Money Management for Kids in College

by Neal Frankle, CFP ®

 college funding solutions

School is just getting under way in many parts of the country.  If you have a child that is about to start or continue college I have some sad news.  There still aren’t any good courses on money management for young adults. You’re the one who has to school your brood in the money department.

Getting a good degree to set up a great career is wonderful but it ain’t enough.  Even if Junior pulls down big numbers after graduation if he blows the entire pay by Tuesday, what’s the point? Money management skills are an absolute requirement.   Don’t leave this to chance.

You probably learned money management all by yourself like most people.  But think about all the mistakes you made and the expensive learning curve you had to experience. Even if you have a less-than-perfect understanding about finances, you should help prepare your kids.

Here’s how:

1. Go to the bank and open a checking account for your child immediately.

Do this even if your child doesn’t have a steady job or income. Get them used to writing checks (they’ll take to this like ducks to water…believe me) and reconciling the account each month. The best situation would be for them to be responsible for earning money to replenish the account. This is the best way to make sure they don’t graduate with debt. Encourage them to develop some entrepreneurial ideas and get something of their own going. But even if you give them an allowance, put a fixed amount into the account at the start of every month and do not give them any more money during the month – no matter what. This will dispel the myth that money grows on trees.

2. Have them track their own expenses starting now.

They can use any number of methods to track their expenses. I have my kids use You Need A Budget and they love it. The software helps them make sure they are not spending more than they have coming in. Make sure they use some way of monitoring spending.

3. Put them on the payroll.

Put a fixed amount of money into their account to pay for incidentals once they start college as I suggested above. Let them spend it however they like, but make it clear that once it’s gone…it’s gone. Set up automatic transfers each month for this. Once you set this up with the bank, you don’t have to worry. It will be on autopilot. :)

4. Let them pay their own tuition.

This comes out of the “payroll” account you set up.  Calculate how much your child will need for monthly expenses and annual costs (like tuition and books) and figure out what their average monthly needs are.  Then let them take care of themselves financially.  This lesson could be the most valuable thing they learn in college.

5. Arrange a meeting with your financial advisor – without you.

If you have a financial advisor, have your child meet with that advisor alone. Let them talk about spending, budgeting and investing. Your advisor should reinforce the benefits of all the steps you’ve taken above. If you don’t use an advisor, arrange a meeting with a financially responsible adult that your son or daughter likes and trusts.

6. Schedule progress meetings.

Schedule quarterly meetings to discuss spending, budgeting and investing. Is your child on track? Are expenses greater than expected? Why? Does anything need to be changed?

7. Bonus point – get duplicate statements.

Get duplicate bank and investment statements sent to you. This allows you to keep your eye on things and catch problems before they become disasters. And don’t send your child’s statements to the dorm room. There is no benefit in having those statements float around the college. Instead, set up online access so you can both see what is going on with the money.

It’s not too late to get your kids on the right track. These measures can help them tremendously for years to come.

Have you had any financial challenges with your kids or grandchildren who were college-bound? How did you overcome them?



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