Have an Honest College Money Talk Before It’s Too Late

College Money Talk

Have an Honest College Money Talk Before It’s Too Late

Published June 29, 2020 | Last Updated October 16th, 2023 at 11:10 am

College Money Talk

I’m here to “evangelize economic empowerment.”

This post came to me as yet another parent called me yesterday in tears after her daughter had applied, labor intensively, to 27 colleges looking for the best merit aid with a 3.5 weighted GPA.

After all of that work, Mom decided they could still “only afford” the state university.

I had tried (in vain) to get Mom to share with her daughter the family’s financial boundaries for college, but she wouldn’t do so in the fall.

I also tried to steer the daughter away from the “coasts” and widen the application net.

She wouldn’t do it.

Mom said it will be the FIRST time she will have to say “no” to her daughter. ????

Talk Money Before Searching for Colleges

As a seasoned college counselor (and parent of five children, all college educated with jobs and almost no student debt load), may I say kindly, and at this time for seniors and families calculating financial aid packages and for juniors and their families starting to craft college lists, please, PLEASE, ASAP have that courageous conversation with your child about your budget.

Reveal to them your REAL EFC (expected family contribution) as you know it to be, not as the federal government (FAFSA) or college says it is!

[How to use your EFC to create a strategic college list.]

If you were looking to buy a house, you wouldn’t consider a neighborhood with million dollar homes when you know very well the bank will approve you for half a million (no matter how much you are trying to please your family, impress your friends, or try to live beyond your means).

You would not even start looking at a car with a $75k price tag when you know you will get approved for a $30k car, (no matter how much your spouse or child kicks and screams “everyone has this kind of car but us!”)

And finally, you aren’t going to be able to book and buy first-class tickets for an airplane trip for $1000 when you already know you are over the limit on your credit cards and the purchase will be rejected (no matter how many of your colleagues brag they “only fly first class!”)

It’s Ok to Say “No”

It’s time for knowledge, values clarification, adulting, and parenting up because all of this is power in insuring your child will have a more successful and less stressful future, even if they can’t see that far nor have the perspective yet.

“No” is a complete sentence in parenting, so you don’t commit them to a life of undue financial stress.

I know, I know, you haven’t had to say “no” to your child very often, if at all, what with all of the lessons and coaching and tutoring “everyone else” was doing.

I used to tell my kids: “If I have to go into MY retirement account to pay for YOUR college, I’ll be living with YOU when I retire!”

That scared them straight.

Buy a good pair of ear plugs and don’t fall prey to the guilt trip kids are scamming: “such and such is sending their kid to this college and they don’t care about the price.”

It’s all BS, and smoke and mirrors.

At the end of the day, on May 1 of senior year, watch how many parents MUST abide by the Golden Rule of any major investment or purchase: you MUST meet the concrete qualifications to afford that major purchase or investment.

[Make a realistic list of colleges you can afford.]

Widen the College Search Parameters

Dare to be on the cutting edge, dare to be brave (a la Brene Brown), be a forward thinker and make those lists of colleges in the same way you buy a house, a car, a plane ticket.

Widen your application net for “hidden gems and deals” like you would to explore new, lesser-known neighborhoods, go to more car dealerships, search the web for airplane ticket deals.

Buy the quality jeans that could cost $50 and FIT great and show off your best attributes vs the $250 ones with the “oh so all that label” but make you look awful because they simply aren’t the right or good fit.

(Get the college choice analogy everyone?)

I’m telling you, your child won’t hate you forever for doing the right and responsible thing.

Every one of my five are now grateful they have no crippling debt, as they watch some friends whose parents did not take heed struggle to make it

Did my kids have some manageable loans?

Yes—minimal, but appropriate to their career choice 

Bottom Line

Families I work with professionally are more than appreciative of my support for them in helping their child find colleges and discover those, out of more than 3,000 in the US alone, that “don’t get asked to dance as often.”

These are the ones that will be more within their means, educate their child for life, and bear a great return on their investment.

Hang in there!


Use R2C Insights to help find merit aid and schools that fit the criteria most important to your student. You’ll not only save precious time, but your student will avoid the heartache of applying to schools they aren’t likely to get into or can’t afford to attend.  

Other Articles You Might Like:

What to Say When You Can’t Afford Your Student’s Dream School

FAFSA Application Ultimate Guide: How to Apply, Steps, Tips, FAQs

How to Handle College Rejections: A Teacher Shares Advice




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