Figuring out how to pay for your child’s college education can be a major financial headache. Add the complex dynamics of a blended family to that situation and the stress level can go through the roof!
But it doesn’t have to be that way. With some honest conversation, a clear plan, and a solid sense of reality, you can find your way through the sometimes-choppy process of making financial decisions with your child’s other parents without creating new problems. Here are five keys to a successful arrangement.
- Be realistic. Before you make any plans, you need to know what kind of expense you’re dealing with. For the 2009-2010 school year, the average cost of a private four-year college was $26,273. A public four-year college cost $7,020, and public two-year college cost $2,544. You also need to start thinking and talking about college funding as early as your child’s junior year of high school. Start looking into schools, learn more about potential financial aid packages, and get a general sense of what you need to plan for.
- Work together. It might sound obvious, but we’re surprised by how few blended families talk to their children’s other parents about college costs. Make time for all the parents involved to meet-adults only. If you’re in different locations, plan a conference call or an online video chat. Yes, this means you will have to get along with your ex for an hour or so. But this is a huge financial decision and everyone needs to have a voice in what happens. Figure out who is willing to pay for what and get everything in writing so there are no questions down the road.
- Lay out the plan. Once the adults have figured out a workable plan, it’s time to involve your child. Explain to your child who is paying for what and let her know that you are all doing your best to contribute to her future. Clarify who she should talk to if she needs help with expenses or tuition or unexpected costs. And make sure you keep any resentment or hurt feelings about the other set of parents out of this conversation. All your child needs to know is that her parents are working together to help her.
- Don’t over-extend yourself. Sometimes, parents in this situation want to prove their commitment to their child by contributing more to the child’s education than they can really afford. We can’t say this clearly enough: Don’t let pride get in the way of doing what’s best for you and your child. If you can’t afford to contribute very much, that’s okay. Do what you can and give your child your support in other ways.
- Give your child a role, too. This is a great time to help your child build some healthy financial habits. Encourage her to participate in funding her education. Help her explore the many ways she can help pay for college – work study, state and federal grants, programs like Teach for America. You will undoubtedly need to be flexible as you and your child’s other parents work together to stick to your plans. If things change for one set of parents, be gracious and do what you can to roll with the changes.
Money Huddle Tip: Making financial commitments with a former spouse can bring with it a lot of tension between you and your partner. During your next Money Huddle, talk through any concerns you might have about this process. Plan for a quarterly check-in to make sure you’re dealing with any problems or issues as they come up.