College Expenses Spreadsheet

I see I was not sufficiently clear: when I said in my last post that I wanted to know what you thought about what kind of sedation I should use for a tooth extraction, what I MEANT was that I wanted you to all AGREE on ONE answer, to make things easier for ME.

Part of the issue is that none of us know what the actual alternative to the laughing gas is in this situation, and it makes a big difference. On the billing estimate it says “deep sedation / general anesthesia”—but those may be two different things that just happen to be on the same line of billing, and online searching shows me that both terms have varying meanings anyway, depending on which particular medications are used. Another difficulty is that we’re all so different in how much dental anxiety and dental pain we feel, and in the way medications affect us.

Let’s talk about college stuff some more, because that is increasingly on my mind and also because this way I have something to look back on when we are doing this same thing for William in two years.

One of our financial concerns is that we don’t want to end up paying pretty much all of Rob and William’s college expenses and then having nothing left for the three littler ones. (The worst will be poor Henry, who starts college two years after a pair of TWINS.) We want to divide what we can contribute EVENLY and FAIRLY (based on many, many factors, since they won’t all get the same scholarships to colleges that all cost the same amount). But colleges and financial aid care not one whit about fairness: if we have a savings account, they won’t let us divide it by five in anticipation (for all they know, none of the other four WILL go to college). We HAVE to pay out everything we have: they will feel sorry for poor Henry later, but they won’t let us budget for him now. We have an investment account my grandfather set up when Rob was born, to be used toward college; my grandfather put it in Rob’s name, but told me it was to be divided among any children we had. But because it’s in Rob’s name, it all counts as Rob’s for financial aid purposes; we MUST drain that account for Rob and CAN’T save four-fifths of it for the other kids.

We don’t really know how to handle this fairly or how to make it work; we’ll have to figure things out as we go. But what I DO know to do, in complicated situations like this, is keep DETAILED RECORDS: there are a lot of things that can be figured out LATER, as long as we know what we did THEN. So the minute we sent off the deposit to Rob’s chosen college (we’re not going to include application fees in this), I started a spreadsheet. I made it a Google Docs spreadsheet so that I could invite Paul and Rob to view it. It’s tentative because we haven’t had to use it much yet, but here are the column headings so far:

For Whom [this will be unnecessary if we make separate spreadsheets for each kid]
How Much
For What
Notes, if any

So for example, when we paid the deposit with his college decision, I put in the date we paid it, and I put that Paul and I had paid it, and I put that it was for Rob, and I put the dollar amount, and I put that it was for registration; I didn’t have any notes. When we paid for the fall tuition/room/board/fees, I put the date, and then for “Who” I put “Grampa’s investment account,” and then I put how much and that it was for fall tuition/room/board/fees; under “Notes, if any,” I put “this account was intended to be divided evenly among all five children.” I don’t think we’re going to forget, but I want it all down: we basically took money out of the other four children’s savings, and used it to pay for Rob’s college.

We were not sure how to count scholarship funds. For now we put it in as Rob paying it, but we noted that it was scholarship funds, and which organizations gave him the scholarships.

[Edited to add: A lot of people are mentioning dividing my grandpa’s money into five 529 accounts, which is a great idea—but it isn’t enough money for that: we’ll use it up completely in Rob’s first year. Also, the financial aid eligibility forms take into account all money (including 529s) owned by all children in the family. This seems ridiculous to me: what business is it of THEIRS what Rob’s younger brother earned this summer?? But apparently it’s to prevent the exact clever idea some of you are having or are on the verge of having, which is that we could hide the family savings in an account in Henry’s name or whatever. Colleges are hip to that game.]

33 thoughts on “College Expenses Spreadsheet

  1. Tracey

    This is what my parents did – they contributed the same amount for my brother and I. We chose different schools at different price points, so we had different amounts of student loans. And then at the loan paying back stage is where my parents evened it out. So let’s say they decided that they were going to pay $100K/each for us to go to college (for round numbers’ sake). Since I am three years older, I got most of that money while I was going to school and they didn’t really help me with my loans. Maybe for my brother they only paid $50K, so when he got his huge loan bill, they helped him out with his loans until their contributions to both of us matched (or maybe they took out their own loan or whatever, I don’t know the details on that).

  2. yasmara

    Maybe this is a silly question, but couldn’t you open 5 separate college savings plan accounts (the ones specifically for college), one in each child’s name, and divide the money up between them at least from the grandparent account? Would the financial aid people still count it only towards the oldest child then?

    My parents paid the MOST to my youngest brother for college because he went to a private school & I went to a state school (so did my middle brother). I have gotten a lot less direct financial help as an adult, but I did get a car (well, used truck) in HS when I turned 16 & neither of my brothers did. I think it evened out pretty much by the time we were in our 20’s, although they have continued helping my middle brother financially because his employment situation (mostly freelance) has been a lot more precarious. Whereas I’m the only one with kids & got a lot of free childcare from my mom. So, like I said, it was fair if maybe not exactly equal (oooooh, Life Lesson).

  3. Jd

    This is hard. Fair and even are not the same thing. If one gets a full ride do you need to buy them a car to make it even??

    I have a friend who is #3 of 5 siblings. His parents paid for first two kids, ran out of money by 3 so kids 3-5 went to state school, took out loans, make it work. #1 became lawyer,#2 Dr, #3 and #5 business and #4 teacher. 20 years after they graduated their dad went to #1 and #2 and demanded $60k each – right then and there. Then he gave the other 3 kids $40K each and apologized for not paying for college. Kids 3-5 were bewildered by this. apparently dad couldn’t sleep at night knowing that he hadn’t been fair. Luckily all the kids are still friends after this incident.

  4. Tina

    My kids are 14 years apart, so fortunately for us, we’ve had a long time to recover financially to help the younger child. I have also never made a spreadsheet that wasn’t required by a college class so I can’t help with that. I will comment about your care and concern in regards to being fair and equitable to all of your children- my husband was one of 4 kids in a blended family and he didn’t get braces (which he needed) because his older brother got them and they could not afford to pay for two sets of braces. (they are 3 years apart) The other two siblings had straight-ish teeth naturally. Also re: college costs, even with college costing very little compared to now (he went to college in 1969) he still got the raw end of the financial help deal and had to scrape up every penny himself and ran out by his senior year so he dropped out and got a job. Fortunately, all things worked out over the years and he has had a good career like his siblings. I also want to add one thing about the dental anesthesia dilemma- yes, the way the form is written is confusing- my form for dental surgery was the exact same and had the exact same concern and had to question the office staff in a phone call to find out what kind of drug I would be given and what type of sedation it really was. Whatever I had I was asleep, but breathing on my own, and very easily awakened with no issues. If you aren’t up for the call, ask Paul to call. I often cannot cope with my own health-related anxiety and I have to separate myself from these tasks.

  5. Allison

    A friend of mine came from a family with 5 children, albeit fairly widely spaced. The parents paid for the eldest’s college, and then he was expected to contribute to the next sibling, and so forth.

  6. Kara

    My parents paid for two years for each of us- sophomore and junior year. They refused to pay for freshman year, so that we’d have the incentive to not screw up and didn’t pay for senior year so we wouldn’t attempt to drag out college into a 5 year situation. Of the four of us, three went to state schools, one went private. Three lived at college, one lived at home. Two got full tuition scholarships due to “we really need to improve our image and recruit girls with high GPAs and SAT scores.” It’s never going to be 100% equal dollarwise, nor does it have to be. Kids are differently skilled, and want different things from college. One of my brothers wound up getting a free Masters degree because his (the private college) was trying to entice people to do a 5 year Masters, and did so by offering the 5th year 100% free if your GPA was above a certain mark for the four years prior.

  7. Maggie2

    I agree there is no fair. My older sister and I got no help at all, the next one got tuition paid And a car and the last one was back on her own without help. It was totally dependent on my parents financial state at the time. There was no money, then there was money, and then it was gone again. Not ideal, but that’s life, and it would be waste of emotional energy to be upset about it now. We were able to say, this did not work out fairly AT ALL, but we are more interested maintaining good relationships than trying to enforce fair. Perhaps warn all the children that you are doing your best to help everyone but it won’t be identical down to the penny.

  8. Ali

    So my growing up situation was somewhat different , mostly due to having a family with only 2 kids. My parents offered to pay up to the cost of tuition+room+board at an instate public school (at the time it was $9k a year!)…anything above that, we had to come up with ourselves through scholarships or loans. For the main state school they based their # on, I was given a full ride…had I gone there, their offer was to save the balance of their offer each year and give it to me upon graduation. Obviously, you have more kids and state schools are more expensive now, so this probably isn’t going to work for you guys, esp factoring in financial aid. Anyhoo, I went to a super expensive private school with scholarships and the $9k wound up covering room/board for me. Glad I made the decision I did, but would have been nice to start out with cash too. (I will say–even though this probably won’t work for you guys, I did like that I was “incentivized” to earn scholarships…I definitely don’t think scholarship money should be counted against a child in terms of your contribution.)

  9. Melanie

    We paid for everything for the first kid (4 year private college and medical school). We are paying everything for the second kid (2 semesters to go at public college). But – since the first one was soooo much more expensive (she did get substantial scholarships in college and in med school – but still… so much more expensive), we are giving kid #2 $75K when she graduates. She plans on using it to put a down payment on a house . That still leaves us over $200K ahead on the second one. We have told #2 that if she changes her mind and wants to go to some sort of graduate school, she has until the age of 30 if she wants us to pay. If she wants to go that route, she will sell the house, use the $75K and we will chip in up to $200K. If not – we get to blow the $200K! Look for 2025 to be quite extravagant!

    So – complicated. Although it seems mostly fair, it isn’t equal. No one is complaining. And if they do, I will punch them in the mouth. That’s my end game for college expense planning.

  10. Sarah R

    It’s incredibly hard.

    I’m the oldest of three and, *after* applying to a mix of public and private schools, my parents announced they would pay for the cheapest one and if I wanted to go to a more expensive school, I’d have to take out loans. I went to the cheapest because I was scared of debt.

    Both of my younger siblings went to private schools, but parents’ financial situation had improved, so they paid for those entirely as well.

    As others said, fair and equal aren’t the same. I probably would’ve picked a different school if it would’ve been paid for, but it all worked out in the end.

  11. Gigi

    Would it be possible to have the investment account money divided 5 ways and put into 529(?)* accounts – one for each child?

    I do agree with the others that it will never be 100% equal or fair – especially when you factor in that each child will approach college differently (private/in state, etc).

    *I THINK it’s a 529 account, but I’m not 100% positive. At any rate it’s an account that can ONLY be used for education.

    1. G

      529 accounts are only used for education. However, you can roll them over from one child to another. I’m a year behind Swistle in this process and not an expert, so I may have misunderstood something so far.

      But, when we started looking at Financial Aid calculations for our oldest, it looks like they ask us to report ALL the money in ALL of the children’s 529 plans for them to use to figure out our expected “need.” Presumably. because we CAN roll the money from our daughter’s 529 over to his and use it for his education if we HAD to. Never mind that it would leave no money for her. So, I’m not sure dividing the investment money up would actually help.

      And, let me now take this moment to thank Swistle for chronicling all this for me, so I know what to expect as the next year progresses. (Because you did this for me, right?)

      1. Swistle Post author

        Yes, this is our experience: because the 529 accounts can be transferred among family members, the financial-aid forms need to know (and take into account) all the 529 accounts for all children in the family.

  12. J

    Wow, that sounds really difficult (about the tuition)… Let’s break it down, maybe that’ll help.

    So you have 5 children, and 5 sources of payment, i.e. you, grampa, scholarship, child’s income and child’s debt. You want all children to receive the same total of X out of you+grampa+scholarship. But scholarship depends on both the child’s achievements and the (leftover) savings of you+grampa. For Rob X is going to be made up mostly of grampa’s money, because there probably won’t be scholarship. So maybe it’s easier to say you want that at least you+grampa=X is the same for every single child, and imprint on everyone that scholarships are random and hard and stupid and you can’t help it.

    Question 1: can you drain Robs/grampa’s account, set up accounts for every child, and divide equally?
    Question 2: to avoid having your savings counted for Robs scholarship, can you put college savings in, say, Henry’s name? I.e. the same as Q1 but with your money and not grampa’s.
    Question 3: can you give to every child what Rob gets from grampa? So at least they have the same X?
    Question 4: If not, could you compensate for the difference by taking money from other income sources, like child’s income or scholarship? I.e. if Rob gets X from grampa and Will can only get Y from you, can X-Y be taken from Rob’s wages over the next 2 years?

    I’m not quite sure how scholarships work (I’m Dutch) so I can’t really say a lot about that and now I’m out of ideas. I’m sorry you have this difficult problem. I have 2 younger siblings and my parents gave us a fixed monthly amount to do with as we pleased (pay rent, pay tuition, or just blow it). I think that’s fair, because the remaining debt then depends on your own choices, i.e. live at home or away, blow the money or save, etc. Still I remember being jealous of my siblings, because we only got a fixed number of years from them and my school was delayed because of illness. So you can never do everything right, someone is probably going to get peeved no matter what you do!

  13. Angela

    Yeah it wasn’t “fair” for my siblings and me but we all knew that our parents did their best and that’s what matters. They helped us all in different ways at different times based on what we needed. None of us holds a grudge towards one another or them.

    1. WL

      This. I honestly had zero parental help along the way. But this is how I plan to deal with it with my kids. We will do the best we can with what we have when the time comes. Won’t be equal, hopefully will be somewhat fair ish.

  14. Fannie

    It’s nice that you are trying to keep track if only to have the record that you tried. My husband’s parents paid for the oldest child’s undergrad and Masters. The next kid got a small portion. The two youngest (including my husband) got nothing. Yet my MIL always insinuates that she paid for his schooling (the scholarship money and Fannie Mae would disagree).

  15. Jenny

    College expenses are crazy.

    When I went to college 20 (!!) years ago, in state tuition was pretty reasonable even then (around $7000/year or so for room and board. I had quite a bit of college savings through savings bonds, babysitting, graduation, my grandpa, etc. My parents farmed and had 5 kids. I pretty easily qualified for subsidized federal loans (the interest didn’t start until I graduated) and we quickly learned that my savings were kind of bad (it meant I qualified for less subsidized loans) so I used those the first semester and to buy a computer. I was able to take out only the subsidized loans and took out around $15,000. I consolidated at 2% and will have paid $100/month and should finish next year. I could finish sooner, but in theory savings is a better return. 2 of my siblings had mostly the same deal.

    My (much) younger sisters were in a totally different situation. They went to the same state school, but right after I graduated there were several years of double digit percent increases and their tuition averaged around $18,000 per year. My parents both had off the farm jobs at that point and their income was much higher. They also had lost 3 of their dependents to adulthood. And it was harder to get federal loans. So my parents loaned them much of the money for college. Frankly, it set my parents back a bit and they are still working well into their 60’s….that 5th year was a killer! But its not like they are destitute or anything. They still work hard (full time farm and 2 full time jobs), but they also have plenty of money to spend on things that they enjoy too).

    As far as fairness, I think they’ve been pretty fair. I don’t have the exact details of my parents’ deal with my younger sisters, but I think the money they loaned them is tracked and eventually (in theory) they will pay them back at little to no interest. But my parents have gifted me some significant money in my adulthood, so I can’t complain and am very grateful for their generosity.

  16. onelittletwolittle

    All I have to say is that I have 6 kids, 12 years old and younger, and I am totally freaked by college expenses. I’m just happy I can pay the grocery bill. I really appreciate you explaining all that you’re doing – it is helpful now and will be helpful again in a few years!

  17. Kim

    Not to throw a wrench in the works, have you considered how you will work it out if and when you help pay for weddings?

      1. Kim

        Of course, sorry to cause a stress :) just thinking of ways to even out the spending down the road. Especially considering the bride’s family usually hosts, it’s probably never going to be equal.

        1. yasmara

          I think this is disappearing. The latest Ms Manners & other advice columnists are advising couples getting married to pay for the wedding themselves and be grateful if anyone’s parents kick in anything.

          In our case, I would have eloped or done a justice of the peace, but my mom *insisted* on the wedding, so she (uh, and my dad) paid for it.

  18. Sarah!

    On the upside, FAFSA/financial aid people take how many kids are currently into college into account for your expected family contribution- if they expect $20k for kid 1, for example, they won’t suddenly expect $40k in a couple years when two are in college at once. This is nice as the younger ones get older (especially twins!) but don’t be surprised if a younger one gets less financial aid than they had before once an older sibling graduates!

  19. Ami

    So let’s say you have 100k, and want to give each kid 20k toward college, but because of the way colleges require you to dole out the money, the first two use all 100k before any of the next three start. Anything that they use above 20k is a personal loan, which they need to pay back for you to distribute to the other kids. Just given logistics, you may end up (as someone else mentioned above), helping the other kids pay off their loans rather than helping them up front.

    Of course, if the younger kids get need-based grants that they don’t need to pay back b/c the 100k savings has been exhausted, then I might factor that in to how much the first two actually owe, but I wouldn’t lump merit-based scholarships into this category, as those are based on each individual’s talents and efforts.

    And may I just say that it really sucks that this is how colleges do things. Ugh.

  20. Tia

    I did not yet read through 82 comments on the last post, but I had both an extraction and an implant in the last 18mo (it’s a PROCESS). Is neither gas nor sedation an option? I have dental fear (I’m 36 with a bridge, an implant, and probably 8 crowns – so it’s understandable!). I just did local novacaine. It was NO BIG DEAL. Seriously, extraction was 10000x easier than a root canal. It’s pretty fast and easy. I wouldn’t ever do gas or sedation for what really is a pretty minor procedure. I find it easier than a filling.

  21. Mommyattorney

    Equal is not fair. I think it’s great to record-keep, just for the sake of your own sanity, but I doubt very much you’ll ever be able to make it truly equal. I’m sure you will make it fair.

    (Easy for this only kid to say).

  22. MelissaC

    My parents did not worry about the exact dollar amount they spent on my sisters and I. They followed what the FAFSA and Financial Aid office told them to pay. I took out loans, but my younger sister somehow avoided that. This is probably because she went to a less expensive college and my parents had two kids in college at the time so she received more aid. I remember my mother making it clear that taking out loans was my choice, that I could choice a different college that did not require me to take loans. In the end, I am happy with my choice regardless. Both my sister and I worked during college and summer breaks. The money we earned paid for our own books and personal expenses.
    When our third sister decided to go to junior college for her cosmetology license, they bought her a small used car since their was considerably less cost for that program. So they did have a sense that they needed to be fair. But they were not worried about keeping everything exactly even. This has never bothered me or my middle sister. We knew everyone was doing their best to help. I think there will be no way to make what you contribute exactly even for all 5 kids. You will just do your best and the financial aid portion will (hopefully) sort itself out.

  23. misguidedmommy

    I didn’t get to read every comment, but….is it possible to turn any of the money into CASH that you keep at home during the application process? If it’s not in an account collecting interest then it doesn’t exist to the college people right?

    1. Swistle Post author

      The financial aid people have also thought of this clever idea. You have to report all savings, checking, investment, and cash.

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