Putting Children Through College

Putting Children Through College

From One Parent to Another

An interview with Patricia Konetnzy, CFP, EA.

As a parent, the prospect of putting a child through college may pose an obstacle. Each year, countless numbers of parents deal with the exact same situation. People with complicated lives, limited money, and limited free time see their way through this seemingly difficult process.

Patricia Konetzny, a certified financial planner and mother of four children, has already seen one child through college and has another currently enrolled. She understands the importance of helping her children make such life changing decisions, as well as financial decisions.

Not only believing in the importance of carefully planning out one's financial decisions, she believes that children should be responsible for some of the cost of their education so that they will be “committed to studying and getting the most” out of their education. This topic, among others, is discussed by Mrs. Konetzny in the following interview.

Tell us about your life. How did your career start? Did you have your child before or after the start of your career?

I am self-employed as a fee-only personal financial advisor. I work with people who want to be sure they are making the best decisions they can with their money based on what's important to them. After college and before children, I worked for a large bank in Boston as an internal auditor.

My interest in financial planning grew from my own years as a stay-at-home mother. With four children, including a set of twins, it made sense for me to learn ways to save money on taxes and investments, as well as groceries and braces. I followed an interest and it became a career. I chose to further my education when the children were young so that I could work and earn money when they were in school.

I started my own business so that I could have the flexibility to be home in the afternoons and attend their games, school events. The business gave me the ability to do things that were important to my family and me. Our youngest two will be attending college in the fall. Our oldest graduated in 2004 and our second daughter is presently a junior in college.

What were the biggest challenges you faced prior to, and during the process of putting your children through college? Did you have money saved for their education? How did you go about saving that money?

Our biggest challenge was that my husband was laid off the year our oldest started college. He started his own business in a different field so we were both self-employed.

I knew that saving in the child's name was not a good idea. We had saved mostly in our own retirement accounts, setting aside 8 to 10% a year from the time we married. When 401ks started, we saved through my husband's 401k and contributed to an IRA for me, taking advantage of spousal IRAs.

Did you have to utilize financial aid? How did you handle their personal expenses?

Yes, we did apply for financial aid and had our daughter take the maximum federal loan each year. She graduated, consolidated her loans at 2.78%, and pays them off monthly. I explained to her that funding a 401k is a better use of her money than pre-paying the education loans. She is now continuing her education while working at a company that reimburses 90% of her tuition too.

She was responsible for almost all of her personal expenses while in college. Through high school she had to save a portion of her earnings for college so knew that was expected before she went.

Did you help your daughter choose the college she went to? While your child was in school, did they ever have problems with a low GPA and if so, what was done about it? Did they graduate on time?

Attending the University of Massachusetts was her choice. She had attended a small high school and wanted the opportunities of a large university. At the time I would have preferred that she attend a smaller school, but left the decision to her. It was an excellent decision and we are confident she made the right choice.

We believe that it's our children's responsibility for their GPA and don't get involved other than telling them finishing in four years was expected. There would be no “Super Seniors”, as they say. Our oldest finished in four years and we expect our second daughter to do that as well.

As a parent and experienced member of the workforce, do you feel that specific skills and leadership abilities are important qualities? Did your child do an internship and do you think that that is important?

I believe many skills are very important in the workforce and in life. They need to be aware of life and people around them, be honest, be an independent thinker yet work well with others, have coping skills to deal with whatever happens, feel they have control and are responsible for their decisions and what happens to them.

Both girls have worked as an intern, yet I believe all summer jobs help kids develop. Our second daughter realized she did not want to work in her major through the internship she had last summer so it was well worth her time. She has since changed her major.

Do you have any additional advice to parents facing the task of putting their child through college?

I encourage parents not to personally take out large amounts of loans or have the child take out large loans to attend college. Try to pay for college through yearly income. Try to utilize savings and federal loans, work-study programs, kids' work, tax saving, et cetera.

Also, encourage your children to take responsibility for paying at least part of their education so they are really committed to studying and getting the most out of their time.

Interviewed by Doug Schmitt, CollegesUSA.com Staff Writer.

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