Money Mic: How I Saved $70,000 to Send Two Kids to College

college savingsIn our Money Mic series, we hand over the podium to people with controversial views about money. These are their views, not ours, but we welcome your responses.

Today, one woman shares how she made saving for her kids’ college education her top priority—stashing away thousands years before her daughter and son were even ready to enroll.

More than ten years ago I was flipping through a magazine at the doctor’s office when I came across an article about the best ways to save for college.

It was a topic I’d been thinking about … a lot.

Even though my kids were young—my daughter, Jai, was 10, and my son, Matthew, was 7—I’d been putting about $25 a month into a college savings account for each of them since they were born, as well as every dollar they’d ever been given as a gift. I’d also opened South Carolina state 529 accounts for each of them, where I was depositing about $125 a month. And I was contributing to a state tuition prepayment plan too.

I knew I was doing the right thing by saving so much, but I constantly wondered if it would be enough.

I was starting to hear about skyrocketing tuition prices from friends who were also worried about whether they were putting enough away for their kids’ education. When I attended Spelman College in 1981, the tuition was just $3,000 a year. But when my daughter was in kindergarten nearly two decades later, that tuition had already shot up to nearly $12,000 a year—and I knew it was only going to increase.

So when the article mentioned the Private College 529 Plan, a savings plan that lets you prepay private college tuition and lock in today’s rates, I was intrigued—especially since I was hoping my daughter would follow in my own footsteps at Spelman.

RELATED: 5 Pricey Ways Parents Pay to Get Their Kids Ahead

  • guest

    That’s wonderful! I just had my first child, and we are looking into college savings plans to get her started. When I asked my parents for insight and advice, they said they didn’t really know anything about it. College expenses wasn’t something most people thought about when they had children in the 70s and 80s. I paid my way with loans and scholarship, but I’d like my kids to have less debt that I had to take to get a degree. It’s great to see a success story and the importance of relying on multiple savings options for your kids.

  • fanya395

    There are so many scholarships available, start applying for them. Start with August issue of “Essence.”

  • pamb

    The only thing I would worry about is the gamble that your child will be accepted/want to attend any of the participating schools (especially if you only have one child). Other than that, a great plan!

    • bina_boop

      Not really a gamble as she stated that the money would be returned at 2% interest if the child didn’t attend that school. The money could still be used for any other school, just not at the locked in rates.

  • b

    Wonderful story. If my husband and I were doctors and made 6 figures a year (or even one of us, for that matter), I’m sure I wouldn’t be reading articles about how to save for my children’s education. I’d really like it if these LearnVest articles would include more stories from working-class Americans.

    • saraaustin

      I had a child when I was 19 and even though money was extremely tight (I was a single parent), I put money in an education account starting the first month she was born. I could only afford $25 a month but as time went on, I could afford more. Most of her birthday money and Christmas money went into the account too (I let her keep a little so she didn’t feel deprived). She is now 19 and just left for college with a little over 35k in her account. My son is 11, and he’s got about 20k and by the time he’s ready to go, he’ll have enough. It really does help to start early and start small! Make it a priority!

    • Taz

      I read recently that our attitude towards money has to change even if the money we make does not. You say if you made that much you would not be reading articles about saving for your kids to go to college. The point is she was making $90,000 and she still thought about saving and bargain hunting. We have to get in the frame of mind that even a dollar is worth saving.

      • Sherrie

        THIS IS SO TRUE. We have no 6 figure earners in our home, but we started saving for college for our 3 sons as soon as they were born. We did it a way I’ve rarely seen recommended–US Savings Bonds. Our financial planner still has a picture of the pile on the dining room table when the oldest started college. All 3 graduated debt-free–two from private out of state colleges–and there was money left over. I find that most people have the money–they just decide to spend it on something else. It’s all in your priorities and your game plan.

        • sdavie

          Great example

      • sdavie

        Good point

  • safeblonde

    Hmm does Essence Magazine list scholarships for non-minority students? I don’t know…but doubt there are many. How about scholarships listed in your high school’s local guidance office? Many mention ethnicity or prefer females. Am I being unfair or telling the truth about scholarships in America? For the rest of us: don’t count on scholarships !

    • Whisky

      You are being uninformed. There are all types of scholarships available for all ethnicities. There are also merit based and academic based scholarships.

      I got accepted into 7 out of the 8 schools I applied for and received scholarships from 5 of them. None of them were ethnicity or gender based.

      I ended up going to a liberal arts Catholic University on a full tuition scholarship and half room & board. By the end of my freshman year I became a RA so I paid nothing for school. I also received a Graduate Assistantship for my Master’s.

      Do more research before you make sweeping categorical assertions.

      • safeblonde

        Do more research? Hilarious! I have two kids on college and just went through two years of research on numerous websites, colleges, sources, financial aid offices, etc… sweeping categorization nothing: more like the truth. Of course there are scholarships for all the categories you describe but WAY more for various ethnicities and more for females. Yes there are merit scholarships for the top of the top students, but my not my top 10% kids. Have you seen a list of scholarships in a high school guidance office lately? I have. Being an RA isn’t exactly a scholarship, is it? Yes I read your whole response.

        • chagg3

          Yep, I know what you’re talking about. I worked in my college admission/financial aid office while I was going to school and I saw that the students taking out the most loans were often white males. I went to an Engineering school so girls and other minorities often got the majority of scholarships offered. I didn’t see the “equal opportunity” in that.

  • Megan Fox

    It’s great that you have shared this information, as today there are a lot of possibilities available, but people just have no idea of them. I think we need to create some Internet portal to describe such possibilities and special propositions that can be useful to students and their parents as well. Unfortunately today many people get quick loans in Canada to pay for commodities after they have nothing left after paying for education and other needs. And such financial solution can lead to great problems, as today the total debt if just increasing with no possible chances to be solved.

  • ted cruz

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  • ana

    Thanks for sharing your story, great job! I hope your children appreciate the sacrifices you’ve made for them. Neither one of my parents went to college and they made about $50k a year household income when my brother and I were growing up and they couldn’t pay for our college but they saved what they could and had us get part time jobs starting when we were 14 and save all of it for college, they paid our living expenses, we received no scholarships and we were able to pay our tuition in full every semester working 2 part time jobs while going to school full time. I did the same thing in graduate school and was able to get out with a Masters and no school debt. So it is possible even if your parents don’t earn 6 figures. You just have to figure out how to make it work. The earlier you start planning the better.

  • Tracy

    Brenna, great vision, planning, and focus on your college savings! I, too, started 529 plans for my son and daughter the year they were born, and purchased U.S. savings bonds. I am hopeful that it will be enough to cover their college expenses and allow them to graduate with no debt. My parents always loved and supported me, but were unable to help pay for college.