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Have a money talk with your student during Thanksgiving break

Many parents are excited about spending time with their college kids who will be coming home for Thanksgiving in a few short days.  This time together provides an excellent opportunity to talk about the financial aspects of their college life. You can have a good discussion as long as you frame it as an adult conversation, not a parent/child conversation.
Is the financial discussion primarily a freshman focus or does it apply to all college students?
It really applies to students of all ages and perhaps even to those who have recently graduated. Student life changes each year from where they live, how they pay for food, the types of entertainment they enjoy or even the clothes they need.  Plus, like all of us, having a refresher on making smart financial decisions is always worthwhile.
Where should a parent start when it comes to talking about money with their students?
The best place to start is to find out if they have any idea of how much money they are spending each week or month and if they have a general idea of where their money is going.  This is important because this is the basis of being a smart spender. Awareness of financial decisions is often the key to building strong financial skills.
What if a student has no idea of where or how much money they are spending?
As a parent, this should be a red flag that your student might be heading towards a financial disaster. This lack of knowledge means we should dig deeper and ask them to review their checking and credit card accounts to start getting answers.  It could be they just don’t really spend a lot of money while at school or it could mean they are spending out of control.
What else should be discussed with college students?
The next discussion point is to talk about credit card or other debt the student may have incurred during the first few months at school.  This is important so that they realize their true financial situation and don’t just look at the balance in their checking and savings account. Students are sometimes surprised by how quickly their credit card debt grows especially if they only pay the minimum.
Should any future planning be part of this discussion?
Yes, now is a good time to get them to discuss their Christmas and Spring break plans. If they plan to travel during either or both of those breaks then ask them how they intend to pay for their trips. Planning in advance might help them find an alternative to using a credit card to pay for these trips.
Is there anything specific for seniors to discuss?
Now would be a good time for them to start building a budget for post-college life. Even if they don’t have a job, they need to understand how far their money will go and what they can afford post-college. They will be better prepared to decide between job offers and also make smart decisions on housing and transportation after college.
How can parents avoid these discussions being confrontational?
First and foremost, don’t be judgmental about where they spend their money.  Secondly, don’t press for specific details on every expense when it doesn’t matter. Finally, remember your goal is to get them to think for themselves.  Don’t tell them what to do rather give them suggestions on things that might help their situation.

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