“This is Setting Them Up for Life, Which Is What You Want as a Parent”

How the Engerski family used Bright Start to save smarter for their daughters.

Sheryl and Garry Engerski knew they needed a savings plan to ensure both of their daughters could pursue a college education. The Dennison, Illinois, couple had raised two sons and later adopted two girls from China while in their early 40s. After putting their first son through college, they realized higher education costs would continue to rise, and their retirement would coincide with when their daughters would start college. By opening Bright Start 529 College Savings Accounts, the Engerskis have been able to navigate college expenses while meeting their retirement goals.

“This has been the beauty of raising two families,” Sheryl said. “You raise the first family and you go, ‘darn, I wish we would have done X, Y, and Z.’ We’re happy we found Bright Start for the girls.”

Now, Erienne, 20, is a sophomore at Indiana State University majoring in speech-language pathology and will continue her education to get her master’s degree in that field. Emilie, 19, is a sophomore at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville studying mechatronics and robotics engineering so she can design prosthetics.

Saving smarter the second time around

When saving for their son’s college education, the Engerskis did not have a 529 plan and instead chose to save in a different type of account. When reflecting on this decision years later, Sheryl said the family may have actually lost money by not saving in a college savings plan. At the advice of a financial planner, they decided to use Bright Start for their daughters.

The Engerskis quickly realized how easy it was to invest with Bright Start and watched their savings grow over the years. Not only were they able to fund their portion of their daughters’ education, they also reached their retirement goals.

“I was able to retire last year, without worrying if we would have enough money to send the girls to college,” Sheryl said. Sheryl has now turned saving with Bright Start into a multi-generation affair. She was so impressed by how well the funds performed and how easy it was to save that she’s convinced her two sons to open accounts for her grandchildren and regularly contributes to their savings.

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As they get closer to graduation, they’re ready to jump into life. I think that’s the most satisfying thing. They’re always going to need us, but because we planned ahead with Bright Start, they’re more secure and ready to go.
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Practicing financial literacy while saving for college

The Engerskis set the expectation that they would cover two-thirds of their children’s undergraduate education, with each child responsible for funding the remaining costs. “We really wanted them literally invested in their education,” Sheryl said. “Because if they’re invested in it, that makes them a lot more motivated.”

Sheryl showed Erienne and Emilie their quarterly Bright Start statements throughout high school so they girls knew exactly how much they had in savings. Sheryl believes this knowledge has helped the girls manage their share of college costs and plan beyond graduation. In fact, Erienne is now saving for graduate school with her Bright Start account.

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Saving money isn’t always the difficulty; it’s doing it wiser. It’s how you save it, where you save it, and how you use it later is also part of the big picture.
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Easy to save and easy to use

“We’ve kind of always worked with the mindset that if we don’t see it, we don’t miss it. And so we automatically had money taken out of our account,” Sheryl said. From day one, the Engerski’s set up monthly automatic contributions for the girl’s Bright Start accounts because they saw it was the fastest and easiest way to grow their savings. Throughout Erienne and Emilie’s childhoods, their parents were able to adjust the amount of money they could contribute. Plus, with every dollar the Engerskis saved for college, they also saved on taxes.

Bright Start funds grow federal-tax free, and families can deduct up to $20,0001 (if married and filing jointly) and pay no state income tax on earnings and withdrawals that are used for qualified college expenses. “It just made sense to us that if we were going to put money for education into savings, to certainly get the tax benefit from it as well,” Sheryl said. As her daughters work toward graduation, Sheryl feels financially secure in her decision to save with Bright Start.

“Saving money isn’t always the difficulty; it’s doing it wiser,” Sheryl said. “It’s how you save it, where you save it, and how you use it later is also part of the big picture.”