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While it’s never too early to talk to your child in age-appropriate ways about money matters, it’s also never too late.

Before college drop-off day, make sure you’ve had an open and honest conversation about the following topics if you haven’t already.

1. The overall cost of college

There’s no sense shying away from a discussion about the overall cost of the education your child is about to receive. As one of the most sizable financial investments your family will likely ever make, and as a significant investment in your child’s time (four or more years depending on the type of degree(s) they will be pursuing), it’s well worth having a candid discussion about the overall cost.

Together review the breakdown of tuition, fees, room and board, textbooks, supplies, and other likely expenses to help your child understand the financial commitment involved in attending college.

2. Your approach to planning ahead

If you and/or others saved in advance for all or a portion of the cost of the education they are about to begin and hadn’t yet shared how you did it, it’s worth mentioning to your child the steps undertaken. Whether through a 529 college savings plan, or some other method of saving or investing, you’ll be offering your child valuable insight into the steps you or others took, and the sacrifices made to prepare for their future. This can serve as a lesson in long-term financial planning and the benefits of saving in advance.

3. Scholarship/financial aid considerations

Ensure both you and your child understand the financial aid package they’ve received and whether it’s expected to be the same for each year of their degree program. Focus on the difference between aid that will not need to be repaid (grants and scholarships, for instance) and that which will require repayment (student loans). Discuss any scholarships they’ve been awarded and what, if anything, they need to do to maintain them, such as keeping a certain GPA or fulfilling specific requirements. Contact the school’s financial aid office if there is any uncertainty.

4. Student loans

Review the terms of any loans, including interest rates and repayment details. Discuss who will be responsible for repaying the loans that were taken out this year and if necessary, in the years following. Based on the total amount expected to be borrowed, estimate what the monthly payments may be, and how long that may take to repay in full.

5. Part-time work

Discuss plans, if any, for your child to pursue part-time employment while in college. Be sure to talk about the implications of having a part-time job. While earning money can certainly help with covering expenses and potentially, reducing reliance on student loans, balancing part-time work and a full-time course load can require careful planning to ensure work commitments don’t interfere with academic priorities.

If employment will be part of your child’s freshman year experience, encourage them to get a head start, if they haven’t already, on exploring and applying for available roles by contacting their school for details on the application process for on-campus options. They can also inquire as well about popular off-campus possibilities.

6. Budgeting

Help your child create a realistic budget that includes both income (part-time work, savings they may be drawing from, and/or allowance, if any) and anticipated out-of-pocket expenses they will likely have that won’t otherwise be covered. Don’t overlook any extracurricular activities your child may want to pursue, food purchases beyond what’s offered as part of their dining package, the cost of weekend outings, personal care costs, and roundtrip travel for school breaks.

And if you’re planning to provide a weekly or monthly allowance of some sort, discuss the amount and how/when it will be provided. Also, discuss what your expectations are for how those funds will be spent.

Teaching your child to track their spending and to live within their means is a critical skill well worth developing if they haven’t already. And be sure to let them know, you’ll be there to help them review how it’s going and to help them adjust their budget as needed down the line.

7. Credit card use

Whether your child may be applying for a credit card or utilizing a secondary card on your account, explain your expectations for use. Be sure also to discuss how credit cards work, including interest rates, minimum payments, and the impact of late payments on credit scores. Stress the importance of building good credit by spending mindfully and paying off the card balance in full each month.

8. Maintaining receipts

For 529 plan purposes, ask your child to save their school-related receipts and scan/send them to you as they accumulate them. While they are not needed for taking a 529 plan withdrawal, they will help you to keep track of what was spent on qualified expenses.

9. Finishing on time

Discuss your expectations that they finish their degree on time. Explain the financial implications of extending college beyond the typical four years, noting that each additional semester can mean extra tuition, fees, and living expenses. Encourage your child to take a full course load each semester, to promptly seek academic and other forms of support when needed, and to stay on track to graduate on time. Understanding this from the start can help motivate your child to manage their time and efforts efficiently.

10. Return on investment

Remind your child of the anticipated return they will likely see on the investment you are together making. Explain how their efforts and engagement in college can lead to rewarding relationships, interesting and impactful career options, higher earning potential, and a satisfying future. Encourage them to think about their long-term goals and how fully embracing their college experience can help achieve them.


Patricia A. Roberts is a motivational speaker, writer, and veteran of the college savings industry. She has led college savings initiatives at premier financial services organizations like Merrill Lynch and AllianceBernstein, and has authored Route 529: A Parent’s Guide to Saving for College and Career Training with 529 Plans. In her current role as COO at Gift of College, she promotes 529 plans as a financial wellness benefit in the workplace.