Hoping to help pay for her oldest daughter's tuition to the University of California, Berkeley, the woman decided to auction off a painting that once belonged to her grandmother, according to an Associated Press report. Instead of the few thousand dollars the woman was expecting the painting to fetch, she was stunned at the picture's final bid: a whopping $620,900.
A possibly difficult choice
Not having the needed funds for her child to attend a terrific school like Berkeley, Mom could have easily required the daughter to load up on student loans. As colleges go, Berkeley is a nice value; in-state undergraduate tuition for 2006-2007 averages only $7,800. Commuting to school from home, the daughter could conceivably graduate in four years with a "reasonable" $70,000 in debt.
But Mom faced head-on what may have been an emotionally difficult choice: Part with a painting that hung on the wall for years in her grandmother's home in Italy? Or strap her child (or the family overall) with a debt-load that might take years and years to pay off?
By choosing to sell the painting, the family can now afford to provide all of their children with higher educations without putting themselves behind the financial eight-ball. Maybe they can even have a more secure retirement.
The wisdom of avoiding debt
To be sure, the woman's experience is rare. The sold painting was unsigned, rumored to be the lost work of 17th-century Italian art master Pier Francesco Mola. Who knows if it is worth the price that the unnamed art dealer paid for it.
I won't be searching my parents' basement anytime soon for family heirlooms that could help pay our kids' college costs. But, like the mother in this story, I will do whatever I can to avoid overloading our family and our children with substantial student loan debt. That approach may not get us a cool $600,000, but I know that it, too, will have its rewards.