Today I responded to a prompt to answer a question on the college search site, Unigo, on how to manage college expenses. The more I thought about it, the more I thought it should be mentioned on my website as well. The best way to manage college expenses is to learn to manage expenses before you get there.
Students need to learn some very basic financial skills from their parents, teachers or another adult who responsibly manages money. Parents should openly discuss what college costs and what the student is expected to cover. What are "essentials" and what are "extras"? Books are clearly essentials, but students don't need to buy new or pay full price. Nightly pizzas and trips to the mall might be deemed as essentials for some students, but are definitely splurges for others. How about sorority or fraternity dues? Athletic events? Travel? You need to work together to define expenses and prepare a budget with clear stipulations.
"The Talk" about credit and credit cards also needs to take place before college. Students who don't know how to manage money or the ramifications of debt can get in over their heads when presented with "free" credit card applications. Make sure your student understands the long-range impact of spending money they don't have!
Students can also help out by working over the summers or up to 10 - 20 hours per week during the school year. My son "hashes" ("Greek" for serving food and cleaning up) at a sorority house for a few hours each week, which allows him to get all his meals there for free! Other students babysit for professors' children, conduct paid research or serve as college representatives for businesses.
Defining expectations for your student and setting a plan before college starts will really help keep frantic phone calls for emergency funds to a minimum.