Joys, stress of high school's senior year

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FLINT (WJRT) - (08/29/16) - The senior year of high school is an exciting time for students and their families, but it also can be an expensive and emotional event.

ABC12's Dawn Jones sat down with a Mid-Michigan father of three to talk about the joy and stress of senior year.

Prom, pictures, testing, graduation - the costs can add up quickly during the senior year of high school.

Brian Wellman is a single father of three. Twins, Margaux and Lauren, are seniors at Saginaw Heritage High School. His daughter Grace is in her first year of college. He says he easily spent $5,000 during Grace's senior year.

"A large share of that was her graduation party," he said.

With three daughters graduating high school back-to-back, Brian has had to find ways to cut costs. For instance, his daughter Grace is taking the twins' senior pictures and he has also found a way to save on buying so many formal dresses through a dress exchange offered by the school's cross country team.

The one expense the family admits caught them most by surprise was the cost of applying for college.

"I was kind of not prepared for not just for the cost of the application, but rather the time and cost of the visits to the various colleges," Brian said.

Grace Wellman was also taken by surprise.

"I was definitely surprised at the college cost, the little tiny things like orientation, it cost so much money just to go there for a couple of days," she said.

Experience can be a good teacher. Brian is starting the process earlier with the twins.

"Just because I've got twice as many colleges to visit, because while they are identical, their interest are very, very divergent," he said.

Rebecca Millsap, a principal with Yeo and Yeo CPAs and Business Consultants, says the first thing parents and students should do is set a budget.

"It's never too soon to start preparing for this day and it's not too late either. You should, if you haven't already, set a budget," she said.

What works for one family may not work for your family. Millsap suggests looking at your own family situation to determine what's right for you.

The one thing she doesn't suggest is dipping into your retirement savings to pay for college and other expenses.

"You started those for a reason, you started those for your retirement and eventually I'm sure you want to to retire and you want to have that nest egg there for you and your future," she said.

Brian prepared early.

"Before I met my wife, I was saving for college. It was my intention to have children some day and I think it is so incredibly difficult for a young student graduating college with a big student loan debt load," he said.

In addition to navigating the finances of your child's senior year in high school and beyond, Brian reminds us of the emotional cost of leaving the nest.

"I really wasn't planning on not tearing up on camera. I've talked to the kids about it, yeah, I'm going to be an empty-nester next year and I'm not looking forward to that at all. I know that my kids will all go to different schools, I am hoping they will all stay in the same time zone," he said.

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