After paying a batch of monthly bills last night, my wife and I sat down to go through our budget. After reviewing the day-to-day numbers, she asked me to pull up our investments and within 20 minutes we knew exactly what we have in all our retirement accounts and how much is put away for our boys’ college education. We located a few online calculators, plugged in the numbers, ran a few different scenarios for rate of return, and were able to leave the table with a better understanding of two things:

  1. the work we’ve done;
  2. the work that needs to be done.

As I walked into the kitchen, I shared the appropriate numbers with Jack (13) and he replied, “Wow, that’s more than I thought we had.” The wisdom of sharing this with an 8th grader may be lost on some, but we’ve tried to be very open with him about how much college costs and what we’re doing to help.

In Building the University of You: 10 Critical Questions to Find the Best College Fit, I implore parents to have this discussion as early as possible – with each other and then with their kids. In fact, it’s question #2 in the book: “Who pays for what and when?” 

We don’t have everything set in stone, but we do have a basic understanding among the three of us that answers that very question. And it’s more than just an answer to a question in a book; it’s a contract.

We will do this and this is what we expect from you.

He gets that. Last night was a chance to remind him, “Hey, this is what we have saved up…how are you doing?” His plan is to find a job this summer while he builds up a solid base of babysitting clients in the months ahead. Sounds good to me.

I love that feeling of knowing vs. the anxiety that can cripple. I love the feeling of working together as a team to accomplish these goals vs. allowing money matters to create a wedge between us. The challenge seems less daunting, and more…heroic. That’s a big word but I don’t think it’s too strong to describe the importance of the journey or the end goal.

Moms and Dads, sit your kids down and talk to them about paying for college. And if the only thing you can say with certainty is that “we don’t have this whole thing figured out, but we’re going to get more information and work on this together,” then I say Amen to that. It’s a start.

I’ve got some great ideas for how to approach this discussion in the book, and you can download the Kindle version right now to get started.