With the cost of private college tuition reaching $90,000/year, many parents are feeling that fully funding college is becoming an unattainable goal. For the first time, I’m noticing parents asking me to build college goals in context of “what can I afford” vs. insisting we assume they can cover the worst-case scenario of the full cost. And that may be reasonable, as many families do receive varying levels of financial aid which helps alleviate the $90,000 sticker shock.

That said, give yourself some permission to think outside of college. While an important goal, there are other ways to financially support your children that sets them up for success. And most other goals aren’t as financially burdensome to you as a parent. Some might not even cost you anything at all!

Let’s explore some strategies that go beyond simply funding their college expenses.

1. Teach Financial Literacy

Financial education is one of the most valuable gifts you can give your children. From a young age, involve them in discussions about budgeting, saving, investing, and managing debt responsibly. Encourage them to open a savings account and explain the importance of saving for both short-term and long-term goals. Over time, have them take accountability for some of their own expenses to promote financial independence (paying for their own cell phone, car insurance, gas, etc). If you need help in this effort, I’ve put together a child literacy series for young ones:

Introducing Financial Concepts Series: Ages 3-5

Introducing Financial Concepts Series: Ages 6-9

2. Provide Guidance for Major Purchases

Whether it’s buying a car, renting an apartment, or purchasing their first home, major financial decisions can be overwhelming for young adults. Offer your expertise and guidance to help them navigate these milestones. Teach them how to research options, compare prices, and negotiate terms to make informed choices. Potentially you can be a co-owner or co-signer in the process to give them a much needed boost if their credit is lacking or if they’re largely consistent with payments, but need a helping hand on rare occasion. Helping in this way can go a long way to help them learn and build financial stability and credit. 

3. Support Career Development

The idea of funding college is largely about investing in your children’s future careers. But there are other ways to go about this other than college. Help them explore their interests, identify their strengths, and apply these findings to potential career opportunities. Early on this may build out a budget category for “children’s extracirrculars (camps, music, arts, sports).” It’s not uncommon for me to see families spend thousands a year in this category (myself included!) The time and money spent here though could potentially pay dividends in scholarships down the road. It can also avoid costly false starts at college or transfers and degree changes. 

Alternatively, your focus may turn to vocational school, and your child could get involved on a career path as early as high school. From here, you could financially support your child by funding any certifications or trainings required to master the field.

Lastly, you may notice your child has learning difficulties and may feel any money spent on education is better focused during formative years to address disabilities such as dyslexia ASAP. Money spent here could be on tutors, IEP advocates, private school catering to neurodiverse learning, executive function classes, and neurofunction programs.

Offer guidance on career path options, internship opportunities, and look at your own network (think of past and current colleagues, alumni resources, and LinkedIn connections) to help them get experience and insight. If fully funding a bachelor’s degree isn’t possible, then maybe aid in their efforts to obtain certain post-bachelor certifications is more financially palatable. 

4. Encourage Entrepreneurial Endeavors

If your child has an entrepreneurial spirit, support their business ventures and give some grounding advice so they don’t flame out too quickly. Whether they start a small online business, freelance, or pursue a creative endeavor, provide encouragement, mentorship, and financial backing when feasible. Entrepreneurship can teach valuable lessons about risk-taking, innovation, and resilience. But it can also require some runway (maybe even a few years before their brand or idea gets enough reach). This is critical to consider and a huge benefit if you’re able to guide your child on setting correct expectations.

5. Assist During Financial Emergencies

Financial emergencies can arise at any time. Your child may have nailed down a budget that allows them to cover living expenses plus a little savings, but maybe hasn’t mastered handling the unexpected (and sometimes it’s just a matter of not enough income since they’re just starting out). Issues may arise during a short-term job loss, medical event, requirement for an upfront security deposit and 2 months rent, car repair, etc. Help to cover these large and irregular expenses can keep your child focused on building their career and on top of their credit-building bills. 

6. Help them save

If you’re in a position to financially help to some extent, maybe an option is to help them create savings. You could do an outright savings on their behalf, or do a matching incentive strategy. For example, if your child saves $1,000 dollars you match it. The question becomes, where to put it? Keeping it in savings or a UTMA keeps how the money is eventually used more flexible. If the intention is to build up emergency cash, then this likely makes the most sense. If the goal is to instill the value of long-term savings (such as retirement), then you could consider an IRA or Roth. As long as the child has a reported income, you could add the lesser of $7,000 or their income to either an IRA or Roth IRA on their behalf in 2024. If they make $4,000, then you can add $4,000. If they make $10,000 you can add $7,000. 

If you’d like some other ideas on where to save, read more here: Where to put your kid’s cash gifts

7. Plan for the Future Together

As your children mature, involve them in discussions about your own long-term financial planning. How much did you save, and why? What did you invest in? When did you think to get life and various insurances and what was it’s purpose?

Whether it’s retirement planning, estate planning, or creating a family wealth transfer strategy, include them in conversations about your family’s financial future. How do you play a role in their life, and how do they play a role in yours? And while this may sound silly, the answers can have huge financial implications. Should they count on you to help watch grandchildren, alleviating the need for them to pay for daycare? Should you count on them to have an in-law apartment for you? Are they assuming you’ll pay for their eventual wedding, or is that their responsibility? Are you buying their first car, and is it ok for them to use it as a way to make income (ie – Uber)? There is no “right” answer to any of this. It’s just a matter of being on the same page.  Explaining the family finances and how various goals are prioritized can help to set clear and healthy expectations. Talk it out!


Supporting your children financially goes beyond funding their college expenses. It’s about empowering them with the knowledge, skills, and resources they need to thrive in all aspects of life. By teaching financial literacy, offering guidance, fostering independence, and lending a financial hand in ways that are less overwhelming than the cost of college, you can set them on the path to financial success. Remember, the greatest gift you can give your children is not just financial assistance but the tools to navigate the complexities of the financial world with confidence and competence.