Your child's education: If you don't pay, don't expect to get a say

This week, Today’s Parent asked its readers if they were planning on paying for their kids' education. Some said, Yes, absolutely, I already have my RESPs started and some flat out said, No way; if we pay, they won’t feel the need to work as hard. My friend and todaysparent.com’s Managing Editor, Nadine Silverthorne, has a very well thought out plan – they will pay for half of their kids’ education up front, and upon graduation, will give them back the other half. I like this solution, as it encourages her kids to work before school, but ensures that they won’t be totally saddled with student loans afterwards, should they have to supplement with them.

However, I was a bit dismayed by the many voices echoing the sentiment that they would not be paying for their child’s education at all. It’s one thing if a family cannot afford to pay for their child’s education – I completely understand, and came from those circumstances myself. A child usually knows well that the family is in that position, and (resentful as they may feel about it, because yes, sorry, but that is a possibility) knows that student loans are probably in their future.

But flat out saying that you won’t be paying because you feel your child will take it more seriously if it’s their money?

That won’t happen.

Because here’s the thing – kids go to university now at 17 or 18 years old. Even if they have been babysitting since they turned 12, had a part-time job since they were 15 and never, ever spent a penny on themselves (that sounds like a fun youth, thanks mom and dad), they won’t have enough to sustain themselves through university. Even if you pay their rent. Even if you give them an allowance for groceries. It just won’t be enough. And 17 and 18 year olds are not known for their stellar decision-making abilities. Keep that in mind, too.

So your kids will have no choice but to get student loans. Hopefully they’ll be able to, because student loans (at least in Ontario) take into account a parent’s ability to help a child, so if you make ‘too much,’ your kid will get very little. If they don’t get enough in student loans, they will (I promise) accept the credit cards being offered them all over the campus. The credit card companies are counting on it.

Possibly, your kid will also need a part time job. Fine, I don’t think that’s such a hardship. I worked full-time hours all through full-time university, because I had to pay my own rent, groceries, books, transportation, etc., which my student loans didn’t cover.

Your kids will probably get through university or college without your help. But, that they did it without your help will be painfully obvious to them. That means, the decisions they make are theirs alone, and don’t expect them to respond to your concerns or even your input. 18 year olds that are on their own don’t need their parent’s permission to take, drop or fail classes. They don’t need your permission to move out of residence and into a shady apartment, or to spend their summers gallivanting across the West Coast with friends. You didn’t pay, you don’t get a say. Keep that in mind.

Also keep in mind that it takes more than just lip service to ensure your child’s success. It takes some practical planning. I feel like I was totally expected to succeed, but really had no practical help in achieving that success. I think I’ve managed it, but it took many, many years and many, many bumps in the road. And it was a struggle.

And I simply don’t want my kids to have to experience that particular struggle. I want them to go to school, to do well and to have fun. I’m not saying that I will pay for everything – I won’t. I will expect them to have part-time jobs before university and maybe even during university, but this is how I think of it: school will be their job, and I will be their employer. So, as long as they do their job well, I will keep paying. There will be expectations, and there will be consequences to not meeting those expectations. I will not relinquish my financial support – or my vote in how my money is to be spent – as long as those expectations are being met.

I want to see my children happy and successful, and just saying that I want that, but not supporting them in their quest, won’t get them there. They will need my money, and I’m hoping that they will be motivated by the expectations I attach to providing it to them. And that they will graduate, loan-free, excited and prepared for the next phase of their life.

In fact, I’m banking on it.


  1. AnonymousMay 31, 2012

    I'm not sure how the system works now, but when I was in university, I was not eligible for student loans until my last year of university, due to my parents' income and RRSPs (my dad was already retired when I started university). If it wasn't for my parent's much appreciated help, I would not have been able to attend university, at least not for several years after high school.
    I know someone who went to university in the '70s. She said at that time it was possible to work a summer job and then pay for a full year of university. Obviously, those days are gone. I agree parents should think twice before cutting their kids' off completely from university funds. I'd suggest they help out as much as they are financially able. Otherwise, no complaining when junior says, "Hey dad, guess what? I'm spending next year in Thailand instead of going to school."

  2. Wow, you guys are ON IT. I'm still waiting to get through the last few weeks of kindergarten. That said, yeah, help out your kids if you can. Isn't that generally what we want to do as parents? Gah. I do think it's reasonable to say I'll pay for your tuition if you live at home and go to school here, but if you want to go elsewhere you're going to have to pick up the rest of that tab.

  3. @Anon - I also heard stories of the halcyon days of never having to pay student loans back, because the gov't never followed up. That, I believe fell squarely on our shoulders. So glad the boomers managed to dodge that bullet. :s

  4. I paid for what post-secondary education I managed to get out of bed for, and I absolutely felt my parents had no say in my decisions. I never shared my marks with them, and didn't even tell them when I flunked out. To this day I'm not sure they know I couldn't have gone back after second year if I'd wanted to.

    We will definitely pay for most if not all of our son's education - with the expectation that he will work hard and strive to do well.

    We'll also expect him to work a part-time job in his later teen years so he can learn the value of money - and (we hope) the lack of appeal of the kind of jobs you can get without an education.

    Great post, Karen.

  5. I had to quit university halfway through my music degree since I was paying my way and the intensive practice schedule on top of my school work didn't leave any spare time to hold down a part-time job (which I needed to supplement my student loan income). I vowed then and there to pay my children's way if I could. I eventually went back to finish in another discipline but had to do is part-time while I worked which just strengthened my commitment to pay for my future kids if I could. Our son is 9 months old and we have already maxed out his 2011 and 2012 RESP allowance.

  6. We need to ramp up our savings, but completely expect to fund as much as we can of our kids' post-secondary education, within reason. If funding stays the same in our state, our kids would be eligible for tuition scholarships after a successful semester. Room and board still add up, and there's not really an option for our kids to stay at home for university, due to geography, so we'll be paying that at a minimum.

    With E's Asperger's, we're waiting to see what sort of support he'll need at the college level. There are some very pricey programs that help guide students through their education, but we're also considering having one parent move temporarily to be closer for at least the first couple years.

  7. The very premise of "if they have to pay for it they'll take it more seriously" is so flawed. I knew plenty of people who frittered away 4 years of student loans and flunked out. Financial sensibility =\= good student.

  8. I agree that the logic is flawed - if they pay for it they'll take it more seriously.

    I paid for my own education, tuition, books, rent, etc. all of it. So, my parents had no say and I had no one to answer to. Yes, I did pretty well in school but I guarantee I would have done better if I felt that obligation to them. I was also hurt that they didn't even entertain the thought of helping me get an education and were perfectly fine with the idea of me taking on student loans (which yes are very tough to get).

    My daughter is two and we have already started to save for her education. Will we have enough to pay for it all? Hard to say, that's a long ways off and there's nothing wrong with her earning some of that money herself but we will do our best to take as much of the burden off of her as possible so she doesn't have to work ridiculous hours while going to school (not saying she shouldn't work at all) and so she doesn't finish school with a huge debt.

  9. In most matters, I belong to the "let them figure it out for themselves or they will never learn anything" camp, but I plan to pay for as much as my kids' school as I can afford. Since I have 4 kids it probably won't be every single expense and they will probably have to live at home. But I don't want them to waste their entire 20's trying to get an undergrad degree because they are trying to pay for it as they go. Life is short and a meaningful career is foundational to adult happiness. Nice blog post.

  10. school will be their job, and I will be their employer... genious yet simple line! I will use that in the future. Thank you for the article

  11. This article is spot on. I lived through student loans and know many that are still paying them back... It haunts you. And you are right... If you don't contribute you don't have a right to tell me I should go into engineering rather than fashion design or some other profession... If its my debt to incur then it's my decision how I use it! I love the idea of 1/2 upfront!

  12. I do believe that a piece of this discussion depends upon your economic class or ethnicity. Some of the former hold the value of, "I did it myself and you have to do so also". While others are, "we pool our resources as a family and pay for education and homes, etc.". The latter often have the "governor" of making the family proud to prevent what I call the "trust fund baby" trap.

    I grew up working class as did my husband. We are the first in our families to go to university and have professional designations as well. We'll definitely pay for the girl's post-secondary education and help out where we can. I think of it as a middle class version of Warren Buffett and his kids - they won't be handed everything but they will get a decent start.

  13. My husband and I were both fortunate enough to have our parents pay for our education. Getting an education was a huge deal for my parents and they made it a priority to set aside enough to put four (!) kids through university, including both of my degrees. They were clear that they thought it was an investment in our future and that the reason why they did it was because they believed in us and they knew that we wouldn't take advantage of it. We supplemented their contribution by getting scholarships and holding down part-time jobs. And my parents were not wealthy by any means. They expect that we can get by on our own now, and they're right.

    I always felt like I had an obligation to them to do well exactly because it wasn't my money. If I didn't do well I had to answer to them. If I failed a class it was their money down the drain, not mine. Even now, when I changed career paths I asked my Mom if they were okay with it because they'd paid for my law degree.

    We've started RESPs and pay as much as we can each month in order to max out the government grant portion. We want to give our kids the same head start our parents gave us.

  14. I was lucky enough to have a grandfather and parents pay for my post secondary education. I worked during my summers - sometimes at 2 or 3 different jobs - to help supplement my parents' and grandfather's contribution. I am so grateful for their help. I saw how some of my friends' struggled with repaying loans after university, a struggle I never had to worry about.

    My husband didn't have help, but through scholarships and well-paying summer and part time jobs, managed to emerge from university debt free.

    We've started RESPs for our two boys to help them when the time comes for them to go to university. My parents have also started RESPs for their grandchildren. The boys will be expected to contribute, but they won't have to bear the burden of student loans.

    We are fortunate that we are in a financial position to help our boys. I realize that not all parents have that luxury. I believe that it's our responsibility to help them as much as we can.

    Thanks for the post Karen.

  15. We do RESP's, because we want the same for our kids as you do.

    Also? The government GIVES YOU FREE MONEY by matching your contributions (to a limit). It's silly NOT to take advantage of that.

  16. We have RESP's for both kids and we put in the maximum that the government will match. It is a lot and more than most of my friends do. But my hubby has been in the workforce for 8 years and is still paying pretty big student loans. We live in a perfectly good townhouse, but we could probably afford a house if not for the student loans. My hubby doesn't want our kids to go through that. So we will do what we can for our kids.

  17. I will not be paying for my child's post secondary education.

    In my experience paying for it yourself does mean students take it more seriously. Student loans do *not* count as "paying yourself". Most students get into trouble with credit and loans (as frankly do many of their parents) precisely because it ISN'T their money. I won't be able to prevent my child from accessing credit but we will teach her to live within her means, budget and delay gratification. Hopefully that will be enough.

    I don't believe that post secondary education is right or necessary for all kids. I hope this doesn't apply to my kid but if it does I won't pressure her into attending. It also means that if she can't afford to attend university and has to delay for a bit, I'm not going to treat her like she's a big failure. Besides - those who got the most out of my university classes were the mature students and DEFINITELY NOT the youngest teens.


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