It can be hard to find the money to start a 529 plan, a college savings investment account, but it’s easy when it’s free. It’s kind of like scholarships for your children years in advance, and these are just a few of the ways that you can help your child pay for college without spending anything.

Join Upromise for College Savings Rewards

Upromise is a free rewards program for online and some in-person shopping. You get a percentage back on all purchases that are deposited into either a 529 plan or another account that you can link to your Upromise account. If you don’t have a linkable account, Upromise cuts you a check quarterly. To earn rewards from shopping online, you can start on the Upromise website and search for either the product or retailer you’re looking for. Then you click on your best option and you get back the percentage it shows for your purchase. Normally, the amount ranges from 1 to 10 percent. So, a $50 purchase that earns 5 percent rewards you with $2.50. You can also shop in person with grocery purchases when tied to your grocery loyalty cards. Depending on how much you spend, you could earn a few hundred per year that you can use towards college savings. The easiest way to do this is buy items like diapers and other regular purchases online. For example, I like to buy my dog’s food online because I don’t like lugging heavy bags home.

Encourage Family Gifts

One of the best ways to save for college without spending your own money is encouraging family to make 529 plan donations when asking what your child would like for a birthday, holiday, or special achievement such as getting a straight A on a report card. One birthday party where 10 people donate $15 per person will total $150 in contributions. So, you don’t have to ask for money straight out, only mention contributions when asked. You’ll be surprised how many of your friends are relieved, and will be excited when you end up giving college savings contributions for their children.

Scholarships and 529 Matching Grants

It’s a big myth that your kids can’t earn scholarships until they’re a senior in high school. Essay contests start as early as kindergarten, and 529 plans may offer free money based on your income level or even residency. For instance, the state of Maine gives a $500 Alfond Grant to every child born in the state of Maine for their 529 plan account. How do you find out what free money may be available to your child? Talk to your child’s school counselor and other parents. You should also look at your state’s 529 plan website. Your child’s school counselor can help you with researching essay contests and scholarships within the community. While you’re there, you can get advice for your child’s career path. Exchange scholarship information that you hear about with other parents. Then look around at the library, in local newspapers, and on bulletin boards at work. You’ll be surprised on how many scholarships and opportunities that you’ll find for your child to earn free money.