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Friday, September 2, 2011

Cutting Off the College Graduate: Thoughts

Frugal Son--a recent graduate--has asked me this a few times: Why do parents let their kids spend extravagantly in college and then--at graduation--insist on immediate financial independence? He went on to say that many of his friends, many of whom are from families more affluent than ours, lived a snazzy college lifestyle, with cars (and insurance!), lots of clothing, meals out, and so forth.

Then, according to Frugal Son, upon graduation, the ultimatum comes: You must be independent within x months. So from the upper-middle class lifestyle of riches . . . to rags, especially in this scary job market. Frugal Son said that for some of his friends, the ultimatum came suddenly upon graduation.

Frugal Son and I were discussing the fact that it might be better for mom and dad to put a rein on the student's spending during the college years. This would teach the student how to survive a somewhat less opulent lifestyle than the one they had growing up. It would also allow the parents some time to secret away bits of cash that might otherwise have gone to meals out and clothing purchases college-style. What a gift it would be to give the graduate a small dowry of sorts to make the transition easier!

So: do you think our idea--the dowry for the recent grad--is just MORE parental over-indulgence? Or is it sensible for parents who can squirrel away some extra money?


Marcela said...

I believe it is us-parents-who have to teach financial responsibility BEFORE our children chose a college, because cost needs to be a factor to be weighed in: how is college going to be paid for? where will the money come from? if parents are paying, how will the child contribute (by working part time to afford own expenses, perhaps?), can the child apply for scholarships (merit-based? need-based?). I believe it is better to make a child at least partially responsible for the cost of his/her education from the beginning (or at least, aware of how much it all costs and the effort it implies to pay for it) than to be met at graduation with an ultimatum.
We are thinking about setting up some savings for the after college period, but I believe 30 years old would be a better age to give it to our children, we believe they will then be more mature and will make better use of it than at 21. LPC wrote a very interesting post about it, here:

Frugal Scholar said...

@Marcela--Thanks for the link and your thoughtful comments. We're not in trust fund territory here--i'm off to read that post right now.

Shelley said...

It seems to me that here in Britain, where for a while the state paid for college tuition but not living expenses, that the aim of going to university is more about having a rite of passage than getting an education. In 15 years, I've only heard of one student to lived at home whilst studying; moving away to another city seems to be a requirement of this rite. Students are assumed to be 'poor', although foreign students are assumed to be 'rich' (which is probably true, given the exhorbitant tuition they pay). However, 'poor' students are also known to live on beer and chips and party-hearty. They emerge with huge debt, damaged livers and barely increased potential for making a living. It strikes me as a big waste for many young people. Then again, it looks good on the government stats to have x% with university degrees.

Marcela said...

Oh we are not speaking about big amounts of money either, we don't have that much, we are simply considering putting some savings aside for them, but we are (very) far from rich.

Duchesse said...

It's a jolt to go from a life as a very well-supported dependent to independence. Some contribution on the child's part (as Marcela says) is a good way to prepare them for reality.

Many parents who give their kids a plush life in college justify it (to me) by saying the kid "needs" a car so she can come home on weekend, "needs" to go to that beach vacation with friends to unwind. I'm shocked by that.

Parents do not owe their children continuing support once they have helped (as much as they can) them to get an education. And if the college degree didn't equip the kid to earn a living, that's even worse parenting.

My nephew is visiting and told me of one of his friends whose son just graduated and asked his wealthy father to buy him a condo. Father refused.

Son went to bank to get loan, was turned down. Big lesson for son; father is not going to fund his lifestyle and has told son that to expect to segue into the life he had at home for 22 years (and which took the father 35 years to build) is completely unrealistic.

On a deeper level, overindulging a child is considered a form of abuse by many therapists; see Alice Miller's "The Drama of the Gifted Child".