My husband and I have had a few frightening conversations over the past few days. They were about college. Saving for college.
He and I both went to college, both have advanced degrees, and are aware that at least a Bachelor’s appears necessary to make a living for one’s self (and even that depends on the degree). Between the two of us, we could buy a small island nation with the amount of our student loans, and I often peek at our balances, hoping someone makes a clerical error and either a) cuts the amount owed in half, or b) deletes the account completely. Neither has happened yet, and my husband assures me that “people don’t make mistakes with money.”
I was fine with the hypothetical drive to the dorm. I was fine with signing that first tuition check. And I was fine with the fact that they’d probably spend most of their time hunched uncomfortably over a toilet or sleeping until 3pm.
And then some apparently unrealized fantasies rose up through my body and trickled out my mouth.
“Well, what if they don’t go to college? What if they don’t want to? What if they don’t need to?” I asked, not pausing for answers in between.
He peeked up at me from under the table, picking up food, as usual, “Well, what do you mean, what if they don’t go to college?”
“Well, what if they’re naturally gifted and don’t need a college education in order to be successful in what they do? What if one of them’s a savant? What if they want to travel? What if they want to see the world?” I asked, feeling like I had a fairly legitimate point.
“I know a lot of people,” I persisted. “I went to high school with a lot of people who decided to travel, or wait to go to college.”
Apparently, I rocked my husband’s world completely, and he continued to stare at me incredulously, as if I had just invited Lady Gaga over for Earl Grey and taquitos.
He continued to wipe the floor. “Well,” I continued, determined to make a point, “What if one of them is a singer or a dancer or a musician, and…” I trailed off, knowing that my line of thinking wasn’t going very far with him.
“I don’t really think it’s the safest thing for a young person to travel the world,” he said calmly, “and I think the money should not be for educational purposes, not to travel.”
This is a key difference between us. I am more, well, dreamy, and he’s definitely more pragmatic. I delight in seeing where the chips fall, where he doesn’t throw the chips in the air in the first place. A perfect amalgamation of art and science, we two. A perfect combination of tangible and intangible. A perfect mixture of sun and clouds.
So. We were at an impasse. We let the conversation lie, as most do in our toddler-flecked world, and forgot about it for a few days.
Last night, over a simmering pan of chicken chili, we revisited the issue.
“Why don’t you look up college saving plans?” he asked as he stirred the chili.
I found a few websites, and started to play with a few calculators.
“How much do you want to put away for each?” I asked naively.
“Whatever would cover an undergraduate degree,” he responded. And, oh, my dear, sweet Jehovah, were we in for a shock.
Three children, essentially entering college at the same time, with calculations adjusted for inflation and a 5% increase in college tuition per year, would cost us $900 per month. At the very least.
Nine hundred dollars a month. For the next seventeen years. And according to one calculator, they would still be short. By ninety thousand dollars. Each. I stared at the screen, desperately changing amounts, timetables, types of colleges, and still came up short.
I then started to mentally calculate what we could do without, what we could cancel, in order to make this happen.
And then I did what I always do when large expenses loom in our faces. I attempted to delay. “Uh, can we start this after the first of the year?”
I think he said no. I’m not sure, though. I’m holding out hope.
This is one of the first harsh realities of our family situation. We would have three children in college at the same time, that is, unless they follow my dreams and run off to Europe or off with the circus. Maggie would be very good with the circus, actually. And she’d get to see the world.
I try to see the best in our situation, given that we’ve moved into The Money Pit, and that beginning to provide for our children’s education is the responsible choice. But when you think about the things I’d rather delay, like planning retirement and college funds, stuff starts to get real. As in really expensive. And my not-yet-purchased purses and my imagined vacations and all of my moments-old fantasies begin to dry up. Because we’re saving for the future. And for me, that means we sacrifice our now.
It may not be rational, and it may not be the way things really are, but in my mind that’s what it is. Or in my heart. I suppose my husband’s thinking with his mind. Much to my dismay, people actually don’t get by on fairy dust and dreams.
Perhaps I should try out for his team instead. Because I don’t think my heart is going to pay anyone’s way through college, and it would surely be nice for them not to feel the lifelong burden of student loan debt the way we do.