Resolution Kept: The Relief of Having Planned Ahead for College Costs

As I look at the year ahead and consider resolutions to potentially make, I inevitably think of various others I've made at the start of prior years -- and kept, with varying degrees of commitment and success.

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In considering what to pursue this time around and how to go about it, I find it tremendously useful:

• to focus on specific circumstances surrounding one or more past resolutions that really "stuck," (versus reviewing with regret those that did not); and

• to call to mind what "success" has looked and, even more importantly, felt like along the way.

Identifying and replicating key elements of what's worked well in other contexts are techniques that Made to Stick authors Chip and Dan Heath advocate in their best-seller, Switch.

For me, one resolution is particularly worthy of re-examination and replication. It has very special significance and is top of mind at this point in my family's life. I look back with tremendous gratitude for having both the wisdom to make it and the diligence to keep it -- through each of the 16 years since.

The Promise:
Resolving in the first year of my son's life to diligently save for his higher education is one of the wisest and most valuable commitments I've ever made.

One Less Stress Factor:

Now more than ever, as the stress of junior year of high school fully sets in -- with the increasing demands of advanced coursework and extra-curricular activities, coupled with various decisions about whether to take the current or new version of the SAT versus the ACT (along with when to take it and how to best prepare), which majors to begin to consider and which schools to potentially visit, and so on - as a family, we are so relieved to have planned for whatever form of higher education proves to be the best fit. While net cost will be a factor among many others to consider, it will not be the insurmountable obstacle it could have otherwise been - in the absence of planning ahead. And, while there's more saving to be done, it feels so good to have gotten started early and to have a 529 plan.

What Worked?

When I examine what contributed to the relative success of this resolution versus others, the following factors come to mind:

1. Deep Motivation: Knowing first-hand the stress associated with accumulating and re-paying undergraduate and graduate school debt provided strong motivation for working to achieve a more favorable outcome for my son -- and for doing all I could to avoid re-living, directly or indirectly, the experience and consequences of being financially unprepared.

2. Simple and Easy Approach: Taking manageable steps and enabling them to become "second nature" through automation helped tremendously. Establishing a monthly automatic contribution plan, where money was deposited directly into the 529 account versus first passing through my hands, eliminated the guesswork and made it easy to stick with the plan. An amazing 192 months later, I am so very glad I did.

3. Unwavering Spirit: I could not have possibly imagined how the world in general and various circumstances in particular would change between the year 2000 and now, but I did imagine that the costs of college would continue to rise and that my desire to help as much as possible with those costs would continue to be strong. No matter what arose, the investing never stopped and I never lost sight of the precious implications of maintaining my resolution.

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I could not have appreciated just how good it would feel to have a financial plan - with college now around the corner. With these feelings of relief in mind, along with the specific steps that made them possible, I look forward to making a 2016 resolution that likewise provides value for years to come.

This post originally appeared on 11/11/16 on the College Savings Plans Network blog.