The dreaded phone call- “Can I have some money?” Every parent at one point or another has a college student kid who calls them up asking for money while they are in school. Do you just hand over money to your college kids because they “need” it, or do you let them figure out their financial woes on their own, as an adult that they now are? It’s a tough call, and often an emotional one, but the decision really comes down to what the money is going to be used for and how responsible your kids are with money to begin with.
When your kids ask for money, immediately begin inquiring as to how much they want, what they need it for, and what they did with their financial aide and student loan money. Odds are, if your child is asking for a few hundred dollars to pay for books, they took their excess financial aide and spent it on new shoes or a brand-new flat screen TV (like my little sister did). If the reason they want money is because their student loans or financial aide hasn’t come in yet, then front them the money, but have them return it as soon as their other funds come in. If your child simply managed their money incorrectly, then giving them money just tells them that you think it’s OK for them to frivolously spend their monetary aides.
Ask your child what they have budgeted for, and how they plan on taking care of their finances in the future. Now is a great time to get an idea of how financially responsible your college student really is. Finding out why they are broke is a great way to determine whether or not your giving them money will be a one time thing or not. If they tell you that they thought they could budget in that hair cut or that trip to California (again, something my sister did) and then fell short later, odds are, your kids will tap you out financially before you know it.
Tell your kid to get a part-time job rather than give them money, and tell them you’ll give them $100 to pay for gas or work clothing, but that’s it. Sure, college is tough, but your kids need to learn how to make their own money some way. That’s what my parents did to my sister, and she quickly obliged, getting a weekend job as a CNA to cover all her expenses beyond what her student loans and financial aide would cover. The hundred bucks my parents gave her went straight to gas and scrubs and gave her that incentive to get a job.
If your kids really need the money, then give it to them. You don’t want them to go without books, do you? But here’s the catch- don’t give them the money outright. Go to their college and pay for the books yourself, or take your kids shopping for food, or pay a portion of their tuition or housing personally. This way, you are certain that the money you put forth went to the supposed need, and not a trip to the mall or a new car stereo. Don’t just fork over a few hundred bucks and expect it to go toward the “needs” your child has. They’ll likely hit you up for money again in a few weeks. If you pay for things yourself, when your child DOES ask for money again, you can tell them that you know for a fact you just paid for certain things. Red flags at this point should be up, and your child should get the hint. They’ll only push you so far.
Of course, the hugest deterrent in keeping your kids from begging for money at all while they’re in college is to do what my parents did: tell your child that, gee, sounds like you picked a school that’s too expensive. Why don’t you come home and just go to school here? It’s far less expensive. My sister, going to a university about 2 hours away rather than our local college (from which she could get an online degree from her current school of choice) quickly changed her tune and claimed she’d find a way to manage when the thought of moving back home was presented to her. She has since picked up more hours at work and sold her TV to her roommate, and we haven’t heard a peep from her since about money.
Sometimes a good old reality check is what your kids really need when they ask you for money when they are in college, not the money itself. Without my parents’ declining my sister’s “needs” and informing her she had cheaper, less desirable options elsewhere, she wouldn’t have figured out a way to become financially responsible and quit blowing her student loans and aides. She’s still at the school of her choice, getting by financially, and learning to manage her money. About time, too. She’s studying, ironically, accounting.