How to Save for College as a Single Parent


Single parent? Me too, but that’s not stopping me from saving for my kids’ college.

In fact, my plan is to help my kids not have to take out any student loans at all. Between college savings, scholarships, grants and their part time income, I think we will come out just about right. ((Keeping fingers crossed.))  If they have to take out a student loan, hopefully it won’t be until their last year and a small amount.

Single parents can save for college for their children too. Here are strategies I've used to help my children avoid student debt. Read this!

Why Bother Saving?

Too often, single parents don’t even consider saving for college. They make two bad assumptions. They assume their student will earn enough scholarships to pay for college and that they’re unable to save money anyway.

Sorry to burst your bubble, but odds are your kid won’t earn a full ride scholarship. They might earn a scholarship, but it probably won’t cover ALL of their tuition, fees, books, room and board.

Of the 7 million high school athletes graduating every year, there are only enough college roster spots for 2% of them. Only 1% get full ride scholarships to Division I schools. Of all the students (not just athletes) enrolled in four year colleges only .3%  (not 3% but .3%)  receive enough scholarships and grants, including need based federal grants, to cover the full cost of attendance.

single parent save money for college

This won’t mean a free ride.

Sobering news, isn’t it? This means if your child is going to attend college they’re most likely going to have to pay for a lot of it. If savings doesn’t cover what remains after scholarships and grants, it’ll be student loans for them.

But maybe you can save and help them avoid that or at least minimize the damage. Here’s how.

Set Up a 529 Savings Plan for College

Now. The sooner the better. With a 529, time is on your side as you earn much higher interest than a regular savings account. Mine has averaged about 8%. As long as the money is used for qualified higher education expenses, that interest is tax free.

A 529 can pay for tuition, fees, books and supplies required for classes, room and board and even a computer for school use. It can be used for public and private colleges and universities as well as vocational schools as long as they are accredited.

You can set up a 529 yourself, but if you’re not real comfortable with financial matters, I’d recommend working with a financial advisor. They should explain everything to you.

single parent save money for college

Set up the 529 in your name and list your child as the beneficiary. Set up an account for each of your children. You can change beneficiaries if one decides not to go to college. You could transfer it to another sibling, relative or even use it yourself if you decide to go back to school. If you take it out to use for something other than higher education, however, that interest will be taxed plus there will be a 10% penalty.

You’ll also want to ask your financial advisor how it may or may not affect your child’s eligibility for financial aid. This will depend on your income level. Typically a 529 is considered an asset. However, if you qualify for certain federal programs based on income, such as the free and reduced lunch program, your assets are not counted.

Of course, the rules could always change by the time your child is ready for college. I think the safe thing to do is to save money yourself and don’t assume they’ll be able to qualify for anything.

Live on Less, Make More

Saving for anything really boils down to two things. Increasing your income and decreasing your spending. You could do just one, but it’s far more efficient to work on making more money while also reducing your spending.

If you need ideas for generating more income check out Retirement Side Hustles for Extra Money and 17 Ways to Make Extra Cash for the Holidays. They aren’t just for retirees or around the holidays. You can use the money to contribute to the 529.


Deposit Child Support into the 529

Here’s a great way to build your 529 and the strategy I personally used. If you live on just your income, any child support you receive can go into the 529. This can be a huge help. The trick is not depending on the child support to pay the bills by living well below your means.

I could have used the child support to help pay bills and groceries. I could have always bought brand new, more expensive clothes and shoes for my kids. They could have had nicer toys and video games if I would have spent the child support. But I didn’t. Instead, we lived frugally on just my income so that money could be saved for their future education.

I can almost guarantee when your child is 18 they will appreciate the money being able to help them go to college much more than the expensive clothes and toys growing up. An education is far, far more important than name brand clothes and the latest video game. They may not understand or like it when they’re young, but they will appreciate it when it comes time for college and you can actually help them.

You CAN Help with College

single parent save money for college

Of course, not everyone receives child support or it might not be consistent. I didn’t always myself, which is how I knew I didn’t really need to spend it when I did. I knew we could survive on just my income, so the extra was easy to direct straight to the 529 accounts.

You can still employ other strategies to increase your income and decrease spending even if you never receive child support. The point is, don’t fall into the trap of thinking just because you’re a single parent you can’t afford to save for college. Something is better than nothing and I’m sure your kids will appreciate your help in the future.

Comment below and let me know your plans for your kids’ college.


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