How to Pay for Your Kid’s College Without Affecting Your Retirement

Paying for our children’s college tuition may hamper our ability to save for retirement. Here, two mothers dish on how they managed to make it work.


I started college savings plans for both my children as soon as they were born. I was concerned about the rising cost of college tuition. The thought of possibly not having enough money to send them wherever they wanted to go when the time came, quite frankly, frightened me.

In 1998 I enrolled my son in a state-sponsored 529 plan called the Maryland Prepaid College Trust, nicknamed the Kiddie Fund. It’s backed by a legislative guarantee and can lock in future college tuition at today’s prices. It can be used at most colleges nationwide. I later decided to enroll my daughter, too, and eventually transferred her monies to the Maryland College Investment Plan. It’s a fund for education savings that is subject to market fluctuation— monies grow tax-deferred. Both offer tax benefits.

When deciding where they wanted to attend college, my kids were aware that cost was not a major factor. They knew that their father and I had properly planned for their higher education and they did not have to let costs drive their final decision. I am smiling these days not having to worry about where the next semester’s tuition payment is coming from.

—Kara King-Bess, 54, a CPA and vice-president of King, King and Associates, P.A., in Baltimore, one of the nation’s oldest African-American management consulting firms


“Set up 529 plans for the kids,” says financial planner Zaneilia Harris. “Get the entire family involved with contributing to them. Instead of receiving toys or the latest electronic gadget, have relatives assist with fund- ing the plans.” Also, utilize direct stock purchase pro- grams for your children. Establish them in your name and buy stock. For more information, go to investor/pubs/intro529.htm.


In our family, it was always a given that my daughter would seek higher education. But the thing that didn’t happen was planning for it financially. My husband and I had our daughter later in life, and the time just flew by. Before I knew it, we were visiting colleges.

She ended up selecting one of the most expensive schools in the country. It was $60,000 a year, and I had sticker shock! Because of my income, she didn’t qualify for a need-based scholarship, so we took out a small loan. She eventually transferred at the end of her sophomore year. She’s now at a state university that’s half the cost.

After my experience with my daughter, I knew there were other parents who might need help. So I came together with like-minded individuals to launch a crowdfunding platform called SCHOLARgifts. It’s simi- lar to Kickstarter, but allows people to donate monetary gifts for education purposes. For instance, my daugh- ter bought college textbooks with it. Some may use the contributions to finance study abroad or prepare for the SATs. The platform is free, and if you reach your goal, you’ll receive all the funds raised, minus a 5 percent administrative service fee. It’s a little more [8 percent] if you don’t, but you still get to keep all of the donations from your gifters. We launched in November 2013, and already, students are realizing their dreams.

—Nkechi Taifa, 60, an attorney in Washington, D.C., and a senior policy analyst with the Open Society Foundations


Look at scholarships and grants, says Harris. “Your child may have to put some skin in the game, too, by get- ting loans or going to a community college first” and then transferring to a four-year college after earning an associate’s degree. For more info, visit