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Financial Skills to Develop Now

“Financial Skills That Your Future College Student (&parent) Should Be Developing Now”

As college funding professionals it is absolutely imperative that we understand the college preparation experience from two specific perspectives.  The first is the academic admissions process itself, so that we can help students optimize their experience in higher education for the brightest future possible.  The second is the financial side of the process – without which the higher education experience is impossible to begin with!

However, we have seen time and time again that, in order for things to work optimally during the college years, the financial side of things CANNOT be left only to the parents.  It is absolutely crucial that young people gain a respect for and understanding of money, of the costs inherent to college, and of the importance of their personal role in keeping the financial ship afloat during their college years.

It is no secret that college or university in America is an expensive proposition, and it does not appear to be getting cheaper any time soon.  For this reason, the most successful students at the next level are going to be those who are able to excel academically, yes, but also those who are develop and implement good financial skills and decision-making throughout their college experiences.

We are aware that there are adults who have not learned some of these skills for themselves, or some who learned them later than others.  This reality does not change the importance of young people learning these skills and responsibilities as early as possible, so that there are not additional financial hurdles that could cause a student to be unable to finish his or her college degree due to poor money choices.  (Yes, sadly enough this does happen, and in most cases it can be avoided with some preventive work!)

Our main focus is on helping families and student to achieve their goals – this process becomes infinitely easier when the following skill set is understood and implemented early in a young person’s life.  Should there be any additional questions about the points listed in this month’s newsletter, please feel free to contact us directly.  We have many years of experience in helping families to make these processes work for themselves both in the home environment and away at school, and it is our pleasure to assist in making them work for you and for your college bound student!

1) Plan a Monthly Budget

Caring for one’s resources is an extremely vital skill. This skill can actually be learned from an early age and carried on throughout life, but it can also be learned later on if needed.  Regardless, understanding and managing one’s finances is something that will become vitally necessary while in college. The immediate level of management will depend, at least somewhat, on where your child will be living. If your child is on campus and will be participating in a meal plan at the cafeteria then budgeting for food will be less complicated, for example. However, if your child plans to live (or eventually move) off-campus then budgeting will become even more important.

No matter where s/he lives, you and your child can decide together which things s/he will be responsible for purchasing. For example, your child may want to have money set aside for entertainment or travel while you, as the parent, may want to cover all books completely. Communication and planning are the key, here.  Once you’ve decided who is responsible for what then you can move forward.

There are three things that should be considered when setting up a budget:

  1. Big Picture: What are your goals? What do you plan to do with the money you have each term or semester?
  2. The How: What will you use to manage your money? What tools or strategies work for you?
  3. The Gory Details: What are your spending habits? Do you need to adjust some habits to align with personal financial goals?

Answering these questions first will help while setting up a monthly budget.

2) Start A (GOOD!) Credit History

Getting started on a credit card for a newly minted college student can be a precarious venture for many young people.  The fact of the matter is, that a college student WILL be beginning his or her credit history with the first year of higher education… for better or for worse.  However, if the college freshman is responsible it can be an ideal time to start his or her positive credit history.

If your child is ready for a credit card then this might be just the time to get his or her credit history started. Getting this history started now will help your child down the road. When they are ready to rent an apartment or buy a car, a credit history will be generated and the longer it is with a clean record will make it easier for them to negotiate and find the best possible deals. There are many cards that have a very low credit limit, say $500, or so. This way your child can begin to work with the responsibility of paying a bill or two with the credit card and then pay it off each month to build positive credit history.

Guiding them to understand that the card is really a tool and not free money, this is the key! If they understand that it is to be used in a responsible way then this will help them stay on the right path. You can also assist by helping them set up online reminders to pay their bills so they are never late on a payment.

3) Learn to Cook at Home

If your child plans on living off campus then this will give them a taste of ‘real life’ right away. One of the great things about living on your own is the chance to cook for yourself. If your child learned cooking skills at home already then living on his or her own should be a snap. Cooking from home has so many benefits. It is healthier and saves a lot of money. There are many online tools that can help with meal prep, shopping guides, etc. There are also many videos that can give cooking basics if s/he is unsure how to get started.

Meal planning (and sharing with like-minded roommates, if possible) can also make a hectic schedule go a lot more smoothly. Between classes and studying, it can be difficult to set aside a lot of time to cook a fresh meal. If meal plans are done in advance then your child can meal prep and in just a few hours can have meals planned and ready in the fridge for a whole week. A little bit of planning goes a long way!

4) Track Expenses

Tracking expenses can be really tedious, but it’s also important. It gives your child a bird’s eye view of exactly what his or her spending habits are. There are several ways that you can track expenses. The good old-fashioned way is holding onto receipts and sorting through them at the end of the month. This is time consuming but helpful. There are also numerous apps that can link to your checking account that will file the purchases according to the names you’ve given them such as: rent, entertainment, car payment, etc.

Tracking expenses is a great way to see exactly where your child is spending his or her  money. It is difficult to make adjustments and changes if s/he is unsure of where the money is going every month. This way, s/he has a clear idea of which areas are working really well and which areas could use some improvement.

5) “Do I Really Need This?”

This can be difficult for young adults and regular adults alike. Being on your own requires a lot of discipline and that is not always the easiest thing when someone is out of the house for the first time and are no longer under the direct guidance of a parent or guardian. It is important, however, to begin to develop the habits of self-discipline and self control.

There are many things in life that may look like a need (especially if we are to listen to marketers and advertisers!) but in reality they are actually a want. Delaying gratification and living without for a while can develop character in a young person. One question your child can ask whenever s/he is about to make a purchase is, “Is this a need or a want?” If it’s a want then it is important to have the maturity to be able to re-think the purchase again.

6) Keep the Future in View

There are so many changes happening when your child begins college. S/he is likely away from home for the first time. S/he is in a new place. S/he will have to make decisions about her life on her own. These are huge things! That is why it is so important to begin early, ideally before college, to encourage your child to begin with the end in mind.

Encourage them to have their own financial goals. It could be to save for a game or event or something smaller than that, but give them the incentive to see beyond the current moment. If they understand that their choices today impact their tomorrow then they may be more thoughtful and mindful in the decisions that they make.


            Some of these tasks might seem more challenging than others for some people, but we have seen the efficacy of them in making the college experience work financially for young people and their families year after year.  There is no question that they are an important part of the process of becoming an independent young person and setting the foundation for a bright future after the college years have ended.

Until next month,

Creating that perfect match between student & school


We know that the parents of a college-bound student can sometimes worry a little bit about the college selection process, and as time goes on it can also become a little bit (or more than a little bit!) stressful for high school students, themselves.  How can one be sure that he or she is applying to the “right” schools, let alone choosing one once the acceptances have rolled in?!  Is it really all about the rankings in some news magazine, or how can a family feel comfortable with the choices made about college or university education?

One thing that we want to mention right from the get-go, however, is that “national rankings” are utterly arbitrary and should play a very tiny role in the decision-making process (if any at all, actually).  The simple fact is that a “number one” ranked school in some magazine could actually be the worst possible location for a student to end up, even if he or she is fully academically qualified for admission there!  On the other hand, it could also work out great, which is why it is vitally important to match up students with the schools that will work best for them.

This is not to disparage the colleges and universities that are traditional academic powerhouses, of course.  Everyone knows about the Ivy League schools, for instance, and the Stanfords, Cal Techs, University of Chicagos are not hurting for applicants because they are world-class institutions.  They have a lot to offer the right students.  Other schools (also excellent in their own rights) may be better, or worse fits, depending on the individual.  As professionals in this field, we are happy to provide some tips on how to decide what constitutes a good fit.


How Does Your Child Learn Best?

Learning style is really important when determining what kind of college or university a student should attend. It is important from the outset to understand that everyone learns differently. Some people may prefer to learn by reading. Others like to learn aurally. Some students thrive in a large classroom setting, while the thought of a packed auditorium class could make others cringe. It is a very personal thing.

One learning style is not necessarily better than another. They are simply different, and generally people learn in various ways.  Granted, the more flexible your child can be in adapting to learning environments, the easier the transition will be at the next level.  However, understanding how teaching is conducted within the universities and colleges you and your child are researching is an important piece of information when determining whether or not that school will be a good match over the long term.

It is a good idea to have your child determine his or her learning style early on, so that the retention of information while in high school, and later in college, will be at an optimal level. You may discover that your child learns well with a mixture of styles, while some students may have one style dominating the others.

Having this vital information will help your child when choosing a college or university and also when tailoring his or her class schedule. Certain departments or teachers may teach in a particular way that may be just right for the way your child learns.

Location, Location, Location!

In the real estate business, they often say that “location is everything.” Well, the fact of the matter is that it means a lot when choosing a college, as well. The location of the college can be just as important as which college it is. For example, if your child was born and raised in southern Florida but has his sights on a college in Michigan, he may be in for a big surprise once the weather turns in December and January.  That is not to say that it cannot be overcome.  Students are, of course, often quite adaptable, but if this shock in temperature and culture may be too much for your son to handle then it’s best to look for a college in a different location.

The type of campus is also something very important to consider. For instance, would your child prefer a rural, urban or suburban campus. They all have their advantages and disadvantages, and it really depends on what your child is looking for and in which environment would s/he be the most comfortable.

Rural campuses are located in a country setting. They are peaceful and have a lot of experiences to offer being surrounded by natural beauty. Most rural campuses are self-contained and this means that most students live on campus. This can create a sense of belonging and community for your child if that is important to him or her. Many rural campuses have ready access to the outdoors and this may be of particular importance if your child has an interest in agriculture or the environmental sciences.

Urban campuses are also very appealing for the right kind of student. They are located in cities and have all the social and cultural advantages that cities have to offer. This can mean ready access to cultural sites, museums, and of course businesses. Urban campuses can often tend to be spread throughout a city and may not be completely self-contained like rural campuses. Students often live either in dorms or in apartments near campus. Students also usually need to use public transportation.

Suburban campuses are usually located in smaller cities or larger towns that are close to bigger cities. The nice thing about suburban campuses is that they offer a mixture of both urban and rural features. They have more access to the outdoors than would be found in an urban setting. They are often self-contained so students can have a real sense of that campus community. And, depending on how large the city or town is, it may have a good public transportation system.  The real question is… which type of institution is going to be the best fit for your child’s interests?

What to Study?

What your child wants to study has a lot to do with where they will want to go to school. A liberal arts college is a great choice, but if they don’t have a strong program in the area in which your child has an interest – or if your child is interested in a very specific type of program that is only offered in a few locations – then a liberal arts school may not be the right fit.

If your child has an interest in engineering then choosing a school with a stellar fine arts program but less than stellar engineering program wouldn’t make sense. Finding out where a student’s interests lie can take a little time, and there is no guarantee that a young person will know what he or she wants to study before matriculating, so sometimes it is important to view this decision a bit more flexibly.

Taking some steps to find out what stimulates and excites them will make it easier to find a school and program that is a great fit.  A few of the general questions to be answered might be along these lines:

  • What does your child love to do?
  • What is your child especially good at?
  • Which areas or fields are they interested in?

Some tips could be that your child shadows a person who has a job that he or she is interested in.  Or, a young person can sometimes complete an internship at a several places to get a closer idea regarding a field that may be of interest. Narrowing interests will make it a lot easier when choosing a college.

In the end, however, it’s not a deal breaker. If your child is not sure before attending college, things can still turn out just fine. Finding an excellent liberal arts college or university with good overall programs will serve them well as they decide along their college journey.  Remember also that for many professional programs (law, medicine, etc.), the specialized training takes place in the years after undergraduate training – the main point for kids interested in these fields is to be performing at a high academic level so that he or she can gain admission, if that turns out to be the direction for a future career!

Until next month,

~Marc Ziegler