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 and plans 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 a fairly 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 the 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 needs to provide for your children, they may end up providing for you, much more than you'd planned. Another 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) isn't taken into account as assets tap-able for college. At least that's how the rules work at the moment.

  • Don't rule out financial aid. Many people assume 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. Financial aid is big business, with roughly $50 billion being awarded annually.

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

You'll also find lots of opinions and advice on our Paying for College discussion board.

And by the way, if thinking about investing makes your head hurt and you'd like an actual person (a financial pro, no less) to talk to about your financial situation, look into our TMF Money Advisor. It's a valuable service we're offering, featuring customized independent advice from a variety of objective financial experts. You need to make sure you're saving enough and well enough to meet all your needs -- if you need some help doing that, look into this offering. (To take savings matters into your own hands, visit our Savings Center.)