When and How Do You Start to Save for College?
Like many engaged couples, Keith and I discussed the things we wanted to do, places we wanted to go on vacation and career aspirations – but never money.
Like many married couples, our dreams became dimmed when the reality of our lack of finances threw a monkey wrench into our plans. Then, we had a real conversation about where our money was going.
We wanted to start saving as early as possible, in every area of our finances and that’s no easy task. Having an established budget helped us to knock out our loans and debt before starting a family.
Rules for Saving for College
During the early months of our marriage, we decided to wait and start a family in about five years. That would allow us enough time to get on the right track.
Children are a blessing, but we wanted to spend time as a couple before our attention became focused on raising kids. Together, we set some financial rules that would help us be good stewards whether we had little or plenty. For instance,
- We don’t leverage our future for instant gratification
- We live a lifestyle beneath the levels of our income.
- We don’t buy anything on credit that we can’t pay for in 30 days
You may be wondering how these rules play out in our everyday finances.
First, we don’t run out and buy the latest, greatest technology, or upgrade our cell phones every year. Likewise, we also don’t want to choose a college, for any of our children, just because their best friend got accepted or the campus has a great sport legacy and Greek lifestyle.
Second, if we aren’t trying to impress people with the things we own, we can have a stress-free lifestyle that isn’t dictated by bills created from the pursuit of possessions and luxury items.
Just because others in our income bracket wear designer labels, drive luxury cars, or rent summer homes, we try to consider our short term needs and long-term goals while making wise purchases.
Since we don’t want to be borrowers, we usually don’t buy it if we can’t pay for it by the credit card due date. Managing everyday expenses is critical for saving money and takes discipline which is why you can’t wait until the kids are in high school to start saving for college.
My Top Ten Budgeting and Saving Tips
Raising a large family really raises your awareness to be cost conscious. While I believe raising four boys is cheaper than four girls, it is still a cost that requires preparation.
The age difference between our oldest and youngest son is ten years. That means we will have tuition overlaps totaling over fifteen years, which makes it challenging to recover financially.
To stay focused on the goal of debt free college planning, we subscribed to a simple Do’s and Don’ts mentality which allows us to be in a constant state of saving money in all areas of our life. Here are our top ten favorite tips that keep us saving on a regular basis:
Don’t lease or keep buying new cars.
Do buy certified used vehicles, pay them off in 2-5yrs and drive them until the wheels fall off.
Don’t eat out every day.
Do pack your lunch and take advantage of dining deals, specials, and find coupons.
Don’t live like a king, in a palace, with servants.
Do live below the 30%- of- income mortgage rule and everyone has chores.
Don’t pay full price for services.
Do determine the cost vs value, get a few estimates, renegotiate suppliers, and find promotions.
Don’t pay full retail for clothing.
Do shop clearance, thrift, and consignment shops; create a clothing exchange with family & friends.
Don’t take expensive or extravagant vacations every year.
Do find last minute deals, cheap all-inclusive, borrow friends timeshares, and enjoy stay-cations.
Don’t spend your money before you’ve earned it.
Do make short and long-term goals, be disciplined, and ask yourself if you need it right now.
Don’t pay for stuff you don’t use.
Do take public transportation, cancel land-lines, subscriptions, cable services & memberships.
Don’t buy expensive gifts.
Do give books, local event tickets, framed pictures, homemade goodies, and time spent together.
Don’t pay finance charges.
Do put it back if you can’t pay for it in 30 days, consolidate debt to lower APR% and pay with cash.
One Bite at a Time Gets You Debt Free
Ask any parent preparing for their child’s college education and most would say that they don’t want to have a ton of loans or be in debt. Paying for a higher education shouldn’t mean paying for it until you retire.
It is possible to pay for college and avoid going into debt! As Desmond Tutu said it, “There’s only one way to eat an elephant-a bite at a time.”
Our oldest graduated high school in 2012 and from an in-state university in 2016…DEBT FREE! We choose to pay as you go, one semester at a time.
With a combination of saving plans, merit scholarships, credit cards, and student contributions…we did it! Our savings held up and we are now preparing for our second oldest to enter college next fall. Of course, we hope to replicate the no debt plan so stay tuned for how it all works out.
Warren Buffet said it best, “Don’t save what is left after spending, but spend what is left after saving.”
Paying for college is one of the biggest investments you will ever make. Don’t give up what you want most, for what you want now. You will pat yourself on the wallet later. You can do it too!
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