Money-Smart Kids / Budgeting at college
Dorm room furniture? Check!
Clothes they'll need for entire semester? Check!
Paid university first year tuition? Check!
Taught them how to budget? Uh oh ... forgot about that one.
Your "little" pride and joy is heading off to college this week and you've obsessed, the entire summer, with making sure they'll have everything they need to make that first semester a winner. Well, almost everything.
Eighty three percent of college students graduate with an average of $2,300 in credit card debt (Nellie Mae). Could that be a result of parents not taking the proper time to give their young adult child a few quick pointers that will help them avoid this statistic? Probably.
Not to worry. I've got a few quick ideas for you to discuss with them as your packed station wagon departs on the journey to move them in this week.
1. Sit down with your child and go through a list of items they will have to be budgeting for over the next three months. This list could include:
ii. Room and board.
iii. Supplies and books.
iv. Food (snacks, groceries eating out).
v. Entertainment (movie tickets & rental fees, concert tickets, books, magazines, etc.).
vi. Car payments/transportation costs/insurance.
vii. Cell phone bill.
viii. Spending money.
2. Determine how much should be allocated each month to the above-mentioned list.
3. Together, choose a bank that offers no-cost accounts and has a sufficient number of ATMs where your child is going to college to avoid the withdrawal fees. You might also want to consider using a bank that offers no cost debit cards for your child to make use of.
4. Since we're talking about debit cards, you might consider having the credit card conversation with them as they are sure to be greeted by multiple offers to obtain their own card the first few weeks of school. This conversation would include a discussion on interest, the importance of keeping a healthy credit history and the perils of getting into deep debt.
5. Discuss where their budget money is coming from. Are you providing them with a contribution that they are required to ration out? Will they receive this weekly, monthly or just a lump sum for the entire semester? Are they expected to work while they are at school to make ends meet? Or, is it a combination of your money and their earnings?
These five steps are all fairly basic but absolutely necessary discussions you need to have. And this is the most important piece of advice that I can give you. Once they are crystal clear on what the rules of the game are, and you begin funding their college living experience, you have got to let them make mistakes. The first time that they call you because they ran afoul of that budget which you so carefully helped them craft, you can not bail them out. If you decide to allow their financial missteps to not have consequences, you can rest assured you are depriving your child of a valuable life lesson and have probably set yourself up for bailing them out the rest of their lives -- and yours.
Good luck parents of all these wonderful students. I hope you get an "A" this semester in readying them for the financial life of college.
Tom Henske, a Westport resident and partner with Lenox Advisors, a wealth management firm with offices in New York City and Stamford, developed the Lenox Money-Smart Kids Program in conjunction with MassMutal Financial Group. He can be reached at email@example.com