We all know the importance of saving for our child's college education. After all, student loans can saddle a young adult with debt that takes years to pay off. However, having the desire to put money away for your child's schooling and actually doing it are two very different things.

First, when our children are young, college can seem years away. Plus, that money is needed now for all the demands of parenthood. Second, who knows if our children will even want to go to college? Why sock away money for something that might never even happen?

But the most important thing about saving for your child's college education is simply to do it. College costs continue to rise. One recent report shows that from 2002 to 2012 college tuition and fees rose 89 percent. Some states and schools are making efforts to decrease the expense; however, it's likely to remain a major expense for years to come.

Here are some tips to help you get started:

1. Find a plan.

Each state has its own 529 college savings plan. You don't have to be a resident of a state to take part in that state's plan. Do some research at SavingforCollege.com to see which plans work best for you. If you don't want to start a college savings plan with a monthly or annual contribution, then you'll want to enroll in a state plan that locks in the cost of a college or university at today's prices. These plans also allow you to pay in advance for room and board, which can be a nice benefit.

2. Start early.

This is research you need to be doing before your child is even born. Consider it your parenting homework — a chance to get a significant jumpstart on one of the most important decisions your child will make in her lifetime. Plus, the sooner you start saving, the more money you'll have to give her for her education. And here's a little fringe benefit — when family and friends give you money for baby's birth or baptism, you can put it directly into her college savings fund.

3. Nothing is too small.

That extra $25 you have left over at the end of the month might not seem like a lot of money, but if you invest it in your child's college savings fund, it will have a chance to grow over many years and contribute to a sizable nest egg for the cost of higher education. When combined with your regular monthly contribution, that little extra will go a long way.

4. Build it into your budget.

The best piece of advice is to set a specific amount to put in your child's college savings account each month and make it a routine part of your family budget. Otherwise, you might be tempted to use that money for other purposes. Be honest about what you can contribute and stick to it.

5. In lieu of toys, give money.

There is nothing wrong with asking parents, aunts, uncles and close friends for a college fund donation instead of giving toys or other gifts to your children at the holidays or for their birthday. Sure, a few toys and clothes should be part of the celebration. But a gift or two of money for college will make a big impact in one of the biggest expenses your children will ever encounter.

6. Found money.

Each year there are times when a little extra money comes rolling in. Whether it's your tax return, holiday bonus or months with 3 paychecks, plan ahead and designate a portion of that money to go towards your children's college education. If you plot it out ahead of time you won't even miss the money.