On Sunday, May 31, we will be closing out our 17th enrollment year here at GET. This time of year is always so encouraging, as we see thousands of families making the decision to take action and get started, saving their way to a bright future for their children. If you’ve been thinking about starting your child’s college savings, but just haven’t been able to get to it yet, now is a great opportunity to take the plunge.
The good news is that once you take that first step and get started, the rest becomes easier. The key is to make the act of putting money away for college a habit. I recently read a book called The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg, that I found to be quite powerful (no pun intended). As Duhigg puts it: “Most of the choices we make each day may feel like the products of well-considered decision making, but they’re not. They’re habits.” The three main elements of a habit are: a cue that triggers action, a routine response to that cue, and a reward for that particular course of action. It’s a cyclical process that feeds itself, which is why, for good or bad, habits are very difficult to break.
Now let’s have a look at how we can apply this framework to college savings specifically. The cue could be anything from seeing the rising cost of college, or talking with your kids about what they want to be when they grow up. The reward can be immediate: seeing your college savings account grow; or far out into the future: imagining your children’s long term success and happiness, or knowing they won’t be saddled with mountains of student loan debt. Of course, the hardest part to get going is all that work in the middle – the routine. For maximum success, many families find it helpful to make regularly scheduled contributions to their accounts. This can be in the form of monthly payment plans, or making bigger deposits at the same milestones each year (birthdays, holidays, the end of a school year, etc.). Of course, every family has a different routine that works for them, but the key is to find a routine that is predictable so that it becomes second nature.
Duhigg’s concepts are simple, yet profound. If we take the time to understand what drives us and fully commit ourselves to creating new habits that will help us reach our goals, we can make big impacts. College savings is no exception. It’s not an easy undertaking, but once you start, establish a routine, and keep your rewards in sight, your college savings plan will be a force to be reckoned with. So, with this year’s enrollment deadline around the corner, we encourage you to heed Smashmouth’s advice from the song, Walking on the Sun: “Don’t delay, act now!” But don’t worry, supplies are not running out – there’s plenty of GET to go around. It’s easy to enroll online at www.get.wa.gov.
Written by Lucas Minor