Expressway: An intro course to how college costs add up

Reader Trish Roberts shares the story of sending Reader Trish Roberts shares the story of sending a daughter to college. Photo Credit: Tribune Content Agency / M. Ryder

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Every parent who has a child going away to college knows that it is both an exciting and anxious time for the family. This was especially true at our house two years ago when our daughter Kelley decided to attend the University of Miami.

As Kelley's departure day approached, her older sister, Katie, and I joined her on a trip to Bed Bath & Beyond in Oceanside. A friendly sales associate showed us how to print a checklist of items commonly needed by students; get dorm room decorating ideas; learn moving solutions; and, incredibly, sign up for the college gift registry.

I wanted to ask if the store would chip in for her tuition as well, but I took a deep yoga breath and tried to remain calm. The girls were handed a scanner gun to begin shopping, while I feigned excitement.

The scanner suddenly turned the girls into kids in a candy store. They needed only to scan and click. The store would ship -- and I'd pay later. How convenient!

I questioned the purchase of an iron, when I knew Kelley didn't use one, and I objected to the seemingly trendy Brita water purifier when I knew the girls drank tap water at home in Rockville Centre.

As a person who always clips coupons and shops on a budget, this excursion was more than challenging. I tracked the prices: shower caddie, $16; bulletin board, $24.99; shoe rack, $14. I voiced an unheard opinion about getting better prices elsewhere, but the scanner shopping continued: a duvet cover, stacking drawers and a small refrigerator.

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Katie, a college graduate who herself had spent four years away from home, softly explained that Kelley needed these things and graciously volunteered to help with the bill.

Then I thought about the things I needed when I went to college. I was lucky to go away to school, and happy to get my dad's frayed towels, mismatched sheets and our family's dead pillow. We shopped at the local discount store for supplies and didn't need blackout curtains, closet organizers or electric kettles.

So finally it was time to fly to Miami in late August to continue our adventure. We helped Kelley unpack, decorate her room, attended student and parent orientations, and, of course, continued shopping.

On a final shopping trip in Miami, I sheepishly mentioned that we hadn't yet bought any actual school supplies -- for example, notebooks, pens or pencils. But I was informed that those things were on tomorrow's to-do list -- along with a few other items of consequence, no less than a laptop and printer. But Kelley was paying for these items herself, using money saved from working as a beach lifeguard for the Town of Hempstead.

My time in Miami with my girls was a great experience. We created wonderful memories and set Kelley up for success in college. Her hard work at Kellenberg Memorial High School in Uniondale had earned her a substantial scholarship that already made us proud. And even though it was an expensive journey, it was an honor to be involved at such an important moment in her life.

Reader Trish Roberts lives in Rockville Centre.

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