Next to purchasing a home, paying for college is one of the largest investments in a lifetime. Obviously, saving money is on the top of the priority list. Having wealthy parents is the first money-saving strategy. If that’s out of the question, there are still a few things you can do before, during and after your college years to save money. This is the first of a three-part weekly series, and going in logical order, will outline some strategies for both parents and students to cut costs and reduce loans before you even get on campus.
The earlier you start preparing for college the better. For parents, starting a college fund earlier rather than later is always advisable, even if you feel you can’t contribute very much to it each month. One option is a 529 savings plan, which is especially beneficial if your student is aiming for a state school. These plans “are operated by the state government, [and] allow you to lock in future tuition costs at participating schools at today’s prices, providing a guarantee against tuition inflation” says Rachel Grumman, in her Mom’s Guide to College Savings.
Things like having an after school job to put money away can help too, but one of the most valuable things a student can do is learn how to budget. Learning about money goes hand in hand with earning money, and high school students who are responsible for their own expenses are often more financially responsible when they reach college.
Lisa Belkin, at New York Times blog Motherlode, says that “being the parent of an 18-year-old means second guessing a lot of choices made over 18 years, and one that I might have done differently is the decision not to have him get a job until the end of high school.” Her regret isn’t unique, as any parent slammed with a credit card bill or a pleading phone call can attest. Over the course of a four-year undergraduate study, the ability to budget their income and avoid expenses can save a student more than many scholarships award.