Thursday, September 11, 2014

College Funds, Hypothetically

My son is getting ready to go off to college next week--time to break out that college fund. fund, college fund...

Shoot, I knew I forgot something.

Yes, I am one of those irresponsible parents that hasn't been stashing away $50 weekly since my child's conception so I can send him to an ivy league school.  But now that the day has come, I wonder if maybe I should have made it more of a priority.  It just takes budgeting, right?

What did I spend my children's hypothetical college fund on, exactly?

To start with, I invested that cash in a stay-at-home mom, who never had to drop the kids off at daycare when they weren't feeling well. With my husband as sole breadwinner, I could be home to read stories, play games, help with homework, and drive them to every activity under the sun.  The average weekly salary for a full-time nanny is $652 (according to a story in USA Today).  That's a $33,904 a year savings, or a whopping $610,272 for 18 years (taking into account the time span between children and when they were all old enough to stay home unsupervised together and not kill each other).  That might even cover an exclusive private college in the South of France.

I also dipped into my kids' tuition money to bankroll their childhoods.  All those swim lessons, summer camps, baseball camps, soccer fees, karate classes, ballet classes, gymnastics; trips to the beach, the zoo, the aquarium, the movies.  And don't forget the snacks--I must have spent a small fortune in goldfish crackers and fruit snacks alone. Total, for all three kids, I figure these things add up to about a million-jillion dollars.  If you round.

(Au revoir, South of France.)

And now here's my shocking, all-true-confession:  I spent my kids' college money on wild, gambling trips to Las Vegas.  Okay, they weren't so wild and my "gambling" consisted of $20 in the penny slots.  My husband and I have been going to Las Vegas for our anniversary the past six years, both for the sunshine (we live in Washington state, for cripes sake) and for the grown ups (we have three kids for cripes sake!). We spent money we probably couldn't really afford and took some time to relax with just the two of us. I like to think of this as an investment in our marriage. Total cost for all six years:  about $9,000.  If you haven't checked out costs for in-state schools lately, $9,000 will only get you through the first quarter.  I don't know what the job market looks like for someone with three months of college, but I imagine it smells a lot like McDonald's.

If you figure I saved $610,272 by not having to pay for a full-time nanny, minus the million-jillion dollars I spent on three childhoods, and then reduce it by the $9,000 dollars spent on my marriage, things start to look a little bleak.  However, if you consider the intrinsic value of a mother's love, a childhood full of enriching experiences to take with them into adulthood, and two parents who are still happily married (to each other), I think we all know what our total is:

A son who will be going off to college already in debt with student loans.

I was still feeling guilty the other day when my son and I started talking about his pending departure. The topic of classes and grades came up and he jokingly (?) said something to the effect that he doesn't have to go to class if he doesn't want, or even pass any of his classes, really. After my reaction of disapproval and dismay, he told me he was just kidding. Because--now pay attention, here's the kicker--if he was going to spend that much of his own money, he was going to make sure he was passing his classes.

Is this taking responsibility for his own future I hear? not saving money for his college fund, I was actually being a good parent?

Well, that's what I'm going with, anyway.  You all can draw your own conclusions, but I'll be over here feeling all smug and eating goldfish crackers.