Someday comes quickly: Save early and often

Freshman Alex M. preparing to attend his first day of classes at Southern Utah University in Fall 2021.

Freshman Alex M. preparing to attend his first day of classes at Southern Utah University in Fall 2021.

One mom’s experience with preparing for college

By Meredith Sager McNett,
my529 Content Creator

“It will go by fast,” said every mom I encountered while dragging around my two toddler-aged children with their sticky faces and fingers.

“Don’t blink, it will go by quickly,” again said those moms when I had three kids under 10 and believed there would always be a never-ending supply of cold French fries under the seats of my minivan.

It turns out that those moms were right. It did go by in what seems like an instant, and last fall I found myself dropping my oldest son off at a dorm room three hours away from home. Somehow, the little boy I once lifted into the shopping carts for a lunch of free samples at Costco is now a 6-foot-4-inch freshman in college.

I wasn’t really thinking of how quickly we would arrive at this destination eight years ago in the summer of 2014 when I opened three my529 college savings accounts for my children. I knew back then that saving early and saving often was sound advice, but I was just looking for a way to feel like I was thinking ahead and preparing for those someday college expenses. Someday.

Initially, the deposits were small— auto-deposits that came out of my bank account once a month and were automatically divided into each child’s my529 account. Every few months, a statement would arrive in the mail, and I was always pleasantly surprised at how the seemingly small accounts were beginning to grow, but I barely gave them a second thought.

And then, before I knew it, the someday arrived. High school graduation time and college application time for my oldest. A childhood that is already flying by at high speed is kicked into warp drive in these moments. Suddenly, letters arrive, decisions are made, and you find yourself reading information about the best laptops for college students (bonus: computers are a qualified education expense that your my529 account can help with).

We were fortunate that my son received a generous scholarship that covered much of his tuition, but I, like many parents, was surprised with the many expenses that were not covered by his scholarship. The emails started coming in rapidly about the costs of on-campus housing and food. It was shocking, to say the least. I remembered that little 529 account—that was now not-so-little—and began the process of figuring out how I could access and use those funds.

Thank goodness for the foresight to start those accounts almost eight years ago! Even though I didn’t start his my529 account when he was an infant, it still had enough money in it over its short life to cover almost the entire cost of his on-campus housing for his freshman year.

Lesson learned: these fleeting moments with our children do go by so quickly. Start saving whatever you can today—it all adds up.