The cost of higher education is one of the most contentious topics of debate; with over a trillion in collective debt, most Americans are faced with a stressful financial future that sees them paying their own student loans back when their children are heading off to school. Whether tuition rates drop or other alternatives are put in place in the future, you want to ensure your child is able to reduce their future debt as much as possible. Sometimes, it feels like savings are something only the wealthy can afford to have, but this isn’t the case. Even if you can’t put hundreds of dollars away each month, you can still start saving for your little one’s education. Here’s how.

Open a Designated Account

A 529 plan is the best type for college savings; it’s an investment account that is tax-exempt and can be used for college as well as K-12 education expenses. The 529 plan was founded in 1986 and can be used at over 6,000 U.S. schools and more than 400 foreign colleges. Every state has its own 529 plan and rules, but your child can go to school at any of the approved institutions. Any account that earns interest is best for a college fund as you’re guaranteed to wind up with more than you contributed. In many cases, family and friends can also directly contribute to the 529 plan rather than giving the money to you.

Set a Goal

To cover the full cost of your baby’s college education, you should strive to put away at least $50,000. Of course, they may not need this much if they get scholarships and grants, but it’s best to plan for everything. If you put away $500 a month with a 5 percent interest rate, you’d be able to reach this amount easily, but that isn’t a realistic figure for many parents. Don’t become disappointed that you can’t put away hundreds each paycheck. Even just $25 a month makes a difference and can help your child in the future. Start by setting a monthly target rather than thinking about enormous figures. You can reassess each year and decide whether you want to start upping your contributions.

Get Your Own Student Loans Under Control

It’s hard to put away money for your child when you’re still saddled with college debt. Look into your own options to make repayment faster and give you more money every month. You can refinance parent PLUS and other student loans with a private lender to get the most flexible options. The sooner you lower your own debt and expenses, the easier it will be to focus on investing in your child’s future.

Ask for Donations as Gifts

When birthdays and holidays roll around, let relatives know your child has a college fund for them to contribute to. While small gifts are still acceptable, encourage loved ones to put any larger funds toward your child’s higher education. You can ask for college fund contributions instead of gifts tastefully by sending a message illustrating the importance of this fund and the meaning behind a contribution.