Soon after having their first child, new parents are often faced with an important financial decision: save for their retirement or put money in a college fund for their kid?
In an ideal world, parents would easily be able to comfortably do both.
ATTN: reached out to parents to see how they're handling the conflicting priorities of retirement and college savings - their responses were spot on.
If parents don't save for their retirement, their standard of living in old age will be lowered - but if they don't save for college, their kids could be saddled with crushing debt.
On the surface, it seems like college would be the right choice, since it's the need that comes first, and young parents theoretically have many more years before they retire.
However, most experts believe saving for retirement is more important than college, and, generally speaking, parents shouldn't use their retirement savings to pay for college. "I drive parents to think of themselves first — it's the greatest gift they can give their kids," Lazetta Braxton, a certified financial planner, told CNBC.
Check out what parents told ATTN: about how they're prioritizing where to allocate their savings:
- "We started with [the kids'] funds based on my own experiences with student loan debt and a pretty strong retirement plan through my work," Wisconsin dad Chris Last told ATTN:. "We're supplementing both now with extra investment funds to make the future as affordable as possible."
- Dad Ambrose Cohen is saving for both. "Unless something changes dramatically," he told ATTN:, "student loans seem to be a way of life for most of us."
- Ken Darling told ATTN; that he and his wife are trying to do both, as well. "We are both putting money in to a 401k, and putting some money aside each week for college. I want my daughter to take advantage of any opportunity presented to her with out having to worry about affording it," Darling explained.
- "We're doing retirement first. We pay a mortgage worth of student loan debt between the two of us," mom Jen Lynn told ATTN:.
- "We started retirement plans with our first corporate jobs before we got married. We had kids nine years later and started 529s," dad Erin Hutton told ATTN:. "We have a freshman in high school now, and he should have enough for state school or community college-state combo. If he wants to go to a fancy grad school he's on his own!"
- Jete White, who is saving for retirement and still putting $50 a month in a 529 plan for his daughter, told ATTN: that his daughter "can always get a loan for college, but the thought of eating dog food in our 70s and 80s is not something that appeals to us."
Money saved earlier has much more time to grow.
The most popular college savings vehicle, the 529 plan, which is a a tax-advantaged savings plan for future college costs, has a number of pitfalls that doesn't make it an appropriate vehicle for every parent.
Experts stress that while students can take out loans or be awarded grants or scholarships to fund their college education, parents can't do the same for retirement. "It’s exceptionally challenging to create an income stream to last [decades]," Nancy Anderson wrote on Forbes. "College expenses last only four years and often come during a parent’s highest-earning years."
Any decision parents make should involve consulting a financial professional, and should be made with the best interests of everyone in the family.