Editor’s note: This article was sponsored by the Washington College Savings Plans (WA529).
With summer over and school back in session, we are finally settling into new school year routines. In addition to making sure the lunches are packed and we’re on time at the drop-off/pick-up line, we need to make sure we’re still attending to our college savings goals.
Fresh out of my own ideas on how to best save money for the future, I turned to the utmost authority on the topic — my 3-year-old daughter.
“Well, you could put it in your piggy bank … or your wallet … or your pocket! But if you do a cartwheel when it’s in your pocket, it might fall out,” she said.
So, with a bit of help from my little girl, here are three quick tips to keep your savings on track this year.
Feed your piggy bank first
When it comes to saving for college, the sooner you start, the better. If you don’t already have a college savings account, check out Washington College Savings Plans’ website to learn more about Washington’s 529 plans. These programs help boost your savings efforts by offering exclusive opportunities to Washington residents. These can include special tax or financial incentives, or unique programs such as prepaid tuition plans that act as insurance against rising in-state tuition costs. Once you start your savings journey, keep it going with regular contributions. Most 529 plans make setting up automatic monthly withdrawals from your bank account easy.
Keep a good inventory of your wallet
The beginning of the school year is a great time to check in on your family budget to keep a firm grasp on your spending habits and find opportunities to free up additional funds. You could consider a staycation in lieu of more exotic destinations and take advantage of low and no-cost local activities. You might also want to use this time of year to identify new or newly freed up funds, such as a raise at work or reduced daycare costs when your child starts school. However you can free up funds, it’s essential to refer back to our first tip and redirect them into savings when possible.
Watch your pockets – especially while cartwheeling
Our finances are most vulnerable when they’re burning holes in our pockets. While we should be mindful of this, moderation is everyone’s best friend here. Life is short, after all, so we don’t want to continuously deprive ourselves of doing those cartwheels and treating ourselves from time to time. One way to balance things here is to set family ground rules before you leave the house about what type of thing you might want to splurge on or how much money you will earmark for that purpose, rather than leaving it to impulse in the moment.
Understanding Washington State’s 529 Plan Options
Nearly every state has at least one 529 option, and you can choose to invest in almost any of them. Washington offers two 529 plans that will cover most families’ needs: DreamAhead College Investment Plan and Guaranteed Education Tuition (GET). Families can participate in either or both programs.
Operating much like a 401K, DreamAhead offers parents a variety of mutual fund options. Parents can manage their own investments but with the tax advantages of a 529 plan. If you are already comfortable with investing, the flexibility of DreamAhead may be right for you. It can also be a better choice if you’re getting a late start on college planning and don’t have many years left to save.
The GET prepaid tuition program is Washington’s original 529 plan; it opens for enrollment November 1, 2023. Each November, GET establishes the price of its tuition units for the next enrollment period. During that period, parents can open up new pay-as-you-go accounts to buy lump sum amounts of whole or partial units.
Once your child reaches college, they can use their units. No matter how much tuition has risen since the initial enrollment period, 100 GET units will always be equal to the cost of one year of tuition at Washington’s most expensive public college (which is currently the University of Washington).
GET is often the simpler choice for families because they can “set it and forget it” without having to manage investments. GET is particularly popular with families that are uncomfortable with the risk of traditional investments and with those who are starting to save while their children are still very young.