They may be planning to pay for college anyway, she says, through work-study, college jobs or student loans. But this way they are saving "before the fact" and potentially reducing the amount of loan money they'll need or hours they'll need to work.
"Most families have some expectation that students will save some money," Williams says. "It's not an unrealistic expectation that part of the money will go toward college."
Making contributions automatic
Family members who want to contribute to a 529 account can put savings on autopilot. Godfrey says you can set up automatic deposits with your bank, which would debit your checking or savings account and credit the 529 account.
Employers may also allow people to make payroll deductions for the 529 account, she adds.
Spenders can help save through rebate programs, such as Upromise or LittleGrad, which let people earn rewards on everyday purchases that then feed into a 529 savings plan.
Another Web site, College Piggy, a startup company whose program launches in October, lets friends and family make one-time or recurring contributions to a 529 account with a debit or credit card, provided the account owner has signed up with the private social networking Web site. Along the lines of MySpace and FaceBook, members of CollegePiggy can create personal profiles that allow them to post photos, share interests and play with other interactive features, with the exception that friends and family will be able to donate to the child's 529 account through a link on the kid's profile. The company charges $3.99 per month for each beneficiary profile, while donors can create their own "PIGGYdonor" page for free.
Spread the word
To maximize your child's savings and lessen the financial burden on both you and your scholar, tell friends and family that you've opened a 529 account and look for ways your child can contribute. As Wyman puts it, "Many pockets help out."