Clients may be saving the appropriate amount for retirement, but they also may routinely take out money to pay for their kids’ college education, thinking that their children should be put first.

But this may not be in the entire family’s best interest.

Parents should let children know that a secure retirement for them will also benefit the children in the long run, says Nannette L. Kamien, a principal at Inspiration Financial Planning in Glenview, Ill.

Parents should be honest about the amount available so that children have time to earn scholarships, start working -- even part time -- and choose colleges based on the financial constraints, not just on academics or social aspects.

“As they enter college, the child will need to start thinking about what they should be studying so that they can prepare to get a job after college,” Kamien says. “Even if the parent cannot provide monetary assistance during college, they can help by providing room and board so the child can attend a local college.”

Jay R. Blanchard, an investment planner with NEXT Financial Group in Williamsville, N.Y., reminds clients that airlines require parents to put on their oxygen mask before they help their child, or else both of them may become incapacitated.

“They need to protect their retirement savings first because if their situation becomes unstable, the whole thing is going to become a mess for the entire family,” he says.

Catherine M. Seeber, a principal and senior advisor at Wescott Financial Advisory Group in Philadelphia, asks clients in these situations, "When you run out of money in later years, how comfortable will you be asking your son or daughter for financial support?"

If this causes them to seek alternatives, she discusses other options, including less-expensive community colleges to start, before transferring to four-year schools.

Colleges will also provide financial-aid options such as work study, federal and state grants, and government-subsidized loans, says Terrance Martin, managing partner at Tranquility Financial Planning in McAllen, Texas.

If borrowing, children should take the minimal amount they need. Parents can also take out Parent Plus loans directly from the government, but Martin advises against this unless they have no other choice.

Harriet J. Brackey, director of investments at GSK Wealth Advisors in Hollywood, Fla., reminds clients that there are no loans for retirement, as there are for students.

“Personally, I think kids with some skin in the game have an incentive to use their time at college wisely,” she says.

Katie Kuehner-Hebert is a freelance writer in Running Springs, Calif. She has contributed to American Banker, Risk & Insurance and Human Resource Executive.

This story is part of a 30-day series on Social Security and retirement income strategies.

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