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How To Ask Friends and Family for Money for a Child's College Savings Plan

Mark Kantrowitz

May 12, 2011

In a Fastweb survey of high school and college students about preferred holiday gifts, more than half of the respondents said that they were hoping for money for college.

But asking for money is awkward. It feels like begging. Most people are uncomfortable asking for money, even for a good purpose.

Asking for gifts of money is taboo in the United States. Americans are taught as young children to think of it as tacky and vulgar. This is not necessarily so in other countries and cultures, where gifts of cash are often considered to be in good taste.

However, the need to save for college is becoming increasingly important as need-based grants fail to keep pace with increases in college costs. Some parents can’t save enough on their own. This is starting to break down the barriers against asking friends and family for help.

The only way to get a cash gift to a child’s college savings plan is to ask. If you don’t ask, you definitely won’t get anything.

There is no shame in asking. It is better for the child to get something of lasting value, like a college education, than to get a toy which will hold his or her interest for a short period of time before being abandoned. Children often have too many toys that just gather dust. Still, one shouldn’t cut out the material gifts entirely, especially with younger children who have not yet learned the benefits of delayed gratification. Parents should still provide a few token toys. (An added benefit of getting cash gifts is that gifts from the child’s parents won’t be upstaged by a rich relative.)

Contributions to the child’s college savings plan can substitute for tangible gifts at all of the usual gift-giving opportunities, such as birthdays, holidays, religious celebrations, graduation and other milestones. There are also new occasions for giving the gift of college, such as during the celebration of college savings month in September.

It is best to give people a choice between traditional material gifts and money. Some people prefer to give a material gift instead of money. Many people prefer to give money, because it is much easier and more convenient than shopping for a material gift that might not be appreciated anyway. If the occasion is one for which a gift registry is common, such as a baby shower, choose a gift registry that lets you list college savings cash as an option. Giving friends and family a choice of several options helps alleviate the awkwardness that comes with asking for money.

Another possibility is to give the giver a choice between making a donation to a tax deductible charity or contributing to the child’s college savings plan. Mentioning a charity makes the request for college savings cash seem less selfish.

If the child receives an unwanted material gift, his or her parents could return the present to the store for store credit. They can then use the store credit to buy something they need and contribute an equivalent amount of money to the child’s college savings plan. An unwanted gift can also be sold on eBay to raise money for the child’s college savings plan.


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