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Quit Saving for College

Call me a bad parent if you must, but my three kids are simply going to have to work to pay for a college education.

What's that? You think I'm greedy? Maybe you're right. Certainly, my wife and I could take one heck of a vacation with the $39,483 the Fool's college cost calculator says we'll need to pay for college for our youngest 18 years from now.

In favor of child labor
Of course, we can't expect him to save that kind of money himself. Or can we? According to a popular online savings calculator, $100 a month invested over 18 years earning 9% annually becomes $42,156. That's hardly an impossible feat. A kid in our neighborhood has been mowing lawns since he was 11. We're one of several clients -- let's say seven for argument's sake -- who pay him $15 per visit. Two mows a month times seven clients equals $210. Multiply that by six warm Colorado months and he's pulling in $1,260 in half a year.

Clearly, my children have years of prime earning potential ahead of them.

There's more than principle at work here. The colder, harsher truth is that if we save too much for college now, we may saddle our children with expensive health-care bills later. Consider the costs of long-term care. It's positively frightening. According to a study by MetLife last year, U.S. nursing homes, which today cost an average of $54,900 annually, may charge $190,000 a year by 2030, when I'll be in my 60s.

Think about that: $190,000 or $40,000 -- which bill would you rather ask your kids to pay?

A better strategy
That's not to say that you can't fund both college and retirement. All I'm saying is that you should at least consider what it will cost to take care of yourself and your spouse before you decide to pony up for four years of booze ... I mean, classes.

Besides, is it really so bad to make your kids work? I certainly don't think so. We've decided not to give allowances to ours. Instead, they'll do chores as part of the family. Other, more difficult work is available on a pay-per-chore basis. They can keep half of what they earn; the rest goes to savings and charity.

I'll understand if that sounds as if we're yapping at our kids to chow down their veggies or sit up straight. We do both of those too, of course. But we're also trying to make savings fun. For example, with dividend reinvesting programs, we can purchase stock in firms our kids really like, such as Deere & Co. (NYSE: DE  ) for our oldest son or Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) for our princess-obsessed daughter. Nike (NYSE: NKE  ) might be a good choice for the baby, since he's always on the run.

But in the short term, we're likely to opt for online savings accounts, many of which pay 5% or more with no minimum balance required. That way, our kids can use the Internet to watch their money grow and learn some math at the same time.

Once there's at least a few hundred in the bank, DRIPs and index funds will be in order. They'll give our children low-risk, high-reward returns as they learn a thing or two about investing in the best businesses the world has to offer, including PepsiCo (NYSE: PEP  ) , Chevron (NYSE: CVX  ) , Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT  ) , and Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG  ) .

Follow the money
With Social Security at risk and the cost of long-term care rising at an alarming rate, saving for retirement has never been more important than it is now. So go light on the college account and make your kids work a little. They'll be richer for it and so will you.

Have other money tips? Tell me. I'm writing new articles on personal finance and investing basics every week as part of our new personal finance newsletter service, Motley Fool GreenLight. It's tailor-made for Fools who aim to take control of their financial destiny. Click here to learn more.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers isn't greedy by nature, except when it comes to his and his wife's retirement. Tim didn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story at the time of publication. Get a peek at everything he's invested in by checking his Fool profile. Wal-Mart is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick. Disney is a Stock Advisor pick. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy has a degree in corporate responsibility.

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