The College Budget

It's a bit early to be worrying about college applications. Instead, I'm worrying about laying the groundwork...

The college budget

My oldest is about to start high school, and we have begun budgeting for college.

The reason I had to sit down a 14 year old to explain budgeting is that he announced he was only taking one AP course because his high school mandates entering freshman with a certain level of test scores have to take an AP course.

Apparently, I have to undo the damage from my previous father-son lecture entitled "AP Courses are Stupid Because You'll Catch Up in Graduate School". I generally see AP courses as a race to burn out. We need to peak around junior year of college, about the time my son wants to start thinking about a graduate degree in something really challenging.

Anyway, here's the step-by-step college budgeting process and why my 14 year old owns it.

Eliminate universities

I'm not saying a 4 year $250,000 university degree is out of the question, just that it's an overpriced waste of money. It's not a waste of money if my child says "I want to study astrophysics at Stanford" and means it. The likely hood of this happening before age 22 is near zero.

For those of you who have already chosen a short list of Universities and a short list of boring dead end careers for your child, you deserve to have your child drop out to study art and never call you again. If your child doesn't drop out, there's a high probability that your child's classmate will be my son, and your child will desperately need friends who are emotionally well adjusted because his parents didn't choose anything for him. I'll explain how that happened in a future article.

In the meantime, my job is to figure out the cheapest mix of college credits that keep all doors to the future open. This is not hard. Look at the vitaes of graduate students or top professors or CEO's. There are a few Harvard's and a lot of other paths.

AP Courses

The sad fact of the teenage job market is this. My son can make $10 an hour working at a hot dog stand or knock of $60,000 of college tuition just be getting AP credits. Even better, community colleges have the same credit hours for cheap. Your child can take the classes in the summer or at night during high school, it's less work and less pressure than studying for the AP test, and his classmates will be serious older kids who are there by choice.

Now that Chicago and Illinois will raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour, those hot dog stand jobs will be much harder to come by.


Our minimum scholarship requirement is $10,000. I picked this somewhat arbitrarily, but an amount greater than this is equivalent of putting lottery winnings in the budget.

In preparation, I asked him to start writing essays that he thinks one of his overly dramatic middle school friends would write on a bad day. So far, he's written zero essays. I'll have a lot more to say on this topic.

The Sheriff of Stuff

The biggest impact on our budget is buying stuff. Every dollar we spend on stuff is a dollar on which he'll be paying student loan interest after he graduates. Therefore, I made him Sheriff of Stuff.

When we want to order a pizza because it's late and all we have to eat is tortillas, he has veto power. When he needs a black pair of shoes for the end of the year concert that he'll never wear again, he has veto power.

His decision making skills are improving based on the number of "No's" we're getting, and my parenting skills are getting better based on the time I remember to ask him if he wants to buy me a new computer via future student loans.

As the Deputy Sheriff of Stuff, I try to mitigate bad decisions, which is why I wore a cheap black pair of shoes to work one day to see if anyone noticed (they didn't).


If things go well, he'll end up meeting his future goals for 1/2 to 1/3 of the price, and he'll be a much more responsible, non-spoiled adult that everyone likes because of our efforts.

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