#032 Your College List: Financial Fit

Show Notes


Before you head into what is likely to be a six-figure investment into your child’s future, you’ll want to catch this episode with Dr. Abigail Sussman, professor at the University of Chicago, as she shares with us some of her knowledge about the psychology of money. She has some great advice on how to think about paying for college so you can avoid busting the budget and going into unnecessary debt or sacrificing other important financial priorities. 


Dr. Abigail Sussman is a professor of marketing at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Her work is to study how economics and finances intersect with human psychology. It’s easy to think of money and budgeting as numbers on a page, and because of that you might forget to plan for the emotional aspect. This is especially helpful to keep in mind as you make plans to invest in your child’s future, a season which is so charged with emotion already.

If there’s one thing I’ve seen time and time again with college and career planning, it’s how easy it is for parents and families to blow the college budget when decision time comes. No matter how carefully you might plan, there is a strong likelihood that you will be tempted to pay more for a college your child loves. Often, parents end up paying extra for emotional reasons. They get broadsided by how strongly they are feeling about their child’s future, and they decide they just have to make it work, no matter what. 

Is that bad? Maybe not. 

What Abby will guide you through is seeing there is a way to plan for these things so you don’t get caught off guard when the moment comes. It really is possible to set a firm and realistic budget before you get into what she calls an emotional “hot state” – which could be at the time of application or when it comes to making that final decision. She’s got great advice to share that will help you save money on college because you know what to expect and have made rational decisions about what you and your teen want and how you’re going to get it.


  • How correct mental accounting can help you plan paying for college
  • The reasons why smart families often blow the college (and other) budgets
  • Tips on how to think about “exceptional expenses”
  • Advice on how to make important decisions in a cold state instead of a hot state

Meet Our Guest

Abigail Sussman, Professor of Marketing at The University of Chicago Booth School of Business, researches how individuals form judgments and make decisions, from underlying mechanisms to applications. She investigates questions at the intersection of psychology, economics, and finance, with the aim of improving financial well-being. Her central research examines psychological biases that can lead consumers to commit errors in budgeting, spending, borrowing, and investing. Her work has been featured in top academic journals including the Journal of Consumer Research, the Journal of Finance, and Psychological Science, as well as popular media outlets including National Public Radio, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal. Dr. Sussman is currently president-elect of the Society for Judgment and Decision Making and an associate editor at the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. Her prior experience includes work at Goldman Sachs in its equity research division. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Brown University in cognitive science and economics, and a joint PhD from the psychology department and the School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.

Listen on…the Flourish Site, Spotify, Apple, Google, Amazon Music, Stitcher, or your favorite platform. 

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Links mentioned in this episode

University of Chicago Booth School of Business

Launch College & Career Clarity Course

Launch College and Career Clarity Facebook Community

Contact Abigail 


[2:29] Mental accounting is how we organize our money in order to simplify our finances, and it’s different from the traditional idea of budgeting.

[6:32] Some of the thought processes that lead people to blow their budget. Often college is seen as a “sacred event”, and parents feel a moral obligation to spend whatever they can in order to make it work.

[10:53] If you do go over budget, make sure you’re doing it because you’ve made rational decisions based on cost benefit analysis, and not because you see college as a sacred event.

[13:16] “Hot state” vs. “cold state”. A hot state is when you’re feeling emotional; in a cold state you are able to be rational and calculated. Don’t make decisions when you’re in a hot state.

[14:21] The idea of exceptional expenses, like the $13 hotdog at a baseball game. Parents might be tempted to put their kids college experience into this category, especially when they are in a hot state.

[17:35] The 20% Rule: add an additional 20% to whatever your projected budget is going to be. That way you are ready for any unexpected expenses that pop up. Lisa lists just some of the things that may be more than you initially planned for.

[21:37] Opportunity cost: if I say yes to something, what am I saying no to as a result? What is the tradeoff? Don’t forget incremental costs and incremental benefits as well.

[26:07] This week’s college bound challenge: Start discussing who is paying for college, how much, and where will that money come from.

Access the episode transcript here.