Recently this question was posted by a mom on Mamapedia.com:
This is the first year my son has gone away to school. He gets financial aid and thinks his disbursement check is for just “going out and spending”. At this rate he will be on bread and water til the end of the semester(December) He gets mad when I don’t transfer more funds into his account. How do I get him to see that living expenses do not include weekly all you can eat places and trips to 7-11 or the ABC store for him and his friends?
Thinking back to my own first two years of college, I know this can be a tricky time of freedom and finances. I was not at all prepared for what I encountered out on my own. I was inundated with credit card offers and my parents generously sent me whatever I asked for, neither of which are very good things.
Kids need to learn to manage their money, preferably as soon as they start getting money. Even if you did teach your son money management, it sounds like he needs a refresher. There are many great resources for teaching children money management from ages 3 and up. Both Crown Financial Concepts and Money Savvy Generation have great tools for teaching kids money management. Since your son is older, I highly recommend Good $ense money management class which is offered in local churches by teachers trained through the Willow Creek Association.
Your son needs to get a handle on this now, before it gets worse. Between now and the time he comes home in December I would only send him what he needs. How much does he need per week to pay for incidentals? If you can, put that much on a reloadable debit card every Monday. That way you know his immediate needs are met-he can live 6 weeks on Ramen noodles if he has too…it may help him learn this important lesson.
When he comes home, focus on helping him set up a budget. Your job as parent now it to coach him to make the right choices, you can’t make the choices for him. Help him find books, online tools or a class near his college that will help him learn financial responsibility. Help him also see the difference between wants and needs. Make sure his needs are accounted for in his budget and that there is some allowance for incidentals and entertainment.
Categories in a student’s budget could include: housing, tuition, books, food, clothes, entertainment, incidentals, cell phone and transportation.
Next, draw a line in the sand, the buck literally stops here. You have helped him with his budget, you and his financial aid package are covering his school, books, food and an agreed upon amount for incidentals-his job is to live within his means. This is the hard part for parents but…stand firm.
Training or re-training your son now will help him now and in the future. Do this and then you can send him back to school feeling confident and equipped that he can manage his finances.