Budgets and Bank Accounts

Families can help their college students make and keep to a spending money budget each semester.

The first step is to talk about who will pay for what (beyond tuition, room and board; that’s a separate strategy session). For example, one college parent said, “We paid for textbooks freshman year, but after that they knew what to expect and could cover those expenses.” In addition, “We sent them off well stocked with clothing” but after that they paid for their own clothes except for a few special items (interview suit, nice dress, winter coat).

Other expenses to discuss:
  • Share of the phone bill
  • Linens and residence hall furnishings
  • Laundry money
  • Food/drink outside of the meal plan
  • Entertainment
  • Local travel (bus pass)
  • Travel home (train, plane)
  • Recreational travel (spring break?)
  • Electronics and school supplies
  • Personal items (toiletries)
  • Sorority/fraternity dues

Once they understand how much they may need each semester, students can evaluate their savings. Will they need/want to work part-time during the school year?

There’s an app for that

Your student might want to check out apps like Mint, Budgt, Toshl Finance, iXpenseIt and Buxfer. They’re an easy (and usually free) way to keep track of income and expenses and start good habits where spending and saving are concerned. The graphics are clear — perfect for seeing the big picture.

Allowances and parental supervision of spending

Some families give their students a monthly allowance to supplement the student’s own earnings. After the first year, especially for students making good money at summer jobs, an allowance may no longer be necessary. The opposite can happen, too — an upperclassman with an unpaid summer internship may need a cash infusion the following year.

One parent recommended a student checking account linked to the parent’s account. “They use their ATM card as needed but you can see EVERYTHING they spend $$ on.” Her daughter receives a monthly allowance which is easy to set up as an automatic transfer; they can both view her spending habits and increase the allowance if needed for legitimate expenditures, “or cut back if she’s eating too much fast food.”

Some parents help their students budget by taking charge of the student’s own earnings and then doling it out in monthly installments as an allowance. Others put their students on their own credit card accounts — again, they can see the charges and talk about it.

Working during the school year

To keep money coming in, many students get campus jobs, even if for just a few hours a week. (It’s recommended that full-time students not work more than 15–20 hours per week.)

Parents agree that it’s important to prioritize studies and co-curriculars. One said of her daughter, who has had several campus jobs, “she likes to make money and she likes to be busy. As she has gotten more involved in campus activities, she has cut back on her jobs.”

Many students don’t work during the academic year and there are good reasons for that, too. One dad said, “We’ve taken the position that our daughter’s job is school. We’re trying to give her four years of experiences that will help her grow as a person and find a direction for her career. She’ll be working for a long time after college!”

A few more tips from fellow parents:

Encourage your student to think ahead about the extra expenses that might go along with a semester abroad (primarily extra travel while in another part of the world).

“If big expenditures come up — a new phone, car repair — we talk it through and usually split the cost with them.”

Revisit financial needs and also the intensity of your student’s schedule (increased academic pressure, etc.) each semester or year.

6 tried-and-true money-saving strategies

  1. Rent textbooks or buy used.
  2. Make the most of AP/IB credits from high school.
  3. To reduce room and board expenses, apply to be an RA (Resident Assistant) after freshman year.
  4. Apply for financial aid and scholarships every year.
  5. Graduate in four years (consider summer classes if necessary; this will cost less than another full year of college).
  6. Leave the car at home (use public transportation, a car sharing service like Zipcar, or a bike).

Special thanks to Risa Nye and Suzanne Shaffer for contributing to this article.

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Diane Schwemm is a writer and editor at CollegiateParent. Before raising three sons (now in their teens and 20’s), she earned an M.A. in English at the University of Chicago and wrote Young Adult series fiction. In her free time she likes to read, bike, garden, hike in the Colorado foothills and mountains, and be with friends and family.