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We Paid Cash! :: Our Kids’ College

We paid cash!

A testimony from Kathi

It was important to my husband and I, as adults with college degrees and the student loan debt to prove it, that our children have similar opportunities for an education with none of the debt.

Given that my husband teaches at a college (not exactly the highest paid profession in the world) and I was a homeschooling mom working part-time, this was going to be a challenge and we were on a time limit because most scholarship money is available the year after one graduates from high school. This was a total family effort!

How We Did It

  1. We, the parents, put away what we were able for their future and grandparents contributed what they were able, but it was minimal given our own financial needs.
  2. Our students started out with getting excellent grades in high school and on standardized tests because most scholarship money is based on those two items.
  3. Both also spent a great deal of time volunteering with not-for-profit groups in their own field of interest. This became vital later on as they were offered part-time jobs paying more than minimum wage at those agencies while they were in college.
  4. When they turned 16, they started working for pay and continuing to volunteer as they could. They banked most of their earnings in anticipation of their college career.
  5. They both did dual high school and college credit at our local two-year college. In some states this is tuition-free but not in ours. It was worth the added investment because taking college classes before graduating from high school boosts both the GPA and the standardized test results! It also puts them on track to graduate from college sooner. Our son earned his BA three years after he graduated from high school; our daughter earned her AA a year after she graduated from high school. Being willing to complete as much as possible at a two-year college will allow scholarship money to go farther too!
  6. We became experts at searching out inexpensive textbooks. Part of that involves being willing to use used textbooks and part of it involves sleuthing! The first resource was other students who had taken the class who were willing to loan, rent, trade or sell a book. If that failed, Barnes & Noble Textbooks and became our new best friends! They tend to be less expensive than the college book store on used books and will also allow people to sell their no-longer needed books. We were sure to check with the professors to see if older editions of the textbook are usable because they are often available practically for free! We have been most successful with older editions for humanities courses. I also had my first experience buying a textbook from Amazon using gift cards I earned from Swagbucks just this semester!
  7. Decide what is important to your student. Our son decided he would prefer a local college that offered his major and to continue living in our home (saving housing costs) and purchase his car for cash instead of spending the money on living elsewhere. He also realized that riding the Express Bus (free for university students) saved on gas and parking. That allowed him to purchase the computer and cell phone service he desired. Our daughter preferred a more traditional college experience because of the lack of availability of her desired major in our area and will spend the money she has saved the last several years while finishing high school and her AA to supplement her living expenses (she also decided on a less expensive computer and cell phone service).

Kathi Regalbuto is a retired homeschool mom of 2, owner of Penny Wise CU. Visit her at PennyWiseCU.

Have you saved up and paid cash for something — large or small? Submit your story for possible publication here.

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  • Kathi,
    Thank you for the tips. We have 4 kids, one who will be entering high school next year. I begain looking at the high school curriculum this weekend and it was a reality check. We have to make sure she is on track and these tips help tremendously.

    Thanks again for your story.

  • Emily says:

    Just curious, you didn’t get free tuition for your kids at the college your husband teaches at?

  • Darcy says:

    That is SO awesome!! My parents and grandparents definitely tried…but the money stowed away was needed before college. I’m paying off those student loan bills now. Transitioning into the real world after college would definitely be less stressful without all those bills. Congrats to your entire family for working so hard!!!

  • Susan says:

    What an encouraging story! We have 3 girls, ages 9-11, and when I think about college I get scared. Our suburban district has so many kids who go to out of state and expensive schools, and I can’t see how we could afford them. Then again, when I think about it, WHY would my kids go there? I feel that, basically, a college education is a college education. I want to encourage me kids to go to good in-state, probably public schools. I’m bookmarking this. Thank you for sharing your tips!

    • kr says:

      @Susan, You are for the most part correct. As long as the college offers your student’s major college education is in general seen as equivalent in most fields.

      • kr says:

        @kr, I forgot to add that the more children you have in college simultaneously, the more likely they will be eligible for need based financial aid.

  • Julie says:

    My parents were unable to pay for my college tuition, so I worked full-time during the day and went to school at night to pay my way. I paid as I went, if money was short one quarter, I would take less classes. I was able to live at home and commute, it took me 6 years, but I graduated debt free.

  • Risha says:

    As someone who graduated from college within the last 10 years and still has the student loan debt to go with my degree, I wish I had had these tips back then! Great suggestions!

  • Thank you for sharing your story Kathi! My husband and I both graduated college with no student loan debt. My husband began working in high school and saved virtually all his earnings and gifts from grandparents. Once in college, he became a resident advisor for his dorm, which gave him a small stipend plus free room & board and free meal plan. I received a full academic scholarship, which was a tremendous blessing as my parents were already retired and living on a fixed income when I entered college.

    Mary Ellen

  • Elizabeth says:

    My parents paid for my 4 years as an undergraduate at a school that was $20,000/year in cash– and they never made any more than about 40k a year with 2 kids! My grandparents gave them $5000 when I was born and said, “you have 18 years to turn this into college.” With careful investing, they did! I also got a LOT of scholarships, and worked in the summers, but starting saving/investing early made all the difference. I paid cash for my Master’s and Doctorate too. It can be done!

  • A.S. says:

    What a great story – my parents paid for most of my college tuition, and my husband’s parents paid for his. At the time, neither set made a considerable amount of money, but both sets started saving when each of us was born. We both also worked during the summers in college and made up for the difference that way.

    We look forward to doing the exact same for our children. Graduating from college with no debt was a gift that neither my husband nor I will never be able to properly thank our parents for. It gave us a head-start in saving for the future (even before we met), and because of that, we are in position to help our future kids. We look forward to providing the same for our children. Kathi, you are doing a fantastic and beautiful gesture.

  • Janice says:

    You need to research, research, research the dual enrollment option. In some school districts, and in Ohio, it varies by school district, those college classes would only count for credit towards completing not towards GPA. Some colleges will count the credit but not towards the required major coursework. I have seen wonderful dual enrollment opportunities, and then I have seen dual enrollment be a disappointment.

  • Mitchster says:

    Another source for textbooks (if an older edition is acceptable) is the college library.

    • kr says:

      @Mitchster, I would add to that the public library (if necessary via inter-library loan) I was trying to keep the post under the word limit but many semesters we have borrowed the books from one library or another and paid late fees once the renewal period ran out from $1 ish to $15-ish and considered the late fees “reasonable rent”

  • Susan J says:

    I’m glad your kids are going to be able to finish school without debt. As for us, right now (with kids ages 1 and 3), we’ve decided saving for our kids’ education is not a priority for us. I got a full-ride tuition/room/board academic scholarship to a four-year liberal arts college after high school, and my husband chose to do an online computer science degree several years after high school. My parents helped with extra expenses for me, and then later helped with the relatively low cost of my master’s degree. In reality, what they paid was equal to or less than what they had paid each year for me to attend a private high school.

    Without rambling on further, what I’m saying is that my husband and I both got through college with no debt and little/no financial assistance from our parents. So we know it’s possible. While our view might change in the future, right now we think it’s more important to invest out money otherwise.

    I definitely agree with your bottom line, though: let’s see our kids go through college without the tremendous burden of student loans! 🙂

  • Spendwisemom says:

    We have 5 kids and three are in college right now. Encouraging them to get good grade in high school really pays off. We have helped a bit with tuition for one of our kids, but they have paid for most of their own college with scholarships and part time jobs at college. Two daughters will be graduating next year with Master’s degrees and no college debt. Our goal is to have our kids graduate with an undergraduate degree and no debt. Especially with this economy, you don’t want to graduate with debt when it is hard enough to find a job! Great tips.

  • Awesome! I had no debt for my undergrad thanks to my grandparents’ generosity w/ stocks that my parents managed for me with a financial adviser until I was out of undergrad + scholarships. I’m in grad school now and have a fellowship which is a huge blessing. However, don’t be afraid of private schools. Often small private colleges have great scholarship/grant programs–my 2000 student Lutheran school did, and it cost less for me to go there than friends at state schools. So do shop around, but let your kids/siblings/whomever you’re advising on this go where their heart is and where they feel led like Kathi did with her kids in #7. Even if a school is more expensive, if that’s where they’re supposed to be it will all work out! 🙂

    • Megan says:

      @Sarah K. @ The Pajama Chef, I completely agree, Sarah! Parents often get “sticker shock” but small, liberal arts colleges typically have huge endowments that mean lots of scholarship money. State schools, on the other hand, have very little scholarship money to award. Encourage your kids to apply to the schools they’ll fit at best and wait for those financial aid letters to arrive before ruling anything out.

    • brookeb says:

      @Sarah K. @ The Pajama Chef, I work at a small private college and I really do think very few people realize how much we give out in funding. I know of quite a few of our students who receive full rides and some who have part of their housing covered by aid. It’s always worth looking into private colleges.

  • Chelsea says:

    I have mixed feelings about parents helping students pay for their education. I’m a college student myself and I have noticed that some students who don’t pay their own way take their classes less seriously. While I think that it’s something great for parents to pay for their children’s college, children should do whatever they can to contribute. My parents have never given me a cent of money for school and I’ve done all the work to pay for it myself, and that is a fact that I am very very proud of. I too completed my AS in high school which helped a lot with the cost, and my state used to offer scholarships to those of us who did so. Part of me thinks that paying for a student’s education can be both a huge help and a huge hinderance in their learning process. I’m glad that my parents let me manage my own money from a young age, and emphasized education at the same time -so I knew what I should spend it on. College is just as much a study in investments as it is in what the student chooses to pursue.

    • kr says:

      @Chelsea, Oh my Chelsea, I SO very much agree w/ you. Back in the late 80’s early 90″s when our kids were born my full intention was to have them pay their own way w/ maybe some incentives from us to do well. I had a friend whose parents agreed to pay her back X amt at the end of the semester if she had gotten a 2.0/4 scale and added more if her gpa was higher and that plan really appealed to me because I personally knew way too many adults who squandered the education their parents were willing/able to provide them!
      Then the rubber met the road as it were and I realized the differences between financial aid laws, tax laws and the economy in general between when I got my BS (late 70’s) ; semi-xdh got his MS (late 80s); my MS mid 90s were great enough by the time our kids hit college age (oldr kid 2005) that we had to rethink the entire equation!

    • Heather says:

      @Chelsea, I agree. I think parents need to be very careful how they handle this, so that the “kids” (who are really adults) don’t feel entitled and/or don’t take college as seriously as they could.

      Even if I were rich, I would not pay for my kids’ whole bill. I think they should work to earn some of the money. Builds character, etc. My parents paid my living expenses for my first 3 years. I had a one year tuition scholarship, and then with summer jobs made enough for my tuition for the next two years. But then, for various reasons, I really wanted financial independence, and so I told my parents that I would do the rest on my own. BEST decision. Wish I had done it earlier. I took another 1 1/2 years to finish. Had to work a parttime job during the school year, but I actually got better grades. I finished with only $4000 debt. Even on a teacher salary, it was not hard to pay it off early. I am grateful to my parents for their assistance, however, I really do value the sense of accomplishment that I got for being self-supporting. Made the transition to the post-college world easy financially, because even as a teacher I had more to spend than I did before.

      Not a fan of debt, generally, like most of you on here, but I think that a SMALL amount of education debt is okay if necessary – it’s an investment. My roommate that I had during that first teaching job had $80,000 of loans to pay back, also on a teacher salary. She really regretted choosing such an expensive college.

    • Kelly says:

      @Chelsea, I totally agree with you as well! I didn’t have any money from my parents when attending a University 10 years ago, and did it by working lots and being very, very frugal. I also received no financial aid money because they said my parents made too much. At the time I didn’t always feel like things were fair or that it was a blessing in disguise. However, when after a couple years of working after I graduated I had my first child, those 4 years of frugal living proved priceless as my husband decided it was best for me to not work anymore and be a SAHM. Had I not learned how to live with less, and more importantly be happy living with less I probably couldn’t have been a SAHM until our youngest started kindergarten this year. And while I am working now, luckily it is only 16hrs a week. I too am very proud that I did not take any money from my parents for college, and when they frowned their noses at the fact that their college educated daughter was a SAHM, I knew they couldn’t complain that they had “wasted” their money on sending me to college.

  • Anon says:

    You can also rent textbooks from

  • Mallory says:

    Renting textbooks from websites like can save at least 50%.

  • Julie says:

    I save money by renting my texts every semester. I use a company called Chegg. I wanted to share a promotional code to get a discount on your text order with them. Put in the code when ordering and hit the “apply” button. The code also gives you back an additional $5 when selling Chegg your used texts. The code never expires so it can be used over and over.

    Use code CC123047

    It’s fine to share the code with others who need to save money!

  • mamajuliana says:

    We are in the midst of paying cash for college right now! Thank you for the help with finding textbooks!

    Our son is attending a private college and about 75 percent of his tuition/board is covered by scholarship, (for four years!). We are so fortunate.

    The state colleges were just not an option for us. It just cost too much. They could not offer what the private school did!

  • Michelle says:

    I live in Florida, and we have the Florida prepaid college program we are doing for our 4 yr old. The concept of the plan is that you purchase it and lock in at the going rate now! Your payment depends on serversl things: how old they are when you enroll ( we enrolled as soon as possible, because of her birthdate we did not have a ss # for her by the first cutoff date, but did by the second, so we started when she was 1), the going rate when you sign up, and what plan you choose. They have a 2 yr junior college plan, a 2 yr jc+ 2 yr university, and a 4 yr university. They also have dorm plans running from 1-4 yrs. It can be paid in one lump dum (ouch!), monthly over five years, or monthly over 17 years.We chose the 4 yr university w/o dorm. We pay $116 a month till she graduates high school, but with the estimates for a 4 year university degree costing over $120,000 the year she graduates, this is a HUGE savings, and no matter what financial situation we are in, her tuition will be paid for! The best part is, only a $50 application fee, and if you are enrolled for more than 2 years and for whatever reason have to withdraw, you get everything back ( under 2 yrs there is a small penalty). They have 5 Years after graduating to start using it, and this time is extended if they join the military. And the best for last: if they receive a scholarship, you get back the GOiNG rate of tuition at that time, by semester! Overall, I think it’s a great investment. We thought about doing traditional investments, but with the market being the way it is, there was no guarantee, especially at only investing $116 a month! Anyone in Florida should look into this!

    • kr says:

      @Michelle, Another thing which as someone mentioned above is worth researching to pieces when making a decision.
      I am disappointed to this day that when a similar program became available in SC we couldn’t afford it for our 21 yo son because it would have been a huge blessing for him (he graduated in May from College of Charleston) but simultaneously it would have been a very bad financial decision for our 19 yo because there is not a single college in SC that offers her major!

  • Jacki says:

    We have 5 children. Three have finished college, one is a sophomore in college and #5 is a junior in high school. We, also, paid cash for our children’s college educations. None of our kids received financial aid, scholarships or grants. My husband and I saved, scrimped and sacrificed to pay tuition and most of their room and board. They paid for most of their books, food, cars, gas and other living expenses. They did not go to expensive private colleges, but to community college and our state university. I feel as though this was one of the greatest gifts we have given to our children. It is a gift that our parents also gave to us. The oldest three are married now, and none of their spouses had student loan debt either. They feel so blessed that they were able to begin their lives without huge student loan debt hanging over their heads. It has never been easy, but I am so thankful that we committed to be debt free in this area.

  • Laurie says:

    This post was timely. My children are 2&6 now,but I have already beeen able to save over $7000 for my daughter who is 6. As a single mom Making decent money and being debt free this is my biggest dream for my girls is to come out of college debt free. I worked in a childcare center going through college and my employer paid 50% for each credit at a private college and I also had my own health insurance. I did live in the dorms for about 2 yrs just to experience college life and my parents paid for this. I got my BSN 14yrs ago and came out with $2500 of debt. I feel by my kids having excellent grades,volunteering and being involved will go a long way now and into the future. I agree with these hard economic times things are not getting easier for our children. With much prayer and saving I am sure it will all work out.

  • Amy Lauren says:

    If your kids can graduate from college debt free, they are set. Seriously. I graduated from college 3 years ago, debt free. No student loans or consumer debt- which is good because after graduation, you have enough to worry about with finding a job, much less finding a way to pay back student loans.

    I did a lot of these same things mentioned in this blog- got good grades, took a couple of dual credit courses (my high school did not offer many), and earned scholarships. I also went to an in-state public college the year after I graduated from high school instead of waiting like others did.

    I go to work and see my coworkers- many of whom are 10+ years older than me, who can’t wait until payday because of the payments they have to make on student loans and other bills. Many of them have kids who they should be saving for college for, but are trying to pay off their own college still.

    Not having debt- that’s a few hundred dollars a month that I can save, invest in CDs and my money market account, or put in a Roth IRA, which I’m starting soon.

    I had an awesome experience living on campus and going to an in-state school, and others can too for minimal (if any) debt if you work hard at it. I wouldn’t trade my college years for anything- and I can look back on them and smile even bigger knowing that I’m not still paying for those good times and the superior education.

  • Katie says:

    I’m another that is probably in the minority, but I am not planning to pay for my kids’ entire college educations. My husband and I came to that decision after he blew his entire freshman year skipping class and playing ultimate frisbee. He was a great kid and VERY intelligent, but at 18 financial responsibility didn’t matter to him. He wasn’t the one forking over the money for school, so it didn’t really hit home to him how seriously he should take school. Once he was the one forking over the money for school, he maintained a 3.8 GPA.

    After his experiences, our plan is that our girls will pay for the first two years of college (either by money they themselves save or student loans) and my husband and I will pay for their last two years (though we’ll help out with books along the way). I just feel that they are less likely to blow those first years of college if they are the ones responsible for it. I’ll do my best between now and then to raise them to be financially responsible and to take school seriously, but there are no guarantees. To us, this is one way to help them take on their first real-world financial responsibility plus encourage them to take school seriously.

    • @Katie, My parents were paying a majority of my tuition when I went to college and lets just say that I had a little too much fun at the expense of my grades. I ended up dropping out before I finished my freshman year and am glad I did it then instead of costing my parents even more money. Looking back, I realized I just went to college because it was what my dad wanted and was not what I wanted. When my kids are older I want them to be successful but that doesn’t mean they need to go to college- there are plenty of jobs that some good old fashioned hard work is all you need to do good. They will know that there are so many options for them after high school, including college- but whatever they choose they need to work hard at it.

      • Katie says:

        @Erica @ Just Call Me Cheap, Oh, one thing we learned from my husband’s experience is that some people aren’t ready at 18 for college. When I graduated from high school, I thought my friends that didn’t go straight to college were crazy and that they would never do anything with themselves. It took watching my husband go through what he did (we met when we were 19) to really grasp that college really isn’t right for everyone, and definitely not at the timing that society puts on it. I think it might encourage my kids to think about whether they are really ready for college if they know that they will be the one paying for the first two years.

        I will agree that college is a choice. I think it is an important one, but I would never force my children to go.

  • Crystal says:

    An AP Exam (taken in High School) helped me tremendously!

    I went to a small high school and although I took all AP classes, I was only able to take one official AP Exam – for English. The test cost $75, but was well worth the money. I placed high enough to earn 12 English credits at the University of Oregon! That one test allowed me start college with all of my required English classes already complete. I was also able to finish in 3 years, which saved me a bundle.

  • Crystal says:

    An AP Exam (taken in High School) helped me tremendously!

    I went to a small high school and while I did take all AP classes, only one AP exam was available for me to take. The test cost $75 but was well worth the money. I placed high enough to earn 12 English credits at the University of Oregon. I started college with all of my required English already completed. I was also able to earn my B.S. in just 3 years.

  • klutzyruth says:

    My son is taking his LSAT today, so yay, law school.

    I just wanted to add two more sources for your readers. lots of scholarship money to be had here.
    And for books –

  • My husband and I are only going to save for our children’s college once we are able to put away 20% of our gross pay towards retirement. If we can’t afford to save for their college after fully funding our retirement then they are going to have to pay their own way. Even if we do end up helping them pay for their schooling we are going to set up the expectation that they are going to have to pay for it themselves. I think that when kids know that they are “set” they tend to not try as hard or to be as responsible (I know this because my husband grew up knowing that his parents would always bail him out financially and I am still trying to “fix” him). I figure that my kids would rather pay for their own college then have my husband and I live when them when we get old because we didn’t save enough for retirement.

  • robbie says:

    My husband is back in school full time after starting 18 years ago. While you can’t change the past, it’s definitely a lesson I hope my children will learn from!

    We are definitely not debt free on our college because of the expense of child care. Some things that have helped though is to buy the books online. We saved $200 on an anatomy textbook alone that way!

  • Bonita says:

    Nice going, Kathi! We just sent our oldest off to college this year and did some of the same things you did.

    To those looking ahead to college, I’d just like to encourage you that we can make our plans and work our plans, but sometimes God has a different plan than ours.

    We are a homeschooling family and had planned for my son to take lots of classes via the concurrent enrollment program at the community college while he was still in high school. One semester into the program the state changed all the rules and that plan went out the window. Plan B was for him to finish high school and spend the first two years at a community college and then transfer. That plan also went out the window when God distinctly led us in another direction- a private four year college that we couldn’t afford in a million years.

    We have not been able to save much toward college over the years because we needed the money to live on so when God began to nudge in the direction of this college we knew either He would have to supernaturally provide or else there was no way our son could go there. Long story short, God provided ample scholarships and grants and we are paying beans for him to attend. His biggest scholarship requires him to perform a significant amount of community service so he isn’t getting a “free” ride in the sense that he is responsibility-free.

    All that to say, don’t assume that because a college has a certain price tag your child can’t attend. Some of those same colleges have hefty endowments and more scholarship money available. Also, do all the prudent things and prepare ahead, but don’t discount God’s ability to make a way where there is no way.

    • Debbie says:

      @Bonita, Thanks for mentioning this Bonita. As a mom of a senior who doesn’t know “what she wants to do” and that we have just about no money saved for college – that God can do the impossible. Thankfully our daughter (and two sons 2 years apart) get amazing grades and test very high on Standarized tests!! So, hopefully scholarships will be in abundance?! Now if she could just decide where to go and what to study!!!! I think some serious prayer is in order here. Thanks again for the encouragement!

  • Dawn says:

    I can vouch for having saved significantly on textbooks during college years. Some places I have used include and even! Reselling textbooks at the end of the semester (back to the college bookstore) also helped recoup some of the expense.

  • Dawn says:

    Also (especially if you’re an older student), CLEP exams are a nice alternative if you are already proficient in a subject. (For example, if you’ve studied a subject extensively or had a thorough high school class.) It’s also helpful for homeschool students who don’t have the availability to take AP classes. Make sure the college you plan to attend accepts CLEP credits.

  • Aimee says:

    Bravo for paying for your children’s college education! My husband and I both have our college degrees and we’re still paying for them. I feel very, very blessed for the many ways my parents have blessed me so I always feel badly when I think this but I do wish I’d had the advantage so many of my friends had with debt free educations.

    It essentially gives a person the opportunity to start their “adult” life free and clear and make of it what they will.

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