Victoria Bails February 5th, 2024

8 Mistakes to Avoid When Saving For Your Child’s College

Saving for college is quite a daunting task. We all want to set our kids up for success, right? But, the path to financing their dreams can feel like a maze of decisions and uncertainties. While there’s no “right” way to save for your child’s education, there are a few mistakes that you can avoid to make the most of your efforts and give your kids a solid cushion to help them along the way.

Mistake #1: Getting Started Too Late

Time is on your side for any type of savings. The earlier you get started, the better. 

Starting early makes it much more manageable to make consistent contributions each month without disrupting your budget. The longer your money is invested, the more time it has to grow through compound interest. By making smart choices with your money early on, even a little can go a long way.

Mistake #2: Saving Without a Plan

When it comes to the price tag of college, the sticker shock is real. With everything from tuition to room and board to books, figuring out how to help your kids pay for college is a goliath of a task. Crafting a clear, realistic plan helps make it feel much more achievable. 

Think about how much you would like to save for your children. Being realistic here is key—you don’t have to do it all. Even a small bit can be a big help for your kids. 

Make room in your budget for college savings, and make it a priority to make consistent contributions among your other savings goals.

Mistake #3: Relying On A Standard Savings Account

While a traditional savings account is a good starting point, you have other options to help your money go much further and open opportunities for tax benefits. Investing your money in other options can give you better growth potential for your money. In a tax-advantaged account, like a 529 plan or a Coverdell ESA, your money grows tax-free whereas any interest earned on a savings account may be considered taxable income. Do some research on different account types and their benefits to make sure you’re putting your money in the best possible places for growth.

Mistake #4: Narrowing Your Investments

Diversifying your assets is always a smart decision, and that’s true for your college savings too. Different investment types—stocks, bonds, mutual funds—respond differently to certain market conditions. While one might dip, another could soar. Adding some diversity cushions your savings from major market swings. 

ESAs and 529 plans are solid college savings tools, but you might consider pairing them with a UGMA account for some added flexibility. UGMA accounts hand you the reins when it comes to your investment options. You can invest in stocks, bonds, and mutual funds, making it easy to balance out your portfolio. 

UGMA accounts provide another layer of flexibility as there aren’t as many restrictions for using the funds. Since 529 plans and ESAs are designed to help with education expenses, your kids could face a pretty high penalty for using funds for non-qualified expenses should they not need all of it. Spreading your funds to other accounts can financially support your children through college and beyond. 

Mistake #5: Investing More Than You Can Afford

We all want to be superheroes for our kids, but at the end of the day, you need to be realistic. Be real about what your family can comfortably contribute. Life is full of surprises. Be sure to reassess your financial goals as your financial situation shifts.

Your contributions may ebb and flow over time but remember to give yourself grace even if you have to change your savings goals.

Mistake #6: Neglecting Your Retirement

While saving for your child’s education is undeniably important, overlooking your own retirement savings can be a costly mistake. Much like college, retirement is expensive, too. It’s like a balancing act—you want to fund your child’s education without letting your own financial security wobble. Make retirement savings a non-negotiable part of your financial plan alongside college savings. Work out a way to prioritize both without sacrificing the other.

Retirement may seem far away, but the years always fly by—it’s vital to be prepared for it.

Mistake #7: Overlooking Other Financial Aid Options

The sticker shock of college can send shivers down any parent’s spine. But here’s the thing—there are avenues beyond personal savings that can lighten the load. 

Other financial aid options like scholarships, grants, and work-study programs exist to ease the financial burden of college.

As your child gears up for college, sit down together and research scholarships, grants, and aid programs tailored to their interest and qualifications. Encourage them to excel academically—merit-based scholarships are often within reach for high achievers. 

Mistake #8: Forgetting To Educate Your Kids

As you build your child’s college fund, don’t overlook the golden opportunity to impart some financial wisdom. Get your kids involved in the college savings process in age-appropriate ways. 

Money isn’t always the most fun conversation, but make it a natural part of conversations. Share stories, discuss financial goals, and always encourage your kids to ask questions. Creating a healthy relationship with money can go a long way for their financial independence. 

Saving for college lays a secure financial foundation for our children. Armed with this knowledge, you’re better equipped to navigate the tricky financial waters and craft a secure future for your children. So, take a breath, take those learnings to heart, and approach college savings with confidence. 

Featured image by Evan Mach on Unsplash

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Victoria Bails

Victoria Bails, graduate of Point Park University and Director of Marketing at Responsival. Victoria has been composing high-quality commercial content for over 5 years. Her passions involve travel and spending time with her family and pets.

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