It’s hardly a secret that college is expensive. The mounting student loan debt crisis has even become a talking point in this fall’s presidential debates. 

Today’s college graduate owes an average of $31,172, translating to a monthly payment of $393. This takes a serious bite out of earnings and can leave graduates strapped for cash for 10 to 30 years. 

Saving for college will help offset these expenses and ensure your student isn’t bogged down in debt for decades. Experts recommend the following tips:

Start saving now.

Ideally, start putting money aside the day your baby is born—or even sooner, if possible. Compound interest adds up, so the earlier you begin, the more money you’ll have available when your child heads to college. This happens in the blink of an eye, so don’t delay! 

Start small and adjust accordingly.

Even people living paycheck-to-paycheck can start a college fund by putting aside a little bit each month. As your financial situation improves, increase the amount you tuck away. 

Don’t neglect your own finances.

Pay off as much outstanding debt of your own first (credit cards, your own student loan debt, etc.) in order to make saving easier. It’s a good idea to set aside 3-6 months’ worth of expenses in the event of an emergency.

Make saving automatic.

Remove the temptation to spend on yourself by signing up for an automatic payroll deduction, or open a savings account and have your bank move a portion of each deposit there every month. 

Create a monthly budget.

Take a good, hard look at your monthly expenses and make sure you aren’t living beyond your means. Create a spreadsheet and look for areas in which you can cut back (do you really need a double latte every morning?). Funnel the extra money into your college savings account. 

Buy savings bonds.

Savings bonds require little initial investment and the interest earned is tax-free. If held onto until they reach maturity, you can generally expect their value to double. Instead of giving your children toys, get in the habit of offering savings bonds. 

Invest extra cash.

Instead of spending end-of-the-year bonuses, tax refunds, and other unexpected windfalls (lottery winnings, inheritances), add that money to your college fund. Giving it up is easier when you weren’t banking on it in the first place. 

Ask for help.

Grandparents and other relatives are often happy to help out if you ask. To reassure them that their gift money is going to the right place, set up a section 529 plan designated for college savings. 

words Mark Petruska