Talking About Money with Your College-Bound Child
It is the summer after high school graduation and you are trying to mentally prepare yourself for the changes that are ahead. You have to get in some last mothering fixes before your baby leaves your nest and comes back a changed person. How do you get your almost-in-college child to sit still for your last-minute lectures?
One of the best things you can talk about is money. It's certainly likely to be high on your child's list of concerns, so he'll be receptive to a conversation. At the same time, while you're talking about finances, you'll find lots of openings for bringing up all the other issues that might be worrying you. For example, talking about how much money your child needs for transportation costs gives you a natural opening for a little lecture on security on campus after dark. Talking about money for snacks or junk food opens the door for a refresher lecture on good nutrition. The possibilities are endless.
So, begin with the budget. You want to make sure your child has the skills to live on his or her own. Make it very clear to your child what your expectations are and what his or her expectations should be. If you're planning to give your child money at regular intervals—say at the beginning of each month—you want to make it clear that a frantic phone call asking for more at the end of the first two weeks will not be appreciated.
Figure out a realistic budget for your child and stick with it. Keep it consistent: If you give a certain amount one month, you should give the same amount the next. You could set up an emergency account with a cushion in case your child needs something extraordinary.
When setting up a budget for your child, there are basic items you'll want to account for. You pay the dorm and meal-plan costs up front with the tuition, so the money you send your child during the school year will largely be spent on incidentals and entertainment. Here's what that allowance will probably be spent on:
- Books and supplies
- Personal care products or cosmetics
- Snacks to eat in the dorm
- The occasional pizza and movie
- Music CDs or cassettes
None of these items is crucial to your child's survival, but they may make a big difference in her enjoyment of her college years.
Putting Together a Payment Plan
You may want to make deposits into a checking account twice a month to help your child budget. That is a lot like the real world. Children do not have a lot of discipline, especially as college freshmen. When they realize how far the money will stretch, they will learn to comparison-shop or do without certain things.
Keep Listening to and Loving Your Child
Once you've gotten a few of those last-minute lectures out of your system, remember this: The best thing you can do with your child right now is to be open to his questions. Now's the time he just might be ready to share with you his own fears and worries, and you want to be ready with encouragement and support.