By Rachel Hall
If you have kids or are planning to have to have kids, it's likely that generations above you or even your peers have mentioned the looming "college fund" that we are supposed to have for our children, both born and unborn. And yes, if you come from a family with immense wealth, then perhaps your unborn spawn already have a fully mature, vested, pile of coins set aside for their presumed Ivy League capabilities. For the rest of us mere mortals, whatever you want to call the generation who currently has kids and is somewhere between 30-Something and 40-Something, chances are, we are not going to make the herculean efforts that most people would have go to, to even attempt (and likely not be able to succeed) in order to have a college fund for our mini mammals.
No, it's not that we are trying to raise illiterate, uneducated, anarchists. We are not saving for college because we just don't have the money, and because we see that college "savings" didn't really guarantee us careers that left us carefree about our finances. Most of us are still paying our own student loans (not me, thanks mom), or at the very least, are lucky enough for our families to still be paying them (again, thanks mom). If you are super lucky, likely living pay-check to pay-check, you might possibly qualify for deferment programs, which lowers your monthly payments, but just delays the inevitable. We are the generation that was told, JUST GO TO COLLEGE and EVERYTHING WILL BE FINE. You will get a job, pay back loans, make bank, and boom. Well the joke was on us (and some of our generous parents), if not completely, than at least partially.
Of course it is a privilege to have been able to go to college. I am one of those people who will say that college was some of the best years of my life…though I think 50% of that is manipulated memory. That being said, when my single mother and I sat down with the guidance counselor and she suggested a small liberal arts school across the country, we both said YES, this sounds great! Looks smart! Looks quaint! I want smart and quaint! Well guess what? A degree in Psychology (or whatever liberal arts degree you studied) pretty much only prepares you for another degree. Upon graduating in the early millennium, most of us made less than $40K a year and likely had over $25K to pay back. Factor in cost of living and you have a generation who has no idea what our long-term financial abilities will be. We assumed we would be financially independent, living on our own, and saving money. Clearly that's not the case.
Some folks knew all along that we would seek an additional degree and immediately after graduation signed up for more loans and pushed ahead towards another degree of sorts. We did this in hopes of accessing better jobs, and to gain a leg up on the "lesser educated" and "less hirable" so to speak. Some people just did it because we didn't know what to do after our life had been structured for us for the past 20+ years and we just craved that collegiate container. Either way, yes it was great to be able to write Masters Degree on the 5000 resumes I sent out, and yes I am personally happy and extremely grateful I could be financially supported to receive my degrees. That being said, I think it would be financially irresponsible for our generation to put money in a college fund when we barely have retirement funds, health insurance, or enough (or any) long-term investments. This generation is wondering how they will maintain health insurance, how they will afford rent, and barely can imagine buying a home. Most of us have very little retirement plans and little faith that the government will provide retirement benefits in 25-35 years. This generation needs to figure out how it will support themselves for the rest of their lives. This generation also knows their kids can go in-state to college, take out loans, or even defer college and work until they know what field they really want to get a degree in. So many of us are working in fields that have nothing to do with our degrees, we wonder if we went to college simply because everyone else was going.
Right now, plumbers, contractors, and electricians can make more money than the average teacher and pay much less for their training. We have an expensive and inflated education system and this generation is not sure what the ROI is. We also can't believe we (or our parents) paid thousands of dollars a year for a dorm and a meal plan, just so we could pretend we were independent, while our families footed the bill. Some of us worked in college, which at least brought us closer to reality, but still, attending university at 18 years old often just seemed like the thing to do…not a personalized plan. If one is to invest over 50k in themselves, you would think we would stop and think…is this the best investment for me? It might have been. I just don't think middle class and even working class people stopped to really consider what they were paying for. What is the true cost of college? Before we put our families and ourselves in immense amounts of debt, we should really know.
We can't just assume shelling out tons of money for college will be a great financial decision, particularly, immediately after high school. This is what I assume; I assume my kids want me to be self-sufficient, in good financial standing, and in a place where my financial concerns do not have to be theirs. For that reason, I don't have the extra funds to put towards their college right now. I'm too busy paying for their healthcare, day care, non-toxic organic food, ect… When the time comes for them to discuss going to college, I can offer them free rent, food, a place to study, and they are welcome to commute. If all goes well, I hope to be able to help them pay for school in some meaningful way. However, being able to pay $25k-$55k/year so they can have a go at feeling (but not actually being) independent is not something I am going to save for. Independence is something that can't be faked or funded. Education can be funded, and that I am prepared to help them access and consider. It just might not look like a dorm room shower caddy with a $50k price tag.
By Rachel Hall, Rachel has a Masters in Cultural Gender Studies, and a BA in Communication & Culture. She is a frugal Certified Life Coach, and can often be found hiding in her laundry room from her two children. More about her on her website.
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You swear you are barely spending money, but somehow at the end of the month you have nothing to spare and possibly some damage to the credit score.
It seems simple to "cut back," but many people refuse to actually cut out most of their unnecessary spending, not for lack of common sense, but out of fear that their social lives will suffer. Our fear of loneliness means we don't want to be left out, but don't fall for the myth that socializing is "supposed to" cost money. Your finances can take an especially hard hit if your circle of friends include people with higher incomes than you.
These changes to your social life can save you hundreds of dollars from monthly expenses.
A Simple Night Out: Three obvious ways friends of varying ages and genders like to socialize would be to, "grab a drink", "grab a bite", or "see a show". Lets pick the seemingly cheapest of these options, 'grab a drink'. Friend A, lets call him Alan, is on a budget and thinks he is saving money by suggesting "just a drink." Friend B, lets call him Bryan, is not worried about money and is completely unaware that Alan is trying to save money. In addition, Alan didn't mention it because come on, it's completely unrealistic not to be able to afford to "grab a drink" right? Pay attention to the word "grab," it insinuates casual, low key, with cost-saving potential. Bryan suggests "a little hole in the wall" in a "chill" neighborhood. Alan is excited because it sounds like a cheep night, and he gets to see his friend.
Fast forward three hours, and Bryan's "hole in the wall" is a boutique whiskey lounge and the "low key" drink options range from $14-$17 and there is no way Alan can have just one drink if his friend has thrown back three already. So Alan starts the night $30 in the hole and now Alan and Bryan are both hungry, are out on the town surrounded by takeout options raging from $8-$18 and likely need to pay some amount to get home ranging from $3-$25 depending on mode of transport. Before he knows it, Alan's cheep night has turned into at least a $45 night and likely more like a $65 night. Lets say he only finds himself in this situation once or twice a week. That's a minimum of $180 a month and say max of $520. That could cost Alan anywhere from $2100-$6200 a year.
Low Key Nuptial Celebrations: This is likely inevitable. Your friend invites you to a bachelor/ette party. It's a good friend and you can't possibly say no. That would be "so rude". You were hoping to save some money this month but your friends assured you this is a "wicked cheep weekend". (Ok, just your friend from Boston said that). You are immediately stressed by the invite, but you don't even consider not going. You assure yourself you will do it "on the cheep." You book the cheapest airplane ticket you can find ($299), rent the cheapest room you can find ($87/night and you are only paying for one of the nights), and take a Lyft Ride Share from the airport ($15).
You chip in for beer and Pizza ($40) the first night, move on to a dive bar for "cheep" late night drinks ($20), grab a "cheep brunch" at a greasy spoon the next day ($22) and on your last night get some street tacos and beers ($15). Before you know it, you're taking another Lyft Share back the airport ($15) and are back home eating ramen, with over $500 on the credit card and that doesn't even include the upcoming wedding. How many bachelor parties, weddings, showers, elaborate birthday parties, ect do we attend each year? 2, 6, 10? And not all of them are on the cheep. That's anywhere from $1000-$4,000 annually and could of course be much much more.
A Simple night in: You plan a cheep night in, friends coming over to watch a game or movie, or whatever. You think that the night is basically going to be free, but realize you should probably get some pizza or takeout for your friends ($25) and some wine or beer ($20). You spend about $45. If you only do this once a month, that's around $540 a year. Twice a month, that's $1080.
Quick Lunch Out: You have been packing your lunch most of the week, but you are exhausted and you are meeting a friend for lunch out. She requests sushi, you rationalize that lunchtime sushi should be cheep. Your personal total comes to $28. If you eat out like this once a week, runs about $1,300 a year. Twice a week would be over $2600.
Just Coffee: You friend at work suggests you get out of the office for a late morning coffee. You love late morning coffee and you have been staying in, cooking meals, the least you can do is grab a coffee and get some air. You "snag" a latte for $4.50. If you buy coffee out just three times a week, it will run you about $576 a year. Do this once a day, and it will run you over $1300/year.
Adult Birthday Parties: You know how this goes. You are invited to go to dinner to celebrate your friend's birthday. You don't know most of her other friends, but you don't want to be rude and say no. You found her something at a thrift store months ago, it was only $7 but you know she will love it. Birthday present is taken care of, and you write a really nice card. You plan ahead of time to not order allot, you even have some string cheese and wine at your apartment before you go. You get to the dinner, order one drink and a salad, about $18, plus the $7 birthday present, so your total cost that night, $28 with tip, or so you think. You finish your drink and just sip on water as you watch her friends order several more rounds of "tinis" and "ritas'. You are shocked that they are able to pay for multiple rounds of $14 drinks, but whatever. You know what happens next. Yup, your friend heads to the bathroom and all the other well-imbibed guests total the bill, divide by 9 and BOOM, you are struck with a $65 "chip in". Do this once a month, $780 a year.
I just identified $7000-$15,000 a year in social costs…and I was being reasonable. We all know this number could be close to $20k if not more.
You get my point. I also hear you screaming, SO AM I NOT SUPPOSED TO HAVE A LIFE!? 'You Are! You Are!' I shout back! BUT, you are not supposed to be able to afford everything the people you hang out with can afford. You are also not supposed to value the same things your friend's value.
That's the problem with middle class culture and spending habits. I haven't even touched on the overpriced apartments we rent, our clothing budgets, and our desire to travel far for "real experiences." I want to enjoy my money and I want you to as well, but I also loath the idea of spending money simply to adhere to social norms I don't actually value. I don't believe one should acquire debt for the sake of friendship. I don't think one should be guilted into a "fiscal norm."
I also question the depth of our friendships, if they require so much spending. So many of these costly events don't actually leave me feeling close and intimately connected to my friends. We often set out to fulfill our basic human need for social interaction and closeness, and instead are left feeling disconnected, not wealthy enough, and in debt.
Let me tell you a few examples of what I have said 'No Thank You' to recently:
1. No, I can't be in your wedding or attend your bachelorette ($300-$2500)
2. No I can't make your Birthday dinner ($50-$80)
3. No, I wont be able to meet you in NYC that weekend ($120-$800)
4. No, I can't meet for lunch ($12-$30)
5. No, I can't attend your fundraiser gala ($75-$600)
Let me tell you a few examples of what I have offered to do:
1.Would you like to stay with me when you are in town and catch up? ($Free)
2.Would you like to meet for a late morning hike? ($Free)
3.Can I take you to lunch for your birthday? ($35)
4.I have to do some grocery shopping, want to come along, we can tackle your list too? ($Free- Already in budget)
5.Would you like to cook together/Brew Beer and split the cost? ($Free- Already in Budget)
6.I already donate online to causes I really care about, but would be happy to share your fundraiser info with my friends ($Free)
7.Want to come watch a movie/eat popcorn/drink wine at my house? ($0-$12)
8.Want to meet at the gym and catch up on the treadmills? ($Free)
And before you tell me that those ideas are boring/silly/unrealistic, I am here to tell you that I have done every single one of them, and most of them a million times… but only with my REAL FRIENDS. And I promise you I have REAL friends. The kinds of friends that I don't have to get dressed up to see, the kinds of friends that I can cry in front of, or share my deepest darkest shit, and the kinds of friends who have tried on pants, at Cosco ,while I created a makeshift dressing room out of beach towels and tried not to pee my pants out of laughter. My cup runneth over with REAL FRIENDS.
There is nothing that makes a human feel closer to another human, than tackling the humanity of "just being" together. We can stop believing that the only way to find value in an experience is to pay for it. We can stop spending the money that we don't have and start spending time on the real friendships that we do have.
By Rachel Hall, Rachel has a Masters in Cultural Gender Studies, and a BA in Communication & Culture, is a Certified Life Coach, and can often be found hiding in her laundry room from her two children. More about her on her website.
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