By Luke Minor, Director of Washington State’s College Savings Plans (WA529)

April 12, 2022

As my wife and I have evolved from carefree childless 30-somethings into harried rookie parents, our standards for what is exciting and cool have certainly changed. Whether it’s me brushing up on my dad jokes, my wife discovering yet another useful application for the Instant Pot, or both of us equating high fashion to the presence of an elastic waistband, it is nearly inconceivable that anyone could consider us hip anymore (if that were possible in the first place). This evolution has also manifested itself in our collective perception of what constitutes a cool birthday gift.

Earlier this month, my wife was mulling over one of those “what do you want for your birthday?” texts from her mom as she gazed out the kitchen window upon our neglected jungle of a backyard. Then it struck her: “Of course! Let’s ask my parents to come up for the weekend and help us straighten out this hot mess of what was once a garden.”

“Genius!” I exclaimed. “That’s the perfect gift. And with that whole unconditional love thing, they can’t say no.”

And what a glorious weekend it was, full of weeding, pruning, digging, kneeling, lifting, hoeing, raking, transplanting, and other delightfully back-breaking labor. While there wasn’t quite enough time to fully undo the years of neglect, we made a lot of progress. Things now feel manageable again, and there is finally enough usable space to nurture the things we actually WANT to grow.

So how, you might ask, does this relate to college savings? Like yards and gardens, our personal finances need nurturing and regular maintenance, especially when cultivating a successful college savings strategy. Here are some tips to consider in getting your savings going and keeping them on track.

Plant the seeds of healthy savings habits

You know that colloquialism “kids grow like weeds”? It’s true! And like weeds, they tend to become all-consuming and leave little room to attend to necessary planning efforts. To get a head start, consider opening a 529 account before a child is even born and include contributions to that account on your baby registry. Starting early when kids are young is the key to a successful college savings strategy.

Nurture and maintain your savings efforts

Regular care, maintenance, and enrichment are essential to keeping both a garden and your 529 account growing and in good health. Savers who make regular contributions tend to accumulate more and have less savings anxiety than those who save sporadically. Most 529 plans allow you to easily set up recurring monthly contributions from your bank account and/or via payroll deduction through your workplace. Choose whatever method best fits your situation.

Regularly prune your spending overgrowth

As much as I think I need another pair of sweatpants, do I need a dozen pairs? And do I need monthly subscriptions to all seven of those streaming services? The chances are that many of us have spending habits and monthly budgets that could use some thoughtful trimming. Consider tracking and paring back your monthly spending and rolling the proceeds into your 529 account.

Supplement your savings 

Did you recently get a pay raise? Are you expecting a tax refund this year? How about an inheritance or insurance settlement? When you receive a boost to your income, consider putting some of that to work by upping your monthly contribution rate to your 529 account. If you experience an unexpected windfall, consider tucking a portion of that away too.

Remember that many hands can make light work

And to bring things full circle, don’t forget about your doting family and friends. Sure, they are a great source of manual labor when you need to de-jungle-fy your garden, but they can also help boost your child’s college savings. The gift of education makes a great gift for birthdays, holidays, and other special occasions, and it’s a gift that will last a lifetime!

So those are my tips, from one “cool” college saver (and dad joke connoisseur) to another. Feel free to take or leaf them (you see what I did there?).


About the Author

Luke Minor is the Director of Washington State’s College Savings Plans (WA529), which include the GET Prepaid Tuition Program and the DreamAhead College Investment Plan. Since 1998, tens of thousands of students have used more than $1.7 billion of their WA529 savings to attend colleges in all 50 states and at least 15 foreign countries. In his free time, Luke enjoys getting outside to hike, ride bikes and even splash in a puddle or two with his wife, wild toddler, and young-at-heart dog.