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If you want your baby to go to college, this is how much you should be saving now
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When that new baby bundle comes home with you from the hospital, you think you have a long time before you have to pay that college bill. Think again. You need to start saving money now. How much? Keep on reading. - photo by Trina Boice
A college education is one of the biggest investments a person will make in his lifetime -- or a parent's lifetime. Let's look at the ABC's of funding Junior's future schooling.

A - Act now. College is probably going to cost a lot more than you think. A fantastic financial tracker like the several ones offered at Provident Living can help you figure out how much you're going to need to save each month. Tuition is only a part of the package. Room and board need to be included in your college expenses. According to a group of academic researchers, colleges post inaccurate financial information to prospective students about the cost of living in the cities where the students will be living. TuititionTracker is a tool that can help you set monetary goals by giving you an idea of actual costs by college listings.

B - Be sure to do the math. According to Saving For College.com , the current published price of tuition, fees, room and board and other costs for the average four-year private college is $46,272. If costs continue to rise at 4% annually, the four-year sticker price of college for todays newborn will be about $398,000. Yikes! Lets say your goal is to save 25% of this cost by the time your daughter is ready for college. If your savings plan returns 6% annually, you can reach your goal with monthly contributions of $215. Bankrate is a helpful resource for parents who are overwhelmed with the math of it all.

C - Consider different forms of saving. The sticker price is what a college tells you it will cost to go to school there, but the net price is the lowered amount after scholarships or financial aid. One option is to create a 529 Savings Account, which is an investment tool that allows you to save money tax-free. The money will grow and can be used on any accredited college or university in the United States.

D - Don't lock into a particular school just yet. Prepaid tuition plans allow you to pay towards tuition in a given state, but what if you move or your child doesn't want to go there? You're better off creating a more flexible savings plan.

E - Education accounts can be set up that give you tax breaks, like the Coverdell education savings accounts (ESA) or a Custodial account. They receive tax benefits and can only be used towards education costs. Talk to your local banker to see how their programs work.

F - Federal money is available. There are two federal tax credits in place to help make the cost of college more affordable. These credits are the American Opportunity Credit and the Lifetime Learning Credit. IRAs and Roth IRAs are also useful tools for setting money aside. There are certain restrictions, but they also provide tax benefits.

G - Google can help you find scholarships and give you ideas for talents and skills that are in demand, which Junior could be encouraged to develop. There are a ton of them out there just waiting to be given away. There are a number of paid and free websites where you can also find scholarship information, but start with www.fastweb.com and www.scholarships4u.net Do a Google search to find out who is donating local grant money and research money, too.

Whether you or your children pursue higher education to improve career options or to enrich your lives, learning should be a lifelong goal. Now go out there and spend less to live more.