Many times in parenting, we are given a single piece of advice, though it may be phrased in a variety of ways: "Go with your instinct." "Trust your gut." "You'll know in your heart what to do." The problem, sadly, is that quite a few of those instincts are way off base when it comes to matters of money. What we really need is to know when we should stop trusting our intuition.
So, for this episode of the Motley Fool Answers podcast, Robert Brokamp and Alison Southwick invited New York Times best-selling author Beth Kobliner into the studio to give all the moms and dads in the audience some great tips on how to raise financially savvy offspring -- specifically, tips that run counter to what your first instincts might be.
In this segment, she focuses on how we deal with the largest expense many of us will face as parents: college tuition. We may be tempted to avoid discussing with our offspring how we'll be paying those bills -- or the even touchier question of how much we can really afford. But postponing that stress until the applications start going out, or the acceptances start rolling in, is a mistake for multiple reasons.
A full transcript follows the video.
This video was recorded on May 15, 2018.
Robert Brokamp: The second instinct. "I steer clear of paying for college talk. It can wait until eleventh grade. Any sooner will stress everyone out."
Beth Kobliner: Here's why that's flawed. You need to start talking to kids early about college, and by early, I mean ninth grade, and even the end of eighth grade. The reason is it's such a stressful topic, and I think some schools have even adopted the idea. "We don't want to stress our kids out, so we're not going to talk about college until junior year or senior year." The problem with that is it's like the elephant in the room. Like we're not going to talk about college, but you have to take this class and you have to take that class.
And kids know what's going on. I think as a parent, saying to your kids, "Look, we know we're going to find a great college for you. You're going to work hard in high school. Your grades start to count in ninth grade, so pay attention. And we're going to find a school that's affordable for us."
I meet so many grown-ups today who say, "I remember. I worked so hard. I got into a great college, and then my parents told me, 'We can't afford it.'" That's pretty devastating.
Alison Southwick: Heartbreaking.
Kobliner: Heartbreaking. And I even met a college counselor in Silicon Valley who said to me she's finding situations where parents are sort of keeping up the façade of being able to afford it for their kids because they're in an affluent community, and then the kid gets into a school and the parents have to admit to their kid at the end of the year, "Oops, sorry. We can't afford it." And that's devastating.
So, talking about it. Doing the groundwork. Parents have to look at the FAFSA4caster, which gives you a sense of how much your family will be expected to pay, and start acquainting yourself with what you need to know as a parent, and then talking to your child about it in a reasonable way. I think that will de-escalate the stress.
Brokamp: We touched on this a little bit the last time you were on the show, but what's your take on how much kids should be expected to contribute to their college education?
Kobliner: We do know from research that kids who contribute money to their college tend to have slightly higher GPAs. Usually kids either have to borrow and I think borrowing is fine. Sometimes parents feel guilty. Oh, we don't our kids to have to borrow. Most kids have to borrow, now. The median graduation debt load is $20,000 in student loans. The average is $37,000. You want to have your kids borrow, and your job is to do it in a reasonable way and only stick with federal student loans.
So, borrowing or your kids might work in school and that's great. Again, research shows when kids work in college, as long as they keep it under 20 hours a week and they have an on-campus job, those kids have slightly higher GPAs. Having skin in the game -- having a little bit of money -- how much that is really depends upon, I think, your financial situation.
It's like the health club thing. When you have to pay for a health club, you tend to go more than if you don't pay or you get a free period where you don't have to pay. I think it's the same for any kind of expense, and we know kids having skin in the game makes them do a little better in their grades, so having them contribute I think is smart.