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Savings for retirement or 529s

Hi folks. I'm looking for advice on what is probably a well-worn issue: saving for college and/or saving for retirement. I'm 52 and have been a steady-eddie saver/investor all of my working life. I have a roth ira and a sep ira, along with many real estate investments that produce income for me. I am a divorced dad, and my kids are 12 and 14. Between child support, alimony, 2 529 plans and retirement savings, things can get a little "tight", but I manage. So I will get right down to it: I currently am able to save 2000 per month between my iras and 2 529 plans. I have been simply earmarking 1000 to my retirement accounts and 1000 between 2 529 plans. This has been a decent strategy thus far, but I would like to hear from those who managed to save a chunk for their kids college and whether, in hindsight, they would have been better off saving for retirement. Thanks folks!
I would generally favor saving for retirement over the 529 if you have to choose between the two, but it may depend on your circumstances.

I was in a similar situation and saved as much as I could for retirement and as much as I could deduct for state income tax purposes for the 529s, Even when they were in college, I would donate to the 529s, take the state tax deduction, and withdraw what I wanted to pay for tuition. You may get an immediate deduction for the state income tax, which might be worth, say. 3%, 6% or more, depending on your state income tax bracket. That is an immediate return.

Of course if you live in a state without an income tax, then it does not help.

FYI - When you are withdrawing from the 529, be sure that the expenditures for valid educational purposes are well-documented. The IRS will probably check (at the end) to make sure that any earnings were used for valid purposes.
Some of my comments may be unpopular to some members but you asked.
As you likely know, conventional advice would steer you to retirement foremost.  There are plenty of resources out there for the children's education funding, e.g scholarship, part time jobs, student loans, work-study,etc. With skin in the game, most students  are apt to perform at a higher level than those who just need to show up.
I think it is a great feat to finance all three pots - I did it.  I have two college grads from the year 2006 and 2014 and I sold my business and retired in 2011. With market adversity in that time line, it worked out surprisingly well.  We covered tuition and books in a four year program at any Ohio public university.  If the boys opted to live on campus, they covered their room and board (or they commuted from home, Columbus).
I think it is best to set priorities and then  targets/goals for retirement and college expense.  You will be 62 when your youngest graduates from college -so was I.    It would be a real positive if your ex was also setting aside college funds.  Remember also, you can always assist in paying off the loans once your retirement finances are clearly spoken for.  Also, there are public service jobs that pay off student loans in small increments per years of public service.
Bottom line, set you saving targets, retirement first and on an annual basis, then surplus funds should be forward into the 529s. At Ohio State University, the 2018 school year tuition is estimated at $6226 for example (that surprised me as I remember it to be higher?).
I echo the words of primozaj and Systems101 . There are many alternative for education but at 52 you are probably staring retirement in the face. There are exceptions like if you are absolutely positive you have enough for retirement (expenses for food, clothing and shelter, Medical expenses, long term care, funding a charity, that new roof, replace the broken heating/cooling system, replacing the car, taking the cruise or maybe relocation, etc) and then some.
I read this article talks about Goff (aged 25) whose sense of where he wants to go, is planning to amass a nest egg equal to 25 times his final annual expenses. I think he is probably close to target because when you stop working the spigot dries up and you are left with whatever you've accumulated.
Survey: 61% Of Americans Don't Know How Much They Need To Retire | Bankrate.com
Just perhaps another way to look at it - I know a few people who take your question a step further and bring their mortgage(s) into the discussion. They take the same money they otherwise would allocate to a 529 and earmark those funds to pay down their mortgage. When child or children are ready to head off - likely the house is paid off and you use a HELOC to fund the tuition.

Full disclosure - the people I know that do this live in NJ where the 529 contribution is not deductible and also live in areas where pricing is not overly volatile so assuming the house was paid off the ability to get a sizable LOC shouldn't be an issue.

One guy estimated that implementing this strategy would save an estimated 1.5 years of college costs just through the interest payments he was savings over the life of the loan.

Food for thought, especially if you have multiple RE investments.
We have a 529 but we funded 10k at birth and 1000 per year there after. Hope to have a year or two funded by time college rolls around. Retirement is funded by both wife and I 401ks at 6% plus 5% employer contribution. Also have a Non Qualified account that could be drawn on if necessary. Have a HELOC as well. College is short term and retirement is long term.
If you must choose, then I would say retirement first. I took the one bucket approach, put 3 kids through college (two state universities, one private college), full ride. Most was paid through stock options, savings and sale of brokerage account assets (mostly company stock). Contributed as much as I could to 401K then rolled over to IRA at age 55 retirement, putting after-tax monies into a brokerage account.
Continued funding IRA after retirement via an early, 5-year period-certain pension distribution that paid out 2X my final monthly salary. When that ended in 2009, started withdrawing from IRA, then at 63 took SS.  When kids were young 529's weren't around and I thought available vehicles too complicated, with little immediate tax benefit, but we committed to funding 4 years of college for each child early on. One smart kid managed to get her degree in three years, so she got the 'fourth year' in a teaching certificate program (normally a fifth year in CA). But it was up to her to fund her Master's program, which accrued student loan debt, since paid off.
Now we are  looking to help a new grandson via 529 contributions, from monies gifted to his parents and whatever they choose to add..
I am in your situation. I do not like the 529, though we have used it for two children. The problem is the timing of the payments. With child 1 classes were not considered enrolled in until payment was made, but Fidelity took more than a week to send a check to the school from the 529. Same for housing. By the time child 2 enrolled, Fidelity had improved the process, but it is still confusing. I took out money for housing to the college in November and found out in January that my daughter could not get on campus housing. The 60 days was up to roll the money back in so it was counted as withdrawn, but not for educational expenses for the year in which it was withdrawn.

So for the sake of simplicity I would just go for the retirement savings if I had it to do over.
When our two children were about the age of yours, I sat down with them and said "here is how the college thing will work, if you decide you want to attend college."
1. We pay half. You get to figure out how you are going to finance the other half.
2. Our half is paid only if your grades are C or better. For any grade below that you get to pay for that class. We had to say this because our son was apt to do as little as he could on some classes, and there were times this showed up in the results. As it turns out, we were wise to have this stipulation.
This caused our children to be judicious on several fronts:
1. Their pre-college and during college work was focused on earning and saving for their college costs. They had skin in the game.
2. They were more thoughtful about the colleges they chose. They both selected private colleges, with higher costs than our state university, but they did this understanding what they would have to pay.
3. They were more thoughtful about the stuff they would buy and where they would buy their stuff. My daughter went from buying name brand clothing at the department store to shopping the thrift store to buy the same brands at a huge discount.
4. My son managed to focus on playing basketball in his undergrad days and his grades suffered. When we didn't write a check for those grades, he decided his basketball fun times were over unless and until his grades met the requirements we had set.
Both children are well past the college years, married, with children of their own. The daughter is an RN and our son has his master's from Dallas Theological Seminary and serves as a pastor. When I asked them if I could open UTMA accounts for their children, instead of contributing to their children's 529 accounts, they said "yes" without hesitation. Each grandchild will have more than enough cash in their account when they reach age 18 to do what they want to do. If they buy cars or put a payment on a home, we will be happy. If they use the money for education, we will be pleased as well.
I saw the college financing thing as a way to educate and motivate. For us it worked well.

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