Quiz: What kind of spender are you? Work through this online quiz with your students.
Few teenagers have a realistic concept of living expenses until they pay the bills themselves. They understand best the expenses that they, themselves, have directly paid in the past: They know the exact price of a burger and fries, but the grocery bill is a foreign concept. The phone bill, in their experience, is all about the number of minutes they have and the amount of data they used; they may not think about how much the service costs each month.
Students need to know the overall cost of their college education, but such a big sum, stretching over four years, might seem incomprehensible at first. If you help by breaking down the total into monthly and annual expenses, your student can see more clearly the financial impact of the decisions she is making. Talk about money in amounts your student can best understand: “Your tuition and room and board costs about the same each month as our house payment.” “If you take out $12,000 in college loans every year for four years, when you graduate you will need to repay about $500 per month, every month, for 10 years. You could buy a car for that—a new car.”
You can help your child develop financial skills, but it takes time, patience, and perseverance to work through the steps.
- Encourage—and teach—your child to keep financial records. You will need some of those records for tax purposes, and there will be times when your student will need proof of a payment or a receipt for some item. A week after classes begin, if he decides his advanced calculus class is too difficult and he wants to switch to an introductory math class, he will be able to return his calculus textbook only if he can find the receipt. Make sure your child knows that he must keep bank statements, tuition statements, receipts, and warranties for all major purchases, credit card agreements, scholarship records, and loan agreements.
- Organize a file for financial records—During the first year of school, a single folder for finances in the college file box might be sufficient. Freshmen can combine all major financial receipts and records. As a general rule of thumb, though, if a folder becomes too bulky to easily manage, it should be arranged into two or more folders. When students move to an apartment, or if you agree that more organization is needed, a separate file box just for financial records will be helpful. Let your student decide if it makes more sense to organize records by month—putting all receipts and statements for a month into one envelope or folder—or by category, such as academic expenses, room and board, communications, transportation, etc. Encourage him or her to get into the habit of filing receipts and statements faithfully.
- Be sure your student knows what records are required for tax purposes and for student loan or scholarship applications. Even if you are paying most of the bills, your student will probably receive the statements and receipts. Discuss how you will communicate about those documents. If you need them for tax purposes, how and when will you get them?
Tip: For many students today, the idea of a file box to store records feels like a throwback to the previous century. They can take photos of important documents and file them in electronic files. With an appropriate title for each photo, they can easily retrieve the receipt or document with a quick search.
Students take finances more seriously when they know their parents are concerned about expenses. Setting up a budget in collaboration with your student will help them understand the true cost of college, and tracking expenses helps them see how quickly money disappears.
To work through a simple University of Minnesota budget complete this budget activity.
Try this online tool for estimating a student budget.
To work through a detailed savable Excel spreadsheet budget complete this budget worksheet (XLS).
What kind of spender are you? Work through this online quiz with your students.
A group of students was asked: "What was the best advice your parents gave you related to finance?" Here is what they said:
"They said, 'Use your money wisely!' They didn't want me to take up any sort of loans. However, I guess since I still live at home, they didn't mention credit to me at all. My parents told me only to use money for gas and nothing else, because there is nothing else that a college student would need to spend on."
"They never really did give me advice. They urged me to apply for scholarships my senior year, but by the time I went to college, I had worked and saved to pay for my tuition and books. My parents had set up a mutual fund for me when I was younger, but I decided not to use the money in that fund unless I really needed it."
"Don't get a credit card. Save up for a rainy day. Balance your checking account--look at it and know what the numbers mean. Shop sale racks. Never pay full price. Buy used cars. Keep your car in good condition so it will maintain its value and quality."
When asked what advice students wish their parents had given them, they said:
"I wish they could've just told me not to worry about credit cards at all, but I guess because I didn't work, and I didn't have spending money during the holidays, I applied for a credit card."
"I don't think there is anything I would have wanted my parents to tell me. I observed them growing up, watched them pay their bills, I helped my mom balance her checkbook. They seemed concerned about money but never to the point where we didn't get the things we needed or even wanted. I guess I wish my parents would have talked to me about investing more often, however, I think I now know more than they do -- so maybe we didn't talk about it because they didn't know much about finances either."
"That interest rates can be negotiable. Save any extra money you make. Try not to spend your extra money on things that will wear out and lose their value. Pay all the little stuff, too. Even small bills and fees (like Netflix and the local dentist) can follow you and end up on your credit report."
"That I need to start saving. They did not put a huge emphasis on it because they have never been able to save money. Every cent was put to the necessities. They never had much, and so they lived. It worked for them, but it would have been nice to start saving earlier."