You want how much for a college education?

I think we have a bad connection. What did you say about my pink bag?

I think we have a bad connection. What did you say about my pink bag?

Late last year wifey and I hired a financial consultant to review our finances. We figured the birth of our first child was a good enough occasion to get our financial house in order, if not our actual house. By house, of course, I mean palatial apartment with marble fireplaces, Japanese soaking tubs, servants and scenic views of the Manhattan skyline. And by palatial apartment, I mean one-bedroom box bursting at the seams with diapers, baby toys and the bric-a-brac of life, with scenic views of the Manhattan skyline.

There’s nothing quite like spending money to have someone tell you how to spend your money. It makes me feel rich. It makes me feel important. And when that person validates my decisions, it makes me feel like I know what I’m doing. Here’s someone who advises the wealthy for a living, who takes home way more than wifey and I ever will, telling us to do stuff I already thought to do. That’s money well spent in my [check] book. Now off to the polo pitch for a little stick and ball.

That financial consultant asked about our goals, glanced at our incomes, scoffed and responded, “yeah, good luck with that.” At least that’s how I interpreted the sound and considered plan he set forth. His recommendations all made perfect sense. Many of them we’ve actually done or intend to do. But there’s one which will probably never happen because, well, we’re not rich. We’re solidly middle class, yet we can’t afford to fully fund our kid’s college account.

It’s not that we don’t want to. We do. But we also want to eat and enjoy modern conveniences like electricity. Our monthly household budget is just a little too tight to absorb an additional $800 ā€” the amount we’dĀ  have to save to pay for our kid’s college education. Keep in mind that he’s only one person who, theoretically, will only go to college once.

This number carries with it some assumptions, which require a little explaining. It assumes that the cost of college ā€” and our college fund investments ā€” will rise at about 8% per year on average. It assumes our brilliant toddler, who laughs hysterically at buzzing sounds and can’t seem to walk without hitting his head on the floor, will attend a semi-elite private school like wifey and myself. And it assumes we will be paying full price for that privilege (i.e. he will not be receiving financial aid).

College gets more and more expensive every year. Tuition at my alma mater is now twice what it was when I attended. And there’s no reason to believe it won’t double again in the next 17 years. Those shiny new buildings and glossy brochures featuring the only three non-white people on campus don’t just pay for themselves. Judging by the number of phone calls I receive asking for donations, an annual increase of 8% is probably conservative. That $45,000 price tag (not including room and board) will surely eclipse $90,000 per year when our little headbanger hits the age of majority.

But that’s okay, because my paycheck and diversified portfolio of sound investments are sure to keep pace with the cost of a college education. Forget about those four layoffs since 2000. Never mind that the stock market returned an annual rate of -3.4% in real dollars during the first decade of the 21st century. My income and investments will keep up, right… maybe… in a perfect world. It hasn’t happened yet in my working life, but it’s possible, I suppose.

As for the little one, who knows where he’ll go to college? Getting him to pronounce “shirt” with the “r” would be a win at this point. We do know that wherever he goes we won’t be able to afford full tuition. Half tuition seems like a reasonable goal, and that would leave him with about $180,000 in college loans ($179,426.52 if you factor in his grant money). Crippling debt isn’t generally a recipe for financial success, so maybe our young one will end up at a public college. But given cuts in funding, who’s to say that price tag would be any less?

Welcome to America, land of opportunity… if you can afford it.