Saturday, January 22, 2011


Clarification and mea culpa:

When I originally wrote this, I was under the impression that the presentation to which I referred was given at Naperville North High School. I have since found out that the presentation was given at College of DuPage, as noted below. The substance of the post does not change, but it was not fair to associate Naperville North or District 203 in any way, however remotely, from the “advice” this financial “expert” dispensed at College of DuPage. That the presentation was given at COD does not imply that COD endorses the message, as its being presented at Naperville North, if it had been given at Naperville North, would not have implied that Naperville North endorsed the message.

My apologies and thanks for reading.


Our oldest daughter is a senior in high school in the process of choosing the institution of higher learning at which she will matriculate. Her two siblings are not too many years behind her in this process. So we know how expensive it is to send kids to college and are as concerned as the next person about being able to pay for our children’s educations. In response to this concern, the other night College of DuPage sponsored a presentation by a guy who promotes himself as an “expert” in getting the maximum amount of financial aid when it comes time to pay for your kid’s education. I did not go to this “seminar,” supposing, correctly, as it turns out, that this was yet another flim-flam effort to promote a service that facilitates supposedly artful cheating and lying in order to get other people to pay for your kids’ education. At least this “financial planner” did not hold himself out as an expert on ethics.

While I did not go to this “seminar,” several friends of ours did attend, and reported that this “expert’s” most salient tip was to not put money into 529 college savings plans but, rather, to put the money one would have put into the 529s into one’s IRAs because the financial aid systems, embodied most prominently by the FAFSA, do not count IRA assets, but do count 529 assets, when assessing an applicant’s need for aid. Effectively, what this “expert” was telling people to do was to hide assets in order to appear needy or disadvantaged so that others would pay for their kids’ educations, thus allowing the parents to save more for retirement. To take it one step further, since money is a fungible commodity, what this “expert” was advising was to have other people pay for one’s retirement.

One would have hoped that the crowd, which, being out here in DuPage County, was composed largely of those small government, pull one up by one’s bootstraps Republican crowd that so detests giving people handouts, would have summarily shown such a charlatan the door. But, alas, the crowd seemed to lap up this advice, regretting only that they had not availed themselves of such wisdom earlier so that they would not have so foolishly saved for their kids’ educations when they could have had someone else pick up a larger share of that tab, thus enabling them to enjoy a more lavish retirement.

Some might justify such handouts (I should not use the term “handouts.” I suppose that, to the way of thinking of those who find such advice reasonable, or even admirable, such turns at the public teat are only “handouts” when they are given to other people.) by saying that other people are getting need based financial aid, so why shouldn’t I? This, of course, is a sure fire way to get the smaller, less intrusive government and the limits on government spending that the GOPers who inhabit these parts profess to so champion.

My wife and I know as well as anyone how expensive college is nowadays and how hard it is to finance a college education, or several college educations. But the solution is not to engage in chicanery and deception masquerading as “sophisticated financial planning” in order to get someone else to pay for one’s kids’ education. The solution is multi-faceted. One component of such a solution is to encourage one’s children to excel in sports or academics in order to improve his or her chances at a merit, either athletic or academic, based scholarship. Another is to send one’s children to less expensive universities, often, but not always, state schools, despite rationalizations, which don’t stand up to even the mildest of scrutiny, for going to “the best” (read “most expensive”) schools someone else can afford. And, of course, if there is a genuine need, not a faux “need” generated by financial prestidigitation, one should avail one’s self of the need-based financial packages colleges and the government make available. However, the more essential, and effective, component of financing college education is to save for YOUR kids’ education and to engage in the sacrifices that doing so entails. And, in many cases, the sacrifices required are not titanically burdensome: drive a Toyota instead of a Lexus, eat at IHOP or at home rather than at the latest trendy “dining venue,” don’t consider every school break (and we have PLENTY of those in District 203) an opportunity, no, an imperative, to take an expensive trip, don’t feel compelled to buy the most expensive house to which you can stretch your income and borrowing capacity, don’t define yourself and/or your self worth by the number of vestigial baubles and gimcracks you can flaunt within eye- and ear-shot of your neighbors, etc. There is no need to live like a pauper, but there is similarly no need to live beyond, or even anywhere near the limit of, one’s means in order to bend to societal pressures or (usually only in one’s own mind) impress the neighbors. Is this too much a sacrifice to ask for one’s kids? Or is it too much of a sacrifice when it can be avoided by using financial trickery to get others to pick up the tab, directly or indirectly, for a lifestyle one can’t afford but that one still deems absolutely essential?

I realize there are those who are not being hypocrites here; they have never professed any kind of fealty to limited government and have no problem with burgeoning government spending as long as the growth of government and its brobdingnagian spending redounds to their benefit. Nor are such types encumbered by any overweening sense of morality or ethics. But don’t such people who think it’s clever to get “someone else” to pay for one’s child’s education realize that it is often they who are the “someone else”? Or are they too consumed with acquiring the geegaws of 21st century American life to take the five seconds worth of thought it takes to realize this truth?

What is so disheartening is that such thoughts will sound so hopelessly out-of-touch, naïve, unsophisticated, atavistic, and silly to many of my generation, a generation only one removed from that which did so much to make this country great by practicing the virtues of thrift, self-reliance, sacrifice, and responsibility for one’s self and for one’s progeny.


The Igloo Oven said...

Interesting post. It seems deceit also cleverly masquerades as resourcefulness in the warped minds of disintegrating American values. It echoes Wall Street's inability to understand why they are seen as bad guys, and why credit default swaps are not the substance of a noble living.

The Pontificator said...

Thanks for reading and commenting.