We’re always looking for ways to save for college. After all, the cost of college keeps going up. Over in our Paying For College 101 Facebook group, you can find great discussions about the most helpful things you can do to save money for college.
One mom in the group even listed out some of the most effective saving for college tips she has — and two of her children have already been to college and a third will be going soon. If you want to find the money to set aside in a savings account or in a 529 plan, here are seven things you can do:
1. Stop Paying for Cable TV
“We have not paid for TV for years,” says the mom, who asked to remain anonymous. “None of my kids even watch traditional TV anymore.”
They get local stations with the help of a digital antenna, and they can stream Netflix and Amazon Prime free through their cell phone service. If you’re still using cable or satellite TV, you could save as much as $100 — or more — per month.
2. Comparison Shop
“I hit many stores for the best deal, and use the app Flipp to find out what’s on sale.”
This mom also shops at Aldi and other discount stores. By looking for the best deals on what her family needs, it’s possible to save on just about everything. And, of course, once you realize the savings, you can bank them. Ways to save for college can present themselves every time you save a few bucks on things you normally buy.
3. Drive Cars Until They Die
Rather than buying new cars every few years, this mom buys inexpensive vehicles and drives them as long as possible. They did recently by a 2017 car, but it was a base-model Camry designed to be inexpensive and last a long time. There are five drivers in the household, so sharing the cars is important.
Being able to buy cars and drive them for a long time also allows the family to avoid making big car payments. Plus, choosing cars that are inexpensive to insure can go a long way toward offering monthly savings. Convert those savings into an opportunity to build up a college account.
4. Sticking with a Starter Home
“We never got any farther than just thinking about moving up,” says the mom. “We don’t need anything bigger.”
Rather than getting stuck in a cycle of selling a home and then “upgrading,” this family lives simply in a 1,200 square foot home. While there is a mortgage on the home, the savings are huge because the home is so inexpensive. The small mortgage payments allow for plenty of cash flow that can be used for other things — like finding ways to save for college.
5. Smart Credit Card Use
Credit card rewards and travel hacking also figure into the college savings plan. By buying only what is already in the budget, it’s possible to earn credit card rewards. The key is paying off the balance each month so that credit card interest doesn’t cut into those rewards. By only using credit cards to spend on budgeted items, it’s possible to save money in other ways, including paying less for travel or getting cash back.
One of the most helpful things to save money for college is to take your cash back from credit card rewards and bank it for the future. Or, if you’re travel hacking, take the money you save and put it toward college savings.
Another strategy is to use credit card rewards that offer college savings benefits. The Upromise program takes a portion of your purchases and sets them aside for college. You can even arrange to have those savings automatically transferred to a 529 plan so it can grow.
Balance in Your Life Can Be One of the Best Ways to Save for College
These saving for college tips all have something in common: balance. Even if you don’t think you’ve saved enough for college, there are things you can do.
“We live pretty simply,” says this mom. “I don’t need fancy anything, so that helps.”
She and her husband are able to save a bit for retirement and have used 529 plans. Not only that, but they look at the schools themselves, targeting schools that offer need-based programs and help students pay for college. “They offer the best value for our family.”
By focusing on schools that are less expensive and have generous financial aid packages, it’s possible to stretch the college savings even further.
In the end, you don’t need to have a ton of money to successfully save for college. Use a saving for college calculator to figure out how much you might need to save, and then create a plan.
Pay attention to how you can save a little bit each month and put that aside for college. As your account grows, and as you make saving for college a priority, you might be surprised at how you can help your kids pay for a great start in life — without going into a ton of debt.
CONNECT WITH OTHER PARENTS TRYING TO FIGURE OUT
HOW TO PAY FOR COLLEGE
JOIN ONE OF OUR FACEBOOK GROUPS:
by Miranda Marquit, who has been covering personal finance for more than 10 years, including aspects of college planning and student loans. She is a recognized money expert and has contributed to numerous media outlets, including Forbes, Marketwatch, NPR, USA Today, Investopedia, and U.S. News & World Report. She lives in Idaho with her teenage son — who she’s just starting to guide through the college selection and admissions process.