Save for Retirement or Pay for Child Education?

As a parent, it’s natural to want to prioritize your children’s future over your own, but when it comes to saving for the future, you also want to be sure you have enough to reach your retirement goals.

While a college fund might feel more urgent, and the amount needed more concrete, you should determine whether a well-funded retirement plan would also be beneficial to your entire family. Here are a few considerations to take into account as you plan for both your retirement and your child’s education.

Consider How You’ll Fund Your Retirement

Unlike college, there are no loans available for retirement. “Parents should be knowledgeable about their retirement needs and then set savings goals to achieve them,” says Philip Taylor, CPA, author and founder of PT Money. A vast number of people underestimate how many years of retirement they will need to fund, and as a result, risk running out of money in their golden years. Though there is no magic number, you’ll likely want to save 10 to 15 percent of your annual income for retirement, starting in your twenties, as it may need to last you 35 or more years. You can use the Regions retirement calculator to get a personalized assessment of your retirement needs.

If your retirement savings fall short, you may end up working more years than you planned, taking on a part-time job later in life, or asking your children for help. Your dependence may create more of a burden on your adult children than college loans when they are young adults just out of school. When you are retired, your children may have families of their own to support and not have the capacity to financially care for an aging parent.

If you can’t support yourself, you can’t support your kids. But if you end up saving well for retirement, you may be able to help your adult children in unexpected ways.

Look for Alternative Ways to Pay for College

The cost of college can be overwhelming, but there are ways to help fund an education. If you don’t have a college fund when your child heads off to school, he or she won’t necessarily need to take out loans.

By completing a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), you may find your child is eligible for need-based grants and work-study opportunities as well as federal loans.

Additionally, a wealth of private scholarships is available through many sources. The scholarship search process requires a great deal of research but can pay off greatly. Learn more about how to afford college through the help of scholarships.

If your child needs to borrow money for college, some federal loans come with an initial deferment period that offers a payment reprieve while graduates look for a job. Once your child is gainfully employed, there may be opportunities to consolidate multiple loans into a single loan with a lower interest rate, making monthly payments manageable.

Saving for Both Retirement and College

You can start small with your retirement savings by contributing to an employer sponsored 401(k). Ask if your company offers an employee match on contributions, and try to contribute up to the maximum match amount so you don’t miss out on the money your employer offers. If you have room in the budget to save even more, then save up to the IRS contribution limits.

In the same way, you can start small with your child’s education savings. The key is to start as early as possible. “I recommend getting started with $25 a month from the time they are born and making that automatic,” says Taylor. “You won’t miss $25 each month, and by the time they are 18, that contribution will turn into approximately $10,000, assuming a 6.5 percent return. That’s a strong head start for your kids’ education needs.”

Contributing a small amount over time to a tax-advantaged college savings vehicle, like a 529 plan, can end up being a significant amount when your child is ready to use it. If you prefer a fund that is flexible, in case your child decides on an alternative to college or in case you need it for retirement, a Roth IRA is also an option.

A financial professional can also give you retirement planning tips that help you find the best way to save for your family’s needs. Knowing what to expect with long-term care expenses can help you decide how much to set aside for your retirement each month as well as how much you can put into a college fund, ensuring a bright future for both you and your children.


This information is general in nature and is not intended to be legal, tax, or financial advice. Although Regions believes this information to be accurate, it cannot ensure that it will remain up to date. Statements or opinions of individuals referenced herein are their own—not Regions'. Consult an appropriate professional concerning your specific situation and for current tax rules. Regions, the Regions logo, and the LifeGreen bike are registered trademarks of Regions Bank. The LifeGreen color is a trademark of Regions Bank.