Can't tell a 529 plan from an IRA? With some basic research, you can find the right plan for you.
Q: I have two daughters in junior high school and not a penny saved for their college educations. How can I play catch-up quickly?
A: Even if you're starting late, the important thing is to start - but you need to take the time to plan the right way to save. Desperation can lead to rushed, unsafe investments, and the worst thing you could do for your daughters would be to put your money at risk in an attempt, as you say, to play catch-up. The expenses of college are daunting, and for many parents - especially those with more than one child - the thinking is, "I'll never manage." You need to get out of that mind-set, because saving for college can begin with a few very simple actions.
Since you know you'll need to begin spending your savings in four to five years, be conservative. Keep your money in high-yield money market funds (you can find the ones paying the best interest rates at www.ibcdata.com), Treasury notes, certificates of deposit, and series EE bonds. Opening these accounts is quick and simple and can be completed right at your local bank, but you need to start very soon.
You should also remember that as the cost of higher education increases, both the government and colleges are beginning to offer more financial aid in the form of grants, loans and work-study programs. More than half of all undergraduate students are awarded some form of financial aid, so the odds are you won't have to shoulder the financial burden on your own.
The most important thing, though, is for your daughters to see you taking responsibility for your money. True education starts with messages that are passed down.
Q: My friends and I talk about how much we'd love to leave our unfulfilling jobs. It would be great to tell our bosses, "Get lost!" and walk out. Right now, not one of us has the money to make that a possibility, but I've decided to start saving so that if I ever want to quit my job on the spur of the moment, I can. How much do I need for my escape fund? And how should I keep this money safe?
A: I find it fascinating - and revealing - that you and your friends all feel that your jobs are unfulfilling. To me, this signals that your wish to leave your job may come not from dissatisfaction with what you do, but rather from how you feel about who you are. Like attracts like, my dear, and you and your friends are probably reinforcing a sense of unhappiness in one another. Friends do that, you know - support each other in ways that are both good and not so good.
Even if your job is unfulfilling, I want you to stop and ask yourself what good it does to tell your boss to get lost. My guess is, not much. Even if you amass a large fallback fund, that money will last only so long before you'll have to find another job. When that happens, the same boss you left high and dry will be the one telling your prospective new boss about your positive and negative qualities. The lesson: Don't burn your bridges, especially in this economy.
I have to say, it saddens me to learn that the only reason you want to start saving is to collect a "get lost" fund directed at your boss. Instead, I urge you to consider creating a nest egg targeted to your own hopes, needs and dreams. I would much rather see you save money to buy a home, go back to school, fund your retirement, or even take a vacation than to spite your boss.
I would recommend you put eight months' worth of expenses into an emergency fund in case you lose your job before you're ready to - that is, in case your boss leaves you before you're financially prepared to leave him. Please remember, getting a new job, let alone a more fulfilling one, can take longer that you might expect. So plan for the worst - and if the best happens, you'll have a good reason to celebrate with your friends.
Suze Orman is an Emmy award-winning TV host and best-selling author, most recently of "Women & Money." She takes questions at www.suzeorman.com.