Leaving the nest for college is a big milestone — for kids and parents. Woven in there among the excitement and jitters is one fairly universal concern: money.
It’s not just the cost of college, which can be staggering enough. It’s how to handle the money, especially if the soon-to-be college freshman doesn’t have much experience with budgeting and paying bills.
Here are 5 tips that might help keep you and your budding college star in the black this fall:
1. Save, save, save. Your student has a summer job, right? Help him or her set up an automatic deposit so some of that paycheck goes straight to a savings account. If you can swing it, consider offering an incentive, such as a match for a certain amount saved.
2. Create a budget. Get your student to research the costs of everything from books to laundry to transportation to clothes. Understand the total ticket and agree on how much the student can plan to spend each month or week. Be sure there’s room for “nonessentials” such as football tickets and the occasional late-night pizza (college is supposed to be fun, too).
3. Find the meal sweet spot. Many colleges offer a variety of meal plans for students living on campus (often a requirement for freshmen). Look at what’s included and whether it’ll work well for your student. The lower-cost option may not end up being cheapest if it leads to lots of outside snack purchases. On the other hand, you may not need to pay for three full meals a day if coffee and an energy bar are all your student typically eats for breakfast.
4. Get a credit card. Yes, you read that right. But we’re not talking about an open invitation to a spending free-for-all. This is an ideal time to start creating a solid credit history that will pay off post-college when the grad needs to sign a lease or buy a car (or maybe just a couch). Some employers even check credit scores as part of the hiring process. Look for a no-fee card and be sure your student understands when and how to use it — and the importance of paying off the balance in full each month.
5. Look for freebies. College campuses are teeming with fun, free (or very low cost) activities and entertainment, from movies to concerts to intramural sports and clubs. No need to spring for the town megaplex theater when they’re screening a classic movie in the student union. Campus activities are not only the best way to really get involved in campus life, they’re also great ways to make friends that can last a lifetime — and that’s priceless.