A caller to a radio station has made headlines after admitting she blew through her $90,000 college fund in three years. (Photo: Getty Images)
A student who used up her $90,000 college fund in three years — on tuition, but also on school clothes and trips to Europe — is making headlines this week after calling a radio station and blaming her parents for not teaching her “how to budget more carefully.”
A 22-year-old identified only as Kim called into Atlanta’s the Bert Show last week looking for advice on how to handle a financial dilemma — she’d used up all the money her grandparents left her for college a year earlier. “Years ago, my grandparents set up a college fund for me, which was amazing, and I haven’t been very good with my budget for school,” she explained, her voice disguised for the show. “The first [bill] for my senior year just arrived, and I don’t have the money, basically. I’ve just been avoiding it. I knew the bill was coming.” Kim said she owes $10,000 for the fall semester, and she didn’t have a penny of it.
When the hosts of the radio show, which is syndicated on 20 stations in 11 states, asked where the money had gone, Kim was honest, explaining that perhaps she didn’t spend as wisely as she should have. “I used it to budget for school clothes and college break money,” she said. “I probably should have not done that. I took a trip to Europe. The Europe thing, I thought, was part of my education, and that’s how I tried to justify that.”
Over the course of that call — and three more that followed between Kim and the radio hosts — the incoming college senior, who didn’t reveal where she goes to school, blamed her parents for her poor financial skills. She also expressed her embarrassment at the thought of getting a job, and revealed her horror at the thought of going inside a bank to ask for a loan. And she told the hosts that she couldn’t believe her parents weren’t going to bail her out. "They’re not being honest with me, saying they don’t have [money] because my dad has worked for like a million years and they have a retirement account,” she said.
Bert Weiss, host of the Bert Show, says the reaction to Kim has been unprecedented. “You never know what is going to connect with listeners, but this has taken off in a way I’ve never seen,” he tells Yahoo Parenting. “As a parent, this is my worst nightmare. I have two kids, and if they leave the house and they’re not capable of taking care of themselves, I blame myself.”
Weiss says the series of phone calls has struck a chord with parents and millennials alike. “I think the reaction is both parents looking at Kim’s parents, saying ‘that’s your responsibility,’ and you have the younger generation saying ‘this doesn’t represent who we are,’” he says.
And while the hosts had to laugh when Kim complained that her parents never talked with her about budgeting, Weiss, who has a 12-year-old and an 8-year-old, says Kim’s parents certainly shoulder some responsibility. “When my kids leave the house, they are a direct reflection of how we parented,” he says. “Am I teaching them work ethic and the value of money? If they act like Kim does, I’ve failed as a parent.” In fact, Weiss calls the phone calls with Kim a “red flag” for conversations he needs to have with his own children.
So how can well-meaning parents make sure that their kids don’t find themselves in Kim’s shoes one day? Start by talking about college tuition as early as freshman year of high school, says Erin Lowry, founder of the blog Broke Millennial. “Sit down and show your child their college fund,” she tells Yahoo Parenting. “Parents are hesitant to do that because money is a taboo topic, but kids should see to the last penny what, if anything, is set aside for college. That way, if early in their high school career they decide they want to go to a school they can’t afford, they can get a job or apply for scholarships or grants. If you can afford to pay for your kid’s college, or 50 or 25 percent of it, that is wonderful. But even more important is letting a kid know that early, so they can plan accordingly.”
It’s also necessary to explain what will happen if that money is squandered before the four years are up, as in Kim’s case. “It’s important to say, ‘This is how much you have for college, and if you blow it, it’s on you.’ Kim says she knew this, but she must have thought in the back of her mind ‘My parents will bail me out,’” Lowry says.
As for Kim’s parents’ refusal to hand over more college cash, Lowry applauds them. “I think it’s great her parents said they are not going to rob their retirement account to bail out their daughter,” she says. “There are loans for college, not for retirement. You shouldn’t be raiding retirement funds to help kids pay for school.”
Still, Lowry says it seems Kim’s parents may be a little late in teaching their daughter basic financial lessons. “I do empathize with her about not having learned to budget — it’s a conversation her parents should have had much earlier. She might just be modeling behavior she saw all her life,” she says. “It’s on parents to show good behaviors and to say to their kids, ‘We are taking this trip to Europe because we earned it, and saved for it.’”
Defenders of Kim, however, have noted on Reddit — which has an entire thread devoted to the caller, whom Weiss calls “the millennial who all millennials hate” — that at a number of colleges, $90,000 doesn’t cover four years. “That’s another thing that should have been part of the conversation,” Lowry says. “Are you going to a state school, or a liberal arts college that has a $50,000 price tag, in which case $90,000 doesn’t even get you through sophomore year?”
Lowry and Weiss both agree that Kim’s parents have some explaining to do — and Weiss is hoping they’ll do so on air. “I’d love to get them on the show and ask them, ‘Did they teach her about budgeting? Or was she left to not know anything about the value of money?’”
In her most recent call to the station, Kim said that she, too, wants her parents to think about their actions. “I know they’re trying to teach me a lesson and blah, blah, blah and character building,” she said. “But, like, I hope they realize [working part-time] could have such a negative effect on my grades and as a person.”