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Are you worried about saving money to put your children through college? Have you started to save?

I started saving for my children’s college tuition before I was finished with the first trimester of my first pregnancy. My goal is to put my children through college without any of them having to take on student loans. I am very much aware that this is a hefty goal, but this is what my parents did for me and this is what I would like to do for my children.

Since having children I have discovered that there are lots of different approaches to college savings. I have discovered something even more interesting than the actual savings. The discussion of college savings and long-term financial goals seems to be an interesting and controversial topic of discussion amongst parents. I have found that there are four primary groups that parents tend to fall into:

(1) The parents who do not speak about money. Who knows if they are saving or what they are doing to save, these are the people who clearly live by the rule you don’t mix money and friendship. Now, if they were only as willing to keep their political ideals equally quiet, summertime picnics would be much more enjoyable.

(2) The modest and creative savers and planners. These parents have started saving for their children to attend college, some have savings accounts, some establish 529 plans, others have long-term CDs or bonds. These parents usually enjoy talking about the instruments that they are using to save, and how their investments are doing. This group tends to be divided into two subgroups: (A) the parents who realize they will never save enough to cover all the tuition their children accumulate, yet they continue to be proactive savers in an attempt to help their children to the best of their ability, and (B) the parents who are committed to paying the way for their children, even if their 529 plans fall short, they would take on loans for their children or come up with other creative means like refinancing their home.

(3) The aggressive savers. These parents are in it to win it! They dabble in mutual funds, stocks, and sock away money into a variety of different products almost as compulsively as my Mimi use to stash cash in the freezer. This group of parents usually offers advice, they are willing to talk actual dollar amounts and will look at you with horror if you do not have a long-term plan for paying for your three-year old’s law school tab.

(4) The non-savers. I have encountered and been privy to many conversations in which parents openly admit that they have no intention to save for their children’s college tuition. These parents believe in living in the moment and will spend their extra cash on trips to Disney, to the islands, new cars, home improvements, and any item that will buy them more happiness in the present.

The interaction between the four sub groups of parents makes for interesting dialogue. It could be an anthropological study in itself. Non-savers tend to clash most heavily with aggressive savers. The two subgroups of modest and creative savers can argue the pros and cons of fully  picking up the tab versus the partial pick up. The parents who do not speak about money can make everyone paranoid. Ultimately, at the end of the day, I find that talking about saving for college is dry and tiresome. While I do appreciate the wisdom and bits of insider information that I get from the aggressive savers, and I can admire the live-in-the-moment mentality of the non-savers, I have found that the discussion of college savings, like many other parental interactions is about letting others know where you stand in the world financially and how far ahead (or in some cases behind) you are of your peers.

While I continue to save for my children, and listen to others talk about saving (or not saving) for theirs, there is one cold hard fact that I remind myself of. In the 2013 publication of “How America Saves for College 2013” the average family plans on saving $38,953 per child, which represents only approximately 32 percent of the actual cost of college. In the end, the average family actually ends up saving $19,784, only about half of what they actually intended to save. I guess I had better empty out my Nordstrom shopping cart and make a contribution to my 529, I have got my work cut out for me.

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