Education costs have been outpacing inflation for decades, making college one of the biggest strains on many household budgets. But with some planning, and lots of disciplined saving, parents have a good shot at sending their kids off to school without the baggage of a crippling level of student loans.

Stock market investing is ideally suited for that type of saving, especially since we're talking about holding periods of five years or longer. With that in mind, let's look at a few stocks that could help you fund a financially secure college trip for the student in your life.

A graduating student hugs her father.

Image source: Getty Images.

1. Nike

Nike (NYSE:NKE) has just about all the elements you could ask for in a growth stock. The footwear and apparel giant dominates an attractive niche that's expanding all around the world. Evidence of that premium position shows up across several financial metrics, including sales growth, which recently surpassed 10%, and gross profit margin, which has been trending higher for years. The combination of those trends helps explain why Nike's earnings are spiking, and how the company can also direct more cash toward shareholders in the form of increasing dividend payments.

The company has already rewarded investors over time, but there's a long runway for growth ahead, both in the U.S., where Nike is shifting its selling approach toward high-margin, direct-to-consumer sales, and in places like China, which should add billions of dollars to the retailer's annual sales footprint over the next few years.

2. Procter & Gamble

Investors can count on recessions and market downturns to affect their portfolios several times in any long-term holding period. Thus, consider anchoring your portfolio with a company that's known for its ability to thrive through a wide range of economic conditions: Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG).

The owner of consumer staple brands that dominate niches from diapers to paper towels, P&G tends to grow its sales and earnings even during recessions. That strength is clear from its over 60-year streak of consecutive annual dividend raises.

P&G struggled through a tough period of sluggish growth from 2013 through most of 2017, but things are looking up lately. In fact, the company is expanding at its fastest pace since embarking on its portfolio reboot over five years ago. But its highly efficient business also has a knack for generating cash even during tough selling conditions. As a result, shareholders are likely to see robust returns from a balance of rising earnings and surging direct cash returns.

3. Garmin

If you're looking for evidence of the attractiveness of the wearable device market, look no further than Alphabet's recent acquisition, Fitbit. But Garmin (NYSE:GRMN) looks like an even stronger business that investors can still buy today.

Garmin has a thriving fitness tracker business, and that segment helped push sales higher by 15% in the most recent quarter. But the more exciting reason to like this company today is its wide portfolio that also includes a robust smartwatch division and a growing footprint in aviation and marine navigation. It is these ancillary segments, and the rising profit margins they support, that are likely to power impressive returns for investors over the years as the student in your life progress toward graduation.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.