Kids going to college

Let's talk about money

Kids often do not understand the impact of college costs on the family bank account.
Kids often do not understand the impact of college costs on the family bank account.PHOTO: ISTOCKPHOTO.COM

You may have a thrifty child by nature, but college brings a host of new expenses beyond tuition that need to be discussed openly and often.

First-year students are about to encounter a whole new level of responsibility, financial and otherwise, that will throw even the savviest for a loop.

They waste money without realising it and often do not understand the impact of college costs on the family bank account even if you spell it out for them.

Talking about money is important for every family, but essential for those taking loans to afford college. Indirect costs include things such as books, flights home if your child attends an overseas school, weekend trips, pizza parties and summer vacations.

These are things students can and, in some cases, should shoulder, even if the family can afford to pay.

When parents pony up for extras, they deny the teen the opportunity to begin building real decisionmaking skills around budgeting.

So who is going to pay for what?

Here is what to discuss, especially if your child is studying abroad or staying on campus.

Dorm extras: Even if you cover the initial dorm set-up (less is more), let them fund the cost for their new bulletin boards, mirrors and framed prints.

They will choose more wisely.

Books: Some parents consider books their responsibility, but when students spend their own money, they learn tricks, such as buying used books and renting. Check Amazon and compare costs with online portals.

Or, they could rent the book for a nominal fee from a student who took the class previously.

Food: If money is tight, your child can make do with meals in the school cafeteria. He should pay for his own late-night pizza.

Entertainment: Campuses often offer activities for free or at low cost - movies, lectures, music and sponsored day trips. Do not send extra money just because your child has rich friends to keep up with.

Clothes: Funding snow boots and a winter parka for an Arctic winter? Fine. But most teens move into their dorm room with too many clothes. There is no reason to spend extra on cute outfits.

Health insurance: Students need to start to understand how health insurance works, even if you are paying for it. First, find out if the coverage extends to your child's college or whether the campus health insurance plan is mandatory.

Find out if the school's clinic provides free or low-cost care or requires insurance.

Part-time work: Studies show that students who work part-time get better grades because they become more effective time managers. They will also have a head-start on gaining skills.

But the primary reason to work is to keep cash flow going. Even if your child does not qualify for work-study, it may be possible to find a convenient campus job.

And summer work is a must.

Tracking expenses: Some teens intuitively take to budgeting, but many do not. Introduce them to an app like Mint so they can track expenses and watch their spending.

If they take a credit card to campus, show them how to set up online payments, explain what happens if they miss a payment and teach them that it is a tool for building credit, not a cash substitute.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 20, 2017, with the headline 'Let's talk about money'. Print Edition | Subscribe