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When you first started your family, your mind was likely filled with images of family vacations and baby clothes instead of preschool scholarships and 529 plans. Parents often begin with little idea of how they will pay for their children’s education, especially when it comes to private schools and summer camps. Here are some ways to begin financial planning for your child’s education.

 

Make money management a habit

You need a budget if you have enough money but no idea how you will pay for college. Having a budget is important to ensure that you have a plan in place and can help you manage your expenses. Setting aside a budget can help you face your fears and make a financial planning commitment stick.

 

Many people use online budgeting tools, but more often than not, they can be overwhelming. If you find it hard to use, no worries. Creating a simple Excel file or writing down a budget on a piece of paper is a good start. To determine your discretionary income, subtract your variable and fixed expenses from your paycheck. This will give you an estimate of how much money you have left over for education.

 

Set your priorities

You should not sacrifice your retirement for education. You should start contributing to your retirement plan and max out your contributions before you start saving for college. However, many people will never have enough money to fully fund their education and retirement. In this situation, starting wherever, even if your contribution is small, it’s enough. The sooner you start, the less you have to put aside.

 

Start saving for college

College is the last expense you’ll have to pay for your child, and it’s the first thing you should start thinking about. You should start contributing to a tax-advantaged 529 plan, such as a prepaid tuition or education savings plan.

 

According to Sallie Mae, a popular consumer bank, the best way to pay for college is their 1-2-3 method. Find money you don’t have to pay back first, such as scholarships and grants from your child’s chosen school. Even better, apply for private scholarships. Second, you should look into federal loans. Federal loans have low-interest rates and fees. Finally, shop for available private loans. College counseling services can help aid your child in choosing the best school for them with the most financial aid.

 

Manage your child-care costs

The cost of child-care can start within weeks of birth, and it’s typically not affordable. However, don’t feel like you have to spend a lot of money on it. Instead, consider the best option for your family.

 

Sometimes it’s cheaper for one partner to stay home during the early years of a child’s life. If you have more than one child, toddler age or younger, daycare expenses can surpass one’s income. You can also consider using extended family or a nanny-share arrangement to reduce the amount of money you spend on child care.

 

You should also check with your company’s HR department to see if a child-care assistance benefit is available to you. On-premise child care is often discounted for employees, and you can save by opening a dependent-care flexible spending account. Finally, military families and individuals with significant needs may be eligible for financial help.