Saving for college. How much is enough?

Ahh, little fall babies. Those cuties bundled up in the crisp autumn air can bring a smile to anyone’s face. And they give new parents so much to look forward to, like those first steps, dance recitals, ball games, and birthday parties.

Oh, and college tuition.

Yep, the time to start planning for your child’s college expenses is the day you find out they are on the way. College is expensive, so the more time you have to save, the better. How much will you need to save each month to ensure your new bundle of joy has the means for higher education? There’s no one answer, but there are ways to find out the best answer for your situation.

First, get a game plan for college savings

You must answer some questions before making a college tuition savings goal. The biggest one is how much time you have to save money. Like any savings plan, the longer you have, the less the monthly contribution. Next, think about where your child might go to school. This one is hard to determine when the recipient is probably still spitting up on your shoulder and waking you up during the night. Still, you must have a target in mind. Of course, it can change, but you must have a target school to determine potential expenses.

Inside this decision process are a few other layers. Will they stay in-state? If not, expenses can balloon. Will they go to a public school or a private school? The difference can be tens of thousands of dollars. How much will college expenses increase? You can be assured they won’t stay the same! Finally, consider whether your child will have to live away from home. Housing and meal plans are a significant portion of college expenses. Eliminating those can change your savings goals quite a bit.

It’s a lot to think about, but don’t get overwhelmed. Just remember, it’s their college career, not yours. They can help by getting scholarships, student loans, or even taking advantage of military financial opportunities.

Building out a college savings model

To make planning easier, let’s assume the following.

  • Your child will attend an in-state public university. The average annual cost for one in Louisiana is currently $19,729.
  • You will contribute 50% of the total cost of college expenses. Your child will contribute the other half. (Remember, it is their college career, not yours.)
  • You will start a 529 plan that earns an average of 6% per year.
  • College costs will go up an average of 6% per year
  • Your child will have housing and meal expenses.
  • You have 18 years to save money.


Here’s how this scenario breaks down. If you seed a 529 plan with $1,000, you’ll need to contribute $235 per month to reach 50% of the total estimated college cost. In 18 years, you’ll have saved approximately $101,000. The monthly contribution drops to $115 without housing and meal expenses. You guessed it, housing and meal plans account for approximately half of college costs.

Creating your own college saving plan

You can create your own plan based on your own set of assumptions using a college tuition calculator like this one, which will allow you to make adjustments to the assumptions in this post so you can see what your particular situation demands.

Remember there are many ways to approach all the different variables. There are even some tax advantages built into the 529 plan. So, research and get help from college-savings experts to be ready when that little bundle of joy walks into the hallowed halls of higher education.