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How to Raise a Financially Responsible College Student

Sending off a child to college? Use these checklists to discuss spending with your freshman -- before she leaves and during the year.
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Before She Leaves

  • Have an honest conversation about the cost of college. Your teen should know how expensive it is—don't shield her from it.
  • Look at the school's website for full "cost of attendance" (includes tuition, housing, books and more) before developing a spending plan.
  • Be clear about how much financial support you can provide. Decide in advance which funds (financial aid vs. parent contribution vs. student contribution through work or savings) will cover which expenses.
  • When it come to pocket money, your student should know exactly how much you will give, how often and when it will be in her account.
  • Set up a checking account so your student can learn how to use it.
  • Don't allow her to take on more loans than necessary. If she is offered $6,000 but only needs $3,000 (because of a scholarship, for example), she shouldn't accept the extra loan as a cushion. Ideally, a student should not have more loans upon graduation than her starting salary.

During the Semester

  • Teach your student to use credit as a tool, but be honest about what kind of kid you have (some are responsible and some are not). Start with a pre-paid card, or one with low limits.
  • Remember that you are an investor and have certain rights, including access to your student's checking account and credit card statements.
  • Instead of buying something for your student and her slowly paying you back, she should slowly save and buy it when she has the money.
  • Keep her checking account balance low—there should be just enough to cover expenses. Parents make the mistake of giving students too much extra money in case of an emergency, but that can make it hard for them to learn to budget. Instead, have an emergency plan in place. Insist she talk to you if a big expense arises.
  • If she makes a small financial mistake, it's OK to give her a one-time, get-out-of-jail-free card. If she is allowed to spend $500 a month but spent $700, for example, take $50 a month for the next four months to pay back the $200 in overage. And tell her why: "I need you to feel some effect of what you've done even though I am helping you out this time."

Sources: Paul F. Goebel, Senior Director of the Money Management Center at the University of North Texas; Ted Bovard, Managing Director and Principal at Fort Pitt Capital Group in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

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