Since my daughter Lily Moon was 12, my husband Dave and I have put our income tax refund toward saving for her college education. We're still a few years away but she's interested in studying aerospace engineering, either at University of Washington or at Montana State University in Bozeman.

Lily Moon graduates from the NASA Space Academy.

We've talked about the cost of living differences between Seattle and Bozeman, scholarships and grants she could pursue as a Native American female and how the NASA Space Academy she recently attended will look great on scholarship and college applications. But we know that no matter how many scholarships and grants she pursues, there's a very good chance she'll need our help to cover at least some higher education expenses.

We have a couple of different savings accounts started, but I recently learned about Achieve Montana, a special 529 savings plan. Any money deposited in the fund grows without incurring federal and Montana state taxes, which means it grows faster. Withdrawals for approved higher education purposes (tuition and fees, books, required equipment and some room and board costs at accredited institutions, including trade school, law school and medical school) also escape taxation, according to the Achieve Montana website.

I'd definitely suggest talking with your tax professional about how investing in Achieve Montana could affect your tax return now, as there are extra tax benefits for Montana residents.

Achieve Montana accounts can be opened for as little as $25 (or $15 with direct deposit, where available) and there are some easy tools for grandparents, family and friends who might want to contribute to the college savings fund, too. You can get a Ugift code for each beneficiary's Achieve Montana account and others can make gift contributions at any time at

It's not always fun to think about education savings when you're worried about paying daycare expenses or sending your kids to educational camps this summer, but think about how many families use their tax refunds for a family vacation or a new couch. In fact, take this quiz to see how your tax refund plans compare with other Americans,' according to a GO Banking Rates survey:

Why not invest that money instead in your children's future? Five, 10 and 15 years from now, you'll probably enjoy that investment more than a couch.

To open an Achieve Montana account, you just need the birth date and Social Security number for yourself and the beneficiary. You'll also be asked about linking a checking account for direct deposits and to make choices about how your deposits will be invested.

The experts do say it's never too early to start saving, as more time = more opportunity for the investment to grow. Long-term college savings not only support your children's education goals but they also could lessen the burden of student loans as they start their career.

Ready to get started? Click here for more information and to open an account.