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.
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.
Easy to Overspend
Jeanette 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.
One expense that took us by surprise was travel. We didn't realize that, for some holidays, the college is completely shut downincluding the dorms. During each of these times, we weren't financially prepared to fly Suzanne home. Luckily, she made friends with girls who lived nearby, and their families were more than happy to put her up. So be sure you have a clear understanding of how the campus works, including any breaks when the school doesn't provide dorm and cafeteria services.
We also found that it's so easy for a first-semester student to overspend because everything is new and exciting and they're getting used to their surroundings. For instance, if friends are going out to eat instead of dining in the cafeteria, your child will be tempted to go along. Or if they don't like what's in the cafeteria that day, it's tempting to grab something somewhere else. All that eating out adds up quickly and can wipe out a budget. These are important areas you need to talk through before your child arrives on campus.
Then there were the banking lessons we learned along the way. At first, we allowed our daughter to keep large amounts of money in her account. That was a big mistake. It was just too easy for her to overspend. We've learned to transfer a fixed amount to her account each month. Then it's her responsibility to learn to make it last until the next deposit.
Our experience tells us that it takes new students a few months to get the hang of managing their own finances wisely. Just be there to guide them and be forgiving when they slip up.
Dan De La Cruz:
Praying with Our Kids
Dan De La Cruz is a chemist from Altenburg, Missouri. His wife, Sherry Kay, is a homemaker. Their daughter, Joy, is in her second year at Columbia International University in Columbia, South Carolina.
Since we have a large family (seven biological and four adopted children) all our kids understood right from the start that they'd have to work part-time to help pay for college. Then after college, they would be responsible for paying for any loans they'd taken out. That meant learning to balance time spent on schoolwork with part-time jobs.
Of course we would have preferred to be able to pay for each child's education out of pocket, especially for those of our children who have chosen to go into full-time ministry. But with 11 kids (two still in high school and one in elementary school), that's just not possible.
It's been important for Joy to find a part-time job with flexible hours. Our daughter's employer has been very understanding, so she's able to work fewer hours when she needs more time to study or work on projects. Her employer will also often give her extra hours when she has time to work them in. We've also found that jobs on campus are great because on-campus employers are used to working around students' schedules.
I can't stress enough the importance of prayer through it all. We've always prayed with our kids about everything from small decisions to big ones. This made praying about college finances a natural thing to do. Along the way, we've seen the Lord answer our prayers again and again. He provided the right scholarship, the right job and guidance just when we needed it.
Like Putting Together a Puzzle
Judy lives in Winona Lake, Indiana, with her husband, Denny. She is assistant director of institutional communication and publication at a Christian school. Denny is the facilities coordinator for a local company. Their daughter, Amy, is a recent graduate of Concordia University in Mequon, Wisconsin. Their second daughter, Lesley, will graduate this year from Winona Lake's Grace College.
As our girls grew up, we tried to be open and honest with them about money. We wanted them to learn to work for things they wanted to buy and be responsible for holding down part-time jobs. By the time they reached college age, they knew we couldn't just hand them the money for tuition and expenses. Even if we could, we didn't feel it was the best thing for them.
We tried to help our daughters understand that paying for college would be a cooperative effort. It's been a bit like getting the whole family involved in putting together a puzzle. Each pieceeach loan, scholarship, or grant, the girls' part-time jobs, plus what we could chip incame together until we had what we needed.
Denny sat down with the girls before they left for school and helped them create a budget for their first month. He helped them figure out how much they'd have to save each week from their paychecks for bills like car payments and insurance. Still, there were months early on when we had to pitch in more than we expected. When that happened, we tried not to have an "I told you so" attitude. We tried to remember the girls were learning financial principles they'd take with them through life. And this kind of learning certainly involves some mistakes along the way.
One thing that blindsided us was the price of books. Most parents don't have a clue how expensive college books will be. We saved money by buying secondhand, sharing with other students, and searching the Internet for the best prices.
College finances can be overwhelming. As much as you try to figure it out yourself, there are bound to be unknowns. It was a good lesson for all of us to learn to depend on the Lord for the unknowns and then see him work it out. He always did! n