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Avoiding College Debt By Gary Hoag

Stewardship and Avoiding College Debt

In Managing God’s Money, Randy Alcorn reports startling statistics (165). “For many people, debt has become not the exception but the rule. The average American family devotes ¼ of its spendable income to outstanding debts. Since 1945, consumer debt in the United States has multiplied 31 times. The IRS calculates that the average filer spends ten times more paying interest on debts than he gives to charitable causes.” Is it time to abandon the rule and live exceptionally?

In a recent conversation with my wife, Jenni, I learned that, after weeks of waiting, we had finally received the payment plan for the Fall semester of our daughter’s senior year at college. Our son, Sammy, graduated debt-free in 2017 and our daughter, Sophie, hopes to follow suit in 2019. When I asked why it took so long to get the numbers, Jenni said that the school administrator divulged that most families just click a button to agree to school loans rather than putting pencil to paper to map out a plan to pay cash for tuition and fees. We are an exception. Debt has become the rule.

How have we avoided college debt? Looking back, we chose to live biblically (and exceptionally) in at least five ways.

Teach your teens to work.

When our children became teens, society told us to give them things to show our love to them. Instead, we told them that God made them to work and encouraged them to use their gifts to serve others (1 Peter 4:10-11).

Sammy started an online fly fishing shop to sell flies ( and volunteered offering tech-related assistance. Sophie made a flyer offering pet services along with babysitting and helping in the church nursery. Teaching them to work both for pay and as volunteers helped position them to work through college and for life after school. Sammy often says, “I did not graduate from college and go look for a job because I already had more than one.”

Tell them to do their best in school.

When your teens reach 8th grade (the year before their marks impact the grade point averages that colleges look at when offering scholarships) take them to a bookstore and read Aesop’s classic fable, “The Tortoise and the Hare” (or watch the 1934 Disney version). Talk about it. Drill down on topics like distractions and diligence (Proverbs 13:4). Make sure they understand why the story ended the way it did. You want to hear, “Slow and steady wins the race.”

We challenged Sammy and Sophie to do their best every day, in every class, on every assignment. Each night we asked, “How can we support you?” Often we’d get them a drink or a snack because we were not smart enough to help them with their homework. Remarkably, though they tested only slightly above average on the ACT, in doing their best they both posted outstanding grade point averages and received some scholarships to help pay for college.

Store up as much as possible in heaven.

This point is counter intuitive so hang with me, because everyone in the world will tell you to store up money on earth in a college fund. Don’t do it. Store it up in heaven. It’s a vital part of their education now and preparation for eternity (Matthew 6:19-21). Well before their college years, we heard that whatever we stored up to pay for college would disappear after we completed the government FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). So, we stored up as much as possible in heaven during their teen years. After filling out the FAFSA, because we stored up our riches in heaven, Sammy and Sophie qualified for need-based aid and learned how to be obedient, generous stewards.

Create margin in your budget.

As your children approach their teenage years, if you have not eliminated debt from your household budget, make that your goal (or get as close as you can) before they head off to school. We had a big mortgage so we sold our home, pulled the equity out, and bought a townhouse that costs much less to maintain. We paid cash for the used cars we drive. We aimed at simplicity in all areas of life from food to clothing to have margin to pay cash for school (1 Tim 6:8). Regularly, as a family, we give thanks to God for what we have to foster contentment and gratitude in our hearts.

Trust in God’s gracious provision.

We have faced much adversity along the way. Medical bills linked to cancer and back problems. Inconsistent income associated with self-employment. Despite the ups and downs, we are just one year away from having our youngest graduate debt-free. God has faithfully supplied, often like “manna” just what we have needed, often for us and sometimes to aid others (2 Cor 8:13-15). It’s been both hard and easy. It’s been hard because this path is the exception and not the rule, and easy as the Bible is our trusted playbook. God’s ways still work today!

Though every family faces different challenges, this advice applies everywhere because its biblical. But, be advised! This counsel is exceptional in that few people follow it.

  • Do it anyway! Wherever you live, teach your children to work and always do their best, so they launch as faithful servants for God.
  • Go against the flow. Whatever income you make, store up as much as possible in heaven, so your children learn to be obedient, generous stewards who trust God to sustain them.
  • God is watching and keeping track. Teach them to avoid debt and live within their means with grateful hearts.
  • Aim at godliness with contentment! Rather than a deep hole of debt, you will put them in a place of “great gain” (1 Tim 6:6).

Before Sammy and Sophie start to think about marriage, we’ve assured them that we see it as adding a daughter and son. If either of them have debt, then we will happily work together to pay it off as soon as possible. This is all part of building godly families that avoid debt and cultivate contentment so we are free to live, give, serve, and love like Jesus. Care to join us?


Gary Hoag, Ph.D., (New Testament, Trinity College, Bristol, UK), serves as a visiting professor at six seminaries, on part-time basis as ECFA International Liaison, and is known widely as “the Generosity Monk” as he has dedicated his life to encouraging Christian generosity. Subscribe to his Daily Meditations at






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