How to look forward as your kids head back to school


In my house, the back-to-school season feels a lot like the holiday season. There is energy in the air! Our daughter and son look forward to reuniting with their friends and meeting their new teachers, and my husband and I look forward to a more consistent home routine.

Although we are all excited, we also feel a little anxious. The idea of ​​balancing new expectations, homework and sports activities can seem overwhelming. Pay attention to the checklist—This is one of my favorite ways to stay calm in the midst of the chaos.

The list I made this year (see below) provides practical tips for staying organized and planning for the future. I also hope it provides validation so you know you’re not the only one who dreads the back-to-school aisle at Target!

Even if your kids are too young to go to school this year, keep this list in mind. It is never too early to establish positive habits, including saving for the future.

Now: Before school starts

These tasks are focused on keeping our family organized. I want to establish good family habits now so that we are prepared to handle everyone’s busy schedules and various responsibilities in high school and beyond.

  • Find out where everyone needs to be—and at what time. Work backwards to figure out what time each family member needs to wake up and head out the door.
  • Make sure kids have everything they need for the school year, from lunch boxes to 3-ring binders.
  • Make sure kids know their own schedule – from bus routines to special walks like music and art.
  • Establish a place to keep school work, assignments, and supplies (to help homework go smoothly).
  • Keep the family calendar in a central location. Track vacation days, holidays, vacations, extra-curricular activities, work trips, etc. We as a family dedicate an hour each weekend to review the upcoming week.
  • Agree on some schoolwork “best practices” and family responsibilities. For example, my daughter agrees to complete her homework and chores before spending time on the screen.

After: year-round

Like most parents, we think about money all year long—for better or for worse. But by the end of the summer, when we’re surrounded by middle school crap and ads about dorm room inevitability, we really start to evaluate how much we’re saving for education. Our top priority is investing for retirement, but it’s not our only priority. We also want to build a solid emergency fund and be able to contribute to our kids’ college savings accounts.

The checklist also helps us to plan our family financial goals. (For expert help identifying your goals and making a plan to achieve them, consider financial advice.)

pay off debt

  • Pay off high-interest, short-term debt that isn’t tax-deductible (credit cards or furniture or car loans).

save for emergencies

  • Save $2,000 or more in cash emergency fund.
  • You can easily get enough liquid savings-money to cover living expenses for 3 to 6 months. This can be money invested for long-term goals in your non-retirement accounts or Roth IRA contributions.
  • Save another month’s worth of living expenses in Liquid Savings as an additional buffer.

save for education

Education Savings-Last But Not Least

As parents, we have many preferences to juggle, both financially and otherwise, and saving for education is certainly an important one. According to How America pays for college 2021, 58% of households—the highest percentage in the past 14 years—have a plan to pay for college.*

Save and get more in Vanguard 529 plan.

When it comes to learning, our children naturally play the long game: studying shapes today and geometry tomorrow. We take a similar approach with education savings. What we can do is save, celebrate small wins along the way (like enrolling in automatic investing), and think long term.

While it’s hard for me to believe, my daughter will be ready for college in 7 years. If we save $60 a month for the next 7 years, we’ll have more than $5,000 in savings—and that’s not even factoring in any investment returns. This money can cover half the cost of annual tuition at a public, 4-year in-state college or over 4 years of books and supplies.**

If the idea of ​​saving is overwhelming or you fear losing your investment momentum during the year, consider the following tips to boost your savings:

  • invest automatically. Most 529 plans, including The Vanguard 529 Plan, offer this convenient feature.
  • If you invest in a 529 plan, use ugift To invite friends and family to contribute to your child’s 529 account for holidays, birthdays and special events.
  • Divide and conquer your savings goals: Take the amount you want to spend on your child for the holidays or birthday, and divide it by 3. Now spend two-thirds of that amount on gifts and one-third for their education.
  • Plan to invest a percentage of any bonuses or tax returns you get for education.

you have this

Back-to-school season can bring feelings of excitement and euphoria, as well as stress and anxiety. Being organized and prepared can help you stay calm so you can navigate today’s challenges (finding the perfect outfit for the first day of school) while preparing for tomorrow (paying the tuition bill).

*Source: Sally Mae, How America pays for college 2021.

**Source: College Board, Trends in College Pricing and Student Aid. Public 4-year school, in-state tuition and fees cost $10,560 per year. The average full-time, on-campus graduate in a 4-year school is estimated to spend $1,240 on books and supplies during the 2019-2020 academic year.

All investments are subject to risk, including the potential loss of the money you have invested.

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