By Rachel Biar, Assistant Nebraska State Treasurer, NEST 529 Savings Plans
July 21, 2020
These precious days of summer go by quickly, just like the precious days of childhood. In what feels like the blink of an eye, toddlers have grown into fourth graders and then into adolescents and eventually into teens. And teens start planning for their futures, including what they want to do when they grow up, where they want to go to college, and how they will get the money to pay for it.
As children’s wants and needs grow, we, too, must grow with them, recognizing that one of our children’s most important needs is the financial resources to pay for tuition, housing, and books associated with education. While you prepare for qualified withdrawals from your 529 savings plan account, consider some of these financial steps that you can take now, ahead of the upcoming school year:
- Bargain hunt for school supplies and dorm necessities: Your 529 funds can be put toward textbooks, a computer, a printer, as well as other necessary supplies and equipment. Shop around and compare prices to make sure you’re getting the best deal on these items.
- Encourage your child to apply for any last-minute scholarships: Seek out scholarships that have a late deadline and advise your child to apply—they’ll thank you later. Much like your 529 savings, scholarship funding won’t need to be paid back down the road.
- Help your child set up a budget: Lay out a plan with your child, breaking down their expenses and establishing how much they can afford to spend. Then, encourage them to track monthly spending and compensate for overspending in one area by cutting back in another. Emphasize the importance of saving and making their money last—for instance, foregoing that extra coffee shop trip can save hundreds of dollars long-term.
- Encourage your child to get a part-time job: Whether they work over the summer or apply for an on-campus job in the fall, every little bit your child saves will add up. Plus—getting a job can establish independence that will help them transition into living on their own for the first time.
- Become familiar with the costs of college: While most parents plan for the costs of tuition, room and board, textbooks and other traditional expenses, many additional costs associated with college may come as a surprise. Travel expenses, eating out, and sorority/fraternity memberships are just some examples of the unexpected costs your child may incur. And it’s important to note that these types of additional costs are not considered qualified expenses from your 529 savings account.
- Take a few easy steps to evaluate your plan for saving. To see if you’re on track to meet your savings goals in time for your student’s education utilize a 529 Savings Calculator. You can use the calculator to run different savings scenarios to solidify your plan and possibly increase your contributions.
Before this summer slips away, use this leisure time to review your 529 accounts, talk about your and your child’s priorities and plan for your child’s educational future. Implementing these simple steps can make a world of difference in preparing your student for the next stage of their academic career and will help you determine your qualified withdrawals from your 529 savings plan.
As the days will soon become shorter, and the lightening bugs fade away, you will find yourself waking up to the first day of another school year. That bittersweet “see you later” as students head back to educational institutions can be difficult. Preparing financially for education doesn’t have to be thanks to 529 savings plans.
About the Author
Rachel Biar is the Assistant Nebraska State Treasurer for the NEST 529 Savings Plans, and serves as Vice Chair of the College Savings Plans Network Executive Board and Chair of the Membership Engagement Committee. Visit https://nest529.com/ and https://treasurer.nebraska.gov/csp/ for more information.