Spending money on visiting your college student

visiting your studentIf I could offer one financial tip to parents of first-year college students, it is this: book your hotel for family weekend the moment your child submits an acceptance!

The tragedy here is that I followed my own advice…the minute my son selected Penn State, I jumped on the web page, found the family weekend date and snagged a hotel room for that Saturday night for $129. I was so pleased with myself for thinking of this; I told a few others whose children are also going to the state university. Just a few weeks after my reservation, these families found several hotels already booked, but did get rooms for $225 per night.

Fast forward six months and I am on the phone with my freshman who has had very little sleep in his shared living space and sounds like a walking zombie. I mention he can stay with us at the hotel during family weekend to get some rest, but we’ll only be there for Saturday (a planning decision I made thinking he wouldn’t want us to hog up two whole party nights in one weekend) and he asks if we can get there Friday instead. It’s a dream come true! Our son wants an extra night with us! I immediately call my hotel and yes, they can add that night just two weeks away for the now-bargain rate of $299.95. Ouch. By the time we buy meals for the weekend, we are now looking at dropping a tuition payment into a three-day visit. No complaints… we are looking forward to seeing him, but let’s face facts–I am eating my previous smugness.

Meanwhile, as my son moves into his freshman year, my niece enters her junior year of high school. Gathered at a family party recently, I saw a familiar wave of panic cross my sister’s face when we brought up planning for college. “How are we going to fit in all these visits? I can’t believe how much tuition is…”

It’s amazing how easy it is to answer those questions for someone else’s child! I offered to sit down with my niece to take the first research steps on the Internet, determine what areas she might be interested in and take her on a few tours. Heck, this time, all I have to do is be a fun aunt and let my sister handle the paperwork and the checkbook.

A major difference from our own planning two years ago is, of course, the economy. We are now in September of 2008, a time that will always be marked by the daily headlines of a Wall Street crisis, government bail-outs and a continuing mortgage fiasco. I’ve never been very drawn to financial topics, but the last year has shown me how major economic situations touch down to the tiniest details of every person’s every day life.

The latest I read was that home equity loans are getting nixed by major players. Well, there goes what I know is a plan for many parents on how to cover the tuition. Even if a couple has built up sizeable real estate equity and has a good credit standing, the money may not be loaned out anymore. At our house, we aren’t sure how this will change our plans to pursue the Sallie Mae student loan. We wanted to initiate the loan this fall, but just weeks after determining that, the interest rate may be much higher than we thought. During Family Weekend, we will see how our son is doing managing his finances and get the paperwork for the loan together. All while enjoying our “free” breakfast at the hotel.


Tuition and Bills