What You Owe Your Kids

College, Family, Kids, Retirement, Saving

May 20, 2021

In the heat of raising kids, it can be so difficult to say no out of love, rather than yes out of fear. 

You equate saying no as denying a child, or not giving them everything you wish you had as a child. 

I totally get it. 

But I will never stop asking you to step back and really think about the long-term cost of putting your kids’ desires ahead of your own needs. 

This is such a huge problem when your kids hit high school. When you say yes to telling your kid to not worry about the cost of college and to just shoot for the school they like the most, you are giving in to the fear of disappointing them. You do this despite the fact it may upend your own financial security. 

The latest annual survey from the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) reports that more than 4 out of 10 workers say the cost of saving for or paying for a child’s education is reducing how much they can save for retirement. 

As far as I am concerned, that means that more than 4 out of 10 workers are setting up their adult kids for a rough road ahead. 

When you aren’t saving enough for your own retirement, how do you think that is going to play out? Don’t tell me you will just save more later once they are out of school, or that you will just work longer. Both sound like reasonable plans, but EBRI and others have reams of research showing that’s not how it plays out in real life for many households.  

And that makes it likely that when you are in your 70s and 80s (and 90s!) your now very-adult kids are going to either spend time, or money, or both, to help you. Whether they outright help cover some of your living costs, or end up needing to step in as caregiver because you can’t afford to hire some help and support, their life will be very much about making sure you are okay. 

And that big ask will come at a time when they are likely raising kids of their own, which makes the financial and time commitment to care for you even more demanding. 

Of course, they will do it out of love. Maybe you did the same for your parents (or are doing it right now). But are you sure you want to extend this family dynamic? 

Saying no to the too expensive college today is how you start to break it. It is the choice that can make it possible to keep building your retirement security. That is what you owe your kids. Out of love. 

But I want to be very clear. You are not saying no to college. You are saying no to college at any cost. There are plenty of ways to keep college affordable. State schools, community college—there are great careers to be had with a 2-year degree—or putting in the legwork to focus on private 4-year schools where your family will be a candidate for enough aid that it will not require you to stop saving for your future. 

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