5 Steps to Money Management in College

Parents can help their students toward financial success.

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Managing money is one of the many challenges college students face, and often for the first time. These money management tips and tools can help ensure success.

JULIE:

Talking to your college-bound student about money is something that's best not left for the car ride to school. The earlier you can have these conversations, the better. Your student should still be in high school, if possible, while you have these discussions.

1. Pass the employment baton: Many high school students have jobs, but they often need help from mom and dad with the employment paperwork. If your child takes a job while in college, filling out that paperwork and setting up payroll deposits will be up to him or her.

Take some time to go over the details of withholdings and bank routing numbers before your child leaves. It can save time and phone calls down the line.

[Discover how and why to get an on-campus job.]

2. Decide on banking services: At a minimum, your child likely will need a checking account with a debit card while in college. When deciding where to open the account, consider your own bank, which may ease the money transfers that college often involves.

Another good choice is a national bank, or a bank or credit union located in the town where your child's school is located. Having a local branch can help make for a seamless transition when your child heads to campus.

Also know that your child will probably not bank the same way you do. I still think it's a good idea to teach kids how to use a check register, but I haven't had much success getting mine interested. Online banking is probably rendering the check register obsolete for this generation. Lindsey will talk below about the tool she uses instead.

3. Talk about credit: At some time during your child's college experience, it might become appropriate to introduce a credit card. Freshman year probably isn't that time.

While recent banking legislation has made it harder for credit card issuers to market to college students, it's still a good idea to talk to your student about the topic before he or she leaves. Continue to have those discussions as the college years continue.

LINDSEY:

Money management can be a tricky skill to master during the first year of college. Students are bombarded by opportunities to eat out, shop, and attend events, among other kinds of other financial temptations.

Giving in to too many of these adds up quickly—as I discovered my freshman year. Here are some of the ways I learned to keep my spending in check.

1. Track spending online: Whether this means monitoring your bank statements meticulously or using an external service, your personal spending is something you should check up on every day.

I personally use Mint.com; it has a handy app for your iPhone or Android device, and sends you weekly reports of where your money went during those seven days. This way, you can see the amount you spend each week and how it is proportioned. The results will almost certainly surprise you.

In that same token, I try to use plastic for as much of my spending as possible. It may seem counterintuitive, but it allows you to see exactly where you are making purchases and for how much. Debit or credit card statements are a lot more informative than an ATM withdrawal that can't include how the money will be spent.

2. Consider your school's financial tools: Most colleges and universities allow you to load money onto a student ID or card specifically for spending at school. This can be a way to ensure that your money is spent on campus—books, printing,or a quick bite between classes—instead of on non-necessities like clothes or make-up.

[See the downsides of campus debit cards.]

My school also has a contract with a local bank. Especially if you're an out-of-state student, consider exploring the financial tools that your school has provided locally, often right on campus.