Friday, April 4, 2014

$$$ College kids and Money! $$$

It's not to late to have a conversation about money with your college kid! It's one of those things that seems to slip through the cracks and before you know it, either you're A) getting a phone call from Johnny saying he's out of dough B) you go online to transfer their allowance and you realize their account is overdrawn (yikes!) and you hit the roof, C) your kid says to you that they can't buy their books for the semester because they don't have any money
("I'm just hearing about this now? What have you been doing for the last three weeks?") get the picture.
So before you experience some of those scenarios, take my advice: Have a conversation.
This conversation varies from household to household, but the common thread is:
Spell out your expectations! If you agree to an allowance, how often will they receive it, every month, every semester. The beginning of the month, the 15th, the end. What is that supposed to cover, exactly what are incidentals anyway? Shaving cream and toothpaste? Pizza and a movie? A pair of jeans? Whose money pays for what? Ideally they've got some money of their own from their summer job, or Aunt Harriet or something and that may be the fund they dip into to support their concert tickets or the train ticket to visit a buddy at college in the city, whatever. Maybe you expect them to pay for their own books? Believe me, this is not figured out through osmosis. And your idea of what their allowance covers compared to theirs can vary a great deal too. For example, I've always told my kids that we don't pay for beer, they do. (Of course they have to be 21!) That Wii their desperate to have for "down time"....sorry. But shampoo and toothpaste, yep. Vitamins, covered. We'll even cover that Broadway ticket for that freshman field trip. There really needs to be some clarity around whose money this really is. Is it their money, after all it's their allowance or is it yourmoney, because you've made the deposit? It's OK to say that you'll be happy to discuss this over the school year/years. Adjustments to what you originally agreed to may need to be made. You might even get a phone call from your son saying, "Mom, I really don't need the amount of allowance you give me. I know things are tight, please ratchet it back. I'm able to cover my expenses with X instead of Y." Really? Really.
And maybe your child has to get a job on campus to cover some of these expenses. There seem to be all kinds of jobs for students on campus, some are a one shot deal, like being part of a research study for a Sleep and Dreams professor and sleeping in a lab for a night (really) or maybe it's being a tour guide, or working in the "stacks' checking student id's, or being a lifeguard at the school's pool....but again discuss your expectations, should this be part time, and just how "part" and what happens if their grades start to suffer? Communicate!
When you look at the meal plan that's been purchased and the "university dollars" that are on their student card, side note: as each of our kids have gone through the different colleges those univ. dollars seem to cover more and more. Thank God the roll of quarters for the washing machine and dryer seem to be a thing of the past in more and more colleges. Boxers just may get washed! Maybe their sheets too, at least once. If all they have to do is "swipe" the card, how tough can this be? At any rate, a lot of their basic needs are billed by the college, but certainly not all, and depending on the meal plan that your student has chosen, they may not be fed on the weekends, so "incidentals" may include groceries or full meals out. Who knows? What I do know is that it sure adds up and as in any relationship, money is a funky conversation to have.
Believe me, this is a good way to help them start to really think about budgeting and how expensive things are and prioritizing.
Another lesson they learn along the way is who pays for what amongst their friends? Hopefully it just happens once when your son agrees to pay for the burgers, hot dogs, chips, charcoal, etc. for a tailgate, thinking that he'll be paid back by all of his frat brothers and guess what? Not. That can be an expensive lesson, not to mention the ill will that he feels because his "brothers" are slugs. If your kid has a car on campus and you've given her your gas card, watch out, she'll be doing all the driving for sure, but if you tell her that she's paying for her own gas, very quickly she figures out that either she doesn't volunteer to drive or she gets her riders to pitch in for gas.
I knew upfront that I was never going to be able to go home for Thanksgiving. Not when my family lived in CT and I was going to school in CA and Thanksgiving break was 4 days. It didn't really "hit me" until there was this mass exodus from campus that first Wednesday afternoon. Geeze, that was brutal! I made a very tearful call back east begging my mother to let me come home. Can you imagine receiving that call? Many years later she confessed to me that that was one of her toughest moments as a parent, having to calmly say to me that "I knew upfront, that I'd be home in just a few weeks and to wipe my tears and certainly there would be an invitation coming my way from a local family." Well, there was! Thank goodness, but I think my kids would tell you that I sometimes spell it out a little too clearly and a little too much in advance....
Everybody handles this a little differently and it's even handled differently within the same family. You know your kid best, and you know just how much dot connecting you need to do when having this conversation. You also know what you can and can't afford, so communicate with your son or daughter.

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