For about two years, my husband and I have employed a steady, reliable option in our college savings plans for our kids. It’s called the Money On The Desk Plan.
Two years ago, my grandma sent each of my girls a ten-dollar bill in a Valentine’s Day card. I had no idea what an infant and a toddler would do with 10 bucks. My husband thoughtfully suggested that we use it to start their college funds. What a great idea! We would be able to tell my grandma that her gift provided the seed money to send them off on their future educations, whatever that might look like. We could take the next eighteen years to build that small amount into a significant investment in each girl’s future. I set the money down on the desk, next to the thank you cards, so that I would be reminded both to send the card and to invest the money.
Two years later, the cards have been mailed and forgotten. The money, however, remains on the desk as a mark of shame in our mutual inability to get our act together.
My husband and I didn’t know each other in college. We didn’t talk about things like how we had financed our college educations until we decided to merge our bank accounts – and that wasn’t until we had been married for a couple of years. I tease him that he received the Full Ride Grandparent Scholarship because his grandparents indeed paid for his entire college education. He walked away from college without a penny of debt and went immediately into a profession with strong earning potential. No wonder he didn’t bring up his school expenses – he didn’t have any.
I likewise tease my husband that he basically just supports my professional student habit. I went to a private college and went on to get a four-year graduate degree after that, leaving me with tens of thousands of dollars in educational debt that I continue to pay off to this day. I managed to cover a great deal of my expenses with scholarship and work study, plus creative options ranging from essay contests to pageants, and my parents generously took on debt of their own. Still, I can’t deny that the burden not only held my parents down but negatively affects my current family’s financial life.
No matter what options might be ahead of you, whether the benevolence of a family member or the hopes of a well-deserved scholarship, you can take charge right now. You can change the game even in the face of an ever-changing financial market and educational system. You may not be able to control the future, but you can still make responsible investment choices now for your child’s future education. Join me in taking those ten-dollar bills off your desk, or out of your sock drawer, or wherever you’ve pocketed them, and get saving for your kid’s college experience.
It can be hard to figure out how to start. I should know: I’ve literally been talking about this with our financial guy for years. Yes, we have a financial guy; yes, we talk to him regularly; no, I still haven’t gotten that money off our desk and into a savings account. Trust me when I tell you: the shame doesn’t help, and “should have” means little. I know you’ve meant to do this for, like, ever. Today is a new day. Set the guilt aside and do something.
For starters, you could check out our friends at Minnesota College Savings Plan. You, like me, cannot find the time to get in to your bank and talk to someone about setting up an account, but find yourself cruising online retailers at 11 pm looking for the perfect draped cardigan? Put those online shopping skills to better use for your kiddo. You can start your college savings account online in about fifteen minutes. You can start with as little as $25. You can even set it up to automatically withdraw from your paycheck. Basically, by taking one evening of your life to set these details up, you can start supporting your child’s future education no matter what shape it might take.
The account has an upper limit, but it’s high even considering the continuing increases of a college education. Here’s one place where my conversations with my long-suffering financial guy have had an effect on me. While parents often feel like they want to ensure they can pay every penny of their child’s higher education, no matter what they choose, it’s not necessary. At some point, our children will also need to learn how to make sound financial decisions and invest their own time, money, and energy into their choices. It’s okay to set aside the expectation that you alone will pay for your kid’s entire college experience. You and your future academic can do that work together. You can put them on solid ground by investing now at any level. You can also use it to teach them about the personal investments they’ll need to make to achieve their own goals.
But just like you and your child will work together to make college work, you can include others into the commitment. My husband may have gotten a full ride from his family, but I also had grandparents who dedicated significant amounts to my continuing education. Rather than waiting for a possible check, you can invite loved ones to contribute now and let their money accrue interest until it’s needed. Minnesota College Savings Plan allows other people to add to your child’s account. It would make an excellent Christmas present, especially for a little one who will play more with the box and the wrapping paper than the gift anyway. Because other family members can join in, you can keep teaching your own child about how families work together to achieve their goals.
For me, one of the greatest advantages to opening a college savings plan isn’t just helping my kid pay for college. For me, taking proactive steps towards responsible financial management truly changes the game. I have never been great about money, as you perhaps might notice from my continuing financial debt. I want better than that for my girls. I want to show them that even small, regular, faithful investing can make a difference. I want them to be generous because they have left financial fear behind. I want them to experience abundance no matter what their paycheck says. I want them to learn how to manage their money well so their money doesn’t dictate their lives. I want them to see me make sound financial choices throughout my lifetime, and I want it to make not just college easier, but also their entire lives.
Hold me accountable because it’s time to open some accounts. It’s time to get those ten-dollar bills off the desk and into a plan. I’m going to take my change and change the game. Let me know how you’re saving for your kids’ financial futures, if Minnesota College Savings Plan works for you, and how you talk to your child about responsible investing. Together, we can raise a new generation of educated, financially secure, responsible Minnesotans. I mean, as long as my girls are more responsible than me with my cash collecting dust on a desk top, we’re off to a good start.
Interested in learning more? Toys come and go, but a good education will last a lifetime. Consider giving your kids, grandkids, niece or nephew a contribution to their college savings account. Also, if you saved for college with a 529 plan this year by December 31, 2017, you may be eligible for new Minnesota state tax benefits. A new tax law entitles residents up to a $500 tax credit or a deduction of up to $3,000!
Get details at mnsaves.org
Right now, you can enter to win a $300 scholarship towards a new or existing Minnesota College Savings Plan account! See giveaway below for details!
*Disclosure: Everyone that completes an entry will be subscribed to Minnesota College Savings Plan’s email list (if they have not been already). Phone numbers will be collected to inform the winner only and not for any type of solicitation.