Deborah Goodkin, Program Manager, NEST 529 College Savings Plans, First National Bank of Omaha

October 22, 2018

I’m sure that many parents of elementary-aged children can agree: it seems like yesterday your life was transformed with a newborn, and your day-to-day routine consisted of diaper changes and wondering if you were going to ever sleep again. Then, you blinked, and you were dropping them off for their first day of school.

Time never slows down, and as a parent, neither do you. That’s why it is so important to prioritize preparing for your child’s future, especially as it relates to their education. Maybe you opened a savings account with a small amount of money when your child was first born, but over time became busier and busier, and forgot to keep contributing. Maybe this is the first you’ve heard of a 529 account, or maybe you’re finally comfortable enough financially to set your sights on saving for your child’s higher education expenses. Either way, the timing has never been better, and getting a head start while your child is still in primary school means more time for your savings –and your child’s  financial security—to grow.

Here is a helpful checklist for preparing your child, and your wallet, for higher education during their Elementary school years:

  • Make regular contributions to your 529 college savings account. Don’t get lost in your hectic schedule and let your contributions drop off in the early years — keep up the momentum (even if your regular contributions are small) and you’ll be in a better place financially when the time comes, not to mention having peace of mind for a more stable tomorrow.
  • Encourage your child to create and maintain good study habits. Even though your kids are still young, there are several ways you can encourage them to study hard. Set goals at the beginning of the year, like making the honor roll or having perfect attendance, and reward them when the goals are met. Also, study with your children — sit down and read with them or help them solve a math problem — create a special time for learning together and emphasize why it’s so important.
  • Use holidays to your advantage: Is your child’s birthday coming up? Encourage family and friends to make contributions to your child’s 529 account in lieu of presents — talk to your child about how their account will help them become who they want to be when they are “grown up.”
  • Help your child engage in volunteer efforts and extracurricular activities: Encouraging your child to be involved in after-school activities has a wide array of benefits not only in the present, but in the future as well. Often, kids learn teamwork, time management, and prioritization skills, as well as building a healthy self-esteem through diverse activities like sports and volunteering. Exploring these interests will also help them discover what it is they love to do in the long run, cultivating passion they may take with them into higher education.

It’s clear that there are so many things to keep in mind as a parent of a younger child—from academics to family time—that often, saving for college can become less of a priority. But choosing to keep your sights set on the academic future for your child will only serve to benefit you and your family in the long term.

About the author:

Deborah Goodkin is the program manager of Nebraska’s College Savings Plans (NEST) at First National Bank of Omaha (FNBO).