Parents fret over the costs of college; so do students. However, each party’s reactions to concerns over the multi-thousands of dollars per year costs of college can differ. The degree of challenge in working together to pay for a college experience can depend on the family’s communication patterns, which may determine the ability to bridge any possible differences in concerns over the expense of college. Based on my decade of advising hundreds of families, the more open both parents and students can be about the family’s finances and each of their concerns about the effects of college expenses–predicted and real–on the family’s financial resources, the greater the ability to work together.
Families who start the open dialogue about family finances before the Junior year of high school, sharing how money is spent and saved, can set a foundation for discussing how to best fund college. Also, teaching kids the value of waiting, saving and earning the funds for large purchases of desired items is helpful. The transparency of the family’s resources and patience gained through working to buy big, desired items can help both parents and teenagers approach the process of paying for college more objectively. Then, the family will have established communication patterns and understanding of the overall financial resources that will be available to each child to help them with college. In addition, each child may better know his/her capabilities in earning their own money to pay for their college education. Plus, if there’s multiple children going to college within one family, an open dialogue can help each child understand how his/her individual college pursuits may affect his/her other siblings. With an open airing of all information, each child can make responsible choices about college in cooperation, rather than competition, with siblings.
Of course, the family situation described above can be an ideal situation. In reality, the financing of a college education can be more complicated and emotional. Regardless, an ongoing family dialogue can help to keep the emotions in perspective and provide the greatest number of valuable opportunities for all college-going children within the family for the entire duration of each child’s college experience.
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