Thoughts on Paying for College

I was a screw-up in high school, and so my college choices were very limited. As I remember, it was either the local two-year community college or the college of Vietnam. I chose the community school.

My entire college costs, including tuition at $400 per semester, were covered by the income I earned working as a painter on evenings and weekends. If I needed extra money, I took on a few hours of extra work, scrapping wallpaper or painting overhangs.

Graduate school – at the University of Michigan and at Catholic University – was more expensive. But I still managed to pay for it all out of the income I was earning at the time.

Those were the days.

I always said that I’d never pay for my children’s education – that I’d give them the same opportunity I had: to pay their own way through college. When the time came, though, I didn’t have the courage to do it. K and I paid for almost all of our boys’ expenses. The only thing we didn’t give them was pocket money.

Compared to some of our affluent friends, we were being abstemious. But I thought we were fairly generous. Still, it made me feel good to deny them something. If they wanted beer and movie money, I figured they would have to get part-time jobs. And they did.

Since we were so “generous” to our own children, I thought we should “help out” our nieces and nephews too. So, about 15 years ago, I set up a fund for them. Every month, I throw a few thousand dollars into an index fund. And when some unexpected money comes in, I throw in some of that too.

That fund has gotten to be pretty substantial. It’s grown enough to pay about two years of tuition, room and board for all 17-plus nieces and nephews.

I suppose I could spring for their other two years – but I don’t think that would be fair to either their parents or to the kids themselves.

[Ed. Note: Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]