The single most fulfilling part of my job is working with parents to save for their children’s education. Parents want to give their children opportunities and paying for college offers a tangible way to do so. However, outrageous inflation in college education costs over the past two decades has made this more difficult. According to collegedata.com, the average cost for public education is more than $22,000 for the 2012-13 school year. Private school is nearly double, at $43,289. “WOW, OUCH, REALLY?!?”
The costs become more daunting when broken down to a monthly savings number for new parents. If your child is born today, and you want to provide the full cost for a four-year public school, you will need to save nearly $600 per month for the next 18 years. “WOW, OUCH, REALLY?!?”
Yes, the costs are high, but if you are determined to give your child this gift, I have compiled the following list of helpful tips.
1. Start saving today: How much to save? It doesn’t need to be the full amount, but start with something, $50 or $100 per month, whatever you can do. Where to save? Use your state sponsored 529 plans (find your state here). These plans allow you to save on a tax-favored basis similar to a 401(k). What investment do I choose? Most states have age-based options that are more aggressive when your child is young and become less aggressive as they near college transition age.
2. Understand costs: The cost of a college education includes many variables. Tuition is the cost of the actual education and varies greatly depending on the school and chosen major. Fees can be anything from library and technology costs to health insurance and bus fare. Fees can add up very quickly, and you may have the option to pay some of them and not others. Housing and Meals Expenses differ by region and location. Columbia University in the heart of New York City tends to be a little more expensive than Truman State University in Kirksville, MO. Personal and Transportation Expenses vary greatly similar to housing.
3. Enlist the help of family: If your parents like to spoil their grandkids, perhaps some of the dollars grandparents spend on your children for holidays or birthdays can be diverted into a college fund to help defray costs down the road.
4. Utilize Resources: Whether you meet with a financial planner, a college counselor, or just Google it, spend some time researching the many ways people provide education funding for their children. Each plan is as unique as the kids they support. Here are some of my favorites – Big Future, Saving for College, and National Institute for Certified College Planners.
Graph credit: http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/03/02/why-tuition-has-skyrocketed-at-state-schools/Bureau of Labor Statistics