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Money Monday: Saving for college

My kid is starting high school and I am recently divorced. Do you have any suggestions for the best way to save for college with the limited time I have? 
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Photo by Shane on Unsplash

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Every week I use my years of experience writing about personal finance in my blog called Mr. Money Mustache to answer some of your questions about money and life. Over time, we should be able to cover a nice broad patch of ground, and hopefully spread these useful principles throughout Longmont, just as my blog has managed to reach about 30 million people over its own lifetime.

The idea is that you send in questions to the Longmont Leader at info@longmontleader.com and I’ll answer a few of them each week.

 

Question from Sue: My kid is starting high school and I am recently divorced. Do you have any suggestions for the best way to save for college with the limited time I have? 

Yes! The first thing to do is to figure out how much you - and your child - need to save, together. Because a college education should be a shared project. It’s not just parents forking over the money while the kid spends it, both of you have the ability to earn and save money.

College prices vary widely, and they are usually far less expensive if you stay in-state so you can benefit from things like Colorado’s College Opportunity Fund. For example, an engineering program at CU Boulder is currently priced at about $7,000 per semester, or $14k per year. And if this is already sounding expensive, keep that in mind before considering going out-of-state.

From there, you can cut some costs. Many high schools including Longmont High offer Advanced Placement (AP) courses, which allow your student to get ahead on the learning - for free - while cutting down on the amount of expensive college credits needed to graduate. 

For example, based on the CU chart above, just one course, which is three hours per week or three “credit hours” in the college, saves you $1,893 in later tuition. So you can research the required credits and knock off as many as possible in advance, which will lower both the stress and the cost of higher education.

On top of this, you may be able to repeat the trick even further at the local community college.

When the time does come to finally head off to college, there is still a wide range of possible expenses, mostly under your control. Choose to live off-campus with roommates as soon as permissible, get your own food instead of the meal plan, host backyard parties rather than hitting the bars and don’t get a car (you don’t need one at this stage in your life).

Finally, don’t forget scholarships - there are hundreds of them out there, but you often need to specifically apply in order to qualify. Spend at least five full days in the year leading up to college, researching and applying to as many as you can - these 40 hours of time investment may well yield more than $100 per hour in savings for your kid.

This column is intended for informational and educational purposes only and should not be construed as professional financial advice for your individual situation. Please consult with a financial professional before making any serious financial decisions.