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What you should know about money before starting college

Alyssa Pry
Personal Finance Reporter

There are so many lessons we want to give our kids before they head off to college, and teaching them good money habits is definitely at the top of the list. Talk to your kids about money before they leave the nest, says Beth Kobliner, author of “Make Your Kid a Money Genius (Even if You’re Not).”

“We’re down to the wire right now, and I would say the number one thing is just have the conversation,” Kobliner says. “Parents are often talking to their kids about sex, drugs, and alcohol before they go to college, [but] they don’t talk about money.”

Kobliner says many kids lack basic understanding of things like credit and debit cards, so start there.

“Talk about debit cards—how they work,” Kobliner says. “Make sure [your child] has a budget and talk about opening a bank account to save some money there.” Kobliner says the parents she talks to are often surprised at how little their kids know about money.

If you’re planning on helping your child out with spending money, the important thing is to set expectations, and stick with them.

“I think parents have to realize that you are not required as a parent to hand over some cash to your kid,” Kobliner says. But if you do, put a set amount that would cover expenses for the whole semester. Once the cash runs out, that’s it.

“That’s a good time to say, work and get a job,” Kobliner advises. Getting a job is not only a good way to help your child earn money, but it can help improve their GPA: studies show students who work less than 20 hours a week at an on-campus job have higher GPAs than those who don’t work.

While the few months before you drop your college freshman off at school can be an ideal time to reinforce good money habits and set expectations, bringing up the subject of college along the way will help everyone feel prepared when the times comes, Kobliner says. Starting as early as 5 years old, children will understand the concept of saving for college, she says.

“If you tell a child you’re saving for their college, they’re more likely to go to college,” Kobliner says. “That’s about expectations and showing a child this is your priority—you want them to go to college and are willing to save for it.”

Having the talk about how much it costs and what your family can afford should happen in ninth grade, she says.

“I think it’s so important to stress we’re in this together,” Kobliner says. “Find a school [your child] will love, but one that’s also affordable for your family.”

Kobliner recommends visiting FAFSA4caster through the Department of Education, which will help estimate how much financial aid your family could get and how much you would need to contribute to the cost of tuition.

“Having simple conversations will really prepare [your child] and make them so much wiser about what they’re looking forward to and what’s going to happen in the future,” Kobliner says.


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