The Money Budget Talk
At orientation we were inundated with information about all sorts of things; from FAFSA forms to meal plans. No one ever really elaborated on the best way to budget and handle finances when it comes to how much to give your new student. Perhaps this is because it will vary based on need, ability, preparedness to handle the responsibility, what an allowance should cover, and so on. As we sat in orientation my daughter started picking at her gel manicure and asked how she was going to get to a manicurist? That is when I realized we really need a budget!!
Budget 101. I wanted to sign her up right away but realized that it wasn’t just her that needed this class, but we, as her parents, needed to have a better handle on how much we would be doling out, how often and what the parameters for spending our money (as opposed to her savings from her high school job) would be. Did we expect her to have a job while at school and, if she did, would she be able to prioritize and keep her grades at the top of the time management challenge?
We needed a solid plan and we all had to develop an economic skill set with guidelines and rules….quickly. I kept reminding myself that college is not only about academics, but also about learning how to navigate the real world. Becoming financially savvy is part of that. I started questioning friends with kids in college. Having gotten enough varying answers to make my head spin, I decided a plan was in order.
The first rule; I will not pay for alcohol. I am not sticking my head in the sand and pretending kids won’t go out and drink, but I don’t have to pay for it either. They can use their summer earnings for that stuff. Books and school supplies were to go on my credit card (which was also there for emergencies.) Food, depending on whether your student has a meal plan, lives in an apartment (even on campus) may vary. We decided as well to give her an additional allowance of $50 a week. After all, my daughter did have a very generous meal plan but I know that late-night pizza did come into play. Some dorms do require a meal plan, some do not, so numbers would have to be adjusted.
In addition, some girls belong to sororities, which have dues that provide meals (but usually not on weekends). If our daughter chooses to use her allowance up on pedicures and sushi, then peanut butter and jelly can help to balance her budget. The point here is that we are not looking for our daughter to suffer (I assure you she has never endured any sort of agonizing hardship), but rather to learn to budget her money. It is our goal to not have to support her after college and optimistic this may ease her into that realm.
Consider having your students get their own credit cards. It is a great way for them to start learning how to budget themselves while building their credit for when they are out on their own.
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Frugal, an Excellent Option
Did you know that a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole-wheat bread is a complete and ideal meal and cost-efficient too? Even though jelly has sugar, the combination of peanut butter and bread provides protein, B vitamins, iron, and zinc. Honestly, it is a perfect, little meal. Athletes eat P, B & J regularly to give them energy. Possibly the best part is that it costs less than fifty cents per sandwich. There should be no guilt involved in reminding your students that if money is tight they can resort to P, B & J.
Mention to your student to take a look around campus for free activities. There are many; IU has more than 750 student organizations on the books that are free or have a nominal donation, check them out. Often club activities are included in membership or are fairly priced. Game night is also a fun option. I was surprised to find board games mentioned when talking to students (that lived off campus). They explained that some nights it was fun to just stay in with a bunch of friends and play. Of course, I am sure some turned into drinking games. I am not condoning that; just sharing.
Obviously, none of this is set in stone. It all depends on your family’s personal choices and financial decisions. Perhaps your student has a job while at school and won’t ask you for a thing. Maybe that job is to pay for the extras; like nights out, a spring break cruise, or next semester abroad. Maybe your student despises P, B & J (although tuna fish makes a fair alternative). Some students may even want to participate in a study to earn a little extra pocket change; although sometimes payment is in the form of a gift card too. Remember, of course, that other than meal plan options (which have to be adjusted early in the semester); things can be changed if they don’t seem to be working.
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