College and Cash – How to Prepare Your Child Financially for College

It’s hard to believe that another school year is coming to an end. College acceptance letters have arrived in the mail and graduating students are buzzing with excitement about closing a grade school chapter and embarking on their college adventures. Graduating seniors will fill the summer months with hanging out with friends, summer jobs to earn money, shopping for dorm accessories, school supplies and packing it all up to head to a University or College.

For parents, graduation is bittersweet and filled with emotions, great pride, and a glimpse to the future of what the next generation will become. But it is also a time when parents make huge sacrifices to invest in their child’s education. And for many students and parents, taking on debt is the only way to pay for a college education.

According to the website Student Loan Hero, “among the class of 2018, 69% of college students took out student loans and 14% of their parents took out Parent PLUS loans.” These statistics do not include the home equity lines of credit that many parents have also obtained on their homes to finance the tuition. The reality is that college is an expensive investment! Americans currently owe over $1.5 trillion in student loan debt and regardless of where a child goes to college, the vast majority will graduate with student loan debt.

Students are transitioning from living at home and having a large portion of their expenses paid by mom and dad, to living in a dorm on a set budget. As students move away to college life, everyday expenses like meals, clothing, lattes, and entertainment all have to be done on a budget. Parents will have to determine a monthly amount to send and students will need to create and manage a monthly budget to make the funds last and avoid getting sucked in by credit card companies to take on debt.

The lull between graduation and the start of the next school year provides the perfect opportunity to sit down with your high school graduate and teach the life skill that will be needed throughout college and beyond…. financial literacy.

Start by sitting down with your son or daughter and have a discussion about the importance of building a budget and learning to live within that budget. Set an amount that you are willing to give your child each month to cover monthly expenses, give them the amount while they are still home, and explain that the amount given needs to cover all expenses for an entire month.

Next, have your son or daughter monitor their spending habits with the funds for 30 days. The easiest way to do this is to deposit the amount into your child’s account and have them use a debit card to pay for all purchases. Try to avoid giving your child a credit card to track spending as this may develop negative spending habits since they are not limited to a specific amount.

At the end of 30 days, take the time to review all expenses and break the expenses into categories such as these:

  • Breakfast/Coffee
  • Lunch
  • Dinner
  • Entertainment
  • Gas
  • Clothing
  • Sports/Fitness
  • Haircuts

Review the spending activity with your child and determine if the budgeted amount covered all expenses. If the spending was under budget, carry the funds to the following month or transfer the amount to savings. If the spending was over budget, make the necessary cutbacks to stay within budget. For example, if entertainment is over budget, cut back that expense. Review each category on the list and adjust where necessary.

Additionally, make adjustments to the categories prior to the start of the school year. If your child will receive a meal card each month, replace breakfast, lunch, and dinner with the expense of the meal card and add a category for dining out. Set a limit to the number of times the child can dine out. Or, gas may be replaced with a bus pass while in college. Modify where necessary.

Reviewing spending habits now will allow each of you to make adjustments to stay within the budget. It will also help your child avoid getting into credit card debt should they run low on funds. Credit card companies are notorious for luring in college students by offering free t-shirts, credit cards with school logos, or miscellaneous sign-up gifts. Innocently filling out an application for a credit card can end up being one of the costliest mistakes a college student can make.

Teaching your child money management skills now will provide them with the financial literacy needed both during and after college and will establish smart spending habits to avoid getting into credit card debt.


“I wish I had this book when I was younger. This should be a gift to all graduates, start them off with a good understanding of the importance of getting a handle on their finances.”


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