For many families, January is traditionally the time to sit down with a pad of paper and pencil, jot down savings goals and re-work the household budget. Those of us who are parents of school-age children include funding a college savings plan as part of our overall financial planning, but too often we delay getting started because their college years seems so far off and every dollar in the budget is earmarked already.
GET (Guaranteed Education Tuition, Washington’s 529 Prepaid College Tuition Program) Program Director, Betty Lochner understands the financial challenges that many families face, yet encourages Thurston County families to take that first step and get started while their kids are young, even if they only have $20 a month to spare.
“We want to help people start a plan and stick with it. Just getting started is the important part, and then the next step is to look for creative ways to continue to add to the savings,” she said.
Skip the car wash this week, wash the car yourself and save $12. Do this every week for a year and you’ll save over $1,200. Eat out one time less every month for a year and you’ll save another $500. Do this for 18 years and you’ll have saved a whopping $9,000. Keep adding up these small savings and they turn into a big chunk of change.
Maybe you already wash your own car and rarely eat out. Can you spare $20 or $50 a month? The idea with any savings plan is to start now and keep on saving. Consistent savings over time add up to a substantial amount.
“Families are finding creative ways to fund their children’s college savings plans, and we’re glad to see it, because over the past ten years, college tuition at Washington State’s top public universities has climbed an average of 9.5% annually, nearly four times our nation’s inflation rate,” said Lochner.
In Washington State GET provides an easy and effective way to fund our children’s education. Through GET, the State of Washington guarantees that the value of your account will increase right along with the rising cost of college tuition, no matter how much the cost of tuition increases in the future. The program removes the risk common with other investment plans and instead insures that the money you invest in GET will be there when your child is ready for college. In addition, GET funds can be used in colleges and universities across the United States, not only in Washington.
You do not need a certified financial planner or accountant to get started. Simply visit www.get.wa.gov to sign up. “Signing up is the most important step. Get a plan in place and stick with it. Start with $20 a month while your children are toddlers, and then as they grow start adding more money as you can afford it. Getting a tax refund this year? Great! Why not earmark a percentage of the refund to the GET account. Anything families can do now is a great start,” said Lochner.
If you’ve read this far and are still not ready to get started, consider this statistic from the Center for Social Development, “Teens who plan to attend college are seven times more likely to do so if they have a savings account in their name.”
Or consider this fact published by the Georgetown Center on Education and Work Force, “By 2018 70% of all new jobs in Washington will require a college education, almost half requiring at least a bachelor’s degree.”
Lochner encourages families to open accounts as soon as children are born, but this can be difficult for young families, so again, she encourages creativity. “A lot of families are not in the place to fully fund. Encourage family members to contribute to a child’s GET account in place of or in addition to baby shower gifts and birthday presents. A lot of grandparents open GET accounts for their grandchildren,” comments Lochner.
The call center at the GET office in Olympia regularly receive calls from people stating that they wish they had started earlier and saved more, and that sentiment has Lochner and her staff campaigning to encourage more families to start GET savings early. To help, they’ve come up with a list of creative ways to find extra money in every budget, no matter how tight:
- Brew your own coffee at home instead of buying coffee or espresso. A daily latte habit can add up to $25,000 over 18 years.
- The average income tax refund in 2012 was $2,800. Use your refund to open a GET account, and then continue adding to it every month.
- Check out books from the library rather than buying them. Did you know that the Timberland Regional Library has electronic books available for download?
- Encourage your kids to contribute to their college savings plan too. If they get $50 from grandma and grandpa for their birthday, have them add $10 to their GET account.
- Hold off replacing the family car for a year or two and divert the money saved into GET.
- Lower your thermostat. Puget Sound Energy recommends setting the thermostat to 68°F or lower when you’re at home and awake, and lower by 7°F to 10°F when you’re asleep or away. Install a programmable thermostat to make this happen automatically. Also, set the water heater thermostat to 120°F.
- Skip the movie theater and head to a local park instead. Do this every week and your family could save $1,000 a year.
- Are you getting a raise this year? Put a percentage of every raise toward GET.
- Families that can save $5 a day for ten years will add over $18,000 to their savings.
“The bottom line,” says Lochner, “is to start saving today, keep it simple and consistent. It is never too early to start investing in your child’s future.”
The window for open enrollment extends until May 31. It is simple to get started. Newborns up to their 1st birthday may be enrolled year-round. Visit http://www.get.wa.gov/