It’s easy to get caught up in filling out FAFSA and loan applications, evaluating your 529 plan performance and planning a budget for college expenses, and forget one very important step of the paying for college process: having an open, honest conversation with your child about how you will handle the cost of college.

According to the College Savings Foundation 2013 Survey of Parents, 75 percent of parents expect their children to contribute to college costs. If you’re among this number, do your children know that these are the expectations? It’s important to have “the college conversation” well in advance of the first tuition bill so that there aren’t any surprises or arguments over who will be paying when the time comes. These tips can help you manuever this tricky conversation with ease.

Before you talk

Do your calculations
As accurately as you can, estimate how much you would be able to contribute to each school that you child has received an aid offer from. This can help you calculate how much your child will be responsible for based on each school so that you have a hard number to present to him or her. These estimates shouldn’t include your retirement funds— remember, there are loans and scholarships available for college, but not for retirement. Furthermore, if you sacrifice your retirement savings for your children now, you might end up depending on them to support you financially later in life.

Meet with a professional
Your financial advisor can help you estimate how much you can afford to spend per year on tuition and other college expenses. Remember that he or she may be able to spot areas of excess or shortfalls easier than you can, and this can drastically change the amount you are able to contribute.

Share the responsibility
Ask your children to help you fill out FAFSA and compare financial aid packages from various schools—it’s important that they’re involved in this process so that they know what’s expected from both them and the family financially.

Download Article to continue reading (PDF): The Paying for College Conversation