When I was in college, I wanted to get my niece a gift for Christmas. The only problem? My budget was extremely low.
So, instead of heading out to the local mall (this was almost 15 years ago), I signed her up for a program that allows you to earn cash back and put it toward college tuition. UPromise sounded like an amazing opportunity, and since my niece was only a few years old at the time, I knew that the money could grow over the years into something meaningful.
My niece is now 18, and the account only ever gained $184, which will likely cover just two textbooks for one of her eight semesters of college. But what came out of this experience is even more valuable than the $184 — learning that college is easier to pay for when you involve your child in the process.
Here are three strategies you can use to include your child in the discussion about paying for college.
Strategy #1: Set Up Money Expectations
You’ll want to open a college savings account for your child as soon as you can. But on top of that? Make sure you set up some college money expectations.
I always tell parents they should have a skim-off-the-top household savings rule. This means that for any money your child receives over the years — from grandparents, for birthdays, Christmas, working, etc. — they must skim a percentage of it off the top and put it into their college savings.
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Strategy #2: Give them a Weekend Job Finding Scholarships
I once interviewed Linsey Knerl about her 529 college savings plan strategy for each of her six kids. Her 11-year old son had just won a $1,000 scholarship that was going straight into his 529 plan. I also found out that she routinely had her kids apply for scholarships and contests to earn money.
This made me think: What if you gave your child a weekend job of searching and applying for scholarships from an early age?
You could set it up like this:
• Set up a work schedule of 2-3 hours per weekend
• Give them base pay as an incentive to keep things going
• Provide a small match on scholarships won that will go directly into their 529 or other college savings account
Strategy #3: Bring them to Financial Planner/Counselor Meetings
Can’t afford college on your own and you’re feeling uneasy about telling your kids? Or worse, you’ve told them, and they’re having tantrums? I want you to schedule a meeting with a college financial counselor, as well as your financial planner. But here’s the twist: Bring your child along with you.
They can hear about the realities of paying for college through someone else, which will take the heat off of you. Not only that, but a planner/counselor can reiterate the importance of keeping their grades up in order to be eligible for scholarships — something they’re likely tired of hearing about from you (but is super important).
Use the three strategies above to not only include your child in the process of paying for college but to also incentivize them to do their best in helping to pay their way.
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