Remember when Whitney Houston sang, "I believe the children are our future"? Nope.
More Americans are saving today for a big-ticket purchase in the short term -- like a car, a vacation or a home improvement project -- than for their children's college education, according to a survey released Monday by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards and the Consumer Federation of America.
Of all the people who say they'd like to make a major purchase in the next few years, 60 percent have actually started setting money aside, according to the survey. That's up from 52 percent in a similar survey in 1997.
Meanwhile, of all the people who say their plans include sending a kid to college, just 48 percent are saving or investing money at the moment. That's down from 56 percent in 1997.
What's going on? Does this mean America has been infected by a virulent strain of bad, selfish parenting, a la the Dursleys or the Wormwoods? Probably not. What seems more likely is that more families are struggling to make ends meet these days.
We know a growing number of Americans are having trouble paying for groceries and other basic necessities, and that a huge swath of our underemployed, wage-stagnated population lives precariously close to poverty. Therefore, maybe it's not surprising that households with a buck to spare will put it toward a short-term expense -- especially something like a new car or a household improvement, which might fulfill a pressing need -- rather than something far-off like college tuition.
It may also be that some would-be savers are growing suspicious of the whole "pay through the nose for higher education" model, especially with student loan debt approaching such Godzillian proportions. A recent survey from Country Financial and Rasmussen Reports found that the number of adults who consider college a worthwhile investment has plummeted in the past four years -- it's now at 57 percent, where it was 81 percent in 2008.
But the investment may pay off in the long run. College graduates tend to earn almost twice as much, over the course of a lifetime, as people who only have a high school degree.