College Savings

Saving the Diaper Money for College

This time of year can make me a little nostalgic, and I often catch myself reflecting on the past—in particular on the years when my children were in diapers. We all say it, but it really is true: where does the time go? And more importantly, where has all that money gone that we used to spend on diapers and daycare?

As children grow out of diapers and daycare, families may find themselves with a small financial windfall. But that money can so easily evaporate by getting used for random expenses. When our oldest transitioned through this phase, we decided to set small, achievable goals and put this money towards college savings. Watching that money grow over the years reinforced that this was a smart strategy for our family and we are now doing the same thing for our two younger children. By keeping our commitment to saving for college front and center, we will be able to provide options for our children and keep their student loan debt within manageable levels.

Saving for anything today can be a challenge. We parents have a lot going on, and it can be hard to keep track—I know all too well how easy it can be to miss opportunities to save. According to the 2013 College Savings Indicator Study by Fidelity Investments and MEFA, families in Massachusetts hope to save enough to pay for 60 percent of their child's total college cost. However, these families are on track to cover just 22 percent of that savings goal. That's why having a plan to pay for college is as important as having a plan for retirement. There is no magic formula to find extra dollars to save, but in addition to reallocating the diaper and daycare money, here are a few tips:

5 Tips for Successfully Saving for College

    • Set realistic goals and start early
      Set clear, achievable goals that you can attain within your particular timeframe.

    • Save monthly with automatic deposits
      Set up automatic monthly transfers from your checking account into a dedicated college savings account.

    • Save part of your bonus
      Pledge to direct at least a portion of your tax refund, work bonus, or any other unscheduled or unexpected income towards college savings instead of splurging on impulse purchases.

    •  Contributions to college savings accounts make great gifts
      Suggest to grandparents, close relatives and friends to substitute birthday and holiday gifts with contributions to your child's college savings fund. This can work especially well when a child is very young and won't even miss any toy gifts.

    • Talk to your children
      Talk to your children about the importance of saving for college and have them participate in creating and contributing to the family college savings goal.

Talking with your children about the importance of a college education—and the need to save for it—is an important aspect of the college planning process. Creating an environment that encourages going to college builds hope and aspiration among our children. Work together as a family and make a plan to save for college. Otherwise, in 18 years you might find yourself wishing you had saved that diaper money.