Financial independence is a process in changing student-parent relationship

Originally published in The Daily Orange

Hey Mom, can I borrow $60,000 for college? I’ll pay you back, I promise.

A new survey by MONEY Magazine and Kaplan Test Prep shows that families are making more financial sacrifices to put their kids through college than in previous years. According to the survey, 62 percent of parents said they would scale back on vacations and 27 percent would take a second job.

Because of the rising costs of higher education, students often have no choice but to rely on their parents for financial help. It’s a contradictory relationship, moving away to be independent while simultaneously being so heavily dependent on them.

Though it’s a strange dynamic, the awkwardness must be endured to secure true financial independence. It’s a process that takes time, and students should not put unnecessary pressure on themselves, if it can be avoided.

The simple reality of expenses today has made this strategic sacrificing a necessity.

Despite knowing this, most students still do as much possible to avoid “burdening” parents. This includes working multiple jobs and spending frugally. What used to be parents making the sacrifices seems to have come full-circle — for instance, some kids are now considering expenses before joining an activity or going on a trip, or saving up for a big purchase instead of asking mom or dad. Students often pounce at the chance to be grownups when it’s not always necessary.

Of course for some individuals, financial independence is not a choice. But if possible, it’s OK to be a little spoiled. Sudden financial independence can be a cultural shock for some individuals. Trying to fit the broke college student archetype after 18 years of living in an ignorant bliss, in a bubble free from financial responsibilities, is a bit jarring.

Face it: learning to “adult” is hard. And it can’t happen overnight. Students shouldn’t feel the need to completely break away the moment college begins. Yes, there’s a point when becoming self-sufficient is important, but it’s a process that must happen gradually.

Even though I had jobs in high school and had the experience of working, I was lucky that my parents still met my basic needs and never asked me to contribute money for groceries or gas. My earnings always felt like some extra cash on the side, not necessary capital to sustain my livelihood.

Alas, after leaving a sheltered, suburban life, things have changed now. Suddenly a dinner out comes with the guilt of “wasteful spending.” And the college landscape, colored with student debt and financial help, now often creates unnecessary complications with parents.

It’s like Michael Scott says in “The Office,” “Presents are the best way to show someone how much you care. It’s like this tangible thing that you can point to and say, ‘Hey, man, I love you this many dollars worth.’” For some, college tuition today puts a direct price on the student-parent relationship. But how do some students show their parents gratitude when their parents love them $60,000 worth?

No matter how many jobs we work or how much money we save, there is no way to pay them back. In our individualistic society, it’s difficult to accept help gracefully, even when it’s from our own blood. College today is no longer about one young person moving out to earn a degree. Now, the entire family is involved, and there is no shame in that.

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