September is College Savings Month! Saving for college can seem like one of those long, arduous tasks that never ends… like figuring out what to make for dinner for the rest of your life, perpetual laundry, etc.
I know there are a couple of fears out there when it comes to saving for college. They’re super real, and it would be silly not to address them.
Some common fears stop us from saving for college. Let’s address these so you can jump right in and start saving.
- 1. The Fear of Believing You Won’t Save Enough
- 2. The Fear of Getting it Wrong
- 3. The Fear of Thinking You’re Behind
- 4. Thinking You Don’t Have Enough on Hand to Save
- 5. Not Knowing How to Save
- Mutual Funds
- Index Funds
- Exchange-Traded Funds
- Certificates of Deposit (CDs)
- 6. Fear of Future College Costs
- Take Advantage of College Savings Month!
1. The Fear of Believing You Won’t Save Enough
Are you worried that you’ll never be able to save enough? Do your eyes get wider and wider every year as college costs rise? Worries about not being able to save enough may be enough to stop you before you even get going.
Here’s the deal. You may not be able to save enough money to pay for every penny of your child’s college education — I get how it can get you down before you even start.
However, here are some quick reminders:
- Your child may qualify for merit-based scholarships.
- You can take advantage of a tuition installment plan. (Don’t forget how much purchasing power your monthly income has!)
- The sticker price is just a starting point. I don’t know a single student who paid the full sticker price to attend our institution when I worked in admission.
- Price transparency may continue over time. A handful of schools have started to reduce their costs using something called a tuition reset. It attempts to offer more transparency in the college cost landscape. Check out an article I wrote about tuition resets for the “Journal of College Admission” and what they mean.
- Colleges may be getting more creative in the pandemic’s wake. For example, check out Unity College’s new Distance Education and Hybrid Learning plan, where students can choose to take only one or two courses per term to be full-time and can choose online, in-person or a combination of both.
- Federal financial aid is usually easy to get.
Bottom line, try to save as much as you can, even if it’s just a little bit.
2. The Fear of Getting it Wrong
It’s hard to start something new. It’s even tougher when you think you might get it all wrong. So what do we sometimes do? That’s right — never even start.
How do you get over the fear of doing something big in your life?
That’s right — you just take a deep breath and do it.
For the longest time, I was afraid of planting a garden. I wasn’t sure how to do it, despite the fact that I grew up helping my parents pick green beans. My parents always planted a vegetable garden (they still do!) — full of delicious zucchini, tomatoes, green beans, sweet corn and more. You know, though, when you’re a kid, you don’t really pay attention to allll the details — how to plant the seeds, when to plant them, how to make the rows and more. Plus, I was worried about whether or not I’d have time to keep up with the weeds.
But one spring, I said, “Enough is enough. We’re going to have a garden!” My husband and I took the plunge, tried it, and we’ve had a garden for two years now. No more excuses!
Did we fail? Yeah — our tomatoes didn’t grow the first year. I think we ended up with only six pea pods. But we got better the next year! Our tomatoes are flourishing right now and we have more than we could ever eat. We’ve had to give oodles away to the neighbors!
Even if you don’t get quite started the way you want on your college savings plan, you can pivot. The point is, get started and go from there.
Fortunately, many college savings plans (like 529s) you can enter your risk tolerance, child’s age and your investment gets more conservative naturally. In most cases, it’s impossible to mess it up!
3. The Fear of Thinking You’re Behind
Has your best friend been saving for college for 18 years — before her child was even born? And you haven’t been able to save that much all?
Your child is more likely to go to college if you’ve saved just a little bit. Even with savings of less than $500, a child is 25% more likely to enroll in college and 64% more likely to graduate compared to a student with no savings, according to a study from the Center for Social Development at Washington University in St. Louis (WUSTL).
4. Thinking You Don’t Have Enough on Hand to Save
Worried about not having extra cash to plump up a college savings account? What if, instead of agonizing over this, think of it as the fun part. How creative can you get?
Can you manipulate your budget?
Sit down and divide your expenses into “needs” and “wants.” “Needs” should only include those necessary items, like rent, utilities, groceries and school supplies.
Anything else that isn’t an essential expense should be put into your “want” category. “Wants” include coffee runs, entertainment and nice clothes that aren’t required for a job.
Can you make more money?
What if you made some spare cash every month and vowed to dedicate this to college savings? Do you have a specific talent or skillset?
What is the best thing that you can charge $10 for? Do that, then do it 10 more times! Can you make crochet hats? Can you sell your PR skills? Make birthday cakes? Babysit? Serve as a sales consultant? Figure out what it is that you can do so well that someone else will pay you money to do it.
My friend Angela makes these gorgeous signs for her company, Touch of Twine Design. They are so beautiful. They’re white with a beautiful script font — and can say anything. Her customers order inspirational quotes, poem snippets, Bible verses — whatever they want. The money she makes goes into a college account for her two boys.
Another couple I know scavenged pallets on the side of the road, at work at a manufacturing facility and more to make furniture, sold it online and made a lot of money.
The sky’s the limit. What talent can you offer the world?
5. Not Knowing How to Save
It’s a case of too many options, isn’t it? You can invest in regular savings accounts, CDs, 529 plans, UTMA/UGMAs, Roth IRAs, custodial accounts, and on and on.
I LOVE all of these for different reasons, but I really recommend checking out UNest. It’ll give you a quick win right away! It offers a tax-advantaged savings plan option based on your risk tolerance and age of your child.
Can you invest in stocks for college? Sure! Just like you can invest in regular mutual funds, bonds and more investing options we’ve listed.
However, the advantage of investing with UNest or any 529 plan is that you get tax benefits.
Is this your only option? Of course not!
A stock is an investment in a specific company. You buy one share of a company’s earnings and assets when you buy a stock. Companies sell shares of stock in their businesses to raise cash. You can sell stocks when they increase in value and this method can also result in high returns.
You lend money to a company or government when you buy a bond. Your bond purchase allows the bond issuer to borrow your money and pay you back with interest.
Bonds offer lower returns but do come with the risk that the bond issuer could default on its payments. (However, bonds are typically very safe investments.) Government bonds are the safest investment because they’re backed by the “full faith and credit” of the U.S. government.
Mutual funds are bundles of stocks, bonds and other investments. You can purchase a large number of these types of investments in one transaction. You pay a professional manager to invest your money. It’s typically more expensive to buy mutual funds than stocks or bonds because you pay a middleman to manage that money.
An index fund is a type of mutual fund — but there’s a difference. An index fund passively tracks an index. This means you don’t pay a money manager to pick and choose investments for you. For example, all S&P 500 index funds follow the performance of the S&P 500 by holding company stock within that index.
Exchange-traded funds (ETFs) are also a type of index fund because they also track an index. Like index funds, they are not actively managed and less expensive than mutual funds.
The difference between index funds and ETFs is that ETFs trade on an exchange like a stock — you can buy or sell throughout the trading day as the price fluctuates. Mutual funds and index funds, on the other hand, are priced once at the end of each trading day.
Certificates of Deposit (CDs)
When you buy a certificate of deposit (CD), you give your financial institution money for a specific time period. When that time period is over, you get the amount you originally invested, plus a prespecified amount of interest. The longer the loan period, the higher your interest rate. Note that you’ll have to pay penalties if you take your money out sooner.
How do you invest in any one of these types of investments?
- Go to an insured financial institution like a bank or credit union for a CD or government bond.
- You can go to a financial advisor for a mutual fund.
- You can find mutual funds, index funds or ETFs through a discount broker like Robinhood or a large broker like Vanguard.
Just remember, investing in a 529 plan offers more tax benefits for approved educational expenses — but a 529 plan isn’t your only option.
6. Fear of Future College Costs
Ahhhh… This is a tough one. Use a college calculator like the College Board’s College Cost Calculator to determine how much it may cost to send your child to college for four years. I plugged in some numbers and it informed me that in 11 years, it’ll cost me over $311,000 to send my child to college.
I understand the the numbers look scary. However, I still come back to this:
- Merit-based scholarships take care of a chunk of the costs.
- A tuition installment plan can help with month-to-month costs.
- The sticker price is just a starting point and in no way says that you’ll pay the full price.
- You can use creativity to save. (What’s that talent, again?)
Take Advantage of College Savings Month!
If you’re ready to save for college, now’s the time! You have so many options at your fingertips, so take advantage of it.
Don’t forget to get the start-of-school checklist for the college search!