Gone are the days of seemingly endless college applications, lengthy essays, and anxious weeks waiting for an acceptance. Your young adult has made a decision and he or she is college bound. It’s a very exciting time – a transitional process described beautifully by actress Tina Fey in Admission: “Parents exist to drive their kids insane.”
In an effort to keep the insanity at reasonable levels, here’s a checklist to help you make sure you have all your financial bases covered when your kids head off to college.
Tuition, Room and Board
Right after your son or daughter accepts an invitation to a college or university, you should establish several online accounts:
- Open an online “parent” account with the college to pay for tuition and fees.
- Open a joint bank account at a local bank in your kid’s college town, and make sure you have online access.
- See if the town or college offers “College Cash” — it’s easy to budget and usually has discounts.
- Get a debit and credit card for your young adult. The debit card should be for regular expenses from their checking account and the credit card should be for occasional use to build a good credit history/score.
- Talk to your kid about his or her credit report (FICO score). Emphasize the importance of paying bills on time and avoiding interest charges for late payments.
- Establish a monthly budget with your kid, determining personal expenses versus parent-covered-expenses ahead of time.
- Research the school’s meal plan to determine its flexibility.
- Remember to start using your Education IRA and 529 College Savings Plan monies.
Books, Computer, and Room Supplies
Shopping for school supplies can be time consuming and stressful, especially when your child is attending an out-of-state school. This happened when my daughter headed off to the University of Florida… when we live in Maryland. How were we going to get all her bedroom supplies to UF? Well, we discovered a great service offered by Bed, Bath and Beyond. You simply scan all the items you want at your local store, order them there, and then pick them up at your destination; with no shipping costs or hassles, it was fabulous.
- Make sure you know what size bed the dorm room has (most are Twin XL).
- Research buying versus renting books. If a new version comes out, the sell back value will be very low, so you may save money renting.
- If you decide to buy books from a store, wait until after the first day of class. Not all professors use the books on their lists, so you might be able to skip a few. Furthermore, the library might have copies.
- Are there any e-book options for text books?
- Can you buy/sell books with other students to save the cost of a retail markup?
- Find out what kind of laptop your child will need and consider buying it from a reliable source that includes repair and maintenance services.
- See if the school has a computer store with student discounts.
- Do you hope to Skype with your child? Be sure the laptop has a camera or buy them a webcam.
Setting Up The Room
A quick story: Our daughter enjoyed us helping set up her dorm room; we spent the whole day decorating and organizing. Our son, on the other hand, didn’t want or need any help, and he was quick to let us know that it was fine if we wanted to leave.
- Take a small tool kit for assembling furniture, hanging pictures, connecting cables and cords, etc. And don’t forget to include duct tape and scissors!
- Buy a lock for your student’s computer, desk drawer, and bike.
- Bring extra extension cords and power strips.
- Coordinate with your child’s roommates on shared items (who will bring what).
We didn’t realize how important it was to have computer insurance until our son called from Penn State to let us know that his keyboard was soaked and his laptop wouldn’t work. (Exactly how the keyboard got soaked is a mystery we’ve never been able to solve.)
- Make sure your young adult is covered under your health insurance program and find out where they can go for care, especially if they are attending an out of state school. Are urgent care visits covered?
- Contact your car insurance agent, and let them know if your student’s car will be at home or college. You might get a discount on your current rate if the car will be parked at home for the school year.
- If your student is taking a car, find out how the coverage works if they let a roommate drive it.
- Buy insurance on your child’s laptop and cell phone; you’d be surprised how often something gets spilled on a laptop or a cell phone gets dropped.
- Ask your homeowners insurance carrier if your policy covers any of the items your child will take to college.
- If your child is living off campus, you may need to get a renter’s policy.
Travel, Study Overseas, and Scholarships
Our son and daughter both applied for scholarships from the local Alumni Associations of their respective universities, and both received small awards to help pay for books.
- If your kids are going to an out-of-state college or university, look for good airfares now. Shop early for flights on Southwest or another airline that allows you to bank your miles for future trips (in case you have to suddenly cancel a flight).
- Book hotel rooms now for popular events like parent’s weekend or sporting and cultural activities.
- Find out the deadline for requesting football and basketball tickets (and other popular events). It may be a lottery-type process that students need to enter during the summer.
- Investigate study abroad opportunities early — you may need to apply a year in advance for the more popular programs.
- Always be on the lookout for scholarship opportunities, as there is often little competition.
- Look for grants if your son or daughter will be volunteering on a philanthropic trip.
Basic Life Skills
As silly as this might seem, don’t assume your kid knows how to perform some basic life activities, particularly if they’ve never actually done it.
- Make sure they’re comfortable grocery shopping, and know where to find the best prices and how to use coupons. They’ll also need to know where to pick up toiletries, and where they’ll get any medicine prescriptions filled.
- Does your child know how to clean a living area, run a dishwasher, and do laundry?
- Does he or she know to check a car’s oil and fluid levels, and where and when to get it serviced. If your child won’t be bringing a car, does he or she know how to use public transportation? And how familiar is your young adult with the airport (particularly important if they’ll be flying home periodically)?
We were so relieved when we finally got everything on our checklist completed. The truck was empty, everything had been unloaded, and we had made our last trip up the narrow, dorm stairs. Our kids were making new friends and they were already talking about plans for the evening; it was time to exit ‘stage left.’
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