By Patricia Roberts

September 4, 2018


A strategy that starts with a detailed vision of the end goal and breaks the 18-year saving horizon into a more immediate timeframe may be useful to families who are having trouble getting started with saving for college.

  1. Start with a Specific Vision and Embrace your “Why” 

Research suggests that visualizing specific outcomes can be an extremely helpful step in achieving goals. In the case of saving for college, breaking your vision into what you want (and as importantly, what you don’t want) your family’s experience to be when it comes time to pay for college can be priceless.

Ask yourself:

  • How would I like our financial picture to look (or not look) as my child nears high school graduation?
  • How will I feel knowing that my child won’t (or will) need to take on considerable educational debt to pursue his/her academic and career goals?

Consider this:

  • You’ll be more likely to get started and to stick to your savings plan if you start by embracing a specific mental picture of how you and your family will feel about being prepared for your child’s post-secondary expenses. Keeping this picture top of mind will keep you motivated and tethered to your goal.


  1. Break your Timeframe into Days, not Years, and Make Each Day Count 09.04.18 CSPN Building up savings (002)

Instead of thinking of college as being as many as 18 long years away, consider that there are only 6,570 days between your child’s birth and 18th birthday. And, in fact, more than 2,100 of those days will be behind you by the time your child is six.

This may help you realize that there is no better day than TODAY to get started by opening a 529 college savings plan account, even if you start with very little.

Ask yourself:

  • What small steps can I take each day to lower my expenses in order to save for college?
  • How much can I afford to deposit into my 529 account on a regular basis?

Consider this:

  • Experts in the area of habit-forming assert that it’s what you do consistently (not occasionally) that makes the biggest difference with long-term goals.
  • If you make it a point each day to reduce your expenditures even slightly, you’ll be well on your way.
  • In fact, with an estimated 5 percent annual rate of return, saving just $1 a day can yield approximately $10,000 over 18 years; $2.50 a day can yield $26,000, $5/day, $50,000 and so on.
  • Making automated contributions from your paycheck into your 529 account makes saving that much easier. You won’t need to continually decide whether and when to contribute.


  1. Incorporate Saving into Celebrations and Invite Others to Invest, One Occasion at a Time

Recognize that those who love your child(ren) will naturally want to give gifts in honor of holidays, birthdays and milestones and will look to you for suggestions and sizes.  If you break down the number of celebrations over the years, you’ll be surprised by the countless opportunities for others to make a significant impact on your child(ren)’s future.

Ask yourself:

  • Would friends and family welcome a suggestion of a gift that’s easy to give and that’s something everyone can feel good about for years to come?

Consider this:

  • If you simply count birthdays (18), one annual holiday (18) and preschool through high school graduations (4), your loved ones will have at least 40 gift-giving occasions before your child reaches adulthood.
  • If just 10 close friends and family members give $25 toward your child’s 529 account on each occasion, in lieu of or to complement a more traditional gift, your child could have over $15,000 by the time college rolls around, assuming an estimated annual 5 percent rate of return. If $50 were given, your child could have over $30,000, and so on.
  • Add in religious celebrations, performances, sporting events, awards and other milestones, and you’re sure to have countless more occasions to celebrate and, very likely, many loved ones on hand who would welcome the opportunity to invest in your child’s future with a gift toward college.


Combining the Why and How

It’s understandable that the far-off nature of higher education coupled with more immediate priorities can lead to delays in saving for college. But, by beginning with a clear vision of your end goal (the “why”) and supporting it through small daily steps and annual celebrations, among other strategies (the “how”), you’ll see that it’s really not that difficult at all.


About the Author

Patricia Roberts is the Senior Director, Partnerships & Growth for The Gift of College. She has been a part of the 529 industry for more than 17 years, serving as an attorney, product manager, and as the chair of the CSPN Corporate Affiliate Committee.