By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Apr 02, 2019 at 2:15 PM

When a friend recently came into an unexpected windfall, he didn’t book a cruise or buy a lake house.

"Our goal," he told me, echoing a dream many parents have, "is to get our son through college without debt."

That goal, however, can fuel a lot of anxiety for parents who have weathered recent recessions and market fluctuations. Especially because financial windfalls are rare and winning the lottery just ain’t happening for most of us.

According to The Institute for College Access & Success, average student loan debt in Wisconsin was $29,569. While that can seem like a daunting number, if you start early, you’ll have time on your side when it comes to saving for college.

For example, I opened an Edvest college savings account for my children right after they were born.

EdVest offers 17 savings options and unlike a low-dividend bank savings account, these are investment portfolios, which means that just like socking money away in a 401k or the stock market, you should see growth over time and, again, if you get in early, you’ll have well over a dozen years to grow your investment before junior heads off to college, leaving you a weeping mess on your doorstep.

And, after all, what is college if not an investment?

It’s an investment in your child’s future, as many careers require at least some college degree, whether it be a four-year college, advanced degrees, technical college or other educational institutions. Edvest funds can be used for any of these, as well as for room and board, computers, book and other related education expenses.

If one kid decides to move to Europe and make wine instead of going to college, I can shift the funds to another beneficiary in my family.

To make sure we stay on track in our savings, I have a set amount deducted from each paycheck and directly deposited into the kids’ Edvest 529 accounts.

That also gives me a tax benefit, because eligible folks can deduct up to $3,280 in Edvest contributions from their Wisconsin state income tax. This is available to grandparents who contribute, too. Hint, hint, grandma.

Parents and grandparents aren’t the only ones who can contribute, either. These days, some Wisconsin employers offer Edvest contributions as part of their benefits packages.

For more information or to open an Edvest account, go to Edvest.com or call (888) 338-3789 to talk to a college savings specialists weekdays from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.