With their first semester complete, time to discuss how they handled their money.
The first semester is a challenge financially for many college freshmen. Use the Winter Break to review, reassess and re-budget before they head back to campus. Money talks are awkward, but by having one now you’re teaching your teen how to better manage their money and become more comfortable discussing money issues—both important life skills.
Review Hopefully you and your student have a way of tracking their expenses, whether that’s through shared bank and/or credit card accounts, their college ID account or an app like Mint, possibly all of the above. College kids generally don’t carry much cash, so there should be a relatively easy way to see where their money has gone these past few months.
The results will almost certainly surprise all of you. If, like most parents of college students, you had a relatively general discussion about semester expenses, your student will have spent money on a regular basis in places you hadn’t anticipated. I mean, why would they need a daily coffee from Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, Tim Horton or other chain coffee shop when they can make coffee in their room with the Keurig you bought them for this purpose? The same for late night food deliveries that occurred more than the once a week you planned for. The answer is because it’s easily accessible.
You may also find out that all those dorm essentials you lugged to campus weren’t enough and your teen spent money on additional artwork, another game controller, a better desk lamp, extra snacks, more licensed college gear, etc.
Reassess Seeing where and how money was spent last semester will help determine what your college student really needs money for and how much for next semester. Also check which payment method they used most often to decide the best place to put funds.
Like my husband and me, you might’ve told your kids that the money they earned from their summer job was supposed to cover their personal college expenses for the year. Maybe your teen, like one of mine, spent the majority of that money in the first semester. Now what? Will you need to cover them? Can they earn enough over Winter Break to make up for the shortfall? Maybe you’ll pay for textbooks this semester and add more blocks/points to their meal plan. You might increase the frequency of your care packages, too.
This is the time to take another look at who’s paying for what. If your teen handled their money well, but just joined a fraternity/sorority and owes dues and other fees, who’s shelling out the money for that? The same for clubs they signed up for that have membership fees or a sport that requires new gear. They might want to take a Spring Break trip with some of their new friends. This is the time to discuss how to cover these expenses.
Another area to look at is their course schedule. Did your student decide to drop a class after the add/drop date and didn’t receive the full refund on the course? Maybe your student already knows there’s a class they might want to drop next semester. Make them put an add/drop date reminder in their phone. Put one in yours, too.
Rebudget It is possible that you and your teen anticipated they’d need more money than they actually did last semester, but it’s more likely it was the reverse. Go through the expenses you planned for, then compare what your teen actually spent. Less money for laundry if they washed their clothes every three weeks instead of every week as you assumed. More money for coffee shop coffee and less for Keurig pods. Maybe their shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant is lasting longer than you planned (don’t ask why) and they can restock less often. That refillable water bottle is working out fine and they don’t need to buy bottled water. Late night pizza and cookie deliveries probably were a more regular thing than you budgeted for. Along with the run to the mall for some new clothes. Did your teen Uber or Zipcar instead of taking the bus, which was covered in their activity fee?
After going through their actual expenses and discussing which should and shouldn’t recur this semester, and what you will and won’t pay for, create the second semester budget, one your teen can stick to.
The college years are the perfect time to help your child learn money management skills. Use upcoming breaks to share more lessons.