Friends and family can be a good source of help paying for college, but students and parents may feel awkward asking for money. It is sometimes easier to ask a stranger for money than a relative, even though the relative may be more willing to give money. But there are a few approaches that are often effective.
On special occasions, such as birthdays, graduation and holidays, ask the gift-giver to give the gift of college instead of a toy. Describe the purpose of the gift in simple terms, without going into too much detail. Do not ask for a specific amount of money.
One approach is to mention the gift-giving preference on the invitation to a party celebrating the special occasion. For example, include a line like “Instead of giving <child’s name> a present, please consider making a contribution to his college savings plan” on the invitation. The embarrassment of asking for money can be mitigated by suggesting a contribution to a charitable organization as an alternative.
Some college savings plans offer gift certificates with a fancy card or have other programs to facilitate contributions to a 529 college savings plan. For example, Upromise has the UGift program to solicit gifts to a child’s 529 college savings plan.
Leaf College Savings sells personalized gift cards that the recipient (or the recipient’s parent) can redeem to contribute funds to any 529 college savings plan.
Older friends and family may be more receptive to giving a U.S. Savings Bond. A U.S. Savings Bond can be rolled over into a 529 college savings plan.
Another option is to return unopened presents to the store (or sell them on eBay) and contribute the proceeds to the child’s college savings plan or a worthwhile charity serving the needs of children and families.
Younger children should still receive some sort of tangible present, in addition to the gift of college. But the present can be inexpensive, such as a trinket from a gumball machine or a large empty cardboard box. It is important to tell the child about the gift to the college savings plan, since this establishes an expectation that the child will go to college, helping improve the child’s academic performance.
Don’t forget to have the child send a thank you note after receiving the gift.