Before Paying For College, Teach Your Kids About Budgets

When I headed off to college (longer ago than I care to admit), my dad and I made a deal where he would cover 90% of the cost of tuition and room and board, provided I maintained a 3.0 GPA, didn’t move in with any boys, and we sat down before every semester and talked about my career goals and financial plans after college. That last part I hated when I was 18, but I think was something that set me up for success, and I’d recommend anyone that is paying for their child’s tuition (or even if you’re not) to do.

His idea was pretty simple: He wanted me to be working toward a degree in something that was going to get me a job when I graduated where I would make enough money to have a life that I wanted/expected. I’d had a job since I was 16, so I had a decent idea of how long it takes to earn money. I didn’t have a real solid concept of things like rent, power bills, and insurance… all things I was responsible for around the time I walked across the stage to accept that diploma.

Step 1: Find Someone in My Desired Career

Each year I had to find someone who was currently employed in the career I wanted and talk to them about what they did to get where they are today. Like most college students, my dreams for the future changed a few times while I was in school, and so did these mentors of sorts that I had to find along the way.

Each year I had one though, which was super useful in learning things about my desired field. For instance, during my “Theater Teacher” years I learned that most elementary schools in my home state (where I wanted to teach) don’t have full-time theater teachers, so I’d be looking at a part-time job at best, and finding that job would be hard to find. With others, I learned I’d probably need some graduate school before I’d really be able to enter the workforce.

Step 2: Find Three Job Openings I Would Be Qualified For With My Degree

This one was tough, but definitely gave me a taste of what I was going to be up against four years later. I learned that some jobs were going to require me to relocate, often to places I wouldn’t want to live. Others included job descriptions that weren’t exactly what I was interested in. When you’re 18 and have never really looked for a “real job” it can be eye-opening to see what jobs are actually out there, and what sort of experience employers were looking for when it came to hiring for those jobs.

Step 3: Make a Budget Based on a Starting Salary

My dad had absolutely no desire to keep supporting me after I graduated, and thanks to this step he didn’t have to. Each year I would have to come up with a monthly and yearly budget based on the starting salary at a job I could get right out of school.

The budget was one of those things my dad and I talked about a lot. For instance, I didn’t realize health insurance was so expensive, or that I would need to budget so much for things like electricity or cable. Sure, I knew those things all had a price tag attached to them, but they were never bills I was responsible for. It was exceptionally useful to write all that down and to understand how much I’d need to make to live in an apartment where I wanted to and live the lifestyle I wanted to. And to actually look for those apartments and realize my starting salary wasn’t going to buy me a house like the one I grew up in.

Every year around this time we would sit down and talk through everything. It was a huge hassle in my teens, but something I still look back on as something that contributed greatly to my success at life in general. I got to spend some quality time with my dad, talk about my plans for the year, and get his advice on what I could do better.

As it turns out, I ended up getting a job right out of college that was never one of the things my dad and I talked about over the years. However, I was considerably better prepared to take on that job and the world, and knew exactly what I was getting into, thanks to our yearly chats.

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