I’ve been reading a lot of Facebook posts about the financial aid letter freakout. That was me three years ago — except we knew our EFC and what the colleges would likely award because we’d run all the numbers so there weren’t any real surprises. It was still hard, and I lost a lot of sleep.
If you’re freaking out about what you’ve been offered (or not offered) in financial aid, I understand exactly where you are. Three years later, with my other child ready to go to college, here’s what I can say — and please know I’m writing with empathy but a little bit of tough love.
Unless you have a fully funded 529 plan, you will have to sacrifice and get really creative with your cash flow if you plan to help pay your child’s college costs.
Our family is sacrificing. We are a middle income family turned lower income because so much of our current income is going to college. My husband isn’t too happy about the tight living (for me it’s easy because that’s the way I grew up). But for us, education is a priority. We are on the same page, despite his disgruntlement, and we’ve cut everything to the bone to do it. You might have to do the same.
There is no way to pay for college and not have it affect other aspects of your life if you don’t have solid college savings. If you’re already low income or you have extenuating circumstances like medical costs, divorce, illness, 6 kids, etc., and you and your kid didn’t create a list of colleges that you could afford, so none of his choices offer financial aid, you are in a really tough spot and I feel for you. You have my sympathy. If you’re in the top 25 percent like we are, get ready for some austerity living if college is a priority.
You need to get clear with yourself about what is important to you. My high schooler doesn’t play club sports. We don’t pay private school fees. We don’t hardly buy clothes. Our cars are old and there’s no upgrade in sight. I never get mani-pedis. We don’t ski anymore. We never travel to visit our older daughter at her school. We’ve kept college tours for my son to a bare minimum (thankfully that works for him). I don’t buy coffee out unless I have a gift card (new birthday ask). Seriously. This is what it’s like.
Yes, college is expensive. I totally get it. But in the end, where your kid goes to college is your family’s choice and you’re in the driver’s seat. Make sure you go in with eyes wide open.
CONNECT WITH OTHER PARENTS FIGURING OUT HOW TO PAY FOR COLLEGE
by Joanna Nesbit, is a freelance education reporter based in Washington state who covers college savings and 529 plans for U.S. News. You can follow her on Twitter. These comments were originally posted in the Paying For College 101 Facebook group.