When high school is history and college is on the horizon, it is easy to overlook some critical lessons for college-bound students as they relate to money.

StudentParents may outwardly be ready to send their kids off,  appreciative of some quiet and a less hectic schedule, but deep inside there is a sense of loss and connection with our kids.  Staying connected even if the communication is about money, is a great way to remain a positive role model and educator when it comes to personal finance for our children.  Broaching the subject in a mature, positive manner versus a parental lecture will create a conversation that may just surprise you!  Here are some suggestions for getting the conversation started:

Teach them how to budget.

Discussing budgets is a tough conversation to have, but it has to be done.  Keep the conversation and thought process simple and easy.  Do your homework before the conversation happens.  Put together an outline of what you see as potential line items that your student may have and complete the budget together.

Discuss where the gaps are, point out the need for emergency funds, and how those gaps can be accommodated. By either reducing expenses or, perhaps, increasing income with part-time work.

The discussion doesn’t end there.   Next is teaching them how to track their spending. Consider introducing them to Mint or a number of other apps available for mobile phones or tablets.  Using technology to manage spending can teach your child how to handle budgeting and how to develop an interest in sticking to that budget!

Evaluate Need

Need vs. Want –  Many of us fear that when we are no watching over our college student’s shoulder, want may beat out need.  Does your student need his or her own credit card?  In some cases, the answer is no.  Students face many temptations that a credit card makes easy to act on.  A debit card does not.  If you feel your student should have a credit card consider a low limit, a secured credit card, or a shared card with you as the responsible adult, so you can monitor activity, and your son or daughter can learn the basics of the proper use of credit.

Credit: a necessary evil

Credit card offers seem to arrive in the mail the day the first acceptance letter arrives: in the mailbox, on phones, tablets and computers. For many, this temptation is hard to resist when the funds are low and wants are high. It is important to educate your college-bound student on the benefits of good credit and dangers of poor credit.

This is also a perfect time to begin a credit monitoring service for your your student. All this being said, credit is a necessary evil! Credit is required to build a credit score and history, so the message is to proceeded with caution; don’t buy today with the mentality of paying tomorrow. If funds are low, most likely the deposit fairy will not magically fill your account.

Work study or working is not a punishment!

Does your student have an easy come, easy go attitude towards money?  Now is the perfect time to nurture independence, discipline, and self-sufficiency.  Your student will develop a better appreciation for money by earning it.

College is full of academic opportunities that will pave the road to your child’s future.  It is also full of social and extracurricular activities that can run a bank account dry.  Some argue they want their child to focus on academics, not on a part-time job; others prefer their kids have some “skin in the game.”  I come from the school that there can be balance between academics, work and a social life!

I like to think I turned out all right. I attended school in Boston full-time, lived on campus and waitressed during the school year. Over summer break I managed two jobs: working in an office during the day and waitressing nights and weekends. I did this not because my parents weren’t willing to pay my tuition. They wanted me to appreciate the value of my education and, yes, have some “skin in the game.” I still had time for a social life. I found balance, made Dean’s list, and graduated. Work study or part-time work is not a punishment! It helped mold my work ethic into what it is today.

Letting Go

It isn’t easy sending your student off to college.  You hope you’ve been successful with the teachable moments you’ve shared through the years and that these lessons will steer your child in the right direction.

Taking the time to have these conversations before your child leaves for college, will plant the seeds for financial responsibility.

Stay connected and keep the conversation going.