With 18 Years to Go

Time is on your side. Save often and aggressively to outpace inflation.

With nearly two decades to go and college inflation ticking away at 5% a year, the bills skyrocket -- but the power of compounding over that time can make even the priciest schools affordable. The best strategy at this point is one that almost no one who doesn't regularly utter the words trust fund can put into action: Put aside a lump sum and watch it grow. With 18 years to invest at a total return of 10% a year, you'd need about $41,000 to finance a private-college education and about $20,000 for public college.

Almost as unrealistic as finding such a windfall is saving $100 to $300 a month uninterrupted for 18 years. Only a few superdisciplined families are able to do it. "Extra" cash is likely to be diverted to day care or a down payment on a house, or your income may drop while you stay home with the children.

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