The Carr Report: Should you save for child’s college or your retirement?

by Damon Carr, For New Pittsburgh Courier

I recently came across this article from CNBC titled, “Should you save for your child’s college or your own retirement?” It’s a question that I get often. When you think about it, prioritizing how we choose to save and spend our hard-earned dollars is the biggest financial challenge we face.  We have so many needs, wants, responsibilities and goals competing for our paycheck. Correction! I said that we have so many things competing for our paycheck. In actuality, it’s TOO MANY!! It can be overwhelming. It’s what prompted me to write an article years ago titled, “Competing Goals + No Plan = Broken Dreams.” 

After reading this article, I decided to pose this question to my Facebook audience. Below are some of our back-and-forth responses:

“Logically, save for retirement first, but I didn’t save for either.  Life handed me challenges when my children were young so surviving was the focus.  But my kids now do both.”

~ Fern

“I say retirement. Kids can always work their way through school, and the parent can help when/where needed.”

~ Cileane

“If you have to choose, save for retirement. Your kids should be able to apply for grants and scholarships for college.”

~ Nafeesa

“Retirement! There is no retirement (loan) program, pell grant and/scholarships for old age.”

~ Chanda

“Retirement! I think I mentioned Suze Orman before, I have actively listened to her for years just watching the CBS Morning Show. Her sound advice got me through buying a home, loans, credit card consolidation, etc. She ALWAYS stresses retirement over your kids college. The last thing I want is myself and my kids burdened when I can no longer work.”


Damon says:  Andrea, Suze is the truth!! One of five podcasts that I listen to daily is  “Women and Money (and the men who are smart enough to listen)”…I’m smart enough to listen.



“Both. Bob and I don’t want the boys to have undergrad loans. Zach is thinking about law school now, so his loans may be unavoidable. But we did not skimp on retirement to have strong college funds. We can probably retire by 60 or sooner.”

~ Tracy

Damon says: Tracy, both of you retire by age 60!? That’s great!! The cost of health insurance is what generally keeps one spouse working up until age 65 when you’re eligible for Medicare.

Tracy: True! That’s our issue, too. But we think we could swing medical premiums since we’re not big spenders in other areas and have no debt.

Damon says: Bravo! Job well done!



“Ideally it would be great to adequately save for both.  However, if a person cannot, their retirement should be the first priority and then kids’ education.  The logic behind it is this: If a person does not have sufficient finances prepared for retirement, they then become a liability to their adult children because the children are now financially saddled with assisting the parent. Although student loans are not a desirable option, they are an available option for education.  Whereas there is no ‘broke old people loan’ option at this time. Just like on an airplane, they tell you to secure your mask first so you can then help others, the same applies as it relates to finances.  Secure yourself, so you can be of assistance to those you love, as opposed to being a well-intending liability.” 

~ Jay

Damon says:  Jay, they’re trying to pitch “reverse mortgages” as an old person’s equivalent to student loans for kids.  What are your thoughts on that?

Jay: Damon, I’m not a fan of those. They eliminate the ability to leave the home to a person’s kid when they pass away. Legacy planning is a big deal to me personally, leaving property and assets for adult children is very important. So reverse mortgages contradict that school of thought.  (Hood translation, they are a big butt payday loan!!)

Damon says: Jay, I wrote aboutrReverse mortgages. Title of the article is “Reverse Mortgages: Don’t reverse the curse.” I think you know where I went with that article. Don’t do it!!



“I saved for retirement and wish I would have saved for my daughter’s schooling. I am not letting my child take out loans because I refuse to allow her to start in the world backwards. But paying tuition is stressful, even with help.

“There is no amount of working a child can do to pay for college tuition. Either they get a scholarship, you pay out of pocket, or they take a loan or YOU take a loan. Tuition is upwards of 30k a year for basic state schools. Most kids may be able to work to have survival money, but paying tuition— not realistic! My daughter’s school is a legit 60k a year.”

~ Lea

Damon says: Lea, rhetorical question; have you ever asked your doctor, dentist, lawyer, nurse, teacher, professor—where did you get your degree from? For most the answer is a resounding NO!!

Point being, too often we get so caught up in a school’s name, campus lifestyle, school’s popularity—we egregiously overpay for the education we went to college for in the first place.

Community college for the first two years is an affordable option. Satellite colleges are an affordable option. Commuting to and from school as opposed to paying for room and board is an affordable option. We tend to overlook these cost-saving ideas prioritizing pedigree over degree.

My 19-year old son is now a sophomore at a Penn State satellite campus. He wanted to go to a different school, stay on campus and enjoy the college experience.  His thing was he wanted to be free and independent of parental rules and regulations.

I told him had you received college scholarships, you would have had options. But you didn’t. I explained the cost of college—pointing out that staying on campus was damn near half of the total cost. I said we don’t do parent-PLUS loans. You’re focused on being independent of parents. I’m trying to set you up to be financially independent.

Everybody is hoping anywhere from $10,000 to $50,000 in student loans are forgiven. The smart move is to minimize them from the very start.



In closing, retirement saving should be prioritized over saving for your children’s college. The main takeaway being, both are coming your way. Save now or you will PAY for it later—literally and figuratively!

(Damon Carr, Money Coach can be reached at 412-216-1013 or at

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