If your child is close to college age and you've got very little money saved, don't despair. Junior isn't doomed to a life of flipping burgers. There are several things you can do to improve your situation.
For starters, Junior might delay going to college for one or more years. If the idea of working for a bit right out of high school appeals to him, it can be a smart move. Both he and you can save money for college as he works.
Also, consider having Junior focus on less expensive schools, such as in-state public universities. Local schools have additional benefits, such as extra scholarship opportunities and reduced travel costs to and from school. Another option is for Junior to attend a community college and then transfer to a bigger and more expensive school for his final years. Another new possibility is online courses, many of which are now offered over the Internet.
But these options might not even be necessary. Start looking into scholarships -- Junior might qualify for one or more. You don't always have to be a genius to earn them -- some are meant for violin-playing Lithuanian-Americans and others for lifeguards with family ties to some association or organization. Some are simply for students from a particular state who want to study a particular subject. There's a wide range. Check out these scholarship info sites: FinAid, The College Board, FastWeb, College Scholarships, College-Scholarships (with a hyphen!), and Wired Scholar.
Finally, consider loans. As long as you don't end up borrowing too much, this is an effective way to finance school. For more info on loans for college, click over to Sallie Mae (technically SLM
Junior should still apply to one or more of his dream schools anyway, because you never know -- they might offer a financial aid package that helps make it affordable.
We offer more tips on this topic in our College Savings center, and you can get answers to your questions (or at least pick up tips from others' experiences) 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. This valuable service features customized independent advice from a variety of objective financial experts.