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Is funding my child's college education more important than my own retirement?

Daughter pointing out something on the computer to her dad.

Review all your options, seeking a solution that allows you to do both.

Parents often find themselves managing competing financial needs. And the decision of how to save for their children’s future education needs and their own retirement—at the same time—is one of the big struggles.

With rising inflation and consumer costs, it’s much more difficult for students today to work enough to pay for school as they go. Parents, who may have had their own college debt or still be paying it off, may feel pressure to help their children, even at the expense of their own retirement strategy.

“I hear this debate a lot,” says Matt Forsman, a Thrivent financial associate in Bloomington, Minnesota. “It’s certainly common to value investing in your children, wanting to do what you can to support them, especially when it comes to reducing student loans.”

As Forsman talks with clients, he finds that many believe there are only two choices: let their kids fend for themselves (borrow money for college) to preserve their own retirement or raid their own retirement fund (or put it on hold) to support their children’s education. The reality is, it’s often easier to focus on the financial need in front of you. But as you get older, it’s harder to make up for not saving enough for retirement.

“It’s important to remember that you can borrow for college; you can’t for retirement,” Forsman says.

Forsman, who speaks from his own experience of graduating from a private college with debt that was three to four times the national average even with help from his parents, tries to help bring clarity to his clients’ retirement picture. It’s important to balance the competing things, he says, so you can make an informed decision based on what you truly can afford.

“Talk with your financial advisor about your values and dreams, both for you and your children,” Forsman says. “Then work together to formulate a savings strategy that incorporates all you hope to accomplish. The risk of undoing your retirement strategy for your kids actually could be more harmful to them in the future if you end up having to depend on them.”

Plus, there are a variety of academic, admissions and financial strategies to help save on college costs. Those opportunities don’t exist for retirement, he says.

When you fly, Forsman says, the airline attendant reminds you that if the oxygen masks are needed, it’s important to put your own mask on before helping the person next to you.

“That’s hard for parents to hear; it’s a strong visual,” he says. “Saving something for your children’s education may be important to you, and you can do it, but making sure you’re on a good path to retirement should be the priority.”

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Insurance products, securities and investment advisory services are provided by appropriately appointed and licensed financial advisors and professionals.

Only individuals who are financial advisors are credentialed to provide investment advisory services. Visit Thrivent.com or FINRA's Broker Check for more information about Thrivent's financial advisors.
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