One thing at the forefront of many parents’ minds is saving for college. No matter how old your child is, it’s never too soon to start preparing. Tuition is an incredibly large investment that most people don’t have ready on demand. Most of us don’t have buckets of money in savings!

The goal of any parent is to give their child a successful life. Though it’s not for everyone (and there’s nothing wrong with your child taking a different path!), graduating college is a common part of many parents’ plans. Graduating from college debt-free is the cherry on top of the plan, even if it seems like an unrealistic goal.

Student loans may be inevitable, but there are certain steps parents can take to be proactive. At the very least, creating a college savings plan early on will help your student slightly alleviate financial burdens later on down the road.

Here are five ways you can kick-start your college fund and worry a little less about that impending tuition bill.

1. Incorporate a college fund into your normal budget. 

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Deposit a portion of each paycheck into the account. It doesn’t have to be a large sum of money that will significantly impact your standard of living. Even a small deposit will add up over time. Treat your child’s college fund as part of an annual budget, just as you do with groceries or gas money. 

2. Choose a savings account that will grow. 

Selecting a college savings account is not a ‘one size fits all’ process. There are multiple options in account types dependent on goals and financial situations. Some of the most common accounts are 529 savings plans, Coverdell ESAs, and Roth IRAs, though there are many options. Be sure to research all of the alternatives before committing to an account. Given that this is such a long term investment, parents should feel confident in their decision. 

3. Find something to invest in. 

Investments may seem risky, but they can have big payoffs in the long run. Whether you get involved in cryptocurrency or the stock market, find something and stick to it. Like anything else, be sure to do an adequate amount of research before pouring your money somewhere. Investments often come with a lot of uncertainty, so try to limit this uncertainty as much as possible. 

4. Consider alternative financial plans.

There are countless options the bundle multiple benefits into one financial plan. For example, the Gerber Life College Plan offers adult life insurance and a guaranteed payout once the child reaches maturity. These plans are often more flexible than a secure bank account, allowing parents to use funds elsewhere if necessary. I’ve never tried it myself and there may be alternatives out there that offer similar benefits—check your local bank to see what they have!

5. Look for scholarships.

If your child is in high school, it’s never too soon for your child to start seeking our and preparing to apply for scholarships. These applications can be competitive, especially around senior year of high school when everyone is scrambling to find opportunities. There are plenty of scholarships out there for kids of all ages, it just takes a little bit of research to pinpoint them. Earning a scholarship early will reduce a lot of stress on the student during their senior year when they have dozens of other standardized tests and college applications to worry about.

University tuition is getting more and more expensive. Additionally, earning a college degree has become a necessity to help bolster a successful career. As a parent, planning for this major life investment can be incredibly overwhelming. However, starting early and being well versed in your options is essential to combatting financial stress. While we hope our child achieves their dreams of being a D1 athlete earning a full ride to a top university, it never hurts to have a backup plan.