By Heidi Stevens

Chicago Tribune

Your son wants to visit several colleges across the country. You’re broke. Options?

Parent advice (from Chicago Tribune staff contributors):

He needs to do more research and limit his visits to, say, three choices. “Virtual” visits will have to do for others. Contact the universities and see if there are any programs for funding prospective students to visit. Go through your budget and lay it out for your son: If money is to be found to pay for visits, then it has to come out of something else. So perhaps there are no birthday gifts this year or fewer dinners out or fewer movies, etc. Students in college need to be aware of costs and budgeting; the time is now to learn those realistic, important, tough lessons.

— Dodie Hofstetter

Choosing the right school is an important decision, but you’re about to enter the most expensive time of your child’s life, so it’s reasonable to limit unnecessary expenses. Most school websites have virtual tours and pages of information and photos about what’s available. Look online to see what people say about the school and talk to graduates you know for a firsthand account. You’ll have to shell out some money for visits, but ask your child to narrow down the list, factoring in academic requirements and cost, and only go to those that make the final cut. Most important, don’t forget to enjoy this precious time with your child. These moments won’t come around again.

— Amy Carr

Expert advice:

“The first and most important question is how does the family sustain itself?” says Joline Godfrey, founder of Independent Means Inc., a financial education institute for families, and the author of “Raising Financially Fit Kids” (Ten Speed Press).

“Part of our big debt problem is that parents are reluctant to be transparent around finances in the family,” Godfrey says. “We need to be having frequent, honest conversations. ‘What are our resources as a family? What can we do to create resources? How do we plan to use our resources?’”

Rather than deciding whether to go into debt to fund the visits, Godfrey suggests enlisting the whole family in a conversation about college.

“If education is a priority for your family, I suggest a big-picture approach to paying for college that includes everyone in the choices and value decisions,” she says. “How do we pull together as a unit to make these things happen?”

It might mean forgoing family vacations for a few years or taking other cost-cutting measures.

It may mean your kids put some of their earnings and savings into a college fund.