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How much should you save in a college fund?

Saving for college is hard, but it can be done. And experts say the sooner you start, the better.
Saving for college is hard, but it can be done. And experts say the sooner you start, the better.
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Mino Caulton and his parents of Shutesbury, Ma., were more than ecstatic when Juniata College gave the 18-year-old $18,500 in grants to pay for school. It was quite an achievement for Mino, who has dyslexia. Despite the good news, Mino had to rethink his options. Although 18-and-half-grand is a nice chunk of change for a small college to give a student, Mino and his parents would still be forced to borrow thousands more to pay for his education [source: Lieber].

It was a rude awakening for the Caultons, whose household income dropped 80 percent during the Great Recession. That left little money in Mino's college fund. Borrowing the additional cash was an option, but the family could ill afford any more debt. With his college prospects dimming, Mino was thinking hard about going to a cheaper community college [source: Lieber].

Saving for college has always been vexing, and the current economic squeeze hasn't made it any easier. According to the College Board, the average four-year, public-college tuition in 2011 was $16,140 a year for tuition, room and board and fees, up 6.1 percent. Those who want to go to a four-year, private college can expect to pay $36,993 annually [source: Market Watch].

Still, that's chump change considering that in 15 years the cost of a four-year public-college education could top more than $100,000, while a private school could skyrocket to $200,000 [source: Market Watch].

What are parents and students to do? Saving for college is hard, but it can be done. Experts say the sooner people start squirreling money away, the better. Even saving $100 a month for 18 years can yield a significant sum by the time college rolls around. Still, don't think for a moment that you have to save the entire cost. Grants, loans and scholarships can cover some of the expense. And please, experts say, don't sacrifice your retirement to pay for your child's education.

Like everything else, saving for college is easier said than done. Yet, people do it. Go to the next page and find out how.

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