By Rodger O’Connor, Associate Director for Marketing & Communications, Washington State’s College Savings Plans (WA529)

January 16, 2024

It’s January, which means football everywhere you look, on seemingly every channel at all hours of the day. There are college football bowl games, pro football games, football game replays, and even shows discussing nothing but fantasy football. If you’re a fan, it’s glorious.

But even if you’re not a fan, there is still a great reason to watch football: There is so much you can learn about college savings.

Wait, what? 

OK, stay with me here. There are dozens of similarities between the game of American football and financing your student’s future education. You might have to squint your eyes and turn your head sideways a little for them to become clear — but I promise, they’re there. Starting with the most basic:

Make a game plan

Before they take the football field, good coaches make a game plan. They study the opposing team and devise a plan to maximize success. This is also important with education savings. Think about how much you want to put away for your student and how much you can afford to set aside each month. But don’t be afraid to change your approach if your student’s plans change. Even the best coaches need to call an audible once in a while.

Mix up your playbook 

If a football team ran the same play every time they lined up, their success would be limited. Similarly, your savings strategy shouldn’t be one-dimensional. In addition to setting up monthly contributions, consider ways to boost your savings when opportunities arise. For example, consider socking away a portion of your tax refund or invite family members to make gift contributions for special occasions. You can also diversify your investments. If your state offers both 529 prepaid tuition plans and 529 investment plans, saving with both types can be a great strategy. A prepaid plan provides peace of mind, while the investment plan can potentially reap greater returns. If it looks like your savings plan may fall short of the goal, don’t panic. Many families successfully add to their savings playbook by applying for scholarships, grant aid, and guaranteed student loans to augment their savings. 

Don’t depend on the Hail Mary play 

Many successful football teams patiently build long scoring drives. Starting your savings plan when your student is young allows you to take your time. Putting away a little at a time for many years is not only easier on the monthly finances, but it also might prevent you from having to throw it deep in the last minute of the game. Begin when they’re young, be patient, and chip away. 

Celebrate your win! 

When you successfully build and execute a solid education savings game plan, you and your student can both end up enjoying the spoils of victory. Few things in life are sweeter than graduating debt-free! Now get out there and start saving!

About the author

Rodger O’Connor is Associate Director for Marketing & Communications for Washington State’s College Savings Plans (WA529), which includes the GET Prepaid Tuition Program and the DreamAhead College Investment Plan, Since 1998, tens of thousands of students have used more than $1.5 billion of their WA529 savings to attend colleges in all 50 states and at least 15 countries worldwide.