What If I Can't Afford to Send Them to College?

Mailbag time! It's the million dollar question for big Catholic families: How can we keep having them, if we don't know whether we can afford them?

- question -

Hi Kendra, I feel a little silly emailing someone I have never met such a personal question, but I've been reading your blog for almost a year now and really appreciate you sharing your experiences and advice. I am a stereotypical cradle Catholic, as they say. I grew up going to church on Sundays, etc, but never really dove into the teachings of the Church until fairly recently. It's been a slow growing process for me. I had never even heard about NFP or St. John Paul II's Theology of the Body until maybe 3 years ago. However, it's taken me that long to mull over all that information (which is just so radical from everything you learn growing up, right?) and talking about it with my husband, to say, "Okay, I think we should try NFP." We have two small children. Almost all our friends/family have no more than two children. Everyone is telling me that we should not have more than two. BUT with NFP I expect that we'll be open to more children. As someone who never thought they would have ANY kids, I can't deny that the idea of having more than two feels overwhelming. The thing that overwhelms me the most, is the increased expenses. Specifically, paying for college. This is something that is very important to me, and I want to be able to provide this for my children should they choose to go to college. My husband and I are pretty frugal people. We don't have fancy stuff. We don't do fancy things. So, I suppose my question is, how do larger families afford the larger number of children? Is saving for college something that larger families are generally able to do? I kind of feel like I'm entering foreign territory so any advice would be appreciated! Thank you! C.

- answer -

Hey C, This is a concern a lot of people have, I know. I think coming to terms with it requires a combination of virtues.
  1. Planning ahead
  2. Having the right priorities
  3. Living frugally
  4. Trusting in God
All of them. We met an old timer after Mass once and he told us how he had a bunch of kids on a city worker salary, and he always just figured that if God wanted them to go to college, God would figure it out. And, apparently most of them did. So, that's our backup plan. But we're also putting money away each month, as much as we can. We're focusing on instilling in our children the virtues that would allow them to be successful in school and hopefully qualify for scholarships. We're encouraging our older kids to look for ways to earn money, and they each have an investment account of their own, to which they contribute. College expenses aside, one more kid really isn't all that expensive. We mostly eat at home, so one more mouth doesn't add up to all that much more in food bill, although I know they will eat more as they get older (I now have a teenager!), they wear hand-me-down clothes, and we've really had to get creative on Christmas and birthday gifts, because we have all the toys we could possibly ever need. All of those "how much it costs to raise a child" infographics are nonsense. Kids just don't need all that STUFF. I think Jenny at Mama Needs Coffee wrote about this really well:

On Debt and Openness to Life

We do have a responsibility to gauge whether we can "afford" emotionally, physically, and financially to have another child. But I also think that if there's any question, we should err on the side of reckless generosity. You really can't put a price on another snuggly baby's smiles, another sibling for your children, another wedding to dance at, another grandchild's drawings on the fridge, another person at your deathbed. All of that is so much more important than money. If I look at each of my children and I think, "Well, what if I couldn't afford to send you to college? Would I wish I'd never had you?" of course, the answer is a resounding "No." If MY own parents hadn't been able to afford to send ME to college, would I wish I had never been born? No, I wouldn't.
And now I'm just going to go out on a limb here, and guess that there's more to your worry than just money. Because two little kids is really hard work. When I had two little kids, I looked at my day and I knew that to add two more kids and twice as much work would have been flat out impossible. But, of course, my kids kept right on coming all the same. And I found that having that third baby was the scariest, but then it ended up being an easier adjustment for me than having my first or second, then by the time number four came along, my big kids were helping, and I knew what I was doing, and it was easier still to adjust. And now, we've got our routines and our systems and everyone helps and it all functions pretty smoothly, most of the time, even when we have a new baby. I don't know if God's calling you to have a big family. It's not always a given. But if God IS calling you to have a big family, he will give you the graces you need to be able to survive it. He hasn't given them to you yet, because you don't need them yet. That's what I see in the big families I know. But I also know lovely, devout Catholic families with one or two children. You just never know how things are going to work out. The best any of us can do is try to correspond to the graces God gives us to deal with the life we're living at this particular moment. Keep me posted! Cheers, Kendra You might also enjoy these posts:

To Moms of Only Little Kids: psst, the magic number is ten

Dear Newlywed, You're Probably Worried About the Wrong Thing

Mailbag Disclaimer: I am not a theologian, nor am I an official spokesperson for the Catholic Church. (You're thinking of this guy.) If you read anything on this blog that is contrary to Church teaching, please consider it my error (and let me know!). I'm not a doctor or an expert on anything in particular. I'm just one person with a lot of experience parenting little kids and a desire to share my joy in marriage, mothering, and my faith.
If you've got a question, please send it along to catholicallyear @ gmail . com . Please let me know if you prefer that I change your name if I use your question on the blog.