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ROANOKE (WSLS 10) –  The average cost of college can top $20,000 a year when you add in room and board. Families all over the country are trying to save for retirement and kids college.

Paulette Recktenwald will be making one less lunch soon when her oldest son goes off to college.

“I want them all to have the opportunity to go to college but not to incur a large amount of debt upon graduation,” said Recktenwald, who adds putting three kids through college while saving for retirement is a challenge. “Some of those goals are conflicting and some of the strategies that you would use for retirement planning are different then for college planning. It’s been an eye-opener and a real education. I wish that I had educated myself earlier in the process and started earlier.”

“It really comes down to trying to marry the academics, the finances and the social aspects of going to college so that you make the best fit and have the most successful opportunity,” says Frankie Butler, a Regional Director for The College Funding Coach.

Recktenwald has been working with Butler to maximize college savings.

“If you’ve ever told your kids that you can go to any school you want to as long as it’s a Virginia State College rethink that,” said Butler. “It may come down to sticker price in the end but don’t take them out of consideration just because you can’t afford them because you very well may be able to.”

Tip #1: Butler says start as early as possible saving for college without putting your retirement in jeopardy.

“Earlier is better but also understand what the rules are around the game as we say,” said Butler.

Tip #2: Educate yourself about the types of plans out there and Butler says a 529 plan isn’t the only option.

“There are tax advantages to them and they’re great products but it can actually reduce the amount of financial aid you may be eligible for whereas something like a Roth IRA which has similar tax features to it and can be used to pay for college does not count in the formula against you,” said Butler.

Tip #3: Understand what college award letter means and how much money school is awarding your student.

Tip #4: Take a close look at how you’re using the money you’ve saved and don’t knock yourself out of possible tax credits.

“It’s doable. It takes some planning, it takes some focus. It takes educating yourself,” said Butler.

Recktenwald hopes she’s an expert by the time her 12-year old goes off to college.

“The day your child’s born start saving. Open an account for them that day as soon as you know their name so that you can start early,” said Recktenwald.

There are $10 classes offered through Roanoke County and in some areas of Virginia hundreds of parents have taken these classes. Folks who want to register for a workshop can go to to register online or call (540) 772-PLAY (7-5-2-9) for more information.

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