Oh, how the morning hush was deafening. The sun, hiding just beyond the rolling crests of the evergreen laden hills, cast a yellowy pink glow across the horizon. The fog crept eerily between the trees and through the thicket, dancing atop the mirrored surface of ponds. Ducks cut their way through the glass-still surface in silent patrols, bringing what appeared to be the only motion to the morning. Silently, I observed my small world, sitting in the back seat of my mother's car, bound for school in a small suburb some forty minutes from Portland. I was just a boy and this was my world.
As far as I was concerned at the time, there was very little beyond this to worry about. To be frank, “worry” was not really a problem I had. My future was only a concern as far out as a few hours at best. What else was there to worry about? I was the oldest son, of two, in a family of lower-middle-class parents struggling to make their way. I just didn't know it. They did – of course – as all parents do. Ignorance is bliss, though, and I was happy. Looking back now as a parent of three (going on four), I understand keeping things from your children.
This year, this month, just two short weeks ago, I experienced something I never considered having to think about. My oldest son's first day of school. “Will he make friends? Will someone make fun of his birthmark? How will that make him feel? Will he keep up with the others?” So many questions. So much stress. It seemed that our calendar was struck by a hurricane, as numerous plans and activities we normally squeeze in were wiped off the board. We were now anchored to parent teacher meetings and limitations on days he could even be out of school. As our family travels constantly, this was a bit of a blow. I did my best to take it in stride, though, as I knew we were investing in his future.
Thoughts started to sprout in my mind, as numerous and vexing at times as weeds in a garden. Not only was time suddenly a major factor and currency to be traded and saved, but we had less figurative investments to consider on the part of our kids' educations. It was not all about pens, rulers, and backpacks as we once thought. No. Now an obelisk – looming darkly and unsettlingly near the end of this path of their public schooling – leered down on us.
What are we going to do about college?
When I was growing up, my father simply dealt with this problem by telling me – and reaffirming constantly – that I would pay for my own college education through sports. Fortunately for me, he was right. My brother’s path was a bit less predictable, and he went the route of community college. Chelsea and I both agree that diversifying options for our boys is the best idea. Coincidentally, September also happened to be College Savings Month so we saw messaging all over the place and had some serious conversations at the dinner table.
Our 1-2-3 to Savings
Know what you are saving for. Sometimes this is meticulously specific and sometimes this is more of an amoeba-like concept. Just know where you are headed. In some cases, this might be “get them to Harvard Law” and in others “have money to help them pay for books.” Think through what you and your kids need, and come up with a goal. That’s when you can start to develop a plan and look into options. This is when you will start to see the path.
Knowing what you want is a great start. Knowing yourself? That’s the difficult next step. In order to traverse the path to saving, you must know your own habits and – in some cases – faults. I am pragmatic, yet spontaneous. After my mind finally decides what I want, there is almost no waiting period for me when it comes to getting it. Chelsea is frugal and much more patient. Knowing this helps us find a middle ground and also helps us stay on-track. Our solution lies in knowing and agreeing on our “needs” vs “wants.” We also recognize a natural need to splurge on ourselves on rare occasions (to maintain sanity, frankly) but we make sure we do it sparingly and when it really proves to be worthwhile. We set our boundaries with a bit of wiggle room and move forward. Also, put some effort into looking for great deals and exercise patience surrounding larger purchases. It pays off.
Find ways to save. Part of this is working out a set amount to put away on a regular basis. Chelsea, being a creative out-of-the-box thinker, has found our family interesting ways to put money away while at the same time satisfying our own wants. One of the ways we save is through smart spending with our sponsor Upromise. Upromise is free to join and easy to use. It’s a smart way to save for things like college, mortgage, retirement and more with cash back on stuff we buy every day. Made possible by partnerships with a HUGE variety of retailers, it helps you save by registering your credit card and automatically giving you up to 5% back for shopping online, going out to eat, booking travel, and more. Upromise introduced their own Upromise Mastercard that gives members even more ways to earn with up to an ADDITIONAL 5% cash back on eligible purchases. This is a great way to automatically divert money into a college savings for the boys as we go about our daily lives. It’s almost like extra credit savings without even thinking about it.
The concerns of the future are a reality for me. Planning and responsibility is a burden we bear as parents. Fortunately, the ride to school can still just be a ride, with nothing but ducks and fog to ponder for our sons.
Thank you to Upromise for kindly sponsoring this post. All opinions are 100% honest & completely my own.