College Savings Vs. Helicopter Parenting — An Awkward Blogchat Debate Cage Match!

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Penny and Rich, our beloved cousin-bloggers, do not see eye to eye on whether or not parents should pay for their kids’ college. In Rich’s Plan To Build A Generational Family Legacy. Uh, Yeah, In 3 Easy Steps!, he asserted that higher education is the key to a family’s long term stability, and it creates a positive feedback loop for the future. 

Rich noted, as a bonus, that people with a high education level tend to marry other people with a high education level, they tend to have friends with high education levels, and they have kids who are more likely to attain high education levels. It’s a positive generational feedback loop.

Penny, on the other hand, Thinks Paying For Your Kid’s College Is Helicopter Parenting.  She opined that paying for a kid’s college education is one of the biggest forms of helicopter parenting out there, and Rich’s plan seemed a bit (how did she say this in a nice way?) … controlling.

She noted the importance of children developing autonomy, and thought paying for their own education encourages children to take responsibility for their own lives. If parents are funding their education, they are taking all of that away from them.

Considering this wide divergence in views, our venerable blogger-cousins decided to hash this out in a virtual cage match, otherwise known as a blogchat debate. What you see below is their chat, possibly with poor grammar, improper capitalization, and strange slashes /// (which they used to keep track of thoughts for some reason).

Readers, think of yourselves as flies on the wall during an awkward family dinner, and feel free to chime in with comments. Now, into the cousin cage!

RICH is in blue, and PENNY is in red.  

Hi Penny! I’m here in blue ready and waiting. Just finished putting the kids to bed. They like a good espresso and a cigarette before turning in. They’re autonomous that way.

How are you?

I’m here! Yeah, this is weird.

Hi! Well isn’t this funny? So maybe the biggest difference off the bat is the idea of control vs. planning. Is this semantics or a real difference?


I don’t see my family legacy plan (in 3 easy steps!) as controlling as much as planning. I can’t control what they will do or what they will think, but i want to plan so they can do whatever they want to do up to their potential. This is about options.

Yes, you’re “planning”, but YOU’RE the one planning their lives, not them. That’s the part I have trouble with. And your “plan” seems a little bit too controlling for my tastes… down to the making sure that they attend college, to wanting to influence the type of person that they’ll marry.

Well according to child labor laws, they can’t work and save for college on their own just yet. They are 5. Hardy har.

I never said they could not choose their college or their course of study. If they have an incredible plan at age 18 for starting a business without going to college, I would strongly advise that a business degree would help. Because it would. 


Here’s an analogy. It’s like buying a car so your kid can get to school. You are not telling them what to do when they arrive, you are simply providing the means of travel. Sure, you could tell them to walk, but in practical terms that just doesn’t work, because walking 30 miles each day is cost prohibitive and limits their options. In practical terms, you’re holding them back.

As far as the type of person they’ll marry, if you mean marrying an educated person … uh, yeah, that would be nice. But I don’t see how this is any different from taking a kid to church or encouraging them to read books. 

And, I truly don’t understand how you equate “plan” with “control”. The opposite of a plan is not autonomy, the opposite of a plan is to be unprepared.

Okay, this is a long one. Where do I start?

Start at birth. ///


You said, “I never said they could not choose their course of study”… How would you feel about them wanting to go to a trade school or do manual labor? Become an electrician or carpenter or something? Would you steer them away from that? ///

It would be a challenge for them to convince me it was a good idea, but if it’s their idea and their passion, I’ll help them get on that path. But like, to me some of this is about health and well being. Manual labor takes a physical toll — I know, I grew up working on a farm. Other jobs can be worse. If my kids really wants to smoke cigarettes, I’m not going to just say hey it’s your life. ///

But it sounds like it would be quite the challenge for them to convince you to let them go to a trade school or do manual labor. Would you steer them away from that? ///

Doesn’t it depend on HOW we do it? I’m not going to tie them up and force them to study what I say. And if they insist on not going, they won’t get college money. I agree it’s a conversation about what they enjoy, what they’re good at, etc. the part I can help with (that I didn’t know anything about at age 18), is what it means in practice. Remember my friend Bob? [ed. note: name changed to protect the innocent.] He got a trade — air conditioning repair. He is almost homeless. He had no idea how to run a business.

Yes, it’s tricky. Mr. Penny’s brother got a trade – lineman (electrician), two years of schooling, and he is now making 6 figures. Mr. Penny had 8 years of training, and, well, you know what he makes. Ha ha. /

I admit I have a bias away from blue collar work because it’s a harder road. If someone has that aptitude, they can be an engineer and have many career options.

Click image to buy this book on

But is it a harder road? Who are we to say. In that happiness book that we’re reading [ed. note: Stumbling on Happiness], he talks about how everybody thinks that conjoined twins should be unhappy, when in reality, they are quite happy, but nobody can accept that because it seems crazy.

/// one point i liked from that book. When he talked about measuring happiness with thousands of people. So if one person says i’m happy living in a slum, ok. But 99% of people are happier not living in a slum. So yes, many blue collar workers are happy, bully for them. But I think a higher % of people who don’t have long term back pain from construction and so on are happier with their careers. I’m biased, I’ve experienced both.

/// Touche. ///

/// bottom line yes i would give advice away from manual labor.


Just curious about this idea: What about the arts? Like, if they wanted to pursue a career as an artist, or get a degree in Art (which won’t necessarily translate into anything)?

That’s a good question. But it is, in fact, a degree. ///

/// A degree that will get them nowhere. ///

I studied theology!

It seems to me a trade school would be worth more than an Art degree, in terms of getting a job. Good point about your degree, though. ///

/// Well now we are talking about degrees, but I’m the one saying college is important here. ///

I think I have a bit of a bias against college because it is such a dumb system now. I’m not a fan of playing the game just to play it, especially within a broken system. ///

you didn’t go? ///

I got a technical degree in Desktop Publishing.


/// ok, well that makes me think — from your helicopter post, you seem to say opposite things. You say college should be LEARNING FOR THE SAKE OF LEARNING but isn’t that the exact opposite of an apprenticeship, which is training for a specific job?

/// Wait, what? ///

In your article you say people used to learn for the sake of learning. But a trade school is not like that at all. It’s specifically for a job.

What is opposite, though? ///

// A trade school they are not learning for the sake of learning, like studying art and poetry. ///

Ohh… I see. Yes, I like learning for the sake of learning. I’m all on board for studying art and whatever is your fancy. That’s what I think colleges should be made for, instead of these places Where People Go to Get a Job. That’s why getting an Art degree to get a job, doesn’t make sense, but getting an Art degree for the joy of learning art is a good thing. ///

// wellllll, ok, i think you are maybe making a straw man here. At a 4 year college you learn a bunch of dribble drabble that you don’t need and often it’s quite interesting. ///

Yes, but people aren’t doing that because they necessarily want to learn it, they’re learning it because they have to in order to get the degree to get the job. ///

can’t they do it for both reasons? ///

Yes, if they are special human beings. ///

nonsense! Most people i know with masters degrees (and i work with many) are interested in a wide range of subjects and enjoyed school.

I don’t think most people go into it that way. ///  

People who don’t like learning are the ones who don’t go to college.

I’ve seen a lot of people who don’t like learning go to college. ///

Is this place worth it?


///  ok. And i’d say both types of people probably need college to get a job. What about my section on all those various things that correlate with a college degree? ///

I’m not arguing that people need college to get a job. As you know, we played the game. I just don’t like it. I think it’s dumb. ///

What about my section on all those various things that correlate with a college degree? [better health (higher exercise rates; lower smoking and obesity rates), lower crime rates, and lower divorce rates.] ///  

I don’t think that college is the be all end all of getting those things? ///

From my post:  You might say that if people are intelligent, they don’t need a certificate to prove it. Sure, you can be super smart without going to college. But I should note that none of these studies were based on a person’s intelligence. These studies were based on the level of degree attained. Yes, the piece of paper. It doesn’t matter if someone is a knucklehead with a Master’s — that knucklehead still has a better chance at a positive outcome. //

Do you think that’s hooey? ///

Those correlations might be found in people not because they went to college, but because they are the *type* of person who would go to college.  

Yes so that’s a good thing so I’d want my kids to go to college 🙂

Again, I don’t think that is a requirement for positive correlations in life. ///

Think of the opposite. Of all my younger relatives, there are only a few who didn’t finish college. Guess which relatives are not autonomous? Yep, them. Living at home. Kinda pathetic.

But I think that is true for young adults who HAVE finished college. Sometimes they move back home and are pathetic too.

/// At some point there is a general trend. Show me 100 people who have gone to college and 100 people who haven’t. I know which group has people with more satisfying lives, statistically. //


maybe as a last thought, we could say the best part about each other’s ideas. Like, well, the best part about your idea is your kids will need to be resourceful. Did you like my car analogy? I rather like that. /

///Yes, good analogy, I forgot to say that. ///

/what do you think is a positive of my approach? 

Well, what you said in the car analogy makes sense, and is positive. I mean, I don’t agree with all you say, but I can definitely see the positive side to pretty much anything you write. ///

/// yes, my main thing is i want them to know they have choices — not limited by it’s too expensive. a commonality is that we both want our kids to find their thing. i might steer them a bit toward what i think (ahem, and statistics show) is a better outcome, but when they are adults they are adults. i think you are talking about process and i’m talking about the result.

Yes, agreed. 

Readers … stay tuned for Part 2 … in the meantime, which cousin-blogger is scoring more points in the blogchat cage???


24 Replies to “College Savings Vs. Helicopter Parenting — An Awkward Blogchat Debate Cage Match!”

  1. Interesting style of blog – personally I would have preferred a Penny: Rich: style vs the colors, but I got it 🙂

    College is a way to make yourself more marketable, imo. It should be a personal decision – if you think you can develop on your own and become marketable that way, then do it. If you need formal training, then college might be best.

    Thanks for sharing – looking forward to part 2!!
    Erik @ The Mastermind Within recently posted…My Money StoryMy Profile

    1. Thanks Erik — I started doing Penny: Rich: and it was taking so long I went the lazy route, so thanks for the feedback. Were the colors too distracting? I wanted to be sure you could always tell who was speaking.

      On college, a question I’ve been thinking of lately is this — yes it’s a personal decision in the end, but at age 18 are people ready to make it? Choose a career and potentially take out the equivalent of a mortgage?

  2. Love the chat style! It’s always good to actually get different points of view interacting with each other rather than just standing apart and yelling.

    I wonder if there’s a middle ground on the paying issue. If helping is important, but you don’t want to your kids to take responsibility for their own lives, then maybe some form of cost splitting would work. Enough to allow them to go where they want to go, but also little enough that they have responsibility and ownership.

    Excited to see the next part of the debate!
    Matt @ Optimize Your Life recently posted…How You Do Anything is How You Do EverythingMy Profile

    1. Matt — I’m on board with some kind of shared responsibility. I think a lot depends on the kid’s drive and the course of study. If it’s Pre-Med for example, I think studying should be their job so I’d pay more, knowing they’ll need loans later. If it’s something else like Business, I’d rather see internships and practical experience. And if a kid is slacking, I’d suggest any old job and maybe I could match the earnings.

      Fun fact: I worked at an art gallery in college.
      Rich @ recently posted…Are Stocks In A Bubble? And Why Do Engineers Retire Early? — Rich’s RamblingsMy Profile

  3. Man…you guys have a pretty great relationship…

    So I agree that having a degree has become a pre-requisite to a more comfortable life. Do I think all degrees are created equal? Not by a long shot. Do I think some are worth the amount of debt incurred? Nope, which is why it’s important to check demand before signing up for that piece of paper.

    I also agree that going to trade school for a couple of years at a fraction the cost is the right answer for many kids that may not have the right aptitude (or the means) for higher education. This is where high schools across the country are letting young people down. The false promise that anyone can cut it in college and succeed.

    The key is early vetting, and good guidance from adults both at home and school.

    But I’m willing to bet that most blue collar workers, given the choice and hindsight, would steer their kids into white collar jobs due to the tough manual nature of the work. I would go with team blue on this round, but it was a tough fight!
    Max Your Freedom recently posted…Is your Crystal Ball too Optimistic?My Profile

    1. Hey Max, you raise an important point about choosing a career field. I think parents can have a positive role by simply communicating with kids about the nature of the job market, something that a kid might not be aware of. What’s in demand, and what are starting salaries, etc.

      The other part of this is just being a role model. Many kids gravitate toward what they see in life, so if a parent has a good, satisfying career, the kid pick up on that through osmosis. Thanks for the comment!
      Rich @ recently posted…Rich’s Plan To Build A Generational Family Legacy. Uh, Yeah, In 3 Easy Steps!My Profile

  4. I love the back and forth, it makes for an interesting blog post.

    The middle ground here seems to be ensuring kids get to go to the education prerequisite for their chosen profession, whether it be a trade school or college.

    The world is a competitive place, I want my kids to have an advantage. Now advantage in what is their choice. It could be plumbing or it could be rocket science. In either case I will help them with the education to have that advantage. The rest is up to them.
    FullTimeFinance recently posted…Sometimes Free isn’t FreeMy Profile

    1. That’s a good way of putting it — an advantage in a competitive world. I think of it not necessarily as a way to get ahead of others, but to continue the positive trajectory of our family. We’re very lucky to be where we are and it’d be a tragedy to squander the opportunities we have (not just in terms of money, but in education and culture and all the rest) because of poor planning.
      Rich @ recently posted…Monthly Happiness Report: Rich Increases His Brain Waves By 0.0125 In March 2017My Profile

  5. Nice debate. You both make strong arguments. I agree with Rich in that I like to have things planned out as much as possible. That said, I agree with Penny in that the Higher Education system is broken and I like the idea of learning something because you’re passionate about it and not for monetary reasons.

    In the end I think what it all boils down to is parents/teachers/guidance counselors communicating with kids the choices that are available to them and developing some sort of a plan to pursue their dreams. Its also important to remember that not everyone’s dream involves money.


    1. It’s kind of ironic that I’m seen as arguing against the “follow your passion” side even though that’s exactly what I did. I didn’t study Theology to make a lot of money, that’s for sure, and had no idea what I was doing until around age 25. Then I realized my studies were not very applicable to the job market … but my grades and other skills got my foot in the door.

      I think for me it’s more about options and awareness of what’s out there. If I’d had a proper mentor, I think I could’ve avoided some of the panic I had in grad school that I had wasted several years of study by not going to better, more well rounded schools …

      Thanks as always for the comment Stafford!
      Rich @ recently posted…Rich’s Plan To Build A Generational Family Legacy. Uh, Yeah, In 3 Easy Steps!My Profile

  6. I like the colors, much easier to follow. I am in the “didn’t pay for my kids college camp” although we did help out a little…about $20,000 total each kid.
    1. I didn’t want to be resentful towards them having to scrimp and save more just so they could go to college. $20,000 over 4 years was reasonable for us given our income , expenses and goals of early retirement.
    2. They both made it work. Our oldest got an Army ROTC scholarship even without having been in the rotc in high school. He graduated from a private college with no debt, a degree, a job (he chose to go reserves instead of taking the Army full time gig), a job with the govt that he probably got because of his military officer standing, and lots of memories. Our second, stayed home, worked , did community college, went to a State School, graduated in 3 years without any debt. They are both very proud of what they were able to do in climate of school debt in our country.

    I don’t think they would have done so much without the struggle that this entailed. The struggle made them better.

  7. $20K per kid is a help for sure. I can’t say I disagree with having them take responsibility … but I also think I can help instill responsibility in other ways than resigning them to debt. A difficult course of study can also be a struggle, entering the job market can be a struggle …

    I think for parents with the means to help their kids avoid debt (without resentment), it’s a tough choice. On the one hand you could say that paying is a form of control, but on the other hand not paying is also an exercise of control, i.e. choosing that they will need to struggle with debt or choose a less expensive school.

    I’m kind of rambling so bear with me … I used to be much more in the camp of making kids pay, but now that I know more people who have had a significant portion of their college paid for, I must admit that I’m not seeing the negative effects I thought I would. I couldn’t tell you who in my workplace got help and who didn’t, so I’m not sure it actually impacts one’s ability to work hard and be responsible … on the other hand I know some people deep in debt and I think they’d be better off now had they had a little help.

    Thanks for the comment and sharing your story! Really got me thinking …
    Rich @ recently posted…Rich’s Plan To Build A Generational Family Legacy. Uh, Yeah, In 3 Easy Steps!My Profile

  8. I think this is a really interesting dialogue. I think it’s hard not to bring in the experience that you grew up in to determine what you wanna do moving forward.

    I personally started a 529 plan so that my son has the option to college or whatever higher learning that he’d like to. Who knows what the job market will look like in 20 years but I’d love to keep all things open to him 🙂
    MUSTARD SEED MONEY recently posted…Are Collectibles A Wise Investment?My Profile

    1. Thanks MSM … I was thinking about the experience piece. My personal experience was that I got a little help but felt limited in my options and my college choice was not discussed much at home. Looking back, I wish I’d received better advice even though it worked out for me.

      When I look around I don’t see a big difference between people who paid their own way or got help from their parents. BUT, I see a big difference between families who were intentional and prepared for college and those who were aimless and unprepared. So that’s my primary motivation here …
      Rich @ recently posted…Rich’s Plan To Build A Generational Family Legacy. Uh, Yeah, In 3 Easy Steps!My Profile

  9. This is a neat idea for a post; not sure I’ve seen too many done like this before.

    I have two Masters degrees that I paid for/earned myself. I also paid for my own college. I earned scholarships and worked a lot of jobs to pay for my schooling, but I have seen first-hand how those degrees have paid off.

    I wouldn’t pay for my child’s college or graduate education simply because I learned so much from paying for my own. I’d be more inclined to help my children if they were in a serious crunch, but I could never bail them out of frivolous spending patterns, etc.

    Sometimes we have to learn through mistakes and that’s not an education that can be taught in any university.
    Willow @ Miter Saws and Mary Janes recently posted…Tiny House Living: How to Transition to a Tiny HouseMy Profile

    1. Willow — thanks for this. I can’t argue with the life experience of paying your own way, it’s a huge accomplishment. I was more in that camp a few years ago. But lately I’ve just been wondering, do I know people who have been negatively impacted by a parent paying?

      I don’t think we are imagining we’ll write a blank check — the most important thing is that our kids have goals and direction and the drive to do well. But if they get into an expensive program and they need to be full-time students, I want to support that as well. Thanks for sharing your story!
      Rich @ recently posted…Paris Hilton Is Full Of Knowledge and 18-Year-Olds Are Autonomous — The Paying for College Cage Match, Part 2My Profile

  10. My parents paid for my education, and one day when I have kids, I will probably do the same.
    I don’t think having my parents pay for my education made me any less hard working. It did not teach me to be reliant on my parents.
    Instead, it allowed me to graduate from college and pursue my passion for business. There is no way I could have gotten my business off the ground if I had graduated with $80k in student loans.

  11. Thanks Troy — your example is what I’m getting at. Maybe you’d have learned something doing it all yourself, but maybe you’d have lost years trying to pay that debt off.

    I’m hoping someone will write a comment saying that their parents paid for college and it was a big negative. I genuinely want to see what that looks like in practice because I haven’t seen it in my friends or co-workers …

    Thanks for the comment!
    Rich @ recently posted…Paris Hilton Is Full Of Knowledge and 18-Year-Olds Are Autonomous — The Paying for College Cage Match, Part 2My Profile

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