When it comes to college tuition costs, the numbers are downright scary: Four years at a state school costs an average of $23,000, while private universities average almost $90,000 for four years, according to numbers from the College Board. If your child is headed to an Ivy League, the price tag can be even more.
No wonder parents surveyed recently said paying for college was their number one fear—ahead of terrorism, crime and violent video games. Unfortunately, that fear seems to be paralyzing them from taking action. How do we know? Because even with these gigantic numbers, a recent study by AllianceBernstein Investments found that half of parents surveyed spent more money on vacations in the past year than they saved for their kids' college fund. What's more, 58 percent of parents in the survey spent more dining out or ordering takeout. Why? Inertia, confusion, unrealistic expectations and any number of other reasons, says Jennifer DeLong, director of college savings plans at AllianceBernstein.
That doesn't mean parents don't want what's best for their kids. In fact, when it comes to college savings, parents often make what I consider a huge mistake—they put their kids before themselves and save for college before they've maxed out on their retirement savings.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: Retirement should not take a back seat to college. Remember, while there's no financial aid for retirement, there is a lot of financial aid for college. And you simply cannot borrow for retirement like you can borrow for college. So take a hard look at your spending and see if you've got your priorities in line, then max out your 401(k) and other retirement plans. After that, you can figure out how much you can contribute each month to college savings.
Let your Money Group and the following guide help. You'll find key questions that you and your group members need to ask yourselves to help get serious about college savings. There's also a college savings calculator to help you calculate future costs and what you'll need to save, as well as three tasks that you and your group can work on this month to make college savings a reality.