How to Prepare for College Costs Even If You Haven’t Started Yet


Do you have a teenager who’s in high school or preparing to graduate? If so, you’re probably wondering, “where has the time gone?”

It might seem like just yesterday you were changing diapers and rocking your little one to sleep and now they’re preparing to go off to college. Time really flies!

While this is an exciting time for your teenager, you might be feeling a bit unprepared, both emotionally and financially. It can be incredibly challenging to find enough money to pay your bills, pay for your kids’ activities, and save for your retirement, let alone put money aside for an expensive college education.

If your child is preparing to go to school and you don’t have anything saved, don’t beat yourself up about it. There are still things you can do to help them out and set them up for success.


What to do if you haven’t started saving for your teens’ college education.

Even if you have regrets about not saving for your kids’ education, try to focus on all of the wonderful things that you have been able to provide. Look towards the future and focus on the things that you can do.


Give yourself an education.

If you’re feeling a bit out of control because you have nothing saved for your teens’ college education, you can ease your worry and fears by educating yourself on the available options.

As it’s said, knowledge is power, and sometimes merely being aware of your options can make you feel more in control of the situation.

You can start by checking out the Federal Student Aid website where they have a list of resources to help you and your teen prepare for college. They have a section of the site that’s aimed directly at parents to help you understand the costs associated with college and the type of financial aid available.


Run the numbers.

How much is your teens’ education going to cost? Do you know? Have you run the numbers? If not, it’s a good idea to get it on paper (or a spreadsheet) so you can see the numbers in black and white.

You can compare how much it will cost if your teen gets into an out of state college versus a community college. How much will you save if they can live at home versus in residence? You can even estimate the cost of books and supplies to get a realistic idea of the overall cost. Who knows, maybe it won’t be as bad as you initially thought. Definitely include your teen in this exercise so they share an understanding of the financial commitment of college.



Get your teen involved.

Be honest with your teenager and explain that you can’t cover the full cost of their education (if that’s the case). Tell them how much you can contribute. Have a conversation about their financial options and even encourage them to start saving some of their own money to put towards their education. If they have a part-time job, talk about putting some of their paycheck towards tuition. If they don’t have a job, perhaps it’s time to start looking.

Also, encourage your teen to start looking into scholarship options. They don’t have to be a straight-A student to qualify. There are scholarships that support students who are musically inclined or those who speak another language and many more.

Your teen can also look at taking AP classes to earn college credits while they are still in high school.


Every little bit counts.

Okay, so maybe there’s no way you can cover the full cost of your teenagers’ education, but that doesn’t mean you should give up. Every little bit counts. Even if you can save enough to cover your teens’ textbooks during their first semester, that’s still a helpful contribution.

If you want to bulk up your college savings in the short term, you can look at your current spending and evaluate where you can make reductions or cuts. Cancel your cable or any unnecessary subscriptions, stop eating out, defer that vacation. Then take this money and redirect it towards college savings.


Consider all options.

While getting a college education is a great plan, it’s not the only plan. It’s a great idea to consider all of the alternatives before diving straight into a four-year bachelor, especially if it’s going to create a ton of student debt. Sit down with your teen and review some other options, including:

      • Community college (generally more affordable than university)
      • Trade schools (can often work and earn while you go to school)
      • Gap year (take a year off to work and save money)
      • Join the military (Military Tuition Assistance can be used to pay up to 100% of tuition expenses)
      • Entrepreneurship (start your own business, no expensive four-year degree required)



What action will you take today?

Pick one thing you can do and start today. Whether it’s running your numbers or having an honest conversation with your teen about their options, taking action will help you feel more in control of the situation.

And remember, while most parents want to help their children pay for their post-secondary education, it’s not always doable. Funding and scholarships are available to help ease the economic burden, and you can work with your family to come up with creative ways to cut costs.