5 Ways to Prepare Your Kids for College

For a lot of parents, sending their kids off to college is a bittersweet experience. It’s a battle between being proud of their son or daughter for taking this next step and thinking back on how fast the time has gone—and how it seems like just yesterday that they were 2 years old.

It wasn’t that long ago that I was stepping onto a college campus for the first time, and I remember how thankful I was for the effort my parents put into preparing me for that experience. But I think a lot of teenagers head to college without any idea about how money works. Ten years from now, they’ll more than likely be loaded up with student loan bills. It’s a scary trend that keeps getting worse.

Don’t let that happen to your college kid. Help them understand these issues before they step into that first class.

1. Budget, Budget, Budget

If you haven’t been using a budget, it will be difficult to convince your kid to use one. So make sure you understand budgeting and you use one as part of your financial plan. Then, just walk them through the process—spending all of their money on paper and on purpose before each month begins. Everything should be broken into categories—food, gas, clothing, etc. (Don’t be afraid to start budgeting! Learn how to get started.)

2. Independence Means Responsibility

Stepping out on your own is a big deal, but it’s not all fun and games. Living away from home means you have to take care of yourself. Do your best to prepare your son or daughter for what that means. Food doesn’t just drop out of the sky, and gas doesn’t magically appear in their car. Independence means responsibility. (If your son or daughter loves to shop, find out my suggestions for shopping without busting the budget!)

3. College Isn’t Cheap

Even if your kid is going to a small community college, they’ll still probably have a few thousand dollars of tuition to pay—and that doesn’t even include books. That means skipping class or blowing off homework is a waste of money—and a big fat dent in the GPA.

4. Choose a Major Wisely

Help your teenager find his or her passion. This isn’t a must before they step on campus, but simply plant a seed that gets them started thinking about what they want to do with their life. You don’t want them graduating with a degree that leaves them unfulfilled or unable to find a job.

5. Friends Matter

New friends mean new opportunities and new social situations. Who you hang out with definitely influences how you spend money and the decisions you make. Without being overbearing, remind them how important it is to have positive friends who build them up instead of bring them down.

If your soon-to-be college student doesn’t seem to care, it might just take them messing up a few times to understand how important it is to have a plan for their money. They’ll come around quicker than you think once they have that first-hand experience.

Remember, you can make all the right decisions and give all the right advice, and it’s still possible that they will mess up. As a parent, just be there for support and to reinforce these principles throughout their college experience.