“I haffa tell ya’ mama,” He announced when he came into the kitchen where I was mixing a batch of brownies, “I’m gonna’ run away.”
I leaned down and met his eyes, “Well, we’re going to miss you around here, son. Let me at least pack you a lunch before you go.”
As a veteran mom of many, I knew Philip’s terrible, no good, very bad day would pass and that he was probably just going to his friend’s house to play. I asked his older brother, Daniel, to get on his bike and follow his younger brother to make sure he would only go as far as the Maerten’s house.
Juggling the phone with the brownie bowl, I dialed Leanne Maertens number, “Hey is Philip there yet?”
I heard her doorbell ring in the background, “Yes, I think he’s at the door now.”
“Well, he’s run away from home and I figure he’ll hang out until dinner. Let me know when he leaves.”
Philip spent the entire afternoon playing with Christopher and Edward and then Leanne called to say that our little runaway was coming home. He returned a few minutes later and announced, “Well, I’m back from running away, Mama! What’s for dinner?”
Fast forward a few years and Philip’s left home again—for good. He’s in graduate school at Stanford and has to cook all his own dinners. He learned that there’s a good way to leave home and a not-so-good way to leave. Here are the things parents do to help their kids leave home well.
Before your child leaves make sure that you help them establish a workable budget. The categories should include housing, transportation, clothing, food, entertainment, and (if necessary) tuition and books. Go to Ellie Kay’s tool page and for an online budget. Decide, up front, what they will pay for from their own work money and what you will cover. Ask them to send you a monthly budget report and review it with them. Look at this as an opportunity to coach them in right choices but beware of funding their failures by bailing them out on a regular basis. This is the time for them to learn to live on their own in a healthy way.
Banking and Credit Cards
Your college bound student will need banking accounts for checking and savings. Research banks (or savings and loans) that offer student banking programs. Or go to CheckingFinder . Now is also the time to educate your child on the dangers of easy credit. They will have access to thousands of dollars worth of credit through a variety of offers that may show up in their student mailbox—if they can find a co-signer or prove they have an adequate income. Teach them to shred these credit card offers in order to help protect their identity and also direct them to order their free annual report from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus at AnnualCreditReport (& warn them to bypass any offers that require money, only get the FREE report.)
Help your children set up their own credit card by getting an additional card that you control on your own credit card account (we use American Express) and make sure that initially, they only have a $300 credit limit. As they charge and pay off the balance each month, they’ll build their own credit score as well. Our son, Daniel, when he was a senior in college built enough good credit to prequalify for a townhouse! It all started with our involved effort to help him establish and build credit wisely—without getting into debt.
Borrowing and Student Loans
Parents often ask, “How do we pay for college, should we get a HELOC, refinance our house, or get a second mortgage?” I do not believe you should leverage the equity in your home (which is part of your future retirement) in order to pay for your child’s future. HELOCs (Home Equity Lines of Credit) are also a poor choice. Instead, look at a variety of scholarships, work study programs, and other options available through the financial aid office at the school. Another financially healthy option is to have your child attend a college you can afford. Our mantra for our college bound kids is: I will go to the school where I can get the best education possible for the least amount of student loan debt. Email firstname.lastname@example.org and request “College Crunch File” to see ways to minimize college debt or even put kids through school with NO student loan debt, as we have done with five of our seven children.
Bagels and Broccoli
My daughter, Bethany, started to do some of our grocery shopping when she was still in high school in order to teach her how to shop wisely when she was on her own at college. When she got the the bakery department, she exclaimed: “Wow! I can get this bag of eight bagels for less than this other bag with only six!” She was so proud (and so was I!) Be sure your kids know how to price compare and how to read the store labels as well. Show them the “price per ounce” on the shelf so that they can recognize value. Walk them through the frozen foods section to compare the difference between buying fresh broccoli versus frozen and let them see the savings in frozen convenience foods versus fast food pizza. Introduce them to the website CouponMom for ways to save hundreds on groceries and have them read my grocery shopping blogs.
Boomer Helicopter Parents
One of the characteristics of Millenials (i.e. your college student) is that their parents tend to “hover” too much, not allowing the child to fail or pay the consequences of failure when they stumble. Most student loans cannot be granted beyond a certain threshold unless you (or someone else) co-signs. The same applies to credit cards for those under 21. There is a balance, it’s important to hold the line on student loan debt and other forms of credit for your Millennial. Remember another one of our mantras (that you can borrow) “Our love is unconditional, but our money is conditional.” If you’re paying for college, and investing in your student, then you automatically have a right to expect that they’ll do certain things in return, like pass their own classes, maintain a budget and earn part of their college through work/study programs, scholarships and/or part time jobs.
Launching a child can be costly and stressful unless you are strategic and purposeful in your planning. With the right moves, you can help your student finish well at home and start their new life with a healthy financial perspective. But the part about missing them and crying those secret tears when no one is looking is something I can’t help you with right now because I’m too busy missing my own college kid (love you Jonathan)!
America’s Family Financial Expert (R)