3 Painless Ways to Build a College Fund for Your Kids: This Mom Saved $1,090 in 5 Months

saving for college

When my husband and I got married 15 years ago, I had a little bit of debt, but he had quite a lot. 

We worked hard to quickly pay it down. It felt great to be out from under the burden, so we promised we’d keep it that way.

And we have.

We make smart purchases, only spending money on things that will add value to our lives. And yes, a fishing boat can actually add value to one’s life!

We plan for rainy days. My husband has a great 401(k) and retirement plan. Our savings look good. We have some stock. We own land. Our vehicles are paid off. We’ll have our house paid off soon.

All our ducks are in a row except one: a college fund.

I’m embarrassed to say that as careful and thoughtful as we’ve been with our finances, this is where we’ve dropped the ball. We just kept putting it off — and our son just turned 11! 

We didn’t have room in the budget to schedule big payments to a prepaid plan. So several months ago, I opened a separate savings account with our credit union.

In just five months, we’ve been able to save more than $1,000! And most importantly, it didn’t hurt our budget. It just took a little creativity and commitment.

Here are three ways to save for your kid’s college education that won’t have you eating ramen every day.

1. Put Away Your Coupon Savings

It’s pretty easy for me to go to the store and save more than $15 without doing much couponing. Unless you live in a one-horse town like I do, you could probably save a lot more! In fact, my cousin is a semi-extreme couponing queen and saves hundreds of dollars per shopping trip.

Since we’re looking to save every spare dime for college, I gather my receipts at the end of each month and add up what I’ve saved using rebates and coupons. Then, I transfer the exact amount from our checking account into our son’s college fund.

Before, I would simply reward myself with something special (that I really didn’t need) to celebrate the money I’d saved. Now that I think about it, that doesn’t make any sense. I’d much rather put the coupon savings into my son’s college account.

Still have your receipts from your last three or four shopping trips? Add up your savings and I bet you’ll see what I mean — little amounts add up fast!

2. Try Using a 50/50 Allowance

If your kids have started begging you for an allowance, maybe now’s the time to give in.

But before you tell them to get lost or agree to their terms, here’s an idea:

Imagine the top dollar allowance you’d be willing to pay, but don’t tell your kids that amount. Take the number you’re willing to give as a weekly allowance, and cut it in half — then put the other half in their college account.

For example, if you can swing $8 per week, agree to pay $4 a week. Your little human gets $4 to spend, while you put the other $4 into the college fund. It doesn’t sound like much, but it adds up!

It’s a little sneaky, but it’s a win-win. Most likely, your child will be happy just getting an allowance. And you’ll be happy making another contribution to the fund. 

3. Consider “Half Gifts”

The idea works well if your child gets lots of birthday and Christmas gifts from family members, especially if you start early.

When my son was about to turn 7, he really wanted money so he could pick out his own gifts. But he certainly didn’t need $50 from his aunt to spend at Walmart.

Multiply her gift by about 15 other relatives, and suddenly the kid’s got more cash than some of the adults at the party have in their pockets! That’s just wrong.

And don’t forget the poor, patient person who takes the kid to the toy store, staying for hours until every last penny is spent.

So how can you turn this situation into a savings strategy?

Tell your loved ones whatever they give, you’re putting half in the college fund. We’ve always tried to do this; we used to put the other half into his savings account. So the switch to the college fund was natural.

The trick is not telling your child you’ll be taking half of the gift, but telling family members before the party so they only give the child half the gift amount — then give the rest to you.

Once established, this strategy sets the precedent for future gifting. I haven’t had any complaints, but we only expect this from our closest relatives.

How Do You Grow the College Fund?

Now you’re on your way to growing a college fund for your child without sacrificing much.

Once we started using these creative, “sneaky” ways to save, our son’s fund grew to $1,090 in just five months — and we’re not stopping.

Mompreneur and writer-for-hire, Renee Davis is a native Floridian. When not wordsmithing or  pinching pennies, she can be found beachside with her family. Connect with her at The Stay At Home Scribe, on Facebook and Twitter.