Time to Have “The Talk”
All the time in my roles as financial advisor and college finance nerd I watch students and parents get sideways with each other as the various school bills come rolling in. Particularly, I see kids disappointed in the level of help they’re getting and I see parents disappointed in kids who seem to continue to want more than they can produce. I’m not alone in observing the parent/student disconnect. A recent survey by Junior Achievement noted that half of teens expect to receive parental help for college expenses while only 16% of parents plan to provide it.
The pain of disappointing one another can all be resolved, beforehand, with a simple and straightforward conversation about expectations. Particularly, parents need to outline in very clear terms two things: what the student can expect from the family in terms of financial support and what the family expects of the student in terms of behavior.
Firstly, in order for the student to properly plan ahead, they need to know how family help will impact their resources. How much money can the family shell out and when can the student expect to see it? Further, what other resources can or will the family provide the student, such as vehicles or other transportation, furnishings, groceries, and so forth?
For this to work it is incumbent on the parents at this point to not promise more than what they know they can contribute. It may be hard to tell a student not to expect much from the family, but at least all can plan accordingly.
Secondly, students need to know, up front, what they must do in order to continue to see the funds. All too often I have seen parents send their kids to school with a promise to help out each semester, only to argue over the rescission of support when the student fails in some way. Let it be known ahead of time: will family money be considered an outright discretionary gift or must a certain level of performance need to be reached before funds come? Are family gifts contingent on grades, on study time, on communication, on social behavior, or on a combination of such things? Students who understand their limits are both more likely to abide by them and/or less likely to gripe if they don’t hold up their end of the bargain.
This simple step will save much trauma in the long run. Take it.