It costs big bucks to provide your child with a university education. If you have more than one, it costs a small fortune. I know, as my husband and I helped our three children.

Apart from the noble goal of wanting them to value knowledge, we also wanted our kids to be able to look after themselves financially as adults; be debt free at the end of their first degree; and appreciate the cost of education. And not necessarily in that order.

So this is what we did.

Wisely or foolishly, throughout their childhood we assumed our kids would attend university.

When it came time to go, the kids had to cough up one third of the total costs, which was about $15 to $17,000 per year. They did this through part time jobs during the academic high school year and summer jobs from the time they were about 16.  Their jobs included everything from dishwasher to research assistant. My oldest dropped off 75 resumes to retail outlets before she landed her first job.

Another third came from University Scholarships of Canada (USC), now called  Knowledge First Financial. When our children were eight, five and one, we invested in USC in each child’s name. The original investment was returned when the child graduated from high school. In subsequent years, she or he received an amount based on the interest the overall fund was making.

If the kids didn’t go to university, the interest on the investment would be lost.   On occasion, we reminded them of this.

The last third came from our savings. While our children were in university, the government implemented Registered Education Savings Plans (RESPs) and we invested in them too.

The children were required to make a budget for each school year.

While it was more or less smooth sailing with the two oldest (with the occasional wave), we ran into a few squalls with the youngest.

2008 Matt on Hobi Cat

My son was in and out of university for seven years before he obtained a degree.  After his second year at a university near Toronto, no more funds were forthcoming from USC because of his academic standing.

He left this university, moved back home and enrolled at a local university.  We told him he could live with us rent free but we would only pay for courses once he passed them. Unfortunately, he still found it difficult to apply himself and left owing a small debt to the institution.

At that point, we advised him that if he continued to live with us, he would pay rent and he quickly found an income supported apartment.  He also found a job at a coffee shop, worked for a year and a half, and paid off the debt. He then re-enrolled in the university, obtained a student loan and continued working while he completed his degree, both on a part and full time basis.

We agreed again to pay for those courses he passed. Apart from that, he was financially on his own. He graduated and he is slowly paying back his loan.

Research indicates that we behaved as many parents do.

According to CIBC polls, parents, are generally willing to pay for two-thirds of their children’s post-secondary education and 21 per cent are planning to pick up the entire cost.

But helping finance their kids’ education is difficult for many parents. The CIBC polls found that about a third will delay retirement because of costs of their children’s university education.

Another survey by Canadian Alliance of Student Associations found that 35 per cent of parents obtained a loan or line of credit; 33 per cent dipped into retirement savings; and some remortgaged their house. Many others were going to fewer restaurants, taking fewer vacations and working more hours.

Parents aren’t the only ones suffering. According to the Canadian Federation of Students, the average student debt is almost $27,000. CBC reported that some estimates drop to around $14,500 when debt free graduates are included in the calculation.

In a recent study by American Student Assistance, a private American non-profit organization, about a third of student respondents said debt impacted their career choices.

It’s apparent both students and parents are under stress paying for the costs of university education. Experts say starting to save early is the key.

And for those kids who don’t do well academically, my advice is to believe in them because they will catch the wind.  Our son is a good sailor and can weather a storm.

My son gave me permission to post this article. It first appeared in The Glebe Report, a downtown Ottawa community newspaper.

What is your experience financing your kids’ education?  Do you have any tips?  Please respond in the Reply Box below.   

Lessons Learned, The Bank of Mom and Dad
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Join the conversation! 4 Comments

  1. Our rule-one degree or four years, whichever one comes first…seemed like a good idea in principle. In reality, when our first son changed majors, and needed another year, we helped with the fifth year. No regrets, he worked part time after first year, and full time during the summers. I am confident that we did not contribute to any beer money, billiard games or restaurant meals! It was a happy day for all of us when he graduated debt free. No regrets, except now that the second one is in third year and and considering a fifth year, I have no leg to stand on.


  2. Between RESP, my scholarship, working 10-12 hrs a week during the school-year and full-time in the summer and going to a local university (and so living at home), I graduated debt free from university. An RESP was one of the best gifts my parents ever gave me. We’re in early days with our kids, but they both had one before their first birthday. My parents contribute to help. I’ll report back in 15-20 years on how it turns out. But that’s how we’re working it out presently.


    • Good luck. You are smart to plan early.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I wish more people would/could. My husband’s family didn’t so I saw student debt from his perspective. It’s an albatross – and generally these are financial decisions given to people who are very young and who haven’t always had the benefit of learning any financial literacy. Granted some student debt is warranted (my husband’s as an example – he had to leave home for college as he was from a small town, he studied the trade he now practices). But many degrees or training honestly won’t pay off as there are many students better suited to post-secondary learning outside traditional university and colleges but who are pushed there because there is a sense that is what they are “supposed” to do. Now. This was at least the case when I was at university.


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