Friday, October 31, 2014

Changing Priorities

My employer offers below-market wages, limited opportunities for promotion and advancement, and expensive benefits. Why do people stay? There is one major benefit offered at no cost to the employee which is a significant incentive to stay no matter how limited your career might become. Each employee is provided with up to 70% of the university's current tuition rate for up to 24 semesters of college for the employee's children. Given that the university I work for is a high-end, high tuition, private college, it essentially means free college for three children since 70% here is over and above 100% most anywhere else.  This is a powerful incentive to stay.

If all goes according to plan, I will be quitting my job here at some point in the future. Hopefully sooner rather than later, but the fact remains that, if I get my way, my children will have their college education almost completely paid on one day and then the next day, they won't. And it will be because of me. I have always been a saver. I plan out expenses and agonize over spending money unnecessarily. The idea of having college tuition provided for my children is deeply comforting to me. 

When I began to struggle with my ideas about my role in my family, this benefit was the last sticking point before I decided I wanted to quit. Why should my personal preferences impact my children's ability to pay for college? College was the priority and I thought I should be willing to endure anything to make it happen. I wrestled with this idea for months before deciding that my being present with my children during their childhood was more important that having a guaranteed paid college education. After this decision was made, I felt a lot of peace about it, which for me is highly unusual. I am good at second guessing.

Even though I feel peace about the potential of leaving all the money on the table, I haven't actually walked away from it yet either. It does make me a little nervous about how we will manage their educations. Perhaps when the money is really gone, my attitude will change. Over the years I have made enough money for us to live on comfortably, but we don't have much left over. Our emergency savings is not what I would like it to be. Our long-term savings for the children is also not nearly what would be necessary. Of course, it wasn't supposed to be this way, but it is. I can realistically look ahead and know that it is likely we will be taking a pay cut when I am no longer employed and our ability to save money will be even less. This uncertainty would normally make me feel ill, but I am strangely calm about these possibilities.

Slowly and then all at once, my priority changed from providing the funds for college at some distant point in the future to asserting my role as mother right now as the primary purpose in my life. What good is college if I am separated from their childhood and I only have a limited ability to influence their actual lives? My biggest fear in this transition is that when my children get old enough to go to college and if we still do not have the money to help them, they will resent me for choosing my present peace over their future livelihoods. It's a gamble I am willing to take.


bearing said...

You wouldn't be getting "present peace" if you didn't believe that the children were getting benefits in the present as well.

Melanie Bettinelli said...

We've long since resigned ourselves to not being able to do much in the way of saving for college. I can see how that would be hard to walk away from. But I think Bearing is right about present peace.

entropy said...

They aren't going to grow up and wish you hadn't been around so much. Is yourhusband going to miss being a sahd?

Jenny said...

I believe the children will be getting benefits both presently and into the future which is why I feel alright about the decision, but they may not recognize them. It can sometimes be hard for the young to recognize some amorphous lifestyle benefit when faced with fat student loan bills that they objectively would not have had. I'm not terribly concerned because I don't intend to hide from them the what and why of our decisions, but I was raised with the idea that parents providing their children's college education was one of the most important things a parent could do to nearly the exclusion of all else. Given that, there is a gut check when actively deciding to reject that paradigm.

Jenny said...

I agree they aren't going to grow up and wish I hadn't been around, but they may grow up and wish they didn't have fat student loans and not really understand that they were mutually exclusive things.

You know, we have talked about him working and not being home, but your question prompted me to ask him again to make sure I understood his thoughts. His basic position is that he does not mind working but will miss the freedom in his schedule. Ideally he would like to be able to work close to home and have the flexibility to be able to drop by for lunch if he could. Actually his ideal is to have a family business where everyone spends time together working. While he has enjoyed being the primary care giver, I don't think it is anything that he feels compelled to do. He has always been more work focused even though he hasn't been employed in years, always working on side projects, side businesses, and big hobby projects.

entropy said...

My husband loves the idea of a family business as well. I understand your worries about college, it's hard, the choices we make for them. Maybe they'll all get full rides!