Your emotions run the gamut when you send your kid off to college—pride, excitement, happiness, sadness and, of course, apprehension about what this means for your finances.

Whether you’ve been keeping a college fund since they were born or the reality of these expenses is just sinking in, chances are you’ll have to make some changes to your family’s finances to accommodate the extra costs of sending a kid to college. While the list of mounting expenses can be anxiety-inducing, a clear plan going in can make it more manageable. Here, experts weigh in with action steps every parent paying for college should take.

1. Examine Your Spending

One of the first things you need to do is take a close look at your expenses and spending habits, says Kelli Bhattacharjee, who runs the frugal living blog Freebie Finding Mom. “It is not a fun or enjoyable task, but I recommend pulling up your bank statements and credit card statements to see what you are spending each month,” she advises. While you may think you have a sense of your spending habits, you’d be surprised by what you can find out from actually analyzing your purchases. Use a budget worksheet to help you organize your current expenses.

2. Make Small Cuts

Once you’ve gotten a sense of your regular expenses, it’s time to take a look and see what you can cut or reduce, says Steven Millstein, a CFA and CPA and founder of Credit Zeal. This isn’t about massively changing your life or limiting all spending. Small changes can make a huge difference. “For example, many people are opting to use Wi-Fi instead of conventional cable TV because you can stream or download many shows and movies over the Internet.” He also recommends taking a look at your food budget and seeing what you can adjust there. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2021 Americans spent 12.4%  of their annual income on food. Cutting down on little things—like grabbing takeout or a cup of coffee—can make a big difference in your budget. Spending a couple bucks on coffee every workday can add up to hundreds of dollars a year, which can help buy books for your student. Millstein says that changing your habits at the grocery store can help too. He suggests making shopping lists (and sticking to them!), avoiding impulse buys, shopping the sales, and taking advantage of store brands.

3. Rethink Tax Time

Having a kid in college means you may be able to take some higher education-related tax deductions. However, these deductions are dependent on your income, so it’s important to check with a tax advisor to make sure they apply to your finances and you’re only deducting what’s appropriate for your family. Jacob Dayan, CEO and co-founder of Community Tax, reminds parents to keep receipts for all qualified expenses that can be deducted, such as tuition, books and supplies. Every parent of a college student should check out the IRS website for more detailed information on what exactly qualifies as a deductible expense. For example, the interest on qualified student loans is deductible. In some cases, “This interest deduction could reduce the amount of taxable income by up to $2,500,” explains Dayan. If you get a tax refund, he suggests putting it toward offsetting college expenses.

4. Get Your Kids to Chip In

Now is the perfect time to teach your kid valuable lessons regarding money, budgeting, and independence—they are, after all, technically adults now. “Some ideas include investigating work-study programs [if eligible], expecting kids to work weekend jobs, seeking paid internships (which can provide valuable experience and connections in the student’s chosen career path), and helping kids set realistic budgets that include their portion of the bill,” suggests Brian Morris, communications coordinator at Direct Textbook. “By expecting their kids to pitch in, [parents] can alleviate some of the costs and teach their kids lessons that foster lifelong financial success.” Start having these conversations before your child leaves for college so that the expectations of who is paying for what are clear.

5. Start Now

Don’t wait to make these financial changes until you’re writing that first tuition check or are running out of savings. In an ideal world, you’ve been making ongoing contributions to a 529 plan or other savings fund for your child’s college education. But if you haven’t, it’s not too late to make changes that can help accommodate the cost of a child in college. Adjusting your budget as early as possible will help give you some peace of mind when it comes to paying for your child’s education.

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