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Education is the key to opening doors of opportunity, but the rising costs of college can be a deterrent for parents who may not be able to afford financing tuition to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars each year. Post recession employment rates have steadily increased during the past decade, but a whopping 44% of recent college graduates find work in low paying, non-degree jobs rather than their field of study.

It’s tempting to draw the conclusion that earning a college degree is a waste of funds, but the average degree holder still earns 90% more than a high school graduate. When it comes to snagging available jobs, a high school diploma is often not enough to beat out the formally educated competition.

In short, yes, college is still a worthwhile investment. But it’s an expensive one.



The average cost for tuition at a state school is $20,090 for an in-state resident and $34,200 for an out of state resident. The cost of attendance at a private university are far higher. The average college graduate enters the workforce with a negative net worth of $37,172 in the form of student loan debt. That is a staggering figure.

You want your child to have the best start in life, so how does a savvy mama make college an affordable option?

How can we save for college?

Loans are an option many families choose in the hope that their child’s career will pay well enough to enable easy repayment, but this is not the only option. In fact, it should be the last option.

The key to paying for college is to start implementing financing strategies as early as possible.

“Yes, college is still a worthwhile investment. But it’s an expensive one

From Bread Baker to Bread Maker

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5 Strategies to Finance Tuition

529 Plans

Under Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Code, state sponsored Qualified Tuition Plans, also known as 529 Plans, are two types of tax-advantaged, state sponsored savings plans designed to cover college costs. These plans are the Prepaid Tuition Plan and the College Savings Plan.

Prepaid Tuition Plan

Account holders can lock in a tuition price at eligible public and private universities. Considering the cost of higher education is rising each year, this plan could mean significant savings the sooner you establish an account. Some parents choose to open 529 Accounts before their child is born and later establish the child as a beneficiary once he or she has a social security number.

Drawbacks of a Prepaid Tuition Plan are:

1) It only covers tuition and mandatory fees. Some states allow a room and board add-on.

2) Most plans have age/grade limits for the beneficiary.

3) Most plans have a limited enrollment period.

4) The account owner or beneficiary may have to be a resident of the state where the eligible school is located.

5) A 529 Plan will negatively impact a person’s financial aid eligibility.

Benefits of a Prepaid Tuition Plan are:

1) Many of these plans are backed by the State.

2) Tuition rate including mandatory fees is locked in when the account is established.

3) The investment is not subject to federal tax and is usually not subject to state tax.

College Savings Plan

This plan does not lock in a tuition price, but it covers all associated college costs including tuition, room and board, mandatory fees, books, and computers. Parents are allowed to stash away $200,000 in this tax-advantaged plan but these funds are not guaranteed by states under this plan. Still, there is no age limit required for this plan, meaning adults and children can open this type of 529 plan. Additionally, the College Savings Plan can be used by residents and nonresidents alike. Enrollment for this plan is open year round.

Drawbacks of College Savings Plan

1) Tuition price is not locked in, so the amount saved may not be enough to cover the price of attendance by the time the beneficiary is of age.

2) The plans are subject to market risks and are not backed by the state.

3) A 529 Plan will negatively impact a person’s financial aid eligibility.

Benefits of College Savings Plan

1) Covers all costs associated with college attendance.

2) No age limit for beneficiaries.

3) Enrollment is always open.

4) Accounts can be funded in the range of $200,000 without being subject to federal tax nor state tax (in most cases).

Coverdell Education Savings Account

A Coverdell Education Savings Account (Coverdell ESA) is another tax-advantaged savings account designed to cover college costs for a beneficiary. This plan may be funded by account holders whose modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) is less than $95,000 per year. The maximum contribution amount per year is $2,000 per beneficiary and contributions are only allowed until the beneficiary turns 18 unless the child has special needs. Similar to 529 Plans, Coverdell ESAs are not subject to federal tax, but state tax may apply depending upon your state of residence. If any funds remain when the beneficiary reaches age 30, account owners must withdraw and distribute all funds within 30 days.

Drawbacks of Coverdell Education Savings Account

1) Account holder’s modified adjusted gross income may not exceed $95,000 per year (for single tax filers).

2) The maximum contribution amount per year is $2,000.

3) May be subject to your state tax.

4) Will negatively effect your child’s ability to receive financial aid.

5) Cannot be funded after the age of 18 unless your child has special needs.

6) Funds must be withdrawn by age 30. This withdrawal will be subject to tax.

Benefits of Coverdell Education Savings Account

1) May be used to college college costs and qualified elementary and secondary school costs.

2) Offers more flexibility than a 529 Plan.

3) Account holders can exercise more control over investment options.

4) Beneficiaries are allowed to have both a 529 Plan and a Coverdell Education Savings Account.

5) Can be used by any college or university that participates in the U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid program including foreign universities.

Uniform Transfers to Minors Act

The Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA) allows adults to establish account for their children for the purpose of transferring assets to a minor. This type of account is not specifically for funding college, but it can be used for that purpose. Eligible assets that can be transferred to a minor under UTMA besides money include real estate, patents, fine art, and royalties. When the child beneficiary reaches the age of majority, which is 18 or 21 depending upon the laws of the state, he or she gains control of the assets associated with the account. Transferring assets with a UTMA account is an irrevocable action meaning the child owns the assets whether or not they are used for college. Use of an UTMA account can affect a child’s eligibility for financial aid, but this can be avoided if parents invest in their own names depending upon the laws of the state. Learn more about establishing an UTMA account and the applicable laws at your bank or through a brokerage.

Drawbacks of establishing an UTMA account

1) Unearned funds greater than $1,050 are subject to taxes.

2) An UTMA account may affect the amount of financial aid your child receives

3) If parent-custodian dies before funds are under the control of the beneficiary, the account is considered part of the parent’s estate and may be taxable.

Benefits of establishing an UTMA account

1) Parents may benefit from lower income taxes by transferring income-producing assets to a child.

2) Grandparents, relatives, and friends may also make irrevocable transfers to the account.


Scholarships and Grants

Your child can apply for need and merit based scholarships and grants to pay for school. There are thousands of scholarships available and they do not need to be repaid. Various foundations establish scholarships for the purpose of awarding students:

  • who have good grades
  • who serve their communities
  • who demonstrate creativity and innovation
  • who are the first in their families to attend college
  • who are accomplished members of ethnic groups across all races
  • who are interested in career fields that desperately need more workers

…and hundreds of other criteria. With a little research, your child is likely to find a scholarship that suits him or her.

Grant options include federal grants and grants offered at individual colleges and universities. Learn more about federal grants here.

Work and Save or Pay As You Go

If all other options have been exhausted, there is always the old-fashioned principle of paying for things with cash on hand to fall back on. In this case, encourage your child to save money from a summer job in a dedicated account to create a modest college fund. Having a small amount of money set aside is better than nothing.

Choosing a community college or college will mean a lower price tag thanks to the residency discount. Allow your child to remain home for free or at a modest rent to give him or her the opportunity to save on expenses and funnel extra income towards school fees. If your child continues to work while in school, attending full or part time as their income permits, they can obtain a degree without the burden of debt.

Retirement plan vs. College plan-which to fund first?

Good parents want their children to be better off than they were. So, it’s normal to think that if you have to choose between funding your child’s college and your retirement, you invest in your child’s future first. However, that is the wrong choice to make. If all else fails, your child can take out loans for school. It’s not an ideal choice at all, but it is a choice they can make. There are no loans to help with your retirement As a responsible adult, you have a duty to ensure that you can provide for your own needs into old age. Your children may — and in an ideal world, should — help you out once you’ve retired. But they may not be able to if their own financial house isn’t in order or if they are too early in their careers to have a comfortable income. If funds are too tight, focus on funding your own retirement first.

From Bread Baker to Bread Maker

In this free course, I’ll show you how to jumpstart your transition from stay at home mom to work at home mom. You’ll receive valuable insights and resources right in your inbox. Get started now!

Alternatives to college

Sometimes the best strategies aren’t enough to make college work out immediately. Perhaps you may decide it’s not worth it to attempt to fund your child’s education overall. Considering the differences in earning power between college graduates and high school graduates, an inability to fund college may leave you feeling bad about your ability to ensure a good future for your child. Don’t despair — there are other options to pursue!


A career in the trades can become lucrative over time, especially once the journeyman level has been reached. My husband worked as a carpenter’s apprentice while he attended grad school. His income as a carpenter supported our growing family while he completed his MBA. The trade skills can be used by an enterprising young man or woman to establish their own business down the road.  Your child can apply for the trade apprenticeships that interest him or her with programs in your state. Find out more by visiting the official website of the United States Department of Labor.

Trade School

The trades can also be learned at trade schools rather than apprenticeships. Unlike an apprenticeship, you need to pay tuition to attend a trade school. However, the total cost of a trade school degree is only around $33,000. This is a steal when compared to the six-figure price tag of most Bachelor degrees.The best part is scholarships and grants are available to finance a trade school education. The final cost for your child’s trade school degree could be significantly lowered with a few well-done, winning applications.


If your son or daughter feels the call to join the ranks of the brave men and women who serve our great country, this is a fantastic career to pursue instead of college. Joining any branch of our military is sure to bring prestige, excitement, challenges, and ample opportunities for growth. It is important to note that even if your child has his or her heart set on a military career, there is much value in entering the military with a degree in hand. College graduates can use their degrees to apply for coveted positions as officers years sooner than their high school educated counterparts. However, a person who joins the military following high school can attend college while on active duty using the G.I. Bill following 90 days of completed service. If your child would rather serve a few years and then attend college using the G.I. Bill, that is also a great option to gain valuable skills as well as funds to complete a degree and enter the civilian workforce.

Land of Opportunity

The beauty of living in the U.S. is it’s still the land of opportunity if you know your options. Our colleges and universities are some of the best in the world and your child deserves the chance to attend if he or she so desires. If your income does not allow you to finance a college education for your child, the alternatives to pursuing higher education can also be extremely beneficial to your child’s future. No matter what path your family chooses, taking out costly loans does not have to be one of them.

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