Do the Upromise prelims. Enough doom and gloom! The popular college savings program Upromise, with 3 million members and counting, lets you jump-start an education fund by shopping for basics like groceries and gas and by eating out at restaurants. Best of all, you don't need to list a beneficiary to open an account, so expectant parents can start saving for their future scholar before they've even settled on a baby name. If you're pushy enough to enlist family, a multiplier effect kicks in. "I have $3,800 in my account because my 94-year-old grandmother joined Upromise and did one thing," says Jim Doyle, the program's spokesman. "She sold her home through a participating real estate agency."
To sign up for the free service, visit www.upromise.com and register your credit cards. After that, a portion of what you charge to the cards (up to 5% at certain retailers, 10% at some restaurants) automatically goes to your child's account.
Learn these numbers: 5-2-9. If your new budget leaves any room for college savings, tax-advantaged 529 investment plans are too attractive to overlook since they allow you to accumulate as much as $305,000 per child and not pay taxes on the earnings (some tax advantages will expire unless Congress renews them in 2010). The options can be overwhelming -- all 50 states offer a plan and you can currently pick and choose from about 67 investment strategies -- but you'll have more time to go over them now than later, says Joseph F. Hurley, chief executive officer of www.savingforcollege.com and author of The Best Way to Save for College.
You can even open up an account now; most plans will give you up to six months to add a Social Security number when the baby is born. If you'd like family and friends to shower you with college funds instead of booties and rattles, Women's Financial Network at Siebert operates a 529 registry; for details, visit the New Parent page of the S.T.E.P.S. area at www.wfn.com.