Saving for your kid’s college education might seem super far off, as you sit awake in the middle of the night bouncing a tiny baby back to sleep or checking over that first-grade math homework. But actually, it’s never too soon to start thinking about it. Yes, we all hear “it goes fast” and yes, that can get annoying. But it’s true; before you know it, they’ll be applying to schools and you’ll be gawking at the college tuition prices.
(Trust us, we’ve got about 8 years to go with our oldest girls and like…whoa!)
That’s why we’re happy to be partnering with T. Rowe Price who, as you can imagine, knows a lot about college savings. They put more than 75 years of investment expertise toward creating an affordable, flexible 529 College Savings Plan that can get you on a smart financial path before that little child of yours become your big college freshman. Ack!
So their behalf, we’re happy to share 5 simple, helpful, expert tips to help you save for college. Starting right now.
Start early. As in, yesterday.
This is the number one most important tip we can offer you and every financial expert — and parent who has put a kid through college — will agree. While it’s hard to say exactly how much college tuition will cost when your child is ready, a good rule of thumb is that it increases at about twice the general inflation rate. Translation: Fast and furious. All the more reason to start as soon as you possibly can.
Look at it this way: Saving just $50 a month until your child is 17 will yield $20,000 (assuming a 7% investment return).
So take all that coffee shop latte money and pop it in a jar, or take your extra change and dollar bills at the end of each night and stash them away, then transfer it a 529 College Savings account, like the one from T Rowe Price at the end of each quarter or each year. Even if it’s just a little at a time, you’ll be really surprised at how quickly it adds up.
Employ these 13 small ways to cut spending without drastically changing your lifestyle
$50 a month is a great number to strive for, but if setting aside that amount for college savings is a little tough right now, take a look at your current spending habits to see where you might be able to cut back. You’ll find no shortage of small things you can do! Here are just a few ideas that save you money without totally changing your entire way of life.
1. Switch to more affordable store brands for some products, buy products in bulk when possible, and use coupons. We’ve covered lots of the best shopping apps on Cool Mom Tech that can help you save a lot with little effort.
2. Borrow books rather than purchasing them. (Yay libraries!) The same goes for ebooks too.
3. Cut the cable cord and you can amass huge savings just by subscribing to the streaming media services you really use.
4. Ditch your landline if you don’t really use it. Lots of households have gone mobile only. And be sure you’re all on a family plan together. We just helped one family who had two separate plans from the same service connect their accounts, and they’re now saving $1400 a year!
5. Debit cards are great for making sure you only spend the cash you have, but consider putting all expenses on a credit card tied to a rewards program. Some of them even allow you to use their points toward paying that credit card bill. (Speaking of which, try not to keep a balance. Those interest fees are a killer.)
6. If you do carry a credit card balance and have a good credit rating, switch to a no-interest credit card and use that grace period to pay off the balance. You’ll save a ton.
7. If you work out of the home, take advantage of all your employer’s pretax payroll deduction benefits, like health savings accounts, life insurance, commuter benefits, 401(k) contributions, and more. It all lowers your taxable wages, and can save you thousands a year.
8. See if it makes sense to raise your deductibles on home, auto, and medical insurance and pay smaller premiums each month.
9. Eating out is a huge money suck; just one or two fewer restaurant meals a month can mean more money in your 529.
10. Take public transit when you can, which may be a lot cheaper than paying for parking or sporting for cabs and Uber cars.
11. Bring lunch to work instead of grabbing food to go. And carry a reusable water bottle instead of buying bottled water.
12. Weatherproof your home and turn down the thermostat just a bit in the winter to save on heating and energy bills. You can also install a smart home thermostat like ecobee or Nest, so you can control the temperature remotely.
13. One friend of ours keeps a “Vice Match Jar.” Any time she buys cookies, a latte, or a bottle of wine, she puts the equal amount into the jar then transfers it into savings. It not only helps you save more, it really makes you think about whether you need those little indulgences, especially when you’re essentially spending double on them.
Automate your college savings contributions.
You may have heard the advice before to “pay yourself first” when it comes to savings. Well the same goes for setting aside college savings funds from your paycheck. You can have your college savings money automatically withdrawn from your paycheck or transferred out of your checking account. This means first of all, you don’t miss that money, and secondly, you never have to worry about spending it. Plus, with companies like T. Rowe Price, automatic payments right into their 529 College Savings account allow you to waive a small annual fee.
Their account allows you to start a 529 with as little as $50 each month, or a lump sum of $250. Or alternately, base the amount you save on your child’s prospective college start date — you can figure that out using their College Savings Planner.
You can also choose to invest in enrollment-based portfolios, where the plan will get more conservative as the date approaches.
What’s cool is that the money can eventually be used in all sorts of ways: For technical school, undergraduate degrees, state schools, grad schools, and even some international universities. And hey, if your child doesn’t end up going to college for any reason, you can even transfer the money to another family member of the beneficiary (i.e. your kid) without fees.
Ask for help. You’ll get it!
As much as your kids might love all those toys and games and birthday gifts from close friends and family, one smart way to help your college tuition fund is to ask friends and family to donate in lieu of gifts. Of course, it all depends on the friends and family (yes, we know some grandparents love giving gifts!), but we’ve found that if you speak to them early on and explain how truly helpful and valuable this will be in the long run, they’re more than happy to help.
Our own kids’ grandparents now give our kids just a small gift for birthdays and holidays, and a larger 529 fund contribution. And we’ll tell you, we get emotional every single time, knowing our kids are getting the gift of a college degree from people who value education.
Just make sure to save those generous family members good seats at graduation!
Remember, it’s never too late to start.
If you’re sitting here panicking, please don’t panic! Of course it’s important to ensure that you’ve got all your own finances in order, whether it’s credit card debt, an emergency fund, and your retirement savings account. But even if you’re just able to start saving now and you’ve already got a high school student, you can make a difference.
The worst thing is to just give up on savings entirely because you think you’ve missed the boat. We all get that life can get in the way of the best-laid plans, but remind yourself that even small contributions add up.
What you think of as a small amount of 529 savings could even be the difference between having to get that extra college loan or not. So just take a deep breath, put one foot in front of the other, and get started.
Thanks so much to our sponsor T. Rowe Price for allowing us to share these great tips with you, so more of our kids can move onto higher education one day! Visit their site for more information on their affordable and very flexible 529 College Savings Plan. You might be surprised at how easy it is to get started.
Legal stuff you should know: The T. Rowe Price College Savings Plan is offered by the Education Trust of Alaska. You should compare this Plan with any 529 college savings plan offered by your home state or your beneficiary’s home state and consider, before investing, any state tax or other benefits that are only available for investments in the home state’s plan. Please read and carefully consider the Plan Disclosure Document, which includes investment objectives, risks, fees, charges and expenses, and other information. T. Rowe Price Investment Services, Inc., Distributor/Underwriter.