We are continuing in our College series. Last week we talked about having a plan for your higher education (you can read that here). My goal is to help just one person with the road to college, whether that is a parent or if that is a student, as long as they want to make a change and break the continual cycle of loans, debt, and free flow planning instead of intentional living.
This week we will start at the beginning of college planning which we feel is the financial planning or saving for college. Financial planning we put first because with this out of the way many obstacles and objections to college can be overcome.
“I don’t have time (working three jobs to make ends meet).”
“It’s too expensive.”
“I don’t need to go to college; there are many successful people who haven’t.”
“College is a business and not about education anymore.”
These are just a few of the mindsets people have today about the possibility of higher education, but if you were to have college already taken care of financially, would your stance change?
As parents, we want nothing more than for them to have the opportunities we didn’t have so they can have the life we didn’t. Something my father always said was, “Listen and learn from my mistakes; there is no reason for you to make the same mistakes.” As I look back on this, I see how important and how much wisdom could have been gained if I would have grasped all of that phrase when he was saying it. With all of this being said, I want to make it clear that neither me or my wife had college paid for upon graduating high school. In fact, I went out of state to a college I was paying $10,000 per semester, all paid for with student loans. After one semester of partying and $10,000 in loans with no transferable grades to show for it, I moved back home to my dads and decided to go to work. I don’t want my children to continue this cycle.
As parents and, more importantly, as a team, my wife and I continually tell our children that they will go to college (even if they choose to serve in the military). Not because we think it is necessary for success, but because we believe that the knowledge gained, connections made, people met, and the real-world experience learned are all valuable tools for life. We, however, do feel that it is our responsibility to provide this financially for them and so we have started saving for all of their tuition costs. Many people have different feelings on whether it is their responsibility to provide this for their children and I do not believe any of us are necessarily right or wrong, but no matter what your belief is, one thing that is for certain is that we as parents must plan.
How Much to Save
To fully fund a college education at an in-state school, it currently costs approximately $40,000 in tuition. Now this is a 4-year degree at a state school completed in 4-years. We can lower this number with grants, scholarships, and financial aid, but for this let us use this as the base number. In order for parent(s) to fund this $40,000, we have to start now.
I will admit that my wife and I are behind on this. We also have 4 children (11,9,2,1) and will fund all of their college (plus we want more kids: YIKES!). Let’s figure out what my family will need to save assuming a 3% annual college inflation rate and a rate of return of 10%. To fund this starting at age 11, we have to save $300 per month at least, for the 9-year old it is $225, 2 it is $110 and we would need to save $100 per month for our 1-year old. Obviously the sooner we start the easier and lower the number. Also something to consider, if for a new born you were to put back $7,000 when they are born, you would have $40,000 at the age of 18.
The reason I break these down is to show you how starting early can save you money. The $300 needed to fund our oldest daughter’s college, is as much as a car note. The $100 (lowest number) needed for my youngest is the same amount we were paying for my student loans that have been around for the past almost ten years. We have put a priority on our children’s education and even it is expensive, I want to provide this so that our children don’t start out their adult life with that insane student loan debt lingering over their heads when they graduate.
Check out this college savings calculator (or any of the many out there) to figure out how much you need to be saving for your children for college.
Where to put the money
For college education, there are many options for college savings from government bonds (probably the most famous grandparent gift), taxable savings account, 529 college savings plans, and 529 pre-paid tuition plans.
What we recommend is to put the money first into a 529 college savings plan and to diversify and control the investment. Investment options with your 529 plan can include stock mutual funds, bond mutual funds, and money market funds, and even age-based portfolios that become more conservative as the child gets closer to leaving for college. 529 plans allow your money to grow tax-free (some states will still charge state tax) and to withdrawal without penalty as long as the money is going toward eligible college expenses (tuition, room and board, books, etc.). You can learn all about 529 plans in this article from the US Securities and Exchange Commission.
Things to Remember
Contributions to your child’s (or grandchild’s, niece’s, etc.) college saving plan count as a gift from you. You have an allowance of $14,000 per year for gifts (you can choose to pay up to 5-years worth at once as long as it wouldn’t exceed that allowance). Check with your accountant for tax implications.
You don’t have to be the only one saving for your child’s college. In lieu of big expensive gifts that will go unplayed with, you could ask friends and relatives to instead give children college contributions for birthdays or other holidays. Also, when your child is old enough to start earning his/her own money, a portion of that should be going toward their education.
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Charles Moore is a veteran, rocket doctor, financial coach, and blogger. If you’ve decided its time for you to suit up and fight for your financial freedom, check out his website at www.CAMFinancialCoach.comwhere you can get information on the coaching process, package options, and an unbeatable library of knowledge on winning financial battles.