One extracurricular activity that every student should master before heading off to college is personal money management. Typically, a student’s day-to-day spending is done on an ad-lib basis, meaning that overspending is the norm, rather than the exception.
During a school year, the average college or university student will spend over $2,000 for books, supplies, transportation, and personal expenses while at school. There is, however, room for economizing. The first place to look is at food and telephone calls, where difficulty often occurs in controlling expenses, especially if pizza is ordered regularly at 2 a.m., and friends are called long distance at the touch of a touch-tone phone.
While many students might think that it costs less to live off campus than in a dorm, they may be wrong. In college towns with high demand for off-campus housing, accommodations within walking distance of the campus tend to be expensive. Some landlords may require a one-year lease—a period longer than the school year—so subleasing privileges need to be part of an “economical” lease. In addition, off-campus students can save money by sharing housing and doing their own cooking.
Whether students rely on parental subsidy, use their own money, or combine funds, most have savings and checking accounts. It is important for them to know how such accounts work. Their ability to balance an account accurately and make needed corrections is of utmost importance.
Many undergraduates keep their checking accounts in their home towns; long-distance management of financial affairs is difficult, however. Verifying a balance quickly with an out-of-state bank is both costly and time-consuming, so it is a good idea to have an account on campus.
While some parents feel that a credit card might give too much of a cushion to a student who manages his or her affairs badly, others find that a credit card can provide a good back-up for college students. It can help with car rentals, plane fares, and railroad tickets. Trying to get money to college students in different locations can be frustrating, and it is often impossible for anyone to cash personal checks away from home. Many parents who provide their college-age children with credit cards do so strictly for use in emergencies.
Ideally, college students should take full charge of a semester’s spending. If the first semester seems too soon, put it off until the next term. Life becomes much easier for parents whose college-age children manage their own finances, and the students’ education in life skills benefit accordingly.