A Maze of Choices

By Jenn Dyck, Washington College Savings Plans (WA529) 
(Estimated reading time: 4 minutes) 

A young child sitting on a kitchen counter stacking blocks, with his father sitting behind him and his mother looking on from across the room. Image courtesy of WA529. 

As a former childcare provider, nanny, and educator, I entered parenting with valuable experience “raising children.” Caring for babies, toddlers and school-aged children was second nature to me. My parenting skills were well developed in areas like creating routines, providing care, loving, nurturing, playing with, and even correcting behavior challenges for children of all ages. One thing I didn’t know until I became a parent is just how many choices parents face. It is mind blowing! 

It starts with common choices for newborns such as whether to use disposable diapers, bottle feed, allow pacifiers, or when to introduce solid food. As our babies grow, the choices keep coming. What are our childcare and school options? What will our child eat for lunch? Should we sign our child up for extracurricular activities? Just when we find a rhythm, more questions arise; when will independent playdates or sleepovers start, should we limit screen time, and when should we start saving for college? Life is full of amazing opportunities that require a decision. 

The maze of choices can feel overwhelming. At times, my husband and I even doubted our parenting decisions, as many of us do. One choice I never second-guessed was starting savings accounts for our children’s futures. Before our first child turned 5, we realized we had accumulated way too many toys! The toy overload situation was created partly by generous gift givers in our family and our own gift giving! While this is a good problem to have, my husband and I came up with a gift-giving plan to reduce the influx of toys and teach our children valuable lessons about saving at the same time. We decided to limit our special occasions and birthday gifting to a toy (or two), a clothing item (or two), special treats, and cash gifts. A new family “rule” emerged: with all cash gifts, we encouraged our kids to save half and spend half. At that point we opened savings accounts for each of them that would help them contribute to reaching their dreams later in life. They enjoyed receiving and dividing up their cash gifts and it quickly became second nature for them to make deposits into their accounts.  

Washington College Savings Plans (WA529) has been helping families save for higher education since 1998. Both the GET 529 Prepaid Tuition Program and the DreamAhead 529 College Investment Plan are smart and simple choices to save for your student’s future. GET’s annual enrollment period closes May 31st each year while DreamAhead enrollment is open year-round.   

The month of May is a fantastic time to begin your young student’s education savings journey by opening a 529 savings account. During May, to commemorate National 529 Day (May 29th), WA529 is hosting an exciting Art Contest to encourage K-12 students statewide to think about their dream job and what higher education path they may need to take to achieve that dream.   

Your student’s road to a quality higher education doesn’t have to be built alone. When birthdays, graduations and other special occasions roll around, it’s easy to encourage family and friends to opt for a contribution to their 529 accounts. In our family, we encouraged our kids’ grandparents to give them one small toy and add money for them to spend half and save half. This taught our kids valuable lessons and inspired great conversations about the importance of saving for life’s bigger expenses like higher education. We didn’t have the means to gift large amounts, but every dollar we saved reduced their student loan debt and taught them the value of saving.  

Today, our young adult children are actively using their savings accounts for college costs. They have long since forgotten desired toys they may not have received, and they appreciate and value the “gift that is still giving.” Visit wastate529.wa.gov to explore your options and get started. 

About the Author

Washington’s 529 College Savings Plans (WA529) help families save for higher education expenses. With tax benefits, flexible contribution options and nationwide choice of colleges, it’s easy to start saving today. To learn more, visit the site or call 1.800.955.2318 with questions on GET or 1.844.529.5845 with questions on DreamAhead.

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