Saving for College in Tough Times

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

“My daughter is off to college in 2010,” a woman told me during the Q&A session at a recent conference. “Now the savings account we opened for her has been cut in half, and my husband has lost his job. Will a local community college be her only option?”

While there are many good community colleges these days, she was delighted to learn that the answer is no. There are many things she and her daughter (and of course the father) can do to secure that college education. Below are just a few:

  1. Now that stock prices are low and yields on income-generating securities are lower, they can maximize portfolio returns by keeping at least a portion of the money in mutual funds invested in stocks. The good news is that their portfolio has 2-6 years to recover.
  2. If at all possible, they should continue to contribute toward the college savings account. They now need the money more than ever.
  3. The lower their household income, the wider the range of financial instruments that becomes available to them. I suggest they take advantage of financial aid and grant opportunities!
  4. If the daughter happens to be a brainiac, or an athlete, or a minority, chances are greater that she’ll be able to obtain a scholarship to pay for part of the expenses.
  5. There’s always the option of the daughter taking on an extra job during her studies. Many colleges offer work-study programs where wages can be applied directly toward tuition expenses – and students can gain valuable work experience. I worked for four years in my college cafeteria. It gave me extra cash and the revelation of why going to college was so important. I did not want to be in that cafeteria for the rest of my life.
  6. Finally, let’s not forget about student loans. Despite the fact that many parents strive for their children to remain debt-free, this is not always possible. Student loans are there to bridge the gap between the education that will secure a child’s future, and the parents’ means to pay for it.

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