Like all moms I want to make sure that my son and daughter can pay for their higher education and I have been feeling guilty for not having college funds already set up. But according to Court Creeden, a Financial Representative with MassMutual, putting $50-$100/month into a college savings plan without looking at the big picture is not the best way to secure my children's future.
The big picture means figuring out if you are in a place to save for college right now. Do you have outstanding liabilities like credit card debt with high interests rates? Are you contributing enough in your retirement account? Do you have the necessary life and disability insurance to cover expenses in case of an unexpected tragic event? Is your emergency savings enough? If the answer is no, then you are best served holding off on the 529 plan until your financial house is in order.
If this sounds backwards to you, then welcome to the club. I am from the school of thought that puts my kids first even if it means I have to sacrifice what I want. But after talking to Court my attitude changed a bit (at least when it comes to finances. I am still giving my kid a kidney if s/he needs it).
Court says the best thing parents can do for their kid's future is to be financially fit themselves. He used a pretty effective analogy to illustrate this point. On a plane you are instructed to secure your oxygen mask first in the event of an emergency before you help your child. Makes sense, right? The last thing your child needs is for her parents to wind up living in their car so she can graduate from law school. As Court put it, "there are no loans and scholarships for retirement."
With so many competing priorities, it's hard to know where to begin. You could try guesstimating a financial plan and get most of it wrong or a better idea would be to sit down with a professional financial adviser who will take the guesswork out of the equation and help parents come up with the right financial formula for their family. Take this cool quiz to learn about your financial personality and get useful tips on becoming more financially savvy. My results indicate that I am a "knowledge craver," someone with the desire to take charge of my family's finances, but who feels there isn't enough time.
This is the year my husband and I recommit to our financial plan. We had one before the kids were born, but it hasn't been updated or followed in a long time. I would like to become more involved in the process, even in a small way and I am going to make that my goal.