My family had a mini-crisis a few weeks ago.

My son was wanting to apply to attend the University of Washington (UW). Like many schools, UW uses the Coalition application for the majority of the process. If you’re not familiar with that, it’s essentially a common application that students only need to fill out once, and can then submit to a variety of schools. It’s open year round, so there’s plenty of time to fill everything out before any deadlines.

I had been asking him to start working on college admissions since the spring of his junior year and had advised him to draft some college essays over the summer. While I didn’t see any essays or teacher recommendations come in, I had faith that he would get on the ball.

While the UW portion of the application didn’t open until September 1st, that part only represented 20% of the total app. With a comparatively early deadline of November 15th, that we were well aware of, I was sure he would have plenty of time to have everything completed.

Boy, Was I Wrong

November is always a busy month for our family. We have several birthdays to celebrate at the beginning of the month, and the end of the trimester is right around Thanksgiving break. Despite these distractions, I still managed to follow up with him about the progress he had made on his application. While I was disappointed that he hadn’t finished yet, he assured me that he was working on it, and was just finishing up the UW specific questions.

Finally, I get an email from him around noon on the 15th, nonchalantly asking me to look at his essays.

Oh my goodness, let’s just say, not so good!

I frantically emailed him back telling him that we needed to work on them in person, ASAP, grrrrrrrr. Unfortunately, he had school and an after-school job, so we didn’t get started until 5:00 pm. We spent the next several hours at my office desperately sorting out the essays, taking only a short break for dinner. Thankfully, we submitted them by 10:00 pm–only a couple of hours short of the deadline.

What You Can Learn From Us

Sometimes, life just happens. I did my best to help my son create a checklist with deadlines and I periodically checked on his progress. Of course, it’s not our job to do it for them, and sometimes these situations come up. What matters is that we got everything submitted on time at the end of the day.

Saving for college works in a similar way. Many parents feel they haven’t saved enough, but the past is the past, and it’s never too late to start. Many people wonder, what is the best way to save.  There are great tools like 529 college saving plans, Roth IRA’s or even a regular brokerage account to help stash away money. There are benefits to them all. But in the end, it is the account that you actually set up and save to verses the one you never got around to setting up that is best for you.  I like to say, every dollar saved is a dollar NOT borrowed.