Thursday, July 29, 2010

I made my Daughter cry that day....

One of the many dangers of traveling is the tendency to "Ambush Parent" on a return home.  You have been thinking about a conversation that needs to take place, you mull, you plan, and wait in the tall grass until the offspring walks by and you strike with "Hey, have you got a minute?"  This is a largely ineffective style of parenting, and you don't have to travel to be guilty of it, but nevertheless, this is a story of it.....

     Molly was in her Junior Year of High School and the college search had already begun.  Char and I had conversed many times on the subject, but sadly Molly and I hadn't.  (At this point the author needs to address any misconceptions that anyone reading this might have that he parents alone.  My wife does the majority of this with a style and grace not shared by many, but she does defer some things that she doesn't feel as strongly about, to me. We each have our comfort zones and are only too happy to "Team Parent")  We had asked (required) Molly to spend some time each week on applying for scholarships, and she did as asked (required), but the caliber of the ones she chose was questionable at best.   Molly never did get the "Snap, Crackle, Pop"  Scholarship, but I often wonder who did.  Molly had an idea of where she wanted to go, what she wanted to study, and where she wanted to live after that, but the financial discussion had yet to take place.

     Catching her was going to be difficult as she had already started to spend more time away from the home than in it. Cheer-leading, work, boyfriend, parties, study sessions they all conspired to keep this conversation from happening, but finally one Saturday it did. I had prepared a spreadsheet that included the costs of tuition, room and board, interest on loans, living expenses after graduation, and offset it with the likely income (starting salary) of her chosen profession.  See, when you "Ambush Parent" you have to be more prepared than your prey, since when executed, it is a total surprise to them.  I was more prepared, she had no idea what hit her.

     She walked into our dining room where we had our computer at the time, and failed to notice the 2 chairs that were sitting in front of it.  I ushered her over and invited her over to "Check this out" and the trap was sprung!  I barraged her with questions about her future plans and entered each answer into the spreadsheet, and when finished, I hit the calculate button.  It clearly showed that the plan, as stated, would result in an inability for her to repay her student loans by about $400 a month.  It was factual, realistic and stark, and when I turned around after admiring my handiwork, my daughter was in tears. Her face was red with anger and hurt, her hands were clenched, her upper lip was quivering, and her eyes spoke volumes through the salty brine.  She fled the room shortly thereafter.  I was stunned.  I thank God often that he chose to give us one daughter, because that is the exact number that I think I can handle, except for that day when the number was 1 lower.

      The conversation eventually took place, and with all things of this importance, it wasn't one conversation, it was a series of them that were held, and examined and re-examined over time.  Molly got accepted to almost every school she applied to (Syracuse - what was up with the Wait List BS?).  The most prestigious was N.Y.U., but the scholarship offer didn't balance the spreadsheet.  She eventually chose the University of Buffalo.  It was a core school, it offered many majors, it was a huge campus like she wanted, they stepped up with a great merit scholarship, and the tuition was reasonable.  The spreadsheet grew even more reasonable when she switched her major to nursing last year and moved off campus this year.  In spite of the rough start, I think the plan is working, and Molly has more than once thanked us for helping her to choose so wisely.  She will get a great education, but with the minimal debt, so she can choose to live where she would like, and start a building a home sooner if she wishes. 

     The next few paragraphs offer some targeted advice to the participants of this process.  I make no claim on being an expert at this, but the unsolicited advice follows anyway.....

     Parents - Yes, start saving early, but also make your children save.  My parents rule was half of the money earned goes to the bank for college.  I saw no reason to change it.  Molly worked corn stands, a farm, retail and nursing homes for near minimum wage, and she banked $5,000 prior to college.  Share the expense with your children even if you can afford to pay it all.  They will take better ownership of it.  Have the tough conversations with them, even if they cry. Our society is making these kids make one of the largest financial decisions of their lives when their brains aren't even fully developed.  They need your guidance.  Shop for a college like you would a car.  Check the costs, the placement rates, the faculty, and always remember that they are selling their product and your children are buying it.  The financial aid is negotiable, so make sure to push back.  We share the expense of college with our kids, and pay the interest on their loans while they are attending school.

     College Students - Go to class.  You are paying a lot of money to be there, enjoy the experience, but make the grade.  Take the number of classes that you can handle.  Work when possible, even while in school, if only to offset your living expense.  Bank some money in the summer.  Keep a good eye on your schedule so you finish on time or even early.  Live at home if you can.  Meet with your counselors, and network with your instructors.  Those who do will find an easier time finding work out of school.  Don't defer loan payments unless absolutely necessary.  Live within your means when you exit school, and get rid of this debt as soon as you can.  Develop a plan B, if it looks unlikely you will start in your field.  Adjust your plan to allow yourself to travel where there is work, you can always come back in the future. 

     High School Students - Take advantage of the last free education you will likely ever get.  Study harder on tests that will allow you to opt out of courses in the future.  Study for the SAT!  (Dad, you can't study for the SAT.)  OK then, REVIEW for the SAT!.  Gather your friends, do it in groups, do a question a day all year, but do it.  Apply for scholarships, the real ones, not the lotteries.  Shop your schools, follow your dreams, but be realistic and talk to those who have gone before you.  Consider the military, it's still a good deal.  Work and save the money.  Lastly, step up and ask your folks to talk with you about the finances.  You can avoid the Ambush, and we truly don't like it when you cry. 


Anonymous said...

1.) That "Snap, Crackle, Pop" scholarship was totally legit. I was like THIS close to getting it, I swear.

2.) That "putting 1/2 of everything you earn away for school thing" was even MORE legit... probably one of the things I am MOST thankful for that you required of me.

3.) Correction: I have NEVER worked at a nursing home. I have worked at two ASSISTED LIVING facilities. The difference is important!
(...important, and continent.)

4.) You really should have quoted Danny on the "Dad, you can't study for the SAT" line! hahaha

Bill said...


I'll give you a couple of these, but if I attributed the quote on #4, it would have to be to BOTH of you.