Saving for College vs. Saving for Retirement: Which Wins Out?

saving for college

I’ve written before about the saving for college vs. saving for retirement debate and how they can co-exist. When you bring up the question you usually get an emotional answer. I get that. It would be foolish to think that emotions aren’t part of the decision.

However, I’ve learned over my years that if you want to make balanced financial decisions, logic needs to be part of the process.

As a parent, you’re hard pressed to find something (save for buying a house) that can be as costly as saving for retirement or for college. They’re two competing forces that require our attention. They also pit our needs, to a certain extent, against the long-term needs of our children. I’ve spoken with countless people who have been on either ends of the extreme who have ignored one over the other. I have also spoken with those who have taken a more balanced approach. While it might be a simple decision for some, for many it’s not.

If you’d like to read more on our approach in the saving for college vs. saving for retirement debate, please check out my latest article over at Daily Finance.



Photo courtesy of: Nazareth College

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I'm the founder of Frugal Rules, a Dad, husband and veteran of the financial services industry. I'm passionate about helping people learn from my mistakes so that they can enjoy the freedom that comes from living frugally. I'm also a freelance writer, and regularly contribute to U.S. News & World Report, Investopedia, Credit Karma and more. If you're wanting to learn how to monetize your blog, check out my blog coaching services to see how I can help you take your site to the next level.


  • Really agree with your points in your article! We have friends in the exact situation. They helped their 3 children through college, are ready to retire, and are peering into an empty retirement account. (Also, I just had to ask….is that you in the picture getting your diploma? :-)

    • John Schmoll says:

      Thanks Deb! I saw the same thing myself when I worked at the brokerage. I applaud the desire, but sad to see the end result.

      Ha ha, good question but that’s not me. :)

  • Well my parents saved $25 a month from the day I was born. I had no idea about it, but that $5400 grew over 18 years. However I also had saved myself, after all it’s my education. Plus I worked during college and lived at home (finished in 2 years) and that combination helped me graduate debt free. It allowed my parents to make sure I didn’t stay in their basement. The ideal would be to do both but if you have to choose one I would choose my retirement. There are plenty of affordable college options and you can work while in school and earn scholarships. Really you should start saving really early in life for both school and retirement. $25 a month will make a big deal in the long run, you won’t miss it. If you can grow it, even better! Good discussion. Hard decisions are part of life and even harder if you don’t discuss them and make a plan.

    • John Schmoll says:

      Great points Lance! I think both can be done, but it can be difficult for many if they don’t start out right. I agree that there are many options out there really and that was sort of the basic theme behind the article – that there are other options out there and it doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

  • Mario says:

    Retirement makes sense. I think it’s as simple as knowing that you can borrow for school, but you can’t borrow for retirement.

  • Amy says:

    I could not agree more with the points you make in the post. I was lucky enough to have my complete college education paid for by my parents, but we simply won’t be able to do that for our daughter. It makes me a little sad, but I also believe that it’s a bigger gift to not be a financial burden to her later on.

    • John Schmoll says:

      That’s awesome they were able to do that for you Amy! We’re in the same boat as well and while we do intend to help it’s just not going to be feasible to pay for it all. There are many other ways we can help prepare them for college that can still mitigate the cost.

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