It really seems like just yesterday that my little girl was getting ready for 1st grade. Now, in the blink of an eye, she’s in 5th grade and I’m quickly learning that college isn’t as far away as a parent would like to think.

One of my resolutions that I made for 2019 is to start saving for her education. Like many parents in my situation, I wish I would have started sooner, but the fact is, it’s not too late to start — and the sooner the better!

A friend of mine directed me to Achieve Montana, a 529 education savings program that offers several tax advantages, and I was amazed to find out how easy it was to get something set up. I assumed it would involve gathering tons of paperwork, having a long meeting in some banker’s office and a huge opening deposit.

I was wrong about every one of those assumptions. You can set up an account online with some basic information and the initial deposit can be as low as $25 (or, in some cases, $15 with a direct deposit commitment).

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.

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 Ugift529.com.

I plan on making up for lost time by using some of my tax refund each year to help build it up in a hurry. 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.

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.