Planning

Saving for College While Paying for College: The Generational Double Bind

Saving for college

Being one of eight children means your clothing is community property, finding a little privacy is about as common as a unicorn sighting, and if you want the last cupcake, you better swallow it whole or prepare to fight to the death. It also means if you want to go to college, you better be prepared to pay for it yourself.

At the age of 18, I moved out of my childhood home to attend a private college. I had scholarships and grants, but the remaining costs were still steep.

Despite working every summer and throughout the school year, I still struggled to scrape together tuition money each semester, which meant I was often the last one to sign up for classes. Once, for three weeks, I lived off Doritos because I’d spent all my food money on tuition. And I still came out of college $60,000 in debt.

Scrimping and Saving

Six years after graduating, my husband and I managed to pay for my Master’s program and knock my student loan debt down to less than half of what it was. We did it by getting serious about scrimping and saving. It was practically a competitive sport for us.

When we first got married, my husband budgeted only $5 a month for haircuts and hair products. When I balked, he stood his ground and said, “You don’t have to spend it all at once. It accumulates!”

I eventually negotiated more money for haircuts, but we still cut corners and saved like it was the Great Depression. We washed Ziplocs, reused tin foil, cut coupons, bought in bulk, shopped garage sales, and used Mint.com, of course.

And then, when the end of our penny pinching was finally in sight, I got knocked up.

While still in the process of paying off my own education, my husband and I found ourselves looking at our budget, trying to figure out how we could save for our daughter’s college. It wasn’t pretty.

A Generation Drowning in Debt

We aren’t alone. My husband and I are members of a generation that is hobbled with debt. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York reports that the average debt load for 2011 was $23,000.

Additionally, according to the Rutgers University Heldrich Center for Workforce Development, one third of Americans who graduated from college between 2006-2011 no longer believe in the American dream.

We’re all drowning.

This isn’t news, really. Between recent news coverage, current political campaigns, and probably your own bank statements, it’s obvious our generation is carrying significant student loan debt.

And now, as we get older and struggle to own homes and support young families, we are once again finding ourselves in the position of scrimping and saving for college.

Many of my friends who are parents simply aren’t saving for their child’s college education. “Let them suffer like I did!” seems to be their rallying cry to the next generation. But I disagree.

Completing college has been linked to future success, and my husband and I are determined to help our children get there, even if means date night consists of homemade pizza and reruns, and taking a romantic vacation equates to setting up a tent in a state park.

Paying for College to Save for College

In fact, I’m so committed to this dream that in order to pay down debt and start saving for baby number 2, I gave up buying clothes for an entire year. I call it my “No Pants 2012” challenge and it’s an everyday reminder that so much of what I see as an entitlement—couches, clothes, air-conditioning, etc.—is really a gift.

Two months ago, we were able to pay off one loan two months early and we’re inching closer to our goal of eliminating my college debt by early next year. “What will we do with all that money, when we don’t have to pay Sallie Mae?” I recently asked my husband. “We’ll save it for more college,” he replied.

It’s a financial future bleak enough to make anyone question starting a family. Except for us, of course. We love being parents and I can’t wait to do it all over again. So, it’s back to Ziploc washing and “No Pants!”

And as much as it hurts to realize that I might have to wait until I’m 40 before we can afford to get some real window treatments around here, it’s a first-world problem I’ll gladly live with in order to give my daughter the gift of not having to live off Doritos while she frets about paying tuition.

More importantly, it’s worth making sacrifices now in order to give her the gift of a debt-free future.

Will you save for your children’s’ college education?

Lyz Lenz is a blogger and writer, which explains why she doesn’t have a lot of money. She writes about giving up buying clothes for a year and other pressing topics on her blog LyzLenz.com