Whose future is more important in your household: Yours, or your kids'?

Before you answer, would you feel any better knowing that one-third of those with school-age children in the home put their retirement savings ahead of their offspring's college funds?

Go ahead, admit it. You're a bit relieved to know that others are shortchanging Junior's college savings account in favor of their own "golden years" account. In fact, according to a recent survey by Allstate (NYSE:ALL), 33% of respondents with children younger than 18 say that college savings is priority No. 2. Another 46% percent are saving equally for college and retirement, and 14% -- the selfless souls -- earmark most of their savings for education and funnel whatever's left over into their retirement accounts. Another 5% are putting off retirement savings altogether until the kids are through college.

If we need to make a choice, we side with the one-third of parents padding their future savings over that of their kids'. And it's not self-centered -- it's pragmatic.

There are lots of ways to pay for school -- loans, financial aid, the Coverdell ESA, 529 plans, and prepaid tuition are the saviors of parents' retirement plans. And cash-strapped students pursuing an education have even more alternatives -- put it off, attend a cheaper junior college for a few years, apply for a work-study program.

On the other hand, there's no retirement scholarship -- no Pell Grant for senior citizens, no scholarships to gain entry into the Sunset Years Retirement Village. If you don't have money for retirement, guess what? You can't retire.

College savings is only part of a broader financial plan. Before you set up your child's future, pay off your high-interest debt, establish an emergency fund, get adequate insurance, and beef up your retirement savings. After you've crossed all of those items off your list, you can start spoiling the youngsters.

For more on handling the financial hassles of higher education:

  • Here's how one parent manages his sons' college investments, and some resources for the resourceful parent.
  • Asset allocation isn't just for retirees. There are typical allocation guidelines designed to protect Buffy's lunch money from the stock market's ups and downs.
  • Even with rising tuitions, college costs are just a fraction of a fraction of what you'll burn through in retirement, and they may not even be as steep as you anticipate.
  • If you're starting late with the college savings program, don't fret. One in five parents hasn't put away even a dime, according to a Sallie Mae study. Follow these six tips for slacker parents.