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    Dollars and Sense

    Is your teen ready to manage money in college? We asked an expert how to best prepare.

    Interview by Steve Hendershot

    how best to train your teens to manage money in collegeFor the past 12 years, your teen's been preparing for college—memorizing so many formulas, dates and techniques in the process that she could probably publish her own textbook series. And while college classes will be a litte harder than she's used to, she'll adjust. She'll also soon fit in with dorm life, make a lot of new friends and become a pro at studying after midnight.

    But when it comes to money is she ready to fully manage her finances for the first time? As many hours as she's spent slaving over algebra, how much practice does she have at sticking to a budget or paying bills?

    Many college students find out the hard way that handling money isn't easy. Spending is no problem, but after movie tickets, a new shirt and the pizza bill, is there enough left over for textbooks? Gas money? Emergencies?

    Professor Tim Stebbings of Gordon College in Massachusetts has an up-close perspective on college students and money. He earned his undergraduate degree thirty years ago through a work-study co-op program, helped three children through college, was chief financial officer at Gordon, and advises students at Gordon through the business classes and seminars he teaches.

    Here are his suggestions for parents and teens preparing for the financial independence of college life.

    How can students gain the financial sense and responsibility they'll need in college?

    With our kids, we were probably not as intentional as we should have been. But to some extent, financial sense is more caught than taught. Our kids saw how we handled money, and what we valued. They viewed how we provided for them, and watched us choose the things we thought were important enough to spend money on. That went a long way toward shaping their view of how money should be handled.

    For example, as our kids started going to college, we talked about funding, and gave them options. Even though Gordon, where I work, offers significant tuition breaks for children of employees, all three kids chose to go elsewhere initially (our two daughters did graduate from Gordon). So my wife started working a full-time job to help us pay that expense. That said something to our kids about how much we valued them and their education.

    There are things we can teach kids, like putting money into the perspective of our Christian lives. If we take the claims of Bible seriously, then we realize all of our money belongs to God, and that we're just stewards. We want to teach our children to approach money in that context.

    What are some strategies for training high school kids to deal with money responsibly?

    Parents need to identify more areas for which students will be responsible. Let them make decisions, and train them to handle limited funds. They will learn that there are always more "needs" than resources. The art of personal budgeting is about making choices. That's what stewardship is.

    Outline things for which the child is responsible, and what the parent is willing to cover. From a young age, children need to learn that spending involves a choice. If they spend a dollar on one thing, they won't have that dollar for something else.

    But there are no definite rules on where boundaries should be set. That depends on a lot of factors, including the family's lifestyle and income level. And it varies with the child. At 12, some are ready to take responsibility for their lives; some at 35 are not. You as a parent need to judge.

    Are most parents good financial role models?

    It's an area in which we can all stand improvement. I can explain how money management should be done, but I have trouble doing it myself. I don't want to overdo the guilt trip. But we'll be held accountable for our choices, and the way we spend our resources. If we as believers are people of honesty and integrity, then that includes the way we handle our money.

    Should there be a specific occasion when the family sits down and has a "Money Talk"?

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