I often hear that one of the main stressors of student life is the transition to taking your financial responsibilities into your own hands.  And so, banks and student affairs departments try to put budgeting tools into the hands of freshmen, so that they can begin to figure things out for themselves.  These budgeting tools can be great for the freshmen who is living in the dorm and who knows exactly what bills parents are paying for them and what the student needs to manage.  Even with this clarity, learning to manage one’s limited resources is a process full of pitfalls and hard decisions.

However, the majority of college students today lack this kind of clarity.  Perhaps it is because they are living at home, and they are part of a larger financial family system, which may be mostly opaque to them as far as the management of it goes and which may make unexpected demands upon the student’s time and resources.  For the student to be able to function responsibly in this new phase of life, the family structure needs to let them into adult conversations about the stewardship of family resources.  I am not just talking about cash resources; I am talking about vehicles, insurance, technology – all of those things that adults need to have access to in order to function responsibly in the world.

In families where such resources are not abundant, there is often a real reluctance to bring the student into the conversation as an adult who is in a process of learning.  Sometimes parents in the system feel that their own practices of management are inadequate, and there is a shame built up around that – a feeling that if my child sees how it really is, she will be disappointed in me.  However, this time of transition might be an opportunity to try out using some new tools for managing resources together so that the whole family might grow and learn.  Sometimes parents are hesitant to invite a student into the conversation about family resources because they don’t want their child to be anxious when they see the limits of those resources.  In my experience though, students who have clarity about the limits of their resources from the start tend to avoid the semester-by-semester crisis cycle of bumping into unforeseen limits that threaten their ability to enroll in classes, repair a dying laptop, buy books, etc.

And so, here is my plea as this new semester looms on the horizon:
Families, take some time to look ahead together and to have open conversations with all of the adults in your family system who hold some responsibility over family resources.
What are your hopes for the coming semester?
What are your needs?
Is there something hanging over your head that you haven’t had a chance to attend to? (e.g. a broken computer, a health expense)

Students: Have you filled out your FAFSA (or TAFSA) for this school year (2018-19)?
Note: In October, FAFSA applications for 2019-2020 will open, and you will want to take care of that early.  Put it on your calendar.
Think about how your financial life is tied up with others in your family system and know the risks that you bear together.
Have you done a budget for yourself?student budget template
To what extent do you have clarity about your financial responsibilities?  Who do you need to talk to in order to get clarity? Schedule that time, whether it is with parents, siblings, or the financial aid office.

Need someone to accompany you in this process or send helpful resources your way?
Houston Canterbury is here for you.  Email eobrien@houstoncanterbury.org.