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Kurt Strazdins, MCT

COMING THIS WEEK

Second in a six-part series. Upcoming stories will include:

Tuesday: Connecting to a community college.

Wednesday: Safer -- not safe -- sex.

Thursday: Technological distractions.

Saturday: Avoiding constant contact.

Read more online at startribune.com/backtocollege.

College kids, parents bracing for the split

  • Article by: KEVYN BURGER
  • Special to the Star Tribune
  • August 27, 2012 - 8:28 PM

At the start of the school year, 22-year-old Sang Ho Moon plans to hit the Buffalo Wild Wings on the University of Minnesota's campus, washing down baskets of AsianZing wings with mugs of Michelob. But he knows he'll be dining on leaner fare in the months to come.

"It's soup at home at the end of the semester," the mechanical engineering student said with a sheepish laugh.

Because of the steep fees associated with transferring currency, his parents send Moon, who is from South Korea, fat checks twice a year to cover his college expenses. Like others who receive loans or financial aid packages, Moon has had to take a crash course in how to manage lump sums of money.

For some, it's been an easy lesson, others are learning the hard way.

Sam Seramur thought he was prepared. "I started saving for college when I was in second grade," he said.

Still, the 21-year-old, who will be a senior at the university, underestimated how much he would spend. "I had $5,000 that I thought would last a long time," he said. "It was gone before the end of freshman year."

"Learning how to parcel out money to make it last is a new skill," said Catherine Solheim, who teaches a class on Family and Personal Finance in the Family Social Science Department at the University of Minnesota. "Many students don't have a plan, or the maturity or the know-how to handle what feels like a windfall."

Solheim said several of her students have confessed that they purchased laptops or smartphones with money intended for next month's rent.

When student Kevin Tousignant got a lump sum at the beginning of his junior year, he couldn't resist splurging. He bought a black lab that he named Chester.

"He brings me joy and helps me relax," the environmental design major said. "But it wasn't a very smart thing to do."

While a single purchase probably won't break the bank, Solheim cautions that the inability to resist impulse spending can have long-lasting consequences for students, in part because they are creating a financial footprint.

"When they run out of money, they use credit cards and dig themselves deeper in debt," she said. "It starts a pattern. They're ashamed and so they don't tell their parents."

Concern about spending -- and overspending -- creates a constant, low-lying level of anxiety for many students, said Denise Ward, associate dean for student services at Macalester College.

"Money is a main source of stress on campus," she said. "The higher cost of higher education translates into more academic pressure. Students say, 'I can't afford to screw up -- there is too much money on the line.'"

To alleviate that anxiety, Solheim suggested that families sit down together and develop a budget. Parents can show their college-age kids how to track their spending on a monthly basis, and how to build in money for treats, such as dinner at Buffalo Wild Wings.

"We used to have students put cash in different envelopes to make their spending tangible, but that's not practical now," she said. "This generation is using credit and debit cards and they aren't going back. But that makes debt more abstract."

Some parents, especially those who have had difficulties managing their own money, may feel they lack the credibility to discuss financial restraint. But Solheim said not addressing the issue can leave students feeling overwhelmed and alone.

"Parents should think of this as a coaching opportunity. Check in, ask how it's going," she said. "Financial success doesn't happen without parental involvement."

Kevyn Burger of Minneapolis is a broadcaster, podcaster and freelance writer.

© 2014 Star Tribune