By Patricia Roberts, Chief Operating Officer, Gift of College

November 17, 2020

With year-end holidays in sight, the creation of shopping and wish lists will soon follow. Before heading into gifting mode, I’d love to pause for a moment to reflect on the unexpected gifts so many of us have already received during this trying year.

The gift of a reset. With life as we knew it turned upside down, we’ve been given the opportunity to re-examine how things were and to re-imagine our lives as we want them to be. In many ways, we’ve been given a fresh start, an opportunity to hit the reset button.

The gift of time. In the absence of multiple places to be and a wide range of things to do, we’ve been given the unexpected and priceless gift of time this year. With this came the opportunity to catch our breath, to think deeply, to learn new things, and to re-examine dreams that we had put on a shelf and to create new ones.

The gift of focus. With so many prior distractions reduced or eliminated, we’ve be given time to focus, to be truly present, to be grounded in the moment, to reflect, and to be still.

The gift of a new perspective. With unexpected changes to our routine and circumstances, we’ve been provided with a rare opportunity to view our relationships, our beliefs, our health, our homes, our passions, our priorities, our careers—and our world—with a new lens. It’s been refreshing to take a step back and to look at things a bit differently.

The gift of deeper connections. While spending so much additional time at home, we’ve been given the opportunity to become more deeply connected to those with whom we live and to our home and neighborhood. I hadn’t been with my son 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for months straight since I was home on maternity leave when he was an infant 21 years ago. I will always cherish the unexpected time we spent together this year.

The gift of renewed appreciation. In the absence of the activities once so freely enjoyed, we’ve developed a renewed appreciation for simple pleasures and for what matters most—with our health and that of our loved ones at the top of the list. We’ve grown to appreciate what’s always been there but what we’ve so often overlooked—from the simplest of pleasures, to the comfort of our home, to the beauty of nature. We’ve grown our gratitude for those who diligently serve our community’s many needs on a daily basis. From grocery store clerks to healthcare workers to delivery persons and so many others, our appreciation has increased.

As for gifts for the upcoming holiday season—

 In the spirit of the fresh perspective we’ve been given, let’s keep an open mind to gifts we may not have previously considered—such as an investment in a child’s future.

Many 529 college savings plans have simple-to-use tools in place that make it easy for account owners to invite friends and family to contribute to already-established accounts. Beyond this, there are even college savings gift cards that can be purchased online and at certain retailers which can be redeemed into any existing or newly established 529 plan account.

If you are a gift giver, consider giving—and if you are a parent of a future student, consider suggesting—a gift toward college.

A gift toward college is a gift that:

  • is future-oriented and timeless;
  • supports a child’s parents as well as the child by putting the entire family on stronger financial footing;
  • can lead to valuable conversations about a child’s dreams and aspirations; 
  • is sure to fit; and
  • is easy to give

As for my own gift-giving plans— 

I’ll be giving my young nieces and nephew a gift toward their 529 accounts this holiday season. And I’ll be giving their parents a copy of the book I recently wrote on the topic of saving for college and career training with 529 plans. The project was possible thanks to the unexpected gift of time I had on my hands this year.


About the Author

Patricia Roberts has helped tens of thousands of families prepare for the cost of higher education through her leadership in nearly every aspect of the 529 college savings arena over the past 20 years. She is currently Chief Operating Officer at Gift of College, where innovations are created to engage friends, family and employers to help individuals save for college and pay down student loan debt. Prior to this, she held key legal, product and 529 program management roles at major financial services firms, and designed and launched several first-of-their-kind philanthropic programs through which families received seed money for college savings accounts along with valuable financial education and incentives to help them save on their own. In her favorite role of all, she made it a priority to save a little at a time for her son’s higher education expenses by directing contributions from her paycheck into 529 college savings accounts. After 18 years of saving, she will be proud to see him graduate debt-free from college in 2021.