College is about to start. Have you had the money talk yet, especially with freshman students? Students need to know the basics of budgeting and cash-flow management to avoid the pernicious cycle of enjoying burritos and cappuccinos with friends early in the semester only to subsist on Ramen noodles and water in the dorm around exam time.

The evidence is that most students need help and guidance. A 2015 survey of 42,000 first-year students conducted by EverFi and sponsored by Higher One found only 39 percent of students at four-year colleges said they used a budget.

Even more disturbing, the survey Money Matters on Campus reports that from 2012 to 2014-2015 first-year students were more likely to have a credit card, use more than one credit card, pay their credit card bill late and carry a larger total outstanding balance.

Minnesota State offers these money management tips on its website:

• Keep track of what you earn and what you spend. Create a monthly budget and track to see if it is accurate.

• Find ways to cut costs: Use a bicycle, get a roommate, learn to cook and buy used books.

• Get organized: Establish a monthly bill-payment routine and set up a filing system.

• Track your bank account. Be careful with your debit card — don’t go in the red.

There are plenty of resources available for turning tips like these into real world budgets. For instance, the National Endowment for Financial Education offers CashCourse, a free online financial education resource designed for college and university students. Online budget and money management programs like are useful. Most banks and credit unions now offer depositors good budgeting software online.

The big money-management issue is credit cards. I’m not a fan, especially for freshmen. The debit card — essentially an electronic check book — is a far better financial tool for undergraduates. Yes, your student might dip into the red with a debit card and rack up some hefty fees. But that is a much smaller problem to handle than carrying a ballooning credit card balance.

Many young adults first learn to live within a budget they control (at least to some extent) in college. Most undergraduates will make money mistakes. That’s OK. It’s how we learn. One of the most valuable lifelong skills undergraduates can learn while in college is how to set up a budget and follow through on the financial blueprint.


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