If you're like most Christian parents, you've put some thought and energy into teaching your children how to use money wisely. From the time they got their first dollar from the Tooth Fairy, you showed them what to tithe and what to save. Later on, you helped them make decisions about their first job, and you've given them some pointers for budgeting their hard-earned cash.
Even so, you can't help but wonder if they're ready for the increased financial independence of college life. From understanding their role in paying for college to handling a budget all on their own, they'll soon enter a whole new world of responsibility. How can you help them adjust to these major changes? For answers, we talked to some parents of college students.
1. Save ahead, then teach them responsibility.
Vicki Schallhorn and her husband, Mark, live in Flint, Michigan. Both Vicki and Mark teach at a Christian school. Their daughters attend Concordia University in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Jessica is a senior, and Angela is a freshman.
Mark and I both graduated from Concordia and were lucky enough to have parents who paid our way so we were able to enter married life debt free. We wanted the same for our girls. From the time they were born, we were determined to live off Mark's salary and put all of mine in savings for the girls' education. We managed to do this for 25 years, so tuition was covered. Our "money talk" was basically this: "Girls, you're responsible for holding down summer jobs. Most of the money you make needs to be saved to pay for books. Then during school, you need to keep part-time jobs during the school year, to take care of your living expenses."
Since Mark and I are both teachers, our girls have grown up knowing that money doesn't grow on trees. From the time they were tiny, we taught them to tithe, to save, and to live on a budget. So when they got to school, managing their own money wasn't a major adjustment.
As they prepared to leave for college, we made sure they understood some money basics, like how a bank card works at ATM machines not connected to your local bank. It's easy for young adults to think they're being frugal by only taking small amounts of cash out at a time. Of course, it's better to take more out initially and save on multiple bank card charges. Those charges add up! Again, that's just a basic lesson that all parents need to be sure to pass on to their college-bound children.
As I think back to my older daughter's college experience, I feel we probably should have figured out a way to help her purchase a car. Her area of study has required a lot of off-campus travel. Luckily, Jessica's been able to borrow a car from a friend whenever she needed one, but having her own would have been a better arrangement. Since Angela, our younger daughter, is studying family counseling, she'll also have a lot of off-campus study experiences. With what we've learned from Jessica's experience, we're thinking seriously now about getting a car for Angela. Of course, this kind of decision needs to be carefully weighed. It's a major expense. And I guess that's true for any financially related decision you and your college student have to make. Use a lot of wisdom, discuss all the options, then make a decision that will be just right for that particular child and that particular situation.
2. Plan for breaks, don't overspend.
Jeanette Molnar is a homemaker from Brampton, Ontario, where her husband, Les, is an information technology manager. Their daughter, Suzanne, will be starting her sophomore year at Bethany Bible College in Sussex, New Brunswick.
With our daughter in school, the financial realities of college life have been a learning experience for all of us. And there have been a few "surprises" along the way that we've had to adjust to.