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Saving for College

Here’s how to get started and involve children in the process.


College provides years of discovery and growth but comes with a hefty price tag:

According to the College Board, the average annual tuition for the 2016-17 school year is $33,480 for private college, $9,650 for state residents at public colleges and $24,930 for out-of-state students. Add in costs for expenses such as food and transportation, and many parents don’t know where or when to start, especially if there’s seemingly no wiggle room in the budget.

Take the first step. Saving toward your child’s education is intimidating, partly because there are so many unknowns: Will he choose a public or private school? Will it be in or out of state? How about a two- or four-year degree?

 Karen Robbins, vice president of wealth management at Philly’s UBS Financial Services, notes, “You can’t tackle a problem that you can’t quantify.” Estimate the amount of each expense for every scenario. Talk with your family about what these numbers mean, and then break it down into smaller goals.

The pressure is even greater for parents who start to save later in their child’s life. In that case, Robbins encourages approaching the issue in terms of what each family member can do to contribute. That might mean small sacrifices such as skipping a night out or passing on the latest tech gadget.

If you opt for a tax-advantaged savings plan specifically for college costs like a 529 Plan, look for low rates and strong performance. Keep in mind that you can choose a plan from any state.

Get your child involved. Whether she has a part-time job or is just old enough to set up shop at a lemonade stand, encouraging your kid to contribute to her financial future provides a sense of accomplishment while instilling smart spending habits.

Kids can start to save as soon as they’re comfortable discussing money. When your child receives a cash gift, Robbins suggests helping her divide the funds into four jars: give, save, invest and spend. This setup is beneficial for other situations as well: When a relative’s birthday or vacation rolls around, she’ll be financially prepared.

For teens, Robbins recommends drawing up a budget. “Have them outline what their expenses look like and how they can work within their income.

Apply for scholarships. Scoring a few scholarships can go a long way. Check with your child’s guidance counselor or career center, community organizations, local businesses and college financial-aid offices. The U.S. Department of Labor even has a free online scholarship directory. Stay on top of deadlines, and remember that many are renewable.

Consider community college. With the rising cost of four-year institutions, attending community college before transferring to a university is a practical alternative. In fact, the College Board reports that students could save $12,000 to $66,000 annually compared to the same education at a state or private school.

Since much of the freshman and sophomore years are dedicated to general-education courses, students can complete these at a two-year school for a fraction of the cost. Living at home during this time is another way to slash spending.

Above all, Robbins asserts, college hopefuls should aim high: “Don’t be afraid to apply for schools that are too expensive,” she explains. Cost is just one of the many factors that should come into play when choosing a college.

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