Retirement or College Funding: Which Comes First?

Retirement or College Funding: Which Comes First?

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If you’re working your way out of debt, one of the most difficult issues you might face is how to prioritize college savings and retirement.
If you’re like most parents, you’ll phrase the question this way: What is more important—my own security at retirement or my child’s education and future? There’s a lot of emotion wrapped up in that question, which makes it easy to come to the wrong conclusion.

Lately, a lot of parents have done just that by deciding college savings should come first, and they’re dipping into their retirement savings to cover the costs.

Stealing From Your Future

According to a recent Sallie Mae and Gallup study, 7% of parents took money out of their retirement accounts to pay for their kids’ college in 2014, which is up from 5% in 2013. And that’s not the only upward trend. The average amount withdrawn grew from $2,700 in 2013 to nearly $9,000 last year! It’s an alarming development—one based on fear and guilt.

Listen, we get it. The amount of money you’ve managed to save for your kids’ college is no measure of your desire to see them graduate from the school of their dreams. But no matter how much you want to help your kids financially during their college years, you need to be realistic about how you’ll do that and save for your own future needs.


Why Retirement Comes First

In the Baby Steps, Dave gives retirement priority over college savings for a reason. You’ll depend on your retirement savings to live, eat, and pay for shelter—the basics. If you’re not working, that money is your only source of income.

Saving for college is extremely important, but it’s a luxury. Your child will have other ways to pay—scholarships, grants, part-time jobs. They can select a more affordable school. Pay for your child’s college if you can, but remember that it’s not as important as retirement.

Retirement is a necessity. If you don’t have retirement money saved up, then you’re working until you die or you’re living on Alpo. Get to a place financially where you can start putting 15% of your income toward retirement first, then begin working on an ESA or 529 for your kids’ college.

Don’t guilt-trip yourself into doing something you’ll regret in a few years, like taking money out of your retirement. Your child will be okay—with or without your help. This isn’t child abuse. It’s wise parenting.
Remember: College is a luxury. Living, eating, and having shelter during retirement is a necessity.

What do you think about saving for retirement and college?