How can we save for retirement and our child’s college education at the same time?

It’s seldom easy to achieve a balance between saving for your retirement and saving for the ever-increasing cost of a college education within your present income. Yet it’s imperative that you save for both at the same time. To postpone saving for your retirement means missing out on years of tax-deferred growth and playing a near-impossible game of catch-up. To postpone saving for college means possibly significant borrowing and years of student loan payments. In a perfect world, you want to contribute to each. But to accomplish both goals, you may need to compromise.

The first step is to thoroughly examine your funding needs for both college and retirement. On the retirement side, remember to include the estimated value of any employer pension plans, as well as your Social Security benefits. This evaluation may prompt you to examine some deeply held beliefs about your financial goals. For example, is it important that you retire early or travel regularly in retirement, or is it more important that your child attend a prestigious college?

If you discover that you can’t afford to save for both goals, the second step is to consider some compromises:

  • Defer your retirement and work longer.
  • Reduce your standard of living, now or in retirement.
  • Increase your family income by seeking a better paying position in your present career, getting a second job, or having a previously stay-at-home spouse join the work force.
  • Seek out more aggressive investments (but beware of the higher risks).
  • Expect your child to contribute to college costs. Some parents may find it difficult to accept, but the majority of college students finance a portion of their education with student loans. Many students also work during high school and college to save money for tuition.
  • Investigate less expensive colleges. You may find that some less expensive state universities have more to offer in certain programs than their pricey private counterparts.
  • Consider other ways to reduce the cost of college, including online learning, accelerated degree programs, starting off at community college and then transferring to a four-year college, joining the military, or searching for college scholarships.
  • If you absolutely can’t save for both goals, then it’s best to err on the side of retirement. At college time, your child can take out loans. But you can’t do that for retirement. Another idea is to split your available funds in a way that favors retirement, but with some going toward college. For example, an 80-20 or 70-30 split can get you started on both goals.

The third step is to re-evaluate your plan from time to time as your circumstances and wishes change. The important thing is to earmark a portion of your present income for both goals and do the best you can.

Note: All investing involves risk, including the possible loss of principal, and there is no guarantee that any investment strategy will be successful.