The cost of a college education is getting steeper, rising substantially each year in the recent past. Still, your young ones aren't doomed to a future at the local fast food eatery. Here are some tips to help you plan how to pay for a college education.

Don't assume your youngster will follow a traditional route. He may have no interest in a traditional college or university education, instead planning to make a career out of a trade. He may change his mind and attend college later -- or perhaps he's already planning to work for a few years between high school and college. If so, that's not necessarily a bad idea. Students who attend college slightly later than usual may take their studies more seriously.

Involve your child in the financial planning process, as well as the college selection process. From an early age, she might help by contributing to her college fund. If she's interested in expensive schools, plan a financing strategy together. Knowing how much college costs might provide some motivation to work harder in high school, increasing odds of earning scholarships.

Don't neglect your own retirement needs. If you're saving for college expenses, it doesn't mean you should put off saving for your retirement for 10 or more years. If you neglect your retirement to provide for your children, they may end up providing for you much more than you'd planned. A related concern is that, when it comes time to apply for financial aid, any money that you've sheltered in IRS-sanctioned retirement funds (such as IRAs) usually isn't taken into account as assets available for college.

Don't rule out financial aid. Many people assume that their incomes and/or assets will make their children ineligible for financial aid. Even children of people earning six-figure salaries can receive some financial aid, especially if they have more than one kid in school. Financial aid is big business, with almost $100 billion being awarded annually.

For more tips on saving for college, drop by the Fool's College Savings Center and check out The Motley Fool's Guide to Paying for School: How to Cover Education Costs from K to Ph.D., by Robert Brokamp.

If you'd like an actual person (a financial pro, no less) to talk to about your tax concerns and your financial planning needs, look into our TMF Money Advisor, which features customized independent advice from financial experts.