My daughter has always loved animals. Before she could walk or talk, she had a way of bonding with animals she’d see on our street or at the pet store. It wasn’t anything I’d seen before.
Now, at 14, she talks about being a veterinarian. Maybe a chef, but probably a veterinarian. Either way, her dream career is going to require a college education, and I need to start preparing. While it’s never too early to start saving for your kid’s college education, when you have more than one child, it takes a little extra planning.
It’s easy to sit back and think you still have plenty of time to come up with the money for tuition, research student loans, and apply for scholarships. But time moves quickly, and the sooner I start making moves to get everything in line, the easier it will be for us all later.
After all, many of us start planning for retirement decades before we actually retire, so we can save enough money and the emotional and financial burden doesn’t seem so large. It certainly would cause unnecessary hardship if we decided to start saving for two years before we planned to retire.
This is why my ex-husband and I started planning early. First, we decided that we’d each pay for a third of college. That means we need to start setting aside our share. While we aren’t sure where our daughter will be going now, we took the three top schools in our state and researched the total cost of attendance for students whose families have similar incomes. Then we went to Brad Baldridge’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC) calculator to get an idea of what our cost would be.
Of course these are just estimates since she hasn’t been accepted anywhere, and many other variables can change over the course of the next few years but this is a solid starting point.
But we’ve talked to our daughter about the cost of college early, so it’s not sprung on her the summer before her senior year. We want her to know we expect her to invest in her education and how much her share will be. We believe it will make her appreciate it more and work harder to graduate on time and keep her grades up.
That way, she is educated on what it will take and she can decide if she wants to work and save more now or wait and take out more student loans later to cover her share. It will also help determine where she wants to attend school.
This wasn’t something I was educated on until I’d already decided where I wanted to go to college and was accepted. I ended up borrowing over $50,000 in loans to afford college, and I’m still paying for it almost three decades later. Had I known how much it was going to cost me before hand, I may have made a different decision.
Regardless, I want my daughter to know as soon as possible the cost of college and the fact it takes a lot of work and time to come up with that money– especially since she has two siblings that are very close in age.
On my end, I have looked into opening a tax-advantaged 529 college savings account as a way to save and invest in my daughter’s college education with tax-deferred earnings. I know that the sooner you open one up, the more you can save, even if you’re only able to contribute a little bit. So that’s why I’m starting early.
Planning and paying for college doesn’t have to be super-stressful if you start early and educate yourself as well as your child about what it will actually look like once it’s time to write the check. It can seem easier just to apply to schools and hope the money will just show up, but we all know that’s not how it works.
To plan the right way and avoid stress later, you need to start as early as possible and do your homework.
Need Help with College Planning?
Hi, I’m Brad Baldridge, a college funding specialist and the owner of Taming the High Cost of College.
If you’d like to get great tips and advice on how to save more money for college, reduce your costs, and put your student on the road to a bright future, subscribe to my free e-newsletter.
You can also check out some of my useful college planning articles and resources below.