Can I stop putting money into 529s and get my kids a ChatGPT account instead?
Higher education costs have increased 200% over the last 10 years. There must be a better option for our kids, and our bank accounts.
My first real job out of college was at OMD in LA. After a few years working as a Digital Media Planner, I transferred with the company to London where I intended on living for a year, but stayed for six. After a glorious time spent in London, Jonny, my British-made-husband, and I moved to LA to start our married life frolicking in the sunshine.
I’ll never forget when I got back to LA after living in London and becoming accustomed to its NHS, year-long maternity-leaves and more affordable higher-education, when Lauren, one of my desk mates and good friends, told me to enjoy life without kids while I still had it. I asked “why?” in disbelief, and a slight discomfort that she was pointing out a difference in our life stages that were once aligned. The truth was I had always looked up to Lauren. I nicknamed her “Ma” and aspired to have everything she had i.e. two children, a house, career, horsebit loafers in multiple colors, a workout regime, a wrinkle-free face, and a husband she loved. I had the latter, and a career, but the rest was still a WIP.
Then, Lauren forwarded me the invoice she received from Bright Horizons for her monthly childcare. I quickly went from aspiring to be her to doing math equations in my head to understand how Jonny and I would ever be able to afford our mortgage, groceries, and now the impending cost of paying someone else to raise the children we intended on conceiving one day. The math equation quickly equaled a state of high anxiety in my head, which presumably also equaled a state of high anxiety on my face.
Lauren quickly consoled me by sharing that while the monthly childcare costs were brutal no matter how you slice them, I could get ahead of the cost of college tuition by starting a 529 college savings account the same year my future kids were born. Yes, only in America would I be advised to go from signing my future child’s birth certificate to immediately setting up a tax-advantaged savings plan designed to encourage saving for said future child’s future education costs.
Lauren shared that 529 accounts could be set up so any member in the family could contribute. I thought “Oh, how lovely. So instead of my future daughter being given a Barbie for her birthday, her grandmother will be asked to deposit $25 into her 529?” What a bore for the child. What a chore for the grandparents.
Fast forward seven years, I’ve left Amazon, moved back to Vermont; and I’ve got two kids, a hefty monthly childcare bill, and automatic contributions being made to my kids’ 529s. I haven’t caught up with Lauren since the start of the year, but I’m wondering, Ma, are you out there? Have you been on ChatGPT?
I’m all for creating efficiency without losing the ability to think critically, and this chatbot is making the Cliffnotes I used at The Kent School seem like minor leagues.
According to Cade Metz of the NYTimes, chatbots like ChatGPT “can serve up information in tight sentences, rather than long lists of blue links. They explain concepts in ways that people can understand. And they can deliver facts, while also generating business plans, term paper topics and other new ideas from scratch.”
OpenAI launched ChatGPT quietly in November 2022 and the response from users, analysts and folks like Scott Galloway has been anything but quiet. This bot came in like Katie Perry, and like Katie Perry, it’s here to stay.
So, what I’m really getting at here, does this mean us parents can bin off the contributions to our children’s 529s and fill our retirement savings accounts instead? Or forget retirement savings, how about we use the 529 contributions on enjoying more diverse experiences today? At the very least, OpenAI, can you please help American parents bury some of their neverending fear around the rising cost of college tuition?
While ChatGPT works on evolving to Bachelors degree heights, here’s what the prospect of future education looks like to me. Less stress on parents having to save, and more focus placed on creating experiences today that broaden the mind and perspective of our kids (and us, too). I like the idea of encouraging my kids to take a gap year abroad or an organized trip around the world (i.e. something equivalent to the campus life experience gained at traditional universities), combined with a Quantic degree and a ChatGPT login. And a much better, balanced savings account created by parents and for parents.
Imagine that, Ma.