Why I Don’t Save For My Daughter’s College Education

Some Context

I’ve always wanted to help my kids find success in education.

My parents didn’t save a dime for my college education, and not because they didn’t want to.

They couldn’t afford it. They made a series of poor financial decisions, mostly living a larger life than they could afford. We were one of those families that couldn’t pay rent or car payments, but we always had satellite TV. The unfortunate result for me was many years of instability and uncertainty as a kid.

I found out at age 15 that, after asking about options for college, I was on my own.

My resulting feelings of shock and confusion left an impression. Since then, I’ve never wanted to have to tell my kids that they were on their own. In fact, I’ve looked forward to saving up some cash to help them along their way, and also helping them select a school and make decisions which would keep them from starting life on the wrong foot financially.

For one of my daughters, that’s no longer the case.

Why I Stopped Saving for Daughter_02’s College Education

In January, our baby girl was diagnosed with Angelman Syndrome. The disorder is described as follows:

Angelman syndrome (AS) is a rare neuro-genetic disorder that occurs in one in 15,000 live births. Angelman syndrome is often misdiagnosed as cerebral palsy or autism due to lack of awareness. Characteristics of the disorder include developmental delay, lack of speech, seizures, and walking and balance disorders. Individuals with Angelman syndrome will require life-long care.

Individuals with Angelman syndrome will require life-long care.

I think about this phrase almost every day, and it still hasn’t quite sunk in.

The doctors have told us that she will likely have less than 10 words in her vocabulary, that she may never walk. Her communication, cognitive capabilities, and motor skills will all be severely delayed. We’re still learning more, but currently our expectation is that she will have the mental capacity of a 20 to 30 month old child. I am a realist. The way I handle things like this is to “hope for the best, and prepare for the worst.”

Do We Keep Saving?

In February, I was working through our month-end financials and automatic bank transfers, and suddenly but quietly, the thought occurred to me…

Is Daughter_02 going to college?

With each passing day, we make new realizations about what our new life is going to be like. We understand our daughter’s situation better. We learn to care for her more adeptly, understand how to communicate with her so that she can be less frustrated. But the point is that these revelations don’t all hit you on Day 1. It’s an evolution of thought and acceptance.

Cancelling the automatic transfer for the ESA (education savings account) wasn’t much work, a few clicks and a written letter to our bank to transfer the position into our other daughter’s ESA.

Still, it was one of the weirdest damned experiences I’ve had.

Calling the bank, listening to the automated assistant… What option do I press to “close my 1.5 year old’s ESA?”

Writing a letter for the bank to close your 1 year old’s account? Explaining to customer service why you need the funds to be transferred? I’m just glad it’s done.

What’s the Point? Why Share This?

This information goes into the pile labeled “Things That Are Nobody’s <choose your own expletive> Business.”

But I want to share my story with you, the good, the bad, the challenging, all of it.

I want to let people see that GREAT things have happened to us, yes. But we’ve had our fair share of challenges as well. No matter what your situation is, you are not alone in your struggles. You are not even the first to deal with your struggles, and you certainly won’t be the last. Neither are we.

The personal finance community is all about designing a plan and sticking to it. Every post and message out there is centered around the idea that you can get the whole thing down to a success-breeding science. Well, we had a plan, and we’ve accomplished more than most. Here’s the thing:

Life doesn’t always go according to plan. So work your strategy, hope for the best, and be thankful for the good, the normal, the uneventful. Look around you. Enjoy the reality that your situation could be much worse.

We chose to move forward, no looking back. That’s how we live, damn it. We destroyed our debt, we’re building our wealth, and we’re re-programming our lives so that we can enjoy every moment together on this unbelievable planet.

We’ll still set out on an exciting journey of travel on passive income. Our gorgeous girl will just be there with us the whole way instead of just part of it… and without the college degree.

28 Replies to “Why I Don’t Save For My Daughter’s College Education”

  1. Thanks for sharing your story! I am glad you are not giving up hope on things just because life threw you something different. It’s encouraging to see you are still saving and being financially stable!

    1. Hey Barnabas, glad to hear from a fellow IT guy. 😉 Thank you for reading my story, and please feel free to share with others who might be experiencing something similar. Talk soon.

  2. Wow. What a touching post. I admire you for your realism and practicality; it’s going to help you in the many tough years to come. I recently came across the Facebook page for “Special Books by Special Kids”, and the videos on that page I’ve found to be emotional and inspiring. At this point, it’s not about building savings or funding your future; it’s about maximizing the time you have with you family and all its ups and downs.
    Thank you for sharing such a personal part of your life; best wishes to your family.

    1. Hey Jane, thanks for your kind message. Truth be told, this little surprise knocked me off my horse. I was on a one-way train, at break-neck speed, to the C-suite. Now, I just could not care less about climbing ladders. They have little to do with the bond within our little family, and I almost went through life without realizing it. Thanks again.

  3. Damn man, sorry to hear 🙁 As a father of two little boys, 3 and 4, I can’t even imagine learning about all this. And then to put it out there for all of us to read? Major credit man… Hate to hear of the situation, but love the rawness of your writing. I imagine it will help a lot of people over time in similar situations – thanks for sharing it.

  4. Agree with J$, so amazing for you to put this out there.

    Does your state have 529 ABLE plans? These are disability savings plans that allow tax free growth and withdrawals like a college 529 but it won’t conflict with Medicaid or SSI. My wife works in disability services and the labyrinth of rules can be daunting, but I would put the FIRE community up against it any day.

    Found a Forbes article just posted yesterday:


    1. So glad someone mentioned the ABLE accounts. You should look into them down the road to hopefully cushion your child’s costs down the road. Perhaps. They are relatively new but I work with employees who have similar situations to deal with and they were very excited about these when they came out.

    2. Well I’ll be damned. Thank you both so much for mentioning this! 529 ABLE isn’t available in my state, which makes sense as to why I’ve heard very little about it, but it’s available in other states. Apparently some of those states allow *any* state to participate.

      It even looks more useful than the typical educations savings because it’s meant for education, housing, assistive technology, personal support services, legal fees, and more.

      Fantastic. Thank you to David and Mrs Need2Save both! I will definitely be sharing the information I discover as we research more.

      1. My kids may qualify, thanks so much for putting this out there. I’m reasonably on top of things I think, but ABLE accounts are new to me. Hasn’t heard of them till right here. Definitely something to look into!
        If I were a blogger, I’d have to consider a post on this, no?!? 🙂
        Thank you again!

  5. I loved reading this. You are so right about the financial community being big on planning…which we should. However there is no way to fully plan for everything. I know we talk about getting life insurance/disability insurance for ourselves but a disability in a close family member can also change your plan and path. I appreciate you sharing your story. God bless.

    1. Cassandra, that’s a great point about life insurance. We took 25 year term policies out (both my wife and I) of $1mil and $500K, thinking that would get us through the child raising era. However, now our youngest will be dependent on us for our entire lives.

      It’s just as you say – we are big on having a plan and sticking to it. Good reminder that things change, and we have to roll with the punches.

      Great comment.

  6. That’s sucky. 🙁

    But honestly, I needed to read this post. I sometimes forget to be mindful of things that I would normally take for granted, like health issues. Thank you for sharing.

  7. Tough post. Life is about Adaptation and Growth! Without those 2 elements it’s not worth living.

    Embrace the new challenges and take life in stride as we all move forward together!

      1. What a great show of faith in the PF community to put it all out there! And you have such an amazing outlook. Life has all kinds of crazy curveballs, all we can do is plan but adjust accordingly. Your daughters are both very lucky to have planner parents like you with so much love and thought towards their futures. Best wishes to you all.

        1. Thank you sincerely for your kind words. I agree wholeheartedly, and it means a lot to me that you took the time to share your positive thoughts and encouragement.

  8. Thank you for this. My best friend who’s caregiven for both her parents (one now passed after a decade wheelchair bound with MS) and her mom with slow progressing pancreatic cancer, now my friend herself has been given a breast cancer diagnosis. There is so much that is HARD in the world, and you’re right, it can always be worse and so many are struggling and those around them have no idea. I am super grateful for every non-hard moment…

  9. Thank you for sharing! It’s a great every day reminder to just enjoy the normal, the uneventful and not get wrapped up in things that don’t really matter. So sorry to hear about your daughter! It must be really hard. One thing this financial independence stuff will give all of us is more time to focus on the things that truly matter. Having you there more will make a world of difference for your wife. I look forward to follow your journey. Stay positive!

  10. Thanks for sharing this part of your journey. I can’t imagine the thought process and emotions that occur through this financial decision, let alone every other challenge you must face.

    I’ve only just discovered your blog and look forward to reading back over the history. Keep it up

  11. Thanks for sharing your story! I have a 3 year old and I cant imagine. This just reminds me to focus on what is important each day and not to lose focus. Too many times we focus so heavily on a plan that we forget to enjoy the little moments in life.

    1. Hey Eric! I take the same lesson away. I think this has caused me to stop more and play with my kids and enjoy time with them doing the “silly” things they are into. It’s also caused me to stop worrying so much about my career.

      I’m glad you have a 3yr old keeping you alert!, and I know it’s not easy (I have one too! She’s a mess.). After all we’ve said, it’s still tough to enjoy every moment when you’re tired (and maybe frustrated) as a parent. Isn’t life grand? 🙂

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