When it comes to saving for college, every little bit helps. Each dollar you save is one dollar you won’t have to borrow or rely on someone else to provide.
So even if you get a late start or are only able to save a small amount each month, you’ll still be better off than not saving at all.
Sure, it would be great if parents of newborns could save up the estimated $100,000 (in today’s dollars) likely needed to pay for a degree from a public college 18 years from now, or the estimated $150,000 total real net cost for a degree from a private college in 2032.
But a more realistic goal is to try to save up one-third of your kids’ expected college costs, suggests Mark Kantrowitz, author of Filing the FAFSA and senior vice president of the Edvisors Network. To do that for an infant born this year, you’d need to save about $150 a month for a public college, and $220 a month for a private college.
Wondering where the other two thirds comes from? The idea is to spread the rest of the cost of paying for college over a lifetime to make the hefty price tag more manageable. So while one third comes from past income (in the form of what you’ve saved), another one third comes from current income at the time tuition needs to be paid (along with grants and scholarships), and the last third from future income (in the form of loans that you or your child will pay back later).
By this model, assuming you’d saved enough to cover a third of public college tuition, you and your family would need to scrape together the equivalent of about $500 a month, in today’s dollars, from income while the student is in college (for example, the student could earn $100 and, the parents can contribute $400). The final third can be borrowed. As of 2014, college students under the age of 24 could borrow a maximum of $27,000 over four years through the federal government.