Have a Senior?

We do!  My husband and I just worked on budgeting college finances for our second son.  I scribbled all over a piece of notebook paper, but I have a nicer tool for you to download below!  We went through this same process two years ago with our oldest, so we have a little bit of experience knowing what a student really needs AND what things really cost.

This is an exciting time for high school seniors and their families. For us parents, it is SO bittersweet.  We are happy and proud of them, but on the other hand, we are so sad that this era is soon to be over.  Whether it’s your first to go or your last, the mixed feelings are still the same.  Although I cannot imagine how much MORE sad I will be when it’s our final time. Thank goodness that is a few years down the road.  (*affiliate links below)

Tip #1

The time to do your figuring is now!  If your student hasn’t yet decided on a school, then crunch the numbers on their different choices.  This may help you to help steer them in a different direction.  College is unbelievably expensive no matter what, but especially if you have an average student who qualified for little to no merit aid.  Every college will have a Net Price Calculator.  This will help you to see the actual cost of that particular school, so look for that tab on each school’s website.

When you fill out the FAFSA, you will be given an EFC-estimated family contribution.  You should fill this out by the way. This is the amount that the government thinks you should be able to spend on your child’s college education.  Don’t get me started on how ridiculous this number is!  I will say that my son received money from his college just for filling out the FAFSA!

Ann’s friend in the Office for Student Financial Affairs-Division of Enrollment Management says, “Merit based scholarships are based on ACT/SAT scores and/or GPA and do not usually require the FAFSA.  Some colleges automatically award freshman admission scholarships and then require students to complete an application for the school and colleges’ scholarships (Engineering, Business, etc.).  Private colleges can have additional applications for students to complete.  There are colleges that require students to complete the CSS Profile along with the FAFSA.”   

Her best advice for high school students is…”to contact every school they are interested in to make sure they complete all the necessary admission, scholarship and financial aid applications before the deadlines.  Students should begin college visits and contacting the colleges their junior year of high school.

I wrote about talking budget with your college-bound senior.  This time the budget is for you parents.  Sit down with a pencil in hand, and a calculator, and your significant other if there is one.  Write down all the expenses that you know of.  Tuition, housing, dining plan, books, transportation costs, insurance etc.  (see budget tool below!)  This is a daunting task, but it needs to be done.

[A budgeting tool for 4 years of college (COA-Cost of Attendence). Fill out for each school your student is thinking about attending.]

How Much Should We Have Saved?

A general guideline is to save $2000 times(x) the child’s age.  This might get you to half of what will truly be needed.  For instance, if you have saved $2000/year for your 17 year old, then you would have $34,000.  This will not be enough, unfortunately. 

Below, see an example of a COA for the University of Missouri based on one in-state student, parent’s income of $99,999, and wanting to live on campus.  (I just did this for this post, so not sure why their program is still saying 2015-2016!)

Estimated Cost of Attendance for a year at the University of Missouri.

For the past 10 years, “tuition (for college) has risen at more than double the rate of inflation,” according to CNBC.  An average yearly budget for an in-state public college today is $25,290.  An average budget for a private college is currently $50,900 per year, and that’s not even a high-end average.  This budget typically will include tuition, fees, housing and meals, books, school supplies, and finally, personal and transportation expenses.

Tip #2

If you have kids in middle school, start the conversation now.  High school was too late we realized with our oldest.  So, we started in middle school with our number two child.  I think it has helped him to feel like we are all part of a team with these decisions which affect his future.  Honestly, we have started talking with our 7th grader about these types of things now.  He isn’t crazy about school, but we have pointed out to him that the better his grades, the more choices will be available later on down the road for him-which is a whole other blog post!

 So Now What?

Our kids need our help so that their future starts off without debt, or with as little debt as possible.  Your kids need to be working to save for their spending money while off at college.  Read the following staggering quote…

Since 1993, income for people 18-35 has gone from $36,000 to $33,000. It’s the first time EVER that income has gone down over such a long period (more than a year). This means: relying on college, a job, stability, retirement pension, retirement income=thing of the past. It doesn’t exist anymore. And that’s scary.”  James Altucher, The Altucher Report, Blog 10-28-16

Tip #3

The whole responsibility for college finances is on the team of parent and child.  We have saved what we could (after paying for my husband’s school debt), and divided it by 3 (we have 3 kids). The boys are responsible for the rest.  What this means for them is working for spending money, getting good grades, etc. for merit-based scholarship money, and being realistic in their college searches.  If there is still not enough money for where they would like to go, then they will have to get student loans, which we hope that they can avoid.

If you have enough saved and/or your child has earned merit scholarships enough to cover the cost of college, then your child is set.  However, if you have not got enough saved and/or your child has not earned enough or any merit-based scholarship money, then you have some decisions to make.  (Be sure that your student understands that in many, if not most situations, a certain GPA must be maintained to keep those scholarships which are awarded yearly beginning freshman year!)


Tell the Truth

How much you have saved or not…  How much their loan total will need to be…  How much they will possibly be making at an entry-level job at graduation–if they get one right away…  How much their loan payment will probably be a month…  How much everything else will cost…

Tip #4

Be honest with your child.  If you cannot afford the college of their choice, then you need to tell them.  My husband and I have had numerous conversations with our boys about all of this.  It gets easier each time, I promise!  It’s not easy to tell your kids that there are limits, but these conversations have made us into a stronger team as a family.  And, even though some of the information we have discussed meant a different plan for each of them, it’s been neat to see them grow and figure out what it means, or will mean, to their future.

This is not the time to shelter them.  You have raised them.  It is time to set them free.  But, don’t hide the truth from them.  It isn’t fair to them now or later if you aren’t truthful.

What To Do

If they persist in their college of choice which is out of your price range, then they will need to apply for student loans.  This is something which they should do on their own.  However, don’t just let them do this and leave it at that.  Help them with the math.  Below is a sample of the chart I drew for our conversation the other night.

Hand drawn chart for figuring out the cost of college for 4 years.

Tip #5

Figure out how much they will need to borrow and find out the interest rate.  Multiply this over the four years that they will be borrowing, and show them the total amount it will be after those 4 years including the interest.  (If the loans are unsubsidized there will be interest accruing throughout college.  If subsidized, then the interest is deferred.)

Next, find out approximately how much they would earn at graduation in the degree of their choice–if they are hired right out of college.  Then discuss the cost of living.  Include the cost of rent, groceries, insurances, cell phone, as well as money for giving the occasional gift, a meal out, and other expenses.

Now, the BIG question is this…  Can they really afford the college of their choice?  Will they make enough to cover their student loan and be able to have a life?

This is not the time to let them “figure it out” on their own!  Help them to see that this is a financial decision that could be affecting them for years to come.

FACTS from Student Loan Hero:

$1.48 trillion in US student loan debt

44.2 million Americans with student loan debt

Average monthly student loan debt payment $351 (for a borrower 20-30 years old)

The average loan amount at graduation for the grads of 2016 was $37,172, that was up 6% from the year before!  This is a staggering amount, and many graduates are surprised upon graduation by this figure.  I believe this is because no one ever explained to them the concept of interest or conveyed the true extent of the debt that they were borrowing.  They also probably have no idea of the cost of the real world because before college they were still living at home!

One more cost to think about is the cost for applications and visits.  Check out this blog post by Grown and Flown related to that.

Make a Plan

Give them some strategies to deal with future debt so that a solution can be found.  Working through college is probably a good idea no matter what.  A job will help them with time management, as well as give them some spending money.  This means that neither you or your student will have to spend on that expense in the meantime.  Work out a payment plan for the loans during college.  This will help with the final amount borrowed at graduation.  Just because the loan is in their name doesn’t mean that you cannot help with it.  Work out a plan together.

If you have more than one child, what will be fair to them all?  Can you help now?  Or maybe later, after they have all gone through school?  Decide what you can and will be able to do.  It is okay if you cannot or will not help.  You have your reasons and your own finances to worry about.  But, again, be honest and upfront about your decision.

This is an exciting time, but it can be stressful.  I hear from friends that their kids won’t listen to them when trying to have this conversation.  Make a date with your child with the understanding that this is a conversation that you need to have.

Tip #6

Most learners are visual.  Figure out ahead of time which type of learner your child is, and gear your conversation in the direction that they learn best.  Use visuals.  Watch a video.  Do your homework, so that you can present the full picture.  If there is an adult in your child’s life whom they respect or will listen to better than you, then invite this person to participate.  (Of course, let them know ahead of time what the conversation will be about, and ways that they could be helpful.)

We have done this twice now, and it has been very different each time.  We have to do it once more.  I am sure it too will be different because all 3 of our boys are unique.  It’s not been easy, but it’s been really nice to be on the same page, and to work together towards their education!

Good luck!

If the first conversation doesn’t go well, try again.  It is not really a one conversation topic anyway.  Let us know how it goes for you, and what works–or doesn’t!