Many parents hope to be able to send their child to college, but that diploma doesn’t come cheap. Unless you are very well off financially, it can be difficult to sit on the sidelines for years and then suddenly find the money to pay for college when your child is ready to go. One of the best things to do is to start saving as early as possible, even if you’re only able to save a small amount at first.

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How much does college cost?

For the 2022-2023 academic year, the average annual cost of attendance for college is:

  • $27,940 for four-year public colleges (in-state students)
  • $45,240 for four-year public colleges (out-of-state students)
  • $57,570 for four-year private colleges (many private colleges cost substantially more)

The total cost of attendance includes direct billed costs for tuition, fees, room, and board, plus a given sum for books, transportation, and personal expenses, which will vary by student. Source: College Board, Trends in College Pricing and Student Aid 2022

It’s a likely bet that costs will continue to rise, but by how much? Annual increases in the range of 3% to 6% would certainly be in keeping with historical trends but, keep in mind, the actual percentage increase in any year could be higher or lower, and the rate could vary from public to private college.

How will I pay for it?

Year after year, thousands of students graduate from college. So how do they do it? Many parents save less than 100 percent of their child’s education costs before the child begins college. Typically, they put aside enough money to make a down payment on the college bill. Then, when it is time for college, some parents supplement this down payment with:

  • Current income
  • Federal Direct PLUS Loan
  • Private loan (e.g., home equity loan)
  • Investments (e.g., mutual funds, 401(k) plan, IRA)
  • Federal and college need-based or merit financial aid (e.g., student loans, grants, scholarships, work-study)
  • Child’s savings, investments, and/or earnings from a part-time job
  • Gifts from grandparents
How much should I save?

While this amount will vary for every family, generally you’ll want to put aside as much money as possible in your child’s college fund. The more money you set aside now, the less you or your child may need to borrow later. Start by estimating the cost for your child to attend four years of college. Then decide how much of the bill you want to fund — 100%, 75%, 50%, and so on. Then use a financial calculator to determine how much you’ll likely need to save in your college fund each month in order to meet your goal.

In many cases, the amount of money you should save each month comes down to how much you can afford. Every situation is different. You’ll need to take a detailed look at your family’s finances in order to determine what you can afford to add to your child’s college fund each month. To increase the amount of money you’re able to save, consider these options:

  • Cut back on nonessential spending
  • Reduce your standard of living (e.g., own only one car, eat out less often)
  • Add unanticipated windfalls like bonuses, raises, or an inheritance to your child’s college fund
  • Increase your work income, either at your current job or at a new job
  • Have a previously stay-at-home spouse return to the workforce
  • Ask grandparents to contribute to your child’s college fund in lieu of gifts
Start a savings program as early as possible

Perhaps the most difficult time to start a college savings program is when your child is young. New parents face many financial strains that always seem to take over — the possible loss of one income, child-related spending, the competing need to save for a house or car, and the potential demands of your own student loans. Yet this is the time when you should start saving.

When your child is young, you have time to select investments that have the potential to outpace college cost increases (but keep in mind that investments that offer higher potential returns may involve greater risk of loss). In addition, you may benefit from compounding, which is the process of earning additional funds on the interest and/or capital gains that your investment earns along the way. With regular investments spread over many years, you may be surprised at how much you may be able to accumulate in your child’s college fund.

Don’t feel bad if you can’t put aside hundreds of dollars every month right from the start. Start with a small amount, maybe $25 or $50 a month, and add to it whenever you can. You’ll have a head start, and can feel good knowing you’re doing the best you can. If you are unsure of how to get started, or if you want professional guidance on your unique situation, consider making an appointment with an Arvest Wealth Management Client Advisor. They can look at your timeline, consider the goals you have set, and offer solutions that align with and support your overall financial plan.

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