By Gina Rae Smith
Assistant to Alabama State Treasurer Young Boozer
March 26, 2013

These are the words my mom told me when I asked if I needed to get an afternoon job during my high school years. She and my dad hadn’t saved money for my college tuition. We were a middle class family, both my parents were employed and both believed there was value in higher education. However, having grown up in small-town Alabama in the 1960s, my parents didn’t see going to college as the most common path to take after high school graduation. They both entered the work force and didn’t look back.

But I wanted something more. And I had to work to earn it. I was fortunate to receive a full-tuition scholarship to a regional university, along with several scholarships from local fraternal organizations. My dream was to attend the University of Alabama, but they only offered me what amounted to half tuition. So I went where the money was. After two years, I was able to earn enough transfer student scholarship money from UA and other sources to cover all but $3,500 in expenses for my junior and senior years in Tuscaloosa. To this day, I’m proud of that fact. And I’m also proud that I identified available scholarships and other sources of financial aid on my own and successfully applied for them – without the assistance of the Internet, I might add, which was not widely available in Oxford, Alabama, in 1998 and 1999.

I did alright for myself, so why should I advocate investing in a 529 Plan? Because every little bit helps. First my mom and then I paid $50 each month for six years to pay off that $3,500 student loan. Imagine if my parents had put $50 each month into a 529 Plan from the time I started sixth grade until I graduated high school. Saving up front and earning interest on that savings could have been a tremendous help. The most obvious effect would have been the elimination of the need for that student loan. Although a small amount, $50 a month can be, and often was, a burden for a young professional trying to make ends meet. Had my parents contributed $50 each month to a 529 Plan in the years before I went to college, there would have been no need for the loan. There might also have been less of a need for me to work multiple jobs while going to school full-time to be sure expenses like rent, utilities and other bills were covered.

I’m not complaining about having to work, having to take out a student loan, or about having parents who didn’t feel they were financially able to save for my college years. Each experience I had in taking care of myself made me a better, more capable young woman. But saving money for future college expenses is not only fiscally responsible, it also sets an example of fiscal responsibility for your children. If you want something, save your money. Whether that something is a new pair of jeans, a car or a college degree. Open a 529 account for a child you love. Start early and save monthly, even if it’s just $25. Because every little bit helps.