The new year is an opportunity for some parents to get college savings on track. Parents who set clear goals for how much they'll save for their children's education – and who create a step-by-step plan to fulfill those goals – will be on their way to meeting that savings resolution.
Those goals will differ from family to family, so check out what some parents plan to do to sock money away for college in the coming year.
Rhode Island mom Wendy Duarte was amazed that her daughter Noelle's CollegeBoundfund 529 plan, a tax-advantaged college investment plan, grew 35 percent in the last year. That inspired her to find a way to save more in 2014 so she could try for even greater investment earnings.
Before Duarte had her own business, she had regular contributions coming out of her paycheck. Now, she's going to set them to come automatically out of her bank account on a regular basis.
One of her other resolutions is to encourage friends and family to contribute, by adding a note to her daughter's party invitations that will encourage guests to donate to Noelle's 529 plan account in lieu of gifts.
[Learn how to ask for 529 plan contributions.]
Guests are normally encouraged to donate to charity, but some still bring gifts. Providing a way to contribute to Noelle's 529 plan in addition will allow those who wish to give a gift to Noelle to do so.
Birthday contributions are also behind one of the resolutions that Lilyanna Israel's parents have for funding her education in 2014. Lilyanna received $200 in birthday contributions for her third birthday.
That money is sitting in an account on Gradsave, a website that allows families to set up profiles for their children to encourage friends and family to contribute money for education. Once a parent chooses a 529 plan, the money is transferred to the plan.
Lilyanna's parents, Brandon and Margarita Israel, resolve to add to the savings themselves and transfer the funds into a 529 plan for Lilyanna next year.
Like Duarte, the Israels plan to encourage friends and family to contribute to their daughter's college savings. The New York couple intends to send notices to friends and family for Lilyanna's milestones.
They want to get a head start on college savings while she's young so the money will have as long as possible to grow before their daughter will need it for higher education.
[Review your 529 plan to set college savings goals.]
Rhode Island mom Mary Talbot's resolution is a little bit different. She realized when she turned 50 this year just how soon retirement will happen – and how close her sons Connor, 11, and Liam, 9, are to starting college.
She vowed to increase her own savings and, like the Israels and Duarte, make sure to let relatives know college savings is what her two boys want for birthdays and holidays. Having the contributions will help her provide for kids while still putting away for her retirement.
She plans on sending reminders to friends and family a month before important events using a tool on her 529 plan's website.
[Explore gift options for college savings plans.]
"My kids know what they want to achieve and aren't as interested in getting toys as knowing they'll be able to afford the education needed to accomplish their goals," Talbot says.
When asking for 529 plan gifts, Talbot never specifies an amount because she doesn't want givers to feel pressured. She feels any contribution will help pay for her children's education, whether it's $2 or $25.
Washington parents Tony and April Valdez, however, plan to continue working toward their long-term goal: Funding two years of a four-year college education for each of their two children, 3-year-old Emma and 6-year-old Taylor. They'll continue to make even monthly contributions to their children's 529 plan accounts and extra payments when they can.
No matter what goals families have for changing up or starting college savings plans, it's important that they stick to them. Experts say the best method for paying for college is to start saving as early as possible and contribute an amount families can afford on a regular basis.