THE BLOG
09/28/2015 10:56 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

One Year Closer to College: Don't Panic, Plan

As national College Savings Month nears its end, it couldn't hurt to quickly check with your state's 529 college savings program, or with a financial advisor, to identify and take advantage of any special incentives, educational sessions or contests that may still be underway.

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In addition to proclaiming September "College Savings Month," a wide variety of efforts were undertaken by states to raise awareness about the existence and usefulness of 529 plans and in some cases, to offer additional support or incentives to help families get started. Across the nation in many states, such as Utah, Nebraska and Rhode Island to name only a few, special initiatives have been well underway this month.

Looking Back

While I can't say I recall the very first time September was declared "College Savings Month," (It may have been in the early 2000s), I have no shortage of memories of other firsts from Septembers gone by. Those memories are reinforced by my collection of informal "first day of school" photos proudly taken by me, as well as by the "school portraits" that were taken each September, just weeks into the new school year.

One of my very favorites is my son's kindergarten photo, taken at age 5. Positioned at a small desk with arms folded confidently in front of him and with a sparkle in his eye and a slightly raised brow, I vividly remember thinking how grown up he looked in that photo the first time I saw it. I couldn't have realized then just how quickly subsequent Septembers would come -- and go, and how grown up he would actually be before I knew it.

This September

Fast forward 11 years and like so many other parents of high school students, especially those with juniors and seniors, it's hard to believe just how close to college our children actually are. As I stood with other class of 2017 parents outside of my son's high school college advising office (ironically, Room 529!), during a tour of our new school building last week, I observed comment after comment about just that: Where did the time go?

Along with informal conversations about a wide range of topics such as standardized testing (the new SAT versus old SAT versus the ACT), which Advanced Placement courses might be good to still consider, the topic of paying for college inevitably came up. Not unlike families across the nation, some parents seemed more comfortable than others with where they were in the savings process and all had the prospect of a big price tag top of mind.

This made me wonder whether middle and lower schools wouldn't also benefit from a "Room 529" of sorts, where not only could academic and career discussions be had in age-appropriate ways with students, but where the economic side of the planning process could be explored with parents long before college was so very near.

And Septembers to Come

For me, this month is bitter sweet as I know there will be just one more September during which I'll be able to snap my annual "first day of school" photo -- just one more before the college years for which I've been saving begin. I am reminded of a touching two-minute video by author Gretchen Rubin about parenting entitled, "The Days Are Long, But the Years Are Short."

Whatever the age of the children in your life, September (College Savings Month) provides a reminder that they are one year closer to college. It seems to be a fitting time to establish a savings plan if you already haven't, or to assess your progress if you already have. One thing is for certain -- the time will pass no matter what.

This post originally appeared on 9/24/15 on the College Savings Plans Network blog.