Since my daughter’s May graduation and subsequent employment as a NICU nurse, both of my children are now college graduates and gainfully employed. I had been saving money for that goal for years.
About a month later, my husband celebrated his 65th birthday in mid-June. Although he still is employed part-time, his milestone birthday is a reminder that retirement is getting closer year by year. We’ve been saving for that goal for many years as well.
Saving for your own retirement and a child’s college education at the same time can be a challenge. You want to retire comfortably when the time comes, but you also want to help your child get a good education. How do you take steps now to accomplish both goals? Here are a few pointers from 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy, a website of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.
Estimate your financial needs
The first step is to determine your financial needs for each goal. For example, how many years until retirement for you and college for your child(ren)? What do you expect to receive for retirement from your employer and/or Social Security? What standard of living do you want in retirement? What’s the expected cost of your child’s preferred college? Gather the facts and set goals now. Periodically meet with your company’s retirement representative and visit college websites to stay on track with your estimates.
Retirement takes priority
Although a child’s college education is certainly an important goal, you should probably focus on your own retirement first if funds are limited. With generous company pensions mostly a thing of the past and Social Security in a financial strain, the burden is primarily on you to fund your retirement. Make it automatic- enroll in your employer’s retirement savings plan and take advantage of matching funds, if offered. Or, set up your own automatic savings transfers from a checking account to a retirement savings or investment account.
If you wait until your children are educated to start saving for retirement, you’ll miss out on years of tax-deferred growth and compounding of your money. Remember that a child can get help to attend college by taking out loans (or maybe even receiving scholarships), but no one will give you a loan or a scholarship for your retirement years.
Saving tips for retirement and college
Ideally you’ll want to try to save for both retirement and college at the same time. Here are some tips to consider:
1. Work longer. The more years you work, the more money you’ll earn and the later you’ll need to dip into your retirement savings.
2. Reduce your standard of living, now or later (or both.) You might be able to adjust your spending habits now in order to save money for later. Or you may consider a more frugal lifestyle in retirement.
3. Increase your earnings now. Consider increasing your hours at your current job, finding a new job with better pay, taking a second job or having a stay-at-home spouse return to the workforce. You can also earn extra money with seasonal or part-time opportunities like being a ball game referee, a tutor or a county fair judge, or selling products from home or at bazaars and farmers markets. Turn unwanted belongings into cash with garage sales or auctions.
4. Expect your children to contribute more to college expenses. Encourage your children to work and save for future education needs. Kids can start small with early money-makers like lawn mowing, babysitting or the sale of 4-H livestock and then move into part-time jobs as they get older. As they look toward college, help them find and apply for all scholarships for which they qualify. Expect them to work part-time while in college and explore student loans if funds are still short.
5. Send your child to a less-expensive school. A pricey “brand-name” private school may be your child’s dream, but unless he receives generous scholarships, he may need to lower his expectations. A state university or a smaller liberal arts college might provide a similar education for a far lower cost.
6. Get creative to reduce education costs. Encourage your student to take dual-credit classes at a local community college while in high school, attend a local college and live at home to save on room and board, enroll in an accelerated program to graduate in three years instead of four, take advantage of cooperative training where paid internships alternate with course work, or defer college for a year or two and work to earn college funds.
It’s not easy to save for college and retirement at the same time — but it can be done. Set your goals and stay focused.
Linda K. Beech is Ellis County Extension agent for family and consumer sciences.