Seven Things to Talk About Before College

Summer is about to be in full swing, and you know what that means—college students will be flooding campuses in just weeks. They will be on their own for most likely the first time, and if they are not prepared to be a responsible adult they can make a mess of their money, education, and lives really fast. Hopefully you’ve been teaching your kids how to be responsible for many years, but here are seven things to talk about with your teen before they head off to college:

1. Make a budget.

Even if your son or daughter has very little money, a budget is still important. They need to know how to manage what they have. Talk to them about giving every dollar a name each month (The Graduate’s Survival Guide can help with that). Remember, if you don’t teach them how to spend wisely, someone else will teach them that it’s okay to buy now and pay later.

2. Don’t sign up for a credit card just to get a free T-shirt.

Your child will hear a lot of talk about the benefits of plastic (from the people selling it) once they are away from  home, and maybe even get some peer pressure from their friends who have signed up. But drill this into their heads: No matter how good the talk is, stay away. Credit card companies prey on the newfound freedom and the ignorance of college students to make money and get the kids hooked. Make sure it doesn’t happen to yours.

3. Take advantage of free stuff.

With the exception of those free T-shirts, your teens should take advantage of free food and entertainment at college. Encourage them to play Frisbee at the park, go to a football game, or hang out with friends at the student center—and to look at those options first when they want something fun to do.

4. Keep up the grades.

This one should go without saying, but there are plenty of kids who think that what they do at college is their business. If they are paying for it, that might be the case. But if it’s your money, then you have a say in their decision-making. They need to make the right judgment calls when it comes to studying, partying, and how they conduct themselves.

5. Watch out for social media.

Crazy pictures and Facebook/Twitter updates happen when college-age children are on their own. But those can come back to bite said children later. The way your kids present themselves on social media can be seen by teachers, parents of people they are dating, and even future employers.

6. Don’t overspend on eating out.

College cafeteria food may rank right up there with grub you get on an airplane or in a hospital, but you are paying for it nonetheless. Remind your child not to spend all their money on restaurants, even if their friends do. The side benefit of this is that it will help keep off the famed “freshman 15” weight gain.

7. Get a job if they think they can handle it.

You can make a case that your son or daughter should take a semester or two to become acclimated to their class schedule and life on their own. But once they are confident, a part-time job might be a good idea for them. Not only can they learn to budget their time well, but you can’t argue with the paycheck.

Dave Ramsey is America’s trusted voice on money and business, and CEO of Ramsey Solutions. He has authored five New York Times best-selling books. The Dave Ramsey Show is heard by more than 8.5 million listeners each week on more than 550 radio stations. Dave’s latest project, EveryDollar, provides a free online budget tool. Follow Dave on Twitter at @DaveRamsey and on the web at daveramsey.com.  

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