Community perspective

College Savings Month highlights saving for education

My son is a busy boy of almost 3 years. He runs and plays, he learns and laughs, and watching him grow is the most rewarding part of my life. I remember looking at the bills we got from the hospital after we had him and joking, “OK, he is going to be an OB/GYN!” That made us think about the cost of medical school and everything he would have to do to get there, so we started a UA College Savings Plan account for him when he was 8 months old.

At the time, I was working for Denali State Bank. Not only does the bank offer its employees the option to contribute to a UA College Savings Plan account through payroll deductions, but they also have a matching program to help employees reach their education savings goals. In addition to the tax benefits offered by a 529 plan, that little boost was a powerful incentive to start saving.

I remember talking to a co-worker who paid for her college education with a UA College Savings Plan account. She said that, growing up, she envied her friends, who got to spend their PFDs and keep the money friends and family gave them for special occasions. All she could ever have was 10% of whatever she received; the rest was deposited into her 529 plan. “But now that I graduated debt-free, I will do the same for my children,” she said. That strategy made such an impression on me that now my son, who was born several years after that conversation, will follow that rule.

There are so many “what ifs” parents have to navigate when starting to plan for a child’s future. My son may choose to become a mechanic, a journalist, an engineer or a chef. No matter what he chooses, he will need some education past high school. His 529 plan will help him pay for tuition and fees at any university, college, technical or vocational school that accepts federal financial aid.

But what if he doesn’t choose to pursue an education after high school? Well, my husband and I are now expecting twins. Transfers between family members are easy to do. I have full control of the account, so I can easily direct the funds to one of the other children. Or maybe someday I will decide to continue my own education or my husband will want to take some more cooking classes. The possibilities are endless.

September is College Savings Month, a good time to reflect on education savings goals and strategy. I have always believed that what is in your head and what is in your heart can never be taken away from you, so investing in education feels natural. I may never be fully prepared for what life throws at me, but knowing that I did what I could to help my children follow their dreams will certainly give my husband and I peace of mind.

Elena Sudduth is a senior program specialist for the UA College Savings Plan.

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