pay for college

What If There Isn’t a College Fund?

In Will Ferrell’s movie “The House”, Will’s character learned that his 401k didn’t actually contain $401,000, and instead of disappointing his daughter, he was forced to open an illegal casino.  After a month, he netted a quarter million for college.  I never understood why his goal wasn’t 50 grand for tuition for the first year, but it all worked out, in the movie.  Unfortunately, Mrs. JumpStart is stubborn, and won’t give me permission to copy his brilliant idea.  What if there isn’t a college fund?

The truth is, we didn’t really save for our son’s college.  During JumpStart Jack’s junior year of high school, we had minimal college savings, and hadn’t even opened a 529 account. Today, my son’s freshman year is paid in full, and we have a plan for him graduate without any debt.

What if there isn’t a college fund?

Just pay the bills as they come.

Do we have high incomes, leaving thousands of dollars available each month?

Nope.  As public school teachers, I doubt many people would describe us as rich.  With our salary and rental income, we bring in about $90,000 per year, after taxes.

Did our son qualify for lots of financial aid or scholarships?

Nope.  The only need-based aid offered was the standard $5500 Stafford loan, which we declined.  I have examined the FAFSA process closely, and have abandoned the idea of trying to manipulate our EFC lower, in order to qualify for need-based aid. Despite flashier options, Jack chose a more affordable and less prestigious state public school, where his price was reduced further by a $3,000 merit scholarship. 

Our Financial Shape.

People on the outside might wonder about our financial shape. Mrs. JumpStart’s car is a 2008, and my “new” Honda has over 133,000 miles on it.  Our house has central air, but it has been broken since 2014.  Our 2 year old cell phones weren’t top of the line when we purchased them.

We may not have been focused on saving for college, but we have recently become more careful with our finances.  We have the cash and credit for newer cars, home repairs, and new electronics, but have decided to wait.  It has been 7 years since we had car payments.  We have no student loans or consumer debt, and our only debt payments are for mortgages.  The home mortgage has a low interest rate, and the payment is less than $900.  Our townhouse at the beach has an even lower monthly payment, and the rent earns a small profit.

It is possible for us to pay cash for college as the tuition bills come.

We have committed $18,000 per year for our son, leaving us with $72,000.  $72,000 happens to be very close to the medium household income in the United States, and the US is one of the richest countries in the world.  We are actually quite blessed, with this income.

Some people believe if only they made a little more, they could help with college.  There are people bringing home $130,000, who believe they are barely getting by.  Educators frequently talk about how poorly we are paid, and I have thoughts about that.  However, this isn’t the time, and whining doesn’t help anything.  Our dual teacher family nets $90,000, and we can pay cash for college.

There may be sacrifices.

Changes may be necessary.  We couldn’t pay cash for college if we had a large mortgage and 2 car payments.  We won’t be spending $4000 on a vacation this year (We’ll travel hack.).  My summer unemployment can’t include expensive home improvements. Mrs. JumpStart switched to a cheaper gym where she could work a few hours per week.  My son didn’t get to take his Volvo to college with him.  It is in the back yard with no plates, and no insurance bill.

Students can contribute, and earn their own money.

It may be unreasonable for a typical kid to earn $20,000 while attending school full time, but that kid can certainly earn $5,000.  My 15 year old daughter JumpStart Jill probably brings in $100 per week with a couple of hostess shifts, occasional babysitting, and grandparent donations.  College kids like my son, can easily average $100 per week.  When Jack spends his own money on textbooks, he shops around for the cheapest option.

Expenses actually decrease after your kid leaves for college.

Savings include groceries, utility bills, gasoline, soccer, etc.  We spent about $2000 on travel soccer, school soccer, and public school fees during Jack’s senior year.  Those expenses are gone.

There are potential tax savings as well.  I haven’t done my taxes yet, but the 1098-T form recently arrived from Radford University.  Thanks to the American Opportunities Tax Credit, we should qualify for an extra $2500 back on our taxes this year.

Cost of attendance estimates.

Some of the estimates listed for cost of attendance aren’t necessarily accurate.  Radford University listed $2900 per year for “other expenses.”  I’m not giving my son 3 grand for “other expenses,” when he has a full meal plan, and a dorm room on a college campus, 45 minutes from home.

Students don’t need a pile of money burning a hole in their pockets.  They have food, shelter and everything they need. Their purpose of being there is getting an education and earning their degree.

Some kids will look around, and become jealous of their fellow student’s lack of responsibility, and fat wallets.  Watch for an upcoming post addressing my opinions on this issue soon.

Bottom line.

Our family can afford to live on $72k per year, and we are still comfortable.  In fact, we never stopped our monthly $500 Roth-IRA contributions.  We feasted on steak and lobster for dinner Sunday night.  Earnings from Jack’s part time job, occasional grandparent donations, and our $18k contribution are enough for him to live on campus, attending a state university, without loans.

Thank you to HCF for the relevant meme below.

no college fund

Posted in Most popular posts, Paying for college..


  1. I really like your message here. You’ve picked your priorities and you are working within your means to make them happen. Bravo!

    • Thanks HCF. Those memes are awesome, except that Joker still creeps me out after that disappearing pencil scene. Did you create them based on my post? Can I add them to the post, with a link back to your site?

      • Sure thing, go with it 😉 Joker is the only guy made worth watching Batman at all and Heath Ledger was genius in that role. I had some plans on writing a whole post about the lessons (some of them were financial after all) he taught, just did not managed to write yet.

  2. I wish I had made better school decisions like your son. Had a full ride to an out-of-state state school, but went the more prestigious route instead. With no parental support. That ended my traditional schooling tenure quick! Eventually went back, but I wish I had done things right the first time.

  3. I guess your son didn’t qualify for work study, but it definitely doesn’t mean he can’t work while in school! I did work study in college and found another job outside of college. It was about 30 hours/week of work, plus a full time school schedule, but I made an extra several hundred dollars a month which paid for my food (didn’t have a meal plan) and books.

    Having a full schedule like that also kept me out of most of the “heavy partying” than can derail college students, too 😉 It didn’t keep me out of debt, but it reduced the amount I had.

    • He didn’t qualify for work study, but there are open jobs around campus. My son’s roommate found a job in the dining hall the first week.
      Fortunately a local Asian restaurant will give my son hours whenever he is town. They treat him well. He makes better than minimum wage and they feed him every shift he works.

  4. I just shake my head when kids from middle class homes talk about having six figures in student loan debt, especially if they have degrees that do not have direct paths to high-paying jobs. I’m sorry, but it makes no sense at all to borrow $25,000 per year so you can go to St. Whomever private regional liberal arts college. $15,000 per year should take care of tuition, room and board at most state universities, and in most fields, any college is good enough. While Harvard or Yale or the like could give you a good ROI, in the right fields

  5. Living without car payments is addictive isn’t it? I can’t see ever going back to the dark side.

    I firmly believe that if I had been required to work – at least a few hours a week – while in school I would’ve done better and finished sooner. I had way too much unstructured time.

    Enjoyed reading about your approach.

    • In my college days, I worked construction summer break, spring break, and Christmas break. I worked whenever I was home, but never at school. By the end of the summer, I was tired, and ready to go back to school.

  6. Love the message. I think when there’s no college fund and no financial aids, the student might be even more driven to find a way to fund his/her own education.

  7. $18K per year seems like a lot of money! So far my daughters average $8K per year for tuition, so much cheaper in Canada. They both received scholarships in their first year but it wasn’t very much.

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