5 Creative Ways to Save for a Child's College Education

According to the College Board in its Trends in College Pricing 2013 report, the average cost of tuition and fees reached $30,094 at private colleges and $8,893 for in-state residents at public universities for the 2013-2014 school year.

But you don’t have to suffer from sticker shock when your son or daughter receives that coveted acceptance letter if you do some advance planning and know what the cost of a college education will be when he or she student begins the college experience.

First determine how long it will be before college starts, the cost of that education today and how much you expect the cost to increase between now and then. You’ll need to estimate the number of years of college you’ll pay for. Once you have that information, you can determine how much to save each month. Putting together a plan will also depend on what you currently have saved, how much you can save each month and the rate of return you’ll receive on those savings. 

As soon as possible, start a savings account — a basic savings account or a 529 account, for example — dedicated to your child’s future college costs. Then begin making monthly deposits to meet your savings goal. You can also grow your college savings account by shopping smart, reducing your expenses, and setting aside the money you’ve saved.

Consider these five creative ways to cut costs and help grow your child’s education fund:

1. Combine Internet, cable and phone services

With unlimited long distance, ultra-high speed Internet and a never-ending array of movie channels, communications can easily become a family’s largest monthly expense. By merging this trio under one major service provider, there’s a good chance you’ll receive a discount. As an added bonus, everything will be listed on one bill. This may also be a good time to shop around for the most cost-effective bundled cell phone service package for your family.

2. Become a preferred customer

It may be a hassle to carry around another card, but becoming a preferred customer at stores you visit frequently can help you save money and earn rewards. For example, many grocery and drug stores offer discounted items to club card members. Some even issue points for each dollar you spend. You can later redeem these points for gift certificates or increased discounts.

It’s also smart to keep an eye out for grocery store/gas station partnerships that knock a few cents off the price every time you fill your tank. A few pennies may not sound like much, but they add up over time.


3. Consider using cash when dining out

Pulling out a credit card to pay for a meal is often easier than carrying the right amount of cash. However, charging your credit card makes you more inclined to overspend — and overeat. In fact, Consumer Reports found that credit card users tend to spend 30 percent more when eating out than those who pay with cash or a debit card.

4. Take fewer trips to the grocery store

How many times have you returned from the store only to realize you forgot a few items and need to run back? Even if your local market is just down the road, these unnecessary trips can rack up costs. By purchasing groceries once a week, you not only save on gas but also give yourself fewer opportunities to make impulse purchases.

To make a single grocery store visit last all week, brainstorm at the beginning of the week for nightly meal ideas and make a list of mandatory ingredients. Before making your trip, check for any household items that need to be replaced and ask family members if they need anything. While at the store, stick to your shopping list and avoid placing extra merchandise in your cart.

5. Unplug idle appliances

Unplugging optional appliances, such as computers and TVs, when they’re not in use can save up to 10 percent on your electric bill, according to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Several household appliances continue to use electricity, also known as phantom power, even when turned off. Rather than keeping all gadgets plugged into outlets, transfer them to power strips. When you’re not using these items, simply flick a single switch.

Big-picture energy-efficiency strategies can also help you reduce your utility bills each month.

Finding new ways to reduce expenses and save the difference each month can help take the sting out of saving for college. With some discipline, you might be surprised at how quickly your savings can grow.