MY TWINS ARE OFF to college. They’re on different paths. One is attending an institution less than 100 miles from home, while the other will be on the far side of the continent. One has a full-ride package of financial aid from her chosen college. The other isn’t getting as much.
Every morning this past week, I’ve intended to pay the first semester for the twin who didn’t get a full ride. I have the cash.
AS MY TWINS DEPART for college, they leave behind a home base where they find food in the refrigerator, get new clothes and shoes when needed, have bills paid and extra-curriculars funded, and receive a small weekly allowance to save or spend.
Now, they’re headed far from familiar security. They gain instead independence and the opportunity to explore other ways of living and spending, all part of their higher education. Cold cereal for supper?
MY TWIN DAUGHTERS just finished sorting through college offers and making their decision ahead of the May 1 acceptance deadline. With nearly 3,000 four-year colleges to choose from, how did they decide?
It wasn’t easy. The pandemic didn’t just close our local public schools. It also ended visits from universities and limited school-based college counseling. Counselors compensated with lunchtime workshops, links to webinars, and lots of robocalls and emails urging students to fill out and submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
MY FIRST JOB AFTER college was at a global engineering firm. A roommate also worked there. It was a tedious office job, but my bosses thought I had potential and encouraged me to study engineering, which I didn’t.
Instead, I quit and went to graduate school to study linguistics, a field where I observed the most professors having the most fun. My last paycheck at the engineering firm included an extra sum. It was a refund for a retirement account that had failed to vest because I hadn’t stayed long enough.
A LIFE OF FRUGALITY might mean your children graduate college debt-free, which is a major accomplishment. But what about your happy-go-lucky neighbors, who spent every dime they earned and never saved for college?
At issue here is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which is the basis for the all-important expected family contribution (EFC). The whole thing can seem like one big crapshoot, as I can now attest.
The EFC may determine that your spendthrift neighbors’ kids also get to graduate debt-free.
MY TWINS ARE SENIORS in high school. That means, pandemic or no pandemic, we spent the fall applying to colleges.
Here in California, the pandemic closed public schools in March and most did not reopen for in-person teaching with the start of the current academic year. That forced parents to stand in for college counselors. The preparations high school juniors usually engage in, such as visiting colleges and taking standardized tests, didn’t occur this past spring or summer.
LIKE OTHERS, I TOOK my first part-time job as a teenager and, once working fulltime, stayed at it steadily for decades. Being an adult meant being a worker, affiliated with some firm or another, one industry or another.
My plans for ever exiting the labor force were vague: “Save for the future, so someday you will retire with honor and dignity to spend your waning days as you desire.” I saved steadily,
AS MY PERSONAL and financial life gradually became more orderly in the months after my husband’s death, I found myself wrestling with one particular investment: My late husband had spent the bulk of his working life with Union Pacific and, like longtime employees at so many companies, he’d accumulated a significant number of shares. What should I do with those shares?
My husband and I occasionally discussed the dangers of overweighting company stock—something that often happens when shares are used for the employer’s 401(k) matching contribution or they’re granted as part of incentive pay packages.
FOLLOWING MY husband’s death, I went from feeling prosperous to precarious in the space of a few short months. For decades, I’d had something extra in hand, beyond the minimum sum necessary to keep going. That sense of prosperity was now gone.
This wasn’t just my imagination. Studies have found that widows are significantly less wealthy than their married counterparts. One academic article notes, “The death of a spouse is an event that may precipitate a large decline in wealth.” Similarly,
I LIKE TO THINK my husband and I were savvy and careful when planning our estate. Yet anybody can make an occasional dumb mistake. That brings me to my next surprise in settling my husband’s affairs—and it came with an unfortunate legal bill.
As a couple, we’d established a revocable living trust at a young age, when death was a strictly theoretical idea. The trust eliminated the need for our estate to go through probate,
SAVING FOR the future entails a pinch in the present. Every so often, it makes sense to reconsider how much we save—and whether it’s time to take a break from saving. As a recent early retiree, I was pondering this, even before the latest stock market disruption.
Unfortunately, none of us has a reliable crystal ball that tells us when to buy low or sell high. We also don’t have complete knowledge of our future self.
DESPITE MY independent nature, I called family and friends after my injury. I thanked them for what they’d already done following my husband’s death—and requested additional, more intensive support.
One aunt, a government employee, arranged to work for a week at a nearby federal building. My sister-in-law also came for a week, and a cousin who is a nurse volunteered, too. A professional colleague parked her RV in the driveway and brought along her friendly pooch.
TWO WEEKS AFTER my husband’s death, we held a memorial service for local friends and family. Days later, after a reasonable amount of online research, I visited a car dealer.
It’s my experience that bringing at least one youngster along speeds up dealmaking, plus a parent can get unvarnished opinions about life in the backseat. So I brought along my 13-year-old. The two of us test drove two used cars and bought one of them.
AFTER LEAVING the hospital, our family met up at a favorite neighborhood restaurant.
“What’s next?” the teenagers asked.
“Now begins the parade of covered dishes,” I answered.
For the month after my husband’s death, when preparing food hardly seemed possible, friends and neighbors made sure our refrigerator and freezer bulged. The kids experienced a variety of main meals, side dishes and desserts. There was enough for us and our many helpers, and we experimented with time and labor-saving meal shortcuts.
IT STARTED innocently. A doctor’s visit. A blood test. Results. Admit to hospital for “a couple days of observation” that instead cascaded, over six days, into my husband’s death at age 71. His death certificate states “etiology unknown.” While doctors suspected prescribed medication, we will never know just what caused his liver to fail.
Throughout, the situation had been confusing. Clarity regarding treatment options—and the likely outcome from procedures—was in short supply. He and I and doctors made medical decisions in the face of this uncertainty and without regard to costs.