The average American mom raises 2.4 children, according to the Pew Reseach Center. And unless she has a favorite, she’ll likely strive to have each of her children attend college.
If you find yourself parenting a full household, learn how to save for college for your kids by following these five steps.
1. Start saving as soon as possible
You don’t need a fancy data point to know that the cost of college is rising, but here’s one anyway: The average price of tuition and fees for a private four-year school in 2017 was $32,410, according to the College Board. And that figure doesn’t include extras such as room and board.
To meet climbing costs, it’s wise to begin saving up as soon as possible for your kids, rather than waiting until the last minute to pay for college.
There are many ways to sock away funds for the future, such as 529 college savings plans, education savings accounts, and Roth IRAs. Make sure you evaluate all of your college-savings options before picking the best one for your family.
With 529 plans, it’s best to open an account for each of your children, as you’re not allowed to make withdrawals for someone other than the beneficiary.
If your kids are more than four years apart in age, however, you could get by with one 529. You can change the beneficiary once your oldest child has graduated.
2. Set monthly and long-term goals
Once you’ve opened your accounts, it’s time to set a goal. According to a SmartAsset study, you should stash away $632 per month if you have two kids heading to college — and hope to retire by 65.
Scour your budget to make room for monthly contributions to each child’s account. You might send a greater percentage of your contribution to your older child’s account and later make up the difference for your younger child down the road.
It’s also helpful to consult a college savings calculator. It’ll take your monthly contribution and spit out your potential savings in the years to come.
As your kids grow older, rely on specific schools’ net price calculators to figure out how much your family could expect to pay.
3. Treat each child’s savings uniquely
Focus on contribution amounts more than account balances, and treat your kids’ savings as unique but equally important goals.
For example, you might contribute equal amounts to each account but choose more aggressive investment strategies for your younger kids. After all, they have more time to ride the market’s highs and lows before reaching college age.
Older children’s savings might be better off with a conservative investing style. Typically, 529 plans come with age-based investing options that match your kid’s freshman year with the maturity date of your savings. That type of plan could make managing your savings easier.
When your oldest is approaching their late teens, re-evaluate their use for the funds. Maybe they’re planning on applying to lower-cost trade schools, for example. In cases such as this, you could transfer their unused education funds to a younger sibling who’s intent on attending a more expensive four-year school.
4. Ask for help with contributions
Saving up for one child’s college costs can be a burden. When you add a second, third, or fourth child to the mix, the task becomes progressively harder to accomplish.
If you’ve figured out a monthly contribution amount within your budget but don’t see a clear path to your long-term savings goal, consider other ways to grow the funds.
One popular strategy is to ask family members and friends for 529 plan donations on birthdays. You might ask your kids’ grandparents to contribute more often if they’re financially able.
Year-end tax refunds, employer bonuses, and other windfalls could also be contributed to meet your long-term goals.
5. Apply for financial aid to fill in the gaps
As each child approaches their final year of high school, ensure your family completes the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). It opens the door to grants, scholarships, and federal student loans.
All of your savings to this point will be captured by the FAFSA and will affect your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) — the amount of money you’ll pay for college out of pocket.
Thankfully, the FAFSA will give you a break for having a larger family and for having multiple kids in college.
In fact, your dollar-figure EFC is divided by the number of kids in your household. With two daughters less than four years apart, for example, an $18,000 EFC would be split into $9,000 for each child while they’re in school.
The CSS Profile, used primarily by private colleges, may be less accommodating. According to Goal Investor, you could be responsible for about 60% of your EFC for each child attending college at the same time.
As you’re completing the FAFSA, encourage your kids to apply for scholarships. They can help you ease the burden of education costs.
The more money you can save, the less time you’ll have to spend researching federal and private student loan options for your future college students.
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