Choose a financial planner who's the right fit for you.
"One of the most important things besides who your doctor is, is who your financial planner is," says Eweka. And it's nearly as intimate. "This person is going to help you with all aspects of your financial life." So don't settle for just anyone. Interview several candidates, read reviews and make sure that they work with a trusted investment company. If they don't ask you upfront what your goals are, move on, says Eweka.
Also, find out if they have experience working with clients your age, suggests Mark Schrader, Financial Planning Strategist at TIAA. "If you're 45 and thinking about saving for college, and this person's website shows older couples walking on the beach, that may not be the right person for you right now."
Be realistic about your goals.
You know that you want to help your kids, but to what extent? And what sacrifices are you willing to make to do so? Do you really want to continue working for several years? Are you OK with spending less in retirement as a trade-off? If the answer to that last question is yes, then spend less now, says Eweka. "If you can spend less in retirement, you can spend less now, which would give you more cash flow to save for both."
Don't feel guilty about putting your retirement first.
"Most parents want to set their kids up as well as possible, but you're also helping them in the future by setting yourself up for a successful retirement," says Schrader. "Finding a good balance now keeps them from having to possibly fund your retirement later." That's because if you run out of money in your later years, your kids are likely the ones who you're going to rely on. Also, making solid financial decisions for yourself now teaches your children the importance of doing so themselves.
Let your financial plan dictate how much you should save and invest.
It can be tempting to want a definitive answer to the question, "How much do I need to save for retirement and college?" But, according to Eweka, you won't really know the answer until you've laid out a larger plan. However, you should always put the maximum amount you can in all of your retirement accounts. Not only is it a sound strategy, but "some IRAs have provisions where you'll be able to use some of that money to pay for college costs," says Eweka.
Another thing to be mindful of is how your income level will affect your child's ability to receive financial aid. If your family won't qualify for much aid, it'll be on you to make up the difference. "You need to think about what you're able to cover, and be upfront about that with your children," says Eweka. Whatever you decide, keep in mind that "it doesn't have to be all or nothing," adds Schrader. "You can pay for a portion of the four years, which would help more than paying for none."