You have no idea where your toddler or preschooler will attend college—though you might be hoping they choose your alma mater—but you might already be thinking about your options for their kindergarten, primary and secondary education.

If non-public school is on your radar, you can fund a good chunk of their tuition with a 529 plan similar to the one you’ve set up for them for college. Thanks to changes in the federal tax code that took effect Jan. 1, 2018, you can make tax-free withdraws of up to $10,000 a year for pre-college tuition at private schools. Parochial school tuition is eligible as well.

That’s good news, but for us Californians, it hardly constitutes a free ride. You’ll still have to supplement with savings due to the Golden State’s staggeringly high cost of just about everything, including tuition.

Nationally, the annual average for private elementary school tuition is $9,263. The high school average is $14,017, according to the website Private School Review. But if you’re in San Mateo County, the average tuition for a private elementary school will cost you $15,201. High school tuition is a whopping $29,859—more than double the national average and possibly more than what your parents paid for your college tuition.

Because you’ll need money for private elementary school and high school before you need to tap your college nest egg, I suggest that you load up on savings as early as possible to give the money more time to grow. You’ll want to take full advantage of the fact that the income and gains are both tax-free. (Note that Californians don’t get tax deductions for making contributions.)

If you’re an aggressive saver, you can even open a 529 before you become a parent. You can create the account in your own name and then change the beneficiary to your child’s name once he or she has a Social Security number.

Ideally, you’d empty the account making the last payment on your teen’s senior year of tuition. But with so many unknowns—how much tuition will rise, where your child will attend school, where you’ll live and more—it’s nearly impossible to make this all work out so tidily. Don’t sweat it. You can use this money for permissible college expenses, too.

What if your kid receives a full ride to a swanky private school? You can make a penalty-free withdrawal in the same amount from her 529, though you’ll pay taxes on any growth.

Remember too that you don’t have to go this alone. If your children’s grandparents, aunts and uncles and other family and friends want to give a meaningful gift, they can contribute to these 529 plans as well.


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