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Ask Dave

A $21,000 Decision

Julie and her husband are on Baby Step 6 and thought they were done with college funding. Their son is considering changing to a public university. It's a $21,000 decision.

QUESTION: Julie in Denver and her husband are on Baby Step 6 and thought they were done with college funding. They make $150,000 a year with $200,000 left on their mortgage. Their son is in a private university. He’s considering changing to a public university. It’s a $21,000 decision. Dave doesn’t think this is Julie’s son’s decision to make.

ANSWER: This is a $21,000 decision. How much is he going to cover with his hard work? There are consequences when you make financial decisions. He needs to have some consequences with this decision. He’s acting like he’s in Washington or something, and he can just spend your money without asking you. He’s making a decision that’s getting ready to cost you $21,000. That’s not his decision to make. He gets to participate in the decision, and we’ll all talk about it together—why he wants to go into a different branch of the military and why that’s worth $21,000 and what he’s willing to do to cover part of that $21,000. If he’s just expecting you to write him checks like you’re in Congress, if he’s mine, he’s got another thing coming. But if he wants to work and pay for half of that, I might pay for the other half. It sounds like you can afford it—if there’s a reason for this. I’m not much on freshmen in college just deciding stuff without their parents being involved, especially when it has to do with their parents’ money.

I think when he realizes it’s going to cost him working his butt off all summer and he’s going to have to deliver pizzas at night, he might decide to go in the Air Force. When there are no repercussions to your decisions, it’s a different thing.

I’m not saying it’s a bad thing. Your family can afford it. You guys are going to be okay. What lesson does the kid get out of this and what is reasonable for you as parents to participate in this? That’s my big take on it.