Most of the parents I know are still paying off their own student loans – myself included. So, it can hard to effectively save for your own child’s college education when you’re bogged down with your monthly bills for an education you completed a long time ago.
One of the first thoughts I had when I found out that I was having twins was that I needed to start saving for college immediately. After all, I’ll be sending two kids to school at the same time.
I hope to continue saving more and more as my children grow, and I’ve learned a few tips that can help all of us save effectively for the future.
Tip #1: Manage Expectations
Not only do you have to manage your children’s expectations about college, but you have to manage your own expectations too. There are many different types of schools, and your child might have his or her heart set on a pricey private education. You might have your heart set on an Ivy League school or your alma mater.
If these options are in your budget and you’ve saved for them for 15+ years, by all means encourage them to go. However, if you only have a budget for an in state school, then it’s important to let your child know that ahead of time.
Tip #2: Have Them Take Community College Classes
There are two ways to benefit from a community college in your area. The first way is to have your children take community college classes during high school. A junior or senior in high school should be able to take entry level English or Math classes at a community college. They can take one course a semester in the evenings, and this can enable them to earn college credit. They can even take summer school courses to earn even more college credit.
If they do this, they can earn a semester or two of college credit at a very affordable rate. This can save you money in the long run because it means less time at a four year college.
You can also encourage your child to spend their first two years of school at a community college and then transfer to a four year university. Many of the entry level classes will be the same, and many universities have agreements with community colleges where students can matriculate from a community college if they earn a certain GPA during their first two years.
Do your research and find out if an articulation agreement like this exists between the local community colleges in your area and four year universities near you.
Tip #3: Save Their Birthday and Christmas Money
I’ve saved and invested every single dollar my twins have received for their birthdays and Christmas thus far. Now, I know that once they get older, they’ll want to use their money to buy things they want. At that point, I’ll likely save half of what they receive and then give them half to spend on what they want. However, while they’re young and don’t know the difference, I’ve put away their gift money and it’s growing nicely.
Many parents use the money their children receive to buy them clothes or toys when they’re little, but kids in the U.S. have so much already. Remember that even a $10 bill they receive for Christmas can be worth a lot if you invest it for 18 years until they head off to college.
My twins are about to turn 4, and they each have a nice savings account that they can use when they turn 18 for school, study abroad, to buy a car, or to start a business.
Tip #4: Start as Early as Possible
I’ve mentioned it in passing throughout the post, but it deserves it’s own category because it’s extremely important.
When it comes to your kids’ college education, the earlier you save, the better. It’s fine if you have to start small. What you want is to develop a habit for saving money over time so you keep their college education at the top of your priority list.
It’s difficult to save for an entire college education if you start saving when your kids start high school. It’s far better to start when they’re young, even if it’s a small amount.
Tip #5: Don’t Assume They Will Get Scholarships
I hear a lot of parents tell me they’re not saving for college because they’re relying on their kids to get a college scholarship, whether it’s because their children excel in school or sports (or both.) Even though I hope my kids earn scholarships too, I can’t let that dictate the amount of money I save for them for school.
It’s far better to save and plan to pay for their college tuition as they grow up, and then, if they get a scholarship, all the better! My main goal is to prevent my kids from having student loan debt, so I know I need to be prepared whether they earn a scholarship or not.
Ultimately, I want all my fellow parents out there to know that you have many options when it comes to saving for college. There are many different types of savings accounts and investment accounts you can use to save wisely. And, if you don’t feel like you’ll have enough to pay for four full years of tuition, take the time to learn about affordable ways for your kids to get an education, like having your children attend community college classes.