By Patricia Roberts, Chief Operating Officer, Giftofcollege.com
December 31, 2019
With a new year, new decade and blank slate upon us, it’s a natural time to stop to envision the type of future we’d like to see and to commit to the habits necessary to realize that vision. As I look back on resolutions made at this juncture in years gone by, my mind turns to a particular commitment that I am so very happy to have made — and kept.
It was twenty years ago. We were about to enter the year 2000 and I was a new mom. While far from an immediate concern for our infant son, the cost of higher education was top of mind as my husband and I were still paying off tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt from our undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees. We knew we would want our son to pursue some form of higher education when he grew up. We also knew we wanted him to have a less stressful experience than we had in paying for it.
Although it wasn’t clear how we could possibly find room in our budget to save or invest, we resolved to contribute on a regular basis to the 529 college savings account we had established for our son. The most manageable way I could think of doing so was to make regular contributions from our paychecks before the money reached our hands and possibly got diverted to other expenses. We started with small contributions and increased with time. Fast forward 20 years: Thanks to a combination of Ben’s hard work as a student, our efforts in keeping our living expenses down, and our success in developing the habit of investing through automatic contributions, Ben will be graduating from college debt-free in 2021.
Some resolutions stick better than others. Here are two factors that made this one stick for us. They may help you too:
- Deep Motivation: Knowing first-hand the stress associated with accumulating and re-paying student loan debt provided strong motivation to work to achieve a more favorable outcome for our son through the habit of saving. We wanted to do all we could to avoid re-living, directly or indirectly, the experience and consequences of being financially unprepared and we wanted him to have more choices than we had.
Tip: Take time to find your motivation and once you do, keep it close to your heart and top of mind. Visualizing how you want your family’s experience to be (or not be) when college rolls around will help keep you committed to your goal.
- Simple and Easy Approach: Taking small, manageable steps and enabling them to become “second nature” through automation helped us to get (and stay) on track.
Tip: If you haven’t yet opened an account, visit collegesavings.org to learn how to get started. You can begin with as little as $25 (or even less) with many 529 college savings plans. And if you’ve opened an account but haven’t yet become a consistent saver, ask your employer to offer payroll deduction so that you can contribute directly to your 529 account from your pay on a regular basis.
Resolving in the first year of my son’s life to diligently save for his higher education is one of the most valuable commitments I’ve ever made. I look back with tremendous gratitude for having both the wisdom to make it and the diligence to keep it. This is a resolution my family will continue to celebrate for years to come.
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 is the past chair of the CSPN Corporate Affiliate Committee.