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Tips for parents about how much spending money to give college freshmen

Tips for Parents
Photo by Lee Celano/Getty Images

Most parents probably paid the first tuition payment for their college freshmen recently and will get them settled into their new dorms by the end of the month.

Speaking of dorms, parents may also have sprung for new bedding, mini-fridges, microwaves, area rugs, reading lamps and table fans. For some, their children may have presented a strong case for the additional purchases of their own smoothie makers, coffee makers and/or filtered water dispensers.

After so many expenses already, it's still not over. It's now time to consider how much spending money to provide. Of course, every parent wants their child to have everything he or she needs. But what are those necessities and how much money does a student need to have on hand?

Students will need money to restock personal supplies such as shampoo and razors; school supplies, including unexpected requirements for a particular course; and laundry supplies (don't forget a roll or two of quarters!) Do your best to estimate monthly expenses for these types of items; during Thanksgiving break, when your student has had a few months to track expenditures, you can reassess the budget. The biggest problem will be, perhaps, establishing needs versus wants.

It may be fair, for example, to expect that students will cover their own purchases for specialty coffee drinks, pizzas downtown with friends, music, gifts and other non-essentials. If your child has built up some savings through summer jobs and other employment, this may not be an issue.

If you need or want to cover the extras, however, here are a few tips:

• Consider starting low. Either you will save yourself from having to reduce the amount later (no one likes a pay-cut) or you will get a much welcome phone call. (Even if it's just to ask for money, do not underestimate how much you will love hearing their voice!)

• Choose a way to provide the money that works best for your family. Some ideas are a pre-paid debit card; an automatic cash transfer; or a joint checking account. Find an ATM that is connected with your bank or open an account at a local bank to reduce transaction fees. (Note: pre-paid debit cards need to be monitored for fraudulent activity just as credit cards do.)

• Give your student a credit card tied to your own account to be used for emergencies only. Monitor it closely. If possible, limit the amount of credit they can use.

• Remember that they are in college to gain maturity and experience along with an education. You can help them learn to live within their means when you set up a budget. The budget can allow for occasional treats, of course; just help your student understand that the key word is "occasional."

If students can master frugality now, when those comforting caramel macchiatos and midnight pepperoni pizzas after a late night study session are calling their names, they will be off to a great start upon graduation. And you might just have some change to spare for your own cappuccino cravings!

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