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One Alliant member’s money-smart plan to pay for college

parents sit in the living room with their 3 kids making plans to pay for college
July 27, 2017

By Maggie Jenkins

In celebration of those who make smart financial choices, Alliant recently held a nationwide contest in which we asked folks to tell us about their smartest financial decision and how it impacted their lives for a chance to win $5,000.

We received more than 4,000 submissions (wow!), which means there are a whole lot of you smart money mavens out there. We’ll be featuring some of the savviest financial moves on the Money Mentor blog over the next few weeks, but for now, let’s talk about our grand prize winner, Maureen Becker.

First, check out Maureen’s contest-winning entry: 

“I think the smartest decision we have made with our money has been taking the time to understand how to prepare for the expense of college. As a low income family, we knew that we should qualify for some state and federal aid but we didn't know how much. We took an online course about cutting the cost of college, we bought a book on how to accurately file the FAFSA (first we had to even learn what the FAFSA was!), and we took the time to really learn about the various college loan options and how they would impact our children.

Because we took the time to understand how aid is determined, how to file our FAFSA accurately, and determined which colleges we could afford before we applied, each child knows as they enter their freshman year of college what we are able to contribute to their 4 years, what aid they will likely receive from their university, what aid they will likely qualify for based on our assets and income, and which loans would make the most sense for them if needed. This has motivated them to budget, spend wisely and not live in fear and anxiety about money because they have a plan. Most importantly, they deeply value their college experience and education because they have had a large role in preparing for it.”

Maureen and her husband, John, have four children – ages 12, 15, 17 and 19 – and currently live in the San Francisco area. Maureen grew up in Chicago, and her parents worked for United Airlines, so she joined Alliant when she was a teenager. Her kids, however, have been Alliant members since birth – “as soon as they had a social security number, they had an account”– because that’s when the Beckers began planning for college.

“College was a really transformative experience for me, and I wanted that option for my children,” Maureen said. “We work for a charity, so we are a low-income family. We knew if we wanted this for our children, we’d need to start early, we’d need to be wise, and we’d need the kids to have skin in the game because there’s too many of them to fully fund college for each of them on our own.”

In addition to the actions Maureen described in her contest entry, the Becker family took other small steps to prepare for their children’s education. For example, for Christmas and birthdays, rather than toys or clothes, they would ask for money for the kids’ college savings (and maybe one small gift). 

“The kids could see their bank accounts growing at Christmas and birthdays, and it was really rewarding,” Maureen said.

Maureen, whose oldest daughter is entering her second year at the University of California-Davis, thinks one of the most important things families can do to financially prepare for college is to set realistic expectations and to keep everyone involved in the plan.

“It’s important to really know what you can afford as a family and for your child to have financial responsibility because keeping kids involved raises financially wise adults,” Maureen said. “Plus, if we’re all working from the same information, it brings peace to your relationships and to your life. There are enough other things to worry about in college. We really value that college experience and we wanted that to take prominence, not financial worry.”

Maureen’s dedication to ensuring her children receive a college education is ultimately what prompted her to enter Alliant’s contest.

“I probably have never entered a contest in my life. But when I saw what this was about, I just thought, ‘I feel really passionate about the decisions we made about college and the time we spent investigating how we can pay for college,’” Maureen said. “I was actually on a trip to Chicago looking at a college with my daughter when we found out we won. We couldn’t believe it.”

So, what about the $5,000 that Maureen won from Alliant’s smartest financial decision contest? Well, you can probably guess what the Becker family is doing with it.

“We’ve given 10 percent to charity – because that’s what our family does – and we’ve decided that the rest is going to go toward college, which isn’t a surprise,” Maureen said.

Maggie Jenkins is the PR and Social Media Specialist at Alliant. She began her career as a journalist for newspapers in Utica, N.Y., Des Moines and Cincinnati before moving to Chicago in 2009. Maggie is a six-time Chicago Marathon finisher and a lifelong creative writer with a passion for comedy. Her mom instilled in her a great sense of fiscal responsibility, and her big sister told her to throw that responsibility out the window every once in a while in the name of life experience. So far, that combination of financial advice has worked out pretty well for her.

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