Allowance & Spending Money for College Students

Parent Q&A

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  • Helping college student manage money

    (7 replies)

    My 18 year old college student has never been good with money. He's an impulse spender and just can't handle delayed gratification.  He's on a full meal plan, and I've given him a generous weekly allowance, with the proviso that he has to manage his money himself.  Short version: it's not working. Longer version: he has a credit card for emergencies and books: he's using it for other things that aren't necessary, and building up a hefty balance.  He just texted me last night asking me to send him money because he's hungry: he supposedly stayed up doing homework after the on-campus food options closed.   My instinct is to say 'no' and let him figure it out himself.  I really doubt he will starve. But I feel really hard-hearted.  Any suggestions would be appreciated.  Part of the problem is that I could easily afford to give him more money. I just don't think it's a good idea in the long run.  

    Think about this as a process -- you need your son to be able to manage money by the end of college, but there might be some bumps along the way. What kind of schedule are you using to add money to his account? We've been doing this once a month. If he has a full meal program, don't give him additional money for food, if you are also giving him "spending money".  We buy the tickets for travel. We expect our student to earn spending money past what they need for food and books. It has taken numerous conversations with our student for them to develop a realistic understanding of money -- though it might be easier because we don't have the money to give them, and I have to find extra work if they spend more than the budget.

    Short answer: just say no. 

    Long answer: don’t let him play you. He can and will figure out how to manage his money, if you don’t rescue him. Don’t pay his credit card bill. Just enough for the books. Make sure his credit limit is low so he can’t dig too big of a hole. 

    My dad took a heavy handed approach that I hated, but it worked. Every month I had to send him a detailed accounting of every expenditure. Then he sent me the next check. Your son, like I did, will notice how much he’s spending on beer/pot/whatever, will have to write it down to you, and will cut back. 

    My brother was the same when he was in college. My parents kept bailing him out to no good end. He is now 50 and still has trouble with money. My recommendation is if this is the first time he’s called home for money, then send it to him with the warning that you will not do it again. And then you must stick to it, no matter how hard it is for you and for him. As for the credit card, I suggest taking a little out of each allowance to pay off the debt. Take away the credit card and give him a debit card instead. Good luck! Remember you’re here to help him navigate in the long run. 

    A couple of possibilities:

    1) for now, Try transferring a modest allowance into your son’s account daily rather than weekly.  You can set up an automatic daily transfer through your bank.   Our K-12 schools rarely teach money management and not everyone “figures it out.”  By the way, About 20% of pro-athletes go bankrupt after they stop earning their huge annual salaries so more money is not the answer

    2) talk with your bank about sending you and your son an alert when your son’s account gets to a low balance (with my son it is $10.00). Unfortunately, beginning at age 18, people are able to overdraw their accounts which typically costs $25-$35 per incident.

    3.). See if you personally can pay for books and supplies and then mail them through Amazon or Office Depot online until your son is more responsible.  Your son will need to “earn” your trust with money.  Use a program like MINT together to track your son’s spending.  If your son gets funding through you, he will need to spend time with you going over  budgeting in exchange.  Money management is not learned automatically, it is a a real problem in the US.  

    4)Also check Jump$tart Financial Education.  Finally, even though your son is 18,you can still withhold certain extras(phone upgrades, new clothes, etc...) in exchange for more financial responsibility.  I have often found gig jobs (babysitting, for example) for my teen son so he knows he can earn extra money if he wants more than I give him.

    5) See if your son’s college has any resources for finance, money management, budgeting.

    Best of luck and thanks for posting.

    Take the credit card away immediately. He has your phone number, in a true emergency he can reach you and you can use your credit card to bail him out if necessary. Do not supplement his income. He has a roof over his head, utilities paid for, and plenty of food to eat. I assume that you pay for his books and all other expenses required to attend classes. What kind of emergency do you actually worry about that he needs access to unlimited funds? Assume the worst happens and there's a natural disaster and he needs to get out of there. You can buy a plane ticket or whatever else he needs remotely. You could also go the bank and deposit money into his checking account if there really was an emergency. There's nothing that he's getting himself into that requires immediate access to a credit card in order to stay safe.

    It's time for you to stand your ground. I grew up around kids whose parents paid for everything. Guess what? Those kids are now 50 and their parents still support them. They have nice houses but low self-esteem. Their parents failed them by not tying getting what they wanted to working. My brother-in-law's college was completely paid for by my mother-in-law. She's even paying for his student loans since she cosigned for them and he's too big of a loser to pay for them himself. He lives in squats and spends a lot of time and effort trying to adversely possess them (basically trying to steal them from their owners). He's only nice to us and to his mother when he wants something. The rest of the time we're corporate sellouts. Would he be this way had he been required to work for what he wanted? Maybe? Who knows? But I do know that paying that for everything that he wanted didn't set him up for success in life.

    You sound like you are a great parent and want to raise a successful child. It's time to let him not go out and party, eat in restaurants, or buy unnecessary things until he actually budgets for them. 

    My college Freshman having similar issue and asked us to close his account because he couldn’t control his spending.  We are now using a great program - FAM ZOO which allows us to add money to his card as needed and also has programs to incentivize saving money etc.  no more overdraft fees for us. Still need to work on underlying issue but this program a great support as we do this.

    my youngest is a senior in college and oldest just graduated. One has an emergency credit card (linked to my account) and one does not (and didn't throughout college).

    I would take away the emergency credit card right away! If he needs money in a real emergency, he can contact you. Re books, you can buy them on Amazon at the beginning of the semester if he gives you the info and he will have them in 2 days. Or he can buy them, email you the receipt and you can send him the money via Venmo (we use this but I encourage you to say no to requests for money for late night snacks!!!).

    It sounds like you do this already but if not, you might want to transfer him the allowance weekly instead of monthly to help manage it better. 

    Encourage him to get a part-time job if he wants more spending money. My kids worked btwn 5 and 20 hours/week throughout college which I think was great for them! I gave them what I thought was enough money so that they didn't HAVE to work, but if they wanted money to go out more, go away on weekends, etc, they needed to work, and they chose to do that.

    I paid for trips home and trips to visit other relatives when I wanted to encourage that (and I would have paid for study abroad but they didn't do that), but they had to pay for any other travel themselves. Once in a while we send lgifts of money, like if I know they are going to New York City I might send $100 via Venmo and say have fun on the trip! but I want them to be self-sufficient and not count on that coming (so I don't do it every time!).

    I know it is hard -- keep trying different things and also what works will change over time.

  • I have a college freshman going off to college who will be living in the dorms on campus with a full meal plan.  She will not have a car.  I would like advice from other parents about how much spending money she will need for items such as laundry, toiletries, occasional outings, public transportation, snacks, and other items.  She was actually in boarding school prior to college and we gave her $200 per month, which seemed to get spent on snacks, Starbucks, laundry, using uber for transportation when in the city, a few items from amazon, and gifts for family members for the holidays.  I'm thinking she will have more expenses in college, but I also want her to get used to managing money more closely and recognizing that she has to "live within her means" and should choose not to buy coffee at Starbucks if she can get it at the dining hall or make it in her dorm room.  She has worked this summer in a minimum wage job, so will have a small amount of savings (if she doesn't spend it all!).  I have friends who say they don't give their college age kids any allowance and they let them know their summer earnings are to be used for spending money during the school year.  On one shopping excursion my daughter recently went on, she bought  2 pair of sandals and a small purse (Tory Burch and Kate Spade), and for a cost of $540 (even as sale items)!  I asked if she spent her entire first paycheck on these items!  I grew up with parents who experienced the depression, were generally frugal by nature, and we rarely bought brand name items and Starbucks didn't exist back then.  I am seeking advice from other parents who have experience with helping their young adults learn to manage money, especially during the college years.

    Why not stick with $200 until/unless she indicates she has more expenses than that -- and explains what they are?  It sounds as though your daughter may need some limits to learn what is feasible.  When she graduates and has a job (you hope) and is paying rent and buying groceries, she's not going to be buying Kate Spade (except maybe at an outlet store). 

    Our kids got no spending money from us.  We helped with tuition; the rest was on them, to cover with their earnings from work.  They had a credit card attached to our account, which they occasionally used -- but always with advance approval.  We never had an issue and they both learned to be responsible with their money.  They are boys, and not into stuff, so it was easy.  But if your daughter is in a position to help herself to $540 designer items on your dime, you need to wean her of that -- fast.

    She's living in the dorms with a full meal plan: food and shelter are covered.  Time for her to get a job and learn how to manage her money. 

    You'll be doing her a huge favor if you show her you expect her to learn to support herself and make wise decisions. 

    Holy cow! She spent some $500 in ONE shopping spree? That seems like an outrageous amount of money. My freshman in college spent that in 4 months. Really, you want your child to feel like she can spent that much? While homeless people sleep all around her, and she made minimum wage?

    My son is the same age as your daughter and I have the same question. I posted the question to the Dean of Student Affairs of his university when he came to town for the parent/student meeting. He also mentioned $200/month after room/board and books. He has a daughter who goes to the same school in a major city of the east cost, things are generally more expensive there. According to the dean, most students at the university have part time jobs (his daughter was a tour guide) to supplement college expenses. My son will be the first in our family to attend the university so i am looking for guidance too. Like your daughter, my son has a minimum wage job for the summer, but he blew it off on useless but fun things. He claims that he can make money in college if needed. I cannot wait to send him off in only 20 more days.

    We allot our daughter $75/mo. spending money at her expensive private liberal arts college. That's in addition to the basics of room and board and health coverage and travel home for intersessions and $600/semester for books and supplies (which is not always enough but sometimes more than). About $25 of the $75 goes for her laundry (the machines in the dorm are expensive!) which leaves her $50/mo. for toiletries, haircuts, extra clothes, food when she can't get to the cafeteria (that does happen because of some class schedules), gifts, and local transportation & entertainment; she has to be quite frugal about all of these things. One disadvantage of an expensive private school is that most of the students there have a lot more spending money; if they didn't, I'm sure she could get away with somewhat less because she wouldn't feel obliged to pay for occasional movies and pizza just to be able to hang out with friends. (On the other hand, she gets a lot of nice discarded clothes for free.) 

    She does have a job on campus, but all the money she makes is counted towards her overall budget (which means she has to keep track of the balance, and we seldom actually transfer money to her). We do it this way because she has a workstudy award so what she makes is already calculated by the school as part of her financial aids budget, intended to cover basic expenses - but I believe the reasoning is sound and that she should be contributing what she can for college in any case, keeping the overall budget in mind and not wasting her income on unnecessary extras. She's almost always too busy with school to shop, anyway, and she knows we are doing what we can, so she does not complain (well, not very often). So that's our situation - good luck figuring out yours!

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Questions

Best way to send monthly allowance to kids in college

Oct 2014

Every month I write out 2 small checks - one to my son and one to my nephew - both in college. I address 2 envelopes, put stamps on them, stick them in the mailbox. There must be a better way! It's the 21st century! But my credit union doesn't seem to offer any kind of automatic recurring payments to other peoples' bank accounts. The boys don't have Paypal and anyway I don't want them to have to pay the fees on such a small amount. Mailing their checks is not a lot of trouble, but these are practically the only checks I ever write anymore, and I have to remember to do it every month, keep stocked on stamps and envelopes, keep track of their constantly changing addresses. On their side, delivery is sometimes slow, and they have the added hassle of getting to the bank every month to deposit the check. Has anyone with a kid in college figured this out?
Thanks! local mom


Before each of our kids left for college, we looked up to see what banks had ATMs on campus. Turned out to be Citibank for one kid, and Bank America for the other. So each kid opened an account on the appropriate bank. We, as parents, also opened accounts. Now, to send money to them, we just make an online account-to-account transfer. The kid can then use their debit card, write a check, or walk across campus to an ATM and get the money as cash. No fees at all. Cliff


Chase offers a QuickPay system that allows for transfer of funds to someone who does not have a Chase account. I wonder if the way you're asking the question is throwing off your credit union folks--don't ask for recurring payments, but ask instead for a way to send money from your account to someone else's.

You could also do something like the Chase Liquid card. It's like a debit card that you pre-fill. You can add money online without going into the bank.

Ask your credit union if they have anything like either of these services.
love the online systems


Try Dwolla.com. They are positioning themselves as a more automated, less expensive alternative to PayPal, are associated with a growing number of banks and large companies, and can also work with banks not yet in their system (like the wonderful Mech Bank in this area). It's free to sign up for Dwolla, they transfer funds at 25 cents per transaction (and it's free to transfer less than $10). To sign up, you post your bank acct info on their secure system, and so do your son and nephew. That's it. I believe they can set up monthly auto-transfers (you'll have to look at the Dwolla system preferences). . merry


PayPal is the way to go. PayPal does not charge fees on funds sent to friends and family. My highschooler receives his allowance this way and it provides him the ability to manage his money. He can take out cash or pay with his PayPal debit card. East Bay Mom


I do not have any kids in college yet - mine are still in HS and middle school But my kids and I have accounts at Bank of America - their accounts are student accounts so they don't get charged at all (even if their account balance falls below the threshold). I've set up a recurring payment for my older child that automatically transfers X dollars from my account to hers for her monthly allowance. No more having to remember every week whether or not I gave her the money!! You can specify the dollar amount and when you want the transfer to occur and can even set up for multiple times a month. So I would recommend you switch to a bank that can handle setup of recurring payments - it is so much more convenient and think of all the stamps you will save! Happy Parent


Pay Pal will allow you to make bank account transfers to ''friends or family'' with no fee. Claire


Shop for a new credit union. But note that they differ a lot on what electronic services they offer. I changed credit unions because my old one did not support MINT. But the new one charges for interbank transfers, and they take 5 days - they were free, and nearly instant at the old joint. Electronic services cost, and the clientele of the credit union may or may not want or need those things. My old CU served a lot of retirees, and they don't care much about electronic banking. Long time credit union member


The way we conveyed money to our daughter was to have a joint checking account in her and my names. Then I would simply transfer money from the household (or emergency!) account into hers at the ATM.

Of course, her campus may not have an ATM for your credit union. Much as I dislike B of A and Wells Fargo, their ATMs are ubiquitous in most states. Amelia


Here's what I do in a roughly similar situation.

1) Open a Chase account: $300 for no-fee savings account.
2) have the kids open their own accounts at Chase;
3) you should fund the account beyond the $300 minimum deposit, then talk to a branch manager to arrange for monthly deposits from your account into their accounts, on a specified day.
4) Fund your account for six months at a time, so you only need to attend to this every six months.

This will take two or three total hours, and the kids' cooperation, and give you a safe, free-transfer solution. Works for me.


The solution to your problem is hiding in plain sight: PayPal! I have a similar situation to yours, and I use PayPal... AND IT IS FREE, both to me AND to my recipients! You see, PayPal has a terrific feature that you evidently don't know about. Read on....

First of all, you must insist that your son and nephew each get a PayPal account. It is free, and it will take them less than 5 minutes to set it up. Then the only thing you need do is the following: about five days *before* you wish to send the funds, TRANSFER THE MONEY FROM YOUR CHECKING ACCOUNT TO YOUR PAYPAL ACCOUNT. (It will take you less than a minute, once you've set it up.)

When the time comes, a few days later, to ''pay'' your boys, you will simply designate them as ''family or friend'' and the funds will be deducted from your PayPal balance. You will be charged NO FEES, and neither will they!

Caveat #1: If your recipients live in a foreign country, there will be a small conversion fee. (You can send $10,000 abroad for a $5 fee, and so it's not much.)

Caveat #2: You can't set this up to happen automatically every month. However, it will take you just a couple of minutes to send your son and nephew their funds, and you can even include a short note to each of them for free. I actually enjoy doing it every month -- it makes me think about my loved ones as I'm setting up the transfer.

ADDED BONUS! I recently had my niece get a PayPal debit card. Now the money is available to her IMMEDIATELY after I've transferred it to her. She no longer has to wait 2-3 days for the funds to move from her PayPal account to her checking account! (PayPal debit cards are only available in the U.S. though.)

2nd BONUS! Once you've established an account with PayPal, you can use the ''Instant Transfer'' feature, which transfers funds instantly from your checking account, incurring no fees. Happy PayPal user since 2002


When you choose ''Send money to family or friends'' on PayPal, there is no fee. We send money to our son this way. It has to be linked through checking accounts and not credit cards for this to work fee-free.


My son is no longer in college however occasionally checks arrive at the house for him. I take them to his bank where I have only his account number. I deposit the check to his account and I am given a receipt acknowledging the amount and date of deposit, nothing more. Although this doesn't address all of your issues and it doesn't occur monthly, it does eliminate mailing, stamps, changing addresses, etc. half way there


Dear Local Mom,

The easiest way to do banking with kids away from home is for the three of you to do banking with the same bank. In my case, I bank with Mechanics Bank. And i love it. Both my college kids' accounts are set up as checking accounts with me as joint owner, so for all purposes I have control over their banking (since it's all my money anyway). I check balances, look at their expenses and how they spend their money, and I can transfer money directly to/from my personal account to/from these joint accounts seamlessly from my iphone because with the app you can do everything through your smart phone. No phone calls to request transfers, no going to the bank, no fees, and most definitely no writing checks! For example when they get reimbursements from Financial Aid for payments I had to make before they disburse the money to my students, the excess money goes to their bank accounts as direct deposits and I just go to my iphone and transfer those moneys back into my personal account; when they buy books or other school supplies or any expense I agree to pay, I transfer the total amount to their account; when they ask me to pay for something they should pay, I do it and then I trasnfer the money from their account into mine (no argument as to when they'll pay back!) and monthly I transfer the agreed upon amount for rent/food to their accounts. 21st Century banking


Hi, PayPal is a good way to go. You can check a box when sending the cash that indicates that the check is a gift and they won't have to pay any fees on it.

Have your sons sign up for PayPal. It's really very easy to do and will save you the trouble. How nice that their parent still sends them money monthly (my mother never did!). They should be making it as easy as possible for you. anon


How much spending money does a freshman need?

Sept 2014

My daughter is a freshman this year and we're still sorting out what sort of money is needed (vs. wanted) on a regular basis. She attends a state school, and basically all of her expenses, food, etc. are taken care of. There are activities galore on campus, but of course there are off-campus possibilities also, and money can add up quickly there. One session I went to at orientation emphasized that they should ''live like students'' - which is certainly what I did in college! But what does that mean, specifically? Is $20 a week too little for spending on incidental expenses - movies, ice cream, snacks, etc.? $40? She will hopefully be working a little, but we have always had her save some of her money from babysitting, etc. In high school we gave her an allowance of $50/month for ''fun money'' + non-necessary clothing itms. it's a new world


What did your daughter spend her $50/mo fun money on before? If none of those things are covered in the costs you're otherwise paying, then she might expect a similar amount in college. You could also look at the school's listed ''costs of attendance'' and use that as a guide post.

That said, $50/month is more than I've given my children, so I hesitate to list a dollar amount that would be right for your family. (This year my daughter moved off-campus, and I give her the amount room and board would have cost were she on-campus. Since living off-campus should be cheaper, she has the extra money -- along with her savings -- for ''fun money.'') Wendy


I think this is a great time for you to step back and let your daughter figure out for herself how much discretionary spending she wants to do, based on how much she wants to work to support that spending.

If everything else is taken care of--what a boon for her! And what an additional boon it would be for her to learn now about working for what she wants and budgeting for it.

Looking back, I regret more the ways that I perhaps over-supported my daughter rather than practicing a little benign neglect and letting her figure it out for herself. When she got to college, I was very busy with a lot of complicated personal issues, and she really had to deal with most of her things on her own. It was great for her. Now that she's on her own and living in another state, she's competent, can budget, etc.

College is a time for learning to be an adult. Adults don't get allowances (except maybe the wealthy ones); they work for their money and learn to plan their spending accordingly. she's ready to do this on her own


What we were figuring is that we'll pay the ''expenses'' -- room, board, books; and that our first year student will come up with whatever she needs in terms of spending money between a job (she's eligible for work-study) and her savings from past gifts and jobs (which was about $2000). That seems to have worked because she found a job. We'll have to evaluate as time goes on. Given how much college is costing us, it seems reasonable that our daughter earns her own entertainment money. anon


Last year was our daughter's first year in college. She was living on campus with a meal plan. We paid for her books separately. We gave her $170/month for spending money--eating out, fun, gifts, toiletries, clothes (with the exception of winter coat and boots which we paid for!). We also paid for airfare home but she paid for other travel she did for fun. She also chose to get a part-time job to supplement the $ we gave her. It seemed to work well. best wishes


Spending money for college freshman

June 2012

Hi - Our daughter is heading off to college in Pennsylvania this fall, and we'd like to ask what kind of ''allowance'' (for total lack of a better word) to give her each month for her personal expenses. Her food plan will fully cover her meals and she'll be living in a dorm; she'll certainly need cold-weather clothes and the usual personal items. She'll be living on campus near a town without a huge amount going on - a train ride from Philly/NYC but not visiting either very often. We're paying the big bucks for private school and while I don't expect her to work right away, I do expect her to manage the money that we give her very thougthfully (and at home she is a good money manager). But what amount should that be? What should we pay for and what expenses should she be expected to cover with her own previous earnings/savings? And logistically, should we just put money into her ATM account at the start of the month and let her take it from there? Thanks for your feedback!


Our children were always told that we would pay for all college costs including food, books, etc. but that their personal spending was their responsibility. Therefore both children worked summers, at times taken part time jobs at school to add to their spending money but we felt strongly that they were getting their college fully paid, would graduate without loans and that they needed to at least contribute in this area.

When they have moved from dorms to apts near school we gave them a monthly food allowance and they could choose to use it for groceries or meals out but that was their choice on how they chose to budget. We also pay the cell phone bills. Our kids had both ATM cards for their own accts that we would deposit their monthly funds and then they paid the bills, etc. They also had a credit card on our acct that they would use for approved purchases only, such as buying books, etc. This was never abused although they would occasionally ask to use for a personal purchase and then reimburse us, always approved in advance.

Our kids have also done study abroad, we paid for this in full as well and also gave them some funds toward travel in the country but again, they needed to plan, work and save for their personal funds and to do anything beyond what we gave them. For our child who went east, we also covered reasonable additional winter clothing (but wait till they are there to buy - what California sells won't be nearly warm enough and cost more and then you have to ship it back). almost done!


My daughter is going to a small Pennsylvania college in a small town near Philadelphia too! I do have some thoughts about how to get her set up for her first winter ever without giving her a blank check. Would love to follow up with you off-line. nfa


What to budget for, besides tuition, room & board?

August 2011

Besides tuition, fees, books, room and board, what other expenses will we run into for a student going away to college and how much should we budget? And I assume most students work part-time while in school to help pay some of those expenses. Anon


College expenses vary a lot from school to school and student to student. For example, some schools charge a co-pay for every visit to the student health center and at other schools it's built into the yearly fee. At some schools students pay for the use of the laundry facilities and at others it's part of the housing cost. This kind of question is a great one to post on the CollegeConfidential.com forum for your child's college, where current parents and students might be able to give you advice specific to that school.

Beyond that, it depends on what your child likes to do for extracurricular activities and how much of that will be free, or included in tuition/housing costs--food, entertainment, exercise, transportation. Personally, I think it's a lot to expect a freshman to work during their first school year, while they're still trying to adjust. It's better to have them try to earn extra spending money during the summer. Mom of 2 college kids


How much to give college student for expenses?

July 2009

Have child entering UCSC in the fall. Since UC prefers interfacing with the student, rather than the parent, is it better to give my son a set amount from which he can use to pay for UC expenses (not including tuition) and other living expenses? We are a middle class family on a budget. How much is reasonable, perhaps $300 into his checking account? Newbie college parent


Well, this is what we are doing (daughter also attending UCSC!), and I'll be curious to see what others have done. She will have to two accounts, one for living expenses and one for tuition (books and other school related expenses). I was going to start by giving her $150 a month and she will have to get by on that, if it's not enough, then we will figure out what she's spending money on and how much more she needs. Food is covered with the meal plane and I can't imagine that there will be that much to spend money on besides soap, laundry, and the occasional movie or concert. Clothes: she can wear the ones she has or shop at the thrift store, there's a good one in SC. on a tight budget


My son goes to UCBS. The first year he lived in the dorms. We told him we would pay his cell phone, room & board, books & tuition. In practice we've also paid some of his expenses travelling between school & home. The rest (clothes, entertainment, extra food) was his problem. After a couple quarters of ''living poor'' he found a parttime job on campus and opened a checking account.

Next fall he'll live off campus. They only have one year leases in Isla Vista, and parents must co-sign; fortunately we only had to co- sign for his rent, not the entire house. We're paying $600/mo rent for his shared room, plus his share of utilities, and giving him $500/month for food. He's hoping to organize coop food buying and cooking with his roommates. We'll be depositing money in his checking account up here. It's up to him to make it work. College Parent on Austerity Budget


Allowance for HS senior daughter and college son

Sept 2006

I have 2 questions:
1. What is an appropriate monthly allowance amount for a HIGH SCHOOL senior (girl); enough to pay for everything -- meals out, entertainment, yearbook, gifts for friends, prom, clothing, etc.?
2. What is an appropriate monthly allowance amount for a COLLEGE STUDENT (boy) in Los Angeles; enough to pay for everything EXCEPT school costs (we pay for tuition, fees, room & board, books, flights home. He does not have a car) Anonymous


Thhinking about allowance for highschool seniors and college students. In some ways the answer depends on your own family finances. You cannot give them more than you can afford, but need to balance that with a reasonable figure. So here is what we did.

For the high school senior, we gave our daughters $100 a month beginning their freshman year. We knew it wasn't much. They had to budget for everything. We paid for shoes and coats as well as first of year school supplies. They learned to budget, not to lend money to unreliable people and set priorities. If I was to do it again, I think I'd add another 25 to 50, but no more. We didn't ask the kids to work in school, they were busy enough with school and organized activities. If they had asked for more money however, ''get a job'' would have been our reply.

As for the freshman, we also paid for everything and gave her $200 a month for spending money. That was all we could afford, and in retrospect another 100 wouldn't have hurt her. But... She became a killer ''budgeter'' and learned to set priorities. I didn't always agree with her priorities, but she was at least clear on the coxt/benefit of each decision. She did get a job after freshman year because she did want more money. That was another important lesson.

Bottom line, give them what you can, many kids have no money, but don't be so generous that they do not learn to set priorities and budget. Those are important life lessons that you need them to know before they graduate. Ck


Budget for freshman at San Jose State

March 2006

We are preparing our budget for our daughter to go off to San Jose State in the fall. Beyond books, what have others put in for expenses for their freshman student.
looking ahead


Our college freshman gets $100/month spending money and we also provide $75/month for his cell phone (he's in Canada, so it's a little more pricey). This seems reasonable, since all other expenses are covered. The only thing he has to pay for are personal items and laundry. He's been informed that the hand-out stops at the end of this academic year. I hope against all evidence that this will motivate him to work this summer and/or next year at college.

I also hope to have him take out a student loan so that he feels some investment in his college education. Having never filled out the FAFSA, I don't know whether he will qualify, but I think it's a good experience for a college kid to be responsible for at least a small portion of his college expenses.
Mom of college freshman


Our son is in his Freshman year at Humboldt. For this year we have paid for tuition & fees, dorm and meals at the cafeteria (a plan), books, phone (cheap land line in his room), plus $100 per month for allowance for him to spend as he needs/wants on necessities, clothes, outings, etc... If he wants/needs to spend more than that it comes from his savings or he needs to get a job (hasn't so far). He does not have his license yet so paying nothing for car/gas/insurance.

I personally would like to have him contributing a little, but my husband and I have agreed on this for this year (my husband likes to cover more than I do). We have said that gradually our son will need to start contributing to his own education, but have not come up with dollar amounts yet. Also, when a friend gives him a ride back home to Berkeley we give him $ to pay the friend for gas plus a little.

Hope this helps, and good luck.
mom of college student


College Freshman Finances

May 2005

My daughter will attend college in New York City this fall and we're already wrangling over money issues. She has no savings but is expected to get a job this summer to supplement whatever we decided to contribute (she's already pushing to increase our share). The big question for me is: What's the best way/best tools to use to protect against over-spending while giving the student financial independence and responsibility?

I have several specific questions on this topic and welcome any general advice/comments:

1) Do/did you give your college freshman an allowance for discretionary spending? If so, how much and how did you arrive at an amount?
2) Does your student use a credit card? Debit card? VISA Bux (or whatever it's called) card?
3) What's worked and what hasn't?

Thanks! A Mom


Our son is completing his freshman year. We told him last year that we would pay his tuition, housing (dorm +meal plan), his books and supplies and his cell phone. He had to supply all his spending money. He didn't work his senior year but was expected to work over the summer. He made enough money over the summer (plus he received almost $700 in gift money)and had he budgeted he could have made it last all year, but despite his having a plan and generally always following a budget in the past, he went through it all by winter break. He went a bit wild, spent most of it shopping. We stayed clear, we were not going to give him money. He had no money and was home a month over Winter break, we did front him his tax return, he went back second semester and got a job on campus which not only pays him but he can study while working and he will do it again next year. . The same will hold true for next year, although he will be sharing an apt. He will get roughly the same amount as we paid for the dorm, he will need to use it for rent, utilities and it will leave him about $300/month for food. I feel strongly that if we pay all his school expenses, he should be able to cover his spending money. I will buy things he needs, but not another pair of shoes or another shirt when its not needed. (That's also not to say that when he has come home, I've been known to slip him movie money or give him a bit when he leaves). New York is also an expensive city, I don't know what her living arrangements will be, etc. You may need to give her an allowance or pay for a monthly transit card, determine a set amount for certain things. Good luck. another parent


I asked a similar question about college student allowances here last fall and didn't get much response, so good luck. For our freshman son living on campus, we've given him $100 a month; he thinks it's way too little, but we give him lots of opportunities to earn money when he's home. He uses a debit card that we replenish at the beginning of each month. We reimburse his textbook expenses and some other items that seem pretty important. We buy most of his clothes. He's still paying $40 a month for a cell phone that we think is unnecessary and don't want to subsidize. anonymous


My daughter is finishing her freshman year at UC Davis (a far cry from NYC) so I don't know how helpful this will be. We are a work in progress but I'll share our experience.

I transfer $150 a month into an account we share. She transfers money from it to hers (so I don't see her detail activity.) (I use Wells Fargo. You might look into Citibank.) $150 for her seems to be just under enough but she makes it work and scrimps at the end of the month. She HAS learned how much a coffee or a Jamba juice costs, and doesn't buy those luxuries very often! She spends most of it on costs related to her club sports team. She does give some away - I know she gave some to support the AIDS walk and some to tsunami relief. She has bought very few articles of clothing and is much more sale conscious than she ever was when I was paying.

She has a debit card only. No credit card yet. (My son, a senior at UCSC still only uses a Visa debit card.) They both understand the concept of a debit card and watch carefully so that they don't overspend. Both have checking accounts that link to these debit cards. (Actually, I take that back. They both have an American Express card - my husband's account - that they can use with his permission in case of an emergency.)

My husband was not very happy with the monthly $150 (my daughter and I left him out of the discussion---I wish that we had all talked about it so you're ahead of the game there.) He felt it totally eliminated any incentive to work but it seems that isn't quite true (she jumped at the chance to earn some money last weekend by doing heavy yardwork for me and babysitting for a family she babysat for in high school.)

Good luck. I think we're all muddling through this process. Maybe someone who has it all figured out will write in and share with all of us! Sally


Because they were only two replies, I thought I'd add mine, for what it's worth. My husband and I have two kids who've now graduated, one from a UC last year, and one from an incredibly expensive private college in NY this year. They had different deals with us because the private school cost about $20K per year more than the UC. For the UC student, we paid tuition, room, board, books, transportation to and from home as often as he wanted, and cell phone. He is a thrifty person, which is great, but this also led to a problem that with us paying all of the basics, he had little or no incentive to work. So we told him we'd get him a car if he got a job, and he did. For the private college student, we paid tuition, room and board, and required her to be responsible for books, transportation to and from school, and all personal expenses. She also had to take out $3K in loans per year towards tuition. (Our expenses for her were still far more than for the UC Davis student.) No allowance, for sure, although I did make a point of giving her as many earning opportunities as I could. She worked 10 hours a week during school (in the library, so she could study) and more during vacations. She did a lot, including going abroad for her junior year, so it seemed to work out fine. It seems to me to be very important that kids learn independence and financial responsibility, and that part of the college experience is, frankly, being poor. I worked during college, except for freshman year, and the more hours I worked, the better grades I got. Having more time on my hands just made me waste more of it. anon


Allowance for college student

Sept 2004

Some of our teens are starting college this fall. Most will still need help from their parents for living expenses. I'd like parents to comment anonymously on how much they think a college kid needs per month for expenses other than tuition, room and board, and books. Please specify whether or not this includes clothes or any other major category I haven't mentioned. thanks from an anonymous mom


Last year I gave my college freshman daughter $200 per month for expenses. She used the money for food outside the cafeteria, movies, clothes and supplies. This year, she is starting off with money she earned working full time during the summer, and I don't plan to give her any spending money until she has exhausted her own. mother of a college student


Thanks for bringing up this topic -- I didn't realize I needed the advice! When my kids are/were in high school, I switched to a monthly allowance of $150 for non-necessities, including clothes. It immediately stopped my son from being a clothes-horse, but my daughter works at finding ways to ''save'' her money and use mine. Now that one is in college, I'll continue the practice -- perhaps increasing it to $175. What do you think? Barbara


I have two kids in college - one lives at home and one lives out of state. The one who lives out of state has a Visa card for allowance and keeps it to about $150-200/month. This is for things like CDs, toiletries, socks, and the occasional meal out. Any big expenditures like clothes, a weekend trip, etc. get cleared with mom first. My child who lives at home gets $150/month which includes lunches, BART tickets, and minor entertainment expenses. Both kids have part-time seasonal jobs and end up stockpiling a little money. Mom


I'm having $150/mo put into my daughter's account and it's worked really well (probably because it's a large enough sum (for her) that she feels she can make it work, and a large enough sum (for me) that I'm clear that that's all I'm going to give her in a month.