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Having a college fund for your child(ren) is a decision that many parents think about when looking at their family's finances. If they do decide to invest and save for a fund, the next decision is about how much would be appropriate.

Looking at Actual College Tuition Costs Versus Sticker Prices

student loan debts

Many stories in the media highlight the high costs of tuition. USA Today did a story earlier this year that tuition rose 15% between 2008 and 2010 for public universities.

Parents can be alarmed by how fast costs can increase and may feel like there is no way they can save enough for their children's fund.

However there is good reason not to get too discouraged. Kiplinger did a recent story on the best values for U.S. private colleges.

What I found interesting is the difference between the total costs quoted, the average aid given (both need and non-need based), and the average debt at graduation.

How Much Money Can We Save By Staying In-State?

Being as we live in North Carolina, I'm using in-state colleges as ballpark figures.

Here are the 4 year sticker prices for both private and public schools along with the average non-need based aid given to their students:

  • UNC- Chapel Hill->$22,340/$6,659
  • Duke University->$56,056/$24,323
  • NC State->$31,152/*couldn't find this info – will update it when I do
  • Wake Forest University->$55,960/$15,8186

Note: UNC has a net price calculator that can help you estimate costs based on general financial information you give.

We're happy that our state offers some great quality schools, but I know many others also have great options. Looking at your state's best colleges can be a smart choice for you and your kids. In-state tuition can typically save you quite a bit of money without sacrificing quality of education.

While costs are sure to rise as the years pass, it is encouraging to see that with some adjustments and an early start, parents can get a college fund set up that won;t destroy their family's finances.

Thoughts on How Much to Save for College

I'd love to hear from you about your plans? How much are you planning on saving for college? How much are actually able to do right now? On a side note, how much do you think parents should help with college?

About Elle Martinez

Elle Martinez helps families at Couple Money achieve financial freedom by sharing tips for reducing debt, increase income, and building net worth. Learn how to live on one income and have fun with the second..

5 comments add your comment

  1. I went to NC State, my twin sister went to UNC so we had a side by side comparison. My tuition was cheaper than hers and I received more aid money! NC schools are very good value for the dollar.

    • Thanks so much Jenna for sharing your family’s experience with NC schools. I’m happy you guys got a great deal on your education.

  2. I’m a big believer that parents should save for their retirement first, and kids college fund after that. Your kid can borrow for school, you can’t borrow for retirement. You can choose to pay the whole shot, but you’re not obligated to.
    I’d like to match our children’s savings so they can develop good money skills before they leave home, and have an incentive to have a part time job in school.
    My room mate in first years had parents that paid for everything, and she kept hot boxing the jeep her parents leased for her. I don’t think she was better off then me when it came to surviving in the real world. You might think you’re being kind by paying the whole shot, but teaching your child responsibility and giving them ownership prepares them for the real world.

  3. Wow, I didn’t realize Duke gave out that much merit aid! I’m surprised it’s competitive with the public schools. Were you able to find the average package that included need-based aid as well?

  4. Thanks for doing this research for me! ;=) I’m a big fan of state schools. I went to Virginia Tech and paid what seemed like nothing for an excellent education. I wish my kids could go there, too, but I don’t see us or them choosing out of state unless lots of grants and scholarships are involved.

    Our kids are still little, but we set up a college fund for the first two in their first year of life, and now I’m about to set up a fund for my little dude. We try to be consistent with contributions, but sometimes it’s tough to see that money go away for the time being when there are other pressing needs to take care of.

    We haven’t decided yet how much we’ll pay for each child. I don’t think we’ll pay for all of it unless our own income jumps up greatly. I don’t think we’re prepared to make that decision yet.

    Have you decided on a percentage to pay?