It's never too early to begin thinking about the cost of higher education. While secondary school may bring its own unexpected costs, university can be a challenging and different experience altogether. In addition to the ever-rising cost of tuition, if your child intends to move away to attend university, they'll have to manage housing and food costs along with the many extra expenses of living independently.
What kinds of costs are involved?
In 2010, the cost of a three year degree course was £43,329 and this figure doesn't include cost of living. While tuition fees were capped at £3000 a year, recent changes to legislation now allow universities to charge up to £9000. Living expenses and unexpected costs only add to that. If you are new parents, or even expecting, it's a good idea to plan your saving strategy as early as possible.
How can I save?
Before you begin to plan a university fund, it's worth considering the best ways to make your money work for you and your family.
Practical saving: consider how you might save money on a day-to-day and week-to-week basis. Things like gym membership, expensive holidays and luxury gadgets are all things which might be cut back, or even eliminated, to deliver significant savings.
Make your money work for you: make sure you're taking advantage of all the best offers your bank or utilities supplier offers. If you have savings accounts, are you signed up for the best product?
Family members: a university fund is something many family members will be happy to get involved in. Grandparents often want to help contribute to a child's future in this way and can even take advantage of tax breaks when it comes to inheritance law.
Your Saving and Investment Options
Consider how long you have before your child goes to university. If you have a long time, say 10 years, you might be comfortable taking on more risk with your money for a potentially higher return. Investing in stocks and shares is a preferred option in this case. If you choose this route, it's a good idea to consult a financial advisor to insure you select the optimal investment product for you.
If you choose to save, your returns may not necessarily be as high, but your risk is substantially reduced. Consider your savings targets, monitor your savings regularly and make sure you have shopped around the market for the best rates. If you approach your goal with sufficient planning, you'll find saving money becomes straightforward and rewarding.
Whichever saving strategy you choose, be aware of the products out there. There are a number of ways in which you can save money and avoid paying tax.
· Child Trust Funds: unfortunately, CTFs are no longer available, but if your child already has one, you can pay in up to £1200 a year and watch it grow tax free.
· ISAs/JISAs: the Individual Savings Account and the Junior ISA offer high interest, tax-free savings, with high yearly contribution limits. The JISA effectively replaces the CTF, as of January 2011.
· Child accounts: if your child has a job, in most cases, their earnings are tax free. It might be worth using some of this money to contribute to a university fund.
As with any long-term savings plan, your money works more efficiently the more consideration you give to what you want out of your plan. Obtain clear, unbiased information before you embark on your savings plan and you'll find the cost of university planning a lot more straightforward.