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Forsaken for College

August 01, 2023

"Forsaken for college...  A case for helping your children pay for college. Or not."

Nostalgia just is not what it used to be.

Looking back more than 20 years ago in my college days, I was blessed to have had a little help getting into college – $1,452 to be exact. That was my first semester’s tuition at Kansas University in 1999 paid by my dad to get me out of the house. Hard work, student loans, and bad credit cards got me the rest of the way through, and I can look back fondly on those years knowing I wouldn’t be where I am without them. Further, any debt I took on was paid off years ago.

The Dichotomy of Viewpoints

There are two opposing views on paying college expenses. On one side, “It’s their problem, let them figure it out.” On the other side, “I don’t ever want my children to struggle with debt.” This is just my opinion, but aren’t our struggles often the basis for our greatness? Not to ignore education costs, but these days seem more like strangulation than struggle! Being relieved of such financial weight could help a young college grad adapt easily to the real world!

A Little Education Goes a Long Way

A financially-educated child can work through the struggles of student loan debt with far less stress or have a greater advantage starting out debt-free. A child with no financial education may need to earn a degree from both the school of hard knocks and their favorite university to gain the same wisdom. I think we can all agree that helping your kids one way or another is important. Where people get lost is understanding the true cost.

The Financial Implications

School costs are rising faster than income. Since 1999, when I started college, the US median annual household income has risen from $42,000 to $70,784 in 2022 (1) according to the US Census – that’s about 68%. While that seems like a decent increase, over the same period, the average in-state public 4-year college cost increased from $12,000 per year to $23,000 in 2022 (2). That is a 91% increase!

Let’s do a little math. Pretend you’re 45, and your first child, Johnny, is going to college next year, with an annual cost of $23,000. After nearly $100,000 spent in 4 years, Johnny is now smarter, debt-free, and has the next 40 working years to enjoy the fruits of your labor. You, on the other hand, hoping to retire at 65, only have 16 years to catch up. With rising tuition and fees, you had to stop saving - no 401(k), Roth IRA, or investing while Johnny earned his degree.

The Ripple Effect

It was only $100,000, right? Wrong! Let’s ignore tax savings and other benefits of investing and focus on growth. At 8% compounded yearly until 65, your missed savings should have grown to about $355,000. That’s a lot sacrificed for Johnny’s college.

But wait. You have 3 kids. Compound interest, taxes, not saving for yourself. Wash, rinse, and repeat. By the time you are 65 years old, you will have given up nearly $1.1 million. Those savings could have provided around $44,000 in annual income for the rest of your life. Ouch. Sadly, even trying to catch up would take you 20 years of saving $23,000 per year to earn as much as that first $300,000 of college expenses could have grown to.

The Unintended Consequence

One of the major side effects of prioritizing your children's college education over your retirement savings is the risk of running out of money later in life. Now, YOU may become a financial burden to your children in your twilight years - the very situation you tried to prevent when they were younger.


Talk to your financial advisor about your personal financial situation and tradeoffs to find out how to best handle college funding for your family. They will address questions such as: Are you on track already? How much can you afford to put aside? What is the return on the investment in their education – how much can the student make vs the cost of the degree? Harvard might not be the right university at $400,000 for four years to obtain a degree with a lower average annual salary.

Planning for college is more important than ever. It's not just about securing your child's future, but also about ensuring your own financial stability. Understand the true cost of funding your child's education and make a decision that doesn't jeopardize your retirement plans. Remember, it's not selfish to put your financial needs first. It's necessary.


  1. (, n.d.)
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The views stated in this letter are not necessarily the opinion of Cetera Advisors LLC. Information is based on sources believed to be reliable; however, their accuracy or completeness cannot be guaranteed.