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Working with your teen to save for college

If a college education is the goal, encourage your teen to help save for expenses.

Teen boy with piggy bank

One of the best reasons to encourage your teen to help you save for their college education is because being involved in paying expenses also encourages them to make the most of this opportunity.

Kids who help pay for their college education have a vested interest in doing well and are more likely to value the experience.

Work and responsibility

Most parents worry about how they will pay for their children’s college education. There’s a lot to be said for teaching kids the value of work and responsibility. While it would be nice if, as parents, we could afford to foot the entire bill, in these tough economic times and with college expenses rising, most parents can’t carry the financial load alone. Talk honestly with your children and work out a long-term plan. Some parents make a deal — they’ll pay for housing, food, books and a percentage of the tuition, and the kids will be responsible for some of the expense. Setting expectations early encourages kids to work hard now for a scholarship. You can set up a 529 plan and contribute to it, and so can the child. The nature of the 529 college savings plan illustrates to the child the power of responsible saving. As children reach their teenage years, they may work part-time jobs and be able to contribute some portion of their earnings into the plan. Preparing for their own future can be empowering.

Contributions to the plan can also be made by grandparents and other relatives, and as your child sees the balance grow they might ask that contributions to these savings be made in lieu of other gifts to mark special occasions such as birthdays and holidays.


Many parents consider rewards as a way to encourage excellent savings habits. Your kids are in school to learn, so rewards for grades are counterproductive, but rewards for good money habits make a clear point. Setting your child up with a bank savings account or 529 college savings plan means that you can encourage them in a tangible way when they show responsibility with money. Perhaps you’ll decide to contribute extra to their account — $100 for every $500 they save, or some amount that fits your budget and offers an incentive for them to continue saving responsibly.

Kids learn by example, so show them how to be financially responsible by managing your own money well. If children see that you budget for luxury items and consistently save for your retirement years, they’ll have a better grasp on how to manage their own money. Be candid with them about how you cover expenses for family needs and save for the future. Understanding the challenges will help them prepare for the future and set goals. The key is open communication and teaching them self-reliance.

tell us

Do you expect your children to help pay for their college education? Why or why not?

More tips

5 Ways to teach your children to save
5 Ways to stretch the family budget
The 5 rules of saving — when, where and how

Please note: Articles and other information included on this website are intended for the general interest of our readers, and are not intended to provide, and do not constitute, legal, financial, health or other advice. Gerber Life makes no claims, representations or warranties as to the accuracy, completeness or appropriateness of this general interest information for your particular circumstances. If you need legal, financial, health or other services, you should contact a duly licensed professional.

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