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How to help teens save for college

In a perfect world, everyone would begin savings for their children’s college education shortly after their babies come into the world. But in reality, that’s just not realistic. There’s a lot of life — and expenses — that happen before kids graduate high school and head off to college. Of course, the earlier you begin saving for college, the better. Getting teens involved in planning and saving for college expenses can help ease the financial demands on the whole family. Here’s how to get your teen involved in saving for college.

Establish Expectations Early

Many families wait until junior or senior year of high school to begin talking about college plans. That’s too late. Start talking with your teens during their freshman year of high school — or even during junior high — about what type of college experience they would like to have. Are they imagining Ivy League excellence? State school pride? Or perhaps they’ll be happy to stay close to home and start out at a community college. Their ultimate college goal will likely evolve as the years pass, so you’ll want to have this conversation more than once. The important thing is for kids to start thinking about what they want and how it lines up with what the family can afford.   Mom and teen daughter discuss saving for college

Encourage Excellence

If your child is gifted academically, athletically or musically, encourage them to use those skills and talents to their advantage by applying for scholarships. Millions of dollars in scholarship money go unclaimed every year, simply because eligible students don’t apply for it. Additionally, your family’s financial status may allow you to receive federal grant money, which does not need to be paid back (unlike student loans) so you’ll want to fill out FAFSA paperwork during your child’s senior year of high school even if you do not plan to utilize student loans.

Set a Savings Goal

It’s always easier to save money if you know the goal you’re trying to reach. Help your child set a realistic college savings goal and work toward it by working a part-time job and saving money they receive as birthday and holiday gifts. Make a deal on what you will pay for and what you expect your child to cover. For example, if you opt to pay for tuition and books, consider having your child responsible for paying for their own housing, meals and transportation. Read about some unexpected ways teens can earn money here.

Stay Motivated with a Savings Challenge

Saving doesn’t have to be boring or tedious. A savings challenge keeps things interesting and fun. Try the $5 challenge, where you save every $5 bill that comes into your possession. Or the 52-week challenge, where you start by saving just a dollar a week and increase  the amount by a dollar each week for a year. To really sweeten the pot, offer to match your teen dollar for dollar on the amount they save.

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