Managing student finances
Show them the money. And how to spend it wisely.
Soon your teenager's primary financial institution will no longer be the BMD (the Bank of Mom and Dad). Going to university will teach them how to be independent and fend for themselves. Well, that's the plan, anyway. Before they head out, here are a few things you can do to help them get their financial house – or dorm room – in order.
Get the right bank accounts and credit cards.
Be sure your student has the right account to meet their needs. Most financial institutions have a low-fee student package but be wary; some "no fee" accounts only let you do a very small number of transactions free. Figure out how much will be done at the branch vs. ATMs, online or by mobile phone. A credit card is useful because it can help establish a credit history and can come in handy, especially in an emergency. Shop carefully. Some feature no annual fee; others offer reward points. Once they have it, make sure they use it sparingly and pay their bill in full on time every month.
Make a budget and a plan to track spending.
The most important thing for anyone with limited funds is to prepare a budget. And the best way to stick to it is to track spending. If your child signs up for Online Banking, they can easily see where the money goes every week. Make sure they set a limit for walking-around money. Hitting the ATM for another fistful of crisp twenties is easy – and guaranteed to drain their account. And warn them about ATM fees. They need to use their institution's ATMs or they will get dinged every time. One advantage of being a credit union member is that they can use THE EXCHANGE® network of 2,400 ATMs across the country ding-free. That includes all credit unions, HSBC and the National Bank.
Make their laptop a communications hub. Instead of running up phone and data plan bills, use a computer-based phone system such as Skype, which allows them to call anyone anywhere for free. Smartphones are a standard accessory these days, but if they don't already pay for their bill, it may make sense for them to pay for a few months, so they get a sense of what those few extra downloads might be costing them. There are a number of student data plans, but they're all different, so be sure to find the one that matches how your child uses their phone.
Shop cheap. Look for student discounts.
It's amazing what's out there for students. Take advantage of the perks and if a discount isn't posted, just ask. Get them familiar with Craigslist and cruising second-hand stores. Buy used textbooks. Many schools have buyback programs that connect buyers and sellers. Textbooks go fast, so one trick is to get in touch with students a year ahead and arrange to buy their texts at the end of term. Most post-secondary institutions also issue transit passes, so there's less need to hand over the car keys.
Share with the other students.
One of the best financial strategies is having roommates to help keep housing costs down by sharing items such as rent, food, furniture and electronics. If friends have a car and prefer the flexibility it gives, great – car pool and share expenses.
Don't eat out all the time.
Even if they’re on the school’s meal plan, they can give their health and wallet a break by skipping overpriced convenience foods. Learning how to cook healthy food not only saves money, but also prevents the problems that go with the steady diet of high-fat, high-starch meals. Homemade curries, stir-fries and soups will help give them the power to resist ordering a pizza.
Get a part-time job.
A familiar refrain. Many universities and colleges have work-study programs. Summer work is a necessity for many students, but don't overlook internships – they're a good way to network and get a taste of what may become a career choice. If only minimum wage jobs are available, look for one with opportunities for tips, such as waiting tables, parking cars or delivering pizza.