First Steps to Take to Save for College

The cost of education doesn’t have to be unmanageable if you plan ahead and take the necessary steps early on to save for college.According to Trends in College Pricing 2015 by the College Board, a not-for-profit organization consisting of over 6,000 of the world’s leading educational institutions, the average cost of tuition and fees for the 2015-16 school year rose to $32,405 for those attending private colleges.

With average tuition at $9,410 a year, even in-state residents at public colleges have a financial mountain to climb. But the cost of education doesn’t have to be unmanageable if you plan ahead and take the necessary steps early on to save for college.

1. Set Your Goal 

The College Board study found that tuition and other costs increased more than 3 percent from the previous year. By understanding this trend, you can estimate how much college may cost in order to set and prepare to achieve a more realistic college saving goal.

To make the goal even more precise, utilize tools such as a net price calculator, like that found on, to discern what a specific college may cost minus any grants, scholarships and education tax benefits for which your family may be eligible.

2. Open a Savings Account 

From investments and permanent life insurance to tax-advantaged government savings plans (such as 529 plans), there are many options available to you to begin stockpiling funds for education. The Wall Street Journal noted that there are two types of 529 plans — prepaid or investment plans — from which you can choose, and the publication recommended also checking out the specifics of the 529 plan in your state, as they may differ throughout the country.

The Wall Street Journal also offered this advice to add even more to 529 plans’ contributions:

  • Enlist the help of grandparents and other relatives – “In some states, they can contribute to the account you set up. In other states, they have to set up their own and name a child as a beneficiary,” the article said.
  • Enroll in Upromise – Shop name-brand sites through the Upromise website, and the Upromise loyalty program will refund a percentage into any plan you choose, namely an affiliated 529 plan. Find out more at
  • Get a credit card with rewards that can be diverted into the 529 plan – Check with your financial institution to see if there is an eligible credit card available that will put a percentage of each purchase into an associated 529 plan.

3. Don’t Wait

Take a look at your budget and allocate whatever you can, realistically, to saving for college — and do it now. A February 2015 article in Forbes added that if a newborn’s parents invest $250 a month in a tax-deferred savings plan with a 6 percent rate of return, they will have $148,000 in the account when the child turns 18. Every little bit will help, no matter when you start investing.

“Remember, college costs don’t arrive all at once; they stretch over a period of four years (or more). Even if you get a late start, saving now can still make a difference,” the Northwestern MutualVoice Team said in the article on Northwestern MutualVoice is a group of professionals who share insights and opinions from experts and industry leaders across the enterprise.

4. Communicate with Your Kids

Get the children involved, first by discussing with them the value of saving money, and encourage them to set aside part of their allowance or paper route money toward a college fund. Second, open a dialogue early about qualities they would like in a college and inform them of their options regarding scholarships and financial aid. This will help in goal setting and reevaluation over time.

5. Keep Retirement Separate

While your children’s needs should always be a priority, it’s important not to put their education-related financial needs above your own needs for retirement.

“Your child can always attend college by taking out loans (or maybe even with scholarships), but there’s no such thing as a retirement loan,” the Northwestern MutualVoice Team wrote.

College is a huge expense and one that needs to be addressed early on. Balancing this savings goal with your other financial needs and wants can be tricky, but never impossible. Contact your financial institution for further guidance.


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