My son's still in diapers, but I know he'll be off to college in a flash. I try my best not to think about that too much, but the issue of financing is always somewhere in the back of my mind. My husband and I hope to fund his education and our retirement at the same time. But if we hit a stumbling block, the college savings are getting cut from the budget.
That might sound cold, but I actually say that with my son's best interest at heart. I think in the long run, that's the smarter play for both me and him.
You can't borrow for retirement
When I first looked at the estimated tuition costs for the year my son will enter college, I had sticker shock. But I took comfort in the fact that he could still fund his education through scholarships, loans, and a job if I wasn't able to pay for it. I know, student debt puts enormous financial pressures on young adults trying to build their careers. But I like it better than the alternative.
If I choose to fund his college rather than my own retirement, he'll graduate without any debt, but I may not have the money I need to cover all my costs in retirement. And if my husband and I are too old to work or we become sick, we may have no choice but to turn to our son for financial support.
That means he could potentially pay tens of thousands of dollars per year -- possibly for decades -- to feed us, house us, and cover the healthcare expenses Medicare doesn't. All the while, he may be trying to buy a home, expand his own family, and save for my grandchildren's college educations. He could be forced to make some tough choices that put his financial security at risk, and I don't want to burden him like that.
How I plan to help us both
I'm really hoping I don't have to make the difficult choice between paying for my retirement and paying for my son's education. That's why I do my best to budget carefully. These savings goals are high on my priority list, second only to my monthly bills, and I have automatic transfers set up from my bank account so I don't have to remember to move the money around. I also invest my savings, both for retirement and my son's education, so that I don't have to save the whole amount by myself.
When he gets older, I hope to teach my son the importance of education, and I'll help him apply for scholarships if he needs them. And if loans are in the picture, I'll help him find the best possible rates and repayment terms.
If I could afford to, maybe I'd even give him a little money each month to help him pay off his loans over time. Even if it means paying interest, I'd rather do this than tap my retirement savings to pay for it all upfront.
And if someday my son asks me why I chose to put my retirement first, I'll explain all of this to him so he can understand that I did it with his long-term security in mind.