Upromise can help you save for your kids' college ... but be prepared to shop for it

If you're a parent and have children who aren't in college yet, I'm guessing you've probably heard about Upromise.

Not sounding familiar? Upromise is a company, now owned by Sallie Mae, that designed a program that offers shoppers cash rewards at various retailers. A small portion of the money you spend at the retailer is kicked back into your Upromise account, which you can hook up to a 529 college savings account.

Here's how it works: The basic idea is that if you're going to be shopping anyway, you may as well choose to make purchases from a Upromise partner and start accruing money for your kids' college education.

You become a member (it's free) and register your debit or credit cards at the Upromise site, and then start shopping. If you prefer to shop online, you should start any online shopping you do through Upromise.com (otherwise, the money won't wind up in your account). If you're shopping in the real world, you look for stores, restaurants and other businesses that have partnered with Upromise, and as long as you pay with your debit card or credit card (the ones you registered at the site), you'll have some of that money diverted to your Upromise account.