Saving for Retirement vs College Funding

A trend of high student debt has developed in recent years and decades that has left many soon to be retired Americans with a choice: do I fund my child’s college education, to help them fulfill their dream or do I continue to fund my retirement, in order to live a comfortable life later on?  For many, this pulls at the heart string, because everyone wants to do as much for their child as possible.  But experts agree, that there can be a major down side to neglecting your retirement in order to fund your child’s college education.

We, as parents, want the best for our children.  We raise them with the best experiences we can give them, from extracurricular activities to family vacations.  This continues, for many, even after their children leave the home to go study at college.  With college tuitions rising drastically, many parents are left with the decision of letting their children take out loans, which may put them into exponential debt after college, derailing them from being able to choose a job, but instead accepting a job to simply pay their student debt.  Or, the parents borrow or stop investing in their retirement in order to save their children from huge student debt.  Although there are programs and loans through the government, that help students to pay lower interest rates, it is tough for many parents to teach their children that they can be whatever they want to be, when in reality, their children may not be able to fund a career because of oppressing student debt.

If the parents choose to fund their child’s college education, there are, for some, the hope that their child will take care of them in their retirement years.  The idea is that their children are an investment, and that the investment will pay off for them during their retirement years, when their child is a world renowned doctor or successful business person.  The downside to this thinking is the stress that this may put on the child AND the relationship between the child and parent.  There are many cultures where children are expected to take care of their parents, from Europe to Asia, the Middle East to Africa.  Unfortunately, this is not a trend that has translated into many family cultures in America.  Instead, sociological studies show that we tend to value the individual over the benefit of the group as a whole.  Obviously, this varies from family to family, but as a whole society, many children move away and want to live their lives.  This is not meant to be a negative observation, but rather one that looks at the reality of what our society values.

With this mentality intact, isn’t it fair to translate this need to take care of oneself into parenthood?  There is a trend in Mommy circles imploring mothers to take time for themselves.  This may be in reaction to the idea that the mother (and father as well) are to be sacrificial for the family.  But the analogy that gets used over and over again is, that if your glass is not full how can you give to your family?  And it’s fair to translate this into retirement savings.  If we do not invest wisely in our own retirement, then how can we be independent later on in life?