This is the time of the year when many parents are preparing a child to fly from the nest. Hordes of young adults are going to enter universities and really leave home for the very first time in their life. It isn’t the same as sleep away camp (which I have mentioned numerous times is an excellent stepping stone to college) and not quite as drastic as the post-college-no-longer-having-a-room-at-home phase.
This is no doubt a generation of over-parented kids and the college years are no exception. The same parents who micro-managed every detail of their younger child’s life are often the same folks who give little or no responsibility to their college age young adult.
I clearly remember some of my peers in college who were virtually helpless without constant oversight by their parents. They had no idea what anything cost or how to organize their life. And these were intelligent young women! Everything was paid for from afar or charged to a credit card with an unknown limit. Even when those friends moved out of the dorms into their first apartments their parents would pay their gas, electric, and phone bills without question.
I’ll admit that it sure seemed easy but I was also aware, even then, that those kids were somehow missing an important life lesson. That lesson is, and should be for most people, that there is no money tree. If you spend all of your money on clothes, hair products and pizza, and there is none left for your electric bill, then your lights will go off.
College is a great time to learn to balance a budget and to live below your means and certainly below the means of your parents. Even parents who are struggling financially will over indulge their kids during these years with the belief that they want them to have everything. What they don’t realize is that if their kids can learn to build up, to save and to live like they don’t have deep pockets to draw from; then they will be better prepared for life’s ups and downs and even more importantly, they will appreciate the things that money can buy when they graduate and start to earn a living.
So as you launch your precious offspring into the world of text books, frat parties and pizza for breakfast, consider giving them a set amount of money, either monthly or quarterly, from which they can pay their bills - or not. If you have prepared your son or daughter for this task, then this shouldn’t be a problem. If you have indulged them all along then the odds are they may crash and burn at first but make sure not to bail them out until they have felt the sting.
It may sound harsh but the best thing you can do to help them prepare for their future is to let them struggle a bit in their present. I am not suggesting that you let your kid go without food or shelter or compromise their enrollment status at school but do consider ways of putting them in charge of their short term fate. It is a learning curve for parents and students alike but one that should be entered into mindfully and with an eye toward helping to build the skills, fortitude and savvy that will be invaluable to your child in the post-college years.
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