By Patricia Roberts, Chief Operating Officer, GiftofCollege.com
November 19, 2019
For those who may be thinking about saving for college but for one reason or another haven’t begun, it may comfort you to know that the same strategies you’ll likely be using to plan your Thanksgiving Day celebration can also be used to successfully save for college.
Here’s a recipe that’s easy to follow:
- Set a Vision
Just as you’ll take the time to envision how you want your ideal Thanksgiving Day gathering to turn out, taking time to visualize what you want your family’s experience to be (or not be) when it comes time to pay for college is a powerful exercise. While it may feel entirely too early to imagine what your child(ren) will want to pursue after high school, it shouldn’t be difficult to imagine the position you’ll want to be in to be able to support the pursuit of whatever those dreams may be. Starting with a specific vision in mind of how prepared you’d like to be will help motivate you and keep you on track.
- Start Early
Just as it’s never too early to decide on who’s hosting Thanksgiving dinner and who’s responsible for which dish, it’s likewise never too early to start saving for college. In fact, putting a 529 plan on a list of must-haves in preparation for the arrival of a new baby is a smart move and assures that you won’t forget this important step once your family gets busy due to its expansion. While it’s ideal to start early, it’s also never too late to begin. Whatever you can save in the time frame you have will be that much less your child needs to borrow and repay with interest when college rolls around.
- Get Granular
Just as you’ll map out a precise timeline for when each item needs to be placed in the oven to assure everything can be warmly served together on Thanksgiving Day, getting a bit granular about details such as the type of school your child might attend (even if it’s a very rough guess at this stage); what portion of college costs you hope to cover (whether 25%, 50% or 100%); and how much you can reasonably afford to save weekly, monthly or yearly are valuable first steps. There are calculators that can help estimate future costs based on type of institution (public or private, two-year, four-year, etc.), and these can help to show you how much you’ll need to save based on the portion you plan to cover. Even if some of your initial assumptions change over time, it’s a good idea to consider these details as you start the investing process.
- Shop Around
Just as you may take time to determine where to locate and purchase the finest ingredients at the best price for your Thanksgiving feast, it’s useful to explore 529 plan options through sites like collegesavings.org and/or with the help of a financial or registered investment advisor. Comparing state-specific features and benefits, investment options and other factors such as fees and expenses will help you decide on a plan that’s a good fit for you. There are many great options from which to choose and it can take as little as 10 to 15 minutes to sign up for an account once you’ve made your decision to get started.
- Don’t Go it Alone
Just as you encourage others to bring food or drink to your Thanksgiving celebration to complement your main course and to lighten your load a bit, it’s equally valuable to invite friends and family to lend a hand by making a contribution to your child’s college savings account in lieu of more traditional gifts throughout the year. Carve out some time on Thanksgiving to “talk turkey” with friends and family about gift preferences for the future students in your life this holiday season. Your loved ones will likely be appreciative of the future-oriented suggestion and relieved to take the guesswork out of what to buy the kids.
- Stick to Your Plan
Just as you adhere to a detailed checklist in preparation for and throughout Thanksgiving Day to assure each phase of your gathering (appetizer through dessert) stays on track, making automated contributions to your college savings plan from your paycheck is an excellent way to help keep you on track no matter what distractions may come your way. If your employer doesn’t offer payroll deduction to 529 college savings plans yet, request that they do. If that’s not an option, setting up recurring contributions from your checking or savings account is another approach to consider.
- Share the Recipe
Just as you willingly share recipes of your favorite Thanksgiving Day creations with those you love, be sure to let others know about the value of 529 plans by sharing this recipe along with insight from your own 529 plan experience. They will thank you for spreading the word and for helping them create brighter financial futures for the children they love.
- Savor what You Served
Just as you savor the sight of your Thanksgiving Day guests having such an enjoyable time, you’ll absolutely love witnessing the range of post-high school educational options your child will be able to explore as a result of your planning ahead. You’ll also enjoy the peace of mind you’ll feel as a result of not having to scramble at the last minute to figure out how to pay.
- Share the Leftovers
Just as you share Thanksgiving leftovers with loved ones, any money left over in your child(ren)’s 529 account(s) can be used for a member of the family of the original account beneficiary. This includes a wide range of family members such as your children’s children — and even yourself.
- Celebrate a Job Well-done
Lastly, just as you sigh with relief and/or lift a glass to celebrate how smoothly your Thanksgiving Day celebration turned out, you’ll do the same when your child, now seated at the kids’ table, graduates from college with little or no debt thanks to your planning ahead.
About the Author
Patricia Roberts is the Chief Operating Officer of Gift of College. She has been part of the 529 college savings arena for more than 20 years, serving as an attorney, product manager, and as past chair of the CSPN Corporate Affiliate Committee.