Fifteen years ago my cousin Michael passed away after a tragic airline accident. He was only 30 years old and had a bright future ahead of him. Over the years following my cousin’s death, my aunt and uncle searched for ways to honor Michael’s life. One of the ways they chose to recognize Michael’s contributions to the world was by establishing a 529 college savings account for both my daughter and my son. My aunt and uncle believed education was the one way Michael’s legacy could be carried on by giving my children the opportunity to follow their dreams and aspirations through a college education.
My aunt and uncle’s choice to celebrate Michael’s life through a 529 plan contribution was not based on maximizing investment returns in order to make a lot of money; it was a much deeper and meaningful decision. They simply wanted to ensure all the amazing experiences that were afforded to Michael because of his education were passed along to the next generation of our family. In fact, I remember Michael’s college graduation pretty vividly since it was the first I had ever attended. I recall thinking at the time, how cool it was that he achieved such a high level of education. That memory was left engraved in my mind and was something I circled back to when I needed a little motivation with my own studies.
Little did I know that 25 years after Michael’s graduation I would be in a profession focused on helping families prepare and save for their children’s college education. The memory of Michael and what my aunt and uncle did to honor his life is something I think about almost every day in marketing Washington’s Guaranteed Education Tuition (GET) college savings plan. So often in marketing investment products, we get caught up in focusing on the features and benefits of our products and we forget about why families are making the decision to save for a higher education.
In Simon Sinek’s TED Talk titled “Start with the Why” he discusses the fact that “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” Sinek focuses his discussion on the “why” section of our brains that controls our trust, loyalty and feelings. He says great leaders and great businesses put their energy into inspiring us. He refers to Dr. Martin Luther King Junior’s “I have a dream speech” and he says there is good reason why he did not call it “I have a plan speech” with a 30-point agenda. MLK was so successful because he got people to take ownership of his ideas and share them as their own original thoughts and beliefs. This is exactly what we are doing each day in the college savings industry; we are working tirelessly to inspire families to develop strategies for their children’s educational future.
In his book “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years,” author Don Miller asks the reader if a movie based on a guy who works his entire life to buy a Volvo would move a person to tears when he finally saves enough money to drive this luxury sedan off the lot. The answer of course is no; however, as he points out, this is how most people live their lives. In looking at our lives as a story, Miller says we can learn a lot about how to make life interesting and meaningful. And if you look at education and its role in our lives, it is the core plot of our life story. School is where we create lifelong friendships, establish our values, attain job and life skills, acquire mind-opening knowledge and explore the world around us through life-altering experiences. Education’s relevance in our lives is huge and 529 plans are at the heart of making these learning experiences possible.
We take the responsibility of educating families about the benefits of 529 plans very seriously because the impacts are far-reaching. The college savings industry is very different than other sectors of the economy where business leaders look for ways to reduce services and product offerings in order to maximize revenue and earnings. When it comes to 529 plans, the focus continues to be on how to improve, enhance and expand our services and customer benefits because the more we can help the next generation save and prepare for their future, the better off our society will be in the long-run.
Close to three years ago, my uncle who helped set up my children’s 529 plan passed away after a hard-fought battle with cancer. His passing was just another reminder about how short life can be and the importance of the precious time we share with family and friends. When it is all said and done, we can’t take anything with us and the only thing we can leave behind are experiences that live on as memories with those we love and the legacy of our kindness and compassion for helping others live a happy and consequential life. My uncle and my cousin succeeded in this mission and I believe it is my responsibility to help other families reach the same goals.
Written by Ryan Betz, Associate Director of GET Marketing & Communications