Saving for College While in Debt

Saving for College While in Debt


saving for college

A commenter on my last post brought up a topic that’s been on my mind lately: saving for college for our three kids. BAD community members then had a good discussion about how much to save for college and why, and how we should be upfront with our kids about what type of school they can afford.

Here’s what I’ve been wondering: How do you pay off debt, save for retirement, AND save for your children’s educations?

You see, our darling first baby is somehow 10 years old now. Ever since her birthday in January, we’ve been having our first real discussions about helping her (and her 8- and 5-year-old siblings) get to college. We just always thought we’d first pay off our debts, and then we’d have time to think about saving for college.

So… that means we’ve saved nothing for their educations. Zilch. Nada!

Our loans aren’t going anywhere for a while, and we only have eight years until our sweet girl is hopefully off to college or a trade school. The clock is ticking and we’d love to get started.

I’ve been researching 529 plans, college savings plans that have tax and financial aid benefits, and I had no idea each state offers its own plan. I wondered if we were too late to start a 529 for our 10-year-old, but I’ve been convinced to still go for it even if we can’t put a ton in.

Although I do think we’re too late to save for their entire educations, I’m honestly okay with that. I mostly paid my own way for my undergraduate degree. My parents were super supportive, helping stock my dorm room and paying for plane tickets traveling to and from home. But I was responsible for my tuition, books, and housing. I always worked summers and throughout most semesters. Plus, I used scholarships and Pell Grants when I could.

Fortunately, I went to an awesome, affordable university that helped make it possible for me to pay this way. It wasn’t until my senior year that I ran out of cash and took out a student loan. Sadly, no one had ever warned me against student loans. Luckily signing for it scared me so much that I paid it off within my first year of working.

(And then I married a guy who was off to a verrrrry expensive graduate program, and we somehow lost our minds and used student loans like they were fake money. Go figure.)

My point is that I want our kids to invest financially in their own education—I know that helped me get to class and not blow off my courses. I just don’t want them to be stressed out, run out of money like I did, and then turn to student loans that could burden them for decades. We’re considering offering to match what they earn. We can use those 529 plans, and then do our best to cash flow in those later years when our student loans are hopefully paid off.

But as I sort all this out, I always come back to the same question: How do we balance paying off our loans AND saving for retirement AND saving for college?

We have $288,000 of our student loans left to pay off, $100,000 in an IRA, and $0 saved for college. What would you do?