Author: Deborah Goodkin, Managing Director, Savings Plans, First National Bank

As a parent who strongly values higher education, I commend other parents for prioritizing their children’s futures. After all, your child’s education is an important and worthy investment—one that can help them gain vital skills and opportunities down the road.

Indeed, a college degree can make a significant lifetime impact by safeguarding jobs and providing financial security in the long run. For instance, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate of those with a high school diploma was 5.2% in 2016, compared to just 2.7% for those with a bachelor’s degree. With 67% higher annual earnings, bachelor’s degree holders can earn $1 million more over a lifetime than those with only a high school diploma, based on College Board’s Education Pays 2016 report. Not to mention the fact that more and more employers are now requiring a college degree. In an increasingly competitive job market, a college education is becoming not only an advantage, but a necessity.

There is a simple way to attain this necessity: saving. With a NEST 529 college savings account, you can save for virtually any type of accredited two-year or four-year school, including public or private universities, community colleges, and vocational or trade schools—even graduate schools both in the United States and abroad.

Believe it or not, it’s less expensive to save than to borrow. To put this into perspective, if you invested $150 per month for 15 years, earning 7% back, a $48,000 education would cost you $27,000 out of pocket. On the other hand, if you borrowed funds from a lender, paying $582 per month for over 10 years, the same education would cost you $69,884 out of pocket.

Don’t fret about saving for the entire cost of college—any amount of savings will decrease what you owe, and steer your child in the right direction. Rather than trying to save the entire cost of the education, you can use a combination of funding sources, including out of pocket income and savings, loans, grants, and scholarships.

The best part is that getting started is easy! There is no minimum amount required to open a NEST 529 account or to continue to save—you can invest as much as you are able to with what you can afford. Even a little bit of money will add up over time, so create a plan that best fits your own unique financial situation and goals. The earlier you get started, the better—but it’s never too late. Big or small, every dollar counts.