The Big Lie of Parenting—Paying for Your Kids’ College Education

Nobody can question that you love your kids. The sleepless nights, the trips to ball games, and the endless hours spent on science fair projects and chemistry finals all point to your dedication and commitment. I know, I’m right there with you!

For some reason, though, our culture tells a terrible lie about being a good parent: that you’re supposed to take care of you kids’ college education before you save for retirement.

That’s a really bad idea. Here are a few reasons why:

1. Retirement is guaranteed. College isn’t.

There is a 100 percent chance you will retire someday unless you die first. But there’s about a 65 percent chance your kids will go to college. It doesn’t make sense to set yourself up for a financial mess later on when you can no longer work. And there will come a time when you can no longer work.

2. Your kids need to learn the value of working hard.

Studies show that millennials feel entitled to certain things, like the high-paying job and the corner office. They have unrealistic expectations. And parents have contributed to the problem by giving them everything. Teach your kids that they have to work for what they want. They can begin to learn that lesson by working to pay for college—or at least for some of the costs.

3. Your college-aged kid can get a job!

If you can pay for all or most of your child’s college without jeopardizing your retirement savings, that can be a huge blessing. But you should never feel like you have to foot the bill for their college. You know what I call an 18-year-old? An adult! And adults can get jobs to earn money for the things they need! And don’t tell me that a part-time job will cause your student any emotional or academic hardship. In fact, studies show that students who work during college actually get better grades and learn valuable lessons on time management. If you can help with school, go for it. If you can’t without hurting your retirement, don’t do it!

4. Your retirement years could be costly.

As you age and your body declines, your medical bills will increase. You’ll have more prescriptions and more trips to the doctor. If you can afford to save for retirement and put money away in an Education Savings account, that’s awesome! Just make sure you’ve maxed out retirement options like 401(k)s and IRAs first.

I know, the parent guilt kicks in and you feel like the worst parent in the world for giving priority to your retirement instead of your kid’s education. I get it. But you don’t want to be broke in retirement and working at a fast-food restaurant. That’s not okay!

Talk to your kids. Let them know your expectations. And then help them create a solid financial plan for college that includes working a part-time job. If you do this, you’ll set them up to win with money.