#1 Set up a 529 Savings Account
A 529 account is a college savings account. You can set one up for free and then put money aside whenever you have any to spare. This a great place to encourage friends and families to donate to instead of buying your kids video games or other toys they don't need for birthdays and Christmas. A small toy and a donation to their college account are a better investment in their future. Some employers will match investments into 529 accounts – find out if yours offers this benefit. When you have cash windfalls like a tax refund or a bonus at work, stash some cash here. Once it's in the account, you won't be able to touch it, so that makes it easier to save for your kid's education.
#2 Sign up for uPromise
uPromise is a free program that puts money into a college savings account for your child based on purchases you make from restaurants and retailers. This means that money you ordinarily spend goes to work for your child's education. Typical cash back offers range from 5%-25% cash back. What's cool is that you can share your uPromise log-in with friends and family so they can use the program when they shop and dine out and it will build up even more money for your child's college account. This is a great way to save money toward college without having to pull additional cash out of pocket that you may not be able to afford. There's no downside to signing up for the program.
#3 Encourage Good Grades and Consider an Ivy League School
If you don't make a lot of money and/or can't afford to save up a lot for college, you may think this greatly limits your child's choices of colleges. But here's something that may surprise you – if your student can get accepted by an Ivy League school, it may be much more affordable than a state school. For instance, Yale offers parents earning less than $65,000 100% financial aid with no loans to any student that's accepted and for parents earning less between $65,000-$100,000, they ask you to pay just $4,500 a year. That's dirt cheap for a great education. So one approach to college for your kids is to put the emphasis on their grades and academics and less pressure on yourself to save.
If you're still paying off student loans of your own, you should make it your priority to pay off your own debt before saving for your kids' schooling. Why? It's likely that the interest rate you're paying on your debt is greater than what you would earn in a college savings account.