“Bright Start Gave My Children the Opportunity to Discover What They Really Wanted”

Throughout 17 years and many life changes, Bright Start helped the Powell family send three kids to college without fully relying on student loans.

Lore Powell always had one goal for her children: to provide them the opportunity to broaden their view of the world, whether at a university, a community college, or a technical school. She knew investing in higher education would be a major expense for her family but was determined that college costs not be a barrier for her children. After starting her savings with education bonds, Powell turned to Bright Start 529 College Savings Plans in the early 2000s.

The decision to set aside money for college was rarely simple. There were always competing demands for any extra money — like purchasing a home or taking a vacation. But Powell chose to prioritize her Bright Start savings and in turn, her children’s futures. “Through all the life changes, the one thing that I felt was important and stable was to continue with that goal,” Powell says. “There were times where it was a big sacrifice –– when you’re looking at a two-year-old and you think ‘it’s so far away.’ But we made that choice because we knew that we wanted them to have that opportunity.”

Seventeen years later, she credits her Bright Start investments with encouraging all three of her children to pursue higher education. Her oldest, Alexander, is now 29 and a graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He has his masters in neuroscience and researches cancer at a pharmaceutical marketing firm. Daniel, age 26, received his associate degree in criminal justice from Lincoln College and works as an operations manager for a series of ice rinks in Philadelphia. Powell’s youngest, 20-year-old Katherine, is finishing her degree in community health from Indiana University and considering her options for advanced degrees.

Saving made easy

Powell praised how simple Bright Start was to use from the very beginning. She was able to learn about all of the investment options and ultimately selected one of the age-based portfolios. These investments automatically adjusted from more aggressive, equity-focused investment allocations when her children were younger, to more conservative, fixed-income, and money market-based investment allocations as her children got closer to high school graduation age.

With the online system, Powell set up automatic monthly contributions and made adjustments to the amounts as needed. Even when her children were in school, Powell easily contributed to their accounts — helping, for example, to cover the cost of books. “As soon as you do that direct withdrawal, there’s no more questioning. It’s like any other payment that you make each month,” she says.

“It’s really convenient.” Powell quickly found that saving for college didn’t have to be an all-or-nothing approach. Ultimately, her Bright Start savings were enough to cover at least one year of college for all three of her children. While her kids did have to take out loans, Powell says they were more manageable thanks to Bright Start.

Finding their own paths

When it was time to use her savings, Powell decided to put Bright Start funds primarily toward her children’s first year of school to allow them time to discover what they were passionate about on campus — whether it was selecting a major, exploring student clubs and organizations, or acclimating to life away from home.

This gave Powell’s children the flexibility to embrace change. Alexander started his college education with an undecided major and later discovered a love for psychology and neuroscience. Katherine changed majors three times within the first four months of her freshman year.

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Education was a big conversation from the beginning. Not everyone has to go to college, but you have to at least try to broaden your view of the world, and it was important to encourage them to do that.
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“My rule of thumb is that no class is wasted unless you don’t do anything; everything is an educational experience,” Powell says. “I told them, ‘that first year is an opportunity. Don’t worry about a job. Find what you really want to do. And then when you do have to take out loans or get a job during college, it’s because you want to succeed in something you love.’”

Katherine has since fallen in love with her community health major and covers her remaining tuition costs with student loans and wages from a job close to campus. As Powell reflects on her college savings journey, she thinks back to the difficult decisions she had to make. But through it all, she says it was well worth it to see her children successful and happy today.

With her kids grown up, Powell is now planning for the college savings needs of future grandchildren. “There were times where I thought, ‘I’m not going to be able to continue to save for school.’ But I did. And I’m so glad.”