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By annaheekang
June 1, 2014

When it comes to saving for college, every little bit helps. Each dollar you save is one dollar you won’t have to borrow or rely on someone else to provide.

So even if you get a late start or are only able to save a small amount each month, you’ll still be better off than not saving at all.

Sure, it would be great if parents of newborns could save up the estimated $100,000 (in today’s dollars) likely needed to pay for a degree from a public college 18 years from now, or the estimated $150,000 total real net cost for a degree from a private college in 2032.

Calculator: How much should I be saving for college?

But a more realistic goal is to try to save up one-third of your kids’ expected college costs, suggests Mark Kantrowitz, author of Filing the FAFSA and senior vice president of the Edvisors Network. To do that for an infant born this year, you’d need to save about $150 a month for a public college, and $220 a month for a private college.

Wondering where the other two thirds comes from? The idea is to spread the rest of the cost of paying for college over a lifetime to make the hefty price tag more manageable. So while one third comes from past income (in the form of what you’ve saved), another one third comes from current income at the time tuition needs to be paid (along with grants and scholarships), and the last third from future income (in the form of loans that you or your child will pay back later).

Best college education image

By this model, assuming you’d saved enough to cover a third of public college tuition, you and your family would need to scrape together the equivalent of about $500 a month, in today’s dollars, from income while the student is in college (for example, the student could earn $100 and, the parents can contribute $400). The final third can be borrowed. As of 2015, college students under the age of 24 could borrow a maximum of $27,000 over four years through the federal government.

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The purpose of this disclosure is to explain how we make money without charging you for our content.

Our mission is to help people at any stage of life make smart financial decisions through research, reporting, reviews, recommendations, and tools.

Earning your trust is essential to our success, and we believe transparency is critical to creating that trust. To that end, you should know that many or all of the companies featured here are partners who advertise with us.

Our content is free because our partners pay us a referral fee if you click on links or call any of the phone numbers on our site. If you choose to interact with the content on our site, we will likely receive compensation. If you don't, we will not be compensated. Ultimately the choice is yours.

Opinions are our own and our editors and staff writers are instructed to maintain editorial integrity, but compensation along with in-depth research will determine where, how, and in what order they appear on the page.

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