The Most Important Talk to Have Before Your Kid Goes to College


If your child leaves for college this fall and you haven't discussed money, it's time to talk.

During the college years, many of your discussions and most of your arguments with your child will circle back to the issue of money. Even when it’s not about money, ultimately it is about money. If he’s not making decent grades and you express disappointment, he’ll argue he’s an adult, and you’ll remind him that you helped finance his education and you want the investment used wisely. It always comes back to money.

You don’t owe your kid a college education. No one does. But if you plan on helping out financially during the college years, even if you will only be helping in the smallest ways, it is important that you and your child both understand the plan. Kids need to have a clear understanding of how college support will work. 

When it comes to money, communication is key. 
First, sit down with pen and paper in hand and jot a few notes about financial support during college. Arrange a time (soon) to review it across the table with your child. Invite her to ask questions, and give her something in writing to take away from the discussion. 

Discuss how you plan to help out.
Maybe you’re not equipped with a college savings account, or maybe you are, but does your child know what you plan to offer in support? Since every family structures support during college a little differently, don’t expect your child to know what you are planning. 

Close gaps in understanding. 
Have you explained what you expect to see for your investment? You may not want to pay for failing grades, or maybe you don’t want to pay rent if your daughter lets her boyfriend move in. Does your young adult understand her obligation to follow rules in exchange for your financial support?

If you have money in savings, who is in charge of distributing the funds? 
Some parents release funds to adult children when college begins, but most retain control of college savings and parcel money out as college progresses. Make sure your kid understands who is in charge and in control.

Will money be placed directly in your child’s hands?
Will you send money directly to your child and expect him to pay expenses, or pay the dormitory, the registrar, and the bookstore directly? Whether he has a job to learn, or he’s not part of the process, he needs to know.

What about spending allowance?
Will you provide an allowance? How will your child receive it? Check in the mail? Direct deposit? Monthly credit card limit? 

What is she expected to cover? 
Do you want her to find a job to cover non-essentials? Will you be furious if you find out she used your money to buy booze? Is she expected to buy he own clothes or pay for salon services you consider extras?

What if your plan fails?
What if your child goes over budget? What if he bounces checks or charges thousands of dollars on a credit card? What will you do if the financial arrangement is just not working? Do you have a backup plan? Explain what it is.


Dr. Deuter is a psychiatrist who specializes in the care of emerging adults.

Posted on July 21, 2014 .