Why it’s never too early to start saving for your child’s education

Carolann Courtney and Brian O’Malley wanted to save for their family’s education for years. As so often happens, life got in the way. This article is an Irish Times Content Studio production.

“We had great intentions, but the reality is, you need to get nappies,” says Brian, a geographic information system (GIS) manager for National Broadband Ireland. His partner Carolann is an arts co-ordinator for Create, the national development agency for collaborative arts.

The couple lives in Drimnagh with daughters Sadie Rose (10) and Kitty (5). “We always wanted to save for their education, to have money for them to go to college. Our plan was to put at least the child benefit away, but we didn’t manage to do it for years,” says Carolann.

It’s understandable. “When Sadie Rose was born, we were trying to save for a house. There were more places the money needed to go at the time,” explains Brian.

The pandemic gave the couple time to really think about their financial goals.

As it happened, education wasn’t the only thing on their mind. As parents they were increasingly conscious of the importance of life assurance too, to protect their family in the event of the untimely death of either parent.

“It was a question of priorities, and we knew we needed to take decisive action, one of which was life assurance and the other was a long-term savings plan for the girls’ education. Sadie Rose was already starting to think ahead about what she wants to be when she grows up,” she adds.

Family life happens at pace. “All of a sudden she’s going into fourth class, and pretty soon she’ll be making the move to secondary school, when all the talk is about exams and the whole conversation is about what they need to do now in preparation for what they want to do next,” says Carolann.

As parents planning to support their children’s ambitions, it was a conversation they were having too – what they needed to save now, in order to pay for what their daughters might want to do next.

“It’s really important for us that both our daughters grow up with that expectation to go to college,” she explains.

On course for college

Both Carolann and Brian believe they benefited enormously from their qualifications and their time at third level. It’s a privilege neither of them takes for granted.

“I was the first in my family to go to college,” says Carolann. “To me education is a silver bullet, an enabler. I studied fine art and loved my time in college. I found my best friends in that space and I learned that, for some families, visiting galleries wasn’t something you did on school tours, but something people did recreationally. To me education is the great leveller-up for everybody,” she says.

Though Carolann describes Brian as a good saver, he prefers to call himself “a bad spender”, and with reason. “I grew up poor. We consistently had no money, to the point that sometimes we couldn’t afford electricity,” he explains.

“Both Carolann and I really benefited from no fees for college when it came in. I studied history and economics and got into tech later, and I think I’m the better for it. For me education is about the opportunities it provides, the gateway it opens to things in life. It doesn’t even matter what you get your degree in, it’s the fact that you go to university. It’s the same basis on which you pick the primary and secondary schools you send your children to - it’s about raising their expectations.”

Access to third level is a topic about which the couple feels very strongly.

“Education allows you to become a thinker, as opposed to a repeater of facts for a test. It creates a space for you to find out what you think about the world, and with that comes the grit to confidently say who I am and what I need,” she says.

Encouraging their children to raise their educational aim is only part of what the couple feels is their duty, the other is helping support them financially when they get there.

“For us it’s about creating the ecosystem around them so that they can flourish, and part of that is to have a solid pot of money to pull from when the time comes, so they don’t see us worrying about it,” says Carolann.

Future planning

When they were ready, the couple talked to financial advisors and investment companies directly, to find the savings product that would suit them best.

They chose a long-term plan with an eight-year minimum term because the credit union was just too handy to pop into. “When we were dependent solely on me to try and transfer money into savings each month, something would always come up, like someone needing new shoes,” explains Carolann.

Since starting the savings policy the couple have successfully put money away each month.

At the moment the couple’s child benefit goes in every month, a minimum of €300. “But what we like about the product is that we can top it up if we get a pay rise or bonus,” adds Carolann.

The family has had to make sacrifices to do this. “Impulse spending has stopped and buying for the sake of buying has stopped. The number of takeaways and dinners out has fallen off,” she says.

One thing they won’t be sacrificing is the family holiday. “Holidays are too important to us. Like education, travel broadens the mind and for us to have time off with the girls is really important. Also, it’s important to us to show the kids that you can save, and still have what you want as well as what you need. After all, life is for living,” she adds.

“We’re lucky enough to be able to do both,” agrees Brian.

Carolann’s only regret is that “we didn’t start this sooner,” she says. “I know it’s never too late to think about your children’s welfare and future, and that guilt that comes as part and parcel of being a mother, but it really is nice to know that there will be enough money for a three-year undergrad for both of them when the time comes.”

A great education is the best possible start in life and for most parents ensuring they can provide for their children’s education, from primary school right through to third level, is crucially important.

Our Cost of Secondary School Calculator and our Cost of College Education Calculator are useful tools that help you work out how much you need to save to cover the costs of putting children through secondary school and college.

With a Zurich Regular Savings plan you can gradually build up the funds necessary to support your children’s education and future.

Carolann Courtney and Brian O’Malley were paid a gratuity for their time and contribution to this article.

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