The average cost of tuition is increasing by 7 percent each year; much faster than the historical rate of inflation. At this pace, who knows what opportunities are going to be closed for today's young people, or what alternatives they will have for success? It's also making it harder for parents to decide if they can afford to help pay for their children's college costs.

So what's a parent to do? The quick answer is to put your financial future first. It can be difficult for some to feel like good parents when they allow their children to suffer and work through these things. But with Social Security not looking like it used to and company pensions dwindling in numbers, people are more and more responsible to take care of their own retirement savings. So by satisfying your own conscience, you may end up sacrificing your security in retirement. Here are three things you can do when trying to make the decision.

1. Start saving now

Every state offers a 529 college savings plan that allows holders to save money for education purposes and withdraw it tax-free. However, the funds must be used for educational purposes - typically tuition, fees, room and board, books, etc.

However, you shouldn't feel that you absolutely have to pay all of your children's college costs. Doing so could cause added stress and cripple your own future. In many cases, parents want to pay the costs because their parents did it for them. Acknowledging that times are different can help you avoid the guilt of not being able to continue that at the same level. When you create your saving plan, make sure your retirement savings are adequate. If you have some left over, you can choose to put that into college savings.

2. Student loans

. I'm not a fan of student loans. In fact, I recently wrote an article titled Student Loans are Toxic. I don't believe there is enough education for these young kids when they sign up for them. But if you are faced with the decision to pay for their tuition or for your retirement, just remember this: There are no "retirement loans." Educate your children on the impact of student loans on their financial future. Encourage them to do things to avoid a need to use them, like getting a summer job in high school, working during college and applying for scholarships. Don't allow them to make those decisions on their own without helping them understand what they are doing.

3. Lower your expectations

. Some parents feel that the university their child attends is just as important as the education itself. It is true that you could get a better education at Harvard than you could at a local four-year university, but the difference in what you pay isn't always equal to the difference in value. Additionally, hiring managers don't just look at your university pedigree when making a hiring decision. It isn't uncommon for candidates from small-town schools to beat out candidates from bigger schools simply because the manager can tell they would make a better employee.

That isn't necessarily to say that no one should help their children pay for college. Each parent has the right to make those decisions for their children, and some parents can do it without sacrificing their future security. But it is important that when you are trying to make financial decisions like these, remember to think about all the alternatives and their intended and unintended consequences.

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