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Am I A Bad Parent If I Don't Pay For My Kids' College?

Well the short answer is no, not necessarily. But, we’re going to take this post and unpack this whole subject a bit.

As you can imagine, discussions dealing with the relationship between a parent and their children tend to be sensitive. And even more so when there’s potentially “outside” prescriptive advice (like from a financial coach or financial advisor) involved.

I get it and want to be as sensitive as necessary to that.

That said, there is always baseline wisdom that can be applied to every situation, regardless of if or how it is received.


College Is A Very Large Investment

So, more than anything, this article is aimed at provoking a thoughtful discussion between parents themselves (i.e. mom & dad), as well as between parents and their children about all the relevant points in making this, in most cases, incredibly large investment into education.

As you might imagine from my setup here, I don’t automatically fall into the “absolutely, every child should have their college funded by their parents”, category.

In full disclosure, I’m not a parent myself, so if that somehow disqualifies me from offering an opinion in your mind, I get it.

But, I would encourage you to at least consider my perspective as a 10-year+ financial coach who has seen just about every situation under the sun.

In fact, in this capacity, I’ve successfully helped dozens of parents navigate this discussion both between themselves and between them and their children.


My Own Early Adult Experience 

Yep. Did this for a few years and it actually paid for my university degree.


For my own upbringing, I would also add that my parents were not in the financial position that would have enabled them to either pay for or even to assist paying for my college education.

I of course was not happy about this state of affairs but was forced into a situation where I just had to "deal with it". 

In dealing with it, I quickly figured out that my best route was to join the US Army under their GI Bill and College Fund programs. 

A couple of my friends had forged the path ahead of me so I had the benefit of their wisdom and experience to guide me through the process. 

This turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made as I got both a military and civilian education and was forced by circumstance to navigate my situation both creatively and responsibly.

In other words, I believe that my parents' not being able to foot the bill for my education turned out to be a great benefit for both my character and for my life in general. 

It just might be for your kids too.

Okay, disclaimers done.


Some College Funding Context For Our Debt Eliminators

Let's make sure the parents' personal finances are on track.


College funding happens to be one of the steps in our debt elimination and wealth building program (see here) and is “Step #6: College Funding"

This is where you’ve paid off your debt and have saved 3-6 months of expenses for emergencies, and you’re simultaneously working the following 3 steps.

1.) You’re contributing at least 15% (hopefully much more) of your income to retirement,

2.) You’re (potentially) contributing to your children’s college fund.

3.) Paying off the home mortgage early.

Once you’ve reached this stage, the next step is to start funding or planning to fund your children’s college expenses. 


Let’s Talk About The Child/Student

This is great and you absolutely should fund your children’s college IF: 

1.) You have children who are disciplined and display solid character and 

2.) They understand that this is not a right or an entitlement, but rather that it is a privilege. I know this probably has a preachy tone, but I hope you’ll bear with that for a moment while I explain a little more.

Having seen so many situations where parents sacrifice so much (including their own retirement and/or late stage life well-being) for their children, I believe this process warrants a pause.

In my professional opinion College Funding is really a “nice to have” and not at all a necessity. 

I believe this is akin to when the flight attendants encourage parents to “place the oxygen mask” on their own face before attending to their children. 

You MUST make sure your own house is in order before you make such a momentous financial commitment to your children. 

Yes, I know I may ruffle a lot of feathers taking this position, but I can tell you from personal experience this is NOT actually required despite what our culture strongly encourages. 


Some Important Questions To Ask

I believe that parents should hit the pause button once they’ve gotten to this “college funding” step and ask both themselves and their children some serious questions.

1.) What is the character status of my child? 

2.) Are they generally grateful and responsible or do they possess more of an entitlement mindset?

3.) Have they exhibited both the desire to complete college and the understanding that it is a MAJOR investment of both time and financial resources. In other words, do they even want to go to college? Is a trade school or some other type of training more relevant for them?

4.) Will this be “economic life support” as Thomas Stanley (“The Millionaire Next Door”) says, or will it truly help them grow into the sane, responsible adult you’d always dreamed they’d be.

5.) Will they finish? There are tons of examples of kids who get their college educations funded by parents and don’t finish. That’s what we call a waste of money!

So, is helping your children a good thing? Absolutely! 

I think we should always be supportive of our children, but I sometimes disagree with the means of that “support”. 

Supporting a child who exhibits an entitlement mindset by paying for a college degree that they don’t truly understand the value of is not truly “supporting" them.  

Rather, it’s enabling them to continue in a misdirected and inaccurate world view and, in more extreme cases, possibly perpetuates the false notion that "the world owes them something".


Again, My Personal Example

Again, let me use my personal situation as an example. 

When I arrived at college age, my parents, like so many, were not in a position to be able to help me pay for university. 

I was "kind of" aware of this as much as any kid in their mid-teens can be aware of anything regarding finances (I was too busy with guitars and girls to pay much attention). 

The bottom line is that, I had to figure out college on my own, and I truly believe it helped develop my character in some very positive ways. 

Ultimately, I had to join the army as I knew I didn’t want to take out student loans and my friends had been telling me about using The Army College Fund and the GI Bill as a means to get through school. 


Don’t Be Afraid To Hit The “Pause” Button And Ask Some Tough Questions

This is where I say hit the pause button and ask a few very important questions. 

Rather than assuming what our culture assumes, mainly that this is a “necessity” and that you might be a “bad parent” if you don’t pay for your child’s complete college education. 

Here are some relevant questions to consider: 

1.) Does your child want to go to college? 

2.) What is their maturity level (i.e. are they motivated to study and stay on track now)? If the answer is in the affirmative, then I say it’s a great thing to help your children pay for higher education. 

If not, I think there may be some deeper thought and possibly some negotiation that should happen.


Get Help When You Need It

Reaching out to ask questions is never a bad thing. That's what we're here for.


If this has become a contentious conversation in your household OR just something that needs to be “fleshed out”, get some help. It's important to take action and to continue taking action.

Here are some resources to encourage you toward that: 

What Is Financial (Or Money)  Coaching

The 4 Most Popular Reasons People Seek Financial Coaching

$43K Paid Off!

The Incomparable Feeling Of Being Debt Free

I’m happy to lend some solid logic and guidance to the conversation.

You can reach me by either downloading one of our free resources in the side bar or by just reaching out to me directly at:

[email protected]

Either way, I want to help you navigate this in a way that's wise and respectful to everyone involved.

Now, that we've talked about college, let's talk about your finances.


The 8 Steps To Obliterate Your Debt

This is the blog post that outlines the 8 steps I followed to eliminated $43,000 in debt in 2.5 years.
And whether this is your first or thousandth time on the blog, I want to make sure you have this “8 Steps” framework that ALL of our content is centered around. 
These are the steps I personally followed to obliterate $43,000+ of debt in 2.5 years
Maybe your number is bigger, maybe it’s smaller. Either way the principles are the same and I want you to have them.
0. Stop All Retirement Investing (Until Step 4)
2. Starter Emergency Fund of $1000
3. Eliminate Debts Smallest To Largest (a.k.a The Debt Snowball)
4. Full Emergency Fund of 3-6+ Months’ Expenses
5. Invest A Minimum of 15% Income Into Retirement Accounts (and increase savings rate to 50%+ if possible)
6. College Funding (if applicable)
7. Pay Off The Home Mortgage
8. Build Wealth, Serve, Be Ridiculously Generous And Go FI (Financial Independence)!
I’ve created a simple, easy to follow guide that you can use as your foundation as you navigate the absolute annihilation of your debt forever.


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$43k Paid Off!

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When You Need More Help

And again, if you’re looking for some resources to get started, you can download our free budgeting forms. Also, if you’re in a place where you’re ready to kick your debt in the teeth, here's the link to our free “8 Steps To Erase Debt” guide for you to use as your foundation.
To your freedom,
This post may contain affiliate links. If you click & make a purchase, I receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you) that helps keep Zero Debt Coach up and running. Read my full disclosure policy.

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