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American Sticker Shock

Ellen Levitt

Posted on December 1, 2019 18:09

1 user

College tuition is high; weddings are expensive; real estate can be so pricey. Cars, vacations, holiday gift lists can tax your budget greatly. Must it be this way in America today?

I'm hyper-aware of college tuition costs today, with one child in a state university (which is reasonably priced) and another applying to colleges. The sticker shock is truly frightening, even for someone with good means.

I attended Barnard College in the 1980s, which wasn't cheap then. Now it costs over $55,000 per year, and I think that's disgusting. I read sometimes that the actual costs at private colleges can be much less than the stated amounts, but even with some aid, for many students it means that they will have to take out loans to attend colleges -- and this kind of debt can be crippling. 

There are many goods and services in our society that can be obscenely expensive, and it's frightening: weddings, new cars, housing, vacations, even holiday gift lists. Costs can be staggering, and going into debt for these nice things is not nice. There are many reasons why someone might want to plow so much money into any or all of these, but there are so many compelling reasons not to do so, even if you have a good amount of money.

We can bemoan the differences of quality, the haves versus have-nots in society, the social shaming of being cheap as well as being a big spender. Finances are an ever-riveting source of debate, but for the vast majority of us, spending has to be well thought out on many levels.

I'm also sensitive to this because when I was younger, some friends ("frenemies" perhaps) dubbed me "cheap" for doing certain things. This rankled me, and I knew that much of my attitude toward spending was inherited from my parents. My parents grew up during the Great Depression, and were very aware of spending, of ownership, of being mocked for having or not having.

On the block where I grew up, some families were very status conscious, and happy to lavish expensive things on their children and on themselves. But after a while I realized that the parents who spent the most money were not necessarily the ones who spent the most time with their children. The Quality Things Vs. Quality Time debate was very real on East 22nd Street.

Back to the costs of college: recently I saw on Facebook that someone I know visited Bennington College with his children, and one was interested. I commented that it is a pricey school, which cannot be denied. Someone else weighed in and tongue-lashed me for mentioning that, and it wasn't even my child in question. I chose not to argue over this; but really, is a Bennington degree worth over $200,000? 

On the Bennington website front page, there's this quote: "A good education prepares you for a set path. A great education prepares you to change course." Is Bennington suggesting that a less expensive college education will NOT prepare you as well? Ugh, what a faulty and snobbish selling point. 

Many people will fall for it. I don't.

Ellen Levitt

Posted on December 1, 2019 18:09

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By SARAH SKIDMORE SELL AP Personal Finance Writer If people put everything from groceries to gas on credit cards to earn...

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