College students are about to head off to campus. Have you and your student talked about managing living expenses and creating a budget? A grasp of the basics of budgeting and managing everyday finances should (hopefully) help them avoid the cycle of pizza with friends early in the semester and Ramen noodles alone in their room at exam time.

Sound money-management practices are critical since most students receive a loan-repayment schedule along with their diploma. Median student loan debt in Minnesota (June 2018) was $18,401, said the Federal Reserve Bank of New York/Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. You don’t want to add credit card debt on top of student loans.

Many students need guidance. That’s the message in the 2019 Money Matters on Campus report. EverFi, an education technology company, surveyed more than 30,000 college students from more than 440 institutions. Less than 40% of those surveyed had used a budget to manage personal finances. Nearly half (46%) of students surveyed had at least one credit card. Of those with a credit card, a third had a balance of more than $1,000.

There are a number of steps parents can take to help their student manage their money. Among the most important are:

Talk, and talk again

Most undergraduates will make money mistakes. That’s OK, since it is how we learn. An ongoing conversation will minimize any negative impact and help them steer clear of serious money trouble.

Create a budget

There is no shortage of resources to tap for establishing a budget. One place to start is the National Endowment for Financial Education and its CashCourse, a free online resource. Budget-making tools make it easy to develop a spending plan. Plan on revisiting the initial budget after a month or two of campus life.

Pick a high-tech money tool

Many banks and credit unions offer good tools for monitoring payments, alerts when accounts go below a certain level, and so on. Another option is well-known apps such as Mint and Acorns. Financial institutions and the apps offer budget templates, too.

Embrace the debit card

I’m not a fan of credit cards on campus, especially during the first three years of college (if it’s a four-year institution). Credit cards are too risky. A debit card — essentially an electronic check book — is a much better money management choice for undergraduates to use and master.


Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor, “Marketplace,” commentator, Minnesota Public Radio.