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Tales from the Road – Part 1

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Jackie Outreach

One of the greatest benefits of my job is meeting new people and making a difference in how they understand the GET Program. My work takes me to parent meetings, children and family events, school activities and conferences from Olympia to Spokane, Seattle to Vancouver and even Tonasket to the TriCities. In every community I have the pleasure of spending time with parents and grandparents who are beginning to explore ways to save for their children’s future college expenses. A few weeks ago at a PTA meeting in Olympia one Mom said “if I don’t start now, I’m sure I never will.” I told her that getting started is typically the hardest part, but once you make some time to jot down your savings goals and gather some resources you’re nearly half way there. “That’s the problem,” she exclaimed, “I don’t know what to look for or even how to choose.” To which I replied “That’s what I’m here for!”

That’s my job with the GET Program – as the Community Relations Manager I get to meet people one-on-one and help them maneuver through information, clear up misconceptions, talk about their savings goals and provide resources to help them get started. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, because parents can expect to pay 2/3 of their children’s college costs through a combination of savings, income and loans, it is imperative that they start saving as early and regularly as possible. One of the first things I tell a parent is that they aren’t alone. With work, children, and life in general, sorting through all of the information in a Google search about the best ways to save for college is painful and time consuming. So here are a few tips to get you started:

Make time: Schedule a time to sit down alone or with your spouse and jot down your initial thoughts on what you want to accomplish with your savings plan. Believe me; this will save you countless hours and headaches in the long run by getting your goals, fears, and perceived barriers to savings out of your head and in writing. You might have to change things around later and that’s okay. Just start brainstorming and create a specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-related (SMART) plan.

outreach womens showKnow your budget:      Know what you can afford today. There are so many things vying for your attention and your pocket book so know your boundaries. Live in the ‘here and now’ but develop a plan for how to align your savings over a period of time. Start with something, and add more to your budget later when you are no longer paying for things like diapers and daycare.

Have a goal: When I started saving for my children I ‘wanted’ to have four years of expenses saved by the time they graduated from high school, but my reality dictated that improbability, so I adjusted my goal. I focused on saving what I could, when I could.

Keep an open mind: There’s a lot of information out there about the best ways to save, but realistically there isn’t simply one way. The College Savings Plans Network (CSPN) advises to consider a 529 plan as one of your savings methods and include other ways of saving along the way. Just like retirement, a solid college savings portfolio is diversified.

Read: It would be easy to just let someone tell you what to do, but you have to read the fine print. Always make the time to read through the information on the savings plan you select. They were written for a reason.

Ask questions: I often hear people say ‘I’ve always wondered about______,’ which I’ve assumed meant they never asked the question in order to get the answer. Please ask…. that’s the only way to learn. Don’t end up in the same sticky situation as the parents whose daughter said to them on the day of her graduation, “Today I graduated from high school, where’s my GET money?”
Well, I’m off on another trip, this time to the Family Fun Fair in Spokane. If you’re there, stop by and meet me. I’d love to hear your story and be a resource for you.

Written by Jacquelyne Ferrado

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