Photo: Marc Royce
Q: My husband and I disagree about our goals for our two young boys' educations. After researching the schools in our area, it seems that to give them the best start, we should send them to private school. My husband is uncomfortable with the tuition (approximately $6,000 a year per child). Our combined gross income is about $110,000. We have $50,000 in savings and put 10 to 15 percent of our salaries toward retirement. We've got a $100,000 mortgage, $1,200 in student loans, and two credit cards each carrying a $500 balance. I believe we can afford this investment in their futures, but my husband fears that our early retirement dreams will be lost. What should we do?
A: I find it so interesting that you say you disagree about your goals. Are your husband's dreams for the boys really any different from yours, or is he simply trying to make sure you don't shortchange your future in the process of providing for them?
Fear is a very strong emotion that affects everyone in its path. Your husband may be the one feeling afraid, but that's having a huge impact on your entire family. You need to respect that fear and work with him to figure out the right course of action.
I want you to do some simple planning together to determine whether you can afford the tuition and still meet your retirement goals. From what you tell me, your income should be enough to handle both right now, but I'm concerned that some things don't add up here. Why are you carrying balances on those credit cards? Given your high income and low housing expenses, why don't you have even more in savings?
All this makes me think that your husband is responding to something beyond the tuition. I get the sense there may be a spending issue lurking here; if so, you need to deal with that first. I also want you to think through the "what if" scenarios, such as what if one of you becomes ill or loses your job? Perhaps your husband is worried about building the financial security to withstand any setback and is concerned the tuition will make that hard to do. And though you talk about private school giving the boys the best start, the reality is that they may never make the switch to public school. Keeping up with the ever-rising costs of education could require some serious belt-tightening if your incomes don't increase at a commensurate pace.
Once you look at the numbers, you'll know what makes sense for your family—not just the kids. The most important lesson they can learn will be found right at home: seeing how their parents communicate and respect each other.
From the September 2007 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine