Transitioning to college life is, for many students, an immersion in independence. The freedom to make certain decisions, such as whether to do homework, go out with friends, or go to bed, is fun. Other elements are more challenging and can lead to calls to home for help (“What do I do about a sore throat?”). As a parent, the call can be a great little endorphin boost: We feel expert and needed! But when it comes to money, you’ll want to arm your student with the best tools before they go to college — before your student is short of money, needs more, and isn’t exactly sure where it all went.

If you haven’t gone over budgeting basics, it’s helpful to talk through how much your student should be spending (or saving) each month, and how to track expenses. Whether students have a campus job or some form of an allowance, most will use debit or credit cards, which are easy to overuse. I’m a huge fan of the free Mint app, which assigns expenses to common budget categories, tells a user when funds get low, and has bill reminders that can prevent late fees. Any system that encourages a review of expenditures will help students spot fraudulent charges, another helpful skill for students to cultivate as they manage their own finances.

Budgeting skills also are helpful with tracking use of meal plans. Nearly all of Denison’s meal plans include some number of “Flex Dollars” that can be spent at different campus dining locations. The balance of Flex Dollars will decline as they are used, and students need to monitor and manage their use. (Students frequently ask the cashiers to check their balances, and the cashiers are happy to do it.)

Although budgeting isn’t one of the most exhilarating forms of independence, it’s one that students recognize as a valuable form of “adulting.” There is satisfaction in being able to manage one’s own affairs, and the concept and the skill are transferable to other settings, such as student organization budgeting and, ultimately, their first job and life after college.

July 18, 2019