In my article “What’s the Problem With Student Loans?” I wrote about how college debt is dragging down our economy and whey the average student loan borrower is enslaved by their decision to finance their education with loans.

I talked about many of the consequences that were unforeseen when they took out those loans and rear their ugly head years later, seriously hampering their future life.

Now that I’ve done my preachin’ about how damaging student debt can be on an individual as well as a national level, I’ll get into some preventive medicine. Let’s talk about how to avoid having to deal with student loans in the first place.

Avoiding Student Loans: Parents

First, I’ll address the parents:

Obviously, it’s best to start saving for your child’s college expenses as early as possible.  I’ve even talked to people over the years who started saving for their child’s college fund before they even had children. These are what you would call “proactive” parents to say the least.

Most of us are not that proactive. If you didn’t start saving before your child was conceived, it’s ok, take a deep breath. Quit worrying what the overachievers are doing and concentrate on your own situation.

Just do what you can do right now.

College Saving Can Be Automatic

You can start by figuring out how much you want to save each month and have it automatically deposited into an account just for that purpose (a 529 plan or an Educational Savings Account).

The best way to set it up is to contribute a regular percentage of your income (usually about 3%) every month. That way your contributions increase as your pay increases over the years.

Think Outside the Box

Or you could do something different.

Get a part time job or a side gig for a couple of years. Put all the money you make from that into the college account, and let it grow. If you do this when your child is young, that money has time to grow significantly.

This is a great way to save because it’s only a sacrifice for a short period of time, but it reaps huge rewards as your child gets older.

Getting a Late Start on Saving for College?

If you’ve gotten a late start on college saving, obviously you’ll have to save money quicker if you want to avoid student loan debt. You could still get a part time job or a side gig, but you may have to do it for a longer period of time.

Or, if you save out of your earnings from your regular job, you’ll need to kick up the percentage a bit (maybe 5-10% of your pay). You could even do a combination of the two to save even more aggressively.

No matter which method you use, the earlier you get started, the better, because the money has time to grow through investing.

Students

Now for the student:

Maybe your parents didn’t save for your college, or maybe they didn’t save enough.

There are strategies that you can use as well to keep from taking out student loans and putting a damper on your post graduation future.

The first thing you should do is to get into the mindset that you want to go to school debt free, no matter what everyone else is doing. It’s so easy to give into the mentality of borrowing now and paying back later. But if you go down that road, it will hurt your financial life for the next 20 years. Avoid student loans at all costs.

Next, get a job and work your way through school. A lot of people actually do this, but you don’t hear much about them.

Why?

Because they’re not complaining about their debt load and begging someone to do something about it.

You CAN do it. You just have to have a plan along with the right mindset.

Apply for Lots of Scholarships

Another strategy is to make applying for scholarships into a part time job. Create a profile on sites like Fastweb.com and apply for every scholarship you can.

There is a lot of scholarship money out there just waiting to be used, and many scholarships are not based on grades. Just make filling out applications a systematic part of your daily or weekly routine. You just may be surprised at what you get.

Go to an Affordable School

You can also go to a cheaper college. You don’t have to go to an elite private university to get a good education. There are cheaper options available that will allow you to get that degree without spending $50k a year for it.

Nobody will tell you working your way through school is easy. But it beats 20 years of struggling with student loan payments that limit your freedom like a financial ball and chain.

Don’t let student loan debt do that to you. No matter what some people say, YOU DON’T NEED IT!!!

Be original.

Be different.

Don’t think like the crowd.

When you do what everyone else is doing, you get what everyone else is getting.

Make a plan. Find a way. You can do it!

How did you pay for college? Tell me about it in the comments.

Article originally published on Celebrating Financial Freedom. Used with permission.

Dr. Jason Cabler is a Christian personal finance blogger, author, and speaker. He teaches how to get out of debt and live a debt free lifestyle through his Celebrating Financial Freedom blog and self study course. His book How to Budget: The Quick and Easy Guide to Making a Budget That Works is now available (more info here). He can be reached for interviews or speaking engagements by email, and can be found on Twitter, Facebook, and Google +.

Publication date: August 7, 2013