Category Archives: work

Room & Board When You Choose Not to Go To College

Gary Vee quote about winning

Hannah still lives at home. I’m fine with that at least until she would have otherwise graduated from college (2020). She’s anxious to get out on her own as soon as she can. I’m guessing by the end of summer (2017) she’ll have her own place.

She’s looking at really nice (and expensive) apartments. The range is anywhere from $800-$1200 per month. She wants 2 bedrooms. She pictures herself having an extra room for a studio. She doesn’t want a roommate.

I can feel you rolling your eyes already. You’re probably thinking how spoiled and unrealistic it is for a 19 year-old to spend so much on her first apartment. Shouldn’t she find the cheapest apartment or a roommate? Shouldn’t she learn what it feels like to struggle and live in a crap hole? Who does she think she is?

If that’s your reaction, it’s interesting that you don’t say the same about Hannah’s friends who spend almost as much for student housing even when they could commute. (Or choose a college close to home in order to save money by commuting).

Your brain comes up with all kinds of rationalizations that make the on-campus living expense acceptable and desirable over Hannah’s situation.

Let’s Compare for Fun

For this scenario, let’s assume that Hannah finds a 2 bedroom apartment for $1,000 plus some utilities (water and sewage is included in the rent but she’ll have to pay for gas/electric, internet and cable if she wants it and food).

Room and Board at local colleges range from $10K-12K or more. For the sake of this thought exercise, we’ll say $11,000. So, a little less than $1,000 per month. That includes meals. Except most parents complain that they have no choice about the meal plan or extra food allowance. Use it or lose it. So, I think that balances out. I know plenty of kids who never eat in the cafeteria so someone’s paying for their Chipolte-it usually ain’t the student.

“Rent” vs. “Room and Board”

  1. I won’t be paying Hannah’s rent or other expenses. Plus my household expenses will likely decrease when she’s out of the house (those 40 minute showers aren’t free).

Many parents pay for tuition plus room and board, drain their retirement funds or take out loans…for 4 years or morePlus they still pay for their kids living expenses during summers and breaks for the entire 4 years.

2. Hannah won’t be borrowing money for her rent or other living expenses. By the time she rents a place, she’ll have an emergency fund saved up in case her expected income doesn’t cover her rent, utilities, food and car expenses. Hopefully, she won’t need it and still have $5,000-$10,000 saved.

Most students borrow to cover the cost of college including room and board. (Avg. debt in PA $37,000)

3. Hannah can choose where she lives, how much she wants to spend and who her roommates will be (if she wants/needs them).

Most students have limited choices about dorms and roommates. Good luck getting a single.

4. Hannah will learn how to budget and pay her own bills.

Most college students are oblivious to the costs associated with student housing. There’s no reason to budget except maybe for parties and pizza.

5. Hannah will learn over the course of the year whether the cost of the apartment is worth it to her. If she finds herself scrambling to pay rent or is stressed by her workload to maintain the lifestyle, she can always find a cheaper place, a roommate, more clients or try to raise her prices. That’s a lot of valuable experience. I could lecture her about all that but nothing beats learning by experience. She also might try Air B n B to supplement her rent expenses.

Some college students get an apartment near campus to save money on student housing but still borrow for it or their parents pay for it. Most students I know don’t write the checks for rent and utilities. I’m not criticizing, just saying they aren’t learning this skill.

6. Even if Hannah struggles to pay for her own place more than she expects, I think the thought of returning home will spur creative solutions to maintain her independence.

Most college students move back home after graduation. Many are forced to live with their parents even after they find work because student loan payments are so high. 

I certainly don’t want Hannah to struggle with rent because she bites off more than she can chew but I’d rather she get a feel for it now. It’s best to make mistakes with money when you don’t have dependents or a 30-year mortgage.

I’ll worry less about Hannah’s safety if she lives in a nicer place (maybe that’s not rational). I’ll certainly miss her but am excited for her to take this step. I’m all for her trying different things while she’s young and isn’t burdened by a lot of financial responsibilities.

If she can manage to afford a beautiful apartment in a city that she loves and is close by, I’ll be happy for both of us!

 

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Dear High School Guidance Counselor….

school yard

original image credit: Francisco Galarza via unsplash.com

I know it’s your job to “guide” students. I get the impression that you believe it’s your job to direct them toward college-no matter the expense or their interest in going.

I understand you met with a group of Juniors the other day during their English class. You had them enter their email addresses on a site that asked them a litany of questions to help them decide what to study in college.

Is it true that you told the kids who don’t plan to go to college to reconsider? Did you also tell them not to answer something stupid (your word) like “be a nanny” on questions about their plans after high school?

I won’t take that remark personally even though my daughter has told you on several occassions that she plans to nanny when she graduates in order earn money to pursue other goals. You probably weren’t interested enough to learn that she’s a gifted, conscientious and engaged child-care provider who loves to be with kids of all ages. She tells them stories, plans projects and crafts, invents games, fixes meals and reads with them. In short, she’s happy when she’s with her younger cousins or small clients. I think hers is an excellent plan that will provide a lot of flexibility. Before you go there, no, she doesn’t want to be a teacher. She doesn’t want to watch 25-30 kids at a time, just a few.

My daughter has a keen understanding of her interests, skills, gifts, strengths and weaknesses. She’s lucky that she doesn’t need a computer program for that. My guess is that lots of kids know these things about themselves but when they try to communicate them to you, you don’t really listen to them. Instead, you dismiss their ideas and try to pigeon-hole them into a pre-defined, acceptable major or career.

Being a nanny isn’t “stupid”. High-quality child care is a valuable service. Responsible and experienced providers are in demand and can earn a lucrative income and unique experiences all without the burden of debt. Many full-time nannies can earn more than their college-educated peers and enjoy benefits like free housing, meals, transportation (including discretionary access to a car), all-expense-paid vacations and paid vacation time.

My daughter and I have spent a lot of time discussing how she can develop her interests and skills to create a career, multiple streams of income and a lifestyle that she chooses.  Regardless of whether someone else regards it as successful, acceptable or adequate.

The job you decided to mock is irrelevant. My point is, it’s unprofessional and narrow-minded to dismiss certain occupations or paths to a fulfilling life. Your job is to support students and help them find every resource available to pursue an idea, a vocation, a career or a dream even if it doesn’t align with your idea of a respectable profession. Steering a diverse group of students down one, narrow path doesn’t serve them, even if it does serve your ego.

Did you know that 40% of students drop out of college without a degree? Do you think maybe they were steered toward college as the only option by people like you?  Yes, I’m suggesting you’re partially to blame. Do you ever advise students who are unsure about their future to work for a few years or go to community college?

Did you know that some of your students borrow as much as $80,000 for an undergraduate degree?  The average student debt for a college education is $37,000. Do you think that’s advisable? I don’t.

One more thing. Quit sharing my kids’ email addresses with colleges and military recruiters. Even kids who are interested in college don’t want to be spammed by them. My kids know where to enlist if they decide to go that route.

I was tempted to email you about this recent presentation but decided against it because my children are insulated from your narrow views and I realize I will not change your mind or your tactics. They know they have my support and encouragement to pursue any path or no path and work until they figure something out. Some will likely go to college but probably not with much assistance from you.

Yours truly.

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Why I Regret Starting a 529 Plan for My Kids

why-not-to-save-in-a-529-plan

Let’s be clear: I don’t regret saving for the kids’ future. I regret limiting that fund for college.

Like many young parents, Mark and I were anxious to start saving for college. A 529 plan was the no-brainer option at the time. The fund grows tax-free and as long as the money is used for a “qualified education expense”, the interest is never taxed. There can also be state tax deductions for contributions.

So, here’s why I regret saving in a 529: There are so many valuable and practical ways to learn outside of college that can’t be funded by a 529 without paying taxes and penalties on the interest.

Nineteen years ago (the year Hannah was born), college appeared to be the only and best way to have a career and wasn’t nearly as expensive. In 1996, 52% of Bachelor’s degree recipients carried student loans averaging $12,000 (which is the same amount I graduated from college with in 1990). Today, at least 71% of college graduates have student loans averaging $37,000.

In contrast to the 1990s, high school students can begin to teach themselves skills that add value to a fast-paced, global economy. College is required for some professions (academia, law, medicine) but isn’t for many others.

Apprenticeship programs, gap years, online certification programs, fellowships, world travel and small business opportunities are all valuable and practical alternatives to college that can’t be paid for with 529 funds without penalty.

 They’re one form of university welfare. The other forms are private loans, grants and government-subsidized loans. Students aren’t really the beneficiaries of these forms of assistance when a degree doesn’t guarantee a job or skills that employers say are lacking in most college graduates. (Don’t believe me, read this book about the skills gap).

Hannah graduated from high school and has no plans to attend college. Instead, she’s participating in a program that matches highly motivated young people with a small business or startup willing to train them.

Praxis charges tuition but boasts a net-zero cost because the total payment is less than the guaranteed pay the participant receives from the business partner during the apprenticeship. In addition to skills training, Praxis offers one-on-one mentorship, weekly group discussions and guidance on personal and professional development projects. Every participant has a tangible body of work to show potential employers at the conclusion of the program. The Praxis model has been so effective that business partners now commit to a full-time offer with a minimum salary of $40,000 for participants. No college will guarantee that.

By the time her classmates graduate, Hannah will likely have saved as much or more than they have borrowed in the same time period. She’ll be earning as much or more and she’ll likely be living on her own. Compared to other 18-34-year-olds, who, for the first time ever, are living with parents more than any other living arrangement.

So, what to do with all that money we saved for college? We could transfer the 529 to one of Hannah’s siblings.  We put that money aside for Hannah, though, and frankly, I’d rather see it go to photo equipment (Hannah’s business), studio space, even a car, than an over-priced college.

Even though she’ll pay taxes (at her rate) and a 10% penalty on the interest, we’ve decided to use the money in Hannah’s 529 plan to pay the tuition for Praxis. The interest and penalty combined don’t compare to the interest that most students will end up paying for the lifetime of the loans they’re taking.

I’m not so put-off by the taxes owed because if we had it in any other type of fund, we would have been paying taxes on the interest all along. The penalty stings a little since she’s using the money for a program that has a guaranteed ROI and is tens of thousands less than college would have been.

Hopefully, 529 rules will expand with growing opportunities in our rapidly-changing world that make more sense than college. Any changes will likely come too slowly to help my children.

I’m not sure what will happen when the college bubble finally pops. Likely, even those who opt out will be stuck holding the bag. University Provosts everywhere will continue to receive their bloated salaries or maybe they’ll run for the hills taking their golden parachutes with them.

Rethink opening that 529. There are other ways to save in a high-growth fund for a minor. You can still use that money for college but you’ll have other options.

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Creativity in an Uncreative Career

volkan-olmez-photo

Photo Credit: Volkan Olmez | Unsplash.com

I recently had a chat with a young neighbor (22) who just finished up a year-long internship toward her certification as a Registered Dietician. She still has to take an exam to be official.

When I heard that she moved to Memphis for an internship in a VA hospital (apparently, they’re hard to find), I remember being impressed that she was willing to get out of her comfort zone by moving away from the safety net of her family and a city that she loves. Now that it’s over, she told me the best part about the internship was realizing that she doesn’t want to be in a hospital setting. I see that as a win and extremely valuable.

What surprised me is that her supervisors and co-workers continued to steer her into a hospital setting even though she was sure she didn’t like it. “Gotta pay your dues.” “Maybe you can eventually get into an admin position.” “Anything else takes years of experience to qualify.”

In other words, the conventional, “safe” path is so narrow….even for an RD. From what my friend was saying, it looks something like this:

  1. Hospital planning gross institutional meals for sick people. (Did you want Sprite with that meatloaf?)
  2. Some other institutional situation when you get burned out from the first job.

Look around, people, we’re living in a society suffering from an epidemic of obesity, unhealth, and non-nutrition. It doesn’t take much creativity to apply an interest in health and nutrition, a passion for food and cooking (this young woman started her own cooking blog in high school) and a B.S. in Nutrition and Dietetics to a non-hospital setting.

Luckily my friend is creative and looked beyond the barriers that her colleagues were putting in front of her. During her last week in Memphis, she reached out to an entrepreneur in Birmingham who prepares and delivers ready-made meals (including Paleo, gluten-free and dairy-free) for clients ranging from families to young professionals to seniors. The subscription options include hot dinners, microwave-ready lunches, weekly breakfasts, snacks and drinks.

Business is booming in Birmingham and the owner wants my friend’s help to expand into Nashville. She’s moving to Birmingham next week to start. Although the job doesn’t require a degree, it won’t hurt when creating new menus for health-conscious customers with specific nutritional needs. Whether the business is something she’ll be passionate about a year from now, she’ll get a first-hand look at running a high-energy business in an unfamiliar city (cities). It’s what I call 3-D learning in real time. Plus she’ll have an outlet for her creative side.

I so admire this young person’s courage in creating a unique opportunity for herself that rejects narrow-minded conventions. Good Luck to her and I’ll keep you posted on other cool things that young people are doing to take life and work into their own hands.

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