How do you financially manage your college freshman?
July 12, 2021 12:00 AM   Subscribe

Mini dancinglamb will be departing for college in a matter of weeks and we are trying to figure out the best way to handle financial needs from several states away.

We've roughly anticipated $3k for the Fall semester in terms of food, personal needs, supplies, etc. I would ideally like for Mini dancinglamb (Mdl) to be able to learn to budget on their own (they've had their own checking/savings account for a few years). The current setup is their debit card from the checking account (which I do have joint access to) linked as Apple Pay on Mdl's iPhone. The bank in question is available both at home and where the college is located (well, technically the bank ATM is located about a block from campus).

Mini dancinglamb's college of choice happens to not have a meal plan; every dwelling has a kitchen within and students are expected to make their own meals. Based upon extensive questionnaires, the roommates are grouped together so that at least a couple of them are able to cook and not kill one another or starve to death. My kid likes to share. A LOT. I get it because I am a serial over-cooker with lots of intentional leftovers. It makes me super happy to share my creations. The thing is, and I can't emphasize to them enough, that they are not there to feed their roommates, especially if the roommates may not be down with contributing to groceries (I suggested Mdl learn from my ancient but relevant prior roommate experiences).

This is one of my bigger concerns because despite me supplying about $200 in groceries, Mdl went ahead and still blew $300 in *emergency* funds in under three weeks at the dollar store, diners, coffee shops, etc. when they attended a summer intensive program two years ago at the same college (justification was that their friends didn't have money to go out). It's also been a recurring thing while home during high school with friends - pizza, Starbucks (on my card), etc.

I should note that although Mdl wants to get a job, they do have anxiety and ADHD (with appropriate meds for it). I'd prefer that they wait to at least take the first semester to settle into a full-time college schedule before attempting to also take on any work.

Any personal experience or suggestions are most welcome. If it makes a difference, the college is in MA. Thanks!
posted by dancinglamb to Education (43 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
Monthly allowance. $750 per month into that debit card account. Let them learn to budget with a monthly amount and not the entire semester's cash. If they run short at the end of the month, let them borrow but pro-rate it out of the 2nd semester's payments.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:20 AM on July 12, 2021 [17 favorites]


I second the allowance idea, but would suggest a weekly schedule, rather than monthly. It's easier to budget a week in advance, and if they make a big mistake, the consequences are more immediate and less costly.

My personal experience is probably not very helpful, in that I didn't have any real help from parents or mentors when selecting and applying for colleges, and ended up at a very fancy and expensive private university that gave incoming students a Visa card that would simply add charges onto their student loans. (I guess that's one way to teach kids about debt...)

Luckily (!) my undiagnosed bipolar disorder was peaking at this time, and I ended up dropping out after one year. Since I had a few merit ("merit"?) scholarships, I escaped with a little over ten grand in student loan debt. I don't think I really became financially literate until 5 or 6 more years of mistakes later.
posted by Anoplura at 12:52 AM on July 12, 2021 [7 favorites]


Best answer: This is hard, but there are natural consequences of running out of money - they can't do the things they want to do!

There are people, and your kid may be one of them who really have long term difficulty with this. ADHD is insidious for the executive function decisions with money, but also budgeting is just really hard! Many kids go into college with no idea how to manage their finances at all. School is hard! Social pressures are hard.

Be firm but kind. Remember there are many unglamorous ways to eat in college, those academic lunch ins, food pantries can be accessed, friends do share.

Many kids end up sharing their budgetary woes with each other in all kinds of ways.

I do want to encourage you that two years ago is a long time for your teen, and summer programs are in fact short and the dynamics a bit different It might be indicative about how he'll budget, but it might not.

Decide now how you will help and won't, getting the hang of living independently is tricky! But he will most likely get the basics down . I'd be concerned about debt accumulation as well via credit cards, or other loan programs, just because it does happen . So be on the look out, out at least make sure that he understands about that.

He will learn from others. His peers will absolutely talk about this. He is not learning this alone by any means.
posted by AlexiaSky at 12:53 AM on July 12, 2021 [4 favorites]


I second the allowance idea, but would suggest a weekly schedule

I don't want to get too deeply into this, but asking someone to "budget" $187 a week is teaching them to budget, it's teaching them to be poor and not in the good way. You can't buy bulk, you can't avail of buy 2 get 1 free offers, you're paying so much more for shipping because you have to place orders across the month, and if you go out for a nice dinner for someone's birthday or whatever, you can't do laundry for the rest of the week.

If the goal here is to learn to budget, let them learn to budget.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:22 AM on July 12, 2021 [12 favorites]


Best answer: I've never used one so I can't make specific recommendations, but it sounds like one of those budgeting apps (Mint, YNAB, ?) that link to your accounts and let you follow the state of your budget in real time could be helpful. It's easy to spend without realizing how much you're spending and how little you'll be left with. Something that Mdl can check every day or two and see what they've got to work with could help counteract that.

Also encourage them to think about the unexpected things they might want to do over the course of the semester that might cost money -- shows, day trips, etc. If their main spending is on food, they might forget to leave some aside for other stuff that might come up.

There are a bunch of cookbooks and websites focused on cooking for cheap (Jack Monroe comes to mind but there are lots of others). Maybe encourage them to start cooking that way and come up with some good recipes before school starts.
posted by trig at 1:37 AM on July 12, 2021


(Also you might want to have a talk about how ~$750/month is actually quite a bit, and depending on what kind of job they have once they graduate, they may very well not have that much left over after rent, utilities, transportation/insurance/health payments, retirement savings, etc -- all the things they're not responsible for right now. So while maybe they don't need to worry about it during the first semester, you'll be expecting them not only to learn to live within that budget but ideally to have the skills to live under that budget.)
posted by trig at 1:50 AM on July 12, 2021 [4 favorites]


Best answer: I may have misunderstood the question, but it’s not clear whether you will continue to monitor their purchases of not. Do not do this, no matter how tempting. Let them get them a separate debit account that you don’t have access to that an allowance goes into. Part of them learning to budget is you not micromanaging their budget. All young adults will make some silly budget decisions and you worrying about their purchase of tickets to an expensive band, instant noodles, a jar of peanut butter and a mixer drink in real time is not healthy for either of you.
Loan them extra if they really need it and make them make their case for the loan, but not on a purchase by purchase basis.
posted by hotcoroner at 2:41 AM on July 12, 2021 [14 favorites]


$750/month sounds pretty low for a college student. I probably spent that on top of a meal plan. It's just -there's so much to do in college, and lots of things cost money. Trips, concerts, clubs, sports, add up fast.

If you assume your kid eats breakfast, lunch, and half of the dinners at home ($3), and eating dinner out costs about $20, plus a Starbucks or late night snack for $10, that's roughly $27.50/day. That's already $800/month. I'm not saying you're doing anything wrong here, it just feels a little low.

But, worst case scenario, they get a job or run out one month. They'll learn the "little tricks" by month 3 - come home for free meals, do laundry at home where it's free, etc. I think that's the point of you doing this!

If you're worried, you can ask them to make you a little budget so you won't worry. But maybe they won't. That's okay too. There's always a food bank.
posted by bbqturtle at 3:35 AM on July 12, 2021 [1 favorite]


Best answer: $750/month sounds pretty low for a college student. I probably spent that on top of a meal plan.

Funny, I came in to say that 750/month sounds quite generous! I spent about a third of that (after rent and utilities) living in NYC after college, no meal plan. I am the frugal child of aggressively frugal (immigrant) parents, though.

Count me on the side favoring weekly rather than monthly transfers, as well. That is still plenty to take advantage of free shipping (usually 25 or 35 dollars per order) and buying "in bulk" assuming there's a space to store things. It also emphasizes planning ahead -- concert tickets? day trip? night out? all still do-able if your kid is in the habit of setting aside 10 or 15 or 20 dollars a week into a separate account.

Or you could do biweekly to match the frequency of most paychecks. I currently get paid monthly, and it's actually harder to budget than it is with more frequent dollops of income.

Also: does the college expect roommates to cook for each other? That is quite different from every roommate setup I ever had. Regardless, it's worth a conversation with the roommate(s) before you all get there -- i.e. now -- about communal funds. One place I had, a single person bought all the toilet paper and house supplies and the rest of us paid her back; another place, we had a kitty where everyone put in $10 a month, and whoever was going to the store could use that to reimburse themselves for house supplies.

If food is going to be considered communal as well, that needs addressing upfront -- that's the only way a Whole Foods person and an Aldi person (or, hypothetically, bbqturtle and me) could survive a year together.
posted by basalganglia at 4:13 AM on July 12, 2021 [10 favorites]


Best answer: It's just -there's so much to do in college, and lots of things cost money. Trips, concerts, clubs, sports, add up fast.

Kindly, this is what a job is for.

My parents weren't going out on trips or to clubs and concerts when they were contributing to my college education, why should they fund mine? College students are technically adults.

I agree with the monthly budget. $750 seems high to me (it's nearly 2x more than I spend on food per month and I do not budget my food purchases at all) but you find an amount that seems right for your family. Spend the next few weeks taking your kid to the grocery store with you to meal plan so they can see real prices and consider "unseen" costs like oil and spices, etc. They can't know what they don't know.

Beyond food money and a little bit of pocket money, that's what a job is for, and he can wait to get settled. Personally I had saved up money from working before college to have spending money my first year of college, then I got a college job. If you're still contributing to basic living expenses, every dollar from the job is cake.
posted by phunniemee at 4:22 AM on July 12, 2021 [20 favorites]


Best answer: Does this budget include schoolbooks? Schoolbooks are super expensive, and all need to be bought at the start of the semester. Also, they're more likely to have big up-front purchases at the start of the fall semester--furniture, cooking utensils, that sort of thing. I'd consider giving them a bigger lump at the start of the semester and then 100/week after. I would set it up per week for this semester, so that if they really blow the budget, they won't suffer for long. You can adjust to a per-month basis if they're doing well with the budget.

Depending on *your* budget, I'd also consider holding a little money in reserve, either for an emergency (if that would be hard for you to afford otherwise) or for an end-of-semester bonus. 3k that doesn't include rent for a semester is a lot of money. (I disagree hard with people who are saying this is too low. You are being incredibly generous to offer to take care of the tuition and room and board and living expenses of your full-grown adult child.)
posted by tchemgrrl at 4:34 AM on July 12, 2021 [6 favorites]


Best answer: It's just -there's so much to do in college, and lots of things cost money. Trips, concerts, clubs, sports, add up fast

Right, and it’s better to learn to miss out on things and work through that FOMO when you’re young rather than let it chase you into your 20s and 30s as the cost of everything ramps up and you don’t have parental subsidies.

I know some techniques from the dark ages don’t apply anymore but I earned my college fun money from working hard the summer before each year started and working a little during the semesters.

My cavewoman-era experience aside, you are being super generous. Start with budgeting biweekly at first and then get your kid’s feedback on it.
posted by kimberussell at 4:42 AM on July 12, 2021 [10 favorites]


Best answer: I think it's helpful to have a big lump sum available at the start of the semester, and then a weekly or monthly amount. (This is, in effect, what my parents did with me about and they gave me a weekly amount.) The regular amount needs to be enough to feed themselves on for that length of time, even if it's all they have left. Definitely do not concern yourself with their day-to-day spending, or frankly what any of the money goes on. Just set it up so that they aren't going to be skint for too long at a time.
posted by plonkee at 5:17 AM on July 12, 2021 [3 favorites]


I don't have similar experience (on either side). But whether $750 / month seems like a lot or a little depends on income. Maybe views on the amount of the allowance are best accompanied by comments on the poster's income, what the amount is expected to cover, and whether the student is expected to work.
posted by NotLost at 5:27 AM on July 12, 2021


NOTE: The OP did not ask for Ask's opinion about the amount of money allocated for the semester, but instead about how to disburse it.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:36 AM on July 12, 2021 [12 favorites]


Best answer: I have one kid that just graduated and the other with one more semester. They are/were living in an apt. off campus, so the budgeting is a little different than your situation.

As a general budget, hubby and I pay for tuition, books, rent, utilities, and $100/week for groceries/personal stuff. We also took care of travel. Everything else is on them. We discussed all of this in detail before they went off to college. They ending up using their savings and $ they made during the summer for spending money. The past 2 years, they have made a lot more $ at their internships, so we have basically stopped the $100/week. As far as logistics, we deposit or send funds via Zelle into their accounts 1X every other month. It's too much to keep up with weekly and it doesn't teach them to really budget that way. For peace of mind for us, they also have an emergency credit card (we pay) for true emergencies.

It may take a couple months to get them into new habits, but just stick to your agreed budget. Also, think about what you will be doing during the summer. They should be working for their spending money even when they are home for the summers. If they can't get a paying job, they can earn money around the house. The sooner they learn this the better.
posted by jraz at 5:36 AM on July 12, 2021 [6 favorites]


Your kid sounds super generous and I love that about them. A lot of people in college are not so lucky as to have their parents pay for their food and entertainment. I got by on a $2,000 grant per semester and I was considered the “rich” one in our friend group. (I also didn’t go on any trips, concerts, sports, clubs that cost money, etc. Meds and food were about it.)

I don’t think you can stop your child from sharing food with their friends. What you do need to do is help them see that they don’t have infinite money to do this with and that it will affect their quality of life. It is OKAY if they decide they want to forgo some nights out, eat more ramen, buy less fancy ingredients, whatever, in order to support their friends. That’s their choice. But you as a parent can help them make the connection between the two and make sure the choice to support friends is coupled with the choice to reduce their fun and food options in other ways. I would suggest an app like Mint that tracks spending, and then offer to sit down with them and look through it in a month to see what needs to be adjusted about their spending. That’s when you can point out, “You’re spending a ton of money on food. If you want to keep spending that much, we need to cut it in other areas. Or, we need to find ways to make the food less expensive.” Etc.
posted by brook horse at 6:14 AM on July 12, 2021 [2 favorites]


Monthly allowance, plus a subscription to a food delivery service (prepped meal or ingredients only). If special needs arise they need to plead their case.

You can easily setup auto transfer every month, plus extra transfer if there are surprise needs.

I personally would set for $500 a month or LOWER, except for initial outlay of kitchen staples and pantry, cooking vessels, and maybe extra storage, which can be spread among all the friends, who can decide on splitting the cooking duties... Those who cook contribute less $$$, while those who don't contribute more $$$. And shopping duty rotates. Well, you get the idea. They need to work it out.
posted by kschang at 6:18 AM on July 12, 2021 [2 favorites]


Yeah, to be clear, when I suggested using a budgeting app above, I meant that they should be tracking their spending, not you!
posted by trig at 6:39 AM on July 12, 2021


Response by poster: Some clarification:

- Mini dancinglamb scored a >60% merit scholarship for the year (and it's renewable for all four years), so that's a huge help. More importantly, a grandparent has very prudently helped with a 529. Mdl is very, very aware of their fortunate circumstances.

- Mdl is going to art school; an art supply kit is already allocated within the first-semester tuition (we priced it out and it was actually cheaper to do it this way rather than to buy stuff ad hoc). We don't know about the book situation since most of the classes will be studio-based. It's a very small school, and the professors are pretty cool about workarounds (none of that bullshit buy a new book edition with one new paragraph nonsense). Hopefully the books won't be as insanely expensive as my nursing books were, plus the fabulous world of used textbooks!

- Since the school has a mix of dorms and houses split into apartments (you don't know what you will be getting until about three weeks before you leave for school), you have no idea about your furniture situation. It could be a basic twin xl loft bed with a desk and a closet and maybe a kitchen table and chairs, or you might luck out and have a full-on living room set, dresser, etc. Fortunately, there are three Habitat for Humanity Restores in the area, along with Ikea, Target, Costco, etc. in the area. I'm going up there for five days to help figure stuff out, unpack, etc. Mdl already has a bunch of kitchen basics (dishes, glasses, flatware, some pots and pans, knives, general starter stuff, etc.) still boxed up in the basement from the summer program that we bought at Ikea. I'm sending up my Instapot and plan on doing a big grocery/basics run before I leave. Some of the $3k has been allocated toward these needs.

- I have no intention of keeping tabs on Mdl's purchases or micromanaging their bank account unless things go super sideways. Whatever money is earned this summer belongs to them and they are free to do whatever with it. Clothes, fun money, who knows. I have no intention of supporting their social life. Or rather, if that ends up being the case, I guess they will be eating a lot of ramen.

- Roughly $500 is for upfront travel-related expenses.

- Mdl has been grocery shopping with me for years and is very aware of what food costs. They've also been pirating my recipes, learning the ones they feel they can tackle, and will probably take some of my cookbooks with them. There is a big grocery store less than a mile away and a farmer's market a couple of blocks away from the campus. One of the things that we do intend to purchase is either a foldable wagon or granny cart for grocery trips/laundry. One of my suggestions for a job if they *really* felt compelled to do something was to start offering to do laundry for people. They're good at it (been doing their own laundry since they were 10 or 12yo), takes next to no effort, and can do homework at the same time. Just buy a box of gloves and go from there.

- I forgot to mention that I plan on giving them an FSA card for prescriptions.
posted by dancinglamb at 6:55 AM on July 12, 2021 [5 favorites]


Best answer: I agree that it shouldn't be given all at once - it's unrealistic anyway. Once or twice a month is perfect, and what they will be dealing with on most jobs. Also, I would highly recommend you get them YNAB! (Or strongly suggest they get it). I wish I found it sooner, and I've heard a lot of great stories of college kids learning to budget with it, much much earlier than most of their peers.
posted by sillysally at 7:10 AM on July 12, 2021


Transfer the full monthly amount into Mdl's savings account each month. The bank or credit union should be able to set up a weekly automatic transfer from savings into checking.

When I was in college, I worked at the local farmer's market. It was an excellent once-a-week job, I usually traded all the cash I had just been paid for the best of groceries.
posted by aniola at 7:24 AM on July 12, 2021


My son just graduated and spent the last two years living in an apartment off-campus. $200/month covered his food and spending money pretty easy. $750 should be plenty and $3000/semester sounds pretty extravagant.
posted by Press Butt.on to Check at 8:11 AM on July 12, 2021


(We just used Zelle to deposit money in their account around the 25th of the month to cover next month's rent, utilities and the $200 food money.)
posted by Press Butt.on to Check at 8:25 AM on July 12, 2021


Adapting to shared living within campus housing is a thing. There will be shared food storage space and cleaning to contend with, so first, this is about communication. Role play with your emerging adult. Have a practice run at home for getting buy-in for shared food and accepting when they may cook for themselves and the joy of having something to personally savor.

Most of this is about limited space, not just budget. Also, you don’t want your kiddo to be the default “cook” that can be a lot of energy that may be diverted from collegiate learning. Have them seek out events with food as well.
posted by childofTethys at 8:30 AM on July 12, 2021 [3 favorites]


Best answer: The nice thing about college is that even if you blew most of your food budget for the month, you probably have other broke friends and you can watch out for each other - share your wholesale pallet of ramen, go to the free-food events, bring home leftovers from lab meeting to share, compare intel on which bakery sells the last pastries at half-price after 9pm. Being low on food money sucks but it's a lot easier as a college kid in that kind of environment with no dependents, and with a parental safety net if really needed, than it would be as a "real" grown-up. Training wheels.

Which is to say - I'd let them make their own mistakes a bit, including treating their friends and learning who will return the favor and who will just mooch.

PS: fwiw, in college in Cambridge, with a similar dorm arrangement a decade ago, I recall making a $100-150 grocery run every two weeks or so. YMMV.
posted by february at 8:56 AM on July 12, 2021 [5 favorites]


... to be clear, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
posted by february at 9:04 AM on July 12, 2021


I should note that although Mdl wants to get a job, they do have anxiety and ADHD (with appropriate meds for it). I'd prefer that they wait to at least take the first semester to settle into a full-time college schedule before attempting to also take on any work.

I'd encourage you to rethink this - I was a pretty anxious freshman, and having a campus job starting my first semester was a great way to hang out with other college students in a structured way. Campus jobs generally have shifts that only last 2-4hrs, some even are so easy you can do your homework while on the clock. And of course, the "boss" is someone very familiar with college students, and will hold no hard feelings if your kid needs to quit mid-semester because it proves to be too much.
posted by coffeecat at 9:10 AM on July 12, 2021 [9 favorites]


My parents sent me a check for a certain amount each month. I used that money for food, gas, entertainment, and such. I also got an on campus job to supplement that allowance. Unfortunately, though, I did not think that those funds were enough to allow me to participate in some extracurricular activities that I would have enjoyed and that would have helped me become part of my campus community. With the benefit of hindsight, I am fairly confident that my parents would have paid for some of those activities. I just didn't ask.

Based on my experiences, I would encourage you to talk about this allowance as an experiment and to couch the experiment as what you are going to try for this first semester. In other words, I would be intentional in framing financial matters so that your student feels comfortable bringing up any issues without the discussion becoming a referendum on their character or money management.

In college, perhaps especially at small private schools, friend groups are established based on access to funds. Money becomes a status marker much like it can be in the adult world. It is important that your child be able to talk to you about this without feeling judged so that you can help your student navigate their own relationship to money, status, and financial values.
posted by ASlackerPestersMums at 10:10 AM on July 12, 2021 [4 favorites]


There is nothing wrong with choosing to feed your friends, just that is should be done with an eye to the overall budget.

My suggestion to is help the kid get set up with Mint or something similar and ask him to figure out a budget that equals his income. Feeding friends should come out of the "entertainment" category like eating out, going to concerts or weekend travel rather than the "necessity" category of his own groceries.

I would also ask that if they have to use their "emergency" money, then we (both of us) need to look at their budget and figure out what is going on. No criticism, just trying to figure out if it is (a) a true emergency, (b) the budget doesn't fit reality or (c) how he can make different choices to keep to the budget. Important to stay as nonjudgemental as possible. The goal is problem solving not punishment. (And my kids at least are very sensitive to my judgement, even when I think I'm being neutral, the mother in their head is much more critical so I have to be very careful.
posted by metahawk at 10:58 AM on July 12, 2021


Best answer: Mint is okay for tracking what one has spent, but You Need a Budget (YNAB) is much better for forcing a person to proactively decide where the money is coming from, and demanding realism about only budgeting/spending actual dollars in hand. Like anything, one can fall behind with it, but even a weekly accounting would have shown that emergency fund being steadily drawn down and presumably helped Mdl understand that covering so much wasn't sustainable. YNAB does a free year for students, so you could give Mdl some money to manage now and let them get a sense of how it works while they're still at home and help them at least get in the habit of looking at it to make informed decisions.
posted by teremala at 12:28 PM on July 12, 2021 [1 favorite]


giving them more and more money because they're generous with friends is self-perpetuating to an extent, because if your friends all have jobs or financial aid & you're the (self-perceived) asshole with free money from rich parents, of course you're going to feel more and more obligated to buy stuff for those who don't have that same privilege. Forcing them into a situation where they have substantially more spare cash than their peers, and everyone knows it, is not going to encourage great habits in an already anxious young person. (Of course, generosity is a good habit in many ways - far from the worst one they could have. but it's not their money, so.)

so I would resist taking their generous tendencies too far into account when you decide on a monthly amount. one shouldn't lie about one's financial situation to fit in, but getting known as the one with money isn't a great way to start out with a new crowd of college friends. you can still bail them out whenever they confess they're out of food a week before the end of the month, but don't launch them with a huge cushion, they will definitely use it all because it's there. they will have a better college experience if they can be in genuine (not feigned) solidarity with their carefully budgeting friends than if they are the reliable buyer-of-drinks etc. for all.
posted by queenofbithynia at 3:39 PM on July 12, 2021 [2 favorites]


This is one of my bigger concerns because despite me supplying about $200 in groceries, Mdl went ahead and still blew $300 in *emergency* funds in under three weeks at the dollar store, diners, coffee shops, etc. when they attended a summer intensive program two years ago at the same college (justification was that their friends didn't have money to go out). It's also been a recurring thing while home during high school with friends - pizza, Starbucks (on my card), etc.

I think that for some people, they need to learn frugality by literally not having what they want. When I went to university, I lived with my family and could eat at home (or pack lunches), but paid for all of my other expenses. I think I spent about $100/month, sometimes less -- and I didn't get to eat at diners, buy a lot of things out, etc. I did buy coffee, but I worked out where I could get it for $1.

You don't want your kid to have as meager an experience as I did - I ate a lot of chocolate bars instead of dinner because that's all I could afford (not a healthy choice). That said, you can and should set them a budget that cannot be exceeded. You can create a safety net in the form of gift cards that can only be spent on groceries, if you're worried about them going hungry. But if they run out of the other money, don't lend them any for anything that is not essential -- and eating out is not essential, nor are movies, clubs, or anything else. It sucks if they can't go out with their friends because they already spent all their money on coffee -- but that's part of learning, and they can learn to, for example, make coffee at home and carry it in a travel mug.

And if their friends can't afford to go out, that's all the more reason to do what we did in graduate school: hang out in someone's room drinking way too much tea that we made ourselves, often without leaving the room. (An electric kettle is an amazing thing - I know that they aren't common in the US, but so, so worth it.) They can cook together and discover the magic of rice and beans and some spices (a rice cooker is also an amazing device!).

18 is absolutely not too early* to have to budget and do without when you plan badly. It's better to learn then when you can still borrow from parents than to find oneself with unmanageable debt in your 20s because you didn't learn the discipline. My mom was teaching us about budgeting when we were in grade school (e.g. sending us on a trip with a specific small amount and no more; we had to figure out what treat(s) we could get for that much money).

*If you can vote, serve in the army and/or go to an adult prison, you're ready to know how to budget everything for yourself. Lots of young adults have to do this because they aren't being supported by their parents -- or maybe they helped their families even before they were 18.
posted by jb at 4:18 PM on July 12, 2021


An addendum: I look after an intellectually disabled young adult, so we're still working on the budgeting. But I am so proud of her because already she knows to buy the fancy bread we like when it's 50% off. The other day, she picked up two packages of something and I asked her why -- and she pointed out that they were cheaper that way (and we like that thing). We talk all the time about how much things cost and whether something is worth $x to her. When she was attending school in person, she had a set budget for lunch that she stuck to (and purposely went under, because she was allowed to save the extra to buy treats). She currently doesn't lack for money at all because she lives with her family, but I know that one day, she will need to live off disability benefits and I want her to be fore-armed and know how to live on a small budget.

Being able to budget is probably the only "privilege" that being low-income in my earlier life gave me -- but as someone who spent way too long in graduate school, it really helped me live a better life (and come out debt free, because I knew how to stretch that stipend).
posted by jb at 4:28 PM on July 12, 2021


Thinking back to my college days, I think twice monthly makes sense. Curious if kiddo has worked a job before? Having that kind of context about what it takes to earn money helped me get my mind around the "tradeoffs" part of budgeting. E.g., a shitty starbucks latte is NOT worth an hour of my time.

One thing they'll have to face at such a tender juncture is UberEats/Postmates/GrubHub/whatever. That sort of thing is very tempting for tired college kids (and everyone else, really) but the outlay is pretty big. And, his peers will be using them. It may be worth discussing strategies for saying no to that ahead of time.

Some further suggestions:

1. The granny cart is a good idea for kiddo - for you, moving them in and out of college housing 2x yearly for the next four years - invest in a folding trolley. You will be the envy of everyone at move-in day, and your back will thank you.

2. You could suggest a "review session" at some interval where kiddo discusses their purchasing habits and you keep your mouth firmly zipped. Spending using a card, it's really easy to not notice what you're doing! That makes learning harder. Giving them a time for them to go over and reflect on their buying habits may be helpful. You might prompt a few things, but giving them space to process will probably do a lot!

3. Generosity is a virtue until it's not. You might consider discussing managing generosity in terms of "I'm limiting my generosity (cooking for others, buying coffee, etc) to only 4 things a month." I think it's useful to understand that budgeting applies to all sorts of things, not just money, and this is something that can be used to help set up boundaries against moochers. (People rarely intend to mooch but oh my god, your food smells SO GOOD... five times a week... and they're used to a parent cooking for them... ¯\_ (ツ)_/¯)

4. Re: doing laundry for others: respectfully, a lot of their peers are going to be figuring out laundry for themselves for the first time. I wouldn't recommend getting in the middle of that process, unless doing laundry is extremely inconvenient (laundry room on the other end of the building? In a completely separate building) and your kiddo is already doing theirs. They might consider tutoring their roommates on cooking instead, or otherwise advising them on life skills they already have some experience in.

5. I quite liked working on campus but I agree a semester to settle in is a good idea. The college workload is significantly different from the high school workload and adjusting to that can be hard. Once your kiddo has their login and whatnot, you might take a look together at the on-campus job listings and see what interests them.
posted by snerson at 4:52 PM on July 12, 2021


Will the program require any art history classes? Those textbooks can be very pricey. There might be information on the school website about textbooks. You can check and see if there's an online student store with textbooks. I wouldn't count on any required books being cheap or available used -- textbooks continue to be one of the consumer products with the highest rates of inflation, and they're expensive outside of the sciences too.

I am a serial over-cooker with lots of intentional leftovers. It makes me super happy to share my creations. The thing is, and I can't emphasize to them enough, that they are not there to feed their roommates,
I totally hear you on this. I also think ... you are asking your kiddo to go against their own very generous impulses and possibly how you raised them? And how you are? I wonder if instead of discouraging your kid from sharing, you might instead encourage them to form a mini-cooperative with a few other kids, where they take turns cooking for everyone.

I think everyone has lots of good dispersal ideas, and I know you are still worried mdl will still spend too much. This is what you can do: tell mdl that they won't starve, but if the blow through all their money, you will gladly send them beans and rice to last the rest of the money. Maybe you can send a few bags of canned veggies, too. So then your child will experience semi-natural consequences: they won't starve, but they won't eat well because you won't bail them out.

I also think they'll need more money early in the semester, for materials, setting up their room, etc.
posted by bluedaisy at 5:22 PM on July 12, 2021 [1 favorite]


You seem to be thinking about this primarily as a financial problem, and what I was trying to get at in my earlier comment is that this is going to be a social problem. I'm not sure of your background, but I'd you are considering sending your kid $700 a month or so, then I am guessing you are at least middle class. I imagine that your child is used to being viewed as relatively equivalent in financial status to the child's peers. That is about to change. Your child is on a scholarship at a very expensive school where many of the students' families will have straight up paid for their kid to attend. Your child is about to encounter really rich people for what might be the first time. I went to a suburban high school in a relatively affluent suburb and thought that I was middle class, but then when I entered college I realized how relative economic status can be. Compared to my peers, I was poor.

Right now, you are worried about your child being generous and others mooching. The social scene is likely to be very different---if your child ends up cooking so much for others, they will start viewing the kid as a maid rather than a generous friend.

I suggest that you read some fictional books about prep schools to get a better sense of the social world that your child is about to enter and think carefully about how you can help your child navigate that realm. At times, I really struggled with this aspect of college and having access to more of the resources my family could have provided would have been a useful social lubricant.

For instance, how much do you think that your child should be able to spend on spring break? Whether your child goes on certain trips will greatly impact your student's friend group. How do you feel about various clubs and who do you see footing the bill for those? Do you really want your kid to be the only one who cannot go out to dinner with the friend group? Do you want other kids paying for your child to participate in events? What if your child is out drinking and needs to take a cab for safety? Do you want money to be a factor in that decision?

I understand that sometimes families can only contribute so much. However, that doesn't sound like your situation. You seem to be focused on teaching your child financial literacy without necessarily contemplating the social aspects. Quite frankly, I don't think that the first year of college is the best time for finance lessons. Your child has a lot of social and academic stuff to learn and the life skills can come a bit later. College is a long time, and maybe for the first year you pay for whatever you would have paid for if the child still lived at home. Let your child remain connected to that safety net for a bit longer then start working toward financial independence once your kid has settled in some.
posted by ASlackerPestersMums at 6:41 PM on July 12, 2021


A lot of this is rubbing me the wrong way. "I have no intention of supporting their social life", "they are not there to feed their roommates". I mean if you take this approach, you're basically saying that because they money comes from you, you get a say in how they spend it. That means it's your money, not theirs. So it's going to be really hard for them to make a budget and stick to it, because they don't actually have decision power over how the money gets spent. In the end I fear that they will learn how to make "your" budget, the one you want for them, but because it's not theirs, it will feel stifling and oppressive, and the only way they will have control over their finances is by spending something on themselves. Splurging on starbucks or pizza will feel rewarding, a means of asserting themselves, of rebelling.

Honestly in your shoes I would decide on an amount I was comfortable giving, set up an auto-transfer, make it clear that a. this is their money, and b. it is the only money they will be getting. If they blow it all too early, they will have to figure it out. They can borrow from friends and pay it back, you know, the things that people do when they run out of money. Whatever. It's their thing to figure out. One of the most damaging things my dad did for me was randomly give me money now and then, because it taught me that I didn't have to budget, more money would always appear, and hoo boy did I make a mess of my finances years down the line with credit card debt....
posted by PercussivePaul at 7:04 PM on July 12, 2021 [3 favorites]


Response by poster: This will be my final post sitting reply.

To reiterate, I requested feedback about how college parents went about sending money to their kids. Not about how much money was allocated - whether it was too much or too little, and not opinions about if/when/where/what kind of job Mdl would get. Mdl has been abundantly clear that for whatever reason, they do not want a campus job. I don't know why, but that's their decision. Fortunately, we have pretty great communication between us, so we will figure it out.

Mdl has been working for years -- in fact, they started their own kid/pet sitting business years ago and made a buttload of cash. Saved some, but blew most of it, and then blew the savings. I've never once asked about what was in any of the accounts or asked for details. If they are able to rack up a couple of thousand dollars this summer for spending money, awesome! But that's on them. That can be spending money for trips into Boston to do whatever.

As I mentioned this is a *very* small school, so there isn't a very big socioeconomic range (and for the record, we are solidly middle class - it's not as if we are sitting on a huge nest egg and doling out cash to our kid. This is finite money coming from a family source, not us.) And yes, at 18yo, I have no intention of financing Mdl's social life. It's not like there is a social life of clubbing or whatever at that age. Need more art supplies? No problem. Need more stupid shit like Chia Pets and pinatas from the dollar store? Not so much. I specifically asked about the art history books (I went to art school in a previous life and remember how spendy they were). Mdl claims that it's not required for their major, but I haven't seen the classes for the first year yet due to AP class credits.

Thanks for the input.
posted by dancinglamb at 7:38 PM on July 12, 2021 [2 favorites]


You may want to consider recruiting an allied adult (not you) to act as reserve banker -- maybe there's an uncle/aunt/neighbor/etc who can supply an "emergency loan" if it becomes necessary? Just someone who must be paid back lest there be ... consequences. Maybe "I take some of your possessions" consequences, if things get extreme (like, I get your car keys until you pay me).

Money is tricky, because it is (among other things) a transferable unit of value. At that age, "value" can be a slippery concept, confusing monetary value with emotional value. You don't love me because you won't give me the extra money to buy these concert tickets type of thing, so outsourcing the "brutal" consequences may be advisable.

I have anecdotes about budgeting for students, but they're not data so I'll spare you and just point to the above.
posted by aramaic at 7:39 PM on July 12, 2021 [2 favorites]


Fortunately, we have pretty great communication between us

It sounds like you've got a good handle on what to do, and you can always adjust the arrangement at any point if it turns out not to be working well. Best of luck to Mdl!
posted by trig at 1:05 AM on July 13, 2021 [1 favorite]


Littlest Flinx got an allowance, one lump sum per month. Her father and I covered all school costs. We cover her car payment and ins, she covers gas. When she needed more money, I traded cash for chores. (When she came home). She has a checking/savings Acct. I Zelled her money when she asked, it was not often or alot. I assume her dad did similar. 2nd year Covid hit and she moved home since all her classes were online and she got a job too. I no longer provide an allowance but I did give her the stimulus money I got because of her.
posted by ReiFlinx at 10:21 AM on July 13, 2021


I'm way late into this, but have a talk with mdl and ask them how they think they can best manage funds. Weekly, monthly, ?. This is a thing better earned sooner than later.
posted by theora55 at 7:37 AM on July 15, 2021 [1 favorite]


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