Here's how to spend $6,240 per month on two children.


magnifying glass

“Marie” emailed me her budget a couple of weeks ago, and I think it makes a great counterpoint to Wednesday’s post (where I challenged the necessity of a college education).

In the post, I wondered – if I were fortunate enough to have it – whether I would spend the money on a traditional college experience for my two kids.

Marie and her husband have the money, and that’s exactly how they’ve chosen to use it. Here’s just one piece of their budget, followed by Marie’s own words about their decision to fund their children’s education.

As always, I’m grateful to Marie and others who’ve chosen to share their budgets and their stories. It makes for a much richer dialog on the blog.

Category Budgeted Notes
Tuition and Fees $5,000 Small, private liberal arts colleges.
Activities and Supplies $215
Allowances $125 Not sure how this breaks out between son and daughter.
Daughter Misc. $500 “Will change in September.”
Son Misc. $400
Total $6,240

Marie’s story:

“We started out barely scraping by. As you’ll see from the numbers, we’ve left the “barely scraping” days behind us.

My husband and I are a study in opposites. He’s a good deal older than I am; he comes from a poor, hard-scrabble background; he’s conservative; he has no use for art or cultural experiences. He has a Master’s degree in the sciences.

I consider myself moderate, but next to my husband I’m a flaming liberal. My parents came from privileged backgrounds and I was raised in an environment in which education, culture, literature, and art were valued above all else. I do not have a college degree.

We do have similarities: we were each out on our own at a young age. He joined the Army and after serving went to college on the GI bill. I worked full time and attended night school. I avoided debt but was never able to save much – I was helping my mother and younger siblings get by.

We married and had a daughter and a son. I homeschooled both kids through eighth grade. We unschooled: we traveled; they took swimming lessons and music lessons; we participated in a co-op. We lived life, they participated in it all, and they learned great lessons.

I started out with homeschooling because I couldn’t afford to send the kids to private school, and it felt like I was taking a huge risk with their social and intellectual well-being. I quickly came to feel it was the best option for our family. For us, education extended beyond books and tests.

I have strong feelings about family as community. I saw families where the children were so over-scheduled and where siblings lived very separate lives from each other in their own little bubbles of individual activities. That was not what I wanted as a family model.

We worked together in cooperation; sometimes the needs of the family as a unit trumped the needs of individuals; sometimes everyone else’s needs/wants were put aside to meet the needs of a particular individual.

My son learned to wash and fold girlie undergarments; my daughter dealt with dirty, stinky boy’s socks without complaint.

My son was informed in no uncertain terms one Sunday, upon complaining that his sister didn’t have to go to church that week, that the first Sunday he found himself experiencing terrible back pains and menstrual cramps he, too, would be allowed to skip religious instruction. 😉

Don’t get me wrong – it wasn’t all bliss. My daughter resented being homeschooled while she was young, but she’s recently told us she feels her upbringing gave her major advantages over her traditionally-schooled peers.

We’ve given our children a lot in the form of education and experience, but we’ve subscribed to a parenting approach that balances privilege with responsibility: With each new privilege comes new responsibilities. They were given allowances but were then responsible for purchasing all gifts, clothes, entertainment, and non-home-packed lunches, etc.

They’ve earned money, opened checking and savings accounts, bought (and cashed in) CDs, and have Sharebuilder accounts. They both have simple needs, few wants, and a sense of delayed gratification.

Not all “spoiled” children are rotten; one does not have to impose savings minimums to raise generous children; credit cards are not inherently evil, and I don’t believe that not spending money is morally superior to spending money. Sometimes young people who have to provide everything for themselves aren’t stronger for it.

That’s why we’ve made paying for their college a priority. We both value a good education; we both feel that it gives them a better chance at success; we don’t want to start their lives saddled with debt. What else would we do with that money – spend it on ourselves?

I’m going grey but I don’t spend a dime on a hairdresser; I don’t wear makeup; I don’t have a closet full of shoes or purses; I’ve never been to the spa. We live in a modest house in a working middle-class neighborhood with no “toys” in the driveway. I cut my own lawn and clean my own house. My wedding ring is a $25 gold band. My husband resoles his penny loafers as many times as possible before buying a new pair. We haven’t taken a vacation that wasn’t college-related in at least six years.

Although our son is just starting school, our daughter is wrapping up. I couldn’t be happier with her experiences and performance while in school:

She started school thinking she was interested in Cultural Studies. To her surprise, she fell in love with business and will graduate with a degree in Business Administration, a minor in leadership, and a special Honors Program certificate.

Because she didn’t have to work during school, she checked out every single sport, club, and extracurricular activity her freshman year.

Her first summer at home, she worked hard in a sandwich shop (food service work is something everyone should experience in their youth, don’t you think?).

Her second year on campus, she insisted on working. She worked in the school’s phone banks and proved to be very good at it. That summer she took an RA job on campus. Last year she studied abroad for a whole semester and did not have a job during the school year.

She went to China (twice), Argentina, and during her semester abroad, nine different countries in the EU. The semester abroad was about the same cost as a semester at school — same tuition, cheaper room & board, higher fun/activity expenses.

This summer she landed an internship she’d been cultivating since her freshman year; she’s the first intern they’ve ever paid and she’s impressing people right and left. It appears she’s just about guaranteed herself a job after graduation.

Her plan is to work for a few years and then get her employer to pay for her to get her Master’s.

Where does that leave us? It seems so cliche to say it but we’ve always just been so focused on the kids. Now we’re about to have an empty nest, it would make a nice story to talk about what our next big goal in life is but neither of us have any big or expensive passions or hobbies; there’s nothing we’ve been waiting for years to be able to do. We have talked about traveling — buy a RoadTrek and see the country. Sell the house and downsize. Get a college degree myself. Volunteer. Foster. We’ll cross those bridges when we come to them. I just wanted to share our story as an example of how a budget reflects priorities.”

You might be quick to dismiss Marie’s story as irrelevant, giving their unusually high income and ability to pay for their children’s rich experiences. To me, the interesting part is their choice to live modestly in order to spend their money according to their values.

I’ve seen their whole budget. If they’d chosen a lavish life, spending $6,000+ per month on the kids’ schooling wouldn’t have been an option.

So, it’s like we always say around here: give your dollars jobs according to your needs and your values. If that’s your approach, it doesn’t matter what anyone else says or thinks.