“How Not to Plan for College, Part 1.”
In honor of the upcoming Gilmore Girls revival by Netflix, this year I have been slowly re-watching the series. It goes without saying that I am a huge Gilmore Girls fan. However, I now know how doctors must feel watching television medical dramas. While we are all fully aware that TV is not real life, I have to take this moment to point out several highly unrealistic and flawed portrayals of financial behavior that influence how we think as a society.
Lorelai, strong, independent single mom to Rory, is in a dilemma when Rory is accepted and decides to attend Yale University. In a sudden turn of events, Lorelai and Rory do not qualify for the financial aid that Lorelai was counting on as her plan to pay for her daughter’s education.
Some backstory would be helpful here. From the time Rory could talk, she made her plans known to attend Harvard University for college. The brilliant, driven Rory even decorated her entire room with Harvard paraphernalia from a very young age. Lorelai worked extremely hard to raise Rory on her own, while getting her MBA and running a business, all without outside financial support. Most of the time Lorelai struggled to simply provide and get by, so paying for an Ivy League education was far out of reach. However we also know quite a bit about the Gilmore Girls’ lifestyle. They eat out almost every single meal – including breakfast. (Who would not want to eat at Luke’s Diner?) They often order multiple take-out orders in a single night and hardly ever use their kitchen – except for coffee and pop tarts. It has been portrayed on the show that they subscribe to upwards of 10 magazines and have the premium cable package. (We know this because Rory was concerned on a trip home from college when she discovered her mother was no longer subscribing to all the fun magazines and only had the basic cable. Gasp! She was worried Lorelai was struggling financially, not that she was simply implementing some financial priorities.) To sum it all up, there was no conscious effort made to plan ahead financially for the likely scenario of Rory attending an Ivy League school.
Back to the dilemma. Within weeks of Rory’s Yale acceptance, Richard Gilmore, Lorelai’s father, announces he secretly bought a property in Lorelai’s name years ago which has now been sold. He hands Lorelai a check in her name for $75,000. Instead of waiting just one week to learn Rory’s tuition costs, Lorelai promptly gives most of the money back to her parents in repayment of a debt. As a result of this large sum of money suddenly appearing in her name, Lorelai learns that she does not qualify for any financial aid. Panic and shock ensue. The result? Lorelai almost misses an opportunity to buy her dream inn, Rory goes back to her grandparents to borrow money for Yale (yes, it is a loan not a gift), and everything is resolved as only a TV show can do.
The lessons here? Have a plan. The point is not what school you go to, but that you have a plan based on the goals you’ve set. That goes for everything from college to retirement. Unfortunately, a large part of our society does not like to sit down and plan because it is difficult and often involves sacrifices. Or if the goal seems unachievable, we don’t want to think about it but just hope it all works out. However, we do not live in a TV show where everything will be resolved for us. That’s up to us.
*Any opinions are those of Kelsey D. Plummer, CFP®, AAMS® and not necessarily those of RJFS or Raymond James.
*Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. owns the certification marks CFP®, Certified Financial Planner™ and CFP® in the U.S.