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Ever since my oldest son started high school, college has been on my mind more and more. I take pleasure in managing my family’s finances, as I’ve always been a number cruncher by profession. But, there are way too many variables and unknowns involved in saving for college, and it’s driving me bananas.
Why Saving for College is a Crapshoot
When my kids were younger, I did some online college savings calculators. At the time, college tuition rates were climbing at ridiculous rates and were expected to keep that trend. Online calculators told me we might need to have $250,000 saved for college by the time my kids graduated high school. Um, right?! I have three kids, so that’s $250k X 3.
Many people in my generation and older say, “Just work through college like I did.” Well, that math doesn’t work anymore.
Until my son gets into at least his junior year of high school, his college costs are really unpredictable. He has so many possible avenues with drastically different costs.
On the low end, my son could live at home and attend our local community college. Our community college has a good reputation and is extremely inexpensive. It even just added a couple of 4-year degrees as well as a trade school/tech campus. Tuition and fees are only $1620 a year, or less than $7000 for four years.
Another option with a somewhat moderate cost is to attend a state university in Texas. These cost $20k-$30k a year including room and board. Some of them offer significant merit scholarships that my kids may qualify for if their grades and SAT/ACT scores are high, which knocks off some of the tuition cost. Texas Tech in particular is very generous with merit scholarships. The total for four years living at a state university could run $50k (on the low end with merit scholarships) up to $120k.
Then of course there are private universities. Most of the time, the inflated sticker price is not the final price. The cost could end up as low as a state university or as high as $300k for four years with no scholarships.
So basically we’re looking at a range of $7k to $300k for each kid. That’s not easy to plan for!
How College Savings Affects Family Travel
Wait, is this a travel blog or a financial blog? Don’t worry, this is still a family travel blog. I do not profess to be a personal finance expert. I’m getting to the travel part.
We’ve been saving for my son’s college since we adopted him at age 3. I’ve shown him how much we have in his 529 account, and I’ve been honest with him what his options will be. We plan to not take out any loans, but we will likely have to cash flow some of his college expenses. And that’s where it impacts family travel.
Even using miles and points, travel isn’t free. Leaving our home for a week always costs us money, even if it’s just food and pet sitting.
My family loves cruising, and that is what is giving me pause. While I think cruising can be a great value, it’s also a big lump sum to pay in cash. And sometimes I wonder, “Should we stay home because we might need that cash to pay a semester’s tuition?”
But, it all comes down to balance. I don’t want to miss traveling with my son during his last years at home. At the same time, we’re not going to splurge on a trip that costs an entire year’s worth of tuition. We can accomplish both family travel and saving for college if we stick to a budget and keep using miles and points to offset some of the cost.
I just wish I could see into the future to know the exact cost. I need numbers to be black and white, not gray! Of course, by his senior year we should have a pretty good idea. But that will be just in time to start the college cost crapshoot for our next kid.
Families with older kids, do you think about college savings vs. vacation spending? How do you balance?
Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.
Nancy lives near Dallas, Texas, with her husband and three kids. Her favorite vacations include the beach, cruising and everything Disney.