Money. Yeaaaaa. A lot of people have a love of money, but if you're like me, you hate it. It always seems to create more problems than it solves, and there never seems to be enough of it! Most families operate on some sort of a budget, and although it might seem a little bit early to add "College Savings" to that budget, it really isn't. It's never to early to start saving! (Even if it's just a little bit).
As I sit here looking at my 8 month old playing with a paper towel roll, I find it hard to imagine her starting college. But she will. Sooner than I know it I'm sure.
So. Here are a few tips for saving some of that degree-winning dinero.
1. Open a savings account of some sort. Can't save without a savings account. Well... there's always the ole stash-it-under-the-mattress gig, but there may be better options for you. In fact, there are lots of options out there for different types of accounts, and some are specifically for college savings. Talk to your banker about the best option for your family.
2. Once you've got the account set up, put some away every single month. The best way to do this is to set up an automatic transfer of the amount you're putting away, that way you're not tempted to "just wait till next month to start" or worried about forgetting to do it. Work this into your monthly budget plan. Even if you're only putting in $5 a month, at least it's a start. And getting into the habit of saving is very important.
3. When your baby receives any money as gifts (Baptism, birthdays, etc.), immediately put that into her account. It's her money, and that's the best place for it. Remember, you should already have an allotted category in your budget for her day-to-day expenses, like diapers and food. And as your kids get older, talk to them about the monetary gifts they receive. This is a great time and way to start teaching financial decision making early on. As kids, they're likely to want to blow it all on the newest video game but teach them the value of saving. See if you can work out a system where half of it goes to their savings and the other half is theirs to spend.
4. Windfalls. These may not come often, but when they do, boy does it feel great. Whether it be a tax return, winning lottery ticket, inheritance checks, or a generous gift at Christmas, there's nothing quite like the thrill of unexpected money. And since it's unexpected, in reality, you don't always need it right then and there. The best thing to do with unexpected money is put half of it - that's right, HALF, into your child's savings. Put thirty percent of it into your own savings. And then blow the other twenty percent. Splurge on a nice date, or new purse, or a set of congas. Whatever you fancy. And don't feel guilty about it! That's the beauty of unexpected money.
5. Don't touch the account, other than to put money IN. Your future self will be very grateful. Once the money's there, it's there. I'm sure it may be tempting to dip into it a little bit when the kitchen sink blows or when your health insurance didn't cover quite as much of the hospital bill from your kid's broken arm as you'd hoped. But the goal is to have an emergency savings account of your own for times like that, so your childrens' savings accounts are free to happily grow over the years, right along with your children.
I know there are some people who are not big fans of budgeting, seeing it as a limitation on their lifestyle. But in reality, budgeting, when done right, opens up more possibilities for your life! Sure, you may need to cut back on going to the high-end sushi restaurant for every date night, but the money you save doing so can be going towards saving up for a family vacation to the beach, or a down payment for a more comfortable car.
And in this case, the security of knowing you will be able to help your baby, even just a little, when it comes time for her to go off to college. As a mom, I know I'll be grateful to have one less thing to worry and cry about when that day comes.