A SMART Strategy For College Savings

Have you made any New Year’s Resolutions for 2023? Whether you want to get physically fit, financially fit, and just start the new year with a fresh perspective, there’s an acronym that can help you keep your new goals for the year. It’s S.M.A.R.T. This simple strategy can help break your goals down smaller and more doable steps. Following this process can add up to big savings in your 529 plan.

S.M.A.R.T. stands for:

S – Specific

M – Measurable

A — Achievable

R — Relevant

T — Timely

Here’s how to work this approach for your college savings.

S is for Specific

Studies have shown that the more focused your objective is, the more you strive to reach it. So think of what you really want to accomplish with your 529 college savings account and how you want to do. Maybe your goal is to open a college savings account, to set up a new contribution amount, to increase the number of times you contribute in a year, or to stretch for a new savings goal. Then place a number on your goal; it could be a dollar amount to open a 529, a larger contribution, a new deposit schedule to match paydays, or a new percentage to cover future college costs.

Another specific step, which can build your Ohio 529 account, is to deposit your tax refund into it. By contributing the Ohio average tax refund of nearly $2,450 each year to your 529 plan, you could cover almost 40 percent at an Ohio four-year public university. Or you could elect to add a disappearing expense to your account. A disappearing expense is a temporary cost in your family’s budget. For instance, preschool is a huge disappearing expense. Once your child starts attending school full-time, why not contribute those former day care or preschool costs to their future higher education by depositing it into a 529 plan.

Make your goal as definitive as possible, and then write it down. Also, discuss this focused goal with your spouse to make sure you’re on the same page and to hold each other accountable.

M is for Measurable

This next small step is why you wanted to add a number to your goal — to measure how you’re doing on your resolution. Also, you have a starting point to map out how to reach this goal. For instance, if you wanted to contribute a certain dollar amount to your 529 plan this year, divide that amount by 12 for a monthly contribution or by 26 for bi-weekly contribution, based on your payday schedule. Then you can start tracking your contributions and see your progress to reach that goal. As you see that number start to climb, your sense of accomplishment will climb as well. If you need a visual for encouragement or if you want to get your children involved with saving for their higher education, create a thermometer progress chart and mark off the levels as you move closer to your goal. Being able to measure your progress on this goal can be a powerful push to complete it.

A is for Achievable

Make a realistic resolution. It’s great to have big dreams; however, if you discover that your goal is impossible based on your family’s current budget, it’s easy to get discouraged and not strive it. Therefore, you need to take into account your family’s other obligations when aiming for a new college saving goal. And it’s OK to start smaller than you wish; baby steps can add up to big savings in the end. Besides, once you’ve been able to accomplish a smaller goal, it makes the next larger one seem more feasible.

R is for Relevant

Ask yourself why you want to work on this resolution. It’s simple for most parents: You are investing in your child when you save for their future higher education. That makes any college savings resolution relevant. Every parent wants their child to have a better life than they did. A higher education makes that possible. You make their higher education possible by saving in a tax-advantaged 529 plan.

T is for Timely

Every goal or resolution should have a target-finishing date. This will help you to stay focused. When setting up a target date for your goal, make sure it’s realistic and accomplishable. Even if you’re stretching towards a goal for a few weeks, a few months, or a few years, a deadline makes your goal trackable so you can judge how you are doing. A set period also shows you all the successes you’ve had along the way.

So use the S.M.A.R.T. strategy with any of your New Year’s Resolutions to improve your chances of accomplishing them. You should be especially proud of your resolve to work on your higher education goals because someday your child is going to college.

For more than 33 years, Ohio’s 529 Plan, CollegeAdvantage, has been helping families across the nation save for their children’s education after high school. Ohio’s 529 Plan covers qualified costs at any four-year college or university, two-year community college, trade or vocational school, apprenticeship approved by the U.S. Labor Department, or certificate program nationwide that accepts federal financial aid. Start, add, or give a gift with as little as $25 at CollegeAdvantage.com.

*This article originally published in January 2019 and has been update with new information in 2023.


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