Making a Plan for College Savings

by Wendy K. Baumann, WWBIC President/CVO, Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corporation (WWBIC) and Wisconsin Saves

It is that time of year when many students will head to college for the first time. Parents of these new students worry about their son and daughter and perhaps about the funding for their tuition, too. Similarly, incoming high school seniors – and even juniors – are now beginning to look seriously at their post-secondary plans; which school they will attend and how they will pay for it all.

As an active partner with America Saves and member of the leadership advancing Wisconsin Saves, the priorities and worries of high schoolers, future college students, and parents are not at all unfamiliar to me. But as mom of four children, all of whom I assisted with financial support for college, I have a few tips to share with you about planning (and saving) for college:

  1. Start saving at the baby shower. Reduce the number of toys and clothes you receive, and ask for an investment in your future baby’s college fund instead. Grandparents, aunts, and uncles will be thrilled to know that they’re making a contribution to the new baby’s future. And make it simple! Let the baby shower invites read: “No gifts please, but donations may be made to baby’s college fund.”
  2. Make your plan for if/how you’ll support your children. To what degree do you want to support your child’s educational experience? Does that extend to graduate studies too? Having a plan for this in advance can help you and your student determine what free or loaned monies might be required down the road. My ex-husband and I had decided to pay for part of our kids’ schooling. Our plan was broken into thirds: I paid a third, he paid a third, and the future college kid paid a third. This not only got my kids involved in the financial investment of their education, but gave them an appreciation for the contributions they were receiving. Their part was earned, by way of scholarships or other free money, or loaned, if they chose to take out a student loan. 
  3. Choose the school and its payment plan wisely. In-state tuition generally makes a big difference in terms of affordability and should definitely be considered. Many institutions also offer an array of scholarship opportunities or work-study programs that can dramatically decrease the cost of college. When considering schools and payment options, it’s important to ask each institution about their options for payment and any tuition-assistance programs they might offer.
  4. Review each semester’s bill with your college student. There’s a great financial lesson right there, which reinforces your student’s awareness and appreciation of the investment that is being made in their future. This is also a great time to sell books and scout for the coming semester.

The transition from a high school to college can be a significant moment in your student’s academic journey. It is also a transition made smoother with a plan, perhaps started as early as birth, and with savings in order to pay what is needed for your student’s proper education – no more, no less.

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