Frugal Rules is all about helping people. That’s why reader questions are always welcomed. Let’s be a good community and help this reader out with any helpful insight you have to share. After you read this post, makes sure to go over to my friends’ site Fearless Men and check out my guest post Starting a Legacy That Will Last A Lifetime and Beyond.
I received an email from a Frugal Rules reader several weeks ago in regards to his son starting law school in the fall. He was concerned about preparing him financially for the high costs associated with this chosen path. I am always humbled and invigorated by emails from readers seeking guidance because it is truly why I started Frugal Rules in the first place – as a way to help people make wise financial decisions. After engaging in a few back and forth emails with this gentleman, (let’s call him Frank) he agreed to let me share his story with my readers to see how we as a community can help him. I’ll start by saying that I truly admire how Frank and his wife want to best prepare their son for law school, especially in light of how the job market has been over the last few years. Frank gets sick at the thought of his son graduating with upwards of $150,000 in student loan debt. To be honest, I would be too and I have written about student loan debt before. There are times when it is not a wise decision, but I do not believe that’s the case with Frank’s son. He wants to be a lawyer and has been looking at this decision for some time. After discussing it with Frank, I see no problem in this and believe that they have made a fully informed decision. Their son was able to triple major and double minor for his undergrad in four years, while also working part-time and getting a scuba driver certification and pilot’s license. Motivation and working hard are not foreign to Frank’s son and I think he will do quite well academically in law school.
A Little Background
Frank’s son has been accepted at several law schools and offered a full ride. The rub is that these schools are all recently accredited and to quote Frank “are not very good.” The likelihood of his son getting a decent job with a law degree from these institutions will be poor at best. He has been accepted at other law schools that are very well known. They’re not Harvard or Yale, but are highly respected. Frank’s son will be financing the schooling on his own. He has been offered scholarships to most of them, but will still need to pay for about $30,000 per year, and that is just for the school year. All of these schools will be out of state for his son and thus more than likely cost him more than the $30,000. Frank mentioned the possibility of trying to negotiate award packages with the school his son selects, which I think is a great idea. I have heard numerous stories of families who have found success doing this. In my opinion, going to one of the more reputable law schools is probably the best option for a number of reasons. Those are namely the network that comes with the schools as well as the increased likelihood of decent job placement, even considering the potential student loan debt.
To date, Frank and his wife have covered their son’s living and paid for his undergrad degree, traveling and car. He is concerned that he did a disservice to his son and that his son does not have a sufficient understanding of what student loan debt will look like. I know that some in the PF blogosphere might jump on this and say that a disservice was done, but the past is not the issue; only the current and short term matters at this point. Being a parent myself, I can understand the feelings of looking back, however we must now look to the future.
Knowing that Frank’s son is roughly seven months away from starting law school and will be funding a large chunk on his own, these seven months need to be savings time for Frank’s son. He has a job making $10 per hour and is living at home. Frank indicated that he is saving nearly everything he makes other than some fun money to socialize with his friends. I suggested that Frank give some incentive to his son by offering to match his son’s saving, up to a certain amount and to look for potential side jobs he can pick up. Frank indicated that he has offered to match his son’s savings up to $10,000. I think this a great motivator and hopefully his son will be able to take full advantage of that. Frank’s son will not be able to work his first year in law school as any of the schools he is considering will not allow it. This is where being frugal will need to be of utmost importance. He will be living off campus, so I suggested he contact the school he selects to see if they have any network available where students might be looking for roommates. There are numerous other things he can look into like renting textbooks or buying used ones from former students. The main concern Frank has is that his son likes to eat out. I encouraged Frank to have him look at something like buying a crock pot and making meals to cut down costs, make meal preparation easy and providing multiple meals at once.
Finally, Frank and his wife are roughly ten years from retirement. They have put both of their children through college and paid for numerous extra-curricular activities and are debt free. I highly commend them for doing that. They are, understandably, tired of paying for college and feel like they need to focus on retirement. While their son can always get loans for law school, there are no loans for retirement. My suggestion was to focus on retirement saving as much as possible and maxing out all of their retirement vehicles.
If you’ve made it this far, thanks for sticking around! I now turn this over to you. What are your suggestions and what did I miss? The point here is to give constructive input to Frank and his family. I might add that many parents would not care and just let their children go into something like this unprepared and the children would face further challenges as a result. Please leave your thoughts for Frank (and anyone else reading who finds themselves in a similar predicament) in the comments below. Thanks!
Photo courtesy of: Steven Goodwin