Preparing Your High School Senior For Financial Independence

The acceptance letters have arrived and high school seniors now know where they are headed in the fall.  While it seems like the hard part is over, now comes the business of living at college and how to manage the day-to-day expenses.  Students, will you make the college experience the launching point of your future financial independence?  Parents,  will you make college the launching point of your child’s independence?

College is a whole different ballgame than it was 20 years ago, and it’s not only the tuition prices that have changed. Without computers, cell phones or campus “spending cards,” you likely embarked on your college experience with a much different financial mindset than your child.

An effective way to teach your college-bound child about responsible spending is by encouraging a part-time job the summer before they head to school.  Coax them to save their earnings by offering to match whatever they put in a savings account. Your child’s first semester will come with plenty of new responsibilities and learning experiences, so I recommend holding off on a job until students are confident they can balance academics and extracurriculars. When the time for a job does come, on-campus work opportunities, such as checking students into the fitness center or working at the student call center, are wonderful options. On-campus jobs have several advantages over working off-campus such as, no commute time, a flexible work schedule and a boss that will be more understanding of exam week and other school commitments.

You should definitely speak to your child about debit and credit cards before sending them off to school. Campuses are filled with booths looking for students to sign up for a credit card. Be sure to check out the campus on move-in day to make sure your student’s university has plenty of their ATMs on campus that support their bank. (I went to a college that exclusively had Bank of America ATMs on campus and I had a card with Citibank. By my sophomore year I opened a debit card with Bank of America which made my life easier.) If you’re debating whether to send your child to school with a debit card, credit card or both, check out our post on teens and credit cards here.

Some parents see college as the right time to have their child take responsibility for their cell phone bill if they haven’t already. If this isn’t you, still consider discussing who will be responsible for apps, movies and music, as these expenses can add up quickly.

Transportation can be costly, but some schools, like the University of San Francisco, provide their students with a transit card to help them get around the city. Costs for the card are built into the tuition. This allows students to use the city’s public transportation without having to pay out-of-pocket each time. Find out if your child’s school provides a similar amenity or if they will be responsible for their own transportation fees. If your child has a car, you should discuss if they will be bringing it with them. Most colleges don’t permit freshman to keep a car on campus but if your child is eventually going to bring a car to school, you’ll want to go over who will take responsibility for parking fees and gas.

It wouldn’t be college without some fun, so it’s important to consider who will be responsible for  your child’s discretionary expenses and if a budget will be implemented. If you’ll be providing your child with an allowance, the most important thing is consistency. Choose an amount you find appropriate and a schedule to dispense the money and stick with it. Have an honest conversation about what is important to your child and help them predict how that will effect their budget. For example, if your child loves live music you’ll want to add concert fees to the budget.

Every child is different, and their budgets will be too. Here are some other spending areas to consider discussing with your child:

    • Laundry. Will you provide your child with a weekly fund for laundry or will it be up to them? If you’re considering an allowance you may want to include this expense.
    • Books. Your student will likely need to purchase textbooks for each new semester and they aren’t cheap! Will you split the bill? Is the cost on you for freshman year? The campus store may not be your best option for buying books. Compare prices at used bookstores and online.
    • Student Loans. It may seem early to start thinking about the debt your child will likely leave college with, but it’s not! Include your child in the student loan process so he/she won’t be shocked come graduation.
    • Going Greek. If your child hopes to take part in a sorority or fraternity, discuss with them how you expect to pay their dues which come in at an estimated $600 per year.
    • Study Abroad. If your child is interested in a semester or year abroad, refer to his/her school’s study abroad office for information on programs the university offers. Compare tuition prices, the cost of living in the desired location, traveling fees and exchange rates.
Remember, budgets are meant to be reevaluated and updated. After your child has experienced a few months of college life, revisit the predictions you had for his/her budget and make any necessary changes.  A huge thanks to Louise for suggesting this important and timely topic! Do you have something you’d like us to write about? Let us know in the comments below!!


  1. Jon Stone says:

    Great piece – and great chart! As the father of a college sophomore, I can attest that the basic formulation of “tuition plus room and board” that you typically see quoted, is totally inadequate, and doesn’t begin to tell you what you’re in for. I find that my kid(s) KNOW we’re talking shockingly big bucks, and WANT to help, so you have to come to an agreement with them on what they can reasonably do – not making it too burdensome – and make them stick to it, and be responsible about it.

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