I talked to certified financial planner JJ Burns of JJ Burns & Co. in Melville, N.Y., for some tips about what parents need to consider to get started, including where to stash that cash and whose name it should be in. (Hint: Not your child's.)
Burns also recommends signing up for rewards programs like Upromise, which generate cash back in a college savings account for purchases made on linked credit and debit cards. It might not amount to much extra, but that free money can make a big difference over 18 years of saving.
The total amount parents need to save might not be quite so high, either. Factors such as what college a child attends, and whether he or she gets scholarship money, can reduce the total needed by 50 percent or better.
—By CNBC.com's Kelli B. Grant. Follow her on Twitter @KelliGrant.