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Going to university is one of those big decisions in life that needs a lot of financial support – from bursaries, financial aid offices, banks, and parents. Besides tuition, there are living costs to cover. If you have parents who think a child should earn his own pocket money at university, you may want to stop reading at this point.
But many parents will send their child off with some cash and a prepaid VISA card so that they have control over the money that is being spent. There’s the story of a parent who sends a responsible son off to college with a credit card. The son racks up nearly $500 of bills in one month, without realizing it. A bicycle to go around campus and a pair of jackets to beat the cold set him back by a few hundred dollars.
The cost of a bicycle and a pair of jackets can go up or down, depending on where you are going to university. But once when as a young college-goer, no matter how responsible you are, you taste the freedom of going to university, your expenses can get out of hand without you realizing. This is why we recommend prepaid VISA cards that can be refilled, as parents have control over how much is being spent.
But how much money should your parents give you? There’s no simple answer to this. It will depend on a lot of factors. You will need to sit with your parent and draw up a budget on the things that you need and the things that you want. This will not only be a good opportunity to learn the value of the dollar but also the difference between want and need.
The following considerations will decide how much you should ask your parents for.
What Expenses Do You Envision?
You and your family will have to decide what the spending money will cover. Will it include costs for books and travel expenses? What about any clothes you buy? What about the social life – is it off-campus?
If you’re on campus in a city, you could find the costs of everything high but then you have the advantage of shopping online and having it delivered to you. Will you also have a car on campus? Then you’ll have to think about parking permits, auto insurance, maintenance/repairs etc. Impress your parents with a budget and decide who pays for what.
Some of the expenses you’ll want to think about include: your phone bill, dorm furnishings and linen, food outside the meal plan, money for laundry, entertainment money, bus passes, the flight or train home, spring break and other travel for fun, electronics, toiletries, fraternity or sorority dues, etc.
You could, maybe, request your parents to start you off with a little cash in hand, to last until you find a paying job. Many kids start with monthly allowances between $75 and $200, for books, clothes, etc.
Sometimes you’ll find yourself paying out of your pocket money for things you may need in class, such as equipment if you’re a student of architecture. These expenses can come out of your pocket money but once you’ve gauged how much your expenses come to you could plan for future expenses and make your own contribution.
Review the allowance with your parents after a year and make any changes that are necessary. Do your parents want you to be in charge of your own savings or will you let your parents manage any earnings during college? These are a few things to think about.
If you become heavily involved in non-paid activities like student government or the school paper, or if you are a college athlete, then you may need extra help from your parents.
Where are You Going to University?
How much pocket money you need will depend on which city you are going to study in. Is it a city where there are issues with water so you’ll have to spend on expensive bottled water? Or are you going to study in a small rural college town where the cost of living is low? What kind of transportation is available? It’s a good idea to write down your expenditure for a couple of months, and then plan with your parents based on the average expenses for that city.
Will You Stay on Campus?
If you stay on campus and live in a dorm, your expenses on everyday things are going to be limited. You could make do with about $200 a month in many cities. But if you are living in accommodation off-campus, your costs for gas, transport, and other miscellanies may add up.
There’s also the rent to consider. There are cities where the cost of accommodation can run into hundreds of dollars. According to Student.com, rent is the lowest for students in countries like Spain, Singapore and Johannesburg.
Three cities in the US – Athens, Tallahassee and Columbia – are also among the cheapest places to live as far as rent goes. If your parents are paying for rent, they may be able to afford less pocket money. It depends on how much of a strain your university expenses are putting on their finances.
How Much Will You Spend on Food?
Are you going to be on a meal plan? If so, you won’t need to spend more than a couple of hundred dollars a month. The dorm kitchen will at least dish out three meals a day and you won’t have to worry about how much you’re spending on a day to day basis for food.
But a meal plan can cost around $3000 a year. Some experts are of the opinion that college-goers can do their own cooking and make more nutritious meals with a little careful budgeting. In that case, you may need a little extra pocket money.
In fact, sometimes cooking for yourself may be the only option since your irregular schedules (if you’re studying theatre for instance) may not match with dining hall hours. Learning to cook is part of important real-world education, and it’s a good time to learn how to budget as well.
Are Your Parents also Paying for Tuition?
If your parents are paying for tuition, then their resources are already strained. In that case, your parent could talk to you about the state of affairs and ask you to find ways to make your own pocket money.
It should not be difficult for a resourceful young college-goer to find a part-time job on-campus or off-campus. Winter and spring breaks or a summer job can help you add around $2000 to $3000 to your bank account.
For international students in some countries, there may be a restriction on off-campus part-time jobs that they can take up. Or off-campus jobs may be banned altogether.
In which case, the student should visit the career office and keep an eye on notice boards for positions. Earning your own pocket money will teach you the value of the dollar and also teach you to be independent.