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Big Picture College Update

March 23rd, 2024 at 01:51 pm

I wanted to repost this because have had a lot of questions in recent years about things addressed in the past.  

Our Big Picture feelings about college, per 2017 post:


Of course, I could see how it would be interesting to update how things have shaped up, 7 years later. 

We both agree that we expect the kids to work significantly during high school and college, that our own financial health comes first, and that we don't want to borrow a penny for college. We don't want them to graduate with any student loan debt. We are willing to help our kids in any way we can as long as we are within these parameters.

2024 Update:  Tried to be open minded, but couldn't ignore the 'cost pennies colleges that everyone recruits from'.  Both our kids ended up different State colleges, but are basically the third generation in our family to take advantage.

Our kids aren't working as much as we envisioned.  One thing I don't think I said in this particular blog post was that our city has generally always been terrible on the employment front, and I of course recognize that an engineering degree might take more commitment than our business degrees did.  That said, I think the pandemic is mostly what torpedoed my kids teenage working years.  MH and I were very much, "You don't need a teen job around crowds of people."  But also, there is an element of the kids not needing to work.  MM(20) had a couple of strong working summers and has $10K+ saved up.  With his grandparents helping, I feel very *shrugs* about him not working at all in 2023.  DL(18) is a little further behind the curve and probably more impacted by the pandemic.  

I think the point of my original post is we expected our kids to work and contribute.  (Wasn't planning to buy them cars and pay for all their college expenses).  But with grandparents giving them this gifted college fund and helping them, has bought them a lot of freedom not to work.  I personally don't have any problem with it.  I wouldn't personally just do all the work and pay for everything, but if the grandparents want to do that, more power to them. 

Both my kids announced this winter that they were bored and they intended to work this school year.  MM(20) wants to do all the things and so it took him 2+ years to get settled and figure out his priorities.  But he knew he would have a lot of time in winter and spring quarter.  I forwarded him an internship opportunity (for this summer) that pays $40/hour.  If he could land that, he could make $10K in 6 weeks.  Something like that.  I am all for "working smarter, not harder".  DL(18), I strongly encouraged to not work in the fall, to ease into college.  He has thrived his first semester of college and he announced towards the end of fall semester that he was bored and could definitely work.  He might not be able to find a low hours job (like an on campus job) until next fall.  He did find a temp job and made about $1,300 this year already.   I will feel a lot better about DL(18) once he finds a steady job and has enough savings to buy a car.

We personally have not tied up this money (re: gifted college funds) in college type funds because we don't have any incentive to. We would rather have free use of the money. We don't have a big enough income, but I do have enough tax knowledge, to not bother with 529 plans or other college savings options. To be clear, we are not paying any taxes on these investment gains. So we don't need the trade-off of extra hoops to jump through for tax breaks that we don't need.

Along the same lines, MH and I both used our "college money" for a home down payment instead. In a state where college cost pennies and housing costs are sky high, I think it seems very likely our kids will experience the same. So I don't want to be penalized for tying up their gift money for college when they more likely will use it for post-college housing. Ideally, we'd actually really like to pay it forward and save this in-law money to give them as a lump sum *after* college. I don't know if we will be able to swing it, but this is what we would like to do. & if we can't, we definitely want to do something like this for our grandkids. (I think if it was not for the in-law money, this would just be a "pay it forward to grandkids" goal).

2024 Update: DL(18) is currently on the 'living at home' plan and on track to use 100% of this college money after college.   As of today, I think MM(20) might have $5K or $10K left after getting a 5-year degree.  Very likely $0.  He chose a much more extravagant college experience (5 hours away, in paradise).  & even DL(18), who knows.  The kid I thought maybe would never get more than a AA degree, he told me the other day he might want a PhD.  He might find a way to use his $30K for college.  I do have their gifted college funds parked in cash, while we expect to use all of the funds (MM) and while DL's plans are still so up in the air.  We can talk about longer term plans for this money as longer term plans crystalize.

In 2014 we were in a position to start putting money away into taxable investment accounts again (in addition to fully funding IRAs). I guess college is the only goal at this point, besides retirement. Though I don't consider this *all* to be college money, it is certainly accessible if we need it for college. We are putting away about $7,500 per year. I think matching the in-law college money is a good place to start. It probably works out too that we will probably get there in another couple of years. At that point we may just back off and figure that $40,000/each is a phenomenal start. I think we'd probably most likely just focus on cash flowing the rest (if there is anything left to cash flow).

2024 Update:  For MM(20), we've had a lot of windfalls to help with his rent.  Pandemic funds and unemployment covered his first year of rent. & the in-laws have been giving us some gift money after they received an inheritance.  

Our investments ended up getting to $40K and we have earmarked all of this money for college.  Won't necessarily use it all, but have it earmarked for now ($20K per kid, to cover rent).  I lost my job in 2018 and took a big pay cut, but also gained a work retirement plan.  So we stopped adding to taxable investments (and was not able to match the gifted funds, which ended up being $30K per kid).  I only added snowflakes (credit card rewards) 2018-2022.  The money did get a big boost when I put it in I Bonds for much of 2022-2023.  We turned $40K into $45K (while keeping the principal safe).  I don't know if anything has ever come that financially easy to us.  It seems there's always some obstacle or headwind, so I am really delighting being in the right place at the right time, just having this wad of cash for I Bonds when interest rates were nearing 10%.

I was able to resume (more significant) taxable investing in 2023.  Our investment account just hit $10K.  After saving for college, I wanted to save up $10K for MM(20)'s jaw surgery and related round of ortho.  I didn't feel comfortable crossing off his college as 'done and paid for' until we had this covered.  Not that it is a college expense, but it's a final expense we wanted to cover for him before he flies the nest.  So I am eyeing this $10K and wondering if I should just call it.  But I will wait for MM's grant to sort out his senior year (still not sure about that) and will wait for his lease to be finalized and to have real numbers.  By the end of the year I should have a plan and/or be able to call it.

Edit:  With the I Bond gains, the kids ended up with about $53K/each.  Which yes, was a phenomenal start.  That's $30K gifted funds ($1K per year, built up up over time), and $23K (our investments 2014 -2018 --> cash --> I Bonds --> back to cash).  DL's money is completey untouched, as mentioned.  But I have started to spend down MM's money from this $53K peak.  

& to be clear, the investment account is up to $10K after completely starting over.  (I can see that wasn't clear when I typed that out).  'College' money is all in cash.  But we have been able to resume adding to taxable investments (more than just snowflakes) in the past year.

Since I worked my way through college, I think the idea of MH working + kids working seems easiest on some level (would be a LOT of cash that we could put towards college). But, I think the "saving ahead" is important just because you never know. Relying on future income streams is a little outside of my comfort zone. So while some part of me thinks that "cash flowing with several jobs" is really the most obvious and the easiest, we always have a Plan A + Plan B + Plan C, etc.

2024 Update: Plan A is working out pretty nicely.  I mean, I am happy to have the "saved ahead" I Bond money too.  But also, we are hitting some of our highest income years while our kids are in college, and so that is going pretty well.  I stand by my decision not to divert large amounts of assets to college savings (or anything at all when my kids were very young).  We started saving when we had the money and are mostly cash flowing with higher income during these college years.

Note:  We are mostly using 'saved ahead' money to pay for MM's tuition/room/board (the more expensive college) while we have two in college at the same time.

We did also park extra money in ROTHs that we have never touched (starting when the kids were babies).  I never would have put that much money in retirement otherwise, but was okay with it knowing we could use this money for college.  I would have also been fine lowering retirement savings during these college years.  Plan B was always, "We don't have to mega save for retirement".

Final thought:  I've already said this many times before, but is worth mentioning.  We planned for full sticker price (roughly $30K) for the State colleges.  These college tax credits and middle class grants did not exist when I went to college and I never counted on any of this money.  The grants and credits will bring the net cost of MM(20)'s degree down to about $15K and DL's degree will cost $5K (or maybe $15K if he takes 5 years).  This is just a nice surprise that we did not plan for. 

Also, I don't expect to be saving any more money for college after 2024.  I think we will move on to other financial goals because we will be DONE.

2 Responses to “Big Picture College Update”

  1. terri77 Says:

    Great update, thanks for sharing!

  2. LivingAlmostLarge Says:

    I am quickly closing in on $2k/year for 14 years but it's not $40k.

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