Steal this Mama Bear’s 529 College Savings Plan Strategy

Steal this Mama Bear's 529 College Savings Plan Strategy. Plus $262,000 worth of opportunities to get started! Awesome tips on saving money for kids college. |

Looking for a 529 College Savings Plan Strategy? Here’s one Mama Bear’s unique way to fund her six kids’ accounts.

Probably one of the scariest ideas swirling around in our minds as parents is how the heck we’re going to pay for our kids’ education.

I mean, my little guy is just 15 months old, and the idea probably invaded my mental space as early as month #2 of pregnancy.


When I was getting geared up towards college − shout out to Washington College − I had not thought for a moment about going after scholarships under the age of, say, 17.

I mean it just made sense to me that you would start looking + applying for scholarships in the year leading up to when you left for college.

But then I ran across Linsey Knerl’s Facebook post gushing about her 11-year old son’s $1,000 scholarship win to help fund his 529 college savings account.

Just 11 years old. Think about this: that’s not only a free $1,000 in college money, but the money  has 7 or so years to grow until he’s ready to use it.

So I had to learn more because couldn’t we all use super actionable tips for how to fund our own kids’ college educations?

Linsey’s Got a Threefold 529 Funding Strategy

Linsey Knerl is no stranger to entering contests for money. This homeschooling Mama Bear to 6 kids − Kylin (age 18), Micah (age 13), Matthias (age 11), Moses (age 9), Marcus (age 6), Manasseh /”Manny” (age 3) − has been entering and winning contests on and off for over 20 years.

Like, back when they had dot matrix printers.

Linsey says, “I’ve won thousands of dollars in prizes, including a bicycle, trip to San Francisco, a year of massages, dinners, iPads, a TV, home security system, gaming consoles, a private movie screening for 100 guests, lots and lots of free product coupons, socks, and key chains. There have been times I have gotten bored with it and have stopped, but as soon as I start again, I usually have good luck.”

So naturally, when thinking about how to get cash for her kids’ college educations, she turned to this same strategy.

Well…this plus a consistent savings plan.

She says, “We had opened up regular investment accounts through Capital One for the kids back when they gave out $25 – $50 bonuses for each account (with no minimum). We have just started to work on moving over funds from low-performing funds to a 529, after we had our son win a $1,000 529 account from our state!”

Before the scholarship win, the regular investment accounts had money in them. That’s because of Linsey’s priority to save for her six kids’ college educations.

“I start putting $25 each month for each kid into a custodial investing account for them when they are preschool age. When the kids get a bit older, and earn their own money, they are asked to put at least 15% of their own money in, as well. It’s not a lot, but it is automated and it adds up. If nothing else, it can pay for first year tuition, books, or other expenses.”

This ensures that if no scholarships are won, there is still money waiting for each of her children to pursue higher education.

Just to recap, her threefold 529 college savings plan strategy includes: 

  • $25/month of her own money into each account
  • 15% of each child’s earned income once they start to work
  • Any scholarship money wins

Let’s Dig Into Her 529 College Savings Plan Scholarship Strategy

Linsey and her husband want their kids “to have every opportunity to thrive within the gifts and talents given. We usually see what our kids are gifted in around age 11 or 12. We try to nurture those gifts and interests early and often, so that they can see what they might like to do when they get older. Kids change their minds, but homeschooling gives us freedom to not waste time sending kids to college to do things they would hate to do in the real world. Who wants to spend money on that?”

Not only is she having her children enter 4-6 skill scholarship contests per year, but since these are skill-based contests, they’re also complementary to her homeschooling education (not to mention giving her kids a healthy appetite for entering contests + competing).

Contests they’ve entered so far have been coloring contests, essays, or simply a reading program goal reward with prizes varying between $25 and $20,000.

In order for her son, Matthias, to score that $1,000, he had to draw a picture of his dream job. His winning photo of a colored pencil drawing of farming equipment was included in a calendar for the bank customers and winning families.

Plus the kids have won small prizes of $20-$50 in the past.

Where does she find all of these opportunities for her kids to enter? Linsey says, “I look everywhere! I Google for them, sign up for lending institution newsletters, and use sites like Petersons and Cappex. I also stay on the mailing lists for all the organizations we are part of. From the HSLDA (Homeschool Legal Defense Association) to our local Farm Bureau, there are always opportunities to enter and win money for college. You have to actively seek it out. Read the papers. Watch social media. Get involved!”

Resource Recap to Start Your Scholarship Search:

$262,000 in Scholarship Opportunities Kids Aged 14 and Younger Can Enter

Bottom line comes from Linsey: “You can’t win if you don’t enter!”

So, how exactly do you start entering contests?

I’ve curated a list of 17 scholarship opportunities totaling $262,000 for 14 years of age and younger below. Why that age range? Well, the earlier you start, the less daunting it will be for both you AND your kiddo to get into the habit of applying for scholarship money.

In fact, even though I scored an awesome $46,000+ for my own college education in scholarships + grants, I now wonder how much more I could have won if I had started earlier (instead of paying off $36,000 in student loans — free and clear as of September 2010).

Deadlines come and go, so my advice to you is put a calendar reminder for any of the scholarships below that you’re interested in, or save it to your favorites and add the deadline date to whatever you name it. You’re less likely to forget that way.

#1: Shred Hate, $5,000

Age Requirement: 25 and Under

#2: Love Letters Challenge, $3,000

Age Requirement: 25 and Under

#3: New Year, New US, $3,000

Age Requirement: 25 and Under

#4: I Have a Dream, $1,500

Age Requirement: 13+

#5: C-SPAN’s StudentCam, $250-$5,000

Age Requirement: Grade 6-12

#6: Zombie Apocalypse Scholarship, $2,000

Age Requirement: 13+

#7: Slam What You Will, $1,000

Age Requirement: 13-25

#8: Create-A-Greeting-Card Scholarship, $10,000 + $1,000 for your school

Age Requirement: 14+

#9: Duck Tape®’s Stuck at Prom Scholarship Contest, $50,000 in cash prizes

Age Requirement: 14+

#10: Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, $1,000-$5,000

Age Requirement: Grades 5-12

#11: Patriot’s Pen, $5,000

Age Requirement: Grades 6-8

#12: Doodle 4 Google, $5,000-$15,000

Age Requirement: K-12

#13: Team America Rocketry Challenge, $100,000

Age Requirement: Grades 7-12

#14: National Marbles Tournament Scholarships, $1,000-$5,000

Age Requirement: 7-14

#15: Angela Award, $1,000

Age Requirement: 10-14

#16: Davidson Fellows, $10,000-$50,000

Age Requirement: 18 and Under

#17: Action For Nature Eco-Hero Award, up to $500

Age Requirement: 8-16

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