Parents scraping together cash for this year's tuition bills may have it relatively easy. By the time today's newborns graduate from high school, the total cost to attend a four-year private college could tally nearly $500,000.
According to CollegeBoard’s 2012 Trends in College Pricing report, the average total cost to attend a four-year private institution is $39,518, including tuition and room and board. We plugged that number into the college cost calculator at Savingforcollege.com, to see how much parents of a newborn might expect to pay in 18 years. The calculator assumes, based on historical data, that college costs will increase by 6 percent annually over that period. The grand total: $493,447.
Intimidating? You bet. Manageable? Certainly--and it'll be a lot easier if you start early.
(Read more: Rethinking that '4%' retirement rule)
I talked to certified financial planner JJ Burns of JJ Burns & Co. in Melville, N.Y., for some tips about what parents need to consider to get started, including where to stash that cash and whose name it should be in. (Hint: Not your child's.)
Burns also recommends signing up for rewards programs like Upromise, which generate cash back in a college savings account for purchases made on linked credit and debit cards. It might not amount to much extra, but that free money can make a big difference over 18 years of saving.
(More from CNBC: Student debt will punish US for years, study says)
The total amount parents need to save might not be quite so high, either. Factors such as what college a child attends, and whether he or she gets scholarship money, can reduce the total needed by 50 percent or better.
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