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But surprisingly, the same survey found that only 53 percent of parents are taking advantage of a Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP).
Contributing to an RESP has advantages over other types of savings. For every dollar you save in an RESP, the government adds another 20 cents via the Canada Education Savings Grant, up to a maximum of $500 a year. To earn that amount in any given year, you would need to put $2,500 into your RESP, but you'd wind up with $3,000. "It's free money," says Chartered Professional Accountant and financial author David Trahair. "It's almost too good to pass up."
So how come 43 percent of us haven't opened an RESP?
"Not everybody knows about them," says Trahair. "Financial literacy in Canada is not what it should be." He adds that tax-free savings accounts have been getting more attention lately and people may get confused. "Some of the same principles apply," Trahair says, "but there's no grant money."
Tight household budgets
Another big reason people may not be taking advantage of RESPs? Their own tight budgets. "There are so many demands on parents—mortgages, transportation, paying down debt, saving for retirement," says Trahair. "It may seem like there's not a lot of money left."
But because university tuition alone often starts at nearly $6,000 a year—and depending on where your child gets her post-secondary education, that cost can quickly climb to $15,000 or more—advises re-examining your family's finances. "In most cases," he says, "you'll be dealing with your kid's education before you retire, so it needs to be a priority. And you'll likely have more money to save for retirement after your child is finished school."
Other ways to save
Plus, parents don't have to be the only ones saving for their child's education. As Trahair points out, it's often wise to have children invested—literally—in their post-secondary schooling. "Kids can work hard in high school and earn scholarships to help pay tuition," he says. "They can get summer jobs to help pay schooling costs. And, then there's what every kid doesn't want to hear—they can live at home. They may not like it, but you'll save a lot of money."
Parents and kids aren't the only ones who can contribute to an RESP—relatives and friends looking to give meaningful gifts can do so as well. When children are babies and toddlers and are pleased with simple, inexpensive presents, it's a great time for doting grandparents, aunts and uncles to start padding that RESP, for example.
Trahair adds that even though you need to put $2,500 into an RESP to get the $500 maximum grant money in a given year, any amount is better than none at all. "Track your spending for a month and see where it is going," he says. "Look at your bank account and your credit card expenses. Then adjust so you can put something away every month."
If possible, try to make the contribution automatic, either with a payroll deduction or set up an automatic transfer from your chequing account. Otherwise, the money you intended to plunk into that RESP will likely disappear into day-to-day living expenses.
Choose an amount you can manage, and you won't even notice that it's gone into savings. That is, until it's time to pay your child's tuition—and you've got plenty set aside.
There's another way to protect your child's financial future—talk to him or her about money; we'll show you how! Also, have more fun without spending: 33 free things to do and get in Canada!