In this episode of The Retirement Success in Maine Podcast, we are joined by Maria MacDougal of the Finance Authority of Maine (FAME). Maria is a College Access Counselor who serves the eight central Maine counties; traveling to high schools, colleges, and businesses, talking about planning and paying for education after high school, furthermore presenting on topics related to financial literacy, from budgeting & saving, to understanding banking and credit, and more. Many of our clients express to that they want to leave behind an educational legacy to their next generations by helping with education expenses, so we thought Maria would be a perfect guest to talk to this topic. What are the pros and cons of our kids and grandkids attending school after high school? How can someone go about paying for a family member’s school? How does someone take into account forecasted rising costs that may not be funded until 18+ years in the future? For the answers to these questions and more, be sure to tune in!
What You'll Learn In This Podcast Episode:
Our show begins with Maria spending some time sharing more about herself. Maria discusses her upbringing, right here in Maine and how she was adamant to move out of Maine after high school. Ultimately, she found herself graduating from college back in Maine, where she still lives and works today. Maria shares with us her journey to being a College Access Counselor today, and provides us with an overview of FAME and the services they provide.
We also spend a lot of time discussing with Maria the idea of saving money for higher education. Whether it be for yourself, or for your kids and grandkids. Maria discusses all of the post high school options for people, not just four-year universities. She also takes some time to do some “myth-busting” for us, including combating the argument that college may not be worth it anymore due to rising tuition costs.
The conversation rotates to the idea of actually saving and paying for education costs. Maria discusses the various options that individuals have when it comes to saving for a child’s education expenses and she also shares some helpful insight into FAFSA and explains some common misconceptions around it.
We conclude our conversation with Maria by shifting the conversation to focus on her, and her personal retirement goals. Be sure to tune in and hear her inspiring outlook on her own Retirement Success!
Welcome, Maria! [3:16]
What is FAME and what kind of services do you provide? [10:50]
What are the post-high school options that someone may have? [21:22]
Is a college degree really worth it, considering all of the debt I went into to attain it? [23:20]
What are the different ways someone can save on education expenses? [35:43]
How can you forecast how much to save, considering the rising costs of education? [42:59]
How can someone who is saving for their own retirement, still help with their kid’s or grandkid’s education expenses? [45:18]
Taking into account these uncertain times (COVID-19), and someone who may now want to invest in their own education, later in life, how can that process work? [50:20]
What is Retirement Success for Maria? [56:09]
Ben, Abby, and Curtis wrap-up the episode. [58:28]
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Ben Smith: Welcome everyone. My name is Ben Smith. And welcome to The Retirement Success in Maine Podcast. I'm joined by a couple of my teammates here, Curtis Worcester and Abby Doody, the Bobby Orr and Ray Bourque to my Brad Marchand.
Curtis Worcester: Alright.
Ben Smith: How are you guys doing?
Curtis Worcester: I like it. I'm doing well. Excellent.
Abby Doody: Good. How are you Ben?
Ben Smith: Good, good. Well, obviously we're doing things a little bit differently this session. We're still sheltering in place as the date of this recording. So, we're getting kind of a little bit more comfortable with our skin of recording in our own homes and getting a podcast out that way. So appreciate everybody bearing with us as we've worked through some technical kinks there.
Ben Smith: But one of the things that we've been kind of talking about as a topic is again we're now episode 17. Right? So what do you do when you're 17, in terms of age? Is you start thinking about college, right? So, I think that was something that we were talking about for when we work with our clients and talking about retirement is they start talking about goals, right?
Ben Smith: They can talk, start talking about legacy. And one of the things they talk about is, in terms of their lives, one of the foundational moments or years of their lives was usually higher education. And it was when they, they found a love for a vocation. It was when maybe they found some meaningful relationships in terms of friends, maybe in terms of their spouses when they met them there.
Ben Smith: So there's lots of years I think that people go, that's where I became who I am and who I want to be. And I want that to be given to either my kids or again, for the folks we're working with generally is maybe the grandkids. Is they want... That, that gives them a feeling of peace so that, if I'm getting closer towards the later stages of retirement that, hey, if I have money that can help maybe that next or third generation going to that that same place, I think that would help me give a little piece to myself as well.
Ben Smith: So that was, I think the conversation Abby you and I in our meetings as well kind of have is that, that's feedback we hear pretty frequently. So with that, we said, we kind of want to have a college expert that could come on and help us with that. So, that was us reaching out to Maria MacDougal, who is our guest today. So Maria is a FAME college counselor. So FAME stands for Finance Authority of Maine. And again, Maria's helping a college access, right? Is that correct?
Maria MacDougal: Yeah, college access counselor is the official title, yeah.
Ben Smith: So that's the idea is, how do we get people to say, "Hey, this is the goal I want to help this generation have the opportunity to go necessarily that they have to go there." But that was the conversation we wanted. So Maria, one of the things that we always like to do with any of our guests is to have them come on and just spend a few minutes just talking about your upbringing and, how did you fall into this as your passion, right?
Ben Smith: And this is your job and this is something that you enjoy doing. So, would you mind just kind of setting the table for us there and walking us through kind of that of upbringing to where you were in terms of finding it to today?
Maria MacDougal: Sure. And thank you for having me on. This is my first podcast and it's very fun. And this is a really important topic in general and especially right now. I was born and raised in Maine. I have lived here my whole life with the exception of a stint of one year private college in Massachusetts, and I grew up pretty low income. We were paycheck to paycheck kind of family.
Maria MacDougal: My parents were a little older when I was born. My mom was 42, my dad was 46. And so, different stages of life than my friend's parents. And so, we struggled a lot. But education was part of it. My mom was a teacher. She actually went to Farmington teacher's college, which became senior the university of Maine Farmington where I ended up.
Maria MacDougal: Long and winding roadway. And so, school, it was just always something we talked about even though we knew it would be financially challenging, that was always the conversation where you go to college, that's what you do, and how important education is. And I was the like Hermione Granger of all my classes. Like I will answer any question? I don't like silence.
Maria MacDougal: Which at the time I didn't see as valuable and now I do. But I graduated from Edward Little high school and had a great high school experience. Fortunately, not an athlete but certainly enjoyed my time there doing lots of extracurriculars. And then I had this urge to kind of get out of Maine as I think a lot of young folks do. And so, I found a college in Massachusetts that I really liked that was small liberal arts.
Maria MacDougal: And I had a great time there, but it was expensive. I mean, really that is what it came down to. And I knew even then that I didn't want to saddle myself with all of this debt. And actually an experience I had in the financial aid office there kind of led me to where I am now. My mom passed away when I was young. My dad was sort of out of touch with everything. And so, I did my FAFSA by myself, and did all this stuff and I walked into the financial aid office for help.
Maria MacDougal: And I got, if you read the stuff we gave you, you would know the answer. And I promised myself even that at 18 years old, and I would never treat students that way, and people that needed help. So, I ended up transferring out of there and went to university and Farmington, where I should've gone in the first place. And I did get into both from the beginning, my mom's Alma mater and a great little college town that I loved and had a great experience there for a fraction of the cost.
Maria MacDougal: And I got a work study job in the financial aid office. No one wakes up in the morning and wants to see a financial aid counselor when they grew up. We all accidentally fall into it in one way or another. And it was a great experience and I took the philosophy and my experience at the other college with me even learning through as a student and being a peer advocate.
Maria MacDougal: And so, when graduation rolled around, despite my English degree, there was a position that opened up at the university of Southern Maine in the financial aid office there, and I needed a job right after college, and I thought, "I'll just do this." And I know it and it's the same system and it's a good higher education is a great industry to work in. In terms of benefits and flexibility and all of that.
Maria MacDougal: And then I blinked and almost 15 years have gone by. I've been in the business still and I just really love helping students and making sure that they know that like, "Hey, I did it." And I have a master's degree now, and I was a low income kid and it's really hard but you can do it. And so, I like being able to kind of pay that forward and help other people like me.
Ben Smith: Yeah, it sounds like that's a really formative moment, right, is to say, "I'm 18 and I'm trying to figure out student loans and financial aid myself. And here I am, where I know there's a problem and I know I'm not alone in this problem and I don't get treated in a way that kind of makes me a feel good about my choices, but also helped me feel good about, well, here's how I'm setting myself up for success and not failure at the end of the day."
Ben Smith: And I think that's a common fear that you're hearing, not just from maybe the kids themselves that are going through this, but also the parents and maybe even grandparents, is that this is something where what I don't want to do is, hey, they're getting into school. They chose something that they didn't really have any perspective of. And then now they're set up for failure for the next 20 years because of whatever permutation of that.
Ben Smith: So kudos to you on finding that. That's a tough thing to go. What's my calling? What's my purpose? And you know what I mean, so kudos. So, obviously you kind of, and Abby has a similar story too, right? As leaving the state going, "Hey, I got to get the heck out of here." Because Maine is small and you know, all of that Curtis and I are maybe more through and through Mainers here.
Curtis Worcester: That's right.
Ben Smith: We're not leaving at any period time.
Abby Doody: I came back.
Ben Smith: Good or bad. Yeah. So Maria, what was it that kind of said, "Hey, I want to leave." So what was that, and then what was the kind of calling back in terms of, "Well, I got to go back." And then also why Maine still?
Maria MacDougal: Okay, great question. The drag to get out. I mean, without all the gory details, my mom passed when I was younger. It was really hard. I had to grow up really fast and I had been in growth in this whole community and I thought this is my chance to go someplace else in a way that I hadn't had before. And I thought college is a great opportunity to do that. And it was like a college fair brochure and the campus was really beautiful and I ended up really liking what I saw and spending a good year there.
Maria MacDougal: Financially of course it was much more expensive than an in state public university. So that was probably the biggest call of like, Oh, I knew what even then that I was going to be, and I'm a liberal arts kid. So, I knew there wasn't necessarily huge earnings potential in my field. And at the time I wanted to be a teacher. I thought I was going to be like a classroom teacher.
Maria MacDougal: So, I knew that I was potentially setting myself up for financial disaster. But also, my dad was older and kind of under the weather, and I didn't really like being so far away from him. So I think that was the pull. And Maine has always been home and this is a great place to live. And now I can't imagine living any place else. I like traveling. I've been to a number of different States.
Maria MacDougal: I travel for conferences and for work and I enjoy visiting places, but this is where home is. You know? It's vacation land and those of us that get to live here get to have that all the time. So, I can't imagine raising a family any place else and just, I appreciate four distinct seasons because beautiful, warm, sunny days are much more. They feel I can appreciate them more after a deep dark winter.
Ben Smith: Yeah, you're right. Especially right now, right it's obviously this is April and you're starting to see some sun and some-
Maria MacDougal: And green grass.
Ben Smith: Green grass is coming. So, you know, this is a technically mud season, right, is I think. I think the fifth season is probably happening right now.
Maria MacDougal: Same here. Now that I get to serve minors in this capacity and really have an impact I can't imagine. And as same as any organization. I'm sure we'll talk a little bit about that and next, but there's not a lot of other, like we have sister organizations that do similar things, but the capacity we have to make real change. And in terms of college access and financial literacy is huge. And I can't imagine being living place else.
Ben Smith: And that's a really good segue. Right? There's one thing I wanted to talk about next was Finance Authority of Maine. I have a banking background originally. So, in terms of my gateway towards a finance authority of Maine or FAME was, it was really in terms of maybe the business lending side and what you're seeing with, and then there's a lots of programs there.
Maria MacDougal: Yeah.
Ben Smith: Could you just, for those that maybe are not aware of FAME or maybe just heard tangentially, can you just talk about the organization as a whole first, and then your division within FAME and how that, how that works?
Maria MacDougal: Sure. So FAME is a quasi state agency that serves Mainers in two FAFSAs. We work at the intersection of like business and economic development and education access. So the goal is to create good paying jobs for Mainers across the board. And we do that in two ways by supporting Maine businesses through things like commercial loan insurance. And we have a number of state lending programs that we administer.
Maria MacDougal: And then on the education side, which I'm much more familiar with, we do college access, right? That's my title at college access and financial education is our sort of wheelhouse. So we really take into consideration fast to completion. We're doing all kinds of FAFSA events and really overviews of the financial aid process. Others that I work with have a similar background to me where it started in financial aid offices and landed at FAME.
Maria MacDougal: We administer some state level, so like the main state grant program, a few state level loans and education programs on that side. So it's kind of working to get people into college to them, get them a good job. And then supporting minors who are currently working.
Ben Smith: I think what I want to ask is more about your role, Maria.
Maria MacDougal: Okay.
Ben Smith: In terms of maybe the consumer side here, so somebody says, "Hey, I have college questions." They would reach out to FAME at that point. And either maybe through, it may be an organization, maybe a public school or maybe just individually would they reach out to somebody like yourself and say, "Hey, I have questions about accessing college. I don't even know where to begin." Like how do you interact with that process? How do people get in contact with you and then what happens?
Maria MacDougal: Yeah, that's a great question. So, it kind of happens in a number of ways. We are primarily outreach. So we are, there's college access counselors and two others like me, we split the state kind of in third and we traveled to high schools and we do financial aid nights, we call them. So, an overview of the financial aid process typically for juniors to sort of say, "Here's a team to start thinking about. This is kind of an overview."
Maria MacDougal: We do that for students and parents. So, generally in the evening, and then in October when it's financial aid season, when the facts that becomes available, we do in person health sessions all over the state. So we're kind of interacting with schools all over the state anyway. We also are at college fairs and career fairs and those kinds of things. But in terms of, someone's going to our website, they may famemaine.com and they can get our email addresses or firstname.lastname@example.org and they can say, "I need help."
Maria MacDougal: And we reach out and we say, "How can we help?" And we can cover everything from, helping out with some admissions level stuff. We're really focusing on the financial aspects. But certainly most of us have been in the business long enough to assist, and to know where to refer students for that kind of help. But we do one on one meetings with students and families on everything from filing the FAFSA to student loan repayments, to looking for scholarships.
Maria MacDougal: So, if somebody reaches out and they get through triage through our education, customer service, they might come to me or one of my colleagues and we say, what can we do? And there hasn't been a presentation or a situation where we can't help or we don't know somebody who can. So we're really, it's very hands on. It's very high touch.
Maria MacDougal: I think we try to make sure that we answer all their questions and sometimes that's just a one off. And one of them was financial aid presentations and sometimes it's one to one. And I have families that I meet with all the time, although we're now virtual, right? Where we are.
Maria MacDougal: But you know it's getting a coffee downtown and sitting in a coffee shop and making sure that they're past of them. So, it looks different depending on what the needs of the students family.
Ben Smith: So as a state agency too. And this is something where, what we've had with some of our guests that are, I can think similarly positioned to in their topic is, I think there's a misnomer of, I don't know what I don't know. And if I contact Maria, am I going to get a bill, right? Am I going to get is there... Here's an expert that's spending time with me or meeting me at a coffee shop or whatever is happening.
Ben Smith: Then, what is reasonable in terms of an ask to Maria, cause I don't want to, I don't want to ask for too much, nor do I want to ask for something that all of a sudden I didn't realize there's a cost associated with that. So, can we talk about maybe that myth there in terms of how people are interacting with you?
Maria MacDougal: Yeah. I will say everything we provide is free. So we are paid to do this. This, I can't speak highly enough about this as an organization from someone who worked in higher Ed and saw one side of the table and, but also a great industry to work in. But the fact that we can provide this level of support and certainly Switzerland and say, let's talk about what's best for you financially and not, and family is particularly Mainers largely are low income.
Maria MacDougal: Almost, the entire state is eligible on some level. Right? And so, like in certain pockets we have data on who's eligible. And so, I have families all the time send me an invoice or, "How much is this going to cost?" And I can say, "This is free, this is what I get paid to do." And so, we have the ability to really reach a lot of people who might not otherwise be able to get that kind of support, and there are unfortunately or fortunately other services out there that can help, but certainly many of them have a cost attached.
Maria MacDougal: And so, I think that they're just assuming that we also will and we don't. And so, that's a really great benefit. And so, we will help to the extent that that student and family or individual has whatever they need to succeed.
Curtis Worcester: That's awesome.
Ben Smith: So, and I'll just ask maybe another follow up to that, Maria, in terms of the questionnaires. So, obviously in terms of costs, that's a really great thing that if somebody needs access to it that they can ask you. What if I'm having questions, or I'm looking for someone to assist me, should they start with you or start with FAME first before maybe they go, "I'm going to apply to Northern Maine community college or I'm going to university in Farmington or I'm going to Dartmouth, whatever."
Ben Smith: In terms of where should they start I guess is my first question there is, are you number one there, would they go to somewhere else and then rotate over to you next? Because one of the things that I'm picking up is obviously as an agency there, which again your job is to promote access generally and not necessarily funnel to a institution or a financial program that you use.
Ben Smith: So it would seem to me that, that would be the first place I would start because of that is, I want to not be, can I have my lens colored first? I'd want it to be, "Hey, let's get really well educated on what options and what the pros and cons are first, before I then had that conversation with an admissions counselor or something like that, it's going to just sell me." And then I'm going to get sold into the program and then I fall in love and once I fall in love, then that's where I go. So can you talk about that real quick?
Maria MacDougal: Sure. I'm not number one at FAME, that made me chuckle. There's tons of information on our website, so a person can go to famemaine.com and get all kinds of information and not need to contact us. We've set it up by sort of audience. So where are you in the process? What are you thinking about? Or are you a higher ed professional? So a lot of them, the guidance counselors are very familiar with that, and so their guidance counselor, if they're high school student might refer them to us to start with.
Maria MacDougal: But certainly they could contact, we have a customer service line via phone and email. So, they could start there. And those folks are incredible. They know tons of ask the questions, they can help with college savings, they can answer a multitude of questions and then sometimes it might be that they need to send it to the next level.
Maria MacDougal: So they might refer to me or depending on where the student or family is. One of my colleagues is particular to a certain region. But certainly our contact info is on the website. So, like any of your clients, you now know who I am, you can send them straight to me, and that's totally fine too. There isn't necessarily a hierarchy in that way.
Maria MacDougal: And sometimes it happens to be a one up, I'm never not working as the joke. So like I'll be at a restaurant back when you could do that and hear people talking about student loans and I would waltz up with my business card like, "I don't mean to interrupt, but I can help." This is not weird I swear. It kind of happens in different ways, but if you get to the organization just on the web or through the phone or via email, you're going to get quality customer service and get the questions you need answered in multiple ways if need be.
Ben Smith: Oh, okay. I think at this point in the podcast, what I wanted to rotate to Maria was in terms of this section or really this whole idea about leaving an educational legacy, is that, here's parents and grandparents and why do they helping their kids, and it's just natural I think to want to help your kids obviously.
Ben Smith: But the why, and I think that's what we've kind of identified is that educational legacy by assisting with college expenses. And so, that's a stated goal that we hear a lot. But the how, and the what, and how much. And all of that is I think that's a big tangled ball to unravel with people. And there's pros and cons, all that. So, we wanted to spend a lot of our time today on this show was kind of working through that with you and just kind of picking all those things apart.
Ben Smith: So the first question I wanted to raise to you was in terms of the clients that we come across expressing that they want to assist their next generation with educational expenses, but it's from their assets, right? And I have a 401(K), I have retirement money, I have savings. I've worked my whole life to have this nest egg, little big whatever. And they want to help the next generation or next generations.
Ben Smith: Can you talk about kind of all the kind of post high school options of what that could entail? So again, what I'm thinking there is in regards to if they were trying to help them, how could they help kind of go beyond high school? What's the processor?
Maria MacDougal: Yeah, just the fact that folks want to leave this legacy of excellent. So, the thing we always say on that FAME is, savings is the most important thing you can do to set yourself up for success in the post secondary plan no matter what that looks like. So, I'm sure we'll talk a little bit more about kind of different vehicles and ways to do that, but you know, it's going to depend on the particular student's family.
Maria MacDougal: So, when we say college, we don't just mean four year public or four year private, right? It might be an associate's degree or a certificate program or micro credentials. There's a goal through the main spark organization, sort of coalition of 60% of Mainers need to credential a value by 2025. So we need about 158,000 more jobs to really keep the economy.
Maria MacDougal: And who knows what that looks like now given where we are in this COVID world that we're in and folks are losing jobs left and right. So, some kind of credential of value is the phrase that we use to talk to families in suits. So, sometimes we say college and we have lots of communities in the state where it's just not a college going community. And so, when we say college, we don't necessarily mean expensive or you're public or private.
Maria MacDougal: It can look like any kind of post secondary degree program. And there's lots of different ways to do that and you can do it in an affordable way. So, if a person is able to only leave so much or delineate so much from their retirement, they don't have to feel like it's not enough because there's always a way to do it, and it can supplement financial aid, and anything is better than nothing.
Maria MacDougal: So, even if you have just a couple hundred dollars set aside, you're more likely to persist, and to start the process than if you have nothing. So, the fact that there would be anything available at all it would be, is a great starting point.
Abby Doody: So, you kind of touched on it, but the Coronavirus and even before this came out, the future of jobs and income in Maine. And how does education fit into that. Right? So, we've been hearing from some clients that was my college degree really worth it because I came out with so much debt, and the job that I gained from that, having a hard time paying it back.
Abby Doody: So is that a myth, and what are some of the pros and cons of attending a post-secondary education?
Maria MacDougal: Sure. One of the challenges is that, we have the media that tells us all these horror stories, about people in those particular situations.
Abby Doody: Absolutely.
Maria MacDougal: And honestly, we talk about, and what's great about our organization is that we talk about making them plan, right? And so, doing the research to make an affordable decision on the front end. So, if I had, had me when I tried to go to that private school in the beginning, I might not have made that decision, because I would have looked at it a little more financially, politically and said, I don't think this can work out.
Maria MacDougal: So, we counsel on make use, something like a net price calculator, which all colleges are required to have, that helps you calculate what the cost is going to look like year over year. And planning for, let's compare these two financial aid offers and see what's the bottom line is, because it's not clear just by looking at that letter. So, there's a myth that college isn't worth it because we're hearing all this stuff about people being saddled with debt, but you have to sort of back it up a little bit and say, where did they decide to go?
Maria MacDougal: Did they have anything saved? Did they apply for financial aid on time? So that's always my little soapbox and because I'm like, "What's the whole story, didn't they go someplace they could afford?" The reality is, education matters. So, you can make $1 million more over the course of your lifetime with a bachelor's degree, than with just a high school diploma. So, we keep checking that statistic.
Maria MacDougal: It keeps being true. Your earnings potential is greater with some kind of post secondary education, and more and more jobs are requiring a bachelor's degree. Many are even starting at like a master's degree required. Certainly now in this COVID world, there's going to be, I think more flexibility and there's going to be a need for retraining and additional education.
Maria MacDougal: But it really comes down to having those affordability discussions early. And certainly, like I have student loan debt from a bachelor's and a master's, but I have both liberal arts degrees, and so, people would say, "An English degree. What are you going to do with that?
Maria MacDougal: And I'm like, :Whatever I want." I continue to get it collectively? But I think it just comes down to having those affordability conversations and doing the research. So, there's lots of great ways to research starting salaries for certain fields, certain jobs, and identifying a baseline of where you might be looking. And then, utilizing financial aid as much as possible and looking for scholarships and those sorts of things.
Maria MacDougal: So return on investment is a conversation you have a lot, and affordability and making sure that students are, and that's part of what we do. We want you to fire your fast on time so you get the most financial aid possible and really help you look for scholarships and all of that. So you kind of have to think about planning ahead is really the big key. And thinking longterm, not just what's the first year going to cost me, but what are two or four years going to cost.
Curtis Worcester: Just to kind of follow up on Abby's question there in your statement, Maria, about the myth of college not being worth it, and sort of debunking that, is there any other just kind of generally speaking myths about going to college or, and then going through the process of paying for college. And myth may not be the best way to approach it. Is there a way, do you have any kind of key takeaways or just kind of tidbits that you feel people should know?
Maria MacDougal: Yeah, absolutely. Myth-Busting is like my favorite thing to do. And I think largely because, especially with social media, I have friends that share information and I'm like, "You know what I do for a living, please ask me before you shake it." But there's myths about that if you get so much in scholarships that you lose financial aid. Right? And I think that's a big one.
Maria MacDougal: And people say, "Oh, I heard if I have the savings for college, I'm not going to get as much financial aid." The offset really have to think about it, it would have to be a significant amount of money to really devastatingly impact federal financial aid eligibility. And the trade off is that for every dollar you have to saved, it's one less value, you potentially have to borrow and repay with interest.
Curtis Worcester: Exactly.
Maria MacDougal: So, we talk about that all the time. In a situation where there's money received either via scholarships or savings or what have you. The financial aid offices always going to reduce loans first. They're always going to try to find ways to make it fit in. So, I'm not sure how that myth got started. There is an impact in financial aid, but it's nominal. And income is really the bigger driver of financial aid eligibility at the federal level.
Curtis Worcester: Okay.
Maria MacDougal: So, assets are protected a little differently. So, that's a big myth. I think that there are others that kind of float around and certainly scams also. People telling you, you can do certain things or agencies that charge for the bad stuff, which the first app and FAFSA stands for free. So, it's free advocation. So, we're constantly kind of battling that. And also, I think there's just a myth that debt is bad in general, right?
Maria MacDougal: And so we spend a lot of time saying, "Oh, a lot of people have student loan debt." And what you don't hear the success stories. And that for many families, that's the reality. I couldn't have gone to college without student loans. There was no way that we would have been able to afford it. But it's not bad debt to have as long as you pay back.
Maria MacDougal: The federal loans have great repayment options. There's even forgiveness things built in a flexible repayment plan. So, I think we spent a lot of time, we hear like the trillion dollar student debt crisis, but we can make it a little bit more micro and talk about, it's not necessarily bad debt to have as long as you're able to pay it back. I think those are kind of the big things that we hear that we have to kind of work to debunk.
Ben Smith: And actually, we're in videos as well, so I do want to share something with you in terms of a screen, but this is something where we use this quite a bit for, this is from JP Morgan. They have the guide to the markets. So, this is free. It's on JP Morgan's website. You can go to it and download it. It's updated every quarter. So obviously, we're recording April, right in 2020, and we just lost a ton of jobs, right?
Ben Smith: Five and a quarter million jobs in the last month just got let go. And so, this is something where when we hear about the need for college, so there's two charts. And for those in the audio, I'm going to try to describe this to you. So this is-
Maria MacDougal: This is the podcast challenge right?
Ben Smith: Podcast challenges describe financial charts. So, unemployment rate by education level is the first one we're looking at. And this goes from 1992 until 2020 and everybody can see that, right? So, if you look at the college or greater, so you've completed college, or maybe you have an advanced degree on top of it, you can see the low rate of employment that basically, even in the peak of the financial crisis, unemployment was around 5%.
Ben Smith: If you were less than a high school degree, you can look at 92. The average unemployment rate is about 11% where again, a college or greater is around 3% and you can see the peak in terms of the financial crisis that unemployment went all the way up to 16%. And prior to this again, ending 2019, unemployment for less than high school degree was right around 5.7%.
Ben Smith: So it's just something where look is, I think can, yes, it's in terms of jobs that we're trying to find a match to a job to your degree and making sure that those are good matches all the time. But also in terms of maybe security is, maybe not just do I have a job, but am I more likely to keep that job?
Ben Smith: And by having transferable skills, and I know Maria, obviously you started out as an English major, right? And now you're in financial, which is the other brain, but you know that's something where you're able to, because you're able to learn, by having, you're getting trained to learn and port skills over. And that was the other chart here that shows the average annual earnings by the highest degree earned.
Ben Smith: And so, a high school graduate, again, this is 2018 data, and so a high school graduate would be earning right around, again average would be $39,000 plus or minus. If you have a bachelor's degree, your average earnings around 71,000. And if you have a master's degree or advanced degree on top of that, your average earnings is $99,900 nationally.
Ben Smith: So just talk about, $30,000 jumps on every level that you achieve. So yes, you're getting debt, and with those are probably, we have different attitudes about debt and I think Abby and I have a conversation too. There's a healthy amount of debt and there's an unhealthy amount of debt. So, figuring out that balance, but this is something worth investing in.
Ben Smith: And I think that's from the listeners here, and trying to figure that out. I think that's something where we were just trying to kind of explain as this is an investment, just like if you had a stock, if you had a bond, but I'm investing in a family member, a loved one, and this is what I want to see them achieve. I want to see them stability in their career, and I want to see with higher earning potentials.
Ben Smith: Not saying they have to earn the highest amount, but I want to see them have potential to do that.
Curtis Worcester: Right.
Maria MacDougal: And we actually have a version of this chart. It's through the Bureau of labor statistics, and they put it out annually that basically measures the same thing. And so, unemployment goes down as education goes up and earnings go up as education goes up. And that's been a trend no matter what the economy is doing in general.
Maria MacDougal: And so I think, it's really looking at, and that's the thing I think doing the research and getting the numbers right and my friends laugh, they're like, "You work in financial aid and you have an English degree?" But I'm a big grass nerd. So, putting together and just looking at it and saying, "Okay, it feels really scary and expensive and getting some debt now, but think about where you're going to be in 10 years, with this level of education.
Maria MacDougal: And what is that going to look like, and what doors does that open for you? And it's not enough just to go, right? It's to complete. So, that some college, no degree group is one that we're really trying to target and really trying to capture. And my specialty area at same as adult education. So I'm working with a lot of adults who started and maybe they were finished or never went for whatever reason.
Maria MacDougal: And so, I think it's really about that attainment, right? Earning that credential, opens up the door. So, we say college access, but we also, the end game, is the credential attainment and what that does longterm in terms of earnings potential and job security.
Ben Smith: Yeah. And I'll say too, in terms of Maria, again with our client base too, is we can actually... A lot of our clients are, they're first generational wealth is help. So we almost call it like the blue collar wealth middle-class wealth, right. They have scratched, and they haven't been the highest earners, right? They've not made, the six digit numbers in terms of their salaries.
Ben Smith: But what they've been trained to do is they've been trained to save, they know how to save. And one of the things that they look at as they say, and you hear this in different echoes, is that, echoes from previous generations, "Look, I don't want my kids to work as I did. I want them to work smarter, I want," so that's something that they're looking to invest in. And for us, one of the things we're trying to figure out is again, how do I stretch every dollar of their retirement?
Ben Smith: Let's, let's identify goals and make sure we're trying to hit every one of those we can. So can we talk about, we've kind of danced around the topic a little bit, but let's talk about wanting to pay for kids and grandkids school. So, can we talk about that pros and cons of, okay, well, I have a seven year old and my parents approached me with this too as they said, "Hey, we want to help and we want to help maybe give to your son or Cayden's 529 account.
Ben Smith: And we talk about, "Well, or what about maybe putting it in his name and just starting a savings accounts so that at age 18, he then has the money?" So, we have lots of pros and cons. What if you're giving an 18 year old, $30,000 in his name and we trust you to go to school. Congratulations. So that's what we try to do. We want to have that conversation with you about that pros and cons.
Ben Smith: So, can you talk about, obviously there's debt as something here, but there's also saving. You mentioned about every dollar you're saving is one less that you have to finance. So can you talk about that and these are the channels.
Maria MacDougal: Yeah, absolutely. And so, there's a couple of different things to consider here. The first is that, it's important to know that family household income is the bigger driver. I think I mentioned that earlier. So, I'm going to get in the weeds a little bit. But the fact the formula has something called asset protection allowance. So, a family can have access, but it's not going to, it doesn't drive the eligibility as much as income does.
Maria MacDougal: So, we always say like however you want to say is fine. Right? We just want you to do it because, again, it offsets any borrowing. In terms of pros and cons. I think leaving a liquid savings account for a young person that they have access to. Maybe not. It would depend on the kid I guess. I think what's great about 529 is there for educational related expenses, and they go directly to the school.
Maria MacDougal: And so if there is a concern about, we say a lot like grand, it's a great way for grandparents to give gifts that they know we're going to go to something valuable and aren't just going to get sort of blown on whatever, and they have earnings potential built in. And so, I think it really depends on the conversation with the family, right? What trust level, do we want the money to be used for anything, related.
Maria MacDougal: Maybe they want to buy a car, maybe they want an apartment campus instead of living in the residence halls and what that looks like. But I think it's really about in terms of whose name it's going to be in, in general, most students don't have assets in their name. And what's great about the FAFSA is that if the parents at a certain income level, they're never going to ask about student assets or do things.
Maria MacDougal: And a lot of our Maine families kind of fall within that bucket for our middle class family. Their income is going to knock them out of financial aid eligibility regardless of the amount of assets they have. So in a certain point they're going to hit an eight it's going to look at their income and the student would only be eligible for a loan. So, those I think are the families that really need to focus on saving.
Maria MacDougal: So, it doesn't necessarily matter if it's in the student's name or the parent's name at that level because they're not probably going to get any financial aid anyway. But I think in terms of planning and setting something up, we have had students who have like trusts set up in their name and it does have to be reported on the FAFSA, but again weighted differently than income, which is again a larger driver.
Maria MacDougal: So you could have a family that is below a certain income threshold. And just was one of these really good families at saving. So they might have a nice nest egg tucked away in a 529 or a Roth or something like that. And the FAFSA will never asked because their income is such a certain level, right? If you've got a really savvy person. So what's great about the federal formula is that it takes into consideration income and asset protection allowances and uses income as the main driver.
Maria MacDougal: And there is no, I mean there are cons to saving for college and that's if 529 is in a student's name, the withdrawals that they take out are counted as income. You know, it would have to be reported on that. We have ways to help families navigate what that looks like in terms of reporting and all of that. But again, they're like free money versus borrowing and repaying. Right? So, you have to examine that trade off in terms of longterm impact.
Ben Smith: And Maria, can I jump in a different angle here. We hear there's a different way. So, there is a concern about saving because they don't want to over save and then go, "Well, what if my child, so I'm saving and he's three?" He's got the Harold elephant grant and a 529 and that's going. And I don't even know what their aptitude is, what their attitudes are towards it.
Ben Smith: I really won't know probably until the day they decided maybe 16, 17 or 18. So, in terms of over saving, that's a concern that we hear from a parent and grandparent perspective of, "Geez, what if I gave money to something that now what if they don't use it and have I now not again, highest and best use of dollars." Highest and best use to savings. Have I now given away something that if I know what I know now, that, that's probably wouldn't have how I would have done it, and now they're not going to go to school or they're not going to be used that way. What would you tell that that concern?
Maria MacDougal: I would say it would depend on the vehicle in which they were saving. Right? So from a 529 perspective, those can be rolled over to other beneficiary, other siblings, other grandchildren. So we have a number of families like, well, you saved for the oldest and he's going to the peace Corps or whatever. And so, but again, it would be a matter of at that level, the funds can be used for non-educational expenses.
Maria MacDougal: It's just different tax implications. Right? So, it's really, I would rather, I would say that family, I'd rather have you saving than not. And over saving, I don't think is a way I've heard it before, but I hear where you're coming from in terms of like, what if I've put away all this money and nothing happens to it. Right?
Maria MacDougal: And so, I think that the fact that a young child, three, four, seven, eight knows that they have this availability to go to college, I think makes them more likely to go. And there's data to show that, right? So then it becomes a conversation. Gram and Grampy put money in your college account. That's going to be a running theme, so that they're going to know that they have that, they're more likely to go.
Ben Smith: Interesting.
Curtis Worcester: That's a good point.
Maria MacDougal: So, that is I think one of the things we talk about a lot because young families sort of say that, it's uncertain we don't know what it's going to cost, what college is going to look like when they get there. There's a lot of questions we could speculate we don't have the answers for, but I'd rather have you saving the knot and looking and then building that college, going identity in that college, going culture and saying, "Okay, as a family, we're committed to making this a reality for you."
Maria MacDougal: And you can sort of cross the... Do you or don't you branch when you get there. And who knows what it's going to look like when those kids... I stepped on up for my niece, she's four, she's going to Harvard right now. But we don't know what that's going to look like when she goes to school in the future. But, we just all want to sure that she can get there. Right?
Maria MacDougal: So, it's a matter of just building the conversation I think, and reassuring them that it's never a bad thing to save, and there's ways to do something or to, maybe it becomes donated them if it's in a savings account or like more liquid, that sort of thing. Logistically, would depend on what kind of account, but they're more likely to go if they know that they have money to survive.
Ben Smith: And I'll say too, Maria, is obviously that's something where we help our clients with that, in terms of trying to figure out those pros and cons of account by account. And one of the things we find with the 529 plan too is, in terms of you taking the money out and it's not used for educational purposes. We have our blog posts, which has this podcast. We'll put a resource there, that we can link to, that folks can, if they have a question about what if I've overfunded and they want to just take it out for non-educational purposes, what happens?
Maria MacDougal: Yeah, I can certainly make sure you have the link to the website to get all that information and what the ins and outs look like and what isn't educational related expense and all of that.
Ben Smith: Perfect.
Abby Doody: So, to kind of go off what you were just talking about forecasting costs in the future. So, if you are a grandparent and you're saving for your grandkids to college, how can you forecast how much you should be saving? I mean, college expenses are going up year over year. Is there a formula that you guys have or some way of getting that magic number?
Maria MacDougal: It's interesting because there really isn't a magic number, right? So, it even depend on what kind of institution they would be going towards. So, is it a community, are they just somebody that get a certificate and or an associates in a degree. A community college program is much less expensive than a four year college.
Maria MacDougal: So, I would say in terms of forecasting the tool I mentioned the beginning about the net price calculator is kind of a great way to assess an out of pocket cost for one year at a particular college. And so, it might be a little research, pull a number of schools together, do a couple of calculators multiplied by four and a percentage increase of four to 5% of college every year.
Maria MacDougal: And that might give you a ballpark figure. Who knows post-COVID what our living would look like or how it going to get charged for what. Or our brick and mortar schools even still going to be a thing. I mean, who knows.
Abby Doody: I know.
Maria MacDougal: So, it's tricky. And it's the thing that I think there isn't like, "You should save $50,000 or you should say X thousand dollars. There isn't a great, because 50,000 might be much more than that student needs. If they are someone that's just going to a community college to start with or that first thing. I mean I'm always about save as much as possible anyway.
Maria MacDougal: But in terms of forecasting the cost of education, it's really going to be, doing a little research, taking a sampling of schools, doing some of that cost research based on public-private, regional, if it's Maine specific where we're very fortunate, our community college system is very affordable university and system as well.
Maria MacDougal: We've got based on when colleagues got great schools here, and we want students to stay here and study here and to be here. So, it's a matter of doing the research of what those costs are like and then kind of figuring out if they finish in four years, which we hope that they will. What that might look like, and maybe they'll overshoot or maybe they'll undershoot but at least they'll have kind of a starting point.
Ben Smith: Maria, I have two more questions and Curtis will give the wrap up question after that. So, first question I want to ask you is, again, from one of the stressors we see with our clients is they kind of view themselves as a sandwich generation. Is that such an early retirement? They're looking at, "Hey my parent is in their 80s, their 90s. And mom or dad's moving in with me or I gotta go check in out, and I'm going to take care of them.
Ben Smith: But and this happened with my family is my parents and my in-laws are taking care of my newborn infant son when my wife and I were working. So, that actually happened. My dad was a retired teacher from Bangor high school go Rams. And he was taking care of his 94 to 99 year old grand. His father at that point, and my son who was three months old all the way till three and a half or four.
Ben Smith: So, here he is, he's kind of tackling both of those. And for those that say for a financial goal, "Hey, I want to help, but man, I'm stressed, I feel obligation to help my parent or parents, but I also feel an obligation to help the next generation." Right? So, they're just being kind of pulled apart with how do I allocate my time, how do I allocate my resources, all of that.
Ben Smith: So, in terms of one thing you said earlier in this episode was, "Look, everything you save is a good thing." So, even if you said, "Look, I know I got to help dad with assisted living costs and that's something I got to do." Even if you said, look, it's a 99 to one split to parent to grandson or child, that one is still meaningful because of all those things you just said.
Ben Smith: As having money in that bank will spur them to know that this is a priority. But how would you kind of tackle this issue with some of the setting in front of you and saying, "I'm trying to do both." How do you help them with that or how have you helped them with that?
Maria MacDougal: And that happens pretty frequently. Slightly younger families where we have, they're taking care of their college age students who's ready to go off and maybe their aging parent and they're wrestling with saving for retirement or saving for college. And they're like, "How do I do both? I don't have the wherewithal to spread myself that then. And where does the priority like?"
Maria MacDougal: Because you don't want them to certainly have nothing to retire on, right. And they feel very obligated as parents to provide, or grandparents even to provide for the generation. So, again, it's what you mentioned, it's every little bit makes a difference. And certainly, whether it's parent or grandparent, we just stress about applying for financial aid and encouraging them to get all the information to apply on time to make sure that they're getting scholarship.
Maria MacDougal: I mean that's the first and best way to maximize eligibility. So, there are time limits. You know, every school has a deadline and if you miss the deadline you can miss out on money. And so, I think it's really we can say like the burden doesn't necessarily have to be all on you to save all the money for their education. Right? So we would have the conversation of every little bit helps.
Maria MacDougal: Even if you have enough that they can buy books every semester, and that's what you can say, that's great. That's one less expense they have to worry about. And then, helping them maximize their financial aid, encouraging them to apply for scholarship. You know, a lot of scholarships ask for like, "Write a great letter about yourself." That's really hard to do. 18 year olds have our time bragging about themselves, surprisingly.
Maria MacDougal: But, we'll say like, "Have your grandma write about you, like they'd love talking about you." And so, I think that there's ways that they can assist without necessarily feeling the heavy financial aspects of it and feeling like they have to wrestle that line. So there's other sort of supportive ways that they can do that, but you know, maybe it's okay, we can help you buy your books or we can save for one year of college, and then, you'll just have to do on your own moving forward.
Maria MacDougal: It's really going to depend again on the family circumstances and kind of where their priorities lie. But we do hear that pretty common, "Do I save for college or save for retirement and what does that look like?" And I think that there's, they have a target retirement amount in mind and they think they want to save for as much of college as possible.
Maria MacDougal: And that's great. And if they're able to, that's wonderful. But financial aid exists for a reason. Right? And we would also reiterate the point that like that's not necessarily bad as long as they're borrowing responsibly, and are earning that credential to be able to pay it back and really trying to assuage that way. Because we hear a lot like, "I don't want my kids to borrow anything. I don't want them to have any debt." And in a perfect world that would be great.
Maria MacDougal: I think we would all prefer that. But the reality is most families have debt. And again, it's not necessarily that as bad as you're paying it back and not defaulting and those kinds of things. So, it's really about having those conversations and looking at the bigger picture and not just like what does that amount in the bank account and how much can it go towards college.
Maria MacDougal: But really making sure that they've got that college going identity that they recognize as important and that the financial aid process exists and that they should be looking for scholarships and working really hard and getting the credential to be able to get a good paying job.
Ben Smith: Okay. I want to ask. Actually, I kind of thought of another one as you're talking there too. Sorry to keep it going on that. But one of the things I'm just thinking about too is look, obviously we just talked about a lot of people just laid off, right? And it doesn't matter what age you are and there's a lot of people that we talk to and you kind of talked about, "Hey, I was an English major who ended up into financial aid and back."
Ben Smith: We kind of find ourselves, we were the math nerds then end up coaching, right? So it's like we ended up into the psychology. So, we also use lots of different things in our jobs. But in these times, we have people come to us and say, "Hey, I did just get laid off." Right? And we started talking about life purpose and what drives you and what, and what's one thing that you always wanted to do that you never got to do or what's one thing that really gives you purpose and accomplishment?
Ben Smith: Maybe it's when you retire, but maybe it's now that I'm in my 50s, and I've been let go of my position and this is a great time to be introspective. And on top of that, interest rates have continued to come down quite a bit. So, if you're thinking about, silver linings and try to make the lemon argument there.
Ben Smith: Maybe this is a good time to be investing yourself in education. And again, it doesn't mean I didn't get that college degree, I should go get it, and I should take four years to go do that. Maybe it's a certificate, maybe I was and I overused this. Maybe I always want to be a welder or use or be a carpenter and always want to do something with my hands. Can I go to a trade school and go learn that thing?
Ben Smith: And if you fast forward maybe 12 or 18 months right now where, I don't get my original job or vocation back and now we start looking at an expanding my options and opportunities that someone would go do that. So, what I want to just zoom you up, Maria, is a little bit of, "I'm not 18, and then the situation I'm going to school right after high school is, I'm in transition in careers and I'm thinking about education as an opportunity."
Ben Smith: How would they engage with you and how would they kind of refocus to figure out, all right this is the goal, what schools are available to me and then how do I afford it, whether it be against savings or debt.
Maria MacDougal: Yeah, that's great. And that's a lot of what I do is, sort of the adult ed specialists in my field. So, I'm working with the adult ed centers in Maine, and it's the last of those folks that are in transition. Right? And re-credentialing out of necessity or desire. And so, I remember at the Barkley center and Wilson that went out of business, I want to say last March, they were doing a resource there as things aligning down. And we were there to table there to sort of talk about, okay, maybe this is a great time to go back to school. And I had a number of folks at the table and say, "Well, I always want to finish that degree."
Maria MacDougal: Or, I never thought I had the time, and now I've got the time. And so, I think that's a pretty common thing that we hear. And especially, I think we will definitely now post that we were just talking about that as a staff meeting. Like I think, there's going to be an uptick in retraining and re-certification because there's going to be a need for that. And so, same way they can get to us, me directly through the website, adult ed centers in the state are incredible.
Maria MacDougal: They're a great starting point for, if you need to refresh up on study skills or math or reading particularly for English language learners. Adult ed does amazing things for our army Mainer populations in terms of getting them ready to go down to the next level. So, they can get that through that way or certainly just directly through us. And so, generally that person as an adult learner would fall in my wheelhouse and join kind of conversation.
Maria MacDougal: We sit down and we say, "What are you thinking about? What's your goal? Like what's the dream school? Or did you already start some college and you want to continue what you were doing or transition it to something different?" And then we just look at the best program in terms of what they want to do.
Maria MacDougal: Is it they started the community college or maybe they have enough credits that they can go right into one of the university of Maine school, depending on what they want to do. So, it's a similar conversation except adult students have all these other things going on. So they have families and mortgages or rent, and juggling all that stuff. And so, you kind of have to think about holistically making a little bit more of a firm plan, right?
Maria MacDougal: So, the financial implications, same thing they can qualify for financial aid. If they don't have a bachelor's degree and they're eligible for federal plugin, they can get that no matter if they're 18 or 50. It's really about their income and what program they're looking to enter. So, a similar conversation, scholarships, funding from personal stating that they've got it, but really managing like maybe they go part time or full time because they've got a family and they can't go full time.
Maria MacDougal: Those sorts of things. So we do a lot with working with adult students in terms of getting their financial life in order. The other aspect of what we do at famous financial literacy rights, we talk about budgeting, saving, planning, all of that. So we sort of, the conversation with those students tend to be a little bit more financially focused in terms of where are you at, do you have a budget in place?
Maria MacDougal: What is that going to look like when you're adding tuition costs and books and all of those pieces. So the conversation is slightly different, but the opportunities are much the same. So, depending on what they want to do, we can have them identify the right institution. A lot of them have it in mind already. They're like, "Okay, I'm going to go here because it's a research."
Maria MacDougal: I just need you to help me figure out how I'm going to pay for it. And so, we have the same kind of financial aid conversations in terms of scholarships and applying for aid. And they might not have saved anything for themselves for school, which is pretty common if they have children, they're saving for their kids, but they're not necessarily thinking for themselves.
Maria MacDougal: So, there's not generally a lot to pull from in that aspect. But, there's lots of scholarship opportunities for adults in the state. And we just did a webinar for financial aid office about sort of best practices for helping adults through the process. And so, we're always thinking about this transition and now more than ever we're going to need to really think about, I think what will be an influx of, either people starting for the very first time or picking up where they left off or changing careers entirely.
Curtis Worcester: Yeah. So, I'm going to change it up on you Maria. So, this kind of last wrap up question we'd like to do with everyone. So obviously the name of the podcast is Retirement Success in Maine. We're going to kind of put you on the spot here. What is your personal definition of retirement success or what do you see being a successful retirement for you?
Maria MacDougal: Good question. I am somebody who likes to work, so I probably will want to continue to work, but I don't want to have to. So, success for me is like getting to do something that I want to do and continuing, there's a program in Maine where retired financial aid folks go into schools and help families do FAFSA. So, they're like an annex of us and I'm like, "I'll do that. I'll be like 75, and all the people passes or whatever the application is at that time."
Maria MacDougal: But I don't want to have to, right? And I want to be able to travel. And my parents and everything set aside for retirement. They were, my mom passed when I was little. She's a teacher and didn't have a lot saved and my dad was blue collar, paycheck to paycheck. So, it's important to me to be able to have a retirement and to leave a legacy for my family and to donate to organizations that are... I want to live enough to create a scholarship fund.
Curtis Worcester: Awesome. That's awesome.
Maria MacDougal: That's my other big goal is, and this stuff I get to identify gaps in terms of emergency funding and particularly for adults and making sure that they can access money to fix their car when the car breaks down and they can't get to class. Right? And identifying some of those gaps. And so my end game is, I always said if I ever won a lottery or had enough at the end every time at the end of my life, I would put, a fun together for that specific pathway to education.
Curtis Worcester: That's really awesome.
Ben Smith: Nice. Well Maria, thank you for being on the show today. It's first of all, it's a treat to have you on because we get these questions a lot and to have somebody of your stature to come in, in terms of give us expertise, have a conversation with us, kind of address these specific issues that our clients are facing and it's been an extremely valuable and I know going forward, even outside of 2020, it will be really useful. So appreciate you doing that for us.
Maria MacDougal: Yeah. Thank you for having me. It's been really fun. I hope that it was helpful and feel free again to send people directly to me. That's what I'm here for. I'm happy to help clients no matter what part of the process they're in.
Ben Smith: Awesome. Well thanks so much.
Maria MacDougal: Thank you.
Ben Smith: So, a really good conversation with Maria MacDougal today from Finance Authority of Maine. Again, having somebody on that's a college access counselor is not just kind of the financial end, but there's so many things that kind of are a part of this whole conversation about getting someone to choose post high school options. How do you make them work?
Ben Smith: But again, our perspective, again, Retirement Success in Maine, here you are as pre-retiree or retiree thinking about my money and how do I help my family, and how do I help my legacy of helping my family continue going forward. So again, with all these wrap-ups who only like to do is, is really just kind of give some things that we, we enjoyed from the conversation. Abby, do you want to start with something you took away from our conversation with Maria?
Abby Doody: Yeah, absolutely. So one thing I found very interesting when we were talking about the sandwich generation and how to save for both college and retirement. She brought up a really good point that, helping a kid through college isn't necessarily always financial, right? So you can maybe buy their books for a semester or maybe you can help them write an essay or maybe you can say I can pay for one year and you're on for the rest.
Abby Doody: But that support in general is really helpful. Not necessarily just from a full financial perspective. So, I found that reassuring because a lot of people get caught up in, "Oh, I don't have enough for college savings. I don't have enough to help out my kid or grand kid." And you can help in other ways and then just paying for the whole thing.
Ben Smith: And Curtis and I were in a meeting with a client the other day and one of the things they said they did was, it is financial and it isn't. But they actually had their grandchild move in with them during the college years, is that they were the parents were not near the college, but the grandparents were. And they said, "Hey, come move with me. Save some money, we'd love to have you. We won't infringe on your lifestyle. We know it's a college years."
Ben Smith: And this is like the fourth year, right Curtis?
Curtis Worcester: Yeah, he was getting ready to finish up, I think.
Ben Smith: And they're like, "This has been the best years of our life. We go to dinner together, and we've just had a deeper and better relationship with our grandson that we've ever had." So, I kind of liked that. I know we didn't kind of talk about that in the podcast, but man, that's something that was, is it financial? Yes, in a way.
Ben Smith: But maybe it's more of that there was that they were saving money in terms of not kind of taking money from their savings to spend for them to live somewhere else.
Curtis Worcester: Right.
Abby Doody: Exactly. Yeah.
Ben Smith: So Curtis for you, was there something that you took away from that conversation?
Curtis Worcester: Yeah. It came up when we were talking about, I think the idea that we hear a lot or the fear of sort of over saving or over-funding for college, and it's just money. What if the grandchild or my child decides that they don't want to go to college? And Maria provided a pretty cool little insight there. She talked about making it part of the conversation or making college a part of the picture.
Curtis Worcester: I guess from a young age it's, you can go up to the grandchild and say, "Hey, Grammy and Grampy, we just put $20 in your college fund." And continuing to keep college a part of the plan so that as the child ages and gets closer to those decision points it's something that's always been normalized and talked about and feels attainable. So, I thought that was really cool to they kind of speak it into existence at that point.
Ben Smith: Yeah. And it's also tying the thing of, again, my son, even in pre-school, they are, "What are you going to be when you grow up?" "I'm going to be a police officer, I'm going to be firefighter, I'm going to be on pop patrol." Whatever. Right? So, the how is important. Okay, well if you want to be a police officer, we actually have a savings account while we're putting money in so that if you do want to be that, that we can make that happen.
Ben Smith: So it's kind of, it creates a culture all the time. And one of the things I personally learned from Mary Taylor, who was our guest on our previous episode from literacy volunteers is that, kids strive for the educational attainment level of their mother. So, how have their mother attained education, whether it be high school, some high school, some college, all college or a higher degree that the child will look towards that.
Ben Smith: And so, it's all this patterning, right? It's culture and patterning and all those things are important. So, even talking a savings account into what is the purpose of it, why are we doing it? So that you can have, and this is why those things are important. I think just especially where there's a lot of generations in Maine that have never gone to college.
Curtis Worcester: Right.
Ben Smith: And a lot of our clients, again, those first generations, here are, "I didn't finish college or high school. Or I finished just high school, I tried college and it wasn't for me." Those are parts of lots of stories. So, it's tough to then go, "Hey, for my kid, I do want them to do that even though I was not able." So I think those are all important things. For myself. Again, what I liked again was that whole, every dollar saved conversation again, man.
Ben Smith: I know all of us have kind of touched on that. So we hear a lot of, well, what if I can only afford $20 a quarter into a 529 account. Is that even worth it? Should I even do it? Just feels like 20 bucks. Like is that even, and there's other things going on there. It could be a math, there could be other stuff happening there. But you know that every tweet, every dollar you put in as a dollar, they don't have to borrow.
Ben Smith: And that prevents a kind of this avalanche of more interest that you have to pay on it. So every, even if it's 99 to one split, those are pretty important things to have there. So, I got, for me that was as important and again, as a parent myself and trying to save for college for my little one. That's good reinforcement there. I appreciate your saying that. Well, so that wraps up our episode for Retirement Success in Maine. I appreciate everybody tuning in.
Ben Smith: Again, we're doing a little added wrinkle here with video going on. I'm so appreciative. You may see the segments of this video happening across social media and other areas too, so make sure to tune into that. But this is episode 17. So, if you go to blog.guidancepointllc.com/17 again, think of 17 when you're thinking of getting ready for college.
Ben Smith: And you can go to the website, find more resources. Again, Marie is going to give us a lot more resources here that will help if you want to do more research and figure more of this on your own. Again, reach out to us. We'd love to have those conversations. We'll have Maria and her contact information there on the website, but until next time I appreciate everybody tuning in and we'll see you then.