Me first: Fewer parents saving for kids' college education

Parents put less money into college savings plans during the past year, according to new data released this week, perhaps learning the lesson that it's best to take care of yourself first before saving for your child's college expenses.

Assets in college savings plans were an estimated $85.9 billion in the first quarter of 2009, down from $108.7 billion a year ago, or a 21% drop, according to data developed by the Financial Research Corp. and released this week by the College Savings Foundation, or CSF.

And the numbers get worse. Gross sales, or new dollars invested in 529 accounts, fell 37% in the past year, from $2 billion in the first quarter of 2008 to $1.25 billion in the first quarter of this year.

"We're not surprised by that given the market conditions and these trying times," said Kevin McMullen, chairman of CSF, in a telephone interview.