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College savings.

Those two words used to throw my husband and me into giggle-fits when our children were babies. We were broke and had nothing we could possibly save, so the idea of having anything extra at all was laughable.

I’ve learned a lot since my early 20s, back when I played the “I hope my card is approved for this tiny transaction” game. Now with multiple children — one a newly minted teenager — I’ve had to mature in the world of all things financial. And if I’m honest, I’m still just a novice. So if I’m excited about a plan that I fully understand, and it includes financial security for my children’s future, I’m all in.

I’m talking about the NEST 529 College Savings Plan. You don’t have to be Ramsey or Orman to understand it. It’s a savings plan set aside for my children’s plans of higher education. And my kids have big dreams. Big expensive ones. I want them to have the opportunity to achieve those dreams, regardless of cost.

A debt sentence doesn’t have to be a life sentence.

My husband and I have managed to hold onto our student loan debt sentence for years, like most people our age. And that’s just the debt we racked up then, imagine the debt my children could acquire when they are ready to step into higher education. That’s why I had to start NEST 529 now, regardless of how little or grand our contributions. My contributions and those of loved ones are helping relieve future debt stress for my children’s future in higher education.

Financial naiveté aside, we know we cannot cover all college expenses this way, but it will help. Our children range in age from preschool to high school. NEST 529 allows for Age-Based Investments, much like a 401(k), regarding each account.

So what we put aside for our oldest, and considering we started his “college savings” late in the game, is different from our youngest who is still rocking nighttime pull-ups. Our oldest is on the Aggressive Plan, while our baby is on the Growth Plan. This can change if our circumstances do, to whatever we want. The great thing is NEST 529 provides all sorts of investment options based on your child’s age and your level of risk. One size does not have to fit all, but we think these options work best for us.

Get started

You can do this at home, in your pajamas, drinking coffee while pouring stale cereal for breakfast. Literally, five minutes and it’s done. Go online to set up a NEST 529 College Savings account or add a new beneficiary to your existing account. Contribute whenever you can or choose automatic payments from your bank account or payroll deduction program. “Set it and forget it,” if you will.

Gone are the days of personal checks in birthday, baptism and graduation cards. Grandparents, godparents, aunts, uncles and family friends can contribute to the account electronically. It’s that easy and it’s paper free, meaning it’s environmentally friendly, too.

Regardless of your current income or your financial knowledge (or in my case, general lack of), you can start saving at any time. And you aren’t locked in; you can change beneficiaries at any time, and unused funds can be reallocated to other members of your family as long as they’re used for higher education expenses.

Learn more

“The NEST 529 College Savings Plan is full of incentives to help parents begin saving for their children’s education,” says Deborah Goodkin, managing director of savings plan at First National Bank of Omaha. ”It’s easy to contribute automatically from a bank account or through your employer. You can win contests and scholarships through the plan, as well.”

NEST 529 College Savings Plan is a headache-free way of saving for a lifetime investment, and data agrees that children who know their parents are putting aside savings for college are six times higher to attend college and graduate, Goodkin says.

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