WhyI529 - June 2017_95x95.jpg

Budgeting for college

Last month Jenna Dyke walked across the stage at Oklahoma State University to get her college diploma. She did so debt-free! This accomplishment is not only a testament to her parents – who mapped out a plan to save for college early with a 529 account – but also to Jenna for earning scholarships and finding extra opportunities to cover costs.

Jenna and her mom, Cynthia Sanders, share their thoughts on budgeting for college:

When did you start saving?
Cynthia: We opened college saving accounts for our two children when they were in preschool. It was easier to plan early and pay in smaller increments when the kids were young, rather than to play catch up and be stuck with larger increments down the road. We started by contributing $50 a month, per child. If we got a raise at work or incurred extra cash (like switching the kids to public school and not having to pay for private), we put the money directly into our 529 accounts. We didn’t have those funds to begin with, so we didn’t miss it. The most we ever contributed was $350 per month ($175 per child).

How did you help cover college costs?
Jenna: My parents paid for half of my college education – about $30,000! I paid for the other half two main ways: 1) Becoming a Resident Assistant in the dorms for two years, which saved me $18,000, and I really enjoyed it. 2) Applying for lots of scholarships. My high school GPA and ACT score helped me earn scholarships my freshman year. Then, as an upperclassman, I received more aid through being involved at OSU and taking time to complete applications. So many students dismiss potential opportunities because it takes effort. To me, it’s definitely worth it!

What advice do you have for others?
Cynthia: If you don’t have a plan, you’re not going to go anywhere. Taking a little time now to plan for college pays off more than you can imagine! Also, I don’t feel like I should go into debt or sacrifice my retirement to pay for my children’s college education. I think we more fully appreciate things we work for in life … versus what’s handed to us. I’m so proud of Jenna!

Any other thoughts?
Jenna: I knew growing up that my parents were saving for my college education. Thankfully, it was a priority in our family. I paid for any extra “wants,” like a Gameboy, which taught me the value of money. We regularly sat down and talked about finances and budgeting to meet my goals. I wasn’t always eager about those talks, but now I value everything my parents taught me. It set me on the right path. I’m so proud to have completed college without any student loans weighing me down. I graduated with a degree in Hotel and Restaurant Administration and went directly into a 30-month leadership program with Chick-fil-A. I can’t wait to see where the future takes me!