You’re on your own, kid

With graduation season wrapping up for many students and the college experience about to begin for others, there are lots of discussions about how much parents have paid and should pay to send their children to college.

So, should parents be responsible for paying for college?

A California couple featured in a recent Reuters report has told their three teens that they’re not paying.

“I’ve told my children that if they’re interested in college, it would be their responsibility to pay for it,” Tracy Repchuk told Chris Taylor of Reuters. “This wasn’t a surprise announcement, since I’ve felt this way forever. It’s their life, not mine.”

Repchuk and her husband have good jobs and aren’t “strapped for cash,” Taylor writes. They just don’t want to pay for their kids’ higher education.

Nearly 40 percent of young adults aren’t getting financial help from their parents for college, according to a new study out of the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

“It’s not surprising that some parents are turning off the spigot. According to the Department of Agriculture, which tracks expenditures, the inflation-adjusted bill for raising a child up to age 17 these days (not even including college costs) is almost $300,000 for every single Sophia and Samuel,” Taylor writes. “But even among those with the financial wherewithal to pay for their kids’ college, there are some who just don’t believe in the message it passes along. Without any skin in the game, the thinking goes, young adults won’t truly understand the value of their education -- or the value of a dollar.”

I’m sorry, but I don’t get the logic of that last point – that by paying for college with no financial help from parents, a student won’t value his or her education. If that theory holds true, these same parents would forbid their children from accepting any scholarships or grants. Would they appreciate that free money?

The answer is no, based on these parents’ thinking, because if you don’t pay, you aren’t grateful. Therefore, scholarships and/or grants are not good for the child, either.

If you’re a parent and you don’t have the money to pay for college, I understand that your child may need to work and save to cover his or her education costs. I also understand you may feel that student loans may be necessary if you haven’t saved or couldn’t’ afford to save for your kid’s college. What I don’t get are parents who have the money or capacity to save to pay for college but who won’t do it on some misguided principle. It’s extreme parenting, in my opinion.

Let’s think about this logically: Where would a teenager get the kind of money it takes to pay for a four-year college education?

He or she hasn’t had years of work experience and the resulting earnings to save or invest for higher education. We know that even the brightest students can’t count on getting scholarships or grants. So, either the child gets a scholarship, or he or she has to work like a dog while trying to take classes and/or take out costly education loans.

If you don’t want to pay even though you’re able to, and your child has to borrow to go to school (which many do), here’s what you’re telling the kid whom you decided to raise: “Start your life off with debt, and it will make you a better person.”

No, it doesn’t. Debt burdens your children.

I’ve talked to many students who didn’t receive help from their parents and had to work and/or take out loans, and some still goofed off in college. I’ve also talked to many students whose parents paid their way, and they did exceedingly well in college.

I received a scholarship to college that covered tuition, room, board and books for four years. To this day, decades after finishing school, I appreciate the value of my education. I was grateful then and grateful now because my grandmother taught me how to be appreciative of the gifts I receive.

This week’s Color of Money question: Should parents pay for college if they have the money? Send your responses to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Be sure to include your full name, city and state. Put “You’re On Your Own, Kid” in the subject line.

Decades of Debt

Still think that parents shouldn’t contribute a dime to their children’s college education? Then read the series now running in The New York Times.

You’ll meet 23-year-old Kelsey Griffith, who is graduating from Ohio Northern University with $120,000 in student loans; Christina Hagan, also 23, who is graduating from Malone University with $63,000 in student debt; and Evan Frank, 22, who went to Ashland University and now has $80,000 in debt.

“With more than $1 trillion in student loans outstanding in this country, crippling debt is no longer confined to dropouts from for-profit colleges or graduate students who owe on many years of education, some of the overextended debtors in years past,” writes Andrew Martin and Andrew W. Lehren. “As prices soar, a college degree statistically remains a good lifetime investment, but it often comes with an unprecedented financial burden.”

Summertime Savings

If you haven’t planned your vacation yet, Lewis Humphries, contributor for Investopedia.com, offers some good travel tips to cut costs.

One way to save is to swap homes with another traveler or family. With home-swapping, vacationers let others stay in their home -- and sometimes use their vehicles -- in exchange for staying at someone else’s home for their own vacation. “Not only does this afford you the opportunity to experience an affordable vacation, but it also gives you access to good quality facilities that can reduce the additional costs of catering and transportation,” Humphries writes.

There are Web sites that offer a home-swapping service. Shelley Miller, a home exchange expert, wrote about her experience over the years vacationing in others’ homes and allowing others’ to use her home. Miller provides some great information to get you started if you’re interested. I think I’ll look into it myself.

The Proper Way to Pinch Pennies

For last week’s Color of Money question I asked: “What miserly acts or characteristics irk you the most?”

I had read a posting on Investopedia.com by contributor Tim Parker, who wrote about the difference between cheap and frugal.

“Years ago a co-worker and her husband owned a 25-foot Bayliner boat,” wrote BJ Alexis of Rockford, Ill. “It was almost as big as their house and in the late 1980’s, approximately valued at $25,000. Yet, when they would drive the boat to the nearest harbor, which required another toy--a large truck-- the wife would complain about the $4 docking fee.”

“Frugal is buying a case of toilet paper when it’s on sale at Costco or Wal-Mart and miserly is flattening the roll in your guest bath so guests only get 3 sheets at a time,” wrote David Levin of Saratoga, Calif.

Responses to “Tipping Point”

A Texas woman and her family were detained at a restaurant and the police called because the diners refused to pay an automatic gratuity of 15 percent that was added to their check because they had a large party. The family complained to management that they had received bad service and felt they shouldn’t be obligated to pay the tip. In the end, they paid the tip.

I asked: “Even if the restaurant has a policy for an automatic gratuity for large parties, should diners be forced to tip if they receive poor service?”

Here are some of your responses:

“TIPS means ‘to insure prompt service,’ wrote Michael Stephenson of Lawrenceville, Ga. “If the service isn’t prompt, then the customer should not be forced to pay a gratuity and should complain to, first, management at the local restaurant, then, second, to management at the district or national level. It’s so easy now to just visit a restaurant’s Web site and contact someone in authority with any complaint possible. If the restaurant is not a national chain, then management at the restaurant should definitely be contacted to make amends for the poor service.”

Sandra Wade of Chapin, S.C., wrote: “The Internet is a powerful tool and any business today is smart to keep their customer happy. It should never get to the point that the police are called over a tip!”

“I started waiting tables at the age of 16, and worked my way through college and graduate school at various restaurants,” wrote Janice Gentile of Lakeland, Fla. “When I go out to eat, I normally start at 20 percent since I know the business. That works against some servers these days. But rarely do I not leave a tip, however, on those few occasions; I leave a message as to why they did not receive a gratuity. I believe that is an acceptable solution to the bad service that you do get on occasions. As for the standard gratuity on parties over a certain number, I think the same standards of service should be held.”

Tia Lewis contributed to this report.

You are welcome to e-mail comments and questions to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Please include your name and hometown; your comments may be used in a future column or newsletter unless otherwise requested.

Michelle Singletary writes the nationally syndicated personal finance column, “The Color of Money.”
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