When Should You Start Saving For College?

When to save for college when your child is a toddler

When should you start saving for college?

I get it.  College feels far off into the future when you have a toddler at home. They need to be reminded to wash their hands after using the potty, and are forever getting peanut butter and jelly everywhere but their mouth. But before you know it, this busy time will transition and you’ll be packing their bags and sending them out of the house with entire jars of PB&J to fill their dorm shelves.

Hey there. My name is Sarah VanHoose, I’m a personal finance coach on a mission to help people be more intentional with their money by making a plan (often called a budget), and walking them through it with encouraging accountability. I’m guest blogging today to give you some variety and encouragement in these toddler years.  You will make it through!  My daughters are now 8 and 11 and I am missing those messy faces from time to time - but the independence with no more bath time is something to look forward to!

Okay, let’s talk about college.  If you were like most, you went to college.  You may or may not be working in a field directly relating to your study, and you quite likely took on student loan debt that took you longer to pay back than expected.  In fact, you could still be making those student loan payments.

And, if I’m still on a good guessing streak you likely don’t want that for your kiddo.  You’d rather them avoid the added stress and pressure of debt right out of college on their way to adulthood.

Back to the question at hand.  When should you start saving for college?  How much should you save?  Can you even afford it, especially if you’re still paying your own student loan debt?

Deep breath.

Let me give you some advice here that will give you a plan.

  1. Make sure you have an emergency fund first and foremost for your family. Accidents happen.  Emergencies come in all shapes and forms when you have a young family.  What should the amount be  $1,000 to start.
  2. Pay off your debt.  Friend, you’ve got to take care of messy stuff first before you can take care of the future.  Don’t get me wrong, I want you future focused - but the best way to do this is by resolving anything from the past first.
  3. Fully fund your emergency fund.  Pad that account up so that it reaches 3-6 months worth of your family's expenses.  That number is different for everyone, and the comfort level between 3-6 is totally variable based on your comfort level.
  4. If you don’t have a home of your own, this is the time.  Save up for a 20% down payment and don’t overextend yourself on the monthly payment - your goal is 25% of your monthly income for your payment.
  5. Retirement.  Yep, eventually you will want to retire - and yes, it will likely be after your kids are in college. So, why is this step before kids college?  Because you don’t want your kids to have to fund your retirement.  This is on you.  So, get your contributions started at 15% of your household income after your emergency fund is where you want it to be and you’re settled in your home.
  6. This is it!  Here we are! It’s time to save for your kids college future; this step is intended to be worked alongside your retirement contributions.  Up to 10% of your income should go towards college savings.  Not 10% per child, just 10% of your overall income towards college savings for your family.  That means the amount is variable.  You’ll do what you can.  You may not be able to cover it all - and that’s okay.


  • Consider asking grandparents and aunts and uncles to gift to a college savings account in lieu of 4 gifts and 6 outfits instead. 
  • You can open a no cost college savings account at any time, and it doesn’t have to be through your state’s educational fund - you can use another state’s fund that may have better return results.  Talk to an investment professional about your options.

You’re busy, I get it.  Managing your household, juggling a job, keeping the playdoh out of the carpet - the days are long and the tasks are plenty.  Money ‘stuff’ doesn’t always take a priority and sometimes stresses you out.

If you’d like tips, tricks, and strategies on handling your money best then check out my website or find me on Instagram. 

You can get my free savings guide including 65 Ways to Save here; 


About the Author:

Sarah VanHoose_Journey to Influence

Sarah VanHoose is focused on helping families stress less about their money by making a plan and walking through it with encouraging accountability through her online coaching business, Journey to Influence. As a trained Ramsey Preferred Finance Coach she makes money stuff simple and easy to understand - going back to the basics. Sarah’s background is as a leader in a large healthcare organization. She and her husband James and two daughters live in Portland, OR. 

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