Getting a Head Start on College Savings

The hows and whys of college savings.

The American family with a child born today can expect to spend about $233,610 to raise that child to the age of 18. However, these days, most kids aren’t “out the door” at age 18. Tack on four years of college for an additional $198,000—say goodbye to that vacation home!

But, before you throw your hands up in the air and send junior out looking for a job, you might consider a few strategies to help you prepare for the cost of higher education.

First, take advantage of time. The time value of money is the concept that the money in your pocket today is worth more than that same amount will be worth tomorrow, because it has more earning potential. If you put $100 a month toward your child’s college education, after 17 years’ time, you would have saved $20,400. But that same $100 a month would be worth over $32,000 if it had generated a hypothetical 5% annual rate of return. Of course, return can vary depending on markets and investments, but the bottom line is, the earlier you start saving for college, the more time you give your money to grow.

Second, don’t panic. Every parent knows the feeling – one minute you’re holding a little miracle in your arms, the next you’re trying to figure out how to pay for braces, piano lessons, and summer camp. You may feel like saving for college is a pipe dream. But remember, many people get some sort of help in the form of financial aid and scholarships. Although it’s difficult to forecast how much help you may get in aid and scholarships, they can provide a valuable supplement to what you have already saved.

Finally, weigh your options. Of course, you want to weight the options of private school versus public school with your child, as the price tag may vary greatly. There are also a number of federal and state-sponsored, tax-advantaged college savings programs available that you should consider. Some offer prepaid tuition plans and others offer tax-deferred savings. Many such plans are state sponsored, so the details will vary from one state to the next. A number of private colleges and universities now also offer prepaid tuition plans for their institutions. It pays to do your homework to find the vehicle that may work best for you.

As a parent, you teach your children to dream big and believe in their ability to overcome any obstacle. By investing wisely, you can help tackle the financial obstacles of higher education for them – and smooth the way for them to pursue their dreams.