settle 2 college loans as well as service a housing loan when we got married. it made a lot of difference for us and now we are on track to pay off the housing loan, hopefully in a few years and begin saving for the children’s education and our retirement. Like Jane, we will aim to provide for the excellent local college education. if they choose a more expensive college education elsewhere, then they would need to apply for a scholarship.

    we’ll have to be extremely thrifty for the next decade or two in order to make all these savings but I see it as a gift to our children. we don’t intend to pay for their weddings – for us, weddings are a start of a married life between your child and another individual and rightfully, we shouldn’t get involved. I rather the couple pay for all the wedding expenses on their own. I do feel that the best wedding gift I can give them is to ensure that they begin their married life with minimal education debt as possible and to focus on building their lives and family.

    but as with Jane, I feel that I need to share an alternative view and that there is no absolute right or wrong view to this matter of college education provision. it depends so much where you live, and on the family.

    • I’ve truly appreciated hearing from everyone. And I agree there is no one right answer. I am aware from visiting South Korea and speaking with folks there that college in Korea is much closer to a true need, due to the intense competition for jobs. I can imagine that if we were parenting there, to not fund college would be a much more difficult decision…not nearly as straightforward as it feels for us in our current circumstances.

      Thanks again to everyone who weighed in here. I’ve really appreciated this discussion.

  30. I am so glad that I found you on Blogher.

    We homeschool, too and these are things that I have been thinking about. I work part time, but since we homeschool I can’t work full-time and maximize savings. We heard years ago – before kids – that there are various options for paying for college, but you are on your own with retirement. We have been investing in retirement for all of my husband’s career (and my brief career) and we put that ahead of saving for college for our girls. I am always worried that we won’t have enough, but I have to trust God.

    As for college, our girls are 10 and 12, but we have been playing up community college. We are not there yet, so I can’t say for sure, but I think our stance will be the same as yours : you can live here for free IF you are in college. I think kids work harder and take school more seriously if they pay for it themselves.

  31. WOW, what a great post AND great discussion! With our oldest of 5 off into his first year at Bible college I am listening intently. 😉 He is paying his own way through school. That means working like crazy on breaks/summers and holding down part-time job on campus while there. Our next two guys in the line up of our family aren’t feeling led to Bible college/vocational ministry at this point. In fact, it’s possible neither of them will attend college. Both are acquiring incredible trade skills while in high school. Then we have two little girls at the end of the line up. Will they attend college? Will they get married? So many unknowns in parenting, aren’t there?

    Mary, I truly appreciate your boldness in just being open and sharing with us what this has looked like in your family thus far. And I love especially how you and John see your kids individually. There is no cookie-cutter approach with so many things in parenting.

    By the way, my husband went to Bible college after we were married (after serving in the military). Yep, inner-city of Chicago with 2 littles and preggo with one on the way. We left with no debt. It was GREAT training in a life of frugal living and future adoptions on extreme limited income. 😉 We’re grateful!


  1. […] is always a fascinating topic, especially for larger families. Mary at Owlhaven tackles saving for college (or not) as well as […]