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Ask Dave

Mom Wants To Go To College, Too

Jane and her husband are on Baby Step 5. Jane wants to go to graduate school but isn't sure this is a wise decision because they haven't saved for their children.

QUESTION: Jane in Boise and her husband are on Baby Step 5. They have four children, and the oldest will be ready for college in four or five years. Jane wants to go to graduate school but isn’t sure this is a wise decision because they haven’t saved for their children. Dave thinks there are some things worth sacrificing for.

ANSWER: If you go to grad school, are you going to be able to afford to send your kids to college? That’s what occurs to me with that income and with the fact that you guys have done so well with the handling of your money. You’re debt-free, you’ve got an emergency fund, you’ve got retirement going, and then you’ve got four kids heading straight for college that you’re probably going to have to virtually cash flow plus Mom. We just kind of have to work that in and decide how we’re going to pull that off. Can we pull that off? What’s the deal? What are the steps? What sacrifices do we have to make to make that happen? I think those are things worth sacrificing for. I would give up vacations to cause those things to happen. I would give up other things in your lifestyle to make that happen.

I think it’s doable. I don’t think you’re being selfish at all to say I want to learn something I haven’t known before to be something I’ve never been before. If you had to choose or not, and you’re not sure yet, but it sounds like you don’t have to make the choice. You going to school doesn’t keep them from going or it doesn’t put them in debt when they’re going. Probably. You may have to look at it to figure out how you do your grad work around that.

You need to do a couple of things here. What you’re doing is you’re starting to see empty nesting on the horizon, and you’re an active person. You’re not going to be okay with that, and so you’re saying, “What am I going to do in the next phase of my life?” That’s very smart on your part, but I’m going to tell you to take this about two steps deeper.

There are two things you’re leaving out of your explanation that means you haven’t gotten there yet. You need to get there before you spend this money and put the family through this. Thing one is you need to really define why it is you’re doing this. You don’t have to tell me, but you need to spend some time talking with your husband, talking with your pastor, praying about this, a quiet cup of coffee on the back porch. What is it that’s pushing me to do this? Otherwise, there’s no sense going to this expense if there’s not a really good why.

The second thing is what is the cost benefit analysis of this career track, this academic path? Am I going to accept that? That could mean that you get a counseling degree and you do one-on-one family and marriage counseling, and you make $120,000 a year doing that after five years of building up a practice. That’s very possible, and then the cost benefit on getting a master’s in counseling is going to be there. But if you take a $24,000 a year job working for the state as a social worker, your cost benefit’s not there. It’s all altruistic. You need to kind of think those things through. None of them are bad at your stage of life and your financial situation. None of them are stuff we would yell at and say you’re stupid. But I don’t want you to get to the other side of this and go, “I spent $50,000 getting this master’s, and now here I sit and the only thing I can find is this.” You don’t want that experience at this stage of your life.

Think through the cost benefit, and think through the why. Why do I want to do this? Why is it that that thing happens in my throat when I talk about it? You answer those questions, you’ll be ready to rock and roll. I think you can pull the financials off if you’re reasonable about your college choice, your methodology for doing your post-grad or graduate-type work. I think you can do it. I don’t think you need to spend $50,000, by the way. That was an example for drama. I really wouldn’t spend $50,000 in that field. There’s no point to.