Paying for college is no laughing matter. No matter your child’s age, you can do a lot to alleviate the burden of college tuition (and launch your teen into adulthood with as little debt as possible) with simple financial steps taken now. In this post, we’ll go over how both students and parents can start saving and paying for college.

How Much Does College Cost in Texas?

For the 2016-2017 school year, the average in-state tuition cost in Texas was $17,799 for undergraduate tuition, fees and room and board at public universities, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

For the same year, the average in-state tuition costs for private institutions in Texas was $41,979, more than twice as much as public tuition costs.

Part 1: Saving Tips for Parents

When should you start saving money for your child’s college tuition?

The short answer is as early as possible.

But before you start saving for your child’s college tuition, it’s important to first evaluate your current financial state. If your own finances are messy, you won’t be a huge help when it’s time to write tuition checks.

First, ask yourself these questions:

  • Have you paid off your own student loans?
  • Are you financially on track for retirement?
  • Do you have any outstanding, high-interest debts?
  • Do you have an emergency fund (and how much is in it)?

When you choose a college savings plan, you’re going to be investing a portion of your income annually, monthly, or even bimonthly. We recommend Dave Ramsey’s blog post for some of the best advice available on the internet.

This NerdWallet blog post has the nitty-gritty suggestions of exactly how much to contribute and when to start.

How can I save money for my child’s college tuition?

Saving up for your child’s college experience is a long-term commitment that involves developing a plan and re-evaluating this plan along the way. Below are some quick tips to get started.

Make a List

You need to know exactly what you’re saving for. Creating a list that evaluates needs vs. wants with your teen’s input will help clarify what college goals are possible.

Allocate

Decide what portion of your paycheck you can contribute to your child’s college fund. If you’re just starting to save for your oldest child, you might allocate a larger chunk to her than to your youngest child, whose Education Savings Account (ESA) could grow with interest over time.

Track the Data

You’ll need to track your expenses to know how to better allocate your money. Setting a budget doesn’t have to be a pain, actually. There are a lot of seamless, free budget software options that do it all for you.

Review Parent Loan Options

Consider parent student loan options. If worse comes to worst and other routes have been exhausted, know that student loans for parents are out there.

How much should I save for my child’s college tuition?

Before deciding on a set amount to save up for, you first need to consider the different college options that will greatly affect the price. First, you’ll need to answer these questions.

Questions for Determining College Affordability:

  • Can you afford to send your child to an in-state or out-of-state school?
  • Will your child choose a private or public university?
  • Will your child receive any scholarships?
  • Do you plan to save up for graduate school?
  • How much is the tuition likely to increase by the time your child attends college?

Once you know the projected cost of tuition for your child, then you can define a plan to help you meet or come as close to that number as possible.

Early conversations between parents and students about college costs and budgetary realities will help develop healthy expectations.

If you know you won’t be able to pay the full cost of your child’s tuition, you can still create a college savings plan based off what you can afford. We recommend speaking with your financial adviser to create a college savings plan.

If you have not yet started a college savings plan, the best time to start is now.

Part 2: Saving Tips for Students

High school students are on the cusp of adulthood, so they should ease into adult responsibilities, including understanding and managing their own finances.

High School Student Saving Tips

There are three straightforward steps that will help with paying for college in a huge way.

1. Fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid)

The FAFSA helps you find government and institutional grants you can use for tuition and fees, as well as information on loans. This form becomes available for a student applying to college on October 1 of each year.

As a rule of thumb, accept grants that do not require repayment before taking out loans. Then opt for federal student loans before seeking private student loan options.

2. Apply for scholarships

Many scholarships are based on grades and scores from the SAT® and ACT® tests, so a little hard work in high school could pay off financially later.

3. Get a part-time job

Find a part-time job that will allow you to experience the realities of personal finance (getting a checking account, making withdrawals, and paying for transportation).

College Student Saving Tips

1. Get a Job.

The best case scenario would be a part-time on-campus job because that will provide flexible hours, a convenient location, real-world experience, and, perhaps, discounts, depending on exactly what the job is.

2. Seek More Scholarships

The scholarship hunt shouldn’t end after the college acceptance letter. Besides scholarships and awards given by the university, there are also scholarships and contests available to college freshmen and beyond. Even a “small” scholarship of $250 can make a huge difference when you stack these awards.

3. Remember to Fill Out Your FAFSA Each Year

You will be required to fill out your FAFSA each year that you require Financial Aid. Pay attention to email or alerts from your school’s financial aid office to stay on top of FAFSA deadlines.

4. Leverage Student Discounts

Tons of stores and restaurants offer student discounts. The college bookstore often has technology discounts for students too. Build a habit of asking, “Do you have a student discount?”

5. Economize

Choose a lifestyle that allows for more cost-effective everyday choices. Ride a bike instead of driving a car. Eat at the cafeteria instead of off-campus restaurants. Get a coffee maker and avoid the coffee shop. Buy used textbooks and sell them back at the end of the semester. Use campus amenities like the library and gym to cut back on streaming services and gym memberships.

6. Make Interest Payments

If you have loans, start paying off the interest while you’re in school. This could save thousands of dollars down the road.

The challenge of paying for college should never keep anyone from attending. A college savings plan is one of the best ways to ensure that the money is there when it’s needed for education.