Whew! The kids are finally back in school, and the lazy days of summer have been replaced with hours of homework and soccer practice.
Since the first school bell rang in August, many parents have wrapped themselves up in their kids’ activities and forgotten to ask themselves a very important question- how are they supposed to save enough money to send their children to college?
I contend that most college savings methods will get you to the finish line in about the same place. Whether you choose a 529 Account, Roth IRAs, or put money aside in a money market accounts, if you stick with the program, you’ll likely end up with enough to get your kid through at least four years of higher learning.
But too many of us aren’t getting into the college savings race at all, and that’s a problem. Too many parents are happily sitting in the bleachers at this all-important track meet, waiting for divine intervention to provide their children the money they need for college.
I consistently hear about five reasons why folks aren’t currently saving for their child’s education:
- Their grandparents are going to pay for college for Little Timmy and Tammy.
- Johnny is a great athlete just like me, and I fully expect him to get a scholarship.
- My fourth grader is great at math, and I would be surprised if she doesn’t get a full academic scholarship to MIT.
- They will have to get student loans just like I did.
- It’s too late to start saving, so I guess they’ll have to swing it on their own.
Let’s examine these statements more closely.
- Their grandparents are going to pay for college. While I am thrilled that our parents’ generation has done such a great job financially, it’s irresponsible for our generation to keep relying on Mom and Dad especially when we have those titles, too. We need to act like parents and do our part, too.
- The athletic scholarship excuse. Let’s get something straight. You WERE a good athlete. You AREN’T currently. Depending on your child’s athletic prowess for college money is a terrible idea. I hear this strategy most often from the parents of young children (ages 4-10). I don’t know if you have been to a youth soccer field recently, but on any given Saturday you can see 7,613 kids out there chasing the ball around. Your kid not only has to be better than every kid at those fields, but also better than all the kids at every other soccer complex around the country. Kids don’t need that much pressure. And you don’t need these delusions of grandeur.
- The academic scholarship excuse. Be ready to be surprised. Colleges are much tighter with their money these days, and there are people getting rich tutoring young kids on ways to snag the scholarships that still exist. Adding to the pressure, more and more kids are seeking a secondary education, so the number of kids wanting a bite at the scholarship pie is growing while the pie is shrinking. Academic scholarships are rarely all inclusive, and they often exclude room and board.
- The student loan excuse. I am not going to argue the merits of paying for your child’s education. I am simply going to ask you to fully examine the ramifications of making your child get student loans. Be honest with yourself. Are you asking your child to take on student loans because you aren’t willing to plan, or are you trying to teach them the value of hard work? If it’s the latter, there are better ways to prove your point.
- The “it’s too late” excuse. You may have started late, but you shouldn’t give up. Break the cost down and set little goals. Try to cover tuition, room and board, or books. Get your child involved with the process. I can’t think of a better way to teach your teenager about hard work and saving than for them to get a part-time job and save toward college with you.
Clearly, not every family can swing full tuition, room and board for all of their kids. But a four-year college degree is a prerequisite for success today; some would argue that an advanced degree is now the minimum standard. Even if you can’t pay the entire freight, you owe it to your child and yourself to be as supportive as you can be.
So start saving, and remember that every bit of financial help you can give will make a big difference when your child is just out of college, looking for a job and starting to feel the weight of a six-figure loan repayment. And if little Timmy turns out to be the next Peyton Manning, go ahead and buy yourself a boat.
Peter Dunn a.k.a. Pete the Planner® is an award-winning financial mind and a former comedian. He’s a USA TODAY columnist, author of ten books, and is the host of the popular radio show and podcast, The Pete the Planner Show. Pete is considered one of the foremost experts on financial wellness in the world, but he’s just as likely to talk your ear off about bass fishing.