How can we set a budget for our new college student?


Q. My oldest child just started college and already he’s spending too much money even though he has a meal plan. How can we set a budget he can follow?
— Dad

A. Congrats to you and your child on starting this college experience.

But you’re right. Many students get into a trap of spending too much money.

You can start by helping your son to create a detailed and realistic spending plan, said Marnie Hards, a certified financial planner with Aznar Financial Advisors in Morris Plains.

She said he should start by reviewing his fixed expenses that occur regularly. Then he can review the variable expenses that he has more control over, she said.

“At that point, you can discuss what each of you feel is an appropriate amount of spending in each category,” she said. “Once you have come up with the amount, I suggest that you set up an automatic weekly transfer in the amount that you have agreed upon.”

If the cash is transferred weekly, it should be easier for him to budget than if it is transferred on a less frequent basis, she said. If he gets the money on a Monday, he knows that it will have to last until the following Monday and if he runs out, he will have to wait until the next weekly transfer to buy or do what he wants to do. Trying to budget for a longer cycle, like two weeks or a month, will likely result in him running out of money way before the budget cycle renews, she said.

“As parents, it is our job to provide a money education to our children,” she said. “Now is the time to let them fail and learn from their mistakes when the cost of failure is low.”

If you set up a weekly allowance that is provided every Monday and your son runs out of money on Friday, he may not be able to do or buy the things he wanted that weekend, but maybe next week, he will adjust his spending behavior accordingly, Aznar said.

It is through these experiences, making the decisions, and then seeing and living with the consequences of those decisions, that our children will learn how to manage money, she said.

There are a variety of apps for teenagers and college students that may be helpful, including Plan’it Prom, Fam Zoo, Teen Entrepreneur Toolbox, and YNAB (You Need a Budget).

Keep in mind that this exercise will probably need to be revisited periodically as his life and expenses evolve over time, she said.

You may also want to talk about bigger ticket items that may arise periodically. If, for example, he has a goal to purchase something that will cost more than his usual spending, you can discuss the importance of setting aside cash each week in a separate account to accumulate for this goal, Aznar said.

“Keep in mind that at this age, our kids’ brains are still developing and delayed gratification may not be naturally built into their brain yet,” she said. “So, it becomes our job as parents to help them learn this important lifelong skill.”

It is also important for him to recognize that if he wants or needs more money than mom or dad are willing to provide, he has a couple of options.

“He can reduce his spending or increase his income. If the weekly allowance is not sufficient, it may be enough impetus for him to get a part-time job that will supplement his allowance,” she said.

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This story was originally published on Oct 4, 2022. presents certain general financial planning principles and advice, but should never be viewed as a substitute for obtaining advice from a personal professional advisor who understands your unique individual circumstances.