Helping Your Child Budget for College

College is often your child’s first step into the real world. They have to stock their pantry with food, figure out how to pay an electric bill, and contend with bigger financial bills than they have likely ever seen. If your child has only ever had summer jobs and only needed money for gas, then college will be a major wakeup call.

Some students thrive in this situation and balance their funds throughout the year, while others blow all their money within the first few weeks. Follow these tips to help your child budget for college to make sure they have enough money until the end of the semester.

Discuss Campus Work Options

Many colleges have campus work-study programs where students can work in the dining hall or campus bookstore to help cover basic costs. Additionally, other companies in the area might hire college students because of affordable labor.

Before your child heads off to college, review these options and discuss boundaries for balancing work and school. If your child is pulling extra shifts and working 40 hours per week off-campus, they might not dedicate enough time to school or studying.

Set limits for the number of hours your child can work so they can earn a little extra money while focusing on their classes. These boundaries can be lifted as they advance through college and prove they’re responsible enough to balance work and school.

Create Micro-Budgets for Food and Activities

Some colleges offer a combined meal plan in the dining hall with flexible campus dollars for restaurants located on the school grounds. For example, a student’s meal plan might cover 10 meals per week along with $25 to spend at the campus Starbucks, Subway, or Chipotle.

Some students get ahead of themselves with these budgets, skipping the dining hall entirely and spending all their money at fast-food restaurants within the first month.

Talk to your child and suggest micro-budgets for food and activities. This includes a fast-food budget with the campus meal plan, but can also include a fun budget for weekend activities. If your child spends the first few months partying and spending money every weekend, they could struggle to buy books or pay rent later in the year.

Try to Save With Campus Transportation

If your budget is tight during the first few years of college, look for ways to save. Some students live on campus and sell their cars or wait to buy a car until a few years after they enter college. This can eliminate car payments, gas costs, and insurance premiums, freeing up money for your child to pay for textbooks or on-campus housing.

Remember, if you do try to navigate solely with public transportation, budget appropriately. Set aside funds for a bus pass and create a monthly budget for taxis or ride-share costs. This way, your child can call an Uber if they need to without worrying about the cost of it.

Plan for Summer in the Fall

Before your child leaves for college in the fall, discuss options for how they’re going to spend their summers. A few summer options for your child include:

  • Taking summer classes to work toward their major
  • Studying abroad to gain international experience
  • Working through the summer
  • Applying for a paid or unpaid summer internship

If your child is taking summer classes or applying for an internship, you may need to budget for 12 months instead of just nine for the fall and spring semesters. However, if they’re working over the summer, they can use that to make money for the fall. Knowing your summer plans can help you budget appropriately during the school year.

Review Budget Needs Every Semester

The budget you create at the start of freshman year won’t remain the same until your child graduates. Review financial needs every semester to make sure your son or daughter has enough money to live comfortably over the next few months.

For example, students living on campus during freshman year won’t have to worry about monthly rent, renter’s insurance, water, internet access, and electricity costs. However, if your child moves to an off-campus apartment during their sophomore year, they will have to budget for that. Students who take more credit hours during the year will also have to budget for those costs.

Your child might think they’re responsible enough to handle a budget when they leave for college, but they’re still likely to overspend and underprepared.

By walking your child through their financial needs during their first few semesters, you can help your child budget for college and beyond.