Paying for College

This post is both a multigenerational review of how one family has paid for college for the past 100 years and a recounting of what changes I made in the past year to help pay for my daughter’s first year of college. My point is that there are many ways to pay for school, if you want to go. Most of them require hard work on someone’s part.

The first person in my family to graduate from college was grandma Ruby. She graduated in 1926 with a dietician’s degree. It was one of the few “scientific” degrees open to women. Her parents paid for her schooling.

Grandpa Walt and Grandma Mimi didn’t get to college. Mimi was kicked out of Catholic boarding school at age 16 when the nuns found her smoking a cigar behind the sacristy. She got married shortly thereafter and had four children. Two of them boys, who served in WWII and went to school on the GI Bill. My dad was one of those boys, he also got two master’s degrees that he paid for himself. Of Mimi and Walt’s two daughters, one went to college, paid for by a generous employer during the depression. The other daughter did not attend school after high school, but went right into the work force.

Grandma Ruby worked as a dietician for many years, but got divorced when her kids (my mom and uncle) were middle school age, and her ex-husband died shortly thereafter.  She went on to found a successful real estate business and put both my mom and uncle through private college. My uncle, also joined the army after he graduated with his bachelors and then went on to law school on the GI Bill.

My mom and dad always planned to pay for college for their three kids, but the stock market took a dive shortly before we started school and my dad’s business suffered then too. Consequently, they paid for a bachelor’s degree for my older brother at a state school. My younger brother went to a private liberal arts school and they paid for about half of his tuition. One semester they sold the grand piano that no one played anymore. He had to borrow the rest of the money. Both brothers went back to school later, one got a law degree and the other an engineering degree.

My timing wasn’t very good, by the time I was ready to attend school in earnest, my folks were broke. I was newly divorced with a toddler. Luckily, I happened to be living in an economically depressed area and was able to put myself through school with federal grants, scholarships, $10,000 of loans, scattered child support checks and living frugally.

My first husband attended university paid for by his parents and loans. He never graduated, but won a Pulitzer Prize in the 1980’s–so the lack of a degree does not seem to have hurt his earning power.

Second husband got an engineering degree that he paid for himself with the money he made farming (hogs, corn, soybeans) while in high school in the late 1970s. Most of his fortune has been made in farming.

My oldest son’s degree was paid for by a combination of help from his parents, scholarships and loans.

Summary: in my family 16 degrees earned by 11 individuals. Four of them had a degree paid for entirely by parents, three by the GI Bill, one by a friend, seven were self-paid via loans, scholarships, current and previous earnings, etc. Two, a combination. If you want to go, and are willing to work hard, there is a way.

In Illinois, if your parents are divorced, the court says each parent should come up with one-third of the cost of a state school education. For us this year, that is about $9,000. Here’s what I did to get the money for my portion of my daughter’s first year at college:

~Reduced my clothing expenditures by having fewer outfits and buying only at Goodwill and TJ Maxx. Since I lost twenty pounds this past year and replaced a significant portion of my wardrobe, this saved a lot of the replacement costs. I also eliminated money spent on coloring and cutting my hair by having all the blonde cut off and then letting it grow out grey. Total $2,227.

~Rather than have a professional painter scrape and paint my house for $6,000 last year, I am having the boys do one side per year for the next four years. Last summer, they did a short side for $200, this year they did a long side for $300. Savings this year: $1,200.

~I lucked into having my employer pay for a conference that I was going to anyway. They gave me a car to drive, paid for my conference fee, food for 5 days and my hotel. Estimated savings $1,100.

~I decreased my alcohol intake costs by reducing total intake (which helped with the weight loss goals too) and by only buying wine at Aldi–the $2.89 bottles.) Total savings for the year: $912.

~Youngest son dropped voice lessons after March. Savings: $900.

~Daughter stopped clarinet lessons after May. Savings: $665.

~I changed fitness centers. Monthly cost from $48 to $10 per month. Yearly savings: $456.

~Reduced the amount spent on Christmas from $650 to $200. Savings: $450.

~Sold self-published books. Income $351.

~Decided to postpone getting bifocals another year or so, and bought some drug store readers for $10. Savings: $350.

~Reduced the meat (mammal, fowl, fish) dinners by one per week and reduced the amount of organic/free-range meat purchased. I am mindful to keep the protein served at an adequate amount due to teens still growing and athletic performance concerns.  Savings $208

~Sold a piece of jewelry that I do not wear anymore. $200.

~Told AT &T I was going to cancel my internet. They reduced the monthly amount by $15. Savings: $180.

~Let daughter’s cell phone contract with AT & T expire (she was on our family plan). I did this partially to promote her learning to budget these things from her limited resources. But she got her dad to add her to his plan and buy her a smart phone. That works too. Savings: $180.

~Did not take the family out to eat for my birthday. Savings: $80.

Total available for tuition: $9,459.

(Love you, honey! Thanks for answering my texts.)


6 thoughts on “Paying for College

  1. J. Money (@BudgetsAreSexy) says:

    HAH! That is awesome. What an incredible look through your history too w/ all those degrees – you’ve got an interesting family 🙂 Loving the emphasis on working hard and *doing something* about it too if you want money for college/etc… The break down at the end was a nice touch of proof.


  2. save. spend. splurge. says:

    This is exactly what I would do if I had to do it for something like a health-related issued, but I wouldn’t do it just to pay for my kids’ education.

    (Not that I am not in awe of what you’ve done to get there! I think it’s really admirable and fabulous.)

    My reasoning: My retirement fund comes first, and then they have to decide if they want to choose the path of college or not, and live with the consequences of said life. I need to make sure I am steady before I can lend a hand to anyone, including my kids. No sense in burdening them with my debts or my financial problems when they’re starting out in life.


    • Fawn says:

      I totally understand your point of view. However, I have a legal obligation to do this. In Illinois, the courts can mandate that each parent pay one-third the cost of a state university for four years. My kid’s dad and I have a mediated agreement that states such.


    • Fawn says:

      It is not legislative law, but case law. Some kid somewhere sued his/her parents and got the court to order them to pay for the college. Me and kiddos dad mediated an agreement about how we would pay for it. But, yeah, if you are divorced–the court can order you to pay for a portion of college for the kids.


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