Involving your college student in paying for college
If I could write an (un-bouncing) check right now to cover my son’s next four years – tuition, room, board, books and living expenses – I likely would not do it. Let me explain…
For five years, we owned student rental properties in our local area. In the course of that time, I handled leases and had regular interaction with no less than 20 different college and graduate students. Because I was receiving rent checks either from a parent or the student and I handled utilities separately, it was very easy to figure out which students were responsible for all or a portion of their education expense and which students had no financial interest in their education or living bills. Here is what I saw during those years:
Students who paid for nothing:
- Cranked up the heat while throwing the windows wide open.
- Forgot their house key so just broke a window to get in…no biggie, mom will call the landlord later and pay for it.
- Upon the lease’s end, left behind brand new sneakers, bath towels, clothes, electronics.
Students who were responsible for some of their expenses:
- Offered to do yard work or interior maintenance in exchange for some portion of rent.
- Stuffed old sweatshirts around the windows and doors to keep in the heat.
- Planned summer employment in advance and sought opportunities to earn extra income over breaks.
- And yes, still had parties, got their education and had great social times.
Although I haven’t exaggerated this little summary at all — it is truly straight reporting — I realize it is still a stereotype. Parents who plan to make sure their children don’t have to worry about a thing (or a dime) may take great offense to this post. So let me also add that children of great affluence can still possess high motivation, strong character and appreciation.
Educating our kids about money can start as early as “house chores=allowance.” But ask any parents of children in today’s world about the challenge it has been to pass along even basic financial understanding. The kids are busy, jobs don’t fit school and activity schedules, and paychecks hardly cover gas money, let alone of today’s “necessities” like cell phones and video games.
Despite that, we have done the best we can. We split the cost of a car with our son, he has paid for gas and social activities for the last several years and he has been advised that he will play a role in his college. This hasn’t always made us very popular with him. But we hope in the end he will understand why we held some luxuries back and expected him to work for the things he wanted.
I believe that earning and contributing are important lessons on the journey into the adult world. I also believe that if my son works to build his own spending account for college– (estimated anywhere from $500 to $1500 per semester)–one that he knows will not be replenished from home, the decisions he makes on how to use those dollars may come with a little more thought. And as we search for student loans, I hope someday he will see the monthly payment not as a complete burden, but as a reminder of sacrifice, hard work and why he sought an education at all.
We’ve been looking at college expenses as a financial decision. Really, it may be one of the last, most important, parenting decisions we’ll make.