If your child is heading off to college this fall, you’ll want to make sure that she has the necessary personal finance skills to handle her new independence. After all, you won’t be there to monitor every expense. And you don’t want your child graduating from college with thousands of dollars of unnecessary debt. So be sure to discuss the following topics with your child before she leaves the nest:
Basic personal finance skills – Talk to your child to ensure he understands the basics of personal finance. You want him to know the difference between necessities and wants, and you can demonstrate using real life examples that he will encounter at school. For example, in a cold climate, a winter coat is a necessity. The top of the line, name brand coat is a want. Make sure he also understands the concept of living within one’s means – explain to him how much he can spend during the semester, and show him how to keep track of his expenses using any one of the many personal finance apps that are available for free.
Credit cards – Explain to your child how credit cards work, and that credit card debt is expensive and therefore the balance on any card should be paid off in full each month. Be sure that she understands how credit card interest works – you might show her your own credit card bill, since credit card issuers are now required to show you how much you will end up paying in total if you don’t pay off the balance in full that month.
Student loan debts – If your child is taking out loans to pay for college, you’ll want to make sure he understands that he will be obligated to pay off those loans once he is no longer in school. Use an online debt calculator to run some numbers to show him how much his monthly payment is likely to be, and encourage him to keep the total loan amount as low as possible. As an incentive you might even project his monthly income upon graduation, and show him how much of his income will go toward paying off his student loans.
Peer pressure – Don’t ignore the realities of peer pressure when it comes to spending money. We feel it as adults when we see our friends and neighbors buying themselves nice things, so naturally our children experience it too. Talk to your child about how to handle situations in which she feels pressured to spend money, whether it’s to have the same status items that her friends have or to share in experiences that cost money, like going out to nice restaurants or taking weekend trips. Give her practical suggestions on how to handle such situations, such as finding friends who have a similar financial situation, or creating a game with her friends to see who can come up with the best ways to have the most fun for the least amount of money.
Financial logistics – Before you leave your child at his new school, don’t forget to cover the day-to-day details of your child’s personal finance situation. If he’s eating in the cafeteria, show him how to check the balance on his account through the school web site. Make sure he knows how to get cash, such as through an ATM in his dormitory or the student center. If he’s responsible for paying any bills, make sure he knows how to do so, including keeping track of the due date and issuing payment via check or through online banking. If you’re giving him a credit card, make sure he knows the parameters for its use, such as just emergencies or only clothes and food. Your child should also know what his health insurance coverage is, and who to contact (and how to reach them) in case of an emergency if you can’t be reached.
Finally, make sure your child knows that it’s okay to make money mistakes, and assure him that it’s better to come clean with you about any errors than to hide them and let them compound over time.